Talking About LGBT Issues at Faith-Based Institutions (#CC10)

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Wow! What a great day I’ve had connecting with my colleagues in the Consortium of LGBT Higher Education Resource Professionals! Our day-long institute is always a great way to recharge and connect with other folks who get this kind of work.

I want to highlight one of the discussions I was able to participate in about working with LGBT issues at faith-based institutions. There were a number of folks in the room who work at such schools, while some others worked at public schools that feel like religiously-affiliated schools, and others (like myself) were just interested in the topic.

There were a lot of different opinions but a lot of great ideas, and the group gave me permission to write about some of our discussions.

A lot of the conversation was focused on how we frame discussions with students who have anti-gay religious beliefs. It doesn’t work to just say “Your beliefs are wrong,” so we have to find ways that allow them to feel welcomed to the conversation, but so that the conversation still allows for challenge and good critical dialogue. Different tactics might need to be used for different organizations, different leaders, and different ministries.

There are some great ways to approach these groups. One of the ideas I really appreciated is engaging in “conversations about how [a person’s] faith affects others.” As one of my colleagues pointed out:

Everyone believes human dignity is important.

It’s all about creating common ground. With the diversity of worldviews, consensus is an unrealistic goal, but common ground is a great starting point for progress.

It’s also not helpful to have the conversation on theological grounds. One of my colleagues works at a Jesuit institution, and she uses the Jesuit idea of the “wholeness” of humanity to appeal to the care of others. We can encourage students to include LGBT people without challenging church doctrine.

Part of this is thinking about stretching vs. straining but also helping others relate perspective. For example, if a religious group suggests it’s too much of a stretch for them to tolerate LGBT folks, then maybe it’s also a stretch for us to tolerate them in the same way. This helps frame the discussion toward finding that common ground of human dignity.

At the same time, it can be important at some schools to set pretty clear expectations about what is acceptable. One of my colleagues spoke to the ally training she does and some of the clear limits she sets, such as indicating that “Love the sinner, hate the sin” is not an acceptable compromise. Another of my colleagues spoke to exploring the elasticity of religious laws and variations on interpretation. He made the point that no one could live 100% under Islamic doctrine, so at some point some moral relativism and secular reasoning kicks in. Others pointed out that the voice of the Vatican is not very representative of what most Catholics believe or practice.

Of course, we also remembered that it is possible to be gay and have faith! We can work with religious students to help them understand that many of their queer peers might still be seeking out that faith and community the same as anyone else.

For me, as an atheist who often offers staunch challenges to religiously-affiliated institutions, it was really enlightening to hear all the different ways people are still working in those environments to promote queer equality. Often times the ideal is not practical, but we must all still work towards what we can accomplish in our given circumstances.

This was only one little session from the day. I can’t wait to see what else I will learn this weekend. It truly is a remarkable place to be. It’s actually refreshing to be squeezing in time to write to give my voice a break!

More Creating Change updates to come!

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