A Christian, a Muslim and a Jew walk into a room… It sounds like the start of an awful joke; in reality it signalled the beginning of an evening with Stonewall exploring how people of all faiths can partner together and seek a way forward when our religious groups disagree on issues of human sexuality and gender.
We heard voices from the predominant faiths within the UK today as they shared, quite personally, their stories and how they found themselves doing the work they are today. As well those from the larger faith groups, there were comments from the floor from a follower of Hare Krishna – a clearly underrepresented group, not only in discussions regarding faith and sexuality but across the faith spectrum in general.
What I found to be most interesting is the variety of approaches in how to reach our goal of inclusion and welcome for all. For, despite theological differences, we remain united on that single goal – that no one should be made to feel unequal, or any less loved by the Divine because of their sexuality or gender identity.
Largely, the panels agreed that this process is lengthy and that a “slowly but surely” approach needs to be adopted for fear of schism and isolating the more conservative ends of all our faith groups. However, one or two voices shared their desire to see change occur more quickly, and more decisively – especially holding religious officials to account for their hypocrisy and perpetuation of the issues LGBT people of faith face.
Quite some time was spent on the issue of young LGBT peoples in faith communities, particularly in Muslim contexts and Church of England schools. This of course expands far greater and further conversations should include Conservative Evangelical Churches, not just from an Anglican perspective as the emphasis usually seems to be, but from other denominations as well.
The concern for the mental and physical wellbeing for all LGBT people of faith is great – the strain that is put upon individuals who have this dual identity is huge and can have extraordinarily damaging affects. However, there is also hope; hope that this dual identity is God-given, God-ordained and loved by God. One of the quotes from the evening which stuck with me was: “I took everything that everyone gave me.” The idea that negativity can be absorbed from both LGBT and faith communities and that often there is no safe space in either for those who experience this sense of duality.
My final reflection responds to the words shared by Rabbi Sulamit Ambalu as she described the covenantal Jewish faith as like being in a relationship with God but also the religion itself, and that, just like in any relationship, sometimes you need to say no. It is OK to passionately argue and converse with our faith groups, for we are covenanted with one another and it is through that dialogue in relationship that we can remain hopeful of future reconciliation, despite difference.
Thank you Stonewall, and particularly Dominic Arnall and Ruth Hunt, for what we hope to be the first of many such events, seeking to push the boundaries of what it means to be an LGBT person of faith in our multi-faith world.