Religious summit to focus on church, LGBTQ relations

The Episcopal Student Center at Sam Houston State University and SHSU Counseling Center have joined together to bridge the gap between the LGBTQ and religious communities.

The organizations will host the LGBTQ Religious Experience Summit this weekend to provide stability to the often shaky relationship between people of faith and members of the LGBTQ community.

“The idea for the LGBTQ Religious Experience Summit first began last year when the students at the Episcopal Student Center began a conversation about what our mission and outreach can and should be in our community,” Trenton Hale, Episcopal Student Center student minister, said. “One of the themes that was recurring for us was the pride we had in being one of the few open and affirming Christian communities in Huntsville and on our college campus.”

The event hopes to broaden the understanding of students on how to reconcile religion with their sexuality, as well as the sexuality of others.

“We want to provide a safe and informed environment where these important and transformative discussions can take place out of a mutual respect for one another,” Hale said.

Reverend Jeff Hood, Ph.D., will give a keynote address about the emergence of queer theology in “The Courage to be Queer: A Theological Exploration.” Beatriz Craven, Ph.D. of the SHSU Counseling Center and Wesley Phelps, Ph.D. of the SHSU history department will run breakout sessions with attendees.

“Also, Breaking the Silence, an LGBT advocacy group within the Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church will be joining us to lead a breakout session about how individuals and groups can go about creating LGBT-welcoming and inclusive faith communities and congregations,” Hale said. “I think that our lineup of presenters will be sure to leave attendees with new insights, resources, ideas and a renewed sense of commitment to this ongoing conversation.”

Many religious organizations still consider the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and asexual communities to be outside of the religious experience, according to Hale. The Episcopal Church of the United States was one of the first protestant denominations to accept members of the LGBTQA community into their theology and practices.

“LGBTQ persons are excluded left and right from their religious homes, all because they wanted to be honest,” Hale said. “These stories of exclusion are what give rise to this notion that being religious and being LGBTQ are mutually exclusive realities. The only thing that can solve this problem are faith communities and LGBTQ people of faith who are courageous enough to break this mold and to do the hard work of living out these two identities.” 

The Episcopal Church was also one of the first to authorize same-sex weddings and ordination the LGBTQ clergy.

“We follow in that living and evolving Anglican tradition by also being an inclusive community,” Hale said. “No matter who you are, whom you love, what you look like, where you’re from, you are welcome at the Episcopal Student Center. We are an intimate community that simply shares our lives in common and recognizes that we are all on the same journey trying to answer life’s difficult questions.”

The LGBTQ Religious Experience Summit will be held Saturday from 1 to 5 p.m. in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences room 140.

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