In the United States, much of the conversation around faith is dominated by conservative voices, voices that often argue for policies that restrict the rights of people in our communities. Through Progressive Voices of Faith, Pacific School of Religion (PSR) seeks to amplify the faith-based perspectives of progressives on politically and culturally relevant issues.
This Pride month, during a time of increasing verbal, legislative, and physical attacks on the LGBTQ+ community, we asked PSR students, faculty, staff, and alumnx what faith communities can and should do to stand with and fight for the rights of our LGBTQ+ family.
The dangers of the current political climate were top-of-mind for respondents, with two-thirds saying they were very worried about the direction the country is taking with respect to LGBTQ+. No one said they weren’t worried at all.
“Worrying doesn’t help,” alumnx Susan Solverson countered. “I believe the majority of folks are LGBTQIAA+ accepting in varying degrees, but if we don’t voice our affirmations and vote accordingly, the haters will suppress our rights.”
Rev. James Lawrence, director of PSR’s Doctor of Ministry program underlined the urgency of this moment, saying, “People’s fundamental right to self-determination is under a full-throttle assault currently in the United States primarily through arrogant, simplistic, oppressive, and inaccurate truth-claiming about gender and sexuality.”
Rev. Roland Stringfellow, managing director of CLGS and senior pastor at MCC Detroit pointed to real-world consequences of the assault, saying police contacted all local queer organizations to tell them to be on high alert for violence during Pride month. “While there is always a threat, this is the first time this has happened,” he said. “The level of violence and hateful rhetoric is alarming in our country and communities.”
Almost everyone felt faith communities, especially progressive Christian ones, had an important role to play in standing up for LGBTQ+ rights. “Because so much of the hate toward LGBTQ+ community comes from Christian voices, it’s especially important for progressive churches and faith communities to be vocal in their support of LGBTQ+ rights and counter the narrative that being Christian is synonymous with being anti-LGBTQ+,” said a PSR staff member.
Alumnx Monica Cross agreed saying, “As a Black transgender woman who is ordained clergy in the Christian Church Disciples of Christ, I believe that if a church is seeking to live fully into the teachings of Jesus Christ, then the welcoming, acceptance and full embrace of the LGBTQ community is essential. This has been the question for many in the church, ‘Shall the Church live fully into the teachings of Jesus Christ or live fully into a truncated version of the Gospel that denies the fullness of God’s love?’”
We cannot allow “Faith” to be used as a tool of hate,” said fellow alumnx Rev. Tino Cordova. “We must live our faith of love.”
Respondents had a long list of actions they’d like to see their local churches take, from creating study and support groups led by affirming church leaders to taking more visible stances like hanging Pride flags outside the church or participating in Pride marches.
Many saw churches that try to remain ‘neutral’ as dangerously out of touch with the current climate. “I think a number of churches are perhaps not overtly exclusive but try to avoid the topic of LGBTQ+ inclusion/affirmation wherever possible out of fear of creating conflict or having to take a real stand. I’d like to see churches being more active in their support, welcome, and affirmation rather than just being passively inclusive, even if that means making some people uncomfortable, and truly centering and uplifting queer voices and experiences as central to our understanding of the divine,” said one staff member.
“People need to know that not only are they welcome in a church, but that they are also SAFE there. It is simply not enough to hold these ideas ambiguously anymore,” said PSR’s director of admissions, Keaton Andreas.
For those churches hoping to avoid conflict by staying on the sidelines, current student Felicia Grebe urged them to take the lead in driving the type of conversations that could heal divisions. “Christian churches need to be doing the grassroots work of creating safe spaces for people who hold faith views against the LGBTQ+ community, to hear the stories of LGBTQ+ Christians and be exposed to theology that addresses their scriptural concerns about LGBTQ+ identity —without being in an environment where it feels unsafe for them to disagree or struggle with the issue. Otherwise, how will any of those people ever be able to become allies?”
Though conservative Christians frequently claim to have the authority of the Bible on their side in their anti-LGBTQ+ arguments, the PSR community offered many counterpoints, most centered around the theme of love. Rev. Cordova cited John 13:34, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” He followed up with, “Period at the end of that statement.”
Focusing on God’s universal love, Cross shared Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Multiple people cited 1 Corinthians 12, “The hand cannot say to the eye I don’t need you. We are all members of the One body.”
When it came to more specific anti-LGBTQ+ messages, Rev. Lawrence commented, “The lack of passages in the New Testament on LGBTQ+ issues is the most important information.”
President Rev. David Vásquez-Levy summed up PSR’s mission institutionally saying, “Over the last few years, we’ve seen hate crimes and legislative bills targeting LGBTQ+ communities increase dramatically, turning back the clock on decades of progress towards full inclusion. In a world where the loudest and the most influential arguments made against our LGBTQ+ family are conservative, religious voices, progressive Christian faith communities like ours have a special responsibility to act visibly, publicly, and demonstrably to support and protect the dignity and integrity of LGBTQ+ people.”
Read more Progressive Voices of Change
Resources from the Community
A Whosoever Church: Welcoming Lesbians and Gay Men into African American Congregations — by Gary David Comstock
Solus Jesus: A Theology of Resistance — by Emily Swan and Ken Wilson
Trans-Gender: Theology, Ministry, and Communities of Faith — by Justin Sabia-Tanis
Bodies on the Verge: Queering Pauline Epistles — edited by Joseph A. Marchal
The Queer God — by Marcella Althaus-Reid