Same-sex behavior and relationships bedevil many Christian groups. “God is love,” says 1 John 4:8, so I use the term “bedevil” to highlight the difference between a religion of love in theory with the practice of discrimination supported by some churches. Society is enriched by mutually consenting adult relationships, and God’s grace is extended by partners caring for each other.
One of the glories of the Catholic Church is its tradition of teachings of social justice. But its anti-sex hangover from Augustine has been manifested in our time by the hierarchy’s cover-up of abusive priests, besmirching the many honorable priests who devote their lives in love to their parishes. The problem the church has with sex is clear when most Catholics disagree with the church’s prohibition of the contraceptive pill. Most uncoerced Catholics also favor promising stem-cell research, which might develop therapies for diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, spinal cord injuries, and dozens of other conditions, but locally the church leadership has sought to advance theological propositions as if they were science.
Some mainline Protestant churches do a better job, welcoming LGBT people into lay leadership. Some even affirm LGBT clergy. But other Protestants seem unaware of how their theologies can be used to justify discrimination and even hate crimes.
Our culture, slowly moving toward legal equality for same-sex couples, could benefit from understanding other cultures. As I’ve written here before, most cultures throughout history and across the globe have either tolerated or actively praised same-sex attraction.
This discovery, at odds with the common assumption of universal religious oppression on the basis of the single sample of recent Christianity, provides a special gate through which interfaith understanding can be pursued.
This month Kansas City hosts the nation’s first Interfaith Academies for Religious Professionals and Emerging Religious Leaders, with a partnership among Harvard University’s Pluralism Project, Religions for Peace USA at the United Nations Plaza, the St. Paul School of Theology, and the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council.
Scholars and students from around the country gather here for classroom study, visits to Orthodox Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist sites, and excursions to a Royals game and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
In addition, several events are open to the public, including a showing of Divided We Fall, a documentary about hate violence and discrimination, at 7:30 p.m. Monday, June 18, at the Tivoli Cinemas, with an expert panel following, in cooperation with OpenCircle, 816-931-0738. Advance $8 tickets can be ordered at Dr. Tarunjit Singh Butalia will be the lead respondent, followed by Dr. John Thatamanil, professor Yehezkel Landau, the Rev. Peggy Thomas (from the Academies) and Kansas City Star religion columnist Bill Tammeus. I’ll moderate the panel and audience Q&A.
Another event to which the public is invited is a Religion and Media panel from 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday, June 23, at the St. Paul School of Theology Holter Center, 5123 E.Truman Rd. The panelists are Tom Fox (former publisher, and before that, editor of The National Catholic Reporter), Dave Helling (electronic and print reporter for The Kansas City Star), Jack Cashill (editor of Ingram’s), Fatimah Al-Zahra (former editor of the UMKC campus paper, now a law student), and Bill Norton (assistant features editor at The Kansas City Star, including the faith page).
One of the five areas of exploration for each of the faiths to be studied is “how faith is applied to daily life in terms of spirituality and social engagement.” Among the many issues this includes is human sexuality, and same-sex issues in particular.
I hope you are proud that Kansas City has developed the interfaith infrastructure so attractive that we were selected for this well-funded pilot program. Let’s use this recognition to advance LGBT rights and spiritual values everywhere.
The Rev Vern Barnet, DMn., does consulting, teaching and writing for religious and educational organizations here. His Kansas City Star column appears each Wednesday.

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