For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, and I know it well.” (Psalm 139:113-114)
Each one of us ± regardless of sexuality, gender or gender identity ± is fearfully and wonderfully made by God and known by God. In March, I joined with 150 other religious leaders, academics and lay leaders from 30 countries and a wide range of faith backgrounds to affirm this truth. The purpose of our gathering was to share research and first-hand experiences of LGBTQ2S+ people within faith institutions and to ensure safeguarding for members of this community in the religious arena.
Our speakers included Archbishop Linda Nicholls, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, as well as the Chief Rabbi of Poland, Michael Schudrich, and the former president of Ireland, Mary McAleese. Delegates came from Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist and Indigenous faith traditions.
A key concern of our gathering was the harm done through the practice of conversion therapy. Conversion therapy consists of “any practice or sustained effort that has the effect of denying, repressing, discouraging or changing a person’s non-heterosexual sexual orientation, non-cisgender gender identity or gender expression.” Conference delegates from the United Nations shared reports showing “significantly higher levels of suicide, suicidal thoughts and self-harm” among those who have undergone conversion therapy than among LGBTQ2S+ people in those countries who have not. More troubling, we know that conversion therapy is “often encouraged and practiced by parents, healthcare professionals and religious leaders.”
Here in Canada, in a 2019 national study, more than 10 per cent of queer and trans youth reported undergoing some form of conversion therapy, often in religious settings. Thankfully, the House of Commons voted unanimously in December 2021 to prohibit conversion therapy. The legislation passed quickly through the Senate, received royal assent, and became law in January 2022.
By the end of the conference, the delegates were able to agree to six “safeguarding principles,” designed to protect people who are rejected by their religious communities because of their sexuality or gender identity. The six principles are:
Empowerment: We believe all individuals are made in the image of God, whom many call Divine, and should be free to live a life of dignity, consistent with their sexuality and gender identity, within their faith communities without fear or judgement.
Prevention: We believe that we have a duty of care towards all LGBT+ people [LGBTQ2S+ in our context] and so we commit ourselves to listen to the experiences of our LGBT+ members in order to identify and eradicate any harmful practice that inhibits the flourishing of us all.
Proportionality: We recognize that for too long the needs of our LGBT+ members have often been ignored and side-lined, and so we commit to ensuring that LGBT+ people are always given a fair voice.
Protection: We recognize that many LGBT+ people face significant discrimination, rejection and hatred, and so we commit to work to protect all LGBT+ people from harm, wherever it occurs in both religious and secular contexts.
Partnership: We recognize that for far too long those of us who are LGBT+ have been excluded from decisions that impact our lives, and so we commit to always work in partnership so that together we can prevent, detect and report spiritual abuse.
Accountability: We believe that no one is above the law and there must always be transparency in all areas of safeguarding, so commit to work with our LGBT+ members to regularly monitor progress.
I encourage us to live into these six principles in our own churches in the Diocese of Toronto. Ensuring safe space for all people will create communities of love and compassion for all and build the Body of Christ that has need of all its members. (1 Corinthians 12) This is one step toward living more deeply into our baptismal promise, “to strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being.”