LGBTQ people of faith

— From LDS to Catholics to Jews to Muslims — find ways to belong where doctrine rejects them

“I embrace my faith,” says former leader of Affirmation, a support group for queer Latter-day Saints, “but I don’t fully embrace the institution.”

By Kathryn Post

When queer students at Yeshiva University sued the school for discrimination in spring 2021, critics were quick to question why LGBTQ students would opt for an Orthodox Jewish university in the first place.

But for many LGBTQ Orthodox Jews, as with believers of other faiths, their religious identities are as nonnegotiable as their queer identities.

“A lot of people ask, why would somebody who is queer stay Orthodox? It’s like saying, there’s conflict in your family — why don’t you just leave?” Rachael Fried, a Yeshiva alum and executive director of JQY (Jewish Queer Youth), a nonprofit that supports Orthodox Jewish queer youths, told Religion News Service.

In churches, synagogues and mosques, as in families, religious teaching and texts are often cited in rejecting LGBTQ members, and many queer believers feel they have no choice but to leave. Many end up rejecting religion as a whole; others find meaning in accepting faith communities. But some LGBTQ religious people are reconciling parts of themselves that their faith’s doctrines frame as incompatible, continuing to serve and worship even where they are officially considered in violation of divine law or are barred from leadership.

A Catholic

For Madeline Marlett, it was the Jesuits who first showed her that being a Catholic, queer transgender woman was possible.

Growing up in Texas, in a devoutly Catholic household of 10, Marlett told RNS, she would pray every night that she would wake up the next morning in a different body. Years later, as a student at the College of the Holy Cross, a Jesuit school in Worcester, Mass., the body dysphoria hadn’t subsided.

“I was hoping that this trans thing would disappear, but through Holy Cross, the Jesuits showed me a different flavor of Catholicism. It was more about ‘God is love,’ less about ‘these are the rules,’” said Marlett, now 25 and living in Boston.

In a class called “Understanding Jesus,” Marlett said she first encountered the idea of a radical Christ who ministered to outcasts. “That became my barometer as I was unpacking what I believed. Is this rule loving? That’s what helped me rebuild my sense of religion to include myself and the people next to me.”

After graduating, she joined Dignity USA, a Catholic LGBTQ advocacy organization, changed her legal name and began presenting as Madeline.

Jodi O’Brien, a sociology professor at Seattle University, said many LGBTQ Christians have had the ‘aha’ moment Marlett did when she encountered stories of Jesus ministering to those on the margins.

“They rewrote themselves in the script of Christianity,” said O’Brien. “Instead of being the sinners, or the cast off, they were the ones who most embodied the love of Christ.”

A Latter-day Saint

For some, pursuing an accepting version of their faith means leaving institutional religion behind. For Randall Thacker, a Latter-day Saint and former president of Affirmation, a global organization that supports LGBTQ members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, separating God from the church was key.

“I would say I embrace my faith, but I don’t fully embrace the institution,” he told RNS. “That’s pretty hard in this kind of faith, where everything revolves around (the church).” Over the years, Thacker has learned to treasure doctrines he loves while ditching harmful teachings, a move that allows him to claim a faith that “feels like it’s in my DNA.”

A Muslim

Jordan Jamil Ahmed, 31, takes a similar approach. “Organized religion, not just in Islam, is often a way to express political power over people. Whereas, for me, the idea of faith is more innate or intuitive.”

Ahmed is a Shiite Muslim who grew up in a multiracial, multiethnic household in central Ohio. After years of wrestling with their queer and Muslim identities, Ahmed joined the Queer Muslims of Boston in 2020 and eventually connected with Union Square Halaqa, a group of marginalized Muslims who gather to study Islam.

“The halaqa is the first space where I’ve really come into my understanding of queerness and Muslimness together,” Ahmed said. The expansiveness of the divine, Ahmed believes, can’t be limited to the male-female binary. This widened view of spirituality has also allowed them to experience God, said Ahmed, who uses they/them pronouns, in everything from prayer to tarot cards to dancing at gay clubs.

But Ahmed’s spiritual fluidity, as much as their gender, has meant exile from some Muslim settings. “I’ve definitely built my community outside of traditional institutions. There aren’t really mosques where I feel comfortable.”

Tyler Lefevor, a counselor and psychologist, has found that queer believers can face exclusion in and outside of religious contexts. In a study published by the American Psychological Association this year, Lefevor and his co-author found that more than half the LGBTQ Latter-day Saints responding to a survey said they lacked belongingness in their faith community, the LGBTQ+ community or both.

The struggle to belong is what leads LGBTQ believers to create explicitly queer religious spaces like Affirmation, JQY or Dignity USA, Lefevor said. “A lot of these communities provide some of the theological tools queer religious folks need to stay within these conservative congregations. They are a group of people who get what it’s like to constantly explain yourself to people on both sides.”

The groups often go beyond theology. During the standoff at Yeshiva, JQY stepped in to fund the Pride Alliance, the student club at Yeshiva, after the university refused. It also hosts a weekly drop-in center in Times Square, where LGBTQ youth get free pizza, check in with social workers and have game nights.

Sergio Guzmán, who belongs to the San Fernando Valley chapter of Dignity USA, was emboldened by his participation to adopt what he calls a “Hell no, I’m not gonna go” stance toward the Catholic faith he loves.

After years of drifting in and out of church, Henry Abuto, a celibate gay Christian, found his way to the Side B community — a loose network of Christians who embrace queer identity but believe God designed sex for marriage between a man and a woman. Abuto, who attends a nondenominational church in Fort Worth, Texas, chose celibacy eight years ago as the best way for him to be true to himself and his faith. Like many on Side B, he’s since been called both a sinner for being gay and a self-hater for choosing celibacy.

In 2018, Abuto stumbled upon Revoice, an annual Side B conference. Suddenly, he was surrounded by people whose journeys mirrored his own. “Without that community, my walk would not be flourishing nearly as well as it is,” said Abuto, who is now a Revoice staffer.

Not all people reconcile their faith and queerness. A 2013 study from Pew Research Center found that nearly half (48%) of LGBTQ people are not religiously affiliated — more than double the share among the general public (20%). A third of religious LGBTQ people reported a conflict between their sexual orientation or gender identity and their beliefs.

Eric Rodriguez, an associate professor of psychology at City University of New York who has studied LGBTQ identity issues for decades, said faithful LGBTQ people can reject their religious identity, attempt to eradicate or suppress their queer identity, compartmentalize both identities or integrate them.

“The folks who did the best were either those who identified as being integrated, or those who identified as being secular,” he said. “That’s regardless of whether you are talking about somebody with a Christian background, Jewish background or Islamic background.”

The issue of belonging is complicated by the wide range of attitudes toward LGBTQ inclusion, even when a faith is non-affirming on paper. In the Catholic catechism, homosexual acts are called “intrinsically disordered,” but in 2019 the Pew Research Center found that 61% of Catholics said they support same-sex marriage. In 2017, Pew reported that 52% of U.S. Muslims said homosexuality should be accepted by society.

“It’s the guys in the gowns and funny hats that have the issue,” as Guzmán put it.

Jeff Chu, author of “Does Jesus Really Love Me? A Gay Christian’s Pilgrimage in Search of God in America,” said that affirming and nonaffirming labels are overly simplistic. Chu married his husband in the Reformed Church in America and is an ordained elder there, but his ordination process, which for most people takes three years, has dragged on for six due to the denomination’s broader debate over LGBTQ inclusion.

“To just say ‘nonaffirming denomination’ does a disservice to the reality on the ground, which is the truth that we are individuals, couples and congregations who are wrestling through a lot of complicated political and social terrain.”

A Christian Reformed Church member

Natalie Drew, a trans woman, never expected to land in a Christian Reformed Church congregation. The CRC, a close cousin to the RCA, codified its opposition to homosexual sex at the denominational level this summer. But Drew doesn’t choose churches based on whether they’re affirming.

“I don’t want to belong simply because they have an official policy. I want to feel like I belong because the people there treat me as if I’m truly their family,” Drew said. “It could have happened in a lot of places. It just happened to happen at CRC church.”

In light of the denomination’s opposition, Drew’s church, like many others, is reconsidering its future in the CRC. Drew said she’s not part of those conversations and doesn’t care to be. She loves the church’s commitment to ancient creeds and social justice work, and what ultimately matters is that she, her wife and her kids are welcome.

“For LGBTQIA people out there, who are struggling right now, there are churches out there,” she told RNS. “You don’t have to give up your faith to be who you are.”

Complete Article HERE!

How German Catholics pushed Church’s slow reforms

— The Catholic Church in Germany is changing to allow gays and divorcees to join its workforce of 800,000. But the reform does not go far enough for everyone.

by Christoph Strack

It’s an issue that affected the head doctor of a Catholic hospital, who was divorced and wanted to remarry; and the director of a church-run kindergarten, who entered into a same-sex partnership.

Both were dismissed by their employer, the Catholic Church in Germany. That sparked outrage among many German Catholics, who felt the church line made it look hard-hearted and at odds with today’s social norms.

Now, after repeated consultations, Catholic bishops in the country have decided to liberalize regulations covering the approximately 800,000 people who work for the Catholic Church in Germany.

“The core area of private life, in particular relationship life and the intimate sphere, remains separate from legal evaluations,” the announcement stated. In other words, what happens in employees’ bedrooms is outside the Church’s remit.

Reforms in the Church have been driven by the churchgoers
Reforms in the Church have been driven by the churchgoers rather than politicians

More liberal labor laws

The two major churches in Germany, Catholic and Protestant, form the country’s second largest employer after the public authorities. Together, they employ about 1.3 million people, and have their own church labor laws.

But why does the Catholic Church have the right to set its own guidelines for employees in the first place? This is set out in Germany’s constitution, the Basic Law, which grants religious and ideological communities extensive self-determination, including in service or labor law. In past decades, none of the major political parties in Germany wanted to restrict or abolish these provisions of the Basic Law.

That makes it noteworthy that the Catholic bishops are now changing important aspects of their labor laws of their own accord. The pressure came from employees and potential employees, for whom the Church had become an unattractive employer.

Above all, pressure grew from the Church’s base in Germany. Last year, Catholic Church workers caused a stir with an initiative entitled #OutInChurch, which earned support from many church organizations, politicians, and other social groups.

Church employees, including the clergy, came out as queer and pushed for recognition. Many risked losing their jobs, which is why some chose to remain anonymous. But the mood was changing. Some bishops also expressed respect for the initiative and announced that they would no longer fire anyone in their diocese because of their sexual orientation.

The Church’s ‘reform engine’

The “synodal path,” an assembly of lay people and bishops still working to confront abuse scandals and bring the Church closer to contemporary society, discussed the topic and made new demands regarding church labor law. Marc Frings, secretary general of the highest Catholic lay body, the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), described the “synodal path” as “the engine of urgently needed reforms.”

Now many in the Church are eager to see how implementation will take place. The Bishops’ Conference can decide on a new labor law, and each individual bishop in the 27 dioceses is responsible for implementing — or ignoring — the rules in his diocese. Experts believe that several more conservative bishops might refrain from implementing it.

Among the dioceses that promptly announced they would stand behind the new labor law were Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki’s Archdiocese of Cologne and Bishop Stefan Oster’s Diocese of Passau. Other dioceses, such as Regensburg and Augsburg in Bavaria, have been more reticent.

‘Discrimination remains’

Not everyone has joined the jubilation over the bishops’ change of heart. Würzburg University Pastor Burkhard Hose, for example, still sees “a lot of room for episcopal arbitrariness.” The new labor law, for example, states that “anti-clerical behavior” can be grounds for dismissal, but it does not specify what this might mean, leaving each bishop to interpret it for himself.

German Anti-discrimination Commissioner Ferda Ataman speaks at Christopher Street Day 2022 Berlin,
German Anti-discrimination Commissioner Ferda Ataman has also been calling for more reforms

Jens Ehebrecht-Zumsande, an employee in the Archdiocese of Hamburg and, along with Hose, one of the initiators of the #OutInChurch campaign, has criticized the fact that the new guidelines are based on a “binary gender model …. according to which there are only women and men.” Trans or non-binary people have not been taken into account, he argued.

The German government’s anti-discrimination commissioner, Ferda Ataman, also weighed in, calling for the abolition of all exemptions, except for the clergy. Only that, she said, would protect people like the doctor or the kindergarten teacher who, even under the new regulation, may be fired if they leave the Church.

In general, the federal government lets the actions of the churches pass with little comment.

For Marc Frings, the new labor law is an encouragement for the laity within the churches. He says it is evident from the new labor law “that change and reform come from below.”

Without the #OutInChurch campaign and “engaged Catholic civil society,” we would not be at the current stage of reform, he argues. “This is how we learn that our actions and discussions can have immediate consequences,” he said.

Further reform issues are awaiting action in March 2023, when a final round of the “synodal path” will address, among other things, the demand for equal rights for men and women in the Church.

Complete Article HERE!

Fr Brian Darcy

— ‘The Church needs to learn from transgender people – not just preach Canon Law’

Fr Brian Darcy

Why should we be surprised when a church leader seeks advice about something

I read a beautiful letter from a committed Catholic which shocked me in a good way. I hope it does the same for you.

This is how WE come to terms with difference; it’s how to come to terms with being transgender.

The letter was published in a leading Catholic magazine in the USA called America.

I want to be true to what the writer Christine Zuba wrote and therefore I will quote directly where possible to make sure I am not misinterpreting Christine in any way.

The letter begins: “About eight years ago, after 29 years of marriage to my wife and two beautiful children, I walked into confession with something to discuss.

“For as long as I could remember since about the age of 3 or 4, I knew that I was different.

“As a child, for years I would go to bed praying that I would wake up as a girl. This is a story commonly echoed by many transgender people like myself.”

Christine is a lifelong Catholic. As part of her transition, she took an unusual first step.

She decided to speak to a priest in the Confessional. She was aware in a general way of the teaching of the Catholic Church about being gay.

At that point, however, the church was still relatively silent about transgender persons.

“My faith has always been strong. I’ll never claim to be the perfect Catholic; I do make mistakes. Occasionally (but not often),

“I miss a Sunday Mass, and I’ve been known to utter a bad word once in a while… I do my best to be a good person, though, trying to live each day as if it may be my last.

“I was, and still am, very confident in my relationship with my God. I knew I would be the same person walking out of the confessional as walking in, no matter what some might say or claim about me.

“While my “outside” was changing, everything else—my heart, my mind, my soul and my faith—remained unchanged.”

A young woman holding a rainbow gay flag outdoors. Stock image
A young woman holding a rainbow gay flag outdoors.

The priest was sympathetic to Christine and was amazingly open to a discussion.

“…the conversation immediately diverted to sex. “Excuse me, Father,” I remember saying, “this has nothing at all to do with sex; this has to do with who I am.

“You can throw me out if you want, but if you do, I’m coming right back. This is my church too.”

What a superb response! In fairness, the priest said he had no intention of throwing Christine out.

Instead, he suggested they pray together to ask for guidance for the journey. He was so kind that Christine cried as she left the confessional.

Later she spoke to the Parish Leader in Confession. His first words were: “God loves everyone.”

He added that while he understood what it meant for people to identify as gay, “the transgender subject is somewhat new.” He admitted: “I’ll need you to help me learn.”

“I’ve been blessed”, Christine says. “While I had a very positive reaction from my priests, I know others who have experienced the complete opposite.

“They were told that they are sinners, evil or that they were not Catholic. One of my best friends was even physically carried out of the church during Mass after being refused Communion.

“Many people are still learning about transgender persons. Before the Covid-19 pandemic shut down our daily lives, I had lunch with a local priest who had baptized my grandson.

” He wanted to learn more about me. One of the first things he asked was if I was ever physically or sexually abused when I was young because it was his understanding that people become transgender as a result of abuse. I have never been abused”

An even bigger surprise was in store for Christine. “A year after my transition, I was asked if I would be interested in becoming an extraordinary minister of holy Communion.

“Shortly thereafter we also started an L.G.B.T.Q.+ ministry in our parish…

“Through Zoom, I’ve participated in numerous parish L.G.B.T.Q.+ ministries as well as informational sessions with priests, and religious and diocesan school administrators to help them better understand and accompany transgender adults, youth and children.

” I’ve met many loving, kind, wonderful L.G.B.T.Q. Catholics and allies.”

But there was an even bigger surprise in store.

“About four years ago, I was invited (along with 17 gay and lesbian Catholics, supportive clergy, and parents) to dinner with Cardinal Joseph Tobin at his residence in Newark, N.J.

“It was a beautiful and amazing evening. An introductory reception preceded a beautiful dinner and conversation, after which Cardinal Tobin sat back and asked each of us, “How can I help you?”

It was an inspired move by Cardinal Tobin. But I have to ask myself why should we be surprised when a church leader seeks advice about something he knows nothing about.

Should not that be what every leader would do? Christine had similar thoughts.

Pope Francis
Pope Francis

“I often wonder, however, what it is about me and people like me that causes so much fear among my fellow Catholics.

“Why are the transgender community selectively targeted by some as a threat to the family and the world? Nothing could be further from the truth.

“I understand our faith says that “God made them male and female.” But God made a whole lot more, and everything in between.

“Our world, science, technology, and even our church, have changed over time. Today’s science recognizes that something can happen between the body and mind, causing misalignment between the two.

“I don’t often quote science, though. I just know that “I am,” that God made me this way, and that God made me this way for a reason.

“I don’t wake up in the morning thinking about being transgender. Our lives are no different from anyone else’s. We live, we work, and we pray. We have families.

“We ask simply to be accepted and to be a part of our church, no better or worse than divorced Catholics, or Catholics who may not strictly follow other church teachings.

“Pope Francis has spoken out for L.G.B.T. Catholics, saying that God “does not disown any of his children.”

He is reported to have told Juan Carlos Cruz, a sexual abuse survivor and a gay Catholic man, that “God made you this way and loves you this way,” in reference to his identity. I pray that someday our church will take this to heart and that this message will reach trans Catholics, too.”

There is a powerful and emotional ending to Christine’s letter. In a few words, she outlines a common-sense approach that speaks louder than theology or canon law ever could. This is pure Gospel compassion from Christine Zuba.

“Transgender persons are not an ideology. We are not a threat. All of us are a part of God’s great universe, made in the image and likeness of God, a God who is neither male nor female.”

Now I’m in tears!

Complete Article HERE!

German Catholic Church Changes The Law To Permit Hiring Of LGBTQ People

By Shone Palmer

A new labor law was passed by the Catholic Church in Germany which allows people of the LGBTQ community to work under the church without being discriminated against or fired on the grounds of their sexuality.

The law was passed following a protest conducted last year by the employees of the Church who came out as queer. This new change was part of a greater drive to encourage tolerance and a feeling of oneness inside Catholic institutions.

The church officials also stated that according to the new law anyone can be part of the activities of the church that is ultimately meant to serve people and to exist for the general good in the world. There wouldn’t be any sort of biased behavior in terms of their personal choices unless it doesn’t go against the core values of the gospel itself.

Catholic Church In Germany Changes Policy To Includes LGBTQ Workers

The German Catholic Women’s Community hailed the decision and said that this is one of the most progressive decisions taken by the German Catholic Church which would be remembered throughout history.

The German state labor courts had been always critical of the labor laws of German Catholic Institutions as these didn’t go in agreement with the general labor laws of the country.

In 2011, a German labor court stated that the dismissal of a doctor who worked at a Catholic hospital on the grounds of his remarriage was unlawful.

There was a mass protest in January when around 125 employees of the German Catholic church came out in open with their queer status and raised their concern about living without fear under the catholic institutions in Germany.

There were many employees of the Catholic church like Priests, Religious teachers, and staff of administration who participated in the protest to uphold their identity and freedom.

It garnered a lot of publicity and sparked a massive debate over the stand of the Catholic Church on their hostility towards the LGBTQ community.

Usually, the work contracts of employees would be canceled if they were known to be from the LGBTQ community and the Catholic clergies refrained from blessing same-sex marriages as they considered it to be a “sin”.

The new amendment comes as a big step for the Catholic church and a success story for the LGBTQ community worldwide. The Central Committee of the German Catholics remarked that the decision was “overdue”.

Apart from same-sex relationships, the German Catholic Church was critical of people who remarried after divorce. This was also considered to be an unacceptable behavior and these people also were at risk of losing their jobs anytime.

These orthodox rules at the workplace were highly against the spirit of a democratic society as labor rights were applicable to every individual regardless of their personal lifestyle choices. The people who lived under such scrutiny for a long time had finally come out and expressed their anger and frustration through the protest.

The Conference also added that the amendment is directed at fostering a positive attitude among individuals toward the church and the teachings of the gospel.

Around the world, most catholic institutions are not welcoming of the LGBTQ community. Even in the US, the struggle for LGBTQ rights and social acceptance is still being fought every day.

Even though the situation has become much better compared to the past actions of religious prosecution of the queer communities, it still has a long way to go in terms of policy developments, social laws, and equal opportunities.

This amendment made by the German Catholic church shall be among the forerunners in the march towards queer rights.

Complete Article HERE!

Vatican urges German Catholic Church to put brakes on reform

FILE – The chairman of the Catholic German Bishops Conference, Cardinal Georg Baetzing, speaks to the media in Bonn, Germany, Feb. 25, 2021. Top Vatican cardinals called for pause in the on the German Catholic Church’s controversial reform process during an unusual Vatican summit Friday, Nov. 18, 2022, fearing proposals concerning gays, women and sexual morals will split the church. Bishop Georg Baetzing, who heads the German bishops conference, explained the work undertaken so far, stressing that it was based on listening to the “people of God and the pain over abuses committed by clergy”.

By NICOLE WINFIELD

Top Vatican cardinals tried to put the brakes on the German Catholic Church’s controversial reform process Friday, fearing proposals concerning gays, women and sexual morals will split the church and insisting they would be better debated later.

The Vatican and the German bishops conference issued a joint statement after a week of meetings that culminated with an unusual summit between the 62 German bishops and top Vatican officials, including the No. 2 secretary of state, the head of the bishops’ office and the head of the doctrine office.

The pope, who met separately with the German bishops on his own on Thursday, was originally supposed to attend Friday’s summit but did not, leaving it to his cardinals to toe the Vatican line.

Germany’s church launched a reform process with the country’s influential lay group to respond to the clergy sexual abuse scandals, after a report in 2018 found at least 3,677 people were abused by clergy between 1946 and 2014. The report found that the crimes were systematically covered up by church leaders and that there were structural problems in the way power was exercised that “favored sexual abuse of minors or made preventing it more difficult.”

Preliminary assemblies have already approved calls to allow blessings for same-sex couples, married priests and the ordination of women as deacons. One has also called for church labor law to be revised so that gay employees don’t face the risk of being fired.

The German “Synodal Path” has sparked fierce resistance inside Germany and beyond, primarily from conservatives opposed to opening any debate on such hot-button issues and warning that the German reforms, if ultimately approved in the final stage, could lead to schism.

Such warnings were echoed by Vatican Cardinals Marc Ouellet, in charge of bishops, and Cardinal Luis Ladaria, in charge of doctrine, in the meeting Friday.

According to the joint statement, they “spoke with frankness and clarity about the concerns and reservations of the methodology, content and proposals of the Synodal Path and proposed, for the sake of unity of the church,” that they be dealt with later, when the global Catholic Church takes up such issues in a universal way next year.

The statement said a “moratorium” was proposed, but was rejected.

Francis has since launched a global “synodal path” which involves soliciting input from lay Catholics around the globe that has echoed many of the same themes as the German process, including the role of women in the church and homosexuality. But there is no indication the global church is prepared to go as far as the German church in pressing for change.

Francis, for his part, has personally intervened on the German process and recently pointed to a 2019 letter he wrote to the German faithful as summarizing all he has to say on the matter. In that letter, Francis offered support for the process but warned church leaders against falling into the temptation of change for the sake of adaptation to particular groups or ideas.

Bishop Georg Baetzing, who heads the German bishops conference, for his part, explained the work undertaken so far, stressing that it was based on listening to the “people of God and the pain over abuses committed by clergy,” the statement said.

Baetzing is scheduled to give a press conference on Saturday.

Complete Article HERE!