In San Francisco in 1964, the Council on Religion and the Homosexual was created “out of the growing awareness on the part of clergymen of the extent to which homosexuals had been shut out of the church and society.” “Exhibit: The Council on Religion and the Homosexual,” LGBT Religious Archives Network, http://www.lgbtran.org/Exhibits/CRH/Exhibit.aspx
Since then, virtually every religious denomination and institution has addressed the presence of lesbians and gay men in its ranks and in the pews. For many, questions about welcoming lesbian and gay congregants, blessing same-sex unions, advocating for LGBT civil rights, and ordaining openly lesbian and gay clergy have been controversial.
Certain denominations continue to struggle with LGBT equality even as U.S. public opinion moves forward:
- A 2008 Newsweek poll reported that substantial majorities of Americans favor equal rights in employment (87% support) and spousal benefits (more than two-thirds support) for lesbian and gay Americans.Newsweek, Dec. 5, 2008. http://www.newsweek.com/id/172399?tid=relatedcl
- Public support for employment nondiscrimination has grown by 31% since 2004, and support for spousal rights (except for marriage) has grown by double digits as well.Ibid. Support for employment nondiscrimination protections for lesbians and gay men has majority support across the religious spectrum, including white evangelicals (63% support), African American Protestants (63%), Roman Catholics (75%) and white mainline Protestants (78%).Laser, Rachel, Robert P. Jones, et. al., Beyond the God Gap: A New Roadmap for Reaching Religious Americans on Public Policy Issues. Washington: Third Way and Public Religion Research, 2010.
- Although more Americans favor civil unions over legal marriage for same-sex couples, two-thirds favor one sort of legal recognition or another.”Same Sex Marriage, Gay Rights,” PollingReport.com, http://pollingreport.com/civil.htm. Support for both marriage and civil unions has advanced steadily over the last five years, with support for marriage equality strongest among younger Americans.Silver, Nate. “Fact and Fiction on Gay Marriage Polling,” http://www.fivethirtyeight.com/2009/04/gay-marriage-by-numbers.html.
Despite a history of exclusion and, for many, spiritual harm at the hands of religious institutions, most lesbian and gay people continue to affirm their faith. In a 2009 report by the conservative Barna Group, 60% of gay adults said that faith was “very important”, and a third reported that their lives “had been greatly transformed by their faith.””Spiritual Profile of Homosexual Adults Provides Surprising Insights,” Barna Group, http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/13-culture/282-spiritual-profile-of-homosexual-adults-provides-surprising-insights.
However, gay adults are less likely to attend worship services in a given week, and twice as likely as heterosexuals (42% vs. 28%) to be “unchurched,” the Barna Group study indicated. These numbers suggest an opportunity for congregations and denominations to attract new LGBT congregants through inclusive action, advocacy and outreach.
Even as headline issues such as marriage equality continue to play out in Congress, state houses and denominational conventions, lesbian and gay people grapple with more immediate concerns about coming out to family, friends and co-workers, nurturing their relationships, raising children and sustaining their faith, often in the face of discrimination and homophobia.
“We don’t have the luxury (and often not the patience) of waiting until our churches and synagogues pass from the debate stage to the decision stage about the moral acceptability of our queer lives and loves,” write David Kundtz and Bernard Schlager in their book, Ministry Among God’s Queer Folk. “LGBTQ people have to live their lives and make their decisions in the present moment, and they are doing so more and more publicly as ‘out’ individuals….”Kundtz, David J. and Bernard S. Schlager. Ministry Among God’s Queer Folk: LGBT Pastoral Care (Cleveland: Pilgrim Press, 2007),1-2.
There is a great deal that individual clergy and congregations can do to serve the pastoral needs of lesbian and gay people, and myriad resources to help them.