A vital new research project will examine the impact of “the increasingly toxic rhetoric around sexuality and gender identity” on LGBT+ Christians.
A survey will be launched on World Mental Health Day (10 October) to measure how safe “increasingly vulnerable” LGBT+ Christians feel.
The vital research, looking at the wellbeing of LGBT+ people in religious spaces which “can cause significant harm and trauma”, is being conducted by a consortium of nine Christian LGBT+ organisations.
The survey was instigated by Jayne Ozanne, director of the Ozanne Foundation, who said: “Many LGBT+ Christians feel increasingly vulnerable in their local churches given the increasingly toxic rhetoric around sexuality and gender identity.
“We thought it essential to measure in a safe and anonymous way just how safe people feel able to be about who they are, and what steps should be taken to make them feel safer.”
The survey’s launch on World Mental Health Day will also coincide with the Church of England’s first “Safeguarding Sunday”, an initiative“encouraging local churches to use their regular Sunday service to explore together what safer places look like”.
Dr Sarah Carr, an LGBT+ mental health expert who is overseeing the survey, said: “It is critical that LGBT+ people’s well being is prioritised in spaces which we know have and still can cause significant harm and trauma.
“By asking them directly about how they feel we can build a picture of what is happening in the UK today, and identify steps that they tell us will help improve things.”
Executive director of OneBodyOneFaith Luke Dowding, whose organisation coordinates LGBT-friendly Christian spaces and gatherings and is part of the consortium organising the survey, explained: “We know that many LGBT+ people have a deep faith, but some feel unable to attend church because they fear that they will not be welcomed or understood in their local places of worship.
“We would therefore like to understand if there are LGBT+ Christians who do not currently go to church for fear of their safety, with a desire to learn what if anything local churches might do to help address these concerns.”
The online research survey will run for two weeks, with results to be made public in November, and all LGBT+ adult, self-identified Christian in the UK can take part, whether or not they attend church. Click here to take part.
More than 750 of the nation’s leading Catholic theologians, church leaders, scholars, educators, and writers released a joint statement on Sept. 14 expressing strong support for nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people.
The six-page theological statement, “A Home for All: A Catholic Call for LGBTQ Non-Discrimination,” was scheduled to be published along with the names of its 759 signatories as a four-page advertisement on Sept. 17 in the National Catholic Reporter, a newspaper widely read by Catholic clergy and laypeople.
The statement was initiated by New Ways Ministry, a Mount Rainier, Md., based Catholic group that advocates for equality for LGBTQ people within the church and society at large.
“As Catholic theologians, scholars, church leaders, writers, and ministers, we affirm that Catholic teaching presents a positive case for ending discrimination against LGBTQ people,” the statement says. “We affirm the Second Vatican Council’s demand that ‘any kind of social or cultural discrimination…must be curbed and eradicated,’” it says.
“We affirm that Catholic teaching should not be used to further oppress LGBTQ people by denying rights rooted in their inherent human dignity and in the church’s call for social equality,” the statement adds.
The statement notes that its signers recognize that a “great debate” is currently taking place within the Catholic Church about whether same-gender relationships and transgender identities should be condoned or supported.
“That is a vital discussion for the future of Catholicism, and one to which we are whole-heartedly committed,” the statement continues. “What we are saying in this statement, however, is relatively independent of that debate, and the endorsers of this statement may hold varied, and even opposing, opinions on sexual and gender matters,” it says.
Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministries executive director, said his organization and the signers of the statement feel the issue of nondiscrimination for LGBTQ people can and should be supported by Catholic leaders and the church itself even if some are not yet ready to support same-sex marriage and sexual and gender identity matters.
“LGBTQ non-discrimination is being debated at all levels in our society, and the Catholic perspective on this is often misrepresented, even by some church leaders,” DeBernardo said. “Catholics who have studied and reflected deeply on this topic agree that non-discrimination is the most authentic Catholic position,” he said.
DeBernardo said those who helped draft the statement decided it would be best to limit it to a theological appeal and argument for LGBTQ equality and non-discrimination and not to call for passage of specific legislation such as the Equality Act, the national LGBTQ civil rights bill pending in the U.S. Congress.
The Equality Act calls for amending existing federal civil rights laws to add nondiscrimination language protecting LGBTQ people in areas such as employment, housing, and public accommodations. The U.S. House approved the legislation, but the Senate has yet to act on it.
“We wanted this to be a theological statement, not a political statement,” DeBernardo said.
He said organizers of the project to prepare the statement plan to send it, among other places, to the Vatican in Rome and to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has expressed opposition to the Equality Act.
Among the key signers of the statement were 242 administrators, faculty, and staff from Sacred Heart University, a Catholic college in Bridgeport, Conn. New Ways Ministries says the statement was circulated by the school’s administration and eight of its top leaders, including President John Petillo, are among the signers.
Some of the prominent writers who signed the statement include Sister Helen Prejean, author of “Dead Man Walking;” Richard Rodriquez, author of “Hunger of Memory;” Gary Wills, author of “Lincoln at Gettysburg;” and Gregory Maguire, author of “Wicked.”
Twenty years ago, on one of America’s darkest days, two planes flew into the twin towers, another into the Pentagon, and a fourth crashed in a field in rural Pennsylvania.
But even during the tragic early morning hours of Sept. 11, 2001, there were heroes. People like Mark Bingham, who was aboard United Airlines Flight 93 when it went down near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. And the Rev. Mychal Judge, who was tending to victims in the World Trade Center’s north tower when debris from the collapsing south tower killed him and many others.
On the face of it, the two men couldn’t have been more different: Bingham was 31 when he was killed; Judge was 68. Bingham, a former college rugby player with a 6-foot-5, 220-pound build, was a gay public relations executive with an active dating life. Judge was a kindly Franciscan friar who was “selectively out,” according to longtime friend and LGBTQ activist Brendan Fay.
But both men showed courage beyond comprehension that day, saving lives and perhaps even souls.
Along with Todd Beamer, Tom Burnett and Jeremy Glick, Bingham confronted the four hijackers aboard United 93. According to the 9/11 Commission Report, their actions ultimately led to the plane crashing in an empty field instead of slamming into its intended target, likely the White House or the U.S. Capitol.
Bingham had enough time to call his mother, Alice Hoagland, to explain what was happening and tell her he loved her.
The chaplain for the New York City Fire Department, Judge rushed downtown when he heard the World Trade Center had been hit and provided aid to the injured in the area and prayers for the dead.
He then entered the north tower, where a command post had been established, and continued to minister to rescue workers and those trapped in the building. Judge was administering last rites when he was killed, The Irish Times reported in 2018, and praying, “God, please end this.”
But there were other threads that connected Bingham and Judge besides their bravery, including their zest for life.
Judge “had a bursting-at-the-sides sense of humor,” said Fay, who co-produced the 2006 documentary “Saint of 9/11.” “He loved to sing and was a real jokester, with a laugh that would fill a room.”
Bingham, once the president of the Chi Psi fraternity at University of California, Berkeley, “was the life of the party,” said Amanda Mark, his roommate in New York and longtime friend. A 2001 Advocate profile recalled Bingham drunkenly running on the field at a college football game to tackle the opposing team’s mascot.
And, according to those who knew them, they both went through a journey of accepting their sexualities.
Like a lot of young gay men of his generation, Bingham struggled to some degree with his sexual orientation. He had come out to his fraternity brothers and his mom, but he wasn’t entirely out at work. Even when he first started playing in a gay rugby league in San Francisco, he had his face blurred in photos in the local press.
“San Francisco didn’t serve as a beacon for him as it had to so many others,” Jon Barrett wrote in the preface to his 2002 biography “Hero of Flight 93.”“He lived there by default, for the most part. His family had moved to the Bay Area in the early 1980s, and most of them were still there.”
Mark recalled how one night, after Bingham relocated to New York and moved in with her, he confessed he wanted “to write the Great American Novel — but gay.”
“So that you’d have to read it in high school, and people would understand that gay people were always among us and were totally normal and a part of our lives,” she said.
Judge’s sexual orientation was not made public until after his death, but he did actively minister to New York’s LGBTQ community in the 1980s and ‘90s and form one of the first Catholic AIDS ministries.
Fay met Judge in the 1980s through the LGBTQ Catholic organization DignityUSA. He said the FDNY chaplain “was out to friars and friends and people he could trust — or people he thought coming out to would help, like parents wanting to support their gay children.”
Judge was one of the few priests who would conduct Mass and provide sacraments to Dignity members.
Immediately recognizable in his brown robe and sandals, Judge visited people who were sick and dying at St. Vincent’s Hospital’s AIDS ward and lead funerals for the young men when their local parishes refused.
“He’d go to Connecticut, to New Jersey; he’d get on an airplane and fly out to do a funeral in Ohio,” Fay said.
Judge was supportive of groups like PFLAG, a nonprofit group serving LGBTQ people and their families, and wrote one of the first checks for the St. Pat’s for All parade, the inclusive celebration Fay founded in 2000.
“Mychal Judge took risks. He pushed boundaries,” Fay said. “He wasn’t a flag-waver, but he definitely pushed boundaries. He figured out how to weave around and do what he felt needed to be done without suffering the wrath of the church.”
He never missed a Pride parade if he could help it, though he walked with Franciscan brothers. According to Fay, he also regularly attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings for LGBTQ people.
“It was in these rooms where Mychal felt he could be himself,” Fay said.
Friends of both Bingham and Judge also recalled their great sense of compassion and tendency to form long-lasting bonds.
When TWA Flight 800 exploded over the ocean near East Moriches, New York, on July 17, 1996, Judge showed up for several days and forged close relationships with many grieving families.
“When he connected with you in a moment of struggle, very often he stayed with you for life,” Fay said.
Mark had met Bingham in 1988 when she was in high school in Australia and he was part of a group of American teens who came to play rugby in an exhibition. Over the years and across two continents, their bond grew closer.
“Rugby taught Mark to be a team player,” she said. “When you joined the team, you were part of the family. When another player was advancing to the goal line, he’d shout, ‘I’m with you! I’m with you!’ That’s what you say in rugby, but it really embodied everything Mark was about. He couldn’t tolerate unfairness or injustice, and he wasn’t afraid to stand up for the people he loved.”
She called Bingham “the great connector” for his ability to bring disparate groups together. He was always making new friends while still reaffirming bonds with old ones — through phone calls, emails and surprise visits.
Once, when she and her friends returned home to one of their houses in Sydney, they found Bingham waiting for them in the living room. He had flown in unannounced from the U.S.
“He’d say, ‘Let’s keep in touch,’ and he would. And he’d arrange to see you when he was in town,” she said. “He would have just loved Facebook.”
A rugby player at UC Berkeley, Bingham continued to play the sport after moving to San Francisco. He even became a key figure in the creation of the International Gay Rugby league in 2000.
Just months before he died, Bingham was at the league’s first invitational in May 2001, helping the San Francisco Fog defeat the hometown team, the Washington, D.C., Renegades, in a 19-0 shutout.
At the time of the crash, Bingham was working to bring a gay rugby team to New York, which led to the formation of the Gotham Knights.
“Mark’s two worlds were rugby and being gay, and when those worlds collided, he was ecstatic,” Mark said.
After the terrorist attacks, when it became public that Judge was gay “there was a big debate in Catholic circles,” said DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, which advocates for inclusion for LGBTQ Catholics.
“People couldn’t resolve the fact that a gay person could be holy and selfless,” he said. “It was like cognitive dissonance. I wasn’t even totally convinced he was a gay man until I started doing the research [for the book].”
But, he added, Judge’s whole sense of ministry, of being of service to others, came from his coming to terms with being gay.
“He had empathy and sensitivity to being on the margins,” DeBernardo said. “And he understood the great love God had for him just as he was.”
DeBernardo, like other biographers and friends, said he believes Judge honored his vow of celibacy.
“But speaking to others about how accepting he was of his sexuality — and almost not caring if you knew — I can’t believe he’d want to be closeted now,” he said.
Bingham’s closest friends and family were also ambivalent about his being heralded as a gay hero.
“At first I really felt like his being gay didn’t matter,” Mark said. “Don’t put out ‘gay hero’; he was just a hero.”
But in the weeks after the attacks, she, Hoagland and Bingham’s other friends spoke more about it.
“We decided at that time we should encourage that perspective,” Mark said, “because the truth was there weren’t any gay heroes.”
The gay rugby community wasted little time deciding how to honor their fallen brother: In June 2002, less than a year after the attacks, the inaugural Mark Kendall Bingham Memorial Tournament —commonly known as the Bingham Cup — was held in San Francisco with eight teams.
In 2018, the last year the biannual event was held, the competition welcomed 74 teams from 20 different countries. The 2022 Bingham Cup in Ottawa, Ontario, rescheduled from 2020 because of the pandemic, will include 148 teams.
Bingham never got to write his novel, but the tournament that bears his name imparts the lesson he wanted to share, according to Mark.
“Part of the Bingham Cup journey for so many players, they’ll tell you, is that they wanted to play sport but gave it up because they didn’t think they’d fit in,” she said. “Even though they’d never met Mark, they’d say he changed their life.”
Hoagland was integral in keeping her son’s legacy alive: Before her death in 2020, she regularly attended the Bingham Cup tournaments, where players would chant her name and flock to have their photos taken with her.https://iframe.nbcnews.com/UEJc9X6?app=1
One of the tournament’s prizes is called the Hoagland Cup in her honor.
“She was a mother to us all,” Bingham Cup President Jean-François Laberge said. “A lot of members of the IGR movement were abandoned or disowned by their families. She became a mother figure to players across the globe.”
Laberge said he had several discussions with Hoagland and Mark “about the importance of ensuring the tournament not just go on but continue to thrive.”
“All that IGR is, and all that the Bingham Cup has become, carries on Mark’s legacy,” Laberge said. Next year’s tournament will spotlight “our shared values of inclusion, respect and athletic competition,” he added, including a summit on transgender athletes and a wheelchair rugby exhibition game.
At a special dedication ceremony, a Canadian maple will be planted in Ottawa’s Ken Steele Park, where a plaque will officially designate a newly upgraded rugby pitch the Mark Bingham Field.
Judge’s legacy, meanwhile, is both more audacious and more complicated, as supporters redouble their efforts to have him canonized as a Catholic saint.
DeBernardo said a big push for the sainthood movement actually came from the Vatican itself: In 2017, DeBernardo received a call from the Rev. Luis Escalante, an official from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints, suggesting the idea.
“There are many avenues to sainthood,” DeBernardo said. “One is if you are a martyr — someone who dies for the faith. But that year, Pope Francis opened another avenue, ‘the offerer of life.’ Someone who knowingly gives their life as an act of service to others.”
Escalante thought Judge fit into that category, DeBernardo said, “because he went into that building knowing it was very likely he wouldn’t make it out, but he wanted to minister.”
Fay said he understands the desire to have Judge recognized by the church, but he’s not sure Judge would want the honor.
“I think he’d rather there be a shelter in his name for LGBT youth,” he said.
Achieving sainthood is a protracted process involving much research and a lengthy formal investigation. According to DeBernardo, Escalante knew Judge was involved in the gay community and wanted New Ways Ministry to help find people who knew him to provide firsthand accounts or documents “that will give a clearer, more detailed picture of his life, spirituality, and ministry,”DeBernardo wrote in a 2017 post on the ministry’s website, especially “any information regarding a possible miracle attributed to Fr. Judge’s intercession.”
Soon Escalante began receiving testimonies supporting canonization from the many communities Judge touched: firefighters, LGBTQ people, homeless people, AA members and others.
Four years later, on Sept. 2, Escalante called DeBernardo again: The testimonies were helpful, but the process had stalled.
Typically, candidates for sainthood have a sponsor who provides advocacy and fundraising.
“That’s why so many saints belong to holy orders,” DeBernardo said.
But Judge’s order, the Franciscans, declined to sponsor him.
“We are very proud of our brother’s legacy and we have shared his story with many people,” the Rev. Kevin Mullen, leader of the Franciscans’ New York-based Holy Name Province, told The Associated Press. “We leave it to our brothers in the generations to come to inquire about sainthood.”
Escalante implored DeBernardo to encourage a grassroots movement to take up the cause.
On Sept. 11, 2021 — two decades after Judge’s death — New Ways Ministry put out the call for individuals and organizations to form an association to sponsor Judge’s canonization.
In a statement, New Ways Ministry co-founder Sister Jeannine Gramick said she was hopeful people will come forward “so that this priest who symbolized God’s love to so many different communities will be recognized for the way he himself responded to God’s love.”
CORRECTION (Sept. 11, 2021, 12:52 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated the publication year of an article in The Irish Times about the Rev. Mychal Judge. It was published in 2018, not 2011.
A gay substitute teacher was wrongfully fired by a Roman Catholic school in North Carolina after he announced in 2014 on social media that he was going to marry his longtime partner, a federal judge has ruled.
U.S. District Judge Max Cogburn ruled Friday that Charlotte Catholic High School and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Charlotte violated Lonnie Billard’s federal protections against against sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Cogburn granted summary judgment to Billard and said a trial must still be held to determine appropriate relief for him.
“After all this time, I have a sense of relief and a sense of vindication. I wish I could have remained teaching all this time,” Billard said in a statement released Friday by the ACLU, which represented him in court. “Today’s decision validates that I did nothing wrong by being a gay man.”
Billard taught English and drama full time at the school for more than a decade, earning its Teacher of the Year award in 2012. He then transitioned to a role as a regular substitute teacher, typically working more than a dozen weeks per year, according to his 2017 lawsuit.
He posted about his upcoming wedding in October 2014 and was informed by an assistant principal several weeks later that he no longer had a job with the school, according to the ruling.
The defendants said that they fired Billard not because he was gay, but rather because “he engaged in ‘advocacy’ that went against the Catholic Church’s beliefs” when he publicly announced he was marrying another man, the ruling said.
But Cogburn ruled that the school’s action didn’t fit into exemptions to labor law that give religious institutions leeway to require certain employees to adhere to religious teachings, nor was the school’s action protected by constitutional rights to religious freedom.
Pope Francis invited a group of transpeople to the Vatican to be vaccinated against COVID-19 at Easter, it has been revealed.
The pontiff welcomed 50 people to the Vatican on 3 April to receive their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and they returned later that month to receive their second dose, Cardinal Konrad Krajewski confirmed to theNational Catholic Reporter.
Trans people from a parish in Torvaianica were among those who travelled to the Vatican to receive vaccines after Krajewski reached out to local priest Fr Andrea Conocchia, who has been ministering to the local trans community for some time.
Others who were vaccinated as part of the initiative included volunteers, immigrants, refugees, struggling families and single parents.
Juan Carlos Cruz – a survivor of clerical sex abuse who was recently appointed to the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors – told RNS that Vatican officials called Pope Francis for guidance when two buses from Torvaianica arrived as part of the vaccine initiative.
Absolutely vaccinate them!” Pope Francis said, according to Cruz. He claimed the pope went on to instruct officials to “ask for their names, ask for anything they need, but do not ask them about their sex.”
According to Conocchia, his trans parishioners reacted with “emotion” when they arrived at the Vatican to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Some of them are undocumented, meaning they are not eligible to receive vaccines under Italy’s health service.
Conocchia added: “They were moved to tears and felt remembered, having experienced once again and in a tangible way the closeness and tenderness of the pope’s charity.”
This is not the first time Pope Francis has expressed support for Italy’s trans community. In May 2020, as the world was rocked by the coronavirus pandemic, he donated funds to a group of trans sex workers who were struggling as a result of the pandemic’s economic fallout.
It was reported at the time that up to 20 trans women approached Fr Conocchia for help after their work was eradicated by COVID-19. Conocchia helped as many women as he could, but ultimately was unable to offer assistance to them all.
He subsequently wrote to Pope Francis appealing for help for his parish’s embattled trans community, and the pontiff gave the go-ahead for papal almoner Krajewski to sent money to the trans sex workers.
Catholic teaching remains firmly opposed to LGBT+ acceptance
LGBT+ Catholics will watch Pope Francis’s most recent charitable efforts with interest. The Catholic Church has historically been firmly opposed to any acceptance of queer people’s identities, and it still holds firm on its teaching that homosexuality is intrinsically disordered.
Furthermore, there was dismay among queer Catholics in 2019 when the Vatican issued a document that firmly rejected the existence of trans identities, claiming gender fluidity posed a threat to traditional family structures.
There was some hope that the Catholic Church would change its approach to LGBT+ people after Pope Francis became leader in 2013 – however, the Vatican has instead recommitted to its anti-LGBT+ policies and teachings.
Russia’s foreign minister has made the unlikely claim that schools in a number of Western countries are teaching children that Jesus was bisexual.
Minister Sergei Lavrov, 71, painted the improbable picture in an essay for the Russian Kommersant newspaper titled “The Law, Rights, and the Rules,” published Monday (28 June).
In it he delivered a sweeping critique of “boundlessly permissive” liberal democracies which he believes “encroach on human nature”, starting with Jesus’ sexuality.
“Attempts by reasonable politicians to shield the younger generation from aggressive LGBT propaganda are met with bellicose protests from the ‘enlightened Europe,’” he said.
“All world religions, the genetic code of the planet’s key civilisations, are under attack. In a number of Western countries, children are being persuaded as part of the school curriculum that Jesus Christ was bisexual.”
Lavrov did not provide examples to support his far-fetched claim, nor did he state which countries he was referring to.
However, It’s My City news traced the likely origins of his story to a viral TikTok of an Australian mother eavesdropping on her children debating Jesus’ sexual orientation.
In the video her young son suggests that Jesus was “bi and non-binary,” because “he loves everyone in the world” and “he wears a dress and he’s a man”.
“We learned it at school,” the boy insists in response to his mother’s protests.
Russian observers speculated that the minister’s critique of Western values was aimed at drumming up support from a socially conservative domestic audience ahead of key parliamentary elections this autumn.
“While proclaiming the ‘right’ to interfere in the domestic affairs of other countries for the sake of promoting democracy as it understands it, the West instantly loses all interest when we raise the prospect of making international relations more democratic,” he said.
“The United States is at the forefront of state interference in church affairs, openly seeking to drive a wedge into the Orthodox world, whose values are viewed as a powerful spiritual obstacle for the liberal concept of boundless permissiveness.”
Despite his fervent criticism of Western education and values, Lavrov chose to have his own daughter, Yekaterina, schooled in America.
A top Italian archbishop has spoken out against the Vatican’s unprecedented decision to interfere on Italy’s proposed anti-homophobia law.
The Vatican sparked widespread outrage after issuing a nota verbale opposing the bill – which would extend anti-discrimination protections to women, LGBT+ people and those with disabilities – on the basis that it would supposedly breach a 92-year old treaty with Italy.
Speaking at the Be pop! cultural review in Rome, archbishop Vincenzo Paglia admitted that the Holy See’s resistance to the bill was a “mistake” and acknowledged that homophobic discrimination is “obvious” to see.
“That the problem exists is obvious; that it must be fought is even more obvious still,” said Paglia, as reported by Crux. The anti-homophobia law “brings to light a very important issue that must be faced,” he added.
The archbishop, who is head of the Pontifical Academy for Life and president of an Italian government commission on care for the elderly, criticised the Vatican’s controversial interference in the law as well as the writing of the law itself, saying “the mistake was on both sides”.
“The law as I’ve read and studied it is poorly done,” he said. “It identifies a problem but doesn’t help to resolve it. It’s more of a manifesto, and as a manifesto, it’s fine, but if you have to translate it into legislative language, it must be precisely written.”
Yet the Vatican never should have involved itself in the matter, as the debate over the bill “is a problem regarding only the Italian republic”.
“It has nothing to do with the concordat,” Paglia said, referring to the 1929 Lateran Pacts, which established the Vatican City State as a sovereign entity and which governs relations between the Holy See and Italy.
“So, to me, that note, in my opinion, should not have been written. Absolutely,” he said.
Italian prime minister shuts down Vatican interference
The scandal is thought to be the first time the Holy See has ever issued a nota verbale to the Italian government to object to pending legislation. The bill in question was named the “Zan bill” after Alessandro Zan, the openly gay Italian politician who introduced it.
The Vatican’s secretary of state, cardinal Pietro Parolin, defended the controversial move, saying it was not about interfering with international politics but about highlighting bigger problems the Zan bill could lead to if it is passed.
The Methodist Church has voted to allow same-sex marriage, and will now define marriage as between “two people”, rather than between “one man and one woman”.
In 2019, the Marriage and Relationships Task Group presented a report to the church’s annual conference, titled “God in Love Unites Us“.
The report put forward proposed resolutions same-sex marriage, and these were approved by all but one of the local Methodist synods.
On Wednesday (30 June), the 2021 conference gave final considerations on the resolutions, and officially voted to allow same-sex marriages to be conducted in Methodist churches.
The conference voted overwhelmingly for marriage equality, with 254 votes in favour and 46 against.
The church’s standing orders, or rules, are updated each year by the conference.
The section on marriage previously read: “The Methodist Church believes that marriage is a gift of God and that it is God’s intention that a marriage should be a life-long union in body, mind and spirit of one man and one woman.”
It has now been amended to read: “The Methodist Church believes that marriage is given by God to be a particular channel of God’s grace, and that it is in accord with God’s purposes when a marriage is a life-long union in body, mind and spirit of two people who freely enter it.
“Within the Methodist Church this is understood in two ways: that marriage can only be between a man and a woman; that marriage can be between any two people.
“The Methodist Church affirms both understandings and makes provision in its standing orders for them.”
In “affirming” both those who agree with and disagree with same-sex marriage in the church, the standing orders state that ministers or other officials will not be required to perform same-sex marriages “should it be contrary to the dictates of his or her conscience to do so”.
Jessika Sessoms grew up in a conservative Black evangelical family, attended Christian schools and often heard that being gay was an abomination, until she understood that she was queer while studying to become a missionary.
The 23-year-old from Florida came out publicly last year and has found healing and a sense of community after joining Beloved Arise, a Christian nonprofit dedicated to celebrating and empowering LGBTQ youth of faith.
Maria Magdalena Gschwind, 20, from Germany, credits the U.S.-based group for inspiring her to study Protestant theology in college at a time when she had doubts about whether her sexuality would conflict with her faith. Samuel Cavalheiro, 21, a Brazilian living in Mozambique, feels so connected to the group’s members that he calls them his “chosen family.”
They are among hundreds of young people worldwide who have joined Beloved Arise during the coronavirus pandemic to worship, sing and bond virtually. The group celebrated its second annual Queer Youth of Faith Day on Wednesday — the last day of Pride Month — with podcasts, concerts, online panels of teens and seminars on LGBTQ history and churches.
“We wanted to do something that would be there to uplift and honor … queer youth of all faiths,” the Rev. Ashley DeTar Birt, program coordinator for Beloved Arise, said during one of the panels.
“Something that would let them know that there’s no contradiction between being a queer and trans person and being a person of faith … that those things can go together.”
Across the U.S., circumstances vary widely for LGBTQ youth seeking religious engagement.
Some major denominations, including the Roman Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention, condemn same-sex unions and say all sexual activity outside of a marriage between a man and a woman is sinful. But thousands of houses of worship, including many mainline Protestant churches and synagogues, have LGBTQ-inclusive policies.
“I can tell you how important it is to accept because I’m proof of that. I grew up in a church where LGBT people were accepting and accepted and loved,” said DeTar Birt, who was ordained as a Presbyterian minister and has worked as a Sunday school teacher and youth pastor. “I came out in college and … I had a lot of trepidation and anxiety around it, but the church wasn’t part of that.”
Beloved Arise was founded in Seattle in February 2020 by Jun Love Young, a former board member of Christian development agency World Concern. He grew up in a Catholic family in the Philippines and kept quiet about his queer identity until his mid 40s.
“And it was due to religious pressure, which is why I created Beloved Arise, so that other kids wouldn’t have to wait until their forties,” he said.
“I was so surprised in my forties to learn that what I thought I knew about the Bible was gravely misinformed, and I just want young people to be aware that in every faith tradition there is a progressive faith that has searched the sacred texts and has created an open space for queer identities,” he said, adding that he felt safe to come out thanks in part to affirming theology.
Young said his nonprofit aims to empower and provide resources for young LGBTQ people, “who often face rejection and shaming at home, at schools and in their faith communities.” He said the group has grown to more than 400 members and expanded its social media presence during the pandemic to tens of thousands of followers on Instagram and TikTok.
“TikTok is a platform that has enabled us to reach digital natives, Gen Z,” he said about the generation born after 1996.
“Unlike other youth ministries that exist, we started digital, we were born in the cloud,” Young added. “And we were born during the pandemic, where the only way people had to connect was through digital means, so that really gave us the foresight and sensitivity to pay attention to where kids are hanging out.”
Americans are becoming less religious in the formal, traditional sense, and the trend is more marked among young adults, according to Pew Research Center surveys from recent years. Young people are less likely to pray daily, attend religious services or believe in God.
Beloved Arise holds popular weekly youth gatherings online where its members pray, sing and discuss scriptures.
“This group is basically my chosen family,” said Cavalheiro, who chats with other members on WhatsApp throughout the week after their virtual worship. The son of Brazilian Baptists living in Mozambique, he still struggles to talk about his sexuality with his family. But he feels understood by other members of Beloved Arise.
“It feels like we’ve known each other for a lifetime,” said Cavalheiro, a college freshman studying computer science in Maputo. “We’ve been through the same pain … (it) binds us together.”
Gschwind grew up Catholic, and her faith was always important to her. But she said she felt unwelcome when she got involved with a Pentecostal church in New Zealand during her gap year.
“I was pretty open about it from the start, but then I realized that queerness is something a lot of Christians see as a sin,” she said. “So I started to question myself a lot.”
Joining Beloved Arise influenced her choice of college major.
“If I hadn’t found this youth group, I would probably not have studied theology … because I would probably be at a point where I don’t want to have anything to do with Christianity and theology,” she said. “Because I met a lot of people who engage in theological discussions and have different perspectives on things … I just realized that theology was something that excites me a lot.”
Sessoms had hoped to become a missionary. But she began to question her path when she felt attracted to a woman while they attended Liberty University, a Christian institution in Virginia with a strict code of conduct forbidding “sexual relations outside of a biblically-ordained marriage between a natural-born man and a natural-born woman.”
“Reconciling all of that with my sexuality was hard because we were taught that gay people were an abomination, that it’s not God’s will,” said Sessoms, who is now a senior studying marketing at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville.
“And it’s been really healing. It’s been really nice to be around people who identify as me, have been through the same struggles as me, people who take their faith seriously but also celebrate who they are as an LGBTQ person.”
Pope Francis sent a letter praising the work of a Jesuit priest who has been an outspoken advocate for more respectful treatment of LGBTQ people within the Catholic Church, in which the pontiff described Father James Martin’s work as imitating the “style of God.”
The letter, written in Spanish and dated June 21, was in response to a communique sent to Francis by Martin that referenced the Outreach LGBTQ Ministry Conference, a gathering focused on Catholic LGBTQ issues hosted virtually by Fordham University this weekend.
Read the full article. As you may know, Martin has long been a target of anti-LGBT activists and hate groups. His speeches are often protested in person by groups such as the red-caped Catholic loons.