By Chris Jarvis
As we all know, there’s a vault of hard feelings between many in the LGBT community and religious institutions. It goes back to the dawn of time and despite our recent gains in marriage equality, it remains a sensitive topic. That being said, there is an ever-growing list of welcoming churches that not only do not preach against the sins of being gay, but in fact welcome the LGBT people into their congregations with open arms.
The Unitarian Universalist Church in Fresno is one example. Michael Young, who attends and works with the Unitarian Universalist Church, decided in 2013 to take on the task of the first Lavender Convention, an all-day interfaith event aimed at bringing the LGBT community and faith-based organizations together in learning and celebration of spirituality. The goal was to bring a wide variety of faiths and ideologies together to explore the growing need for LGBT people to have a place to meet their spiritual needs.
The event brought about 150 people together to focus on an issue that both unites and divides people. The day included a diverse group of faiths and religions, from Christian to Native American to Muslim. Also included were workshops to help formulate ideas and forward thinking plans to deal with this issue on an ongoing basis.
Father Geoff Farrow was the keynote speaker. Farrow was a local priest who, in 2008, lost his position at a Catholic church here in Fresno due to his public coming out and his opposition to California’s Prop 8. Farrow has since become an outspoken advocate for equality, while setting an example to those of faith to open their hearts instead of closing their minds. Farrow spoke about LGBT civil rights as well as his own experiences.
It’s also worth pointing out that there were no protests at the event. Although some institutions did not participate, there was no physical opposition on the day. Young explained to me that this was about spirituality, not religion. It’s clear to him that religions build walls constructed of doctrine, but spirituality is much more fluid, and does not necessarily adhere to a written word. This has been the direction that many people of faith have been moving over the past few years. No longer do you have to bind yourself to a list of strict rules to come together with others of faith and share an experience. In fact, Young’s favorite moments, and those he hopes are shared by others, are the moments of community and support that are given to those gathered in a spiritual setting.
“I think there is no clear boundary between spirituality and religion. Religion is often touted as the answer to these deep questions of meaning and purpose. The Lavender Convention chose not to define or endorse any specific religious belief system,” Young said.
Focus groups and workshops will continue now that the first Lavender Convention has ended. This effort is not tied to simply an annual event, which the Lavender Convention plans on being, but the efforts will be maintained throughout the year in order to make this a strong, fulfilling movement. Breakout sessions included topics such as finding your inner peace and the traditions of Native American culture.
The Lavender Convention will be hosted by a different institution next year and the years beyond. The goal is to welcome the variety of faiths and to include the variety of human experience. Civil rights may be moving at a faster clip than religion in America, but Young and the Lavender Convention are a prime example of those of faith facing down their detractors to help build an inclusive future for everyone.
Young looks forward to a day when these kinds of conventions are no longer needed, when religious institutions across the country accept the LGBT community and refuse to reject those that are still maligned by holy books.
Chris Jarvis is the founder and president of Gay Central Valley.