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Struggling in Good Faith

Struggling in Good Faith: LGBTQI Inclusion from 13 American Religious Perspectives
edited by Mychal Copeland, MTS and D’vorah Rose, BCC
Skylight Paths; Woodstock, VT, 2015
240 pages
Reviewed by Karen L. Erlichman

In the last century, nearly every contemporary faith community has grappled with if, when, and how to become open, affirming and inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI) people and their families. Each religion and denomination has explored sacred texts, rituals, policies, and practices from a variety of historical and modern perspectives.

As campus rabbis and community leaders, Mychal Copeland and D’vorah Rose have been at the forefront of LBGTQI inclusion. For several years they coled a workshop on LGBTQI inclusion within college faith communities at the Expanding the Circle conference, a national higher education-focused gathering hosted by the California Institute for Integral Studies.

In the book’s introduction. Copeland and Rose lay the foundation for the 13 successive chapters written from a different faith tradition, from conservative to liberal, such as LDS (Mormon), Unitarian Universalism, Islam, Judaism, Catholicism, Buddhism, First Nations, the Black Church, Hinduism, and half a dozen Protestant and Evangelical Christian traditions. “From the outside, religions often look dogmatic, inflexible, unchanging, and closed-minded. But from the inside, their adherents wrestle: they debate theology; they grapple with how to maintain tradition in a constantly shifting landscape; they struggle with boundaries of inclusion and exclusion. … the biblical story of Jacob wrestling with an angel of God throughout a long night tells of a sacred struggle that can serve as a metaphor for the way religious institutions approach LGBTQI inclusion. Jacob’s wrestling match was an inner battle that led to profound spiritual transformation. So, too, religious institutions will not be left unchanged by the divine wrestling of LGBTQI individuals and their allies” (xi.).

One of the things I appreciate about this book is how the authors describe each faith tradition’s process of growth and change with regard to liturgy, theology, ritual, and customs. In his chapter on the Black church, Minister Rob Newells gives a thorough historical overview of the Black church, and describes the complexity of wrestling with theology and race with regard to LGBTQI inclusion. Rabbi Jane Litman’s chapter describes the historical and contemporary practices, policies, ritual, and liturgy with regard to LGBTQI inclusion in the various movements within Judaism.

The chapter on the First Nations (Native American) faith community begins with a discussion of traditional Indigenous spiritualties in order to contextualize the conversation. “There is a long history of acceptance of gender diversity and sexual diversity within Indigenous nations of North America. We know this in part, because it was recorded in texts produced by Europeans…[as well as] more authentic records of our own people—our stories, ceremonies, languages, and ways of being” (5).

Biblical concerns are addressed in most chapters, particularly the “clobber passages” which have been interpreted and used to vilify, alienate, oppress, and exclude LGBTQI people. Longtime congregations as well as newly planted communities are held accountable by their membership for their stance on LGBTQI inclusion. “In the face of a significant cultural shift in America that is sweeping up many evangelical churches in its tide, there are naturally those who wish to hold the line. The ‘third way’ approach is an attempt to ‘listen to the Word of God’ on the issue without rejecting LGBTQI individuals outright … standing in this gap are many organizations whose expressed purpose is to help conservative, bible-believing evangelicals come to terms with issues of gender and sexuality in such a way that ‘the next generation of LGBT youth will grow up fully loved and embraced by their families, churches and neighbors’” (147).

This book is an important resource for spiritual directors who are often called on to provide a safe place in which people can explore these concerns. Such concerns not only besiege LGBTQI individuals, but also the clergy and lay people within faith communities. Individuals and families are still struggling with institutional homophobia, transphobia, and sexism in their faith communities and religious institutions. Spiritual direction can be a refuge for the soul, for individual healing and for communal transformation. Spiritual directors who minister to youth, adults, and congregations will find this collection to be an invaluable resource for understanding LGBTQI inclusion within a variety of theologies, institutions and communities.

Karen Erlichman, DMin, LCSW, is a psychotherapist, spiritual director, supervisor, and mentor in San Francisco, California, USA. She is a founding co-director of Practistry and a core faculty mentor in the Morei Derekh Jewish Spiritual Direction Training Program. Karen was prepared as a facilitator by Parker Palmer and the Center for Courage and Renewal.

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