Talking About Us, Not With Us

A few months ago, Pope Francis made headlines when it seemed as though he was signaling that the Vatican's stance on same-sex marriage was softening and perhaps even changing. LGBT activists around the world (and on Facebook) celebrated the news, thrilled to think that the current Pope had set off a spark that would transform the entirety of the Catholic Church, and in turn, the religious community across the world. 

That's not really what happened. 

Almost immediately after, various cardinals and other Catholic leaders backtracked the Pope's statements and now, almost as a reaction, the Vatican is hosting the Humanum Conference. From the Humanum Conference website: 

The Complementarity of Man and Woman: An International Colloquium is a gathering of leaders and scholars from many religions across the globe, to examine and propose anew the beauty of the relationship between the man and the woman, in order to support and reinvigorate marriage and family life for the flourishing of human society.
— - Humanum Website

Leaders from multiple religions were invited in a stunning display of diversity of faith, including former Chief Rabbi of the UK and Commonwealth, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.  Rabbi Sacks is the only Jew to appear at the conference, and he spoke on its first day (video at right). 

American Christian Pastor Rick Warren also spoke at the conference, echoing the beliefs that the denial of the complementarity of men and women is at the root of every problem our society is facing today. Notable anti-gay mouthpiece Erick Erickson is calling Humanum an "exceptionally big deal" - and it is. It is exemplary of the current model of the religious right's engagement with the LGBT community: Talk about us, not with us.  

In just the past few months, numerous summits and conferences have been put on by the religious right to talk about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in the faith world. While many members of these communities have found these conferences to be inspiring and ground-breaking, in truth these gatherings have been nothing more than a grand statement:

You are not welcome here.

These conferences have summarily ignored LGBT voices of faith. They have involved only those who preach about LGBT people and not anyone who is actually lesbian, gay, or bisexual, and certainly not anyone who is transgender.

There can be no authentic conversation about the LGBT faith community that does not engage LGBT people. There can be no resolution of how LGBT people fit into the world of the faithful without actually meeting faithful LGBT people. I am thankful that the majority of the Jewish movements are accepting and affirming of all people, orientations, and identities; and I am incredibly saddened for those who hear the messages put forth by Humanum that lead them to believe that they are not worthy of a spiritual community if they remain true to how God created them.

As long as the Religious Right continues to hold conferences about LGBT people and not with us, they will continue to perpetuate an us vs. them culture, where the message "You are not welcome here" is the only one that will be heard.

I am not naive. I do not expect the Catholic church - or any of the far-right religious movements - to change their doctrine overnight (or even at all) and suddenly become accepting of the LGBT community. I understand and respect that they read the Bible in a way that's very different from me, and that it works for them. I wish that they would say the same to me.

These conferences are not attempts to find a common ground on how to welcome LGBT people into their communities. These are symposia to discuss how to re-frame the message so that maybe, just maybe, we will finally understand what they've been trying to say and we will renounce our evil ways, see the light, and stop destroying the world with our so-called selfish love. In other words, this is "if we just say it enough times, they'll start to listen" put into action.

These conferences ignore the reality of God's creation. They ignore that God created each of us in God's image - and that includes our families, our children, and our love. They embrace the incorrect idea that God does make mistakes and the idea that if we just try hard enough, we could help fix those mistakes simply by dedicating ourselves to change.

For people who exclaim so loudly that they are the true messengers of God's will, it is astounding how mistaken they are.

As Rabbi Sacks says, we are all created in the image of God - in the image of the one true monarch. Therefore, we are all, in our own way, royal and divine - and perfect,  just as God intended. 

If the Religious Right wants to see true change within the church - if they truly do wish to tackle some of the major problems facing the religious LGBT community - we are waiting with open arms. We simply insist that you talk with us, and not about us.


Robbie Medwed

Robbie Medwed began working with SOJOURN when it was known as The Rainbow Center as a volunteer in 2008. He served as chair of the TRC Advisory Board and as co-chair of Purim off Ponce (2010, 2011) before moving into his current role as Assistant Director, where he oversees SOJOURN's educational programming and outreach, including our award-winning workshops and training seminars. Robbie holds a master's degree in Jewish education from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and has written curricula and nationally-recognized inclusive programs for the Marcus JCC of Atlanta, BBYO, USY, Camp Ramah, the Jewish Teen Funders Network, Babaganewz, and JewishGPS. Robbie is also a certified personal trainer, group fitness instructor, and cyclist. Robbie can be reached at [email protected]