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 An Easter Treat: Our Religious Allies

 An Easter Treat: Our Religious Allies

All too often, LGBT people experience religion as a cudgel
used against them. But many faith traditions are becoming more accepting and
inclusive. As Christians celebrate Easter and Jews observe Passover, we take a
moment to recognize some of the LGBT activists and straight allies who are
making a difference, and several of whom have new books out. These folks are a
diverse bunch — they include a former president, a onetime Pat Robertson
associate, the first out transgender professor at an Orthodox Jewish
university, a Bible code-cracker, and more.


Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter proudly embraces his “born-again Christian”
identity but has never been a member of the religious right. He has become more
popular in his post-presidential role as statesman, humanitarian, and author
than he was during his tenure in the White House. He’s won favor with us
through his outspokenness in support of gay equality. In March, while promoting
his book
of biblical studies, NIV Lessons From Life Bible: Personal Reflections With
Jimmy Carter,
he told The
Huffington Post,
“Homosexuality was well
known in the ancient world, well before Christ was born, and Jesus never said a
word about homosexuality. In all of his teachings about multiple things, he
never said that gay people should be condemned. I personally think it is very
fine for gay people to be married in civil ceremonies.” As for religious
ceremonies, it should be up to the individual church, Carter said — a position
in keeping with the First Amendment.


James Alexander Langteaux spent several years working with
noted homophobe Pat Robertson as a producer and host on the Christian
Broadcasting Network, then realized that “playing strip poker with the big wigs
in Christianity today while hiding the gay card up my sleeve is a game I no
longer wish to play,” he writes
in the memoir Gay Conversations With God: Straight Talk on Fanatics, Fags
and the God Who Loves Us All.
He chronicles
his journey from the Christian right to a place of spiritual and sexual
self-acceptance in lively, often raunchy prose. It’s a 21st-century
journey on the path taken two decades ago by Mel White, who came out as a gay
Christian and founded the LGBT activist group Soulforce after having been a
ghostwriter for such antigay figures as Robertson and Jerry Falwell.

Poet and literature professor Joy Ladin, born Jay, details her transition from
outwardly male to the woman she always knew herself to be in Through the
Door of Life: A Jewish Journey Between Genders.
The transition nearly cost Ladin her job at Stern College for Women of
Yeshiva University in New York. Yeshiva, she notes, is “Orthodox Judaism’s
premier institution of higher learning, and Orthodox Judaism, like most
traditional forms of religion, considers the things transsexuals do to fit our
bodies to our souls to be sins.” In 2007, after she notified the dean of her
plan to transition, the school placed her on “involuntary research leave,” but
eventually, in what Ladin calls a “miracle,” Yeshiva agreed to her attorney’s
demand that she be allowed to return to teaching, making her the first openly
transgender faculty member at an Orthodox university. Ladin also chronicles her
divorce, her evolving relationship with her children, finding love with another
woman, and her discovery of support for her identity in the teachings of the
great Jewish scholar Hillel. Her prose is smooth and, one might say, poetic,
and her story is fascinating.

For those of us who aren’t theologians, biblical scholarship
can make the head spin, but Michael Wood, a cryptographer and son of a Nazarene
minister, was drawn to it. He began by studying what scholars called the
“Pauline Paradox,” St. Paul’s contradictory statements on whether God judges
people by their faith or their deeds. That spurred him to delve into Paul’s
condemnations of homosexuality, which are among the “clobber passages” of the
Bible used against LGBT people. In his book Paul on Homosexuality, Wood asserts that Paul has been mistranslated and
misunderstood for two millennia. Paul, Wood writes, believed that Old Testament
prohibitions on same-sex relationships were no longer valid and that Jesus’
commandment to love one another superseded all. “I would like to see this
discovery used to bring full equality to the LGBT community,” Wood said in an
interview with The Advocate. “Evangelicals
will only change their minds when their current interpretations are shown to be
indefensible. The standard approach of showing viable alternatives to all the
clobber passages does nothing to undermine the viability of the evangelical
interpretation of each of them. We must do more than just give a viable
alternative, we must show them that their alternative isn’t even a possibility.”


Jay Michaelson 
Supporting LGBT equality isn’t just a good social value,
it’s a religious one, writes
Jay Michaelson in God vs. Gay? The Religious Case for Equality. Michaelson, a gay man who was closeted for years as
a practicing Orthodox Jew, writes that his relationship with God improved after
he came out, and that his extensive research has found ample support in
Judeo-Christian and other faith traditions for gay equality. “I sincerely
believe that our shared religious values call upon us to support the equality,
dignity, and full inclusion of sexual and gender minorities — that is, of
lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people,” writes Michaelson, the founder
of Nehirim, an organization that provides community programming for LGBT Jews.
His book makes an eloquent case that “‘God versus Gay’ isn’t just a false
dichotomy. It’s a rebellion against the image of God itself.”


Religious fundamentalists insist that their scriptures, their
beliefs, are unchanging. But beliefs are meant to evolve, writes F.
Jay Deacon in Magnificent Journey: Religion as a Lock on the Past or an
Engine of Evolution.
Deacon has certainly
been through his own evolution: When he was “a teenager bored with the very
proper Presbyterian church,” he embraced the fundamentalist strain of
Christianity at a Billy Graham crusade, then attended an Assemblies of God
seminary. His recognition that he was gay eventually led him away from
fundamentalism to the largely gay Metropolitan Community Church and finally to
the liberal, inclusive Unitarian Universalist Church, where he has been
director of the Office of GLBT Concerns; he is now minister for a Unitarian
congregation in New Hampshire. His journey has led him to call for a new type
of spirituality, one that can help counter homophobia, sexism, war, bigotry,
class exploitation, and environmental destruction. “Regression to a primitive
past is not the answer,” he writes. “Religions must transform, must evolve,
now. They must become engines of evolution, not chains binding us to that
barbaric worst of what humanity is capable.”

In addition to the books listed on previous pages, there are
many other sources of good news for LGBT people of various faiths. Mormon
Stories, a support community for LGBT Mormons, will hold a conference,
“Circling the Wagons,” in Washington, D.C., April 20-22. Keynote speakers will
be Carol Lynn Pearson, whose book No More Goodbyes: Circling the Wagons
Around Our Gay Loved Ones
calls for Mormons
to become more welcoming to LGBT people, and Mitch Mayne, a gay man who serves
as executive secretary to his Mormon bishop.

MORMONS CIRCLING THE WAGONS 390x (COURTESY) ADVOCATE.COMMuslims for Progressive Values; Catholics for Equality
Muslims for Progressive Values is spreading an egalitarian,
inclusive vision of Islam with women and gays in leadership positions. It will
hold its sixth annual retreat, with the
theme “A Theology of Mercy,” in New York City in July. Spreading the progressive gospel in another faith, Catholics for Equality,
founded in 2010, is mobilizing Catholics to lobby for LGBT rights, which it
calls part of “the rich tradition of Catholic social justice teachings.”

Participants in Soulforce’s Equality Ride are taking a message of acceptance to religious colleges and other institutions
around the nation this month and next. Add to that the work of Believe Out
Loud, Faith in America, Faithful America, and many other interfaith and
faith-specific groups advocating LGBT equality, and there’s much to celebrate
in this season of rebirth.

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