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Messages of faith leaders and religious dogma continue to lay at the heart of the struggle for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) equality. It is often messages of LGBT intolerance in some scriptures and religious traditions that are used by opponents to LGBT rights such as marriage, and such messages are used and reinforced in today’s society causing some LGBT youth to be bullied or consider suicide.
Michigan’s communities are moving slowly toward greater LGBT rights, as evidenced by the growing number of cities with human rights ordinances, and a recent poll that showed that the majority of Michiganders would support same sex marriage. Many congregations are following this trend, but they have fears that need to be addressed, and support outside of the congregation.
This aligns to congregational leaders on the national level. The report “To Do Justice: A Study of Welcoming Congregations” found that the fears of congregational leaders include loss of membership, conflict within the congregation, and outside perceptions of undertaking a process of welcoming LGBT individuals into their congregation. The study also found that these fears in practice were largely unfounded. In fact the opposite was often true – becoming a Welcoming Congregation reduced tensions in many congregations.
Opponents to LGBT rights also seem to occupy the predominant space when it comes to the media’s representation of religious positions. The national study “Missing Voices” found that “three out of four of the messages with some religious identification were communicated by people affiliated with faith groups that have formal church policy, religious decrees or traditions opposing equality for LGBT people.” However, other national studies of religious leaders and congregants find that there is a much larger percentage of people in favor of LGBT rights. Due to the predominantly anti-LGBT media messages, religious leaders still need to be reminded that LGBT allies outnumber opponents.
Engaging in a Welcoming process by congregations can also help churches to become engaged or reinvigorated in other social justice issues, particularly racial justice. This bodes well for the seemingly natural alliances between people of color and LGBT people as they continue to attempt to bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice. President Obama and the NAACP’s recently public stance in favor of LGBT rights particularly bodes well for including the African American churches in this process.
The Michigan Roundtable has a long history of working to advance LGBT inclusion, going back to work in schools and cultural competency training in the 1990s. The organization’s long history of interfaith work ideally positions it to advance LGBT inclusion in the faith community. Since 2009, the Michigan Roundtable has engaged in explicit work to build bridges between the faith and LGBT communities in order to advance moral equality for LGBT Michiganders. In this role, the Michigan Roundtable has helped a number of congregations to significantly advance their work toward becoming “Welcoming/Open & Affirming”.
The organization has also become a valued member of the Unity Michigan coalition, having mobilized congregants to advance LGBT inclusion and work in individual communities to create human rights ordinances.