On Tuesday, June 23, the Parliament hosted its first webinar in a 3-part series focused on LGBTQ+ inclusion in faith and interfaith communities. The June 23 webinar hosted a panel reflecting on the forms of oppression that LGBT people are facing in their communities, the challenges they have experienced in their work toward creating a more inclusive next generation, and what strategies they’ve found to overcome these challenges. Panelists included Noa Sattath, Director of the Israel Religious Action Center and former Executive Director of the Jerusalem Open House, an LGBT community center in Jerusalem, David Bryan Ochara, co-founder and minister at Cosmopolitan Affirming Community (CAC), an LGBTIQ inclusive and affirming Ministry in Nairobi, Kenya, Johnny Martin, coordinator at the Interfaith Homeless Emergency Lodging Program in Arizona and has served in youth leadership and advisory roles with Interfaith Youth Core, North American Interfaith Network, and United Religions Initiative, and Alex Sullivan, who has been dedicating their expertise in digital landscapes and online spaces to help faith communities transition to online community during COVID-19.
Enjoy highights from this dialogue below! Full webinar recordings are available for Parliament members in the Member Hub. The Parliament's LGBTQ+ Webinar Series will continue with a Spanish-speaking webinar on July 7 highlighting the inclusitivy work being done in religious communities across Latin America. The final part of the series will be a private members' webinar on July 21, discussing various faith perspectives on LGBTQ+ inclusion in faith spaces.
Below, panelists respond to follow-up questions from audience members.
Audience member: "There is a growing narrative among some affirming Christians that Love is Love and it's fine to love anyone, but gay marriage is prohibited in sacred scriptures. How can we deal with this kind of imbalanced affirmation?"
David Ochar: There is an apparent conflict between parts of the religious texts and LGBTIQ+ identities in Africa (global south). This largely is connected to the misrepresentation, mis-contextualization of the sacred writings especially in ways that hinder the thriving of an individual and section of citizens. It’s hugely political. Solution: Counter disinformation and scapegoating of LGBTIQ+ individuals that has a web of global support and funded by right-wing American evangelicals and some of anti-LGBTIQ Activities also has roots of funding from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Bruce Knotts: Gay marriage is nowhere forbidden in the Bible. Adultery and divorce are forbidden, yet accepted in most churches. Here are some verses to consider in the Gospel of John: Chapter 13: 23-25: "Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved. Simon Peter therefore beckoned him, that he should ask who it should be of whom he spake. He then lying on Jesus’ breast saith to him, Lord who is it?" You can read the rest of the Gospel of John and see the repeated references to the disciple whom Jesus loved and to whom on the cross, Jesus entrusted his mother. Tell me who this beloved disciple was and what was his relationship with Jesus?
Alex Sullivan: As someone who has moved through different spiritual and religious spaces while trying to connect to my cultural identity, I know that a large part of “acceptance” is the community you build around you. If the community is strong enough, society cannot ignore them. Therefore, if someone is looking for acceptance in society I encourage them to find the communities that serve them.
Audience Member: “My question is, going off of the idea of religious harm and ostracization of queer folxs (further when we discuss folxs of color), how can someone find their religious community? I think that queer folx have a unique way of finding chosen family and people that feel "right" and I'm wondering how someone can go about that in a religious sense, especially with trauma surrounding religious settings and people?”
Alex Sullivan: This is actually a beloved topic for me! I subscribe most ardently to the chosen family aspect of queer theory, and I think it can be easy to apply to a spiritual/faith community. There’s a reason that traditions like Wicca, eclectic paganism, and hoodoo have grown in popularity in the last couple of years and that is due in large part to the queer approach to community-building. There’s so much love to be found— even in traumatic structures, and I think there’s also something to be said for restructuring a space to fit an individual’s needs better. The queer community and our approach to personhood is inextricably connected to that, and in the US, can give people the tools they need to navigate a tricky journey like this.
Bruce Knotts: I’m not a person of color, but I’m married to one. I was brought up in the Church of Christ and my husband was raised in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. We have both left our family churches and have become Unitarian Universalists specifically because they affirm and support our love for each other. There are many churches, mosques, temples and other places of worship which are affirming and loving of us all.
Audience member: "How does conversion of religion play a role is general acceptance in society?"
Bruce Knotts: I have explored several religions and feel that there is an essential unity in faith. Society generally expects you to be in one religion for your entire life. That is changing and society is coming to better accept those of us who explore. Being a gay man myself, I was already used to society not accepting me very well, so changing my religion and again facing some in society who don’t accept me is nothing new. For me the answer is not for me to conform to what I think society wants me to be, but rather to be my authentic self and work for society to be more accepting and affirming of difference, even of those who change along their life journey.
David Ochar: I have changed denominations and that is almost similar to changing religions (perhaps slightly). Religious orientation (conviction) is similar to sexual orientation in that at times our religious convictions, just like sexual orientation, can override what others expect of us.
Noa Sattath: I think all religions are evolving. It is on us to interpret god’s words in every generation so that religion is a positive force helping us live up to our god given potential to create a better world
Audience member: “Any comments on manipulated video? For example, there was recently a video of black and white children running to greet each other which was turned into reverse to portray the white child chasing the black child as a racist act.”
Alex Sullivan: I have many thoughts on this topic, and the topic of manipulating media for a specific viewpoint. I think it’s most important that everyone in this digital age reaches a space of digital literacy—to encourage interrogation of what they are being shown on their screens and feeds. Otherwise it’s hard to understand examples like the one above, which was reactionary given the uprising surrounding the murder of George Floyd, and why it was modified in that context. The context is what’s key here— and when it comes to manipulated video I am not that worried about that manipulated video (though it does connect for me urgently to manipulation of footage from police bodycams). I’m actually most worried about ‘deep fake’ videos that can perfectly emulate a person’s voice and face, even if it’s not them talking. That’s dangerous to activists and politicians alike, and will be most harmful in the coming years.