LGBTQ Agenda: Gay Baptist minister reflects on fight against Christian nationalism

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday April 16, 2024
Share this Post:
The Reverend Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, at lectern, joined Congressmember Democratic Maryland Congressmember Jamie Raskin, left, at a Capitol Hill news conference on confronting book bans and censorship. Photo: Courtesy Interfaith Alliance
The Reverend Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, at lectern, joined Congressmember Democratic Maryland Congressmember Jamie Raskin, left, at a Capitol Hill news conference on confronting book bans and censorship. Photo: Courtesy Interfaith Alliance

A gay Baptist minister told the Bay Area Reporter he is helping in the fight against Christian nationalism that seeks to exclude other viewpoints, including those of LGBTQ people such as himself.

"Some people have the belief they can impose their beliefs on the rest of us, and not coexist in peace," the Reverend Paul Brandeis Raushenbush said. "We're using the power of religion to fight back against the anti-LGBTQ hate that is happening."

Raushenbush, president and CEO of the Interfaith Alliance, said during a recent visit to San Francisco that the 30-year-old organization founded to counter the religious right is working on its annual Faith for Pride initiative to oppose anti-LGBTQ legislation. In its third year, Faith for Pride hosted 50 events in 19 states last year.

"We had events in all different states and this year it's going to be even more robust," he said.

This year's events have not been scheduled yet, Raushenbush said, but a new component will be a tool for people to report homophobic and transphobic incidents that will be formally announced soon.

"We're working closely this year with the Southern Poverty Law Center," Raushenbush said, referring to the Alabama-based civil rights and public interest litigation organization.

"We're going to be doing this massive engagement across the country," he explained. "We're going to be training people to identify hate that comes out as people celebrate Pride: how to identify it, how to report it, and how to de-escalate. ... It's happening and has not been announced yet and it's going to be very cool. SPLC does a lot of research so they can have information to strategize."

RG Cravens, senior research analyst lead for SPLC's Intelligence Project, told the B.A.R., "SPLC's research on hate groups has always been community informed and that comes from deep partnerships with other organizations and from being a trusted group for targeted people to come to with their experiences."

"We know that Black folks, immigrants, LGBTQ+ people, and others continue to be the targets of hate movements," Cravens stated. "Inclusive interfaith communities play an important role countering hate and defending civil rights movements. We are proud to again be a Faith for Pride sponsoring organization. We hope we won't have to take many reports of anti-LGBTQ+ incidents during Pride, but we'll be ready to do so. In partnership with [Interfaith Alliance], we'll support communities in their response and effort to build inclusive safe spaces."

(Most recently, Southern Poverty Law Center added anti-LGBTQ Libs of TikTok founder Chaya Raichik to its "Extremist Files," as the B.A.R. reported.)

'Interfaith heart'

Raushenbush, 59, came to the Interfaith Alliance a year and a half ago. His life's trajectory — and that of his family — prepared him for this role, which he called "the perfect job for me."

"I have an interfaith heart," he said. "I'm dedicated to my Jewish cousins as much as to my Christian cousins."

His great-grandfather (the father of his grandmother, Elizabeth Brandeis Raushenbush) was Louis Brandeis, the first Jewish person on the United States Supreme Court. On the other side, his great-grandfather was Walter Rauschenbusch, a Baptist theologian influential in the social gospel movement of the late 19th and 20th centuries.

His grandfather, Paul Raushenbush, married Elizabeth, and together their research helped lead to the creation of Social Security, as the Washington Post reported in 2020.

"Religion was not a conflict for them," Raushenbush said, "They were involved in the project of making society better."

Raushenbush lives in Manhattan with his husband Brad Gooch — whose book on the late gay artist Keith Haring was recently featured in the B.A.R. — and their two children, ages 5 and 9. Their children's best friends' families are Christian, atheist, and Hindu, he said.

"All of them deserve exactly the same treatment in American society as my son, who is being raised Christian," he said. "As a gay man, my family deserves equal treatment."

In a phone interview, Gooch said he, too, believes in America's religious diversity.

"All that sounds right with me," Gooch said. "I'm basically Episcopalian and I wrote a book 'Travels in Spiritual America' where I was taking part in Sufi group, going to Trappist monasteries. From the time I was a kid — my parents were classic 1960s, suburban, quasi-atheists — I went around to different churches and synagogues as a kind of spiritual tourist, but looking for something, obviously.

"My personal experience has been a collage of different faiths. ... Haring was likewise," Gooch added. "He was a Jesus freak as a kid — as a teenager he drew the baby Jesus with the rays emanating out of it. He grew up to be opposed to institutional religion, but that last judgment triptych sort of streamed together all his interests."

And so Raushenbush's work "to stand up for the American ideal," as he puts it, "that no religious tradition gets to dictate to others the standard of morality," is personal.

"It's rooted in my commitment to the future of my family," he said. "As a gay man, my family deserves equal treatment."

Raushenbush previously served as editor of BeliefNet and as the executive director of the Huffington Post's religion section. From 2003-2011, he was associate dean of religious life and the chapel at Princeton University.

In his role at the Interfaith Alliance, Raushenbush helps bring supportive faith groups together; for example, after Our Saviour's Lutheran Church in Fresno was attacked last year after a family-friendly drag show was held there, as KFSN-TV reported.

"Because they are part of the Interfaith Alliance, everyone showed up for them," Raushenbush said.

The Reverend Bill Knezovich, a gay, married man who is pastor at Our Savior's Lutheran Church, said in a phone interview, "We had several different groups that came to our aid, and the Interfaith Alliance was one of them."

"They were there when the Proud Boys were at our church trying to get in; fortunately, the police were there too, and stopped them from getting in," Knezovich said, but there was still extensive damage allegedly done by the neo-fascist militant group.

"What they [Proud Boys] did was break out every window of our church, our social hall, and our education wing to the tune of $45,000 damage," Knezovich said. "We had to replace the rugs, which are saturated with glass, which is like glitter — impossible to get out. They were finally finished last November. In the meantime, we got a bomb threat and the police showed up."

The threat apparently originated in Nigeria, Knezovich said, but the FBI told him it could have come from Americans, in an effort to evade U.S. law enforcement.

Another example the alliance did was coordinate a letter that 40 faith-based organizations signed to support the Respect for Marriage Act, signed into law by President Joe Biden in 2022.

Specifically, the Respect for Marriage Act repealed the discriminatory "Defense of Marriage Act" that Congress passed in 1996 but had key provisions struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 (Section 3, U.S. v. Windsor) and 2015 (Section 2, Obergefell v. Hodges). Not only does it require federal recognition of same-sex and interracial marriages nationwide but also mandates states must recognize such unions performed in other states. The act includes protections for religious liberty.

"Across religious traditions, we honor the common tenet that every person has inherent dignity and worth," the letter stated. "And wherever we call home, we share the desire to care for our families with love and commitment."

Raushenbush said it was cited by U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) on the Senate floor in support of the legislation.

"There's a narrative of religion versus LGBTQ rights," Raushenbush said. "That's a 20-year-old narrative. Religious communities now generally support LGBT equality."

While America's two largest religious denominations — the Roman Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention — are not LGBTQ-affirming, increasing numbers of other congregations, both Christian and non-Christian, are.

Raushenbush went on a tour of Grace Cathedral, seat of the Episcopal Diocese of California, on April 10, with the Reverend Malcolm Young, dean of the cathedral.

While waiting for Young, Raushenbush looked for and found Haring's altar piece, which is in the church's AIDS Interfaith Chapel near the entrance. Haring, the subject of his husband's book, constructed the piece a few weeks before his death from AIDS complications in 1990.

Young told the B.A.R. that "The Keith Haring triptych Altar Piece is one of Grace Cathedral's greatest treasures."

"Completed only two weeks before his death it expresses the deep love that God feels for all people, especially for those suffering in the AIDS crisis," Young stated. "It is the center of our Interfaith AIDS Chapel where we remember those who lost their lives so tragically because of this disease. Haring reminds us that God loves all people without exception."

Added Raushenbush: "It's beautiful how the cathedral has that set up in a prominent place. Everyone can see it. Keith Haring was a queer man, dying of AIDS, and had such a vision for religion. No voice doesn't count. Christian nationalism wants to say who counts."

LGBTQ Agenda is an online column that appears weekly. Got a tip on queer news? Contact John Ferrannini at [email protected]

Never miss a story! Keep up to date on the latest news, arts, politics, entertainment, and nightlife. Sign up for the Bay Area Reporter's free weekday email newsletter. You'll receive our newsletters and special offers from our community partners.

Support California's largest LGBTQ newsroom. Your one-time, monthly, or annual contribution advocates for LGBTQ communities. Amplify a trusted voice providing news, information, and cultural coverage to all members of our community, regardless of their ability to pay -- Donate today!