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notes for Queering Religion panel at Passing the Torch: Building the Future of Queer Activism conference 1/22/11

set stage for this panel by offering a few remarks about why the fight against religious homophobia, and esp. Christian homophobia, is so impt

begin with reflection on what Christianity is and what it ought to be, what it was intended to be

in honor of MLK Day, his words more eloquent than mine; [READ]

(if I ever write a book about this work, I’m going to call is “the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows)

be clear: Jesus’s ministry was for the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized; takes on elites/powerful/wealthy, in story after story – that’s what Christians ought to be about

but as King says, the church is much more about mimicking the social prejudices of the society around it than challenging them, let along challenging the social order itself

this was true in the U.S. of the church’s defense of slavery, segregation, subjugation of women

and in our own time it is esp. true of the church’s attitude towards LGBT people; there are shining exceptions, people doing amazing, wonderful, radical work in carrying on Jesus’s call to welcome in everybody and lifting up queer folks – I know, I get to work with many of them – but they are a minority. the institutional Christian church as a whole is firmly in the homophobes’ camp

and here’s why that matters – and it matters whether you are a believer or not, whether Christianity s your religion or not, whether you care at all about the soul of the church – it matters because we live in a religious nation where people overwhelmingly identify as Christian and Christian homophobia is The main force driving the persecution of queer people

The church has blood on its hands; the blood of the three men who were abducted, tortured and sexually assaulted in the Bronx last fall; the blood of all the gay teenagers who kill themselves in the face of relentless bullying and countless more.

Bishop Gene Robinson – the first openly gay bishop in the U.S. and himself so much the object of death threats that he has to wear a bullet-proof vest at public events – wrote an article in October titled “How religion is killing our most vulnerable youth.” I want to read you a passage:

Not long ago I had a conversation with six gay teens, not one of whom had ever had any formal religious training or influence. Every one of them knew the word “abomination,” and every one of them thought that was what God thought of them. They couldn’t have located the Book of Leviticus in the Bible if their lives depended on it yet they had absorbed this message from the antigay air they breathe every day….[B]ullying behaviors would not exist without the undergirding and the patina of respect provided by religious fervor against LGBT people. It’s time for “tolerant” religious people to acknowledge the straight line between the official anti-gay theologies of their denominations and the deaths of these young people. Nothing short of changing our theology of human sexuality will save these young and precious lives.

Let me paint the picture a different way as well: If tomorrow, Sunday, every preacher got in the pulpit and said homophobia is wrong, God loves queer people queer and the government should stop discriminating against LGBT people, on Monday morning state legislators would be falling all over each other to pass marriage equality; because it’s religion that gives them the moral cover for their homophobic actions

So my point this afternoon is that whether you are a religious person or not, the fight against religious homophobia is central to our fight as queer people for liberation, and I urge queer activists to think about strategies aimed at religious homophobia in whatever they do

a few specifics (three points – classic)

First, if you are a member of a religious institution at any level, you must speak out; you must dissent from official policies of anti-gay doctrine and discrimination

there are queer rights groups within virtually every major denomination, and hooking up with these existing groups is one way to do this work

if you are part of a local congregation that is welcoming of LGBT people (like I am – this is our unofficial Gay Pride shirt) and you are comfortable there, get uncomfortable. it’s not enough that we have little enclaves of enlightenment; those of us in local churches that are welcoming must use that base to demand and push larger church institutions to change

silence is complicity, it is not an option for queer survival

I am part of a group that is doing just that, organizing dissent against church homophobia. The group is called Methodists in New Directions – MIND – and we are a regional body working for change within the New York and Connecticut conference of the UMC

if you want to know more about MIND, check out our website (which I maintain, so I’d be really happy if I saw a spike in my google analytics as a result of this conference); the address is

I do want to tell you about one thing MIND is doing as an example of the kind of creative work that I think people within religious institutions can and should do

the UMC, among other backwards bigoted things, prohibits its ministers from performing same-sex marriages. we have drafted a covenant of conscience that declares our intention to perform such weddings anyway and are gathering signers on it. our idea is to build a big, broad network of clergy who are committed to marrying folks in spite of the ban, and then to publicize the hell out of it both within our conference in the church and to queer communities

the genius of it is that declaring that you are going to marry gay folks is not a violation of church law – so no one can be defrocked for signing the covenant – and tracking down individual weddings that might happen as a result of this initiative is going to be very hard for church officials to prosecute

our intent is to make marriage equality a lived reality in our jurisdiction of the church; our belief is that Methodists – as Christians – should not, must not wait to stop discriminating against queer folks until some larger church body changes its policies. we can and we must stop discriminating now; that is the essence of faithfulness to the Gospel

so that’s one glimpse into MIND’s work

the second point, for queer activist groups outside the church, seek out alliances with those groups within the religious institutions doing the work

get them to co-sponsor your stuff; inspire and challenge them to do more within their denominations; and see where your combined forces might lead you; there is strength in collaboration

getting a message to queer folks that God made us queer, God loves us queer and anyone who tells you otherwise is full of crap is an essential part of our liberation struggle

anything we can do to make sure LGBT youth and others who are suffering in self-torment because of the religious homophobia that saturates our society get that message is valuable and potentially life saving

the best carriers of that message are the religious groups like MIND doing this work; so find them and together get a flyer up in every gay bar and dorm and student center and wherever else you ARE that says God loves you queer

my last point is: Protest

religious homophobia should not go unchallenged. if there is some big church guy coming to speak on your campus and he or his church are on record opposing gay rights, organize a protest. if your campus ministries are peddling homophobia, confront them

ideally with enlightened religious groups, but either way, make sure it doesn’t go unchallenged and make sure that the institutions of organized religion that have the blood of our LGBT brothers and sisters on their hands are confronted with the fact at every turn possible