So, as some readers may know there is going to be an interfaith panel about faith and LGBT issues/identity on campus this Thursday at 8pm in University Hall 101. The panel will feature different campus clergy members and LGBTQ students. The panel, combined with the recent rash of gay suicides and the explosion of Dan Savage’s It Gets Better Project makes these two posts very timely. These posts were not written to be in dialogue with each other but I think they pose two interesting viewpoints that compliment each other well. I really wanted to present these side by side but try as I might I can’t figure out how to get columns into WordPress. This first post comes from Derrick Clifton, a gay Christian who helped organize Thursday’s panel.The second post comes from Megan Berry, a married, heterosexual grad student and member of Cru. Her post is about the role she thinks Christians should play in accepting and helping LGBTQ people.  Both posts are truly phenomenal and I want to make sure they get equal attention even though I can’t give them equal prominence on the page!

LGBT + FAITH = Bleeding Love by Derrick Clifton, Programming Co-Chair for Rainbow Alliance

“Closed off from love, I didn’t need the pain. Once or twice was enough and it was all in vain. Time starts to pass – before you know it, you’re frozen…” “Bleeding Love”, Leona Lewis’s ever popular ballad, vividly describes the realities for LGBT persons in various faith traditions. As an openly gay Black male who spent many years reconciling his Christian faith and sexuality, I know this progression of feelings all too well…

Many queer folks feel closed off from their religious communities because they suffer persecution and, as a result, painfully internalize anti-LGBT sentiments. Some try to continue reaching out a few more times, only to be disappointed in the negativity they encounter. And, for a number of us, the experience is so exasperating that we cease participating in our faith traditions. We become frozen.

This experience is the reason why, with a coalition of allies at Northwestern and within its religious communities, I sought to organize Thursday evening’s “LGBT + FAITH” panel discussion. With queer youth suicides being reported in the media at an alarming rate, HIV on the rise again, and couples still struggling to have their non-hetero unions legally recognized, many in my communities, especially the religious community and LGBTs, should receive the message of the panel: queer diversity in religious traditions is something to be celebrated and embraced. You might hear that statement and ask me, “why?”

The reason why unfortunate events like these happen is a result from one thing: lack of love. For the queer youth suicides, the many new HIV infections and the marriage equality movement, that lack of love from others often comes from discrimination and persecution, much of which comes out of the mouth of the Religious Right and other “fundamentalist” leaders of various religious traditions. And, quite frankly, I have a problem with those hate mongering hypocrites being called fundamentalists, because their words and actions are not based in the true fundamentals of their religion.

Last I checked, to be fundamental means to be an essential component; there’s nothing fundamental about ideals and teachings based in societal bigotry and not scripture or advanced theological inquiry. In essence, love is at the root of every religious tradition and to not teach others to love unconditionally means to fail yourself and your faith community at large. It is for this reason why religion gets such a bad rap these days, especially when the queer community has many allies in faith traditions willing to advocate for change.

The participating religious leaders on campus, who I applaud for so graciously donating their time to the “LGBT + FAITH” panel, expressly didn’t want to debate about whether or not it is consistent to be LGBT and have a faith tradition. In fact, they are participating to foster the understanding that LGBTs are to be embraced and affirmed – and so that many of our community members that are hurting or have been hurt as the result of religious persecution can benefit from a discussion that fosters spiritual healing.

No matter how often I’ve ran away from religious communities feeling isolated because of the negative, false judgment and uncharitable attitudes, the love of my Creator and experiencing that love with other people who celebrate and affirm my identity cuts me open and I “keep bleeding, keep keep bleeding love.”

Author’s Note: The LGBT + FAITH panel will take place Thursday, October 28, 2010 at 8pm in University Hall 101 and is part of the Religion and Sexuality Panel Series presented by Rainbow Alliance and the Sexual Health and Assault Peer Educators (SHAPE), in co-sponsorship with The Office of the University Chaplains, Sheil Catholic Center, University Christian Ministry and the LGBT Resource Center.

Love, Christianity, and Homosexuality – Megan Berry

Although I grew up Catholic and have been involved in Christian fellowships for many years, I have always sought to challenge my faith by asking the “tough questions.” One area where I find it difficult to accept the doctrine of my faith is in the area of homosexuality. As a child I perceived that Catholics did not approve of homosexuality but couldn’t understand specifically why that was so. I knew that relationships between a man and woman were considered normal, but how did that make relationships between two men, or two women, inherently wrong? Going back to the Sunday school cliché “God is love”, and after much thought and prayer, I decided that I did not believe that God would hate or punish any two people simply for loving each other. Even as a young teenager I knew the world was filled with hate, suffering, and pain. If two people decided to care for each other, stand by each other, and live their lives together, I couldn’t see how this could be considered a bad thing, let alone a sin.

As I grew up I felt that this belief has been affirmed by the many wonderful and caring gay and lesbian people that I have either met or become friends with. As a religious person it has often been humbling to see how much my acceptance of their sexuality meant to them. At the same time I have learned not to share this view too often within my faith groups, the mere mention raises a lot of unhappiness and invariably starts a heated discussion. People offer their well laid out arguments, their scripture passages, even their prayers, hoping that I will understand that homosexuality is a sin. I pray about the issue and consider the arguments, but in the end it’s just not in my heart to view homosexuality as anything more than an expression of love between two people, an expression which is not inherently sinful.

I bring up the issue of homosexuality not because I desire to argue my point or even start any argument at all. I bring it up because it’s an issue that few people in the religious community wish to discuss, but one on which religious opinion is often loud and markedly negative. Recently the news has been filled with incredibly sad stories of homosexual young adults and teenagers who have taken their own lives. National reaction to these stories has brought attention to the role that religion plays in establishing cultural views about homosexuality. As members of a variety of faith groups, and as individuals dedicated to the idea of respect between groups of differing beliefs, now may be a good time to look at the issue of homosexuality as it relates to religion and faith.

A national survey was released this week from the Public Religion Research Institute, which asked 1,017 Americans their views on religion and homosexuality between October 14 and 17. The study found that 40% of those surveyed said that church messages about gay people are negative, and about the same percent said that those messages contribute “a lot” to a negative perception of gay and lesbian people. The survey also found that two out of three Americans believe gay people commit suicide at least partly because of messages coming out of churches and other places of worship.

The first thing that strikes me, about both the recent suicides and about the resulting survey, is that the messages from the religious community seem to be doing real harm to gays and lesbians both as individuals and as a community. The positive side is that even people who do not belong to a faith group are listening to the messages that come out of our churches. The negative side is that we may need to be more careful about the messages that we are focusing on. I do not think that passing judgments on the behavior of others, especially non-members, should hold a place of focus within any faith group. If we fixate on judging other faith groups, or on judging individuals outside of faith groups, we stray away from the more important goals of having strong faith communities, worshiping according to our faiths, and fostering mutual respect between all faith groups. Religious individuals may not change their attitudes towards gay or lesbian people, but they can acknowledge that it is their personal belief and not a universal truth. They can choose not to fixate on messages which are primarily negative and potentially damaging to others. This is a change in mindset that does not just apply to homosexuality and is important for the newest to the most senior members of every faith group. But one which, I believe would benefit not only individual faith groups but also the relationships between all different groups of people, both religious and non-religious.

While this ideal is in keeping with the goals of an interfaith community based on mutual respect, I will mainly focus on the homosexual community as a specific example of a group with whom tolerance and mutual respect could be greatly improved.  The reason for the fixation on homosexuality by many faith groups has never been totally clear to me. Why do many faith groups not only not reach out to homosexuals, but even espouse a negative and condemning message about them? These churches and faith groups are often the same ones reaching out to other marginalized groups in society (convicted prisoners, the homeless, drug addicts) with the message of God’s love and an offer of salvation. Why does homosexuality cause such a breakdown in this message? Would it ever be possible for faith groups to reach out to homosexuals and if so what would it look like?

My frustration with excluding gay and lesbian people from faith groups is that many of them truly desire to have a relationship with God and to be a part of a faith community. Some are even born into faith communities from which they struggle to hide their sexuality or they are excluded from when they are open about their sexuality. Although homosexual individuals may certainly seek a personal relationship with God, most would agree that having a supportive faith group is instrumental in pursuing that relationship during difficult times in your life. It makes me so sad to think that the fellowship of a faith group is denied to anyone who wholeheartedly desires it.

I do not feel that it is my right to deny that to anyone. Nor is it my place to withhold sharing my faith or my friendship with a gay or lesbian person. While I live, I want to share my faith with any person who wishes to learn about it and I want to learn as much from others as I can. I want to focus on the beliefs and aspirations which are shared and which bind us together. I want to increase the amount of love, respect, and joy in the world, and not add to the hate, suffering, and sadness.

If you’ve read this far you’re probably experiencing some strong emotions of your own and thinking of what you may have been taught or heard about homosexuality from your own faith group. Those strong convictions and emotions make it clear why homosexuality is such a difficult topic within faith groups. Yet in a truly interfaith community, individuals with vastly different definitions of “sin” co-exist with mutual respect and acceptance. In a truly interfaith community, individuals celebrate differences as well as similarities and focus on messages which are positive and strengthening for all groups both religious and non-religious. I hope that as we come together to encourage interfaith community we can also apply that message of mutual respect and tolerance towards other people in our lives.

You can read more about the survey by clicking here.