Re-Activating a Network of Religious Leaders at the Intersection of Radical Difference

We say their names, because they are ours!  Members of the NRLR read the 49 names who were killed at the Pulse shooting.
We say their names, because they are ours! Members of the NRLR read the 49 names who were killed at the Pulse shooting.

In the last week of November, the National LGBTQ Task Force invited members of the 18-year standing National Religious Leaders’ Roundtable to convene in Orlando, Florida. The Task Force chose Orlando as its site of reactivating the NRLR in partnership with Equality FL. With attention to the existing violence against LGBTQ persons and people of color, the Task Force knew the importance to include a visit to the site where 49 LGBTQ persons of color were massacred. As a group, we traveled to the public site of mourning and held a ritual of remembrance and lamented that we continue to live in an age of unprecedented violence against those who have been most impacted by systems of dominance. This 2 day convening included many new voices, many of whom are of color.

The driving force for including new voices of color was the steering committee’s commitment to the importance for a majority people of color to constitute the NRLR in its reactivation. Historically, the NRLR has been comprised of Executive Directors for progressive LGBT organization, many of whom are white. Noting that having a racial supremacy as the voice of the religious LGBT movement, not only minimized and diminished voices of color, but it also silenced the voices of queers of color in the LGBT movement and normalized the religious narrative into a stable expression of Christian hegemony and a culture of whiteness.

As the NRLR was meeting in an effort to reactive, we must also note that last week was filled with protests, unnecessary death, and lament. While the ongoing violation of indigenous lands continued at Standing Rock, yet another school shooting took place at Ohio State University. The officer who fatally shot Keith Scott was not indicted, stoking an all-too-familiar anger at police brutality in this country. All of these heartaches transpired against the backdrop of a bigoted President-Elect, whose administration has mainstreamed and furthermore emboldened white supremacy and was supported by over 80 percent of White evangelical Christians.

One of the driving questions as we convened was “Why NRLR Now?” As a group comprised of many differences, we all resonated with the need to curate a different religious voice to be heard in the United States, and the National Religious Leadership Roundtable seeks to be the vehicle to make that happen.

What we need is a anti-racist, anti-oppression, and a deeply intersectional network of religious leaders comprised of radical difference to counter the existing religious narrative of the religion of white supremacy. The NRLR is striving to become a network comprised of radical difference to oppose the incoming administration and to provide a different vision of what it means to be religious in the United States. To this end, the steering committee took seriously the white majority that perpetuated Christian hegemony that has historically dominated the original NRLR. The decision was made to invite secular humanists, Muslims, Jews, and those of moral conscience who know that religion can be a vehicle for radical social change.

NRLR seeks to present a religious viewpoint to counter the white Christian dominance that has historically threatened people of color, reproductive rights, and LGBTQ justice. This is vital, as religious spaces have often served as locations of refuge, resistance, and care for oppressed people in times of distress. We want to encourage and strengthen other religious leaders and institutions who share our vision to do justice in any way they can.

We also want to shift the narrative of religion in this country. For too long, there has been an assumption that being religious in America meant being white, Christian, and conservative. The reality is far more complex. There are people of deep, vibrant faith who are pro-choice, who believe that LGBTQ people are an invaluable expression of the divine, who believe that people should earn livable wages, and should have access to whatever medical care they need. There are also people who are not practitioners of religion who possess the moral vigor and courage to fight for justice.

The time for NRLR is now. It is time to reclaim the narrative of religious from those who use religion as a weapon of faith, and instead use our moral courage as a means to advance justice.

This post was a collaborative effort by Verdell A. Wright and Robyn Henderson-Espinoza. Verdell is a doctoral student at Howard University and a religious leader in the DC area and Dr. Robyn Henderson-Espinoza is the Public Theologian in Residence at the Nashville Based Faith Matters Network and Visiting Assistant Professor of Ethics at the Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley, CA. Robyn is a member of the steering committee of the LGBTQ Task Force’s NRLR.

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