Making Faith Gay-Friendly With Bernard Schlager

The Pacific School of Religion's Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies celebrates ten years of education and activism.

The Bible calls homosexuality an abomination. It’s right there in Leviticus. This warning that “if a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: They shall surely be put to death” has led countless gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered Jews and Christians to feel not just unwelcome in churches and synagogues but shunned.

Striving to change this, the Pacific School of Religion (1798 Scenic Ave., Berkeley) established its Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry in 2000. Providing education, programs, research, and outreach, CLGS is the only outfit of its kind located at a theology school or seminary anywhere in the world.

“One of the founding principles of the center was to address quite frankly all the damage that has been done to LGBT people in the name of the religion over the centuries,” said CLGS executive director Bernard Schlager, “and to speak of faith and spirituality in the lives of LGBT people and their families in a way that is positive.”

These efforts kick into high gear as CLGS marks its tenth anniversary with a series of events spanning Sunday through Friday, September 19-24. These include racial/ethnic roundtables, an interfaith worship service, a Lavender Lunch discussion titled “Medical Marijuana in the Sanctuary,” a screening of the film Hineini: Coming Out in a Jewish High School, and Peterson Toscano performing Transfigurations, his one-person play introducing transgender biblical characters.

The racial/ethnic roundtables — each one comprising more than a dozen pastors, academics, and activists — examine ways in which GLBT issues can best be addressed in different communities. For instance, Schlager said, the classic coming-out announcement — “very public and very dramatic, while wearing on your sleeve the fact that this is your life and you don’t care what people think” — offends many Asian and Pacific Islanders, who prefer “an intensive ongoing discussion with family members that might take years and years” instead.

Always at issue is the question of how to embrace a holy book that condemns same-sex relationships.

“A literalist reading of the Bible is just not possible today,” said Schlager, whose latest book is Ministry Among God’s Queer Folk: LGBT Pastoral Care. “The strictures against homosexuality in the Book of Leviticus are part of a long line of prohibitions, most of which thankfully are not honored anymore — whether it be the stoning of adulterers, the killing of Jews, or slavery.” When homophobics cite Leviticus 18:22, “it’s helpful to ask them: ‘Does your church require that all women be covered? Does your church forbid women to become ministers? Does your church approve of slavery?’ Saint Paul himself says very clearly: ‘Slaves, obey your masters.’ There’s no way around this.”

If we all followed biblical laws to the letter, we’d all shun shellfish, and whoever disobeyed a minister would get the death penalty. Some rules, even biblical ones, were made to be broken. Interfaith worship service, Tuesday, Sept. 21, 7 p.m., free.

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