On Monday morning, while the rest of the world celebrated the birth of civil rights crusader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a small group of young people from all across the country gathered in the tiny Greenpoint Reform Church nursery on Milton Street, with a civil rights mission of their own. Monday marked the last day of a weekend-long workshop sponsored by the Sanctuary Collective, an LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) advocacy organization dedicated to rallying for equal rights in Christian communities. The nine workshop participants traveled from places near and far, from Michigan to Mississippi,
California to Connecticut, Washington State to right here in Bushwick, where Sanctuary Collective Co-Founder Brian Murphy resides.
Just over a year old, the Sanctuary Collective is designed to provide a network and forum for LGBTQ young people to reconcile their sexuality, gender identity and religious affiliation, and fight for equal rights, both within and outside the framework of institutionalized religion. Sanctuary Collective is primarily interested in community building and organizing for justice, peace and acceptance within Christian communities. The weekend workshop featured theological training, bible study sessions that highlight issues such as racism, poverty, immigration and exclusion.
“With the Sanctuary Collective, we are attempting to create a space that allows individual LGBT people who were raised Christian and don’t want to leave their behind. So long as queer people are being excluded, the church isn’t reaching its full potential. It is missing out on crucial lessons about life, faith and god,” Murphy said. “Lots of these young adults grew up in environments where they were made to feel that they are the only ones. We want them to see that they aren’t alone, and that they can change their communities for the better. That’s why we talk about progressive theology—there is a long tradition of justice work within Christianity, and we study the modern-day liberation folks and talk about non-violence, civil rights, intersections of class, race and immigration—how we can work on all of those systems of oppression, in the context of the Bible.”
Murphy’s goal is ultimately, through the involvement of individuals, help break down the intrinsic barrier that exists between religion and LGBTQ culture; he insists that there doesn’t have to be a separation, though many of the Sanctuary Collective members were always made to choose one. He also aims to highlight the potential that religion and religious institutions have as agents for equality and peace, rather than catalysts for divisiveness. But it certainly isn’t easy.
Murphy grew up in the suburbs of Maryland, attending an Evangelical Presbyterian church from a very young age. However, once he started to identify as LGBTQ, he lost touch with the church for many years, and rediscovering his faith proved to be a challenge—though one that was ultimately well worth the journey.
“I remember looking up in the back of my bible homosexuality. In Leviticus, it says ‘an abomination.’ But as I studied more about it, I started looking at the effects of what it means to be anti-gay and what it means to be inclusive,” Murphy said. “It became clear that the closet brings shame, and often loss of faith, depression and isolation. Anti-gay theology leads to people not being protected from physical violence, and their relationships not being recognized. But when I look at folks who have come out, I see a restoration of their sanity, and reclamation of their faith. Jesus says in the Bible, you can judge a tree by its fruits. It became clear that accepting one’s gender identity and sexuality, it bears fruit: personal agency and choice. It calls us to be agents of justice and peace.”
Apart from their annual workshop, the Sanctuary Collective does a great deal of work throughout the year, including prayer; continuing discussions about social justice issue and faith via an online message board and a weekly conference call; and weekly meetings in Bushwick called “community night.” In addition, not all participants in the Sanctuary Collective are LGBTQ, or even Christian—all allies are welcome.
“Here we all have a chance to bond, connect and dream big dreams,” Murphy said. “Dreams for our communities, and all other LGBTQ individuals.”