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Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2023-09-06



The Rev. Paul Rausenbush talks LGBTQ+ rights, 'Christian nationalism' and more
by Andrew Davis

This article shared 3591 times since Thu Aug 10, 2023
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The Parliament of the World Religions—a dialogue between key members of various faiths—will take place Aug. 14-18 at McCormick Place in Chicago.

Keynote speakers and panelists will include Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson, Cardinal Blase Cupich, author/presidential candidate Marianne Williamson, actor Rainn Wilson (via video), Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton and artist/advocate Robby Romero. Planned sessions include "Beyond Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Striving to Become an Antiracist Spiritual Organization," "Pride in the Pews: LGBTQ Christians and the Black Church," "Save Our Planet: Water Is Life," "92-Year Evolutionary History of Al-Islam in America" and "Nuclear Weapons and God: At the End of the Day."

Another of the scheduled speakers is the Rev. Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, who is the president/CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based organization Interfaith Alliance. He recently talked with Windy City Times about his organization, religious freedom and his take on being LGBTQ+ today.

Note: This conversation was edited for clarity and length.

Windy City Times: Hello. Tell me what Interfaith Alliance is about.

Rev. Paul Brandeis Raushenbush: Sure. It's turning 30 this year. We were founded in the '90s as an explicit response to what we viewed as the oversized presence of the Christian Coalition [founded by Pat Robertson] in the politics of the day. We also recognized that they were a very well-organized and well-funded political organization that had undue influence on the way we understood issues of our day—and they did not represent the majority of religious people in America.

So it was a group of largely Protestants, Catholics and Jews that got together and said, "We're going to form a different kind of group that has a different vision of how religion functions in America. We can honor everyone's right to express themselves as they wish, in terms of religious freedom, and practice their own morality—but not to impose that morality on other people."

So, for 30 years, we've been espousing a form of democracy that's welcoming and inclusive of all people. We've also worked consistently with secular humanists, atheists [and] agnostics, believing that all beliefs should have credence under the Constitution and under our democracy. So it seems we were made for a time such as this.

WCT: When it was founded 30 years ago, how could you know that a majority of religious figures felt the same way the founders of Interfaith Alliance did?

PBR: There was a strong sense that the Christian Coalition was saying how it was against things like abortion and contraception—but that the majority of religious leaders in America did not support that. There is a shrinking population of white Christian conservatives who continue to try to claim the religion mantle and say, "This is what religion dictates"—when, in fact, most religious leaders [overwhelmingly] support marriage equality and LGBTQ rights. And we've been effective in talking to politicians and civic organizations about where the majority of Americans stand on the issues, and about recognizing our growing diversity as a strength.

WCT: Is that [conservatism] the "Christian nationalism" you referred to in a recent interview?

PBR: Yes. It's been present in America before there was an America. It's always been there, but one thing that the [founding] fathers actually got right was that we do not have an established church. The Establishment Clause [of the First Amendment] couldn't be clearer, and it's there for a reason: to ensure that one tradition cannot dictate to the rest of America. However, some use this persistent myth of an established religion to relegate others to a secondary status. I'm a Baptist minister who's of a liberal tradition and who's a gay man—I don't count in [conservatives'] idea of what a real Christian American is.

WCT: I grew up as a Southern Baptist, and more than once I heard from ministers that they would rather deal with murderers than with gay people. My point is that some people in the LGBTQ+ community automatically equate the church with being anti-LGBTQ+. How do you reach out to those people and turn that mindset around?

PBR: People have been damaged, and I don't want to downplay that trauma—and that is definitely trauma. Frankly, people should be held accountable for what they say from the pulpit that hurts [others].

By the way, if you don't want to go to church, don't go to church. If you can find light, love, happiness, joy, clarity and beauty elsewhere, go find it. But I will say that my experience was different: I grew up in a Protestant church—and I never heard anything against gay people. We had a woman pastor in the 1970s, and I didn't realize that was really radical.

But history has people who were radical. There were Protestant ministers who stood outside the balls in San Francisco in the '60s who told the cops, "You arrest them, you arrest us." People don't know about a lot of the history of some radical religious organizations like Unity Fellowship, which was a Black, Christian organization founded by Archbishop Carl Bean. And also there are groups like PFLAG, which was founded in a Methodist [church] basement. Also, some of the people in the original march on Stonewall were part of a church blocks from my house in New York City. So there is a tradition, often undervalued, of inspiring history from the church.

And when the psychological community decided that [homosexuality was not a mental illness], there were rabbis and ministers who said, "We are with you." So I like to remember those stories. Heather White has written some great work about this [such as Reforming Sodom: Protestants and the Rise of Gay Rights]. Also, it's important to recognize that there's a powerful spirit among queer people, and that's been acknowledged by people such as shamans.

When I was in seminary in New York City in the '90s, I went to nightclubs. I felt the spirit of transcendence, community and love in those spaces—especially how that was still in the middle of the AIDS crisis. It was being part of the community in a way that was similar to showing up to church on a Sunday morning.

After the Pulse shooting [in 2016], I wrote about how queer clubs were actually safe, sacred spaces. Those spaces need to be recognized by the lawmakers of this country who are trying to relegate trans people to secondary status, which is outrageous.

WCT: Let me play devil's advocate. Interfaith Alliance is about celebrating religious freedom, so how do you reconcile that with the recent ruling in the case 303 Creative v. Elenis? [In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment bars Colorado from forcing a website designer to create expressive designs speaking pro-LGBTQ+ messages with which the designer disagrees.]

PBR: So religious freedom always has to be put in conversation with civil rights. There's a truism that's stated in the legal field: Your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins. So you can believe what you want to believe; I really do not care. But when it spills over into creating laws that impact others adversely, in the name of religious freedom, that's discrimination.

And religious freedom is one of the greatest reasons that women should have reproductive rights. Religious freedom is the reason that people can conscientiously object to the military. Religious freedom should NOT lead you to feel you have the right to discriminate.

This is going backward. It's like people being refused service based on the color of their skin or because of interracial marriage. In my lifetime, 95% of people disapproved of interracial marriage.

We run into people who disagree with what we feel all the time. But rulings like 303 [Creative] destroy the fabric of our culture. Some queer person could say, "I don't want to support anything that smacks of a Christian ceremony, so don't ask me to paint a picture of your ceremony because that's an affront to my beliefs." We're unraveling things in a terrible way. People are already testing things, like the Michigan salon owner who refused to serve trans people. People are getting more permission to be terrible.

WCT: I imagine the Parliament of the World's Religions will have a mix of more conservative as well as liberal leaders. What do you think will be the extent of your interactions with the more conservative contingent?

PBR: The Parliament is a great opportunity to meet one another. One of the things I will be saying is "Please don't create an interfaith movement with me as a target." I want everyone to grow and learn at [this event], but don't create enemies. I think it's really important to connect on things we agree on and, hopefully, grow from there.

The great leaders I admire—like Dr. King and Gandhi—used love as a strategy to build coalitions. That's what I think interfaith movements should be doing: leading with love.

WCT: I want to end this conversation by asking you something I've asked several others this year: What does it mean for you to be part of the LGBTQ+ community in today's America?

PBR: Well, lots of different answers are bouncing around.

I'm married with two kids—and that's amazing. I'm almost 60 and the idea of being married and having kids were things I didn't know would be possible, so this is incredible.

I'm also a middle-class white guy so I've had all the privileges that come from my identities. So I'm not a generic gay; I'm a specific kind of gay, and I acknowledge that. I recognize that an incredible [number] of Americans don't believe in my marriage and don't believe in my family. It's terrible, but we don't feel comfortable going into some parts of America with our children. We worry about the direction the country could be going in, and wonder if it's going to be safe for us and our children.

But I'm incredibly inspired by all the activism that's happening. And I've also hung out with RuPaul and interviewed him about the spirituality of drag—and to see what's happened with Drag Race, as superficial as this is, is amazing; that franchise is so popular.

So it's like the best of times, the worst of times. But we're not going anywhere. Queer people are here to stay. And I have to say that my nieces and nephews are [stunned] by [anti-LGBTQ+] news: "What do you mean they're going to take away gay marriage?" I feel like if anyone came for me, they'd have to go through my nieces and nephews.

Programming for the 2023 Parliament Convening will be hosted at Chicago's McCormick Place Lakeside Center on Aug. 14-18. (A number of off-site community events will also be available.) See .

This article shared 3591 times since Thu Aug 10, 2023
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