The Reliability of Change: why religion matters to this humanist

Post 8 of 40 of the Humanist Lent Writing Project

In my part of the world, that of urban liberal college campuses (my day job is on a campus) it seems the world is oh so gay (not meant as a pejorative for once). I’ve got LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) colleagues, friends, family members. Queer-headed families are part of the norm for me. So are pride festivals, conferences overflowing with people who bend just about any identity one can imagine. My religious community has queer folk all around raising kids, serving coffee, speaking from pulpits. I say this to show what my normal level is (which for some may seem heavenly, or Gomorrahesque depending on your outlook).

Now, one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had in recent memory was one that was filled to the brim with religion, there was god language, shawls, mats, labyrinths, religious texts, smudging, calling the quarters, singing, dancing, and yes even Humanists and atheists. Not only was this one of the most religiously diverse experiences I’ve ever been in but it was also one of the queerest. At the beginning of February in Minneapolis after months of planning the national gay and lesbian task force came to Minneapolis. And not only did it bring a whole lot of LGBT folk, it packed a whole lot of spirit and faith as well. During the larger annual conference called Creating Change, another mini conference happened called Practice Spirit, Do Justice (PSDJ). There were moment when the two blurred in some amazing ways but what happened at PSDJ seemed to be somehow a special hidden area as well.

For this gay humanist it couldn’t have been more fun. I saw religious leaders both queer and allies talking about things lgbt people rarely seem to get together to talk about, god and how we as a movement in tat wit this notion. How religion is a part of our society and can hinder as well as help LGBT people achieve the equality we are working for. I met gay and gay friendly Mormons, Lutherans, Jews, Muslims, Native American Elders, Atheists, Quakers, Buddhists, Pagans, Wiccans, and so many more traditions during these few short days. I’ve been thinking about the LGBT families and individuals in religious spaces for a while now. I see this area of society as crucially important for us to move forward. I think we have done a lot in the secular arena very quickly, lots of amazing things that people just a little older than I couldn’t imagine happening in their lifetime and people just a little younger barely noticing as new and different.

We’ve done this great work by building some walls and opting out of spaces. Important walls that helped people who had been hurt by the religions they trusted and the families they loved. Opted out of the communities that turned their backs. We’ve built new families, communities, homes, religious groups, and spaces to heal. But I feel like things are changing, in church-time, about a decade or two after we would like. But they are changing none the less. This is something we can’t ignore or belittle, there have always been individuals and congregations here and there that have gone against the fray and opened the circle. There have been whole denominations, though they tended to be smaller ones, less “mainstream” or the ones we’ve created ourselves as LGBT people have done time and again when they couldn’t find what they need in the mainstream. But now, finally the small overtures and special rules that sometimes have allowed gay people to participate, and sometimes have taken that away are becoming something more. Clergy are able to be out; we are starting to be able to be married in places of worship and be out in religious choirs, and in the church office; and we are being recognized as being in the pews already. We aren’t those gays out there; we are the congregants already at the table.

By showing up to the table and refusing to give up our seat we do create change. Slowly, continuously, but just existing in places that sometime don’t want us or feel safe we are less the other and more just a committee member or coffee server. It isn’t always dramatic but these constant interactions where we just are start to pile up. We just are on tv, we just are at the office, we just are getting the mail. We just are. And by being in places that might not have always wanted us we are doing amazing things, life saving things.

Now, you might be wondering why a humanist cares. I gave up the Christian space long ago, as a gay man, as a nonbeliever, as someone who was left feeling betrayed by religion. I’ve found my spaces, created some, joined others, and have a life that goes over, under, and between places I don’t want to be. Why does what happens in the Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church matter to me when I can go about my merry gay humanist life without walking through the doors ever again? Because our communities’ children are in those places I’ve fought to opt out of, as many have. Our children or in the places next door to the MCC churches we’ve built, the liberal synagogues we’ve founded. LGBT people are unique in a lot of ways, but one way that I would argue we are different than almost any minority group in the world; we rarely create and raise the next generation of our community.

So I learned a lot about religious community, religious organizing, progressive faith, and the power of building bridges at Practice Spirit, Do Justice. But the lesson that finally hit home for me is that we truly are everywhere. And while it is true that it is pretty rare for LGBT people to be raised by LGBT people (though it does happen) it is also true that I know a lot of nontheists, religious liberals, and other people in my life that grew up in religious spaces that didn’t work and even hurt them. Most of the amazing LGBT religious leaders and our allies are not a part of the religion of their childhood either. So opting back in to religious conversation doesn’t just help LGBT youth, it helps humanists youth, atheist youth, Unitarian youth, and so many other young people that could grow up to be amazing agents of change from within the traditions we’ve left. While it is true that gay people are making change by just being who they are in spaces that might not be comfortable all the time, the same is true for those who don’t believe in god. Just being who we are as nontheists at work, school, and in conversations changes minds. Five years ago I didn’t think I would have worked three years at a church, voted for and elected an African American president, or have ten countries around the world recognize same-sex marriages as equal. That is in five short years. Now imagine how much the world could change in the next five? What if instead of arguing with so much of the world we had conversations? I’m excited to see how much my showing up time and again in religious spaces changes them. I’m betting in ways I can’t even imagine.

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