“Is it possible to be LGBTQ+ and spiritual?” While this has been a perennial question, it is understandable why it should take on greater urgency in the current political climate. Story upon story emerges from the national political arena about efforts to overturn policies meant to protect the LGBTQ+ community in a seemingly relentless march toward the undoing of the progress made. The voices that are granted the loudest platform are those who clothe their anti-LGBTQ+ agenda in the language of religious judgment and under the umbrella of “religious freedom”. It is little wonder that LGBTQ+ individuals seriously doubt that there is a place for them within this American Christian Church.
There are many voices within and outside of Christian religious organizations that call into question the very “Christian-ness” of these actions. Theologians, pastors, lay church leaders, and average religious people ask how blatant hatred and bigotry toward the LGBTQ+ community replaced the commands to “love one’s neighbor as oneself” and “show compassionate kindness to the stranger”. One United Methodist pastor writes, “For all of our spiritual fanfare, many rightfully discern that something is deeply askew among us . . . The one place, the one people with whom love should boldly rule the day, be adored in all its splendor, and lifted high up above all things, is among Christians. Yet, the loudest confession heard around the world from the megaphone of conservative Christianity is – ‘ Love isn’t enough’” [“Conservative Christian, I Beg of You, Why Can’t Love Be Enough?” (chriskratzer.com, June 20, 2017)]. Instead, American conservative Christianity seems best characterized by judgmentalism toward those whose sexual orientation or gender identity does not conform to their narrow definition.
Is this not an example of human hubris? A North Carolina pastor writes, “It is the height of arrogance to assume that the manner in which someone loves is up for another [person]’s debate. . . I trust that the God who made [LGBTQ+ individuals] already knows what is best for them and speaks more clearly to them on these matters than anyone else” [“Why Being LGBTQ IS ‘God’s Best’ for LGBTQ People” (johnpavlovitz.com, May 4, 2016)] Both these pastors challenge religious people to reorient their engagement with people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities in a way that preserves the dignity of LGBTQ+ individuals.
Just as at the national and international level, efforts by religious leaders and practitioners in the F-M area seek to resist a fear-filled exclusivism and practice a loving inclusivism that affirms the experiences of all human beings. One of the concrete forms that this takes is an Interfaith Worship service which is held each year on the final day of Pride (before the parade). This service provides the opportunity for members of the LGBTQ+ community and their allies to engage a spirituality that explores and celebrates the authenticity of all experiences of sexual orientation, gender expression and/or gender identity. Understanding that, for many, personal experiences with Christian religious institutions have been too negative, the service purposely draws upon the diversity of the world’s religious and humanistic traditions to invite the community into a greater exploration of how sexual orientation and gender identity can be meaningfully examined and positively understood through religious symbolism, narratives, and theological categories. Interfaith worship can demonstrate a solidarity across religious communities through a recognition of similarities in experiences and religious expressions (both positive and negative), while also providing new insights borne of the differences in how sexual orientation and/or gender identity is constructed. Not only does this open new avenues for individual self-exploration, but encounters with difference can bring one’s own self-understanding into sharper focus. In both instances, the journey toward incorporating spiritual insights into one’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity has the potential for enrichment.
The 2017 F-M Pride Interfaith Service (Sunday, August 13, at noon in the Historic Fargo Theater) will take up the theme “Come. See. Go. Tell.” There will be readings drawn from a variety of spiritual traditions, musical performances by local artists, and an opportunity for all of wish to share their own stories following the service. For more information, see (website address).