We’re honored to have many people of faith active in our campaign for the freedom to marry in Oregon. Despite the perception that people of faith oppose marriage equality, there are many denominations that are vocal in their support. We have a proud partnership with Community of Welcoming Congregations (CWC), and have formed an inter-faith leadership team committed to lifting up the pro-marriage equality faith voice and educating the LGBT community on the tremendous support the faith community provides.
This week, we’d like to introduce you to Rev. Tara Wilkins, Executive Director of the Community of Welcoming Congregations
Tara, tell us a bit about The Community of Welcoming Congregations
CWC is an interfaith association of religious and spiritual communities working for the full inclusion and equality of LGBTQ persons, and to support the LGBTQ community in finding spiritual home. CWC was founded in 1993 by a group of clergywomen who declared their six congregations to be sanctuary for the LGB community. Throughout the years, CWC grew in mission and purpose and today CWC has 119 congregations throughout Oregon and SW Washington.
What kind of work does the CWC do now?
Our work includes supporting congregations on their journey between being open and being affirming and advocating for public policy that affects the LGBTQ community – which includes religious organizing during ballot measures and legislative cycles. We also provide pastoral care & support for LGBTQ persons, including LGBT clergy.
How’d you get involved in the area of LGBT justice?
I got involved in LGBT justice when I came out as a lesbian and realized that there were some religious leaders who were lying about the Bible and who were spiritually misleading people. I felt – and still feel – that we must tell our community that those lies aren’t true, that God is love and that you are as you were created to be.
What do you like best about your job?
The best part of my job is witnessing the personal transformations that happen. Sometimes it’s people in a congregation who suddenly get it. Sometimes it’s watching public officials realize the need for equality and get bolder in their support. But perhaps the best part is working with youth and young adults who are just learning that you can be gay AND Christian or religious or spiritual. I’ve been at the hospital bedside of someone who is suicidal reassuring them that God loves them. It’s a powerful experience.
What is something about yourself or your job that surprises people?
One thing that surprises people about my job is that it’s harder for me to be Christian in the gay community than it is to be lesbian in my home church. But I feel that it’s important to remind people of the importance of tending to our whole selves… sexual, emotional, intellectual and spiritual.
Why do you think marriage equality is important?
Marriage matters because it’s how we define family. Many clergy and religious traditions affirm the freedom to marry for LGBT couples. All adult couples should have access to civil marriage. It frustrates me that some religious people work so hard against equality because they’ll never have to officiate for a same-gender loving wedding if they don’t want to.
Is it challenging being a faith leader in a fairly secular state?
I love the diversity of religious expression here in Oregon. What’s sometimes a challenge is that people underestimate the power of religious arguments to effect change. I also think that “the church” is transforming into something else, but we don’t yet know what that is. The language of the culture has changed, but the church is still evolving.
What do you think is the role of faith organizations in the area of LGBT equality and marriage equality?
Because the primary argument against marriage equality is religious, people of faith have an important role in speaking up for equality. We must come out as people of faith who affirm LGBTQ people and work diligently so that others aren’t successful at playing the God card.
Who most inspires you – in your life, and in your work?
I am inspired by people who dare to be all of who they are in spite, sometimes, of the consequences; people who stand up or speak out. That’s part of what speaks to me about Jesus and Christianity. Sister Joan Chittister, the trans community, and my grandkids are people who inspire me!