Monday, November 18, 2013

Will Religion Change Its Stance on Gays?

Recently I attended an event at the Hillel center on campus. It featured two gay, spiritual leaders. It was called “ God Believes in Love: Shifting the Conversation with Bishop Gene Robinson and Rabbi Steve Greenberg.”

Bishop Robinson is a retired Episcopal bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire and is the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church. He is the author of “God Believes in Love: Straight Talk About Gay Marriage.” The film, “Love Free or Die,” a Sundance Film Festival 2012 award winner, tells his compelling story and parallels the conversation underway in many American churches about whether gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are equal to heterosexuals in the eyes of God and equal under the law.  Bishop Robinson is currently a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington, DC. He lives with his husband, Mark Andrew, who is employed by the State of New Hampshire ’s Department of Safety.

Rabbi Greenberg is the winner of the Koret Book Award for Philosophy and Thought and the author of the groundbreaking book “Wrestling with God & Men: Homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition” which explores homosexuality and Jewish tradition. He was featured in the acclaimed 2001 film "Trembling Before G-d." For over 20 years Rabbi Greenberg has been a Senior Teaching Fellow at CLAL, the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership and is also the Director of the CLAL Diversity Project. Steve is a founder and co-director of Eshel, an Orthodox LGBT community support and education organization and serves on the faculty of the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America. Rabbi Greenberg lives with his partner Steven Goldstein and his daughter Amalia in Boston.

Both men, who have known each other for 10 years, shared their personal coming out stories and then their professional/religious coming out. They then took questions from students and the general public.

The question I raised was why are the anti-gay religious voices so loud and dominant today and straight ally voices are nearly non-existent? When will you think this will change?

They spent about twenty minutes answering the question. The most interesting revelation I got was from Bishop Robinson. He referenced a study done a number of years ago by the pro-Christian Barna Group. The research found that Americans age 16-29 found that “anti-homosexual” was the dominant perception of modern Christians. 91 percent of non-Christians and 80 percent of Christians in this group used this word to describe Christians. (The study can be found here: This has leaders inside the major religious dominations scared. They are losing the youth. Almost 60 percent of young people who grow up attending their parents’ church abandon their faith in adulthood. One of the major reasons is the gay rights issue. The leadership needs to come up with a strategy to get out of this mess or risk becoming irrelevant. Robinson said he expects to see changes soon. It is why we are now seeing just the slightest movement in the ways the new Pope is speaking about gays. Even more change from the Mormon Church has made changes.

Fred Karger, LGBT activist and critic of the LDS Church says, "It seems like the [Mormon] hierarchy has pulled the plug and is no longer taking the lead in the fight to stop same-sex marriage. The Mormon Church has lost so many members and suffered such a black eye because of all its anti-gay activities that they really had no choice. I am hopeful that the Catholic Church cannot be far behind."

In a recent interview the Pope said that the church had grown “obsessed” with gay marriage, abortion, and contraception. “We have to find a new balance,” said the Pope, “otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.” While the doctrine and polices have not changed, the tone certainly has.

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