My “Religions and the World” class at North Carolina Central University (NCCU) — an historically black/college university (HBCU) — has drawn to another close at semester’s end. Like the previous semesters that I’ve taught the class, I am the richer in terms of life experiences and a deeper understanding of many of the world’s faiths and philosophies. Much of this learning does not take place solely through the book we read together as a class or through the various clips of music, rituals and prayers found on other computer links, generated in other parts of the world, those that assist in learning the key points of the religions of the world. What makes this class more than your average, normal, usual campus class is the field trips we make to the various temples, retreat centers, synagogues, churches and mosques in the area. It is the one-on-one meetings and discussions between the religious leaders and representatives of the major world faiths with the students that has made all the difference. For a few hours, the students immerse themselves into the ritual practices, prayers, language and music that may seem, at first, alien, but after a while it all grows upon one’s very being: heart, mind and body.
Unlike other years, this year I asked more the various religious leaders and faith representatives about the place and presence of LGBTQ people in their respective faith communities. I was greatly heartened by the response. At Sri Venkateswara Hindu Temple in Cary, N.C., one of the religious leaders said that there would never be an objection of an LGBTQ person coming to worship and pray to one of the gods. At the Zen Buddhist Retreat Center in Chapel Hill, N.C., LGBTQ people are welcome to come and contemplate and participate in the life of the community, with no sense of discrimination. At Beth El Synagogue in Durham, N.C., the religious educator for this Conservative Jewish community said there would be no objections to an LGBTQ person joining in and being a significant part of the community. One of the associate pastors of First Presbyterian Church, Durham, N.C., knows that many of the Presbyteries of the Presbyterian Church (USA) not only welcome LGBTQ people as members, but as ordained leaders. And the Imam of Duke University’s Muslim Life Center said that where he struggles most with Islam and the teaching of the Koran is in how women and LGBTQ people are perceived, acknowledging that this must change.
In other words, among all the world’s faiths, represented in the Research Triangle of North Carolina, there is a new great openness to LGBTQ individuals, couples, families and allies. While many of these religious communities and their respective leaders would have balked at welcoming LGBTQ people only a few years ago, a new breeze — or dare I call it Spirit — is blowing in the hearts, minds and bodies of these gatherings of the faithful. There is, indeed, hope in the faiths of the world. : :