Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 7 / 15 February 2018

Including queer people
in religions


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Struggling in Good Faith: LGBTQI Inclusion from 13 American Religious Perspectives, edited by Mychal Copeland and D'vorah Rose; Skylight Paths Publishing, $19.99

With the recent anti-Muslim fever sweeping the country, any understanding of Islam as well as lesser-known religions is not only welcome but also required in our pluralistic culture. And because same-sex civil weddings are now the law of the land, discovering how different American religions view LGBTQI people is essential if there are to be spiritual components to these marriages. Fortunately, local lesbian rabbi Mychal Copeland, Bay Area director of InterfaithFamily, which helps couples navigate diversity of religious backgrounds, has risen to the challenge in her new anthology Struggling in Good Faith, with gay/lesbian clergy, activists, and scholars exploring LGBTQI inclusion in their communities. How are 13 faith traditions struggling with the changing reality of LGBTQI people filling sacred spaces, creating theology and liturgy, and leading congregations? This timely, multifaceted compendium covers Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, First Nations (Native Americans), Mormons, the Black Church, Unitarians, Jews, Protestants, and Roman Catholics, with the most up-to-date positions.

In his forward, retired gay Episcopalian bishop Gene Robinson asserts that despite the presumption that religions are the keepers of unchanging eternal truths, they are constantly changing in a process that initiates dialogue between their own religious and cultural contexts, keeping them alive and relevant. Still, almost all the voices here decry sluggish progress, seeing misogyny where gay men are criticized as assuming the passive position of women, mandatory celibacy of LGBTQI people, hating the sin/loving the sinner paradigm masquerading as homophobia, and seeing sexual attraction as immutable, as the prime stumbling blocks in many traditions.

In her conclusion Copeland notes that LGBTQI people often live "fragmented lives, bringing only certain aspects of themselves to their jobs, family, school, or church." Quoting black queer essayist Audre Lorde, denying parts of ourselves is "not only internally destructive; it keeps us from accessing our fullest potential." It is only when all the fragments are integrated that one can be at peace and energetic in service to the ideals of a religion. So radical inclusivity of LGBTQI people challenges all members in a religion to bring their full selves to their spiritual lives. As long as gay/lesbian folks are excluded, the tradition is incomplete and doomed to continual struggle.

There is no single path for LGBTQI inclusion given the diversity among American faith communities. Progress in a tradition needs to be seen in historical context. For example, Orthodox Judaism's rejection of reparative therapy is revolutionary for such ultra-conservative Jews. Even in liberal bastions such as Episcopalians, LGBTQI people can still be informally treated as second-class citizens, with qualified rather than unconditional acceptance.

Many contributors are well aware that religions bear some culpability when it comes to the rise in violence against LGBTQI people, their being fired from their jobs or denied services, and youth committing suicide and at increased risk for alcohol and drug use. The key to combating these ills is suggested in the comprehensive chapter on Presbyterians by Marvin Ellison and Sylvia Thorson-Smith when they write, "The change agenda is not how to include 'outsiders' and bring them inside, but how to create together the communal conditions of hospitality, safety, and respect so that people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities can share what they have come to know, often at great risk, about resisting injustice, enhancing human dignity, and revitalizing community." Full inclusion of LGBTQI people is not so much about changing a tradition as it is recognizing that being welcoming is consistent with a community's foundational principles. "Reform" is really returning to the original founders' spiritual vision.

All the contributors in Struggling in Good Faith are superb, with special kudos to Shehnaz Haqqani on Islam, Alex Wilson on First Americans, Sr. Jeannine Gramick on Catholicism, and Rita Gross on Buddhism. Copeland ends on an optimistic note. LGBTQI issues in American religion are constantly changing, but the doors to all traditions need to swing open more widely because "when religious institutions find ways to integrate the diversity of people ready to bring their fullest selves to the table, all of our voices will become clearer." At a time when Americans are becoming more secular and less religious as well as more tolerant of sexual and gender diversity, this clarion call for LGBTQI inclusion in all religions should ring loud and clear.

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