The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force National Religious Leadership Roundtable released a groundbreaking study on the resources, challenges and opposition to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender-affirming religious organizations. The study, David v. Goliath: A Report on Faith Groups Working for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Equality (and What They’re Up Against), by Richard A. Lindsay and Jessica Stern, surveys 29 organizations, including large denominations and independent congregations.
“This report shows that some of the most important debate over lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality is not happening in Congress, but in religious denominations,” said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. “The organizations in this report, and many others like them, are winning the hearts and minds of people of faith in spite of tremendous obstacles and meager resources – it’s truly David v. Goliath.”
In recent years, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people have faced unprecedented attacks from a highly organized religious right. David v. Goliath outlines the “parallel” progressive faith movement that welcomes LGBT people, and has grown simultaneously with the secular rights movement. It reveals the intense opposition to these progressive faith groups and the huge forces waged against them by the anti-LGBT industry, which has unabashedly and effectively rallied conservative people of faith to its cause.
The report includes large denominations and independent congregations such as the United Church of Christ, Unitarian Universalist Association and Congregation Beth Simchat Torah; LGBT denominational affinity groups such as DignityUSA (Catholic LGBT organization) and the Institute for Welcoming Resources (mainline Protestant LGBT organization); and “bridge-building” organizations such as Al-Fatiha (Muslim LGBT organization) and Queer Asian Spirit, which explore the intersections of religious or ethnic minority identities and LGBT identity.
Rev. Rebecca Voelkel, executive officer of the Institute for Welcoming Resources, said, “There has been a concerted effort from the conservative political establishment, through secular organizations like the Institute on Religion and Democracy, to influence the mainline Protestant churches, create schism on the issue of lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender people, and lure the denominations into a hard-right ideology, which would represent a vast and historic shift in the nation’s religious landscape.”
David v. Goliath also reports on faith organizations outside the mainline denominations that are working with populations that face issues of intersecting identities of ethnicity, race, national origin, gender or HIV-positive status, combined with being LGBT.
“When you’re black, HIV-positive and transgender, and you are looking for a faith community to support you with your physical, emotional and spiritual needs, you are in the most absolutely vulnerable position of people in our society,” said Bishop Yvette Flunder, founder and senior pastor of City of Refuge Church in San Francisco. “Someone’s got to provide the bridge for people at the intersection of these identities to connect them to the services they need. Someone’s got to give them the loving community they need to survive.”
- David v. Goliath surveys denominations and organizations that have made a commitment to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality that represent an estimated 8,300 congregations and 2 million people.
- Approximately 20.2 million people are involved in mainline churches, including the Presbyterian Church USA, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, United Methodist Church and the Episcopal Church, where the battle over acceptance of LGBT people takes place regularly over issues such as LGBT ordination and same-sex marriage.
- Organizations surveyed in the mainline Protestant and Catholic churches are facing an average 8-to-1 disadvantage in funding compared to anti-LGBT organizations in their denominations, and often explicit rejection from denominational hierarchy.
- Conservative organizations, foundations and publications such as Concerned Women for America, Focus on the Family, Coors Foundation, American Enterprise Institute and the Scaife Family Foundation have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in faith-based organizing, while many centrist and liberal organizations have avoided any alliance with or funding for their progressive faith counterparts.
National Religious Leadership Roundtable, a project of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, was founded in 1998. The roundtable is an interfaith collaboration of more than 40 faith leaders from across the spectrum of American belief who are working to change the public dialogue on religion and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. The membership of the National Religious Leadership Roundtable acts as a think tank, an educational organization, as spokespeople and citizen advocates for change.
Founder of Motley Mystic and the Jubilee! Circle interfaith spiritual community In Columbia, S.C., Candace Chellew (she/her) is the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians (Jossey-Bass, 2008). Founder and Editor Emeritus of Whosoever, she earned her masters of theological studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, was ordained by Gentle Spirit Christian Church in December 2003, and trained as a spiritual director through the Omega Point program of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. She is also a musician and animal lover.