Faith in Public LIVE returns with a lively exchange between two leading voices on religion and politics. Harry Knox, Director of the Religion and Faith Program at the Human Rights Campaign, and Aaron Krager and Mike Lee, founders of the blog Faithfully Liberal, will trade posts on proposition that’s been a subject of lively recent debate: In outreach to people of faith, progressives should not hesitate to talk openly about advocating for GLBT rights.
Part 8: Aaron Krager and Mike Lee on Uniting All of the Fights for Justice
Thank you for the discussion this week. It has been rewarding for the both of us, and we are excited to implement new ideas into our thinking.
Progressives have a long way to go in reaching out to moderate and conservative people of faith. For the most part, we see that 40% of people support the left, another 40% support the right, and that leaves 20% undecided and up for grabs. These people tend to be independents that sway the electoral process one way or another. Unfortunately the political and social process can resemble a big game of tug-o-war as opposed to a group sitting around a table.
We have discussed some excellent ways to create inroads on the local level, most specifically in congregations and schools. To make inroads into groups, we must first relate to people at a one on one basis, making inroads into their hearts. As you wrote, telling people our own stories is crucial to connecting on a personal level. Even for liberals, the GLBT community can seem to be the “otherâ€, and until we can establish the community as one of “usâ€ there will still be divisions. We can find common ground inside our own struggles and successes. Our Christian story is about freeing the oppressed and reconciling the oppressors, but also “taking the log out of our own eyeâ€ in recognizing how we are complicit in systems of injustice.
Hopefully we can adopt what we have discussed and use it on many landscapes. That is what it means to be a socially active Christian in today’s world. We must fight many battles for justice on many fronts. Darfur, global warming, extreme poverty and LGBT rights are just a few, but each are equally as important.
Thanks again, and lets continue to collaborate in the future!
Mike Lee and Aaron Krager
Part 7: Harry Knox: We can’t Skip the Biblical Discussion
Mike and Aaron,
This discussion has been very rewarding for me. Thanks again for this week’s dialogue.
I don’t think we have the luxury of skipping the Biblical conversation if engaging the moveable middle is our goal. The middle speaks the language of faith, and we must, too, if we are to communicate in language they understand. On the other hand, I surely agree that it is only one of many approaches we will take on the journey to justice.
Perhaps the most powerful tool available to us is the simple telling of our own stories and those of folks we love. In church talk we call it the ministry of presence. Straight people in the middle are less able to discount GLBT people when we make our presence known and persist in sharing the truth about our commitments – the way we care for our partners, spouses, and children – as well as the real problems we face in the United States, including all those that could be remedied, in part, through marriage equality. These conversations, for GLBT people of faith, will include sharing how our faith supports and challenges us. The authenticity of our stories will shine through and the truth will, ultimately, set us free.
If we are truly honest, we will not only share how our faith has helped us deal with being the victims of oppression, but will also talk about how we have come to understand ourselves as oppressors, too. No one who takes the Hebrew or Christian scriptures seriously (or the sacred texts of other major religions) can long stay satisfied with their own place in society. If we do not feel called to greater love for neighbor and responsibility toward the earth, we just aren’t paying attention to what we are reading. When I am able to offer grace to others, it isn’t simply because I find it politic to do so, but because I recognize that I hurt others as often as I am injured. When I am at my best, I am able to love (even like!) those who oppress me because I want so much to be loved, too. I am able to see them as they hope someday to be, just as I hope they will, with great grace, see me.
Blessings on your good work!
Part 6: Mike Lee and Aaron Krager on the Challenges of Proof-Texting
Discussing GLBT rights issues in relation to the biblical text is often a difficult undertaking. This is primarily because scripture can be interpreted in a variety of ways, and no matter how it is understood, interpretations often become inerrant to the beholder.
While we agree with the biblical re-tellings provided in your last email, we are skeptical about whether we should approach GLBT/faith issues through a biblical lens. Or, more precisely, we are skeptical about whether this should be a primary vehicle. Though conservative Christians claim their beliefs are biblically rooted, in fact they spawn from somewhere else, and the Bible is used as a support. Our attempts to re-conceptualize biblical meaning will be fruitless so long as the motives for anti-GLBT proof-texting continue to be rampant.
I believe your discussion of grace is also important, because in many ways everyone is a victim. The GLBT community has been wounded at the hands of fundamentalists, yet at the same time the fundamentalists are a victim of a culture that breeds hatred, exclusion, and fear. They are victims whose punishment is a lifetime of anger in their hearts. This statement is not meant to let those who sow hateful speech of the hook, but it is instead to point to the need for grace, and as an acknowledgment that in the face of hardship and exclusion we can recognize the humanity in those that persecute us.
The GLBT rights discussion must be one directed at the liberation of all–the liberation of the GLBT community from marginalization, and the liberation of the world from fear and intolerance. We must, as Jesus proposed, love our enemies–but of course that doesn’t mean we have to like them.
Mike Lee and Aaron Krager
Part 5: Harry Knox on the Importance of Engaging Sacred Texts
Aaron and Mike,
I talked about just this issue of moving those who are politically and theologically moderate or conservative with the students of the gay/straight alliance at Keuka College in NY Wednesday night. They wanted to know how to engage their families and friends in ways that would really transform their thinking. It is just such people in moderate to conservative Congressional districts like theirs, represented by a Republican, who we need to engage and move.
I stressed that in order to move Christians – we have the toughest time with them in the US – we must show that we at least respect and often share their beliefs. This is neither about being “cautious” not “extreme,” but rather about fully and repsectfully engaging the sacred texts that are used against GLBT people. For those of us for whom it is true, we must say that we love the Bible; in fact it’s the Bible that motivates us to work for justice for GLBT people. Micah 6:8 says, “God has showed you…what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” It makes a good place to start real dialogue with our Christian neighbors.
We must tell the story of Sodom in Genesis 19 and promote it’s true teaching – that God requires us to be hospitable to everyone. That’s what Jesus said the men of Sodom failed to do when they sought to gang rape visitors to their town. (Matthew 10) No one says heterosexuality is a sin because similar gang rape is commited by men against a woman in Judges 19, though Gibeah is just as obliterated as Sodom.
We must ask Christians to consider whether they live by the whole holiness code in Leviticus 18 and 19 before asking lebians and gays to adhere to the only rule still enforced in our society.
We need to point out that Paul’s words for pederasty have been mis-translated to say homosexuality.
We should ask if Christians really believe Paul could understand what a commited gay relationship was in the context of Greco-Roman society. He could not have known what was natural for gay people.
Finally, we have to remember that our next conversation with our families and friends will not be the last. It took me a long time to come to the understandings I have now. I must be willing to give grace commensurate with that I have received in order to communicate with those whose understanding is different from my own.
Part 4: Aaron and Mike on Caution and Crossing the Political Aisle
We are thrilled to continue this discussion. Crossing interfaith boundaries is another perfect example of the dialogue needed for outreach with LGBT issues. This type of grassroots advocacy helps to propel change on the local, and subsequently national, level.
At the same time, as we said in the last post, we need to cross the political aisle to discuss LGBT rights. Congregations and individuals that often disagree with the LGBT rights movement are vital to win over to see transformation. If we do not seek to engage moderate Christians regarding LGBT rights it will be near impossible to accomplish the goals in front of us.
That being said, the way we engage those of differing ideologies must be cautious. If we are too extreme or radical in our approach, we will alienate those we are seeking to engage. This is primarily because in order for discussion to commence, each group must be able to identify with the other on some level. In some instances, this may mean adjusting our approach. Just as we find it difficult to identify with the Fred Phelps of the world, so do conservatives find it equally as difficult to identify and find common ground with extreme LGBT rights activists.
Undoubtedly, this will be a struggle and a long, slow one at that. But it is a necessary one to ensure equal rights for the LGBT community. While change transpires incrementally over the course of time, we need moderate people of faith for it to take place sooner.
We need to think big, but in some ways start small.
Peace and blessings
Aaron Krager and Mike Lee
Part 3: Harry Knox on Diversity and Authenticity
Aaron and Mike,
We’re singing from the same page of the hymnbook!
It is vital to engage people of faith through multiple media and as locally as possible. Among the approaches we have taken in the HRC Religion and Faith Program are Faith and Fairness Town Halls, in which we coalition with many local congregations – more than 20 from various faiths in Orlando, for instance – to provide local folks access to nationally and regionally known faith leaders from diverse traditions. The theme of these town halls is “finding tools for advocacy in YOUR faith tradition.”
Building the coalitions necessary to make these events successful has been the catalyst for ongoing cooperation between the local faith communities and they report impressive long term effects of the education received.
Likewise, our Claim It! events on historically black college and university campuses like Tennessee State University have not only provided African-American students with rhetorical tools they can use over dinner with their families, but have also connected them to local local congregations ready to support them week in and week out long after our program is over.
And of course, it was our coalition partners we reached out to first when we were recruiting for the Clergy Call for Justice and Equality in Washington this week. They came to DC when we needed them, in part, because we had been there for them in their local communities. A powerful combination!
The impact of the Interfaith dialogue these programs initiate was clear at our Interfaith celebration in Washington last night. Many remarked, after one of the most powerful worship experiences you can imagine, about how universally resonant the themes of justice, community, and unconditional love were. Everyone spoke and sang from their authentic traditions in ways that harmonized across all faiths present. The hymn we created was powerful and beautiful indeed.
Part 2: Harry and Mike on Outreach to Diverse Communities
We too are happy to be a part of this important discussion regarding outreach to people of faith concerning LGBT rights.
The work that you are doing at the Human Rights Campaign with elected officials and candidates is paramount to the cause. The 230 diverse faith leaders is an impressive number that will hopefully continue to grow, and ecumenical gatherings such as these are essential to immerse faith communities in LGBT issues.
While we affirm your large-scale work, our focus is on smaller communities of faith. While you can accomplish a great deal around the boardroom table, we look to enact change and hospitality around the dinner table. At Faithfully Liberal, our objective is to be an open forum for the intersection of faith and politics, and at the forefront of this intersection are LGBT issues.
Because our outreach is primarily web-based (and we know HRC does a good amount of online outreach) a question and concern that we have is how to reach those communities that do not fully utilize web-based technologies? How do we as religious leaders make this message more wide spread?
Related to this issue, often the discussion surrounding LGBT rights occurs between people from the same communities. Essential to fostering a society that values equality and justice is engaging individuals from all ideologies and backgrounds. A goal of Faithfully Liberal is to cross the religious and political aisle. Often it is tempting to ignore those that think differently or act in hurtful ways, but it is exactly by struggling and wrestling with others that we can find liberation.
Aaron Krager and Mike Lee
Part 1: Harry Knox on Faith-Based Language and GLBT Rights
Hi Aaron and Mike,
I’m looking forward to the chance to take part in this blog exchange with you throughout this week. It’s certainly a timely moment to take on this topic.
One of my representatives in the Maryland House of Delegates sent me a letter last week that, as a Christian, I found refreshing. In his recap for constituents of the just-ended Maryland legislative session, he began a paragraph about a living wage bill by saying, “As a person of faith, I believe it’s critical to help the most vulnerable among us.â€ His appeal was not sectarian; it promoted a norm held by every faith tradition. I liked it. I relate to him even more now because I know more about what motivates him and I know it is what most often motivates me to take progressive stands.
I thought, “If we can convince progressive politicians to talk about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender issues with that sort of simple, faith-based language, I will have done my job.â€
One of our tasks at the Human Rights Campaign’s Religion and Faith Program is to help candidates and elected officials explain, if it’s true for them, that it is in part their own faith that motivates them to work and vote for GLBT civil rights. It’s God’s call to justice and compassion for everyone that moves them to support hate crimes protections. The sacred nature of work and the fact that they see God present in everyone are strong motivators for their support for workplace protections for GLBT people.
Today, we are taking those messages to Capitol Hill. More than 230 diverse faith leaders have responded to HRC’s Clergy Call for Justice and Equality, a day for progressive clergy to lobby Congress for the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. (www.hrc.org/clergycall) We hope to equip members of Congress with language they can use with people back home that will communicate effectively — faith language.
I look forward to your thoughts on challenges and opportunities facing this work and the broad topic at hand.