Guest Post: Pagans at the Clergy Call for Justice and Equality

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[The following is a guest post by David Salisbury and Iris Firemoon. They are both clergy with The Firefly House, a nature-based church that works to build community through environmental awareness, education, spirituality, and service. In addition, David heads up the Pagan Newswire Collective’s Washington D.C. bureau (aka Capital Witch) of which Iris is a contributor.]

This piece is presented as two narratives, the first from David Salisbury, the second from Iris Firemoon.

David Salisbury:

On Sunday through Tuesday, Iris Firemoon and myself had the pleasure of attending Clergy Call for Justice and Equality, a biennial conference sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign. This year, nearly 300 faith leaders from every state in the country gathered to discuss the state of LGBT issues in America. The main message of Clergy Call is that religion is no longer a means to hinder the growth of civil rights issues. Instead, it is a way to advance the concept that equality is for all people born of the divine. This was shown in the representation of more than twenty faith traditions. Clergy Call is likely the largest gathering of clergy to discuss and advocate for LGBT issues, in the world. This year’s conference is of interest to our community as it was the first time that Pagans were there and joined with leaders of the more mainstream faith traditions to advocate for these issues.

Many of us would agree that it can be difficult for Pagans to get an equal seat at the table of any interfaith effort. Upon meeting with these faith leaders (most of whom were from some Christian denomination), I found it hard to think of why this might be the case. Throughout the conference there were several instances where we were asked to split up by state groups. Iris and I attended breakout session with residents of both DC and Maryland. In these settings, it became clear that not only were we the only Pagans there, but we were the only non-Christians as well. And you know what? It didn’t matter in the slightest. When the opportunity came for us all to discuss our religious backgrounds, no one seemed to bat an eye when we said we represented a Wiccan church and were there to do our best to represent different traditions of Paganism. They had some questions, yet they were all kind and presented with a genuine curiosity and intrigue. Dinner on Monday night landed me in a heavy theological discussion on profound religious experiences with an episcopal pastor. I felt like I was chatting with any other High Priest about the mysteries of the divine. I have always thought that what we call “the mysteries” transcend religious borders and this experiences cemented that belief for me.

David Salisbury with other Maryland-based clergy.

In our conference sessions we viewed presentations on everything from youth homelessness to the legacy of civil rights leader Bayard Rustin. Our pens were busy with activity as we learned new ways to bring the spirit of openness and unity to our various congregations throughout the country. No matter our area or faith, concerns of the safety of youth, employment protections, and marriage equality were shared by all.

Tuesday was the final day of the conference and was set aside to lobby state senators and representatives on various pieces of equality legislation and to share the stories of our congregations. As I marched across capitol hill with a rabbi to my right and a methodist minister to my left, we sang out prayers of blessing and and strength for our meetings ahead. It was quite a sight to see both the senate and house offices filled with people of faith discussing important issues with legislators from every state. I would venture to say its unlikely that Pagans have ever participated in an organized lobbying day with such a religiously diverse crowd.

As the sun set on a ten hour day of lobbying, I was left with two powerful feelings. The first was pride in knowing that I participated in the civic process for issues that are important to me. The second (and one that I’ll never forget) was the satisfaction of having made friends and professional contacts with clergy from more faith traditions than I ever thought possible. Knowing that there are people of faith out there willing to work together to bring about justice brings me feelings of both hope and power. For this reason, I highly recommend that Pagans get more proactive in being involved with interfaith work of any kind. Though it may seem daunting at first, you’re likely to find the experience both pleasant and fulfilling. Though the mill of this work still turns, progress is being made and we should certainly be part of it.

David Salisbury
LGBT Ministry, The Firefly House

Iris Firemoon:

I had the honor to join David Salisbury from CapitalWitch.com at the Clergy Call of the Human Rights Campaign to talk about activism in justice and equality in not only the LGBT community, but for all people. It was an incredible experience to sit in the pews with representatives from all 50 states, including a delegation of four from Hawaii. It struck us that this event was so important that someone came from Alaska and four people came from Hawaii. We just had to get on the Metro, but people crossed oceans and flew through Canada to be here. And, we were the first Pagans to be present at this gathering of faith leaders from all over the country. We were in a room with people who had been fighting for civil rights for all people for decades. Notable civil rights activists, who when spotted in the crowd, the presenters had to stop in the middle of a speech and ask for a round of applause.

Gathered clergy at the HRC Clergy Call.

Rev. Elder Darlene Garner gave the invocation, and in her words rang true a common theme, “We are not truly free until we are all free.” In the speeches and in the conversations with Clergy Call participants, the notion that we were fighting for LGBT rights was a part of this larger issue of total freedom. These rights that transcend sexuality, or that because one’s rights often find themselves based around one’s gender and sexual orientation conformity, we are fighting for the equal rights of all. We weren’t just standing up for LGBT rights, we were standing up for Black rights, Latino rights, worker’s rights, women’s rights, immigration reform, healthcare reform, religious freedom, resources for mental health, resources for folks who find themselves homeless, and so much more. We were standing up for the rights of all of us to be who we are, no matter our religion, our skin color, our sexual orientation, our gender, our gender identity, our age, or our disability. LGBT was the front of this movement, because there was action here, but this wasn’t the only focus. Joe Solemnese, the President of the Human Rights Campaign, stated that a poll taken said 86 percent of people said that their faith made then believe that all people deserve equal rights, including LGBT folks.

So, as a straight Pagan faith leader who is an ally of the LGBT community, I am not just fighting for the rights of my fellow humans, my fellow Americans, my fellow women, and my fellow Pagans, but I am fighting for my own rights. It was mentioned how we often draw the line in the sand and say that we’re only going to help Pagans. Only going to help women. Only going to help Black people. Only going to help those in the LGBT community. Only going to help those like me. But, we’re all in this together. And, we just have to help.

One of the first sessions we attended was a talk about LGBT homelessness in youth. A good majority of homeless youth are homeless because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Right off the bat, I was asking myself what I could do. What can we as Pagan faith communities do for these homeless youth? And, in a lunch presentation about military families, and how LGBT partners of soldiers who die in the line of duty are often cut out of the support provided for the family. In one example, because one family did not recognize the sexual orientation of their child as valid, a partner was not permitted by the family of a deceased service member to see the body or attend the funeral. And, our system is set up to allow that to happen, because the partner was not legally recognized. So, a group of folks got together and started providing support to those LGBT military families who find themselves cut off from support when their loved one dies. I ask myself what the Pagan community can do to help. In a breakout session, I paired up with a Methodist clergy person from Minnesota, and she told me about folks who are legally married in their states, but their partners face deportation, because the federal government doesn’t recognize same sex partners as sponsors. Again, I asked myself what we as a Pagan community could do to help.

David and I spoke with a transgender minister from Seattle who had taken in a transgender community member who had fallen on hard times. The deal had been a place to stay for two weeks, but that two weeks turned into six weeks with no way out. The minister said that after coming to Clergy Call, him and his wife knew that they had given all that they could give, and it would be time to ask their company to leave. And, this vibrated with me, because I kept thinking of ways that the Pagan community could help without putting ourselves in too deep that we loose ourselves.

I found a few ideas that I am going to act on as ways to be active, to engage in work that bring all of us closer to freedom without loosing myself. I will share some of them as I explore options for helping, so that you, too, might feel engaged to lend a hand. To give. To serve. To be a part of healing this bigger human community. Because we were the first Pagans to sit in this delegation of faith leaders, we have a responsibility to bring back to our faith community these mechanisms for change. Yes, we were the first, but that came with much responsibility to act.

Iris Firemoon
High Priestess, The Firefly House

I’d like to thank both Iris and David for participating and reporting on this historic first for the Pagan community. As Pagan academic and author Michael York said, “freedom has to be the highest pagan goal and virtue.” By making our voices heard, by showing up, by becoming a part of the conversation, we further the goals of working towards freedom and equality for all people, and all faiths.