Justin Tanis: Reflections of a Scholar, Activist, & Theologian, Part III

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faith_paul_logo_smBy: Paul P. Jesep*/TRT Columnist—

Justin Tanis, Managing Director at the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry, established at the Pacific School of Religion in the areas of sexuality, gender, and religion, answered twelve questions submitted by The Rainbow Times after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on marriage equality. The answers deal with marriage equality and religious liberty from a professional standpoint, in this a four-part series TRT feature story.

Q. Several seminaries offer courses in gay theology or gay studies. Please explain.

A. Gay or LGBTQ theology, began in the 1960s or earlier. It is related to liberation theology which emphasize God’s connection with those on the margins. LGBTQ theology reflects the lived experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people and can include the history of the community, especially as it relates to religious institutions, and an understanding of God’s movement within the community. Queer theology, related to queer studies in the wider academic world, is a methodology that “queers” theology; [it] examines, takes apart, and creates new meanings for different concepts. A queer reading of the Bible turns commonplace meanings on their head, looking instead to the text for its affirmation of sexuality, its playfulness, and its emphasis on the liberation of marginalized people. Reading overlooked and finding new inspiration. [pullquote]Religious institutions have been a powerful force opposing LGBTQ equality around the world. The only significant opposition to non-discrimination bills, measures to combat hate-motivated violence, and other efforts to improve community well-being comes from religious groups. [/pullquote]

Q. Religion has persecuted the LGBTQ community.  Why should it trust or embrace religion?

Religious institutions have been a powerful force opposing LGBTQ equality around the world. The only significant opposition to non-discrimination bills, measures to combat hate-motivated violence, and other efforts to improve community well-being comes from religious groups. However, religious leaders have always been part of LGBTQ liberation, beginning in the earliest days in the 1950s and 1960s. (See Religious Archive Network: http://goo.gl/G6vf7d).

The community shouldn’t trust religion—I don’t think it is wise to give blanket trust to an institution that has harmed and shamed LGBTQ people. But neither should people dismiss all religious people because some have been oppressive. Christianity, and every other religion, contains different viewpoints and theologies, especially on sexuality.

One interesting narrative I’ve heard frequently is when LGBTQ people talk about their rejection or ambiguity from the church [and] an absolute certainty that God is with them. And there is no reason why God should confine God’s self to human prejudices. LGBTQ people may hunger for a connection with the Divine, feel a strong sense of vocation, experience holiness in their lives—and all may take place within a community of faith. If faith is important to an LGBTQ person, they should be free to find a place to live out faith.

Q. Why should LGBTQ persons of faith want clergy to solemnize their union or have their child brought into a religion?

A. For the same reasons other people do—faith can be a powerful sustaining force, which offers meaning and value. There are clergy and communities eager to show God’s abiding love for all  and welcome couples and their children into community. Religious freedom means all should have the right to form communities of faith, to worship and to participate as we see fit.

Q. Is there a war on religion because of secularism?

A. No. The thing driving people from churches is the profoundly prejudiced and negative response of church leaders. Young people are tired of hearing what the church hates and want to focus on love. Religious groups are creating the negative backlash and then blame people for not following their intolerant views. (See Pew Center research)

People of faith are following their consciences out of churches and other religious groups to follow the basics—treating others as we wish to be treated, loving our neighbors, and offering hospitality. God is with us wherever we are.

* Paul is a corporate chaplain, seminary trained priest, and attorney in greater Albany, NY. Reach him through www.CorporateChaplaincy.biz.

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