Bridging the gap between Sexuality, Gender and Religion

It is promising to see our country finally recognizing, and even at times celebrating, the LGBTQ community. Some communities and organizations, however, especially religious ones, still struggle to deal with it. How do we bridge that gap between addressing sexuality and religion? Vanderbilt Divinity School (VDS) is sending students out to work in organizations in Nashville who wish to engage in this tough conversation.

I am honored to be one the recipients of the Arcus Grant, funded by a two-year grant from the Arcus Foundation. The Arcus Foundation provides funding for organizations with social justice missions of helping “individuals and families of every sexual orientation and gender identity, race, and ethnicity to live their lives with dignity and respect.”

Dr. Ellen Armour, Carpenter Associate Professor of Theology, provided much leadership in obtaining the $85,000 grant to help initiate the Justice Through Engagement Project. The Project places five current Vanderbilt Divinity students in local churches and service organizations to help folks talk about faith and sexuality.

Some places simply need help learning about LGBTQ experience, while others need help understanding and discussing biblical and theological concerns and adapting more inclusive religious practices. The organizations involved in the project include a United Church of Christ church, Second Presbyterian Church, New Covenant Christian Church and St. Ann’s Episcopal Church, as well as Monroe Harding Children’s Home.

Several students started their internships this summer, including DeWayne Stallworth at New Covenant Christian Church. Stallworth currently teaches a weekly class exploring the issues around using Jesus as an example of how we should treat others, especially LGBTQ persons. The group has “cried, laughed, struggled, learned, and questioned,” says Stallworth. He hopes the course will facilitate an “increased ability to operate on a level of divine compassion” that will change thoughts and behaviors.

My post is at St. Ann’s Episcopal Church, a historically affirming and inclusive congregation in East Nashville. I am involved in many aspects of the church community, including teaching classes, assisting the LGBTQ equality task force committee, and performing various religious functions. Also, I work very closely with St. Ann’s Rector, Rev. Rick Britton, the first African American rector of a historically white Episcopal Church in Tennessee.

Rev. Britton believes “the church as a faith community is constantly seeking ways to show God’s love and witness to that love in concrete and life changing ways.” Working directly on LGBTQ issues makes what we believe as a community translate into how we treat others. Britton hopes the Project will renew the community to “carry on and push ahead by a fresh and inquiring mind and an energy overflowing with hope for a church steeped in God’s justice and truth.”

Thanks to the Arcus Foundation, students, clergy, leaders and communities get a chance for healing and change in a world that struggles to include and accept all people.





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