Religion Alive and Well at Creating Change 2011

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After last year’s Creating Change conference in Dallas, I wrote about how many celebrations of religion there were yet there was nothing that so much as recognized atheists might have even been in attendance. Since then, I’ve had numerous conversations with folks in the movement about the phenomenon, and the consensus has been that this embrace of religion is new, and a swinging of the pendulum away from what used to be a very toxic environment for any discussion of religion to an environment eager to reconcile with religion.

With the Creating Change conference as our case study, it seems that the pendulum has not reached its highest point; in fact, this year’s conference unabashedly embraces faith with a whole subconference called Practice Spirit, Do Justice.

The conference’s Spiritual Needs Subcommittee offers a Spiritual Diversity Ethics Statement (p. 20 of the Program Book), suggesting the following principles:

What we can affirm and agree on is:

» The inherent worth of every person; that every person is worthy of respect, support, caring, and invitation.

» The intention to work towards a culture free of discrimination and oppression based on any identity.

» The ethic that everyone is welcome to participate in this conference without the need to become like us in order to be acceptable.

» That the way we behave towards one another is the truest expression of [what] we believe.

I agree with all these principles. Still, the preponderance of religion-focused and faith-centric sessions seems to communicate an expectation that communing with faith is an essential part of LGBT work, which I inherently disagree with. I expect that there will be several occasions this year, as with last, when I will be in a situation when a religious practice is taking place around me.

And while I certainly understand that dealing with religion is an important part of LGBT work, this integration of being religious continues to trouble me. Here’s a look at all of the different sessions related to faith. (See the Program Book in my previous post to see full descriptions.)

First, there are a number of spiritual gatherings (p.25), which I actually appreciate as part of an inclusive conference, including Muslim Friday Prayer, Shabbat Celebration, and a Sunday morning interfaith gathering. The Calling of the Names continues to be part of a plenary session, but as long as it is not dominated by rhetoric like “lifting them up,” I think a group remembrance can be very meaningful for people of any worldview.

Faith in America is holding a reception Friday evening to discuss the way people justify stigma and hostility against the LGBT community (p. 37). I continue to be nonplussed by FIA, an organization that defends and challenges faith at the same time. Members of the Episcopalian, Unitarian, and Metropolitan Community Churches are having receptions as well (p. 38).

The Practice Spirit, Do Justice subconference has its own day-long institute on Thursday to address intersectional movement building for both veterans and newbies of faith organizing and movement building (p. 43). There also several PSDJ sessions as part of the Task Force Academy for Leadership and Action (p. 51).

Here are some of the other workshops that relate to faith or that are part of the Practice Spirit, Do Justice track:

Beyond Transgender Inclusion to Transformation (p. 71)

Faith Based Models that futher Self-determination, Sovereignty and the Preservation of Sacred Sites (p. 72)

Hidden Voices: The Lives of LGBT Muslims (p. 72)

Making the Christian Case for LGBT Equality: Message Training (p. 73)

Join the Movement, Keep the Faith (p. 76)

Messology of the Black Church (p. 77)

The Pulpit of the Press: Making the Religious Case for LGBT Equality (p. 77)

(LGBTQ) Justice, (LGBTQ) Justice Shall You Pursue (p. 78)

Changing Minds of Conservative/Evangelical Christians (p. 79)

Media Savvy for Media Strategies (p. 81)

“God Hates Fags” (p. 82)

Race and Power: An Examination of Intersectionality (p. 84)

Working with Asian & Pacific Islander (A&PI) Congregations to Become Welcoming (p. 85)

API Caucus @ Practice Spirit, Do Justice (p. 86)

Atheist, Free Thinker, Non-Believer Caucus (p. 86)

Homo-Interior: Religious Design for Your Queer Soul (p. 88)

Telling Our Stories (p. 89)

Transgender: A Question of Faith (p. 89)

Lifting As We Climb: An Exercise (therefore you might sweat) In Rethinking How We Do What We Do So We Can Do It Better (p. 89)

Case Studies For Denominational Engagement (p. 89)

Mobilizing Pro-Equality Catholics on LGBT Issues (p. 91)

Of Faith and On-Line: Tools to Get Going (p. 91)

It’s All About The Frame (p. 94)

LGBT Synagogues and Organizations: Surfacing Our Diversity and Fitting the Mosaic Together (p. 94)

Spirit and Desire: Framing a Discussion About Our Spiritual and Erotic Lives (p. 95)

Building the Response to HIV and AIDS Across Communities (p. 97)

Humor, Hospitality, and Heliotropes as Tools for Social Change (p. 97)

Majority Minority – Case Studies in Advancing Equality among People of Color and People of Faith (p. 98)

Strategic Storytelling (p. 99)

Uganda-the Armageddon of the Culture Wars (p. 99)

Building a Statewide Interfaith Network for Equality (p. 101)

Fighting Islamophobia and Homophobia: Building Solidarity in Oppressed Communities (p. 101)

The Possibilities of Faith Work In An Aging LGBTQ Community (p. 103)

Building Bridges to Wholeness – Next Strategies for LGBT Jewish Movement Building (p. 104)

It’s All About Me: Queer Spirituality (p. 105)

Pagan and Queer (p. 106)

Queer Muslim Caucus (p. 106)

Strength for the Journey: A Reflective Workshop (p. 107)

That’s a whole lot of faith.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with any of these workshops. I’ll probably go to some of them. Still, it’s a healthy chunk of the conference dedicated to discussing (and often reinforcing) faith and spirituality. What’s important to note is that such a focus isn’t just unwelcoming of nonbelievers, it can also be contrary to the perspectives many bring to this work.

Certainly, many of these workshops are about working with people of faith or responding to people of faith, which doesn’t necessarily require being one. However, there is only one session at the whole conference that recognizes the existence of nonbelievers or those who might not have the same interest in promoting or reinforcing faith and spirituality.

And guess who’s hosting that atheist caucus Friday night?


I think this pendulum swing of our movement’s approach to religion is something worth discussing. I hope folks will come to the caucus to have that conversation, because I honestly don’t know how welcome it will be in the sessions I just listed above.

Is religion a good thing?
How do critical dialogues on religion impact efforts for LGBT equality?
What challenges do we face when we come out as atheists?
How can we best utilize the support of LGBT allies who are nonbelievers?
What responsibility does the LGBT community have to be allies to the atheist community?

These are some of the important questions I’m hoping to address this week. Perhaps I should be optimistic that so many other folks are as enthusiastic to discuss religion as I am.

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There are 8 Comments to "Religion Alive and Well at Creating Change 2011"

  • LOrion says:

    “And guess who’s hosting that atheist caucus Friday night?

    Me.” Good for you!!

    • LOrion says:

      …. so come on out to SFPride next year. There was a whole contingent of ATHEISTS, Het and Home cuz they said everyone thought they were queer so they’d join us!

  • Lurleen says:

    I spent half of Sunday with the Religious Coalition for Equality, and I plan to spend many more hours with RCE and its various members. As you know Zack I’m an atheist. People at RCE know too, because I let them know up front as a point of fact. The other point of fact I make known is that we’re all working towards the same thing: LGBT equality and that I am not there to debate religion but to help amplify the pro-equality religious voice as a counterbalance to the hateful religious voice we know too well. Once those facts are known, the work commences. End of story. Occasionally someone who hasn’t met me before and doesn’t yet know I’m atheist will start making a “those atheists!” comment, but I just interrupt them, tell them who I am and why I’m there, and on we go. I don’t mind these slips too much because perhaps I’m the first atheist they’ve worked alongside of. By working with me they quickly learn that I’m not a monster but someone worthy of respect.

    Probably none of what I just said answers your questions about CC (which I’m unfortunately unable to attend) and I do share some of your concerns, but I just wanted to throw it out there that there is more than one way to have your atheism respected, and that is to work respectably among your religious peers while keeping your eyes on the goal: LGBT equality.

    • ZackFord says:

      Thanks for your reply Lurleen.

      I agree that I’m certainly interested in and willing to work with anybody who supports LGBT equality. Still, I think it’s important to maintain a personal balance, which means not having to sacrifice principles I uphold as part of my atheism in order to follow through on my principles as a gay man seeking liberation.

      It’s a tough line, and I’ll admit I haven’t figured it all out for myself. I’m not sure there’s an easy answer. I think there’s a problem, however, if the leaders of our movement take for granted that everyone is a-ok with faith and spirituality. It’s not an easy conversation to have, but we have to make sure that the LGBT community is not contributing to the stigma or invisibility of atheists for the sake of its own self-preservation.

  • Lurleen says:

    I look forward to hearing about your experiences at CC – I hope you have a blast! Know that I won’t be praying for you. 🙂

  • Jacob Woods says:

    Lucky the Minnesota Out College Conference had a lot of focus on the religion issues that so many lgbt people face. I think a lot of them learned that religion doesn’t have to be terrible and that the common understanding of religion, especially Christianity, is false and more at a 5th grade level. To be a preacher or to practice religion one should have to take formal college classes. Otherwise it becomes extremely dangerous and strewed.

  • Colt says:

    I know it’s been said, but good for you!! I hope it’s very well attended. 🙂

  • Di says:

    Hey Zack, thanks for hosting that fabulous caucus! Looking forward to seeing more non-believer consideration and representation at next year’s CC (which I probs won’t be able to attend, but yanno. Still good.)

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