Too often, debates over LGBT rights are couched in terms of gay people on one side of the issue, and religious people — especially Christians — on the other. It’s understandable, since very often people who oppose LGBT rights use religious arguments in their explanations.
But the false dichotomy of gays versus God ignores the majority of LGBT people who are religious, and the large and growing movement of progressive religious leaders and faiths that offer spiritual support for inclusion and equality.
Here are 10 religious allies on LGBT rights. They may not always be perfect on our issues, but all have had an impact in their faith communities and the community at large.
Son of disgraced televangelists Jim Bakker and Tammy Faye Bakker Messner of PTL Ministries, Jay Bakker followed his family’s calling to ministry — with a twist. Known for his tattoos and punk style, Jay Bakker founded Revolution Church, and is on the forefront of young pastors preaching radical inclusion. Wthile his mother drew adoration from gays for her over-the-top style, resilience in the face of scandal, and acceptance of gay people, Bakker goes much further — using his national prominence to speak out for equality for gay people, including marriage rights, even when speaking to unaccepting audiences. His new book, “Fall to Grace: A Revolution of God, Self, and Society,” written with Martin Edlund, was released this year.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu
A Nobel Peace Prize winner and Anglican archbishop, Desmond Tutu battled apartheid in his native South Africa, and eloquently battles homophobia and other human rights issues around the world. “We struggled against apartheid in South Africa, supported by people the world over, because black people were being blamed and made to suffer for something we could do nothing about; our very skins…It is the same with sexual orientation,” Tutu has said. “It is a given.”
The largest branch of Judaism in the United States, with more than 1.7 million members, has long been an ally on gay and lesbian rights. In 1977, Reform’s Central Conference of American Rabbis held that gay sex is OK and called for an end to anti-gay discrimination, according to HRC’s Faith & Religion Project. In 2000, Reform rabbis officially gained permission to officiate same-sex commitment ceremonies, and the faith opposed the Federal Marriage Amendment, an unsuccessful attempt to amend the U.S. Constitution to ban gay marriage.
Episcopal Church USA
The Episcopal Church USA risked schism with the 77-million member Anglican Communion to consecrate V. Gene Robinson in 2003 as bishop of New Hampshire — making him the first openly gay bishop in the worldwide church. The denomination has faced controversy ever since, including condemnation from other Anglicans and losing more than 800 congregations to the Anglican Church of North America, a rival group formed by churches opposed to the Episcopal Church’s increasing gay inclusion. Robinson retired early last year, noting the toll of constant criticism and even death threats he has endured. But the Episcopal Church isn’t stepping back: In May, Rev. Canon Mary Glasspool was consecrated as the second openly gay Anglican bishop.
Unitarian Universalist Association
The Unitarian Universalist Association has supported full equality for LGBT people since 1970 — and today markets itself to the LGBT community as an inclusive religious organization, according to the Human Rights Campaign. The UUA passed a resolution in 1984 allowing its clergy to perform same-sex unions; a 1987 resolution requires church members to speak out against anti-LGBT laws.
Rev. Jimmy Creech
United Methodist Rev. Jimmy Creech could have played it safe after he was acquitted in a 1998 church trial for performing a same-sex union ceremony. Instead, Creech did it again, and was defrocked in 1999 after another church trial that drew national headlines. Creech, who is not gay, helped found Faith in America and now sits on the advisory board of Soulforce, with seeks to counter religious bigotry against LGBT people. His book, “Adam’s Gift: A Memoir of a Pastor’s Calling to Defy The Church’s Persecution of Lesbians and Gays,” is due out in April.
United Church of Christ
The United Church of Christ, which cites about 1.3 million members, in 2005 became the first mainline Christian denomination to approve of gay marriage, according to HRC. The milestone came a year after the UCC made national headlines with a television ad campaign that portrayed a gay couple being welcomed at a UCC congregation after being turned away from another. NBC and CBS refused to air the commercial, calling it too controversial.
Rev. Timothy McDonald
Pastor of First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta, Rev. Timothy McDonald has hosted a church conference about LGBT inclusion, and was one of the plaintiffs in the 2004 lawsuit that tried to derail Georgia’s state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. “We cannot have people of faith supporting discrimination in any form,” McDonald said then. McDonald also stepped up to chide Bishop Eddie Long for receiving money from then-President George W. Bush’s faith-based initiative. “If you look at the black pastors who have come out with the faith-based money, they’re the same ones who have come out with campaigns on the gay marriage issue,” he said.
Rt. Rev. Christopher Senyonjo
Senyonjo retired as an Anglican bishop 10 years ago, but spoke out last week on the murder of Ugandan gay activist David Kato. Senyonjo, who had worked with Kato, called on the Anglican Communion to take a stand against the increasing brutality against gay people in Uganda. “The criminalization of homosexuality remains the greatest state and church sanctioned violence perpetrated against LGBT people and their allies in many countries. We must agree to demolish all forms of institutional homophobia beginning with the removal of all laws that punish human beings for being gay or living in loving relationships,” he wrote.
Metropolitan Community Churches & Unity Fellowship Church
Even as mainstream religious leaders and faiths grown more inclusive, it is impossible to overstate the importance of these two denominations that were founded for gay people, by gay people. Metropolitan Community Churches, founded in 1968 by Rev. Troy Perry, now includes 43,000 members in 250 churches in 22 countries, according to its website. The newer Unity Fellowship Church Movement was founded in 1982 by Archbishop Carl Bean for African-American lesbians and gays. It now cites 20 churches in cities around the country.
To view the Top 10 Religious Foes of LGBT Equality, click here.
Top photo: Jay Bakker, son of disgraced televangelists Jim Bakker and Tammy Faye Bakker Messner (by Kelly Starbuck)