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A Wise Movement

November 14, 2009

By: Rev. Rebecca Voelkel – Program Director, Institute for Welcoming Resources

Rev. Rebecca Voelkel

Among other things, I am a Christian pastor, a lesbian, the granddaughter of Scottish immigrants, the mother of an almost three-year-old and a cultural worker in the pro-LGBT movement.

I spend most of my time in religious contexts with other folks who want to find ways to root their pro-LGBT work in their religious identities and connect it to their work on race, economics, ability, and other issues of justice. While mine is not the kind of story we often hear in the pro-LGBT movement, I am a pretty ordinary queer person.

Since the election, I’ve had a number of conversations with friends and colleagues in which the line of discussion has gone like this: 1. This election cycle (especially in Maine) taught us again that the right uses the language, culture, institutions and networks of conservative faith – mostly Christian – to demonize and defeat pro-LGBT efforts. 2. This is the same lesson we, as a pro-LGBT movement, seem to keep learning. And 3., as a pro-LGBT movement, we continue to shy away from or actively avoid pro-LGBT religious leaders, messaging and cultures. Finally, 4. Unless and until we can shift to a much more respectful and vigorous partnership with pro-LGBT religious leaders, messaging and cultures, we will continue to suffer electoral defeats.

The good news, in my mind, is that we know this (and the Task Force has written a good summary of the issue in the report A Time to Build Up ) and that we are beginning to engage the question.

There are vigorous religion and faith programs at the Task Force (the Institute for Welcoming Resources), at HRC (Religion and Faith Program), at GLAAD (Religion, Faith and Values) and at the National Black Justice Coalition (Religious Affairs). Those of us who convene this programs collaborate extensively and work very closely with the nearly 100 national pro-LGBT religious organizations.

However, the lessons articulated in A Time to Build Up  offer significant challenges, too. The two primary findings that I would highlight here are: Our pro-LGBT movement must take seriously the intersection of race, faith and family. And whatever campaign work we do must be done in ways that build the larger movement. This means an assessment of our assumptions about how we do our campaigns and how they don’t necessarily draw upon the particular cultures of religious groups and communities of color, for instance.

Given all of the above – my own identity, the communities in which I live, and the recent experiences of the election – it seems to me that we have a prime opportunity in the upcoming National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change. In particular, the time we will spend together in the Academy for Leadership and Action offers rich possibilities. The Academy is a place where we can take the time needed to do what many liberation theologians call “praxis” – the practice of allowing action and reflection to speak to one another so that future action is better, more effective and more just.

In particular, I am very excited to be co-leading an advanced session for seasoned people of color activists and seasoned people of faith activists so that we can continue to work on models of organizing that build the movement in all its breadth and depth – especially expanding the “we” of pro-LGBT community to consciously think about race and faith.

Given how quickly the news cycle moves and how nimble and immediate so much of our work needs to be, we often focus on being “timely.” But, one of the most important strengths of the Academy for Leadership and Action and why I am so excited about our work this year – is that we also need a movement that is wise, is well-thought and is “time-full.” Taking the time to reflect on our actions, looking at the big picture and planning for future action in this context is the extremely important – especially when it comes to race and faith.

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