10. Reverend Dr. Nancy Wilson
Reverend Dr. Nancy Wilson has served as the global moderator of the Metropolitan Community Churches since 2005, succeeding the denomination’s founder, the Reverend Troy Perry. As the leader of the world’s first Christian denomination to provide ministry to LGBT people, she was invited to read the opening scripture at President Obama’s Interfaith Prayer Service at the National Cathedral on January 22.
“I know our congregations have been safe spiritual homes for LGBT people and our families for more than 40 years,” she wrote in an op-ed published on the Believe Out Loud blog. “President Obama trusted God and risked everything when he affirmed marriage equality for loving same-gender couples. Christians across this country and this world must risk something in order to save lives. LGBT people are among those who need safe homes, safe churches, and safe countries.”
Additionally, Wilson works to advance civil and human rights around the world through her work on the board of the Global Justice Institute and as a member of the U.S. President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
9. Sister Simone Campbell
In 2012, Sister Simone Campbell and a group of American nuns were issued a Vatican reprimand for not speaking out against LGBT rights and women’s causes. As the executive director of Network, a Catholic lobbying group in Washington, D.C., she led a group of Catholic sisters on a nine-state bus tour called Nuns on the Bus to talk about the morality of decision-making in Congress and the Roman Catholic Church.
In a recent interview with Believe Out Loud, she discussed why she supports LGBT rights and modernizing the Roman Catholic Church. “The Catholic hierarchy has done very poorly at engaging the issues of sexuality, period—their own, or anybody else’s,” she said. “I have said that what we need is a real spiritual renewal among our leadership because for me, following the gospel means be not afraid—welcome everyone, hug them, welcome them close, and live and love.”
In a recent CNN feature, she and fellow sisters talked about their continued work to modernize the culture of the male-dominated Catholic hierarchy to better reflect the diversity of our democratic culture.
8. Reverend Dr. Christine Wiley
Reverend Dr. Christine Wiley is co-pastor of Covenant Baptist United Church of Christ, the first traditionally black church in the District of Columbia to perform same-sex unions. In 2009 she cofounded D.C. Clergy United for Marriage Equality, putting her on the front lines of the LGBT rights movement.
“The black church and the black community have been characterized by some as being united in opposition against same-sex marriage,” she said at a gathering in 2009. “This could not be further from the truth. Black people are not monolithic. We are diverse just like all other human beings. And because Covenant Baptist Church is a beloved community with a long history of celebrating the richness of our diversity, we have gathered here today to affirm in the immortal words of the late Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
7. Jennifer Knapp
In 2010, Christian music artist Jennifer Knapp emerged from a seven-year hiatus with a new album and the news that she was in a long-term relationship with a woman. A year later, the Grammy-nominated, Dove Award–winning artist founded Inside Out Faith to share stories of LGBT people of faith. Through storytelling, music and constructive dialogue, this effort seeks to foster understanding and healing among Christians.
“From the moment I began to acknowledge my connection to women, many of my Christian friends began to immediately critique my spiritual standing,” she wrote on the Believe Out Loud blog. “For a while, I could not be convinced that I had anything to offer this conversation. I considered it a stalemate at best. But then I started to notice something incredibly powerful; simply by being honest about my sexual orientation, a door had opened that encouraged others to speak of their personal stories. Over the last couple of years I have met thousands of LGBT people who have less than pleasant narratives of their religious experiences.”
“For the first time in decades, many LGBT people of faith are walking back into the sanctuaries with hope rather than fear. I, for one, am happy and grateful to be one of them,” she said.
6. Daneen Akers
“I remember the day I first felt righteous indignation spark deep within my soul about how gays and lesbians were treated in the Seventh-day Adventist church, the denomination my family has been a part of (often in leadership roles) for five generations,” wrote filmmaker Daneen Akers in an op-ed published on the Believe Out Loud site.
“In the fall of 2004, a fundamentalist and zealous young heterosexual couple came to town, convinced that God was calling them to purify the church. To them, that meant ousting every LGBT person who had anything to do with the life and leadership of the church,” she said. Daneen and her husband watched as two women, active volunteers in the church who happened to be lesbians, were stripped of their positions:
“Linda could continue to direct the bell choir because they didn’t have anyone else who could do that. But she had to keep her back to the congregation. Not surprisingly, they stopped attending.”
So shaken by the inequality in her church, the award-winning filmmaker coproduced and directed Seventh-Gay Adventist, a character-driven documentary that follows the lives of three gay and lesbian Adventists. She screens the film around the country, meeting with Christians and engaging in conversations to help eradicate homophobia from the Christian church.
5. Reverend Erin Swenson
Ordained “Eric Karl Swenson” in 1973, the Reverend Erin Swenson became the first mainstream minister to complete a gender transition while remaining in ordained office. As the cofounder of the Southern Association for Gender Education and a member of the Human Rights Campaign’s Religion Council, Swenson travels around the country advancing conversations around gender identity in faith communities.
“As a transgender Presbyterian pastor and counselor, I’ve witnessed the despair and crushing fear felt by the entire community when violence is perpetrated against a transgender person. Over the past decade an average of one transgender person a month has been killed as a result of a hate crime,” she said in a video produced by the Human Rights Campaign to mark the National Transgender Day of Remembrance.
“We need to educate people about the enormous trials transgender people face in American society. Trials that when not addressed put all of us in jeopardy.”
4. Reverend Dr. Janet Edwards
In 2008 the Reverend Dr. Janet Edwards was tried and unanimously acquitted by a church court for presiding at the wedding of a same-sex couple. “My ministry has been that of reconciliation,” she told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I love the kind of conversation that was had in these two days, when Christians were able to talk together about our understandings of the church and how to engage in the world.”
As an openly bisexual minister and board member for More Light Presbyterians, Edwards works to change hearts and minds of Christians who are not yet affirming of LGBT equality.
“As the Supreme Court takes up the question of whether same-sex couples can marry legally, I have been giving considerable thought to how many hearts and minds have changed since Massachusetts became the first state to allow same-sex couples to marry in 2004,” she wrote in an op-ed published on Believe Out Loud's website.
“Christians whose hearts have been opened have come to recognize that a marriage between two people of the same gender can embody the covenant of marriage as described in Scripture: I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion (Hosea 2:19).”
3. Bishop Yvette Flunder
Founder and senior pastor of City of Refuge United Church of Christ, Bishop Yvette Flunder leads worship services described by her congregation as “Bapta-Metho-costal.” In 2003 she was consecrated as presiding bishop of the Fellowship, a multidenominational group of over 100 Christian leaders, primarily African-American. She carries a powerful message of radical inclusion delivered through sermon, song, and activism.
Bishop Flunder serves as a trustee and adjunct professor at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, Calif., and she is the author of Where the Edge Gathers: A Theology and Homiletic of Radical Inclusion.
“The family, straight or Same Gender Loving (SGL), is an integral part of the faith community. Defining relationships and family for SGL people is a struggle in itself; however the stability of these relationships is foundational to the stability of the community,” she wrote last June.
A licensed mental health therapist, Candice Czubernat has studied theology and psychology and supports Christians who struggle to hold on to their faith as they come to terms with with their gender identity or sexual orientation. Founder of the Christian Closet, Candice offers supportive counseling services for LGBT Christians via phone and Skype.
“As [my partner and I] both grew up in Christian families and attended Christian undergraduate and graduate schools, the process of coming out and coming to terms with being gay has not been easy or quick for either one of us,” she wrote on the Believe Out Loud blog.
“There’s the coming out as a single person to friends and family, then the coming out as a couple. As an engaged woman, there’s the coming out to the wedding dress saleswoman and the cake taster and the DJ. As a married gay woman, I will soon be coming out to those who check us into our hotel on our honeymoon. When we have children, there will be a whole new group of people to come out to: school teachers, preschool moms, swim instructors, the list goes on and on.”
“It’s sometimes exhausting, but the energy it takes and the importance of the task allows me to offer myself a bit of grace. To those who haven’t told a soul and to those who feel that they live a lie, I want to tell you that you are not alone.”
1. Joanna Brooks
Author of The Book of Mormon Girl: A Memoir of an American Faith and senior correspondent for Religion Dispatches, Joanna Brooks is a nationally recognized progressive thought leader and religious scholar on Mormon faith. Her outspoken support for LGBT equality has helped shine a national spotlight on the hundreds of families and friends in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints working to advance the LGBT rights movement. She also serves as board chair for Mormon Stories, a nonprofit organization that shares faith journeys and discussions on Mormonism.
“Some gay Mormons have been rejected by their families and many have left the LDS Church, which teaches that homosexual behavior is sinful,” she wrote in a blog post last summer.
“Rejection has left a powerful need for reconciliation in our deeply felt faith tradition. … Mormons who support LGBT civil equality know that even as the rest of the nation begins to accept same-sex marriage our community has a long road ahead. But we take strength in a faith that has not been deterred by hard work or long journeys.”
JOSEPH WARD is the director of Believe Out Loud.