Faith Leaders Work Toward Healing a Divided Community

BY KATE OPALEWSKI

Reconciliation and healing is needed right now as the community moves forward post-election. As more LGBT people are cautiously entering houses of worship, the way they are approached is crucial.

It's with that in mind the faith-based coalition Inclusive Justice has been reaching out to congregations statewide to provide encouragement, hope and a reminder of the community's potential through and beyond these hard times.

"We are the only movement in Michigan that is working within and through the faith community to advocate for LGBTQI people," said Pat Horton, co-chair of IJ, about their recent efforts.

By way of a $16,000 Hope Fund Grant - co-written by Randy Block, director of the Michigan Unitarian Universalist Social Justice Network - IJ has partnered with MUUSJN, Nonprofit Enterprise Works and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force to produce the first transgender-focused annual conference with 96 attendees from 22 different organizations.

"Along the way we produced 14 formal programs in six of the seven counties attracting over 35 churches and have requests for many more," said Horton.

"We partnered with the four Episcopal bishops in helping to promote our programming in the southeast Michigan region, and most recently extending into the Tri-Cities as well as western Michigan, all as a result of attending one of our southeast Michigan programs."

With help from Kathleen Campisano, the Task Force faith organizing manager, they now have more than 1,200 new contacts.

"While most are in southeast Michigan, many have indicated interest from other parts of the state. They see what we are doing," said Horton. "The Task Force has given us and several of our new contacts training on 'How to Build an Inclusive Church' as well as board training on fundraising and organizing."

Common questions are: Do you have concerns on how to better welcome all people into your faith community? Are you struggling with scripture and how it applies to LGBT people? Do you know how to offer the best hospitality to all couples? Are you ready for marriage equality?

The answers are becoming more clear within the faith community as a result of this work done by spiritual leaders.

"We are finally talking," said Judy Lewis, training and education coordinator with SAGE Metro Detroit, who has helped facilitate IJ programs. "People are awakened. They want to know what they can do to help. We need to keep these conversations going. Nobody has to feel alone anymore. We want other congregations to join with us in this work."

So far, IJ's partnerships include the Task Force, Fortunate Families, the Michigan Organization on Adolescent Sexual Health, Transgender Michigan, Stand with Trans, Transgender Connect, the Michigan Project for Informed Public Policy, Equality Michigan, the ACLU of Michigan LGBT Project, Oasis Center, Affirmations, LGBT Detroit, PFLAG, the Oakland University SOGI Project, Michigan Conference of the United Church of Christ, Perceptions, and the SOGI Youth Advocacy Council.

Also, the Michigan Roundtable for Inclusion and Diversity where Steve Spreitzer, president and CEO, said he encourages coming together to discuss what it means to be an LGBT ally.

"There is a need for religious leaders to check their rhetoric, be more pastoral, not cause harm to the community."

Horton said this list is growing as public issues and policies continue to highlight the need for education, advocacy and policy initiatives in support of LGBT citizens.

Down the Spiritual Path

As IJ looks toward the future, Horton said they hope to hire a full-time organizer to engage and empower faith-based LGBTQI activists, train 20,000 advocates on building inclusive faith communities in Michigan, and establish regional faith-based groups to advocate on behalf of LGBTQI people.

Why is this important? Rabbi Mark Miller of Temple Beth El in Bloomfield Hills said as Michigan's first Jewish congregation, they "take seriously our responsibility to be a house of prayer for all people. We are committed to the physical and spiritual support of the LGBT community, especially at a time when so many are responding to the hateful rhetoric that has become commonplace in American political discourse. We embrace the fundamental Jewish notion that every person is created in the image of God, and strive to be welcoming to anyone who is seeking access to the sacred nature of tradition in a modern world."

Rev. Bryan Smith, pastor of Geneva Presbyterian in Canton, reminds the community of the words spoken by Jesus to a large crowd 20 centuries ago: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28)

"...we're an invitation to ALL people. Jesus put no qualifications on his invitation - not race, gender, nationality, political affiliation, sexual orientation, gender identity, economic or social status. He excluded no one. Come, all of you, who are weary and burdened. At Geneva, we take Jesus' invitation seriously. The family of God includes all people, and we know that God created us in such a way that we are incomplete without one another," said Smith.

"...And so, as a community of faith, we extend the same invitation Jesus did - come all you who are weary and burdened, no matter what your burden, no matter who you are, where you come from, what you have or have not done. Come into the love and fellowship of the family of God. Come."

Get Involved

Based on IJ's evaluations and feedback from attendees of all their programming, they "hit the mark," Horton said, and will need to continue to do so until Michigan becomes a fully welcoming and affirming state for all. But help is needed from the community. More information about how to contribute can be found on the IJ website.


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