Post submitted by HRC Alabama Senior Manager, Eva Walton Kendrick
Anti-LGBTQ rhetoric has reached a fever pitch across much of the United States during the 2016 legislative year. While nearly 200 anti-LGBT bills have been introduced in 34 states, including in Alabama, many Alabama faith leaders and faith communities are raising their voices to offer a perspective love, affirmation and inclusion.
Across the state of Alabama, many welcoming and affirming faith communities are following the leads of their national denominational leadership in celebrating marriage equality and transgender equity in their spaces of worship, while others lead their denominations in publishing welcome statements including sexual orientation and gender identity.
In accordance with the Presbyterian Church’s (PCUSA) June 2015 decision to change the church’s “Book of Order” to include marriage rights for same-sex couples, PCUSA congregations across Alabama have begun officiating marriages for all members. Similarly, Episcopal churches in both the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast and the Diocese of Alabama now celebrate religious marriages for same-sex couples as a result of the July 1, 2015 General Convention vote to approve canonical and liturgical changes to provide marriage equality for Episcopalians.
While Reform and Conservative Judaism honored marriage equality prior to the Supreme Court’s historic decision in favor of nationwide marriage equality last year, the Union for Reformed Judaism led the way for transgender equity. In November 2015, it passed a resolution on the rights of transgender and gender expansive persons that affirmed a denominational commitment to the full equality, inclusion and acceptance of people of all gender identities and gender expressions.
Open Table United Church of Christ in Mobile is one of the ecumenical Alabama congregations celebrating and affirming the state’s transgender people of faith. In a January service, Pastor Ellen Sims led the congregation in a renaming ceremony for Mobile transgender activist Lane Galbraith, who was raised and baptized at age 16 within the Southern Baptist tradition.
“The renaming ceremony was not about being baptized again as Lane. God already knows who I am. It was a spiritual rebirth of the real man that I have become known as in this world, that was always there,” Galbraith told HRC. “To be loved, accepted, celebrated and empowered to serve better than before, and to be recognized equally as a Child of God.”
In addition to affirming its LGBTQ congregants, Open Table UCC has also started a bi-monthly community group for LGBTQ young people called “Free2Be Youth Mobile” in partnership with James Robinson’s Free2Be Safe Anti-Violence Project in Huntsville.
As more Alabama faith communities open their doors and hearts to LGBTQ persons and families, one of the challenges is sharing this information with the greater community. Faith communities like the Montevallo Presbyterian Church in Montevallo and Highlands United Methodist Church in Birmingham have taken on this challenge in working with their leadership and congregants to host dialogue on LGBTQ persons and affirmation, and have published official welcome statements clarifying that when they say “All are Welcome,” they truly mean all.
The following statement from Highlands United Methodist Church is printed in all service bulletins:
“Highlands United Methodist Church affirms that nothing can separate anyone from the love of God. We invite all to worship, wonder, and discover God’s grace as we aspire to create a safe space for all to participate in the life of this community of faith. We are called to shine as a beacon of hope, grace, belonging and respect for all people. Regardless of age, gender identity, ethnicity, sexual orientation, family, financial status, nationalist, physical or mental ability, past or future, there is room for you at Highlands.”
Similarly, Montevallo Presbyterian’s statement reads:
“Montevallo Presbyterian Church welcomes all people into the full life of our congregation…We affirm the worth of every person as a bearer of God’s image, and we welcome all people, regardless of social, economic or marital status, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, or previous religious affiliation. As we are freely loved and accepted by God, we will offer love and acceptance in this congregation.”
These Alabama faith communities and countless others are shifting the faith-based conversation around the communal, civic and sacramental rights of LGBTQ Alabamians from one of fear and condemnation to one of welcoming and affirming. As we seek to achieve equality for LGBTQ persons, HRC Alabama celebrates and thanks these faith leaders and communities for their example and partnership in making this state a better place for all of its citizens.
If you would like to start a conversation in your faith community about creating a safe and inclusive space for LGBTQ people, check out HRC’s A Christian Conversation Guide. And, if you or anyone you know would like more information on these and other affirming faith communities throughout Alabama, please contact HRC Alabama Senior Manager, Eva Walton Kendrick, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
People look to their faith as a source of guidance and inspiration – and LGBTQ people and our family and friends are no different. The HRC Religion and Faith Program is working to create a world where nobody is forced to choose between who they are, whom they love and what they believe. Learn more here.