Freedom Means LGBTQ People Finding Fellowship: How Faith Communities Are Embracing LGBTQ Nondiscrimination

By Shane Stahl • July 5, 2018 • 12:57 pm

For centuries, faith has been the cornerstone upon which millions of people have structured their lives — it has played a prominent role in countless personal journeys, has served as the principle upon which countries have been founded, and has both directly and indirectly at least influenced the shaping of law, order, and policy around the world. While faith communities have enhanced and enriched the lives of many, for the LGBTQ community, the relationship has been a bit trickier, resulting in both positive and negative experiences.

The three major Abrahamic religions — Christianity, Judaism, and Islam — have addressed the LGBTQ community in different ways across the years and among any varying denominations. While some have attempted to use religious text and doctrine to shun LGBTQ parishioners, increasingly, communities of faith are opening their doors and practicing hospitality and inclusivity.

Within Christianity’s many denominations, more and more have been welcoming openly LGBTQ people into their communities and speaking out for their dignity and ability to participate in public life. Believe Out Loud is a community founded on the principle of welcoming LGBTQ people into all walks of Christianity. In 2003, the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire elected Gene Robinson as Bishop, making him the first openly gay person to hold such a distinction. Even within Catholicism, often seen as one of the most conservative branches of Christianity, groups such as Dignity USA have worked for many years to increase acceptance and understanding of LGBTQ people. Catholic leader Pope Francis has offered comments seemingly at odds with the Vatican’s long-standing position on many issues, from civil union for same-sex couples to the ability of LGBTQ people to live openly within Catholicism.

Although acceptance of the LGBTQ community differs among sects of Judaism, several groups under the religion’s auspices have begun to minister to the needs of the community. Jewish Queer Youth is an organization that seeks to support and empower LGBTQ youth within the Jewish community, with specific focuses on emotional health and safety. Keshet is a national organization that works for full LGBTQ equality and inclusion within Judaism, and is led and supported by LGBTQ Jews and allies. Their efforts span all levels of engagement, from synagogues and Hebrew schools to social service organizations and other communal agencies.

While Islam is often viewed as one of the most anti-LGBTQ religions, certain organizations within the religion have begun to address this. The Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity, born out of the 2013 Creating Change Conference, works to connect and support LGBTQ muslims, and to promote an interpretation of religious text as inclusionary and accepting. Muslims for Progressive Values has also created a specific initiative to erase homophobia and transphobia from the Muslim community.

In a 2015 study from the Pew Research Center, 59% of LGBTQ people identified themselves as people of faith — 48% as Christian, and 11% as another faith tradition. Matthew Vines, author of God and the Gay Christian, offered, “The change may be due to the fact that the rising tide of LGBT acceptance is allowing more people in conservative communities to come out who wouldn’t have a generation ago.”

Words of acceptance have also been followed by action, showing a commitment to the principle of LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination. Leading up the the ruling in the Masterpiece Cakeshop Supreme Court Case, which concerned a Colorado bakery who refused service to a same-sex male couple by claiming a religious objection, more than 1,300 religious leaders representing nearly 500,000 congregants across 50 unique faith traditions signed a friend-of-the-court brief, coordinated in part by Freedom for All Americans and our partners at the LGBTQ Task Force, the Religious Institute, and the ACLU, that stated religion is no basis for discrimination in any circumstance. Additionally, over 100 congregations participated in a National Weekend of Prayer for LGBTQ Justice the weekend before oral arguments in the case.

The fact is, although the contrary may have been a dominant narrative in the past, LGBTQ people are largely involved in faith communities, and increased acceptance allows them to find faith, fellowship, and support among like-minded individuals. Here at Freedom for All Americans, we believe that the freedom to practice and participate in one’s religion is tantamount – that’s why it’s protected in the U.S. Constitution, and no one is trying to change that. At the same time we are heartened by faith communities opening their doors and minds to LGBTQ people, recognizing that LGBTQ people have been there all along and that now is the time to embrace the community, heal wounds, and unite to end anti-LGBTQ discrimination nationwide.  

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