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Working for the Full Participation of LGBTQ people in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and In Society.
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Margaret Lindsey, center, holds up a sign during All In for Equality Advocacy Day at the Capitol in March. From The Austin American Statesman

The Supreme Court is about to decide whether religious freedom is a license to discriminate. This deeply troubles me as both an American and a Christian pastor.
[This post appeared in The Houston Chronicle, USA Today, and The Austin American Statesman, and is re-posted here with permission of the author.]

The high court in December will consider the case of a Colorado business owner who refused to sell a cake to a same-sex couple. In that case, Masterpiece Cakeshop vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the owner has cited his religious beliefs as exempting him from a nondiscrimination law that requires businesses to treat everyone equally.

I and other clergy across Texas are among nearly 1,300 faith leaders who have signed a friend-of-the-court brief arguing that it is wrong to allow businesses to discriminate under the guise of religion. Many signers in this state are part of Texas Believes (TexasBelieves.org), a growing movement of religious leaders who support full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. Of course, this case could affect far more than just LGBT people. Allowing businesses to pick and choose which laws they will obey would open the door to rolling back discrimination protections for virtually anyone.

Earlier this year, two other faith leaders associated with Texas Believes — a rabbi and an African American minister — wrote about how religion has been used in our history to justify discrimination against people like them. After so much progress — uneven as it has been — to end discrimination against Jews, African Americans and others in this country, this Colorado case could turn back the clock.

Consider the possible consequences if the Supreme Court allows a special right of religious refusal to obey nondiscrimination laws. Some extreme religious sects teach white supremacy and anti-Semitism, for example. Should business owners who hold such religious views be given a pass to post signs proclaiming “Whites Only” and “No Jews” at the shop entrance?

Likewise, would be it be acceptable for a restaurant owner to refuse service to people simply because their religion is different from his? Should a factory owner whose religion teaches that women must not work outside the home be allowed to fire or refuse to hire women who do?

Most Americans would rightly answer no to those questions. That’s because we decided long ago as a nation that those who do business in the public marketplace must treat everyone equally.

That’s an important civic and legal principle in America. But more fundamentally, it’s a moral imperative. Discrimination is simply wrong.

But now some are trying to use religious freedom to justify discrimination against LGBT people. They seek to radically redefine this freedom as the right to hurt people to whom they have personal objections. And they want our courts to embrace this cause.
Yet, the stories of my faith are about radical acceptance and compassion. In them, Jesus reaches out to people who society has marginalized and lovingly brings them back into community. Over and over, we are taught to move from places of narrowness to spaciousness, from exclusion to equality. Simply put, we are taught to love as we have been loved. And so as people of faith, we must challenge these attempts to discriminate against the LGBT community, especially under the guise of freedom of religion, so all of God’s children can be treated equally with respect and dignity.

Of course, Texas does not currently have a statewide law protecting LGBT people from discrimination. But some Texas cities do, including Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio and Plano.

They are among more than 200 cities and 18 states that have already updated their nondiscrimination laws to be LGBT-inclusive. Those laws allow LGBT people to live their lives with less worry that they will be fired from their jobs, evicted from their homes or refused service simply because of who they are or whom they love. But this Supreme Court case puts those protections at risk.

Religious freedom is a fundamental right for all. That’s why we protect it in the Texas and federal constitutions. But protecting people from discrimination threatens no one’s religious freedom. Indeed, treating others as we would like to be treated affirms a central teaching of many religions, including my Christian faith.
As a pastor, I pray that the Supreme Court won’t turn back the clock in this country.

The Rev. Laura Walters is pastor at Presbyterian Church of Lake Travis near Austin.


What can Faith Communities Do to Support LGBTQ Refugees and Asylum Seekers?

Recap from Part 1: On October 20-21, Alex and Jess traveled to New York represent More Light at Love Welcome, a conference on supporting LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers. We gathered with about 65 other folks at The First Presbyterian Church in the City of New York who were interested in learning from and teaching one another on how to best support LGBTQ refugees and asylum sekers. The conference was hosted by More Light in partnership with First Presbyterian Church and other offices from the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., including: Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, The Office of Public Witness, The Office of Immigration Issues, and the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations.

The goal behind the conference was to bring together agencies working with LGBTQ people and agencies working with refugee populations and to recognize ways in which these ministries overlap, and to begin to map out a model for the best ways congregations can be of support and service. At More Light, we often hear from congregational leaders who have active ministries to both LGBTQ people and refugees, and who want to be a better source of support to both populations but may be unsure how best to do so.

Our first post listed the top 5 things we learned from Love Welcome. Part 2 lays out a list of 5 things congregations can do to support LGBTQ refugees and asylees. 

Top 5 Things faith communities can do to support LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers:

1. Connect with organizations doing work to support LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers

At the conference we had the privilege of hearing from organizations doing incredible work with refugees and asylum seekers across the country, such as the ones featured below. One of the best ways for congregations to lend their support is through a partner organization who can take the lead on suggesting what specific support is needed.

2. Donate gift cards for people to buy gender affirming clothes upon release from detention.

Typically, clothing donations don’t include clothing and shoes that fit transgender bodies. For example donated men’s pants may be too long or too big for transgender and gender nonconforming people assigned female at birth. Donated women’s shoes typically run from women’s size 8-11, but some transgender women assigned male at birth need at least a women’s size 12 shoe. Wearing clothing that fits your body and affirms your gender identity can literally be a lifesaver. Donating gift cards (such as a Visa or mastercard gift card) is one way congregations can affirm trans idenitites and support LGBTQ refugees and asylees at the same time. The Queer Detainee Empowerment Project works directly with LGBTQ refugees in detention and journies alongside those who have been released from detention. Your church could host a gift card drive and send them to their offices at: 505 8th Avenue #1212 NYC 10018

3. Visit or write letters to people in detention in an ongoing way to be a source of community

There are over 200 detention centers currently operating in the United States with over 40,000 people in detention on any given day. Many people in detention have reported how incredibly isolating it is, and feels like you are cut off from the outside world. LGBTQ people who are in detention may have been fleeing abusive conditions in their families, in their faith communities, or from their government. Those abuses may mean that LGBTQ are cut off from families, faith communities, and from those who share their cultural and ethnic background, which is a source of support other refugees can lean on. Setting up an ongoing visitation or letter-writing project within your faith community can be a powerful way to cut through the isolation and sense of disconnect many LGBTQ refugees feel. While it’s nice to receive a visit or letter once, the most powerful relationships and community can be formed by maintaining a connection with a particular person in detention. Your church has an opportunity to be their lifeline. The organization CIVIC: Ending the Isolation of Women and Men in U.S. Immigration Detention, operates visitation and letter-writing programs across the country. While CIVIC works with people in detention regardless of refugee or asylee status, they are sensitive and responsive to the needs of LGBTQ people in detention.

4. Acknowledge the healing you offer in being a truly inclusive faith community

We heard over and over again that while LGBTQ people seeking asylum in the US have experienced multiple physical traumas and ongoing abuse, the loss of faith and their faith community is perhaps the most devastating. Many people have justified the abuse of LGBTQ people on the grounds of religion (a concept familiar to many of us) and therefore many LGBTQ people seeking refuge in the US also feel abandoned by their Creator. Whether the LGBTQ refugees and asylees come from a Christian background or not, experiencing a welcoming faith community, and hearing from someone who is confident in God’s abundant and inclusive love for all of Creation can be a meaningful and important element of recovery and healing.  

5. Commit to the internal work of being educated as a congregation

While passion for working with LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers is needed for a congregation to get involved, the commitment to learning and educating members of the congregation on the nuances of identities and experiences asylum seekers bring is paramount to providing the most hospitable environment possible. Fortunately, More Light is partnering with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance Office to offer a Teach-In series to equip congregations to work with LGBTQ asylees and refugees. In this series, we will offer tools for congregations on how to best support LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers.

Keep in touch to learn the dates of our upcoming Teach-In on Congregational support for LGBTQ refugees and asylees in partnership with agencies of the Presbyterian Church, USA. If you are interested in learning more, and want to be among the first to hear when the new teach-in will be launched, just let us know at info@mlp.org.

 


On October 20-21, Alex and Jess traveled to New York represent More Light at Love Welcome, a conference on supporting LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers. We gathered with about 65 other folks at The First Presbyterian Church in the City of New York who were interested in learning from and teaching one another on how to best support LGBTQ refugees and asylum sekers. The conference was hosted by More Light in partnership with First Presbyterian Church and other offices from the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., including: Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, The Office of Public Witness, The Office of Immigration Issues, and the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations.

The goal behind the conference was to bring together agencies working with LGBTQ people and agencies working with refugee populations and to recognize ways in which these ministries overlap, and to begin to map out a model for the best ways congregations can be of support and service. At More Light, we often hear from congregational leaders who have active ministries to both LGBTQ people and refugees, and who want to be a better source of support to both populations but may be unsure how best to do so.

Our two days together were packed. We heard a number of powerful presentations from folks, ranging from former refugees to a UN Human Rights Officer. We learned a lot of new information that will be included in our upcoming teach-in on supporting LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers.

To capture some of the amazing content at the conference, we’ve created a list of the top 5 things we learned at Love Welcome. Later this week, we’ll release our top 5 ways congregations can support LGBTQ refugees and asylees. Soon we will share dates for our upcoming Teach-In on Congregational support for LGBTQ refugees and asylees in partnership with agencies of the Presbyterian Church, USA. If you are interested in learning more, and want to be among the first to hear when the new teach-in will be launched, just let us know at info@mlp.org.

Top 5 things we learned at the Love Welcome Conference

1. There is a difference between refugees and asylum seekers.

Often, unless we’ve had the opportunity to learn about the experiences of refugees and asylum seekers, the language can be confusing. There are currently 65 million displaced people in the world; some are refugees, some are seeking asylum. A refugee is someone outside the country who is seeking safe entry. “Refugee” status is a legal definition and process.

An asylum seeker is someone who’s already within the country and is trying to get asylum. Currently, a person must file for asylum status within the first year in the U.S. Meeting this requirement can be particularly difficult for LGBTQ people, who often do not have much familial or community support either at home or in the country where they are seeking refuge.

2. You can’t talk about issues facing refugees and asylum seekers without talking about the role of detention centers.

Many refugees and asylum seekers are sent to detention centers without any 

due process, or without even having committed a crime. 

The detention system itself lacks the transparency to give a clear idea of conditions, regulations or oversight of many detention centers. Inadequate resources often result in unsafe, even inhumane, conditions in detention centers. The privatization of many detention centers further complicates these issues.

Transgender asylum seekers are often put in centers matching their assigned sex, which can increase rates of sexual harassment or assault. As a result, many are often put in solitary confinement.

3. An LGBTQ identity further complicates the already difficult circumstances of being a refugee or asylum seeker.

75 countries currently criminalize same-sex relations; in 7 of those, the penalty is death.

Refugees and asylum seekers are fleeing home countries that are dangerous enough that the only solution is to flee. For LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers, the challenges faced are compounded. As a result, many LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers are not out about their identities.

In order to gain entry into a country legally, you must have a visa. Because of the circumstances of many LGBTQ people and the resources necessary to gain a visa in one’s home country, the process is often nearly impossible for LGBTQ people facing persecution in their home countries.

Many LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers have experienced significant trauma in their home countries because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, often this violence has been sanctioned by the church or the state. For those who do manage to flee their home country, instances of sexual harassment and assault do not improve once they reach a country “safer” than their home.

Many LGBTQ people, whose identity documents do not match their gender expression, aren’t even able cross borders out of their own countries or into safer ones.

4. For LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers, access to the community resources that are so vital in helping an asylee settle in a new community are cut off.

Community is a fundamental part of helping an asylum seeker settle in a new country, and family plays a fundamental role in establishing community. Many LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers are running from not only oppressive governments, but also their own family.

Additionally, spouses of people typically seeking asylum in a country are also granted asylum, however, many LGBTQ asylum seekers come from countries where their relationships are not recognized by the state. In addition, many LGBTQ refugees are fleeing their own families, so the familial support that refugees typically have is non-existent.

Faith can be a source of spiritual, emotional, and mental stability in the midst of a very unstable process. Many LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers have rejected their faith traditions as a form of coping after their experiences of abuse and trauma within their own faith communities.

5. Telling one’s story can be a powerful way for someone to reclaim their identity as beloved.

Oral histories can be a powerful tool for LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers to tell their own stories and to hear stories that connect to their own, which can decrease isolation and remind

 people of their inherent dignity and worth.

Faith communities are the #1 ally for LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers!!On our next blog entry, we will discuss the ways in which faith communities can do to support LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers.


As a national organization, time spent face-to-face is precious to the Staff and Board of More Light. In September, we gathered for a board meeting, where we spent time in fellowship and talked about ways we feel led to live into God’s abundance in the coming year. At the meeting, we said goodbye to Annanda Barclay and Will McGarvey, two board members whose terms have, sadly, come to an end. Annanda and Will have led More Light through some substantial changes in the organization and the denomination, and we are eternally grateful for their service.  

The board was also pleased to elect Rev. Amy Kim Kyremes-Parks to join Rev. Kyle Walker as co-moderators of the board.

Additionally, the board voted to welcome three new members to the National Board of Directors. The class of 2020 brings a breadth and depth of experience in the PC(USA) and each incoming member will undoubtedly contribute a great deal to the work of More Light. We are delighted to welcome them into the More Light Family!! You can learn more about our National Board of Directors here!
Dr. Mati Moros

Matilde Moros, PhD, is a theological social ethicist working in the field of gender, sexuality and women’s studies. The ethics of resistance and subversion of hegemonic world-views and narratives of power lead her teaching and learning toward a counter-narrative “testimonio” method of decolonial, transnational feminist ethics. Feminist social ethics must respond to sexual and gender violence and the multiple intersections of which race and its various social constructions has led to the exclusion from centers of power of many peoples including Latin American and Latinx communities. Dr. Moros’ research on the communal and historical effects of organized resistance to gendered and sexual violence has led her to an approach to liberation ethics in which recovery of resistance methods has become the primary focus.  Dr. Matilde Moros is Assistant Professor of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), in Richmond, Virginia.

I have been part of several movements within the PC(USA), and have worked within the denomination to bring forth change.  My latest service was as co-moderator of the Special Committee on the Confession of Belhar, which is now in our Book of Confessions.  Personally, More Light Presbyterians has impacted my theology starting with the work around AIDS awareness, and I have seen changes to our PC(USA) polity come about in large part due to the work of MLP.  I now work in Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies academically.  My association as a parent of a non-binary teen, plus my spouse’s work at a LGBTQIA+ youth support organization in Richmond, ​all lead me to eagerly do this work with MLP. ​ I find it highly exciting and promising that MLP is shifting gears to new and robust methods of engagement.  I am very honored and pleased to be on the board!  – Dr. Matilde Moros

Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow

Bruce is a pastor, author, consultant, and coach. A 3rd Generation Chinese/Filipino, armchair sociologist, and technology enthusiast Bruce speaks and teaches on faith, race, parenting, and technology in a variety contexts from seminaries to conferences to congregations to pre-schools. While he speaks to both religious and secular audiences, he committed to living and expressing a Christian faith that is beautifully complex, unimaginably just and excruciatingly gracious.

Bruce has been a Presbyterian pastor for over 20 years and served as the founding pastor of Mission Bay Community Church in San Francisco from 2000-2012, a church of young, multicultural and progressive Presbyterians. In 2008 he was the youngest person ever elected as Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), the highest elected office of the 1.8 million member denomination.

I was thrilled to say yes to the invitation to become a member of the because MLP embodies the complexities of what it means to be a just, inclusive, loving, and passionate people of faith. It is clear that a fresh spirit is moving through MLP’s work and ministry — and I am excited to become a part of what is next.
– Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow

Rev. Floretta L. Watkins

The Reverend Floretta L . Watkins graduated from Mercer University in Macon, GA, where she earned a BA in Communications. In 1993, she graduated from Johnson C. Smith Seminary of the Interdenominational Theological Seminary with an emphasis in Homiletics and Christian Education. After Seminary she was ordained as Minister of Word and Sacrament and immediately began her vocational service to the church as Presbytery Staff of Campus Ministry at South Carolina State University and Claflin College.  It was there that Reverend Watkins developed her approach to ministry  as a “down to earth” minister serving with imagination, energy and humor.

After serving the campuses in Orangeburg SC, she received a call to serve Pleasant Ridge of Lancaster SC and Hermon Presbyterian Church in Rock Hill, SC. Reverend Watkins was chosen to lead Hermon because of her dynamic preaching abilities as well as her abilities to understand generational characteristics and their impact on the church.

In 1997, Rev Watkins was commissioned to the rank of 1st Lieutenant in the United States Air Force National Guard as the first African American female Chaplain.  She served as support to airmen and soldiers in the various situations including the floods of North Carolina in Kingston NC as well as deployment to Elmendorf, AFB in Alaska as well as  Osan, South Korea.  In June 2017 she retired from the 145th Air National Guard.

In 2002 Reverend Watkins began her service at well known Seigle Avenue Presbyterian Church.  Known for its interracial make-up, Reverend Watkins opened the doors for more inclusion and acceptance of all of God’s children. With a strong emphasis on leadership development,  Reverend Watkins concentrates her efforts on  a decentralized ministry style so that she can pour her energy into  equipping lay leadership for ministry.

Rev. Watkins is currently a Doctoral Candidate for a Doctorate of Education in  Organizational Leadership.  Her work will be around Clergy women and role congruity: The lived experiences of Female Clergy in the PCUSA. Reverend Watkins continues to serve the church with heart and soul.  She has served on the Presbytery Council and served and chair of the Mission and Justice Committee of Council. She also proudly served as the first African American Clergy woman  Moderator of the Presbytery of Charlotte in 2013.  Reverend Watkins was nominated to serve on the Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns for the class of 2018.

“When I was asked to you join MLP I was thrilled. Why? Because of the time and work and efforts given by people who were courageous enough to keep inclusion on the radar of our denomination.  At the time of my ordination, it was unconstitutional. Because of MLP I can be who I am fully.  For this reason, I offer my gifts to MLP and our denomination as we seek to know and be fully known.” – Rev. Floretta L. Watkins


 

Presbyterian Fun Fact

There are about 75 million Reformed/Presbyterian Christians worldwide and about 2.5 million belong to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

 

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