On March 12, 2020, Monique Moultrie (Georgia State University), Visiting Associate Professor of Women’s Studies and African American Religions, gave the lecture, “Hidden Histories: Faith as a Site of Black Lesbian Activism."
And I'm most of all grateful today for Monique, who had no question about canceling this event. She was gung-ho, ready to go, ready to speak to us, and to bring us the fruit of her really fascinating research. So thank you so much for gathering us here together.
Monique Moultrie is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Georgia State University. She did her doctorate at Vanderbilt. And most important, her MTS degree at Harvard Divinity School in 2002, which many of us remember fondly. And we looked forward at that time to this day. So I'm really-- I'm really glad it has come.
Monique is the co-editor, with Mary Hunt and Keisha Ali, of A Guide for Women and Religion, Making Your Way from A to Z, the Second Edition that was published in 2014. As well as the author of a really important book published in 2017 by Duke University Press, and that is her text, Passionate and Pious, Religious Media and Black Women's Sexuality.
And it should not have surprised us that Monique had the courage to come forward and speak to us today, because her courage is legendary. In her research, she has fearlessly tread into the study of religion and black women's sexuality where no scholar has gone before. So I strongly commend her first book to you.
She is a consultant to the NIH on issues related to her research, as well as a consultant to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Religious Archives Network. And it is through that association that she entered the research project that she is going to speak to us about today. So, Monique.
Let me first start off by saying thank you to each and every one of you for showing up and braving all kinds of things to be here. A personal note of thanks to my WSRP colleagues, past and present, who've been really instrumental in making this year very impactful. My feminist friends and supporters, Clarissa Atkinson, and Bernadette Brooten, who helped me actualize this year.
Thank you to my students for my fall Leadership and Woman As Moral Traditions course, which taught me a whole lot about Divinity School that I didn't learn when I was a student. And thanks to the generous funders who supported this project. As we just mentioned, LGBTran, the American Academy of Religion, my home institution, Georgia State, and finally, thank you to my deceased biological mother, Tommie Crews, for always shining humor into her stories, and to Mildred Carter, the mother who raised me and who taught me the significance of listening to black women.
Last but not least, thank you goes to my life partner, who's over there, who's here to support me today. But even when he's not around, as my daily reminder of God's love and grace.
So this exercise was not me practicing for the Oscars, but actually a womanist praxis of naming and positionality, a means of sharing with the audience when and where I enter my research. I started this way to alert you that this may feel like a different kind of academic talk, because it's going to be formatted to amplify the voices of women who shared their life stories with me. This project exists only because they were willing to trust me, largely a stranger and a heterosexual ally with their truths. Because I owe them more than just a thank you. As an ethical practice, you will hear from them as much as you will from me.
This talk stems from a new book project that I'm here working on that investigates the religious and spiritual motivations that are formed for social justice activism in black lesbian religious leaders' lives. Ultimately, I'm writing a book that presents a womanist model of ethical leadership that is explored through the narratives of 18 black lesbian religious leaders.
Womanism is a social change perspective rooted in black women's everyday experiences. And my project theorizes answers for the following questions. How are black lesbian religious leaders incubators for social justice activism? How does spirituality animate their social activism? And how can these leaders function as models for ethical leadership for future generations?
This talk will specifically focus on illuminating some of the ways that black lesbian religious leaders incubate social justice by examining examples of everyday activism and collective organizing that have spiritual and religious impetuses. While the basic methodology of the talk and even the larger work is oral history, I'm going to be utilizing theories from Patricia Hill Collins, Rosetta Ross, and Layli Maparyan to explore black lesbian religious activism, which I interpret as womanist spiritual activism, a social change spiritualized movement.
My scholarship explores how religion, race and sexuality intersect with gender prescriptions and normative claims within Christian contexts. In the first book, I investigated how black women were targeted by faith-based sexuality ministries and exerted their own sexual agency. In this current project, I'm also looking at agency. I'm looking at how sexual and religious actors exert agency in religious spheres, as I seek to respond to the erasure of black lesbian sexual and sacred lives.
I take seriously cultural critic Tricia Rose's assertion that sexual stories about black women are all around us, but they often rely on key myths. So what I want to do is offer data that is based on the actual stories about sexuality and faith shared by black lesbian women. In my discussion today, I'm going to move reflexively among terms such as black, queer, lesbian, and same gender loving. When distinctions are important to my interviewee, I will note why I've chosen a specific term.
So this is a screenshot of the LGBTran web site. I gathered these interviews as a consultant for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer Religious Archives Network. They just added "queer" recently. Where I identified and interviewed black gay and lesbian religious leaders for the web site's oral history project. So I've done five black gay men interviews. And eventually, they'll have all 18. Right now, they've got eight of the 18 interviews that I've done with black lesbian leaders.
These interviews represented a group that is quite vast. For the women that I interviewed, these are women of a variety of demographics and leadership positions, with most being Protestant leaders, although I also interviewed a spiritualist, a Jewish rabbi, and a Buddhist religious practitioner. All 18 of the women were cisgender black women. And my interviewees were at various levels of leadership. So I went from everything to the founder of denominations to persons who were in-- three persons who were in smaller spheres of religious leadership. All of my interviewees were actively integrating their spiritual and religious beliefs into their social justice activism or efforts to bring about social change.
When it's complete, I hope the book will serve as the first collection of oral histories of black lesbian religious leaders, creating a depository of oral histories that will portray the diversity of black LGBT experiences in religious communities. To put us all on the same page, I'm going to walk us through some of the categories that were important to the framing of the project. So we're going to walk through black church, black women's religious activism, and black lesbian, before we hear from the interviewees themselves.
So I chose for our time today to focus on some of the Protestant Christian interviewees. And by this, I'm focusing on those familiar with the traditional black church religiosity. This project emphasizes the significance of self identity and social location as activism, because self naming for these women is an important tool of resistance and liberation. I begin by identifying them as black, with full acknowledgment of the problems associated with treating blackness as an ontological term, supposedly referencing something innate and present for all community members.
So when discussing black lesbians and religion, notions of the historic black church require some unpacking. So if you look here on the slide, the numbers are small, but what I wanted to point to is this number of black evangelical Protestants, which is 53% of those that were polled in this Pew study. With 14% being represented in mainline Protestantism, which I'm going to talk about in just a minute. So this is an overwhelming number of Christian identifying people.
And from that subset, we're going to talk a bit about the traditional, quote, unquote, black church. Which refers to black Protestantism, as is widely understood, to include the seven major black Protestant denominations here on this slide-- the National Baptist Convention, the National Baptist Convention of America, the Progressive National Convention, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, and the Church of God in Christ. These are the traditions that the majority of my interviewees were reared in before moving into a denomination that was more welcoming.
So that's where this slide, again, with the 14% becomes important. Those who moved to mainline denominations-- mainline denominations for Pew data and for my interviewees equate to American Baptists, United Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Disciples of Christ, United Church of Christ, the Reformed Church, Anabaptists, Quakers, and the Metropolitan Community Church. And these are the groups which encompass many of the traditions where my interviewees are now current members. So they went from these on this slide to those that are represented.
I also want you to note these views on same sex marriage and views on just gay and lesbian persons, in general. Because these groups don't get along, don't get together to agree on anything. But after the 2015 Supreme Court decision allowing same sex marriage, all these groups got together miraculously to put out a uniform statement against same sex marriage, against it being a part of their religious beliefs.
And so I don't see that as an anomaly, or do I see this as a particularly persuasive way of understanding the black church's thus then particularly homophobic. Because part of what this data here that you see on this slide-- that looks at black church homophobia-- looks at is that while there are numerous acts of silence and derision coming from traditional black church leadership, I think that there is actually a much more nuanced-- actually, in the pews, in the churches-- happening of what this means. So while there are public statements refuting the acceptance and tolerance of same gender loving persons, actually, in religious spaces, there is a bit of a passive ignorance or a passive acceptance that these statistical numbers don't show up.
So I counter the view that the black community is particularly less tolerant of gays and lesbians than other community members. For one, this is just statistically inaccurate. And two, I think it ignores the nuance and complicated ways that black religious persons engage in a dance between their identity formations.
As you can then see on this slide, the religious profile of LGBT persons, and particularly as it relates to people of color. I think this is one of the reasons and one of the larger factors as to why black LGBT persons do not leave their religious identities. They may leave their religious denomination, but they do not leave their sense of faith. So if they are Christian and they were born Baptists, they may move and become United Church of Christ, but they don't leave the identity formation in the same numbers as you see for other racial groups. And this is true for millennials, as well as it is for those of various age groups.
So I think that the market trend, where persons, as you see on this slide, where persons go from being a particular faith tradition to being not religious or spiritual, not religious, that does not hold for African-Americans. The numbers are actually quite similar. They go from 8 to 6%. So it's not that much of a drop.
Finally, I find it especially futile to expend a lot of energy projecting black Christianity as more vibrantly homophobic than white Christianity, because both sides are pulling from the same conservative interpretations of the Bible. Instead, I posit that what's missing is-- or what's at mix is this cultural memory of the black church as an all-encompassing, justice-seeking institution. And if you hold this as the memory of what the black church is, then watching the opposition to same gender loving people actually stands in opposition. It makes this not a thing.
So the women in my study, I think, further complicate this notion of black lesbian by a black religious identity as they agitate within these spaces for social change. Particularly what I'm going to see here and walk us through are my concepts of activism and how this is playing itself out in my project.
So first of all, I take as theory their very act of being out and religious. So, not leaving their religious communities, serving and serving as leaders in their religious communities is courageous when structures seek to demand their invisibility or their erasure. In this sense, I wish to expand the notion of activism beyond the typical conceptualizations that we may have of activism as marches or political reforms. Instead, what I'm trying to highlight here are what black sociologist Patricia Hill Collins notes as everyday activism. And this is the quote that's on your screen. "The private decisions to reject external definitions of Afro-American womanhood and black women's everyday behavior as a form of activism, no matter how limited the sphere of their activism." End quote. It is in these private decisions made public that these black lesbian religious leaders' lives become theory, a theoretical positioning that contains within it a politics of resistance.
Hill Collins was concerned with ordinary black women-- domestics, teachers, mothers, preachers-- as she recognized that scholars needed to observe more than just those taking office or participating in collective movements. This attention to everyday acts of self-determination is one of the markers of my project, as these activists can be viewed as persons who are working within their everyday lives. They're just going to work. They're just being themselves. And they are taking great risk and great reward. I resist cultural invisibility and religious irrelevancy.
Another factor for my project is ethicist Rosetta Ross's witnessing and testifying. This text explores social justice activism from slavery into the civil rights movement. And in it, she highlights how black women have fought to ensure human dignity through their community work, through their organizing, teaching, lecturing, demonstrating, suing, and arguing. All the while utilizing their belief in God to motivate them to help produce the change they want to see. In fact, she contends that black religious activists are examples of persons-- and this is the quote on your slide-- are "persons who, in the midst of their ordinary lives, use critical, analytical, and reasoning skills to assess the usefulness of traditional religious conceptions, and to construct new ways of making religion functional." End quote. Thus, my interest in examining the life stories of black lesbian religious leaders is merely me finding a way to render visible these leaders' analytical and constructive skills.
In our discussion today, I'm going to investigate individuals' everyday acts of resistance, as well as their collective engagement with social justice movements. That I will then launch as a conversation on spiritual activism, or as Layli Maparyan points out, this act of putting spirituality to work for positive social change.
So what we see here-- and this is the image that was on the flyer. This is an image, a rendition, of Pauli Murray. Is the necessity for querying what we have as our black religious history. In the scholarship on black women's activism and in black women's religious history, there is an absence of attention to the various models of black female modes of activism that have included queer lives. And the last 20 years, in particular, there has been scholarship on black LGBT identity that discusses religion, and even some recent work that focuses specifically on black lesbians. Many of these works are created by gay male authors, whose work discerned that religion does not hold a significant role for black lesbian women, as it does with black gay men.
Performance scholar and oral historian E Patrick Johnson's text, Black Queer Southern Women, reports his surprise that many of the women he interviewed did not enjoy going to church and did not find it to be a refuge, as many of his gay black male interviewees had experienced. Johnson's text expressed disavowal of black churches, finding that women sought instead women-centered alternative spiritualities to black church attendance. My interviewees and their communities contradict such studies by demonstrating that black lesbian religious leaders purposely work within their religious spaces and find joy in black churches, and find within them spaces to flourish.
While the book manuscript will unpack the many ways that I think gay male scholars miss the point of black lesbian religious identities, for our time now, I want to highlight black queer religious activism as an addition to the history of black women and social justice activism. It's outside of the scope of the time we have together to offer an exhaustive discussion of the long history of black women and social justice work. Just as women are currently at the forefront of the Black Lives Movement, so, too, every path towards black liberation has depended upon the expertise and labor of black women. Yet these contemporary queer leaders' activism has not often been told as a part of the long work of liberating black people, which has led to the necessity of querying religious histories.
Princeton University doctoral candidate Ahmad Greene-Hayes suggests that this task requires reimagining religion as more than a solely heterosexual and sexist category. And he contends that we should take seriously how queer people across genders and sexualities have actively participated in African-American religions. And in my case, in social justice activism. Doing this work then calls for more expansive historiography. And here, I've just pulled up some of the people that I could place in my markers of queer religious historiography for black women. Looking at the activist work of Rebecca Cox Jackson or Dr. Mary Evans or Sister Rosetta Tharpe, or even Pauli Murray. These women's lives and loves are part of the long arc of women working towards justice in the world, and it's these legacies that my interviewees are joining into.
Largely, this is because they come to the work claiming as instrumental their black lesbian identity. They understand the magnitude of oppression they've had to overcome to break into the stained glass ceiling within their religious spaces. And contrary to my prior scholarship claims, my interviewees actually do find solace in religion and were deeply invested in utilizing their racial, sexual, and gender, and religious identities in their activism.
In each of these interviews, I found that their stories of resistance and rise to leadership was dependent upon each woman making peace with the various strands of herself. I was also particularly persuaded by the black lesbian interviewees who utilized cooperative leadership models. And my overall project is going to examine why this is appealing.
So while they really didn't spend a lot of time answering my questions regarding their race and gender, all of my interviewees were comfortable with the term "lesbian" and talked to me in some great detail about what context they use "queer" or what context they use "same gender loving". So it was not surprising, though, that the majority of my interviewees landed on the term "lesbian" as a catch-all phrase. And largely, I think this had to do with many of those subjects being in their mid-50s. There was a galvanizing around this term. Some of my younger interviewees, those who were in their late 30s, tended to identify more as queer.
When Audre Lorde writes about the difficulties of being an open lesbian in the black community, she is speaking of the realities that some identities are deemed in conflict with each other. For example, loyalty to the black community has presumed fidelity and perhaps even submission to black men. Thus, activism that does not privilege male concerns can cause interracial trauma. As women who were motivated by deep religious ideologies, this is often deemed antithetical to their queer identity, as some see religion as solely a source for harm in the LGBT community.
As female leaders who are not following heteronormative leadership structures-- and so, within black church structures, these heteronormative structures tend to allow women in leadership as the companions, so the pastor's wife, the mother who's associated with a father figure in the religious space. That these are typical spaces that the queer women that I was interviewing did not inhabit. Thus, my interest in women who claimed their authentic voice to speak from their particular identities is also a reflection of my interest in black women's self-determination.
This is why I was led to oral history as the project's main methodology. According to the Oral History Association, oral history as a field of study and a method of gathering, preserving, and interpreting the voices and memories of people and communities. Why I find it particularly valuable is that it centers the histories of persons who have been marginalized and excluded from dominant historical records. It allows a researcher like me to amplify the experiences of a diverse group using open ended techniques, such as semi-structured interviews that focused on their everyday experiences, shaped by their race, class, gender, sexuality, and religion. Because I am invested in how and why these women became religious leaders, oral history offered a means to access their thoughts, feelings, and activities.
So for the last half of my talk, I'm going to shift, and we're going to talk from the lives of these women. I want to take up this task with the theorizing from the lives of Reverend Candy Holmes, Reverend Kentina Washington-Leapheart, Bishop Yvette Flunder, Reverend Dr. Pamela Lightsey, and Reverend Dr. Cari Jackson. I'm going to offer some introductory biographies for each of these women. And on the slides, you'll just see some of the longer quotes that I'm going to read from them so that you can get a sense. I was going to play the text. But that became really cumbersome, trying to bring their actual voices in. So I'm going to substitute my voice, but you're hearing their words as it was transcribed.
Oh, a pointer. I have no idea what to do with this. But-- there we go. It is self-explanatory. All right. So this is Reverend Candy Holmes, who is there in the image. And this is her here with President Obama. Reverend Candy Holmes was the leader of the Metropolitan Community Churches. She served in music ministry, initially, in the healing ministries, and as the planning chair for the Persons of African Descent Conference.
Her professional activism came about through her work in the federal government and the Government Accounting Office. She recounts doing one small thing, which was submitting a family photograph of her and her then-partner, Elder Darlene Garner, for a photo display during diversity month in her office. And how this one action ultimately led to an invitation from President Obama, which is what you see below, to stand with him when he signed the presidential memorandum granting federal benefits to same sex domestic partners in 2009.
Following this act, she gave public testimony in state legislatures in support of marriage equality. And she's continued her social justice activism by working with the National Black Justice Coalition, GLAD, the Human Rights Campaign, Many Voices, and LGBTQ Task Force. After 30 years of ministry with the Metropolitan Community Churches, she and Elder Darlene Garner resigned from their leadership roles within MCC, but she has retained her MCC clergy's status.
I conducted my interview with Reverend Candy Holmes in October 2017. She was 61 years old. She described the integration of her identities taking place during her time with the Metropolitan Community Church. As a former apostolic church girl, she wondered whether God would be pleased with her same sex attraction or her calling to the ministry. And after a lengthy process, she was able to integrate her various identities into one empowered individual. She learned at a young age that it's only right to do right, which as an adult, she interpreted as justice.
Even before she had the language to articulate the feeling of injustice or the awareness of the need for a just world, she told me, and I'm quoting her, she "just had this justice streak. So I didn't understand why it is that we do right on Sunday, but we don't do right on Monday through Saturday. And so my response to that was resistance." End quote. Resistance started with everyday tasks, like telling the truth even when it was unpopular, or recognizing hypocritical responses and refusing to participate in them.
This next vignette is the moment that launched her into the social justice activism that I've talked about. But it started with her one everyday action. At the time, she was incensed because Proposition 8 had tried to determine whether a group of people like her could get married. She said to me, "With proposition 8, it was, like, well, you know, I had to do something. And I didn't know if it would jeopardize my work or not"-- because she wasn't out at work-- "but I knew I had to do something. And so, at my desk, I said a prayer. I said, God, I don't know what to do, but if I could just do one small thing. And so when I had just said that prayer-- I remember it like it was yesterday-- I glanced up at my computer, and on the screen was this email about a gay and lesbian employee association. They were doing a project for diversity month. And this particular year, they decided that they wanted to put our families on display, because of all the stuff that was starting to brew around gay people and gay people having families and wanting to get married. So they thought this would be one way to show that we do have families, and that it's important to acknowledge that we have families. After calling Darlene, I nervously picked out one of our best pictures and sent it in. I was all kinds of nervous about it, but I figured, well, what's a picture?"
From that small act of resistance, she went on to become one of the public faces of DC marriage equality, not just as a federal employee but as a faith leader, because, she notes, "When the White House called on the behalf of then-President Obama, they asked to speak with Reverend Holmes." After her consciousness raising, she recognized that her voice was important in helping herself and others find freedom. She said she wanted to help others find freedom from oppression, freedom from things that would bind us, freedom from things that will take away our hope.
She often spoke about not being a seasoned advocate or activist, but not letting that limit her, given that her goal was freedom for all. She recounted to me-- and this is a quote that I have on the screen. "I had my life. So I just kept sharing my life and what it was like growing up in the church and what it was like not knowing I was gay. So it wasn't just one thing that helped me go from being someone who was not active to being someone who was active, but it was like I progressed as I told my story."
Another story I wanted to include today is Reverend Kentina Washington-Leapheart, who shared a range of expressions of activism that I want us to think together about what it means to work for holistic freedom. Reverend Kentina Washington-Leapheart was the former Director of Programs for Reproductive Justice and Sexuality Education at the Religious Institute.
She began her ministerial career as a chaplain in both health care and clinical care settings. She identifies as a queer woman as follower of many paths, including the way of Jesus. And volunteers her time in greater Philadelphia and community organizations to work to advance maternal and child health and faith. Jointly ordained and married to the Reverend Naomi Washington-Leapheart and parenting a teenage daughter, she and her wife's callings complement each other, as they work side by side, though in different spheres of ministry.
I conducted my interview with Reverend Kentina Washington-Leapheart in October 2019 when she was 39 years old. When I conducted an interview with Reverend Kentina, she spoke of herself as a-- and I'm quoting her-- "a minister who is in between calls". End quote. As she had recently stepped down from her position as director of programs. And she had just recently been ordained. She had prior experience working as a chaplain, but at that time when I interviewed her, she was taking a break to figure out how she could next work for good in the world.
In her chaplaincy work, she remarked how the position demanded she cultivate deep listening and not run out of the room when things got tough. This skill set of deep listening and being keenly present translated into her activism and advocacy work. This often gets lost in movement spaces, she said, where doing takes precedence over being. She told of how in marketing herself for her last position at the Religious Institute, she realized, "It's one thing"-- and I'm quoting her-- "to talk about, for example, reproductive justice, sexual health, and all of that, and the difficult or complex decision-making that women and families are doing related to pregnancy, completing a pregnancy, or not, and every kind of thing in between. It's one thing to talk about that and protest about that and rail about that. And it's another thing to actually have sat with and spent time with and walked through those experiences with human beings who are making them, who are people of faith in many ways. So I think my chaplaincy experience uniquely prepared me. My pastoral sense was key to how I showed up in that work." End quote.
Reverend Kentina also discovered that justice work is deeply connected to her own familial and personal life. She preferred the term "advocate" to "activist", as she said she felt, and I'm quoting her, "compelled to act as a voice or to help amplify voices that get drowned out by the deluge of injustice in the world". End quote. She uses her privileges, her experiences, to be a social justice leader, yet she shared with me the need for boundaries from the all consuming social justice world. Which shows her awareness of how she wants to live and show her faith.
She said to me, it was important for her to be her own best thing, for herself and for her wife and child. She said, "My spouse and I talk about this all the time. What good is it if we're out doing justice in the world, whatever that looks like, when we're not doing that in our own relationship? I don't think it has to be that you're a brilliant activist and a terrible spouse, or a brilliant activist and a terrible parent. Or a prolific pastor and a terrible whatever. I think there has to be some intentionality. I think that institutions, whether it's the church or nonprofit or university, will own you or treat you like they own you, unless you decide to say that's not going to happen. And I don't say that to say it's easy, but I refuse to be owned." End quote.
Maintaining boundaries by advocating first for herself is how she is able to show up in the movement spaces and advocate for others. I highlight this version of activism because so many of my interviewees experienced burnout, which stymied their longevity in activist work. The two women I just introduced exemplify individual activism. They radiated into communal advocacy. I will next introduce two additional activists whose participation is perhaps more recognizable for its collective efforts towards social change.
Here we have Bishop Yvette-- Bishop Reverend Dr. Yvette Flunder who is founder and senior pastor of the City of Refuge United Church of Christ and Presiding Bishop of The Fellowship, a multi denominational fellowship of over 100 primarily African-American Christian churches that practice radically inclusive Christianity. Flunder earned a master's of arts degree from Pacific School of Religion and a Doctor of Ministry Degree from San Francisco Theological Seminary. One of her church's main purposes is unite gospel and social ministry. It's particularly well-known for its work with AIDS and transgender communities.
Bishop Flunder was one of my first interviews in 2011, and I interviewed her again this past July. She was 54 years old in our first interview. My first interview focused on Bishop Flunder's early life, growing up heavily active in the Church of God in Christ denomination. Her early religious training focused on staying saved, which was the opposite of social justice motivation, because she said to me, "If you're always afraid you're going to lose your salvation, you can't really concentrate on the needs of other people, because every altar is for you." End quote.
Bishop Flunder had perhaps earned the most notoriety for her social justice activism with prominent honors like giving the keynote address for the White House's World AIDS Day in 2014. In her initial interview with me, she indicated that she felt she'd always had a social justice bit. And in our follow up interview in July 2019, she reiterated this formation, noting that despite her upbringing preparing her for the coming of Jesus, she made time for social consciousness, because, and she told me, she felt it was her responsibility, "not just to get to heaven, but to bring heaven to earth".
The church that Bishop Flunder created is very socially active. And I question how she was able to amplify her personal sense of responsibility to make it a corporate sense of responsibility for her church. She told me she had a few goals with founding her church. And she stated, "Well, I certainly wanted to create an environment where we could celebrate our relationships as same gender loving people. And I wanted to create an environment where we could be very focused on justice issues as our primary concern. But what is really my passion is for social justice and human services. And getting people wrapped around finding ways to fight for their own freedom and for the freedom of anyone who's been marginalized."
She founded City of Refuge as an independent religious community in 1991, and she remembered that at their founding, they were in the height of the AIDS epidemic, both due to their location in San Francisco Tenderloin District and the demographic that the church served. Initially, her church grew as people came to access the services it provided, like housing, food, case management, and spiritual support for the LGBT community-- because this was a time where family members would just leave their loved ones. And would not even bury them.
She reminisced about how much stigma there was around HIV and how many of the providers of care were women, who she called the unseen heroines who engaged as healers with their particularly ostracized community. By committing to the least of these in her community, City of Refuge was linked to a vision of social justice, animated by their faith, tasked with literally taking Jesus back from those who would try to use Christianity to marginalize others.
Here, she gives me the quote that's on the screen. They fulfilled their mission by expanding into various social justice movements. She said to me, "I think that area grew organically into the other very easily. Organically, if you understand what I'm saying. It happened organically. One of them grew into the other. We started with the HIV work, which led us to the housing work, which of course later, yeah, got us out there around social justice work, which moves us to women's issues, which moves us to prison reform, which moves us to border work, which is what we're doing now. Once you start doing justice work, you begin to see the intersections of the evil that oppress us all, and particularly oppress people of color and anyone else marginalized." End quote.
Next we'll meet Reverend Pamela Lightsey, whose life blends the academy, church, and social justice activism. I interviewed her in October 2017. Reverend Dr. Pamela Lightsey considers herself the first out black lesbian in the United Methodist Church. She is the Vice President of Academic and Student Affairs and Associate Professor of Constructive Theology at the Meadville Lombard Theological School. She formerly served as the Associate Dean of Community Life and Lifelong Learning at the Boston University School of Theology. She is a veteran of the US Army, a former pastor, a former civil servant, a social justice activist, and scholar whose research includes just war theory, woman's theology, and queer theology.
Reverend Dr. Lightsey expressed deep connections to the black community and its ongoing liberation. She fought sexism in her Pentecostal church and is now fighting homophobia in the United Methodist Church, while also being an advocate for the Black Lives Matter movement. In her position as Associate Dean at BU, she saw the murdered body of Mike Brown and felt compelled to act. She felt that she was well equipped to go to the scene to help as a military veteran, as someone who had lived through the civil rights movement, and as a woman who had experienced poverty.
So she went to Ferguson as a representative of her school and the Reconciling Ministries Network, a United Methodist social justice group, as their communications staff. She said they went without a clue but with a sincere commitment to justice. She recorded hours of footage of day to day interactions between the protesters and the militarized Ferguson police. Her interviews with activists and citizens of Ferguson illuminated how police brutality, public policies like ticketing schemes, unfairly penalized poor blacks, and the denial of proper health care and quality education were all conditions that the Black Lives Matter movement was seeking to alleviate.
She said to me, "I was also interested as a woman scholar about the ways women were leading in the movement, compared to what happened during the Civil Rights Movement. So I really wanted to find the women leaders. Where were the sisters who were leading? Because I didn't want the story in the future to be that this was a movement that was largely led by men, when in fact that wasn't the truth. So I paid particular attention to the ways in which women were leading, serving in leadership capacity in Ferguson as a woman. I was also wanting to know theologically what the people thought justice looked like. What would justice look like for them?"
She said she left Ferguson a changed woman, realizing that protest movements need scholars and theologians. And she used this awareness to write her book, Our Lives Matter, A Womanist Queer Theology, a text meant to be accessible to the LGBTQ community and activists in general. She has equally then a faith filled advocate for LGBT inclusion within the United Methodist Church, as she, alongside others, are challenging the church's current book of discipline that states that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teachings and prevents clergy from being the term "practicing" homosexuals.
Reverend Dr. Lightsey is an ordained elder in the tradition, is committed to its longevity, and thus feels obligated to help it be at its best. She said, "I'm one of the few ordained elders, black ordained elders, in the United Methodist Church with a PhD. Not a demon, but PhD. So I wanted to use my achievement, my accomplishments that had been supported by the church, to help make the very church that supported my education better. And I thought it was important for me to do that. This is my way of thanking the church for being committed to helping to improve the lives of its laypeople, its clergy person. So what better way than to help the church live out the principles that it articulates?" She advocates to remind black people, especially in the UMC, that homophobia is illogical, and it's especially illogical for persons who have been oppressed.
As I go to conclude, these examples are examples from the entire project that I hope will be a work devoted to exploring womanist activism. Psychologist Thema Bryant Davis and Tyonna Adams contend, "Activism is integral to womanism because the desire to fight for the wholeness of all people demands intentional acts to bring about transformation." They argue that womanist activism is inherently based on resisting oppression, but it's also grounded in spirituality, as the spirituality of a womanist motivates her to act for justice and to create sustainable peace.
Their definition relies on Alice Walker's definition of womanism, particularly her description of a womanist as one who loves the spirit. But I conjecture that womanist activism also reflects Walker's characterisation of a womanist as someone who loves the struggle. I believe womanist activism as a framework helps explain the longevity of social justice activism in my interviewees' lives and how in fact, their lives and their interactions with social justice movements have been intertwined into their identities.
In this longer project, I discuss this womanist activism using psychologist Layli Maparyan's theory of womanist spiritual activism, which I talked about a bit earlier. Maparyan's theory is crafted in a religiously eclectic manner, reliant on a blending of African religions, religious science, Kabbalah, Kemetic tradition, rather than Christianity. Given the centrality of Protestant Christianity to my interviewees, I'm aware that this is actually a mismatch to what they actually mean by spirit and spirituality. And that it equally could be a misnomer to state that these religious leaders would be comfortable being interpreted as womanists, since relatively few claimed this as a personal identity.
Why I am convinced that her argument is persuasive enough to use in my interrogation of these women's lives is that her understanding of womanist spiritual activism centers the experiences of everyday women who utilize their religion to produce social change. In her text The Womanist Idea, she defines spiritual activism as key to womanist practice, contending that, "As a social change method, it helps one to interrogate the two basic principles for creating change. One, to change yourself, which is the inner work. And two, to change the outer world-- to change the world which is the outer work."
Three of my interviewees themselves identified as spiritual activists, such as Reverend Candy Holmes, which we met earlier, who said to me, as a spiritual activist, "I express myself now as someone who is actively pursuing justice", which she saw as an outgrowth of her spirituality.
Another person who identified as a spiritual activist is Reverend Dr. Cari Jackson. Reverend Dr. Cari Jackson has been a pastor, a counselor, and organizational consultant. She has a PhD in Christian ethics from Drew University, an M. Div. From Union Theological Seminary, and a JD from the University of Maryland. She currently serves as Executive for Religious Leadership and Advocacy at the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. She is founding director of Center of Spiritual Light, a nonprofit providing spiritual counseling, and president of Excellent Way Consulting, a company specializing in leadership and organizational effectiveness.
Dr. Carey described herself as a deeply spiritual person who worked on vastly different campaigns for justice as a youth and young adult, ranging from voter registration, environmental justice campaigns, prisoner reentry programs, to working for the United Way. She considered herself an outsider in many ways, seeing her various identities as social constructs, while her spirituality was her only real identity. She commented on how she'd always been involved in spiritual activism, saying to me, "I can't from my perspective as a spiritual person not be engaged in justice work. If spirituality is to make any difference, it is to see the divine in others, whether it's the young girl working in the Children's Hospital or working with juvenile offenders. I see the divine in other people, and I seek to create space where people can see that within themselves." End quote.
What I've found useful about envisioning Dr. Cari as a spiritual activist is that she demonstrated an awareness of the connection of spiritual activism as individual and collective. She said to me, "Well, for me, the spiritual must always be social. That was not my teaching from my earliest religious tradition within Pentecostalism. That was very individual. But spirituality, for me, is individual and social. The scripture that really guides me in terms of social activism is from the Lord's Prayer. It says, 'Give us this day our daily bread.' It's the communal aspect of that. It's not, 'God, give me my bread and screw what happens to other people.' But it's our bread. And so whatever I have in my life, I see it as spirit gifting me to be a conduit to help share those resources with the community. And I feel that way in terms of people who I've never met. I feel a responsibility to them, because we share our humanity. And so, it's spiritual. And it's social for me."
The efforts to see the divine in others and a connection to advocate for others is one of the markers of womanist spiritual activism and one of the reasons their leadership models are communicable to others. As I hope you've witnessed in this presentation, black lesbian religious leaders point towards innovative possibilities for pursuing justice in the world. I was initially drawn to their stories because unlike some of the men that I interviewed initially, their legacy spread past institution building and concern for assisting those impacted with HIV and AIDS. While these women were certainly involved in empire building, even sitting at the pinnacle of denominations, and they all certainly made great efforts in HIV/AIDS advocacy, their work tended to be more intersectional, literally addressing as Bishop Flunder stated, "the intersections of evil that oppress us all".
Our contemporary times require these types of activists who are not one issue oriented, but instead create coalitions of intersectional justice. My goal with highlighting these few women has not been to create a historical, larger-than-life figure that is a model exemplar but to instead show what we glean from listening to their stories. When Bishop Flunder closed my initial interview, she noted that she wanted the generation to come to know-- and I'm quoting her-- "the personal costs, but also the personal joy, that it has been for us, so that if nothing else, we can provide a path through this wilderness so that their way will not be nearly as difficult. Then I'll know that our living and our working hasn't been in vain." End quote.
It's my hope that my research amplifies their stories, as I seek to heed womanist ethicist Katie Cannon's clarion call, that we-- and I'm quoting her-- "reveal the truth about oppressed people, their lives that are lived with integrity, especially when they are unheard but not unvoiced, unseen but not invisible". End quote. Thank you.
Well, thank you for that wonderful presentation. I think it was the perfect talk for this week. We do have time for questions. We're-- I know some people may have to get up for 1 o'clock classes. But we would love to take questions and comments from the audience. And there is a standing mic there if you'd like to go to the mic.
Monique, Bernadette Brooten. Thank you so much. This is just spectacular. I've been able to watch this project as it's developed. And it's really wonderful what you have created here. I wonder if you could go in a little more into the discussion with E. Patrick Johnson. And also on the question of the term "lesbian". Because one thing that I know from him, with his new book-- Honey Pot I think it's called-- about black lesbians in the South, is that they mostly didn't identify as lesbian. And I wonder, is he getting a different sample? Is it a matter of age? What difference does it make if one identifies as lesbian or queer or bull dagger or some other term? And then, I'd love to just hear you expand more on this question of religion and why it is that he missed that. Or was it his sample? Or the way he advertised the kind of people, the kind of women, that he got into it?
Great questions. Thank you so much. I'll start with what he missed. So I love both of his texts. And to be honest, I was waiting, like everyone else, for the texts to show up, because there have not been substantive oral histories done of black lesbian women. There are lots of oral histories that are done in the South of gay and lesbian persons, transgender persons, but they seldom include black women. They mostly include black gay men or trans men. And I don't know what that is about.
If it's-- I largely think, at least from my experience doing oral histories, oral histories are works that are referent work. So someone refers you to someone who refers you. And if your social networks are one gender, that's sort of what your pool becomes. And so, E. Patrick talks about in his text having some trepidation about, how will I find the lesbians? Will they be willing to talk with me? And so, he's really self-reflective about his privileging in being a man and wanting to get their stories right, and the burden of getting these stories.
But he found that women overwhelmingly were willing to talk with him, that it took him years to get the same number of interviews with men that he did with women that he got within the first nine months. So why, then, the women that he interviewed were overwhelmingly finding religion as not positive? I don't know. This has been the curiosity for me from the beginning of the project, because time and time again-- not only with E. Patrick's work, but you also have the work of Horace Griffin, who talks about black lesbians passing within religious communities, that they go through these stages of passing, that they can't be out in their churches, and so they pass in these various ways. It's baffling to me, because churches are primarily filled with women. So it just doesn't make sense that we would presume that these would be predominantly heterosexual women. It's just that the numbers don't work.
And then when I think about those that I went out to find-- so he interviewed, for example, Dean Emilie Townes. And in talking with Dean Townes-- he has-- the segments of his book are various chapters. And Dean Townes' doesn't show up a lot in the religion chapter. So there's a chapter devoted to religion, but that chapter is mostly persons who have, like, trauma stories, like, the church was really bad to me, and then I found this Ifá community, or then I found this woman-centered community where we get together and we have book club, and that's our spirituality. We recognize God, and we see it in ourselves, and that's our community.
And I thought, well, this is strange. You were talking to the Dean of a Divinity School that is predominantly women. Vanderbilt's Divinity School is predominately women. I don't understand how there would be that disconnect here, of not noticing that there are people for whom religion is a nurturing space.
So I do think it has to do with access, that that pool of self-referring then refers you to other people who don't also find religion useful. Because if you're coming into an interview, and you want to interview on Sundays-- I knew not to do that, because all of my people were busy. So I scheduled my interviews Monday or Tuesday in the week. But if you come in on a weekend to do these trips, and you say, hey, do you have any friends you would like me to talk with? They're probably going to recommend you to other people who also don't have faith commitments on Sundays.
So I think that might have siloed that experience. But that doesn't explain Horace Griffin, who actually is clergy. He's Episcopal clergy, and so he has to know lots of lesbians. So I don't know why I'm getting such a different experience, because primarily, the churches that these women are leading are churches that are predominantly same gender. And that holds for the most part, that larger, gay male-- congregations that are led by gay men tend to have more gay men present in them, and congregations that are led by lesbian women tend to have more lesbians in them.
And so I don't have a good answer there. And for the question about why lesbians seem to be a catch all term. When I asked, I just wanted-- it was like demographic data. I just wanted to see, like, how should I write it in the book? And people gave me these really interesting journeys of accepting to lesbian. So I was this, and then I was that, and then in this context, I can be this. But I think just say "lesbian". That's what I would say if I was talking to a stranger, that I'm a lesbian.
And so it becomes a shorthand that communicates more clearly to more populations. I don't think the term itself-- I don't think any one person said, you know, when I came to my lesbian identity, it was salvific, like I found home. Many of them talked about-- one of my interviews said that she was a woman who never identified with male companionship, but she's like, I can't put that on a census survey. So just say I'm a lesbian. So there were all these distinctive ways that people identified. But lesbian became one that really fit for the majority.
I also think maybe because many of them were cisgender, that there might be more comfort with more feminine expressing women taking the category of lesbian. Because for those who chose more queer, they tended to be more masculine expressing. So that's a gut feeling. But not one that I think the data holds.
Dr. Moultrie, thank you for the brilliant presentation. J. Williams, pronounce he, him, his. Pastor of a historically black United Methodist Church in Boston, which is open and affirming, since about the year 2000. So very intrigued by your work. So Reverend Candy Holmes, your comments about her. And as she describes, would God be pleased with her work, sparked the question around the intersection between social activism, spirituality, and sexuality in terms of sexual expression. So in the Lords, the use of the erotic, erotic as power. So to what extent are you examining that connection between sexual power or sexual expression in the erotic embodiment, and how that plays into activism?
Yeah. Great question. And this is my pastor, so Pastor James here. So excited. This is a really good question, because when I first started doing these interviews, I was doing them for pay. I got a gig while as a doctoral student. And they were very clear on the oral histories. They were trying to gather stories that talked about the longevity of a person's life. It was in response to the It Gets Better Campaign, where teens were committing suicide. Gay teens were committing suicide. So they wanted to show this, like, over the scope of your life, it gets better. And so they gave me a sense of the type of questions they were interested in, which were more, like, what were the highs? What were the lows in your career, in your becoming who you are?
And so those first interviews have very little to do with, like, personal stuff. And even the story, the interview with Candy Holmes. I interviewed Darlene Garner first. So I interviewed Darlene in 2011. No, I interviewed her first. She was my very first interview in 2010. And she talked to me about breaking up with Candy. And how traumatic that was for her. And how it sort of became, like, they were frenemies. And she talked a great deal about their care and commitment and love to each other. But I didn't have a-- I didn't have a matching sense with other participants that they really wanted to talk to me about their most intimate lives. And thus, that then made me, when I started doing the interviews in full force for the book, be intentional about asking questions and seeing if people were just not willing. If there's a self, part of one's self, that they're not willing to share with the public. Because they knew I was writing this for the book. And they knew-- my consent form also said that they were sharing-- these all were going to go on the LGBTran website.
And so, I think when I looked through the transcripts-- and everyone got to approve their transcript before it gets put up on the LGBTrans site or before I use it in this text-- when I think about what has been taken out, what people excised out, and was, like, yeah, don't tell that story, they're more the stories the deal with their romantic lives. Although you have to go back-- so if you go to this site, go and read-- so this image that's here.
This is Rene McCoy in her younger age. Rene told me the baudiest stories. Oh, my God. They gave me so much life. She literally said to me-- one of her experiences was with a woman who she had dated, and that she saw the woman maybe 20 years later, and she was like, I had to call up and tell her I learned some things. That God had blessed me with the gift of tongues, and I wanted to share. And I was like, I don't know what to do with this. But she said it straight faced. And moved on in much graphic detail. And when the transcriber sends me the transcription, she's like, you know, lots of ellipses. And I'm like, no, that's not what she said. This is what she said.
And so I sent it to her and I say, you know, what do you want to put up? Leave it in there. It's true. So if you want to read some of that, it is present. But I didn't see that-- that was more the exception than the rule.
So I've been thinking creatively about how to include more of the embodied self, the sensual self, as I talk about the intimacies of their lesbian identity, when it was an information that many of them wanted left on record. Or if they wanted it left on record, it was in relationship to their partner, their wife at the time. And so I didn't get a-- I wasn't able to talk about it over the span that they were-- yeah, don't tell that story. That story can't stay in, but this one can. So my wife will be happy to hear that she's the joy of my life and our snuggle time is what gives me life. But some of those earlier stories, yeah, about cruising, maybe not so much.
Yeah. Maybe that's the next book, right? Because I mean, it does seem that to the extent that your work is around making oral history as part of a public record, and then the complicated nature of consent and telling one story as it intersects with another human being. But it seems like that in telling these hidden histories, there is a silencing, which then leaves something else still hidden. And kind of the personal aspect of holistic and body itself. So yeah. This is amazing. So thank you.
Thank you. Yeah. Great, great, great point. I think I can think that through. Because I have all this data now that I'm not sure what to do with, because as an ethical interviewer, they said not to use it. So I can't. But when I've spoken with them now that the interviews are up, some of them, especially ones I did in 2017, I'm like, you know what, now I'm making it a book. And they're like, oh, you remember I told you that story, and then they tell me something completely off record. I'm like, that would be wonderful.
Hi. Thank you so much for your talk. I'm Mimi Winick, instructor of English literature at Virginia Commonwealth University. And I wanted to ask you if you would speak some more about this historical dimension of the project. And I'm curious about how the people you spoke with, do they bring up sort of a historical sense of a tradition? Do they refer to Lord, to reading, to speaking, to meeting with people that for them are part of a tradition of this kind of womanist spiritual activism?
Yeah, no. So overwhelmingly, in these questions that were asked about how they sort of became their authentic self, many of them become their authentic self through consciousness raising, organizing. So poetry groups, the National Bi Gay and Lesbian Coalition was one of the linchpin organizations for many of the participants, where they would go and find their way. Metropolitan Community Churches were big spaces for them. The Charis Bookstore in Atlanta was another site, where lots of people-- like, that was the go-to spot if you were going to be out and a lesbian. Several of them mentioned bookstores. I was surprised at bookstores and book signings and poetry readings, how significant a role that was for their socialization and their identity formation.
If you think-- someone said in response to the work last week, if you think about the baby gay identity, where how you get from a baby gay identity to forming different forms of identity, he said-- and I think he's largely talking about for white community members-- that white LGBT members are baby gays, and then they go to social justice organizations to learn how to be gay and active as a citizen. And then they break out into their personal networks. And that's their friend groups and their communities. And that becoming the norm.
That wasn't what I saw with black people. They didn't go first to social organizations. They were the social organizations. They were groups of people who had met at coffee houses, who had met at bathhouses, who'd met at poetry readings, who got together and said, did you hear about sister so-and-so who died, and nobody came and claimed her body? And they would put together the funeral. And then they would create an organization of mutual aid, benevolent fund, that would make sure that this wouldn't happen to someone else. So it was sort of this reverse pattern. So I do think that there was a socialization period that was really important for all 18.
Thank you, Dr. Moultrie, for your exciting and cutting edge work. I've always been fascinated by your approach to woman and womanist spiritual activism. My name is Ursula Cargill, and I'm a ThM student here in the Divinity School. And I was wondering, in your research, did you see any common threads among the various women that you interviewed outside of race, gender, and sexuality, that would kind of highlight or shine a light on the factors that led to their marginalization? Was there anything that kind of popped out for you? Thank you.
Thank you. So I spent a long time looking for my linking red thread. What would link all of these people together? And in fact, I went and did five more interviews over the fall, thinking, if I find five more, then maybe it'll show me what I'm missing. I never found it. The thing that I think links the most of them together is their commitment to social justice and their commitment to intersectional justice working in the world. And so that sort of became what the book was going to anchor in.
I think regarding their marginality, just a lot of life difference. That many of them had some-- you know, there are lots of same stories with the church being a stumbling block. One of my interviewees, Tonyia Rawls, was one of the first bishops in the Unity Fellowship Movement. And she talked about how Unity being a predominantly black gay and lesbian affirming denomination. And how when they opened up to decide to allow women to be bishops, how they thought, hey, this won't be a thing. And like, all hell broke loose when they had their first women bishops and how unprepared they were for that.
And so there are lots of these stories of people thinking, oh, I failed my safe place. And then one part of their identity formation being, like, what causes things go to hell. But even in that, she gave the example of, in her own church-- because they started out Unity, she's now UCC. She left the Unity movement about three years ago. And there UCC now, and she talked about realizing that the mode in their own eye was their trans members. That they had themselves been marginalizing to their trans members and sort of allowing trans-ness to show up in, like, oh, girl, you looking fierce, but, like, not really dealing with the day to day realities. Like, people who are buying street hormones to transition. And who are coming from sex work to the congregation that same morning. And how they're just different life experiences that they were washing over. Saying, oh, yeah, we love everybody, everybody's welcome. But they weren't really getting into the intricacies of their trans members' lives. So I think that that's a good example of some of the ways in which they are aware of marginalization on many fronts, but there's still another front. That even when they create spaces that are as affirming as they want, there's still this duplicating process of marginalization. And so many of them are seeking to create a space that really will be inclusive. So that radical inclusivity that Flunder talks about is what I think all of them are trying to enact in their own specific ways.
I'm Gloria White Hammond, and I'm resident scholar here at the Div School in medicine and spirituality, and a pastor of a congregation in Boston. And that's-- that is one of those historically black denominations. And so, everything everybody said about how amazing, how awesome, how well researched, how well presented, how exciting this work is and you are, everything they said. So I also recognize that when you made the point that there are these official statements that come from these historically black denominations, and that we don't accept and we don't, and all of that stuff, that is absolutely true. But I see that there is a-- as you go from the bishops on the bench to the preachers in the pulpit to the people in the pews, that there is a growing sense of inclusion as you get closer to the pews. Has anybody looked at that? And where-- like, how people are feeling, where that disconnect is? And as you scan these various denominations, have you picked up any rumblings that they're at the pulpit or the pew level that is prepared to address the bit and to begin to do that important work of changing not only the statement, not only what people say, but what people do? Again, from the bench to the pulpit to the pew.
Thank you for that. That's a really great question. I was involved for several years-- Josef Sorett ran a project out of Columbia that was on African-Americans and black religion and social and sexual justice. It's CARSS. And I don't remember what the acronym is now. And they did a bunch of white papers that was associated with that, where they did a bunch of polls of communities, of religious spaces, trying to get actual data. Arcus Foundation and Ford Foundation were some of the funders for that work. And so I was in the thinking tank, the working group, for that.
And so we had all this data that just pointed exactly what you're saying, that there's this sense from on high that no, this will never be allowable. And then when you poll the people in the pews, they're like, of course, you know, my brother's gay, what are you talking about? They just didn't care. But the on high opinion was, the people will bolt if we do this, so we can't do this. And how do you cross that divide? I don't know, because-- I look right now just within the AME church, I've been following Robbie Perry.
He is a professor in Richmond. No. He is in DC. He's teaching. He's the chair of political science at Howard now. And he's brought up in the DC district another proposal to take out of the AME book of discipline the-- to allow for same sex marriage, to allow ministers, to allow clergy, to be able to perform same sex marriages. He did this in October or November. And he presented it in his conference-- or district, I can't remember which. And they refused to hear it. They wouldn't even take it to committee.
But he came with the full backing of his religious community, his pastor. He had all these signatures. He followed protocol of what you have to do to make it become an agenda item. And they refused to put it on the agenda. And I don't know what to do with that, because this was this October. So we're talking like three months ago, four months ago. So it's not something that-- oh, this was a problem in 2015 in March, and we've gotten away from it. There's still this point from on high that no congregation will be able to sustain the loss if the church, the global church, the body, takes this on. And within traditions that are not autonomous, where there is hierarchy, I think there's real consideration of what to do when you're in spaces where your pew members are ready for the church to be affirming, ready for the church to be open, but the body itself is afraid of the splintering that will occur from spaces and congregations that aren't.
I'm hopeful that a way forward are the fact that we keep doing the work. That we keep having the conversations. That the data that we're polling that shows, actually, there are more people in favor than people against. That will be persuasive to the powers that be. Or that those people who feel this way need to either use the systems within to elect new people to represent them. Or unfortunately, start something different, which is unfortunate.
I think that's a great closing note for us. I think you've given us our marching orders, as well as a really illuminating presentation. I learned so much. Thank you so much.