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DETROIT – Faith, freedom and leadership were explored and challenged by over 60 clergy and laity at a symposium entitled “Liberating Religious Liberty” Sept. 10 on the campus of Wayne State University.
Hosted by The Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry at Pacific School of Religion and the ACLU of Michigan, along with other local organizations, the summit was a full day of workshops and discussion about the role of faith in public life, the conflicts between some religious doctrines and civil rights and how to move forward towards a more just and inclusive environment both in the public sphere and in houses of worship.
“We are celebrating the work we did today, and we are building a movement and a future together,” said Rana Elmir of the ACLU of Michigan at the final reception that evening. “But liberty and justice for all is a marathon, not a sprint … I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that we still have a ton of work to do as a social justice movement and a community.”
Rev. Roland Stringfellow, senior pastor at Metropolitan Community Church of Detroit, said, “What we worked on today is what I believe, which is that beliefs should not be weapons. Because some people maintain a very narrow and rigid view of religion, it causes a lot of spiritual violence.”
Stringfellow, one of the principle organizers of the day-long event, warned of the dangers presented by the religious freedom bills cropping up in legislatures across the country. “People are literally dying spiritually, emotionally and physically due to the rejection they hear from the pulpit, from their families and even from our legislators. Today is about motivating the base so we can have one solitary voice as we speak to our political leaders to say that these laws strip people of their humanity and that is not what government should be about.”
The evening was capped off with a funny, moving and inspirational message from Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. She said there is much to celebrate with the passage of marriage equality, but everyone must also remember that this victory was achieved because so many people stood with the LGBT community. “How we got to this moment is that people who didn’t have a dog in this fight stood up for us,” said Kendell. “Ben Franklin is credited as saying, ‘Justice will not be served until those that are unaffected by injustice are as outraged as those who are.’ People who did not know someone who was LGBT, who did not have a family member, stood up and voted or asked a co-worker to not say discriminatory things.
“The challenge for us will be to keep fighting for those who still need our help – for poor LGBT people, rural LGBT people, LGBT people of color, trans people – or imagine that someone who is a poor, trans, African-American woman in rural Alabama! She needs us, so showing up for her answers the moral charge of paying forward the moment that we are now enjoying.”
Kendell closed by quoting Martin Luther King, Jr., who said, “Power without love is reckless and abusive. Love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”
“We have now, in this country, in this movement, power and love. So what are we going to do with it?” asked Kendell. “We are going to demand justice and correct everything we can with love because we’ve benefitted from that very combination.”