Fear of the “other” and its cousin of hatred are powerful emotions. The energy they consume keep us from being fully alive. Exclusion in the Name of God has been the experience of many, including women, people of color and those who are gay or lesbian. Mitchell Gold founded Faith In America to respond to religiously driven bigotry against LGBT people. Robert V. Taylor and Mitchell Gold talk about this work.
RVT: Faith in America was your idea. Was there a defining moment that made you think about creating Faith in America?
MG: About 5 years ago I realized the LGBT advocacy groups were afraid or uncomfortable talking about religion based bigotry. That is the #1 reason the LGBT community does not have full and equal rights in America. So, someone had to do it.
RVT: In your own life, how did your religious experiences shape your thinking about being a gay spiritual person of great worth?
MG: Actually not very much. I was brought up as a Reform Jew and consequently homosexuality was not discussed in synagogue at the time. But in a different way, when I observed how some Christians (like Jerry Falwell or George Wallace) would use their religious teachings to justify why they did not want people of color or woman to have equality in America that had a profound impact on me. I thought it was just horrible.
RVT: You say that churches are indirectly responsible for killing about 500 gay and lesbian youth each year because of misguided religious values. You add that religious organizations maim the souls of thousands. How do you engage the religious organizations that you believe are responsible for this?
MG: I encourage people to be understanding of where those misguided religious values are coming from as difficult as that can be. We need to speak clearly, honestly and patiently. And make no mistake about it, we must speak up.
RVT: As an anti-apartheid activist in South Africa I discovered the way in which scripture was used to justify apartheid. I later realized that the God and texts that I loved were being hijacked to justify subtle and not so subtle homophobia. How does Faith in America respond to religious texts used to promote hatred and exclusion?
MG: We don’t get into theological discussions but rather point out how in different times in history, like the ones you cite, scripture was used to cause great harm. History is the arbiter of the harm and pain that has been caused and we hope that as people understand it better, they will stop. The most recent California ruling pointed out how those against marriage equality for gays and lesbians did so purely on religious grounds, and that is unconstitutional. History repeats itself again.
RVT: You and I were present with Chely Wright, the Country and Western singer, days before she came out as a lesbian. Chely’s story is one of courage and integrity about who she is as a spiritual person. Truth telling and personal stories are powerful. How does Faith in America connect the dots between religious messages and personal coming out stories for young people?
MG: We connect the dots by talking about them. This is really not all that complicated! The reality is that there are certain hard core people who are extremely difficult to change. I believe they use their religious teachings to place themselves in a superior position to others. They live a life of fear. But there is a much larger swath of America that as they recognize the harm they have caused either by condemning LGBT people or by being complicit by watching the harm caused and not having the courage to stand up and talk about it, these moveable middle Americans do change when they hear people talk about who they really are.
MG: I realize that everyday there are young, vulnerable kids who are just starting to recognize they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. It’s a frightening time….a crisis for hundreds of thousands of them. More often than not, they do not have someone to talk to. I know what it feels like and I don’t want one more kid to go through what I went through as an 11 year old. History has clearly shown it is wrong to use religious teachings to justify discrimination to minority groups. It is idiotic to have it continue today. Not another moment should go by where people are harmed in the name of religious teachings!
RVT: What is your greatest concern about ending religious intolerance towards LGBT people?
MG: I have no concern about it! It will be a wonderful time.
RVT: Talk about your hope for the full acceptance and inclusion of LGBT people in the years ahead?
MG: The great news is that you almost never hear of people who are accepting of LGBT people changing and becoming unaccepting. All the numbers keep moving in favor of fairness and equality. People who are transformed and lift the bigotry from their shoulders rarely turn back. It’s very hopeful.
RVT: Are there spiritual passages that nourish you or remind you of why you’re doing what you’re doing to end hatred?
MG: Actually no. My real nourishment comes from the letters and emails I get from people who have been transformed to be loving and accepting of LGBT people, from kids who write and tell me CRISIS was an enormous help in their journey and from people like Chely Wright who contacted me after reading CRISIS to tell me how it helped get her on a healthy path to love herself for who she is.
Share you stories of responding to bigotry or spiritual inclusion here
Read Robert’s Blog: Chely Wright: Contagious Courage