National Religious Leadership Roundtable Held

More than 40 leaders of religious and advocacy organizations that support gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) spirituality and equality met on January 25th and 26th for the National Religious Leadership Roundtable.

"We are here to present a different message based in fundamental religious principles of love justice and community," said Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum of Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, the world's largest gay and lesbian synagogue. "A message that acknowledges the contributions that gay people bring to our traditions and understanding of God," she added.

This unique group of religious leaders from Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and Protestant traditions, representing thousands of people of faith, affirms that religious belief and acceptance of GLBT people do not stand in contradiction. Laura Montgomery-Rutt, National Organizer of Equal Partners in Faith and Roundtable co-convenor, heralded the meeting as a triumph for GLBT communities and their allies, "What brings us together is our belief in the full religious and social equality of all people."

At the January meeting, National Religious Leadership Roundtable participants discussed the Religious Freedom Protection Act, which has the potential to both protect religious freedom and weaken civil rights. Participants also met with theologian Mary Hunt, Director of Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual; Andrew Sullivan author and analyst; Carleton Veazey of the Religious Coalition on Reproductive Rights; and Richard Socarides the White House Special Assistant to the President and Senior Advisor for Public Liaison.

Full participation and inclusion of GLBT people in the life of their religious traditions has been one of the most debated issues of the last two decades in many faith communities. In one of the most dramatic recent signs of support for inclusion and equality in the church, seventy-six United Methodist clergy conducted a same-sex union ceremony on January 16th in Sacramento accompanied by 13 clergy from other denominations. Another, 79 clergy signed on to officiate in absentia. In contrast, on January 31st, Lifeway Christian Resources, the Southern Baptist Convention's publishing arm, released Sunday School lessons on how homosexuals can "change."

The issue of "changing" sexual orientation has been in the public eye since last July, when right-wing political groups launched an anti-gay ad campaign under the guise of a "new discussion on homosexuality." Roundtable participants responded quickly and collectively to the ad campaign, affirming gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people and condemning the attacks.

"The existence of this Roundtable demonstrates a growing movement of support and acceptance in faith communities for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people," said Urvashi Vaid, Director of the Policy Institute of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. The Policy Institute was a co-convenor of the roundtable, in conjunction with Equal Partners In Faith.

Participants in the National Religious Leadership Roundtable include: AIDS National Interfaith Network; Al-Fatiha, GLBT Muslims; American Friends Service Committee; Americans United for Separation of Church and State; Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Gay and Lesbian Affirming Disciples Alliance; Christian Lesbians Out (CLOUT); Congregation Beth Simchat Torah; Dignity/USA; Disciples Justice Action Network; Ecumenical Catholic Church; Equal Partners in Faith; GLAD Alliance; Human Rights Campaign; Inner Light Unity Fellowship Church; Integrity; Interfaith Alliance; Interfaith Working Group; Lutherans Concerned; Methodist Federation for Social Actions; More Light Presbyterians; National Gay and Lesbian Task Force; New Ways Ministry; Parents, Friends and Families of Lesbians and Gays; People for the American Way; Q Spirit; Reconciling Congregation Program; Unitarian Universalist Association; United Church of Christ Coalition for LGBTConcern; Universal Federation of Metropolitan Community Churches; United Methodist Covenant Relationships Network; and Women's Alliance for Theology Ethics and Ritual.

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