Religion and LGBTQ issues can make for a pretty volatile mix. However, they can also constitute an intriguing and lively discussion where people discuss their similarities and differences.
The latter occurred Oct. 20 as the Faith Project held its launch at All Saints Episcopal Church. The grassroots organizations LGBT Change and the Civil Rights Agenda, who collaborated to create the project, sponsored the talk.
According to its Facebook page, the Faith Project "unites and empowers people of faith to gain justice for the LGBTQ community through their faith and engagement. The Faith Project utilizes outreach and events to promote dialogue and inspire action. Resources and projects are shared to influence progress and reach our goals."
At the outset, LGBT Change co-Executive Director Anthony Martinez thanked attendees "for being at the very beginning of something that has been a three-year-long process. ... It's something that I'm very excited to see come to fruition."
Project head and LGBT Change member Chas Lovelace said that she met Martinez a few months ago at a conference. Then, " [ Martinez ] approached me a couple months later, and he was [ talking about ] the lack of faith-based groups that dealth with LGBT rights. I agreed with him, and that's when we started working together." She added that "it's really important to us to make sure that people of faith can have this conversation and feel like they're in a welcoming environment."
Pastor Suzanne Anderson-Hurdle of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church & Preschool in Romeoville spoke about being a gay-rights activist, having worked with such organizations as Equality Illinois. "Sometimes I feel like I'm alone out there," she said.
She also talked about how the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America recently voted "to allow for same-gender unions and for the ordination of LGBT people, which is a huge thing for many of us who are straight and are in the ministry, because it was a turning point." However, she reiterated "that it gets lonely sometimes" because the Northern Illinois synod "is not the most welcoming." Anderson-Hurdle also said that it is important to build goodwill out in the suburbs ( "It's not just a Chicago thing" ) if change is going to happen. The married mother of three children talked about how the oldest ( 17 ) put on his Facebook page, "For everyone who says I'm gay, I'm not. But if I was I wouldn't have any problem with it, so shut up." Lastly, she said that she constantly invokes a quote from Mahatma Gandhi: "Be the change you want to see in the world."
Collins Hunter of Chicago's Second Presbyterian Church started by talking about his personal life, mentioning that he is in a three-and-a-half-year relationship with another man and that Hunter just graduated from McCormick Theological Seminary in May. "It's not just about me being in love, but it's about the ability to express myself, and for you to express yourself however you choose," Hunter said. "The way we go about living our lives when we are in committed relationships to other persons is very important to me, because the Bible teaches us to be in love with thyself and with each other. That's what the church is really all about."
Hunter admitted that it is tough for everyone to be on the same page regarding same-sex relationships because the church itself is not unified. He then asked, "Beyond my personal relationship, what can I do to lift up others to want to have that relationship?" Hunter, who is also a lawyer, has also analyzed various bills and measures, and talked about how he can effectively communicate with everyone from attorneys to state legislators.
Former Catholic priest Michael Herman gave an emotional talk that centered around a friend of his who just been buried earlier last week, and the bond that he ultimately formed with the friend's mother, who, by Herman's words, seemed to be very traditional. The mother flew in from Detroit to Chicago to be by her son's side at the hospital. Herman and his partner held a wake on the friend's behalf, and the mother attended. Herman talked about the difficulty and eventual success of "trying to merge the worlds together without hurting one or the other" through song and words. The important thing, Herman said, was to not be mad at anyone but "to use our faith to bring us together."
At the end of the wake, Herman said, "she called me over and gave me a big hug. A few minutes later, she came over to say goodbye. Our three-and-a-half-year-old son was standing there. She asked him for a hug so I said, 'Go give Mrs. Serrano a big hug.' And he jumped up and grabbed her and embraced herand she had this smile on her face.
"It's worth it to fight those battles. Faith has the potential to unite us. In the end, she might not have walked away [ a changed woman ] but she didn't walk away like we didn't exist. She knew how much we appreciated the opportunity to celebrate his life."
Out lesbian Carol Goldbaum of Congregation Or Chadash said, "I came into the gay community a little bit later12 years ago, when I was 67." She then talked a bit about Judaism: "Judaism is interesting because we have almost as many denominations as Christianity except each one is smaller. Two-thirds to three-quarters of the denominations have been supporting gay people for at least 20 years ... with conservatives changing their [ way of thinking ] about two or three years ago."
Goldbaum said that she was "struck by Herman's words; it made me think of my own process with my partner. When I came out, my kids cheered, 'Oh, good. You're finally in a relationship.' ... My partner's background [ is extremely diverse ] so the whole acceptance process was much more complicated." She added that people of all faiths "need to work together" and said that she will not get married "until it has some value [ although ] we are married in the eyes of God and in the eyes of the community. I also think that we have the [ 1,138 ] benefits that come with marriage."
The Rev. Bonnie Perry, pastor of All Saints, talked about growing up Irish Catholic but finding "an amazing home in the Episcopal Church. ... This congregation has pushed me to be more of who I am." She also talked about the moment when she truly was changed, spiritually ( at 16 ) : "It started up through my toes and it went all the way up through my body, and I couldn't stop laughing and couldn't stop cryingand I knew in that moment that I was loved. How conscious was I about being gay at that point? I don't know."
Perry came out in seminary, "where 20 percent of the people were lesbians," she said. "And I was mildly confused when I encountered people who were queer and not religious." She then talked about meeting her partner of 24 years while playing softball ( "I know, I know" ) and moving here while unemployedafter making fun of women who moved because of their husbands. Perry also talked about her ignorance regarding certain aspects of religion and history, including the ordination of openly gay bishop V. Gene Bishop and the Anglican Communionand that there were more similarities than she originally realized: "I'm delighted to say that much of that change began ... when we said that you can be in solidarity with people who live in absolute poverty in other parts of the world and you can be in solidarity with those who happen to be queer."
Following the talks, there was an open forum that involved what social-justice issues are important; frustrations with the LGBTQ and faith-based communities; and actions to counter said frustrations.