All I can say is, “it’s about time!” When I started Whosoever about 10 years ago I did so believing that unless the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community embraced the spiritual elements present in the community it would never, ever win any significant political gains. In our spiritually saturated culture, a political message devoid of the language of faith would never move very far. I hate to say I told you so, but …
Finally, the Human Rights Campaign, the largest national LGBT political organization, seems to understand the need for this very basic ingredient in any successful civil rights campaign and have launched a new religious and faith program. They could not have found a more fitting founding director for this endeavor. Harry Knox, a long-time LGBT activist and strong man of faith, comes well-equipped to lead this fledgling program. Knox, with his political science degree from the University of Georgia and a masters of divinity from Lancaster Theological Seminary, has the perfect mix of both political acumen and religious depth.
Knox’s journey to the national spotlight began humbly enough in Uvalda, Georgia where, in 1985, he served as student pastor of two small United Methodist Church congregations while studying at the Candler School of Theology in Atlanta. At the Uvalda church he met a gay male couple who were members there and came to him for counseling.
“I would hand them Virginia Mollenkott’s book ‘Is the Homosexual My Neighbor’ and run the other way as fast as I could from that conversation,” Knox said. “It was painfully clear that if I was going to have any integrity in my ministry I was going to have to come out of the closet myself and deal with these issues. If it was happening at Uvalda it wasn’t going to go away. Those two guys really called the question for me. Through the courage and truthfulness that their families showed I really was convicted of the sinfulness of my own deceit both toward myself and others that I loved. I had to make a decision and I decided to come out.”
And come out he did. In just a few years, after realizing he would not be ordained a Methodist minister, and failing in a bid to become the first gay UCC pastor in the southern region, Knox helped found Georgia Equality, a statewide advocacy group for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. At Georgia equality, Knox worked to get hate crime laws and other gay friendly laws passed in addition to convincing many top name companies like Cingular and Coca-Cola to include benefits for their GLBT employees.
Knox has also worked with Equality Florida and Evan Wolfson’s Freedom to Marry organization. Now, Knox is putting his expertise to work for the HRC, getting its religious and faith program off the ground.
“We are recognizing that for far too long we have given our opponents the field where religion and LGBT issues are concerned. Having given them the field we are then surprised when they score touchdowns. That just can’t continue to be the case. We will help to even the score just by showing up in a significant way,” Knox said.
Knox said he wants his office to do many things including:
- Engaging and empowering LGBT people and allies to talk about LGBT issues from their “authentic faith perspective.”
- Helping clergy leaders around the country to increase their reach, giving them a bigger platform to speak out on LGBT rights from a faith perspective.
- Using the HRC Web site as a portal for information on supportive organizations and churches that serve GLBT people.
- Working with colleagues around the country to find out what is needed to help LGBT communities of faith grow.
- Build local clergy networks and provide them with resources they need to speak to their communities.
Knox said the HRC will gear its religious message to what he called “the moveable middle” – those people of faith who are willing to dialogue about LGBT issues.
“Our market is made up of those people who recognize that the Bible is to be taken seriously not literally,” Knox said. “They recognize that the love of God is seen in how we act toward each other and they recognize nothing of God in how the right wing is treating LGBT people. We are reaching out to the people who know that intelligence and tradition and experience are all gifts from God that along with the text are gifts that should be used as tools to come to discernment about what we believe.”
Knox’s office will also work to help those within the LGBT community hurt by religion or who have rejected religion because of right wing bigotry to understand the importance of including voices of faith. That inclusion of faith communities within the work for civil rights for LGBT people is simply “practical” Knox said since, for so long, the community has ceded religious talk to the right wing.
“The right wing does not own God. The right wing does not own Jesus. If I thought they did I would reject them,” Knox said. “Personally, Jesus keeps speaking love and compassion and acceptance and understanding to me through the scriptures. My wonderful Jewish and Muslim friends tell me the same thing happens to them when they read their scriptures and pray to God as they understand God to be – they get that same spiritual feedback. No right wing political goober ought to take that away from me.”
Despite a recognized need for such a program ten or more years ago, Knox said he believed that this program could not have been successfully implemented before now.
“The spirit of God is moving in a new way,” he said. “I’m not shy to say I believe we are part of a new great awakening in this country in which people of faith of all denominations and traditions are feeling anew the living God in their lives calling them to speak out for justice. That is the sort of thing that cannot be scripted. It is a fullness of time kind of moment.”
Whosoever founder and Editor Emeritus Rev. Candace Chellew is the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians. She earned her masters of theological studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, was ordained in December 2003, and trained as a spiritual director through the Omega Point program of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. She serves as the spiritual director of Jubilee! Circle in Columbia, S.C., and blogs at Motley Mystic.