The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the Institute for Welcoming Resources (IWR), an umbrella organization for leading Protestant lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) welcoming church programs, have merged. The move, an unprecedented joining of LGBT secular and faith-based organizing, is designed to provide new resources, training and strategies that will increase the number of people of faith supporting equality for LGBT people.
“We are extremely proud the Institute for Welcoming Resources, an essential leader in the effort to win support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in key denominations, is joining forces with us,” said Task Force Executive Director Matt Foreman. “The more than 1 million individuals in the 1,300 congregations supported by IWR are some of our movement’s most valuable allies in the fight to reclaim ‘moral values’ from those who try to justify anti-gay bigotry as ‘deeply held religious beliefs.'”
IWR works with the welcoming church movement in seven mainline Protestant denominations: the Presbyterian Church USA, United Church of Christ, United Methodist Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Community of Christ, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and the American Baptist Churches. Through this movement, congregations decide – through a formal vote – to offer an unconditional welcome to people of all sexual orientations and gender identities and their families. To date, more than 1,300 congregations – with more than 1 million congregants – have adopted statements that explicitly welcome LGBT people to full inclusion in the life and ministry of their congregations.
“Those of us in the welcoming church movement see it as our job to proudly claim the witness and language of our faith traditions,” said the Rev. Rebecca Voelkel, executive officer of IWR. “Unfortunately for those of us who are Christian, some of that language has been hijacked by the radical right and used to attack and abuse LGBT folk. We are determined to change that.” Voelkel, a minister in the United Church of Christ, will continue to lead the IWR program as a member of the Task Force staff.
With new resources and expertise resulting from this move, IWR expects to place faith-based field organizers across denominations in strategic locations around the country; produce new resources for welcoming congregations, seminaries and other settings; train clergy and lay leaders to work for LGBT equality; and exchange lessons learned between faith-based organizing in the mainline Protestant churches and progressive people of faith in other religious traditions. As part of the Task Force, the IWR program will continue to organize the “Witness Our Welcome (WOW)” conference as the national convening of welcoming people of faith. It will also continue the outreach work of the Shower of Stoles project, a visual and liturgical representation of the leadership gifts of LGBT people of faith and the loss that occurs when they are banned from leadership.
“We are confident our becoming part of the Task Force will help us grow this critical movement and take us to a new level of participation and effectiveness,” said Voelkel.
Faith-based LGBT activism – a parallel stream
Like the Task Force, which was founded in 1973, many of the organizations with which IWR works have been in existence since the early 1970s, with a substantial history of LGBT organizing. This “parallel stream” of faith-based LGBT activism has grown alongside the secular political movement. For instance, Lutherans Concerned/North America, an organization of LGBT and allied Lutherans, has been working within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada since 1974. Over the years, these faith groups have given spiritual strength to LGBT people, bound up wounds caused by religious abuse, and advocated for full inclusion of LGBT people within their denominations and in society as a whole. In the process, they have won hundreds of thousands of dedicated heterosexual allies in their churches and achieved significant institutional change.
While extraordinary progress has been made within Protestant denominations, including the United Church of Christ’s recent General Synod resolution endorsing marriage equality for same-sex couples, it has been done with comparatively few resources. A recent report released by the Task Force National Religious Leadership Roundtable, David v. Goliath: A Report on Faith Groups Working for LGBT Equality (and What They’re Up Against), found that pro-LGBT faith organizations were out-spent by their anti-gay opponents by an average of 8 to 1.
“Much of the most important and heroic work to win hearts and minds on LGBT issues has been within religious denominations,” Foreman said. “It’s long past time for the secular and faith-based wings of our movement to share resources and expertise and advance as a united movement.”
IWR as part of the continuing interfaith outreach of the Task Force
Working with faith leaders is not new for the Task Force. Since 1998, the Task Force has convened the National Religious Leadership Roundtable, an interfaith collaboration of more than 40 faith organizations from across the spectrum of American religious traditions. National Religious Leadership Roundtable members act as spokespeople, educators and citizen advocates in order to change the public dialogue on religion and LGBT issues. In addition to the denominations represented in the IWR, the National Religious Leadership Roundtable includes Episcopal, Metropolitan Community Church, Catholic, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Missionary Baptist, Unitarian, Quaker, Mormon, Seventh-Day Adventist, Eastern Orthodox and spiritualist representation.
A Muslim member of the Roundtable, Imam Daayiee Abdullah, spoke about the value of the Task Force working more closely with the Institute for Welcoming Resources. “A rising tide lifts all boats,” Abdullah said. “As churches become more welcoming, there becomes less of an idea that all ‘people of faith’ oppose LGBT equality. I’m glad to work with my brothers and sisters in the welcoming congregations and learn from them, and I think they, too, will learn something from me.”
To find out more about the IWR, including a comprehensive and geographical list of all the welcoming congregations around the country, visit www.welcomingresources.org.
IWR partner organizations include:
- More Light Presbyterians (Presbyterian Church USA)
- Open and Affirming Program (United Church of Christ)
- Reconciling Ministries Network (United Methodist Church)
- Reconciling in Christ (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America)
- Gay and Lesbian Acceptance (Community of Christ)
- Open & Affirming Ministry (Christian Church – Disciples of Christ)
- Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists (American Baptist Churches)