The issue of gay marriage and more broadly – LGBTQ rights – has been strongly debated in state and federal politics. And though this has been a hot topic at the White House, it is even more controversial in our churches, mosques, synagogues, and places of worship.
I believe this topic strikes at a very personal level for many people. Places of worship can be a source of comfort and encouragement for people. The church can be the pillar of a community and many have good memories of growing up in the church or another place of worship.
However, for LGBTQ people, churches can become places of exclusion and confusion.
“I not only loved the church, but I was in love with the church and knew that I would have to leave it.” – Pastor Joseph Tolton, LGBT Faith Leaders of African Descent.
The good news is that affirming churches and place of worship do exist.
An organization addressing this discussion is LGBT Faith Leaders of African Descent. The organization is made up of clergy, divinity students and faith leaders from a variety of religious and denominational backgrounds in the Christian faith.
LGBT FLoAD works to educate, provide accurate information, and encourage frank dialogue about love, inclusiveness and being an LGBT person of color, as well as a person of faith.
They include lists of resources on their website: affirming churches, books, and links. Affirming churches are large churches, such as Riverside church in Manhattan, as well as medium sized and small local church communities.
One project completed by the organization is particularly personal. Telling Our Stories, is a collection of short filmed biographies by faith leaders and members of the organization.
As explained on the website, the project “grew out of our desire to see our faces, faces of color, on the many websites where same gender loving people are telling their stories. We wanted to offer balance and reality for all who seek assistance, guidance and hope as they struggle with being a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning individual.”
Rev. Wilhelmina Perry, leader at LGBT FLoAD, says, “You must speak – that those of us who are same-gender loving love as deeply as other people who are heterosexual.”
LGBT FLoAD is dedicated to keeping up the discussions in faith communities. They sponsor affirming advertising campaigns hosted on bus stops in Harlem. The organization hosts forums that feature important speakers, highlighting papers and authors on their website, as well as organize protests to make changes in policy.
I was delighted to find this topic highlighted in the recently released film, The New Black.
Director of The New Black, Yoruba Richen, an award-winning filmmaker and journalist, documents the stories and steps of organizers in the fight for the legalization of gay marriage in the state of Maryland. Protestant churches in Maryland led by Black pastors are on both side of the issue, with pastors and congregants organizing to sway the vote in the state.
In one scene, Sharon Lettman-Hick of National Black Justice Coalition is cooking in the kitchen with her family. They are discussing their views on the issue of LGBTQ rights, their stories of family members who have come out as gay, and their opinions on how to parent children. Their discussion emulates how within one family, the views expressed can vary widely.
The film documents how these diverse viewpoints are also present in our places of worship. There are religious institutions that preach against the rights of LGBT people, and institutions spreading the message of inclusion and affirmation. Our churches are divided on this issue.
By supporting organizations such as LGBT Faith Leaders of African Descent, we can be participants in the ongoing discussions in order to empower and love people who find themselves excluded from communities.
by Jolene Halzen, Masters candidate in Nonprofit Management at the New School