Two religious leaders in Winnipeg have signed an international interfaith declaration that calls for an end to violence against and criminalization of LGBTTQ+ people and a global ban on conversion therapy.
"I signed because of the relationships I have within the church with transgender and LGBTTQ+ people, people I nurture and care for, just like everyone else in the church," said Geoff Woodcroft, Anglican Bishop of the Diocese of Rupert’s Land.
"When the world is hurting someone, I’m going to stand by that person being hurt."
Bishop Susan Johnson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Canada (ELCIC), headquartered in Winnipeg, signed it because "it reflects the theology, policies and practices of our church."
Woodcroft and Johnson are among 28 Canadian faith leaders who have signed the declaration, sponsored by the Global Interfaith Commission on LGBTTQ+ Lives. Most of them are, like Woodcroft, from the Anglican Church of Canada, including Primate Linda Nicholls and William Cliff, the Bishop of Brandon.
Launched in December, so far the declaration has been signed by over 400 religious leaders from more than 35 countries.
It affirms all human beings of all sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions are a precious part of creation and are part of the natural order. It calls for an end "for all attempts to change, suppress or erase a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression."
It recognizes "with sadness that certain religious teachings have often, throughout the ages, caused and continue to cause deep pain and offense to those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex."
The declaration goes on to say "we acknowledge, with profound regret, that some of our teachings have created, and continue to create, oppressive systems that fuel intolerance, perpetuate injustice and result in violence . . . We ask for forgiveness from those whose lives have been damaged and destroyed on the pretext of religious teaching."
Noting there are about 10 LGBTTQ+ clergy and lay leaders in the Diocese of Rupert’s Land, Woodcroft said signing the declaration was a way to affirm them and show "honour to people God has made in God’s own image."
"We welcome the giftedness of these people," he said.
For Johnson, signing it is a way to show the ELCIC upholds the dignity of all people, respects the value of each person as a unique child of God, and wants to include everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation, as members of the body of Christ and as co-workers in ministry.
"The ELCIC is working to fully become a safe and welcoming place for people of all sexual orientations, gender expressions and gender identities," she said.
Theo Robinson, who identifies as a transgender male, is a priest with the Diocese of Rupert’s Land, serving as an incumbent at St. Michael’s Anglican Parish in Victoria Beach, and pastor with the Interlake Regional Shared Ministry of the ELCIC.
For Robinson, by signing the declaration Woodcroft and Johnson are showing they "see us as people who deserve to be treated with love and kindness, not as something to be fixed."
Robinson hopes the declaration itself is a sign of progress for the treatment of the LGBTTQ+ community by faith groups, including with regards to marriage and the "de-gendering of liturgy" in the Anglican Church of Canada.
It could also make LGBTTQ+ people feel more welcome by religious groups, Robinson said, since many see religion as something that believes "being queered is something to be hidden, ashamed of or fixed."
Other religious leaders who want to sign the declaration, publicly or privately, can do so at www.globalinterfaith.lgbt.
John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.