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Inviting Faith Leaders to the Journey Toward Marriage Equality

FaithLeaderI recently reread the “Letter from Birmingham Jail” written by Martin Luther King Jr. when he was arrested for a non-violent demonstration for racial equality in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. It is a fascinating and inspiring letter filled with courage and truth directed to those who needed to hear it. While the struggle for racial equality cannot be broadly paralleled, the argument that Dr. King makes toward apathetic moderate white clergy is a needed call in the fight for marriage equality. Especially with the recent push for marriage equality in the state of Illinois, I am more aware of the influence that the religious community has on even local politics. Additionally, while I consider myself a spiritual and even religious person, I am also a staunch proponent for the separation of church and state. I find that politics becomes too religious and religion becomes too political, and somewhere along the way they have become too closely tied.

I am always so disheartened that all too often the religious right seems like the majority, and that they are the ones that are heard because they are the ones shouting the loudest. Aggression and hate are demeaning yet effective tools, like when a rooster puffs up its feathers to seem bigger in a cock fight than they really are. Religious leaders who use hateful rhetoric often seem like the majority because that is the farce that they want those who would disagree to believe in order to keep them silent. This causes a big problem in that it silences those religious leaders who would stand for LGBTQ equality at a conversation over the dinner table, but feel as if they would be alone in the public fight.

It is the moderate middle that we as a community need to invite to stand by us. Many of us had mentors to teach us the ropes in our coming out process, and the moderate church is going to need us to mentor them in their coming out process. If you have contact with faith leaders or would like to make relationships with them, there are some ways in which I believe we can bring them into the journey of coming out for LGBTQ equality. Caution: these tools are not for those you know disagree with LGBTQ equality, they are specifically for those faith leaders you feel are supportive but are fearful of taking a public stand.

Primarily we need to let them know that many of us are worshiping in their faith tradition, and the best way to do that is to be open with your own story of identity and faith. Your honesty will invite them to be honest about their own journey and personalize the issue of LGBTQ equality into a personal story that touches them and is connected to their own story. In sharing your personal story, share with them what is important to you about your faith tradition as well as what in your belief system informs your beliefs regarding marriage equality.

Invite religious leaders you know to events such as marches, protests, meetings, etc. The battle for marriage equality is tough for many moderate faith leaders to find their place in; it has divided the spectrum between progressive and conservative even farther apart, leaving moderates blindly finding their place (many times giving up because they are unable to find it). By giving a personal invite of their presence you can provide a way for them to see themselves allies.

Often many religious orders of religious leaders prohibit or punish taking a stake in controversial issues such as marriage equality. However, there is strength in numbers and ways in which religious leaders can support the LGBTQ community without losing their jobs. I suggest finding someone within their specific tradition who is outwardly supportive and buddying up to invite others to take a stand. I also suggest recognizing the risks for those religious leaders you are speaking with as well as asking what it is they are willing to do that they currently are not.

I truly believe in the possibility of a future where we will have LGBTQ equality, and a day where the majority of faith traditions will affirm all persons including those who identify as LGBTQ. My hope is that no one will have to write a letter from a prison or a closet to the apathetic clergy who believe they have no stake in the fight; my hope is that we get there before that. In the mean time, we as a community that has already made many strides in the face of great opposition, can build a resounding majority including faith leaders in the call for justice.

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About BC

BC is a Texan transplant to the city of Chicago, moving here to attend theology school. She has a great love for a good glass of wine, great books, meaningful conversations, her family, dance parties, and crime shows. Her great hope in this life is that LGBTQ stories will be equally heard and valued, and she believes that religious/spiritual experience and dialogue is one of many ways to work towards such a reality. BC is a pastor by trade but a mystical religious mutt in spirit, hoping to soak up as many understandings of hope each person has to offer.

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