The Religious Institute calls for a world that welcomes, affirms, and fully includes lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people. Across the globe, many LGBTQ persons face violence, discrimination, and persecution that is too often enacted in the name of religion. Here, you can learn more about the struggle of LGBTQ persons in African countries and the importance of U.S. communities of faith standing in solidarity, action, and support. We hope that the Gilead Sabbath will help U.S. congregations actualize their commitments to LGBTQ equality and global sexual justice – empowering people of faith to counter dehumanizing religious messages, raise awareness of global LGBTQ violence and persecution, and take action alongside LGBTQ activists and people of faith across the globe.
“Loving, just communities embrace everyone; they are strengthened when all people are able to live fully and express their gender and sexuality with holiness and integrity.” –Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Sexual and Gender Diversity
What is the Gilead Sabbath Initiative?
The Gilead Sabbath Initiative is a major initiative to engage U.S. based congregations in education, prayer, and advocacy to support human rights for LGBTQ people globally. Educate: As people of faith, we are called to witness the violence, persecution, and discrimination faced by LGBTQ persons too often perpetrated in the name of faith. Pray: the Gilead Sabbath Initiative invites people of faith to reflection and prayer in their communities – enacting in worship their commitments to holding the tensions of the world, preaching words of love, and working toward justice. Advocate: The Gilead Sabbath Initiative calls U.S. congregations to social and political action – advocating for an end to policies that deny basic human rights to LGBTQ people and the misuse of religion to support such human rights violations.
Our hope is that, from the Gilead Sabbath Initiative, religion will emerge as a voice for justice and love in the lives of LGBTQ people worldwide.
What can we do?
Educate yourself and your community of faith about the persecution & violence LGBTQ people face. Read our fact sheet. Share a flyer with your faith community. Posts facts on social media with #GileadSabbath. Watch a documentary or miniseries. Learn about the exportation of homophobia and transphobia. Witness the stories of LGBTQ people in Africa. Share these resources with your congregation. Host a religious education group. Visit our Education Resources page for more information.
Observe a Gilead Sabbath. Organize an entire worship service around the global LGBTQ struggle for justice. Say a prayer, offer a responsive reading, or sing a hymn acknowledging the experiences of LGBTQ people in our world. Give a sermon about the role of people of faith in global LGBTQ justice. Include LGBTQ people in Africa in your prayers of the people or petitions. Place educational information in your bulletin or website. Share prayers on social media with #GileadSabbath. Visit our Worship Resources page for more information.
Take action for global LGBTQ justice. Support the work of LGBTQ activists on the ground. Assist LGBTQ asylum seekers in your area. Urge your elected officials to use their power for global LGBTQ justice. Speak out against the exportation of sexual prejudice. Support African LGBTQ organizations. Support the work of global LGBTQ justice organizations. Share calls to action on social media with #GileadSabbath. Visit our Social Action Resources page for more information.
Connect with others committed to global LGBTQ justice. Tell us about your Gilead Sabbath. Post your Gilead Sabbath sermon/homily/message . Share facts, prayers, or action items on social media. Share stories and pictures from your Gilead Sabbath on social media with #GileadSabbath. Join in a conversation with other progressive religious leaders. Share how your congregation has witnessed and responded to the experiences of LGBTQ people across the globe.
Why should my faith community care?
First, because Africans have asked for our support. In 2014, a group of scholars and theologians from across Africa released The KwaZulu Natal Declaration – calling the African continent to action and reflection on human sexuality, religion, and equality. The document also calls on international and community partners “…to respect while supporting Africa’s journey and process toward a better understanding of human sexuality and socio-economic, political and religious inclusion of sexual minorities.” The Gilead Sabbath Initiative seeks to respond to this call.
Second, despite the fact that conservative U.S. religious perspectives bear much responsibility for exporting homophobia and transphobia around the world, few religious groups in the U.S. have been actively involved in opposing these violations of human rights in Africa. Congregations and religious leaders in the U.S. have been reluctant to call out the connection between conservative religious views in the U.S. and anti-LGBTQ laws in Africa and other parts of the world. There has been surprisingly little engagement, solidarity, or public support for African LGBTQ people among people of faith in the U.S. Yet, we know that combatting religiously-based discrimination is best done from a religious perspective. It is past time for there to be an organized multifaith effort in the U.S. to engage these issues. Communities of faith must become engaged in the struggle to fight the global oppression of LGBTQ people and to work for global sexual justice. Sixty nationally recognized religious leaders have joined together to encourage faith communities to participate in the Gilead Sabbath Initiative. Learn more here.
What is the source of LGBTQ persecution in African countries?
African history cannot properly be told without mentioning the violent invasions and interventions of Western powers in African lands in the 18th through 21st centuries. These realities transformed the face of Africa and forced upon African people outside cultures, standards of living, and moral ideals. Moreover, these imposed traditions replaced and rewrote existing, richly diverse African histories, traditions, beliefs, and practices of sexual diversity, same-sex sexual relations, and non-binary gender expression. In recent years, many U.S.-based conservative religious leaders have reinvigorated efforts to impose Western ideas on African cultures. Though proselytizing, funding, and supporting homophobia and transphobia in the name of religion; many conservative U.S. religious organizations have encouraged the creation of punitive laws, cultural stigma, and violent rejection of LGBTQ persons in African countries.
Why do we call this a Gilead Sabbath?
The Religious Institute named this new program the Gilead Sabbath Initiative to signal its grounding in sacred text and religious tradition. In the biblical book of Jeremiah, the prophet mourns for the people of Judah, saying, “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?” (Jeremiah 8:22, NRSV). Gilead was a region of Judah famous for its healing balm or salve. Jeremiah’s lament highlights the irony of the people’s spiritual sickness in a land where healing for physical ailments is already available. Today in many African countries, the situation is similar. The message of love and justice in faith traditions is being distorted into a spiritually devastating message that has led to the persecution of LGBTQ people. “Gilead” can also be translated as “hill of testimony and witness.” The Religious Institute has designed the Gilead Sabbath Initiative to promote healing and restoration by motivating U.S. people of faith to challenge negative religious messages with positive advocacy of justice for LGBTQ people in African countries and worldwide.
Religious Institute Resources
Learn more about African LGBTQ Organizations
Learn more about Global LGBTQ Justice Organizations
A Word of Thanks
A special thank you to our Gilead Sabbath Advisory committee members for their assistance and consultation in the development of the Gilead Sabbath Initiative. They are: Dr. Michael Adee of the Global Faith and Justice Project, Angel Collie of Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), Ann Craig of The Fellowship Global, Bruce Knotts of the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office, Adina Mermelstein Konikoff of American Jewish World Service, and Rev. Joseph Tolton of The Fellowship Global.
A Note on Language
Across the African continent, there are many different ways that those who we call “LGBTQ people” refer to themselves. Many use LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex), the term used by the United Nations and international policy communities. Many Africans also identify as “queer.” Others use the term LGBT. In some countries, entire communities refer to themselves as “homosexual” or as “gays and lesbians.” Additionally, in many countries and regions, communities identify their sexuality or gender identity using terms outside of the LGBTIQ initials. In Uganda, for example, many same-sex attracted and transgender people identify as “Kuchu.” In the context of the Gilead Sabbath Initiative materials, we have used the term LGBTQ throughout, except where we were referring to how specific communities or individuals self-identify. This is the term the Religious Institute uses but recognizes that there is no one term that encapsulates the rich diversity of African people or their sexual and gender identities.