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social sciences

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Gay and Lesbian Churches and Synagogues  
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Gay Synagogues

The first gay-specific synagogue, Beth Chaim Chadashim, was founded in Los Angeles in 1972, and is still active, with hundreds of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and heterosexual members. Since the Union for Reform Judaism (formerly the Union of American Hebrew Congregations) offers both full membership and the rabbinate to gay and lesbian congregants, few gay-specific synagogues have been organized. The World Congress of GLBT Jews is comprised of 65 organizations in the United States, Europe, Latin America, and Israel, for instance, but most are social, support, and political organizations, not shuls dedicated to prayer and worship.

There are about thirty gay-specific synagogues in North America. Among the best known of these congregations are New York City's Congregation Beth Simchat Torah (founded in 1973), South Florida's Congregation Etz Chaim (1974), Philadelphia's Congregation Beth Ahavah (1975), Chicago's Congregation Or Chadesh (1976), San Francisco's Congregation Sha'ar Zahav (1977), and Toronto's Congregation Keshet Shalom (1978).

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The gay-specific synagogues differ in significant ways from both their mainstream Jewish counterparts and from gay Christian denominations.

Since openly gay and lesbian people are generally not welcome in Conservative and Orthodox congregations but are generally welcomed in Reform and Reconstructionist ones, the gay-specific synagogues often tend toward Orthodoxy in liturgy and practices, even though they are politically affiliated with the Reform or Reconstructionist movements. For instance, they are likely to use Hebrew prayers exclusively instead of mixing Hebrew and English, and to use "g_d" to avoid defaming the name of the Lord, a practice rare among Reform and Reconstructionist Jews.

Gay-specific synagogues are considerably more likely than gay-specific churches to espouse their identity aggressively, instead of depending on euphemism and "reading between the lines." Bet Mispachah (Washington, D. C.), for instance, says: "we are a congregation for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Jews and all who wish to participate in an inclusive, egalitarian, and mutually supportive community." Beth Rachamin (Philadelphia) advertises itself as "A gay voice in the Jewish community, a Jewish voice in the gay community."

This difference between the openness of the gay-specific synagogues and the euphemism of the gay-specific churches may relate to the likelihood of retaliation by non-gay members of the faith communities. Mainstream Reform Jews who stumble upon a gay-specific synagogue are unlikely to respond negatively; but mainstream evangelical Christians, fed on a constant diet of homophobic rhetoric, may well respond with hostility.

Jeffery P. Dennis

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social sciences >> Overview:  African Americans

Glbtq African Americans frequently experience racism in predominantly white glbtq communities and homophobia in heterosexual black society, but the multiple oppressions faced by black glbtq people are now being recognized.

social sciences >> Overview:  Anglicanism / Episcopal Church

The Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal Church in the U. S. A. is a part, has dealt with issues of sexuality in complex ways, not all of them favorable to its glbtq membership.

social sciences >> Overview:  Evangelical Christians

Evangelical Christians, who tend to be fundamentalists and socially conservative, have not been welcoming to glbtq people.

social sciences >> Overview:  Judaism

Different denominations within Judaism have vastly differing opinions on both the inclusion of glbtq people into their communities and the tolerance that should be accorded homosexual acts.

social sciences >> Overview:  Metropolitan Community Church

The Metropolitan Community Church, a Christian denomination founded to minister to the glbtq community, has grown into a worldwide ministry with over 40,000 members in 18 countries.

social sciences >> Overview:  Quakers

The Society of Friends, especially its conservative branch, has been a leader among Christian religious denominations in its acceptance of homosexuality and gay and lesbian identity.

social sciences >> Overview:  Roman Catholicism

Historically, the Roman Catholic Church may be the institution most responsible for the suffering of individuals involved in same-sex sexual relationships.

social sciences >> Overview:  Same-Sex Marriage

Lesbian and gay couples have been fighting for the freedom to marry since the dawn of the modern glbtq struggle for equality; despite some success abroad, progress toward same-sex marriage in the United States has been slow.

social sciences >> Overview:  Southern Baptists

The Southern Baptists have become the most intolerant of the major American religious denominations, especially (but not exclusively) for their opposition to equal rights for gay men and lesbians.

social sciences >> Overview:  Spirituality

Today's glbtq spirituality movements must be seen as part of a long history in which gender-special people were considered sacred to their tribe or family because of their obvious spiritual gifts.

social sciences >> Overview:  Unitarians / Universalists

The Unitarian Universalist church in the United States has been outspoken in support of human rights--including, since 1970, those of the glbtq community.

social sciences >> Overview:  United Church of Christ / Congregationalism

The United Church of Christ has attempted to make its churches a "place of extravagant welcome" for glbtq people.

social sciences >> Bean, Carl

Carl Bean, founder of Unity Fellowship Church, gave up a promising entertainment career to pursue his vocation as a clergyman to minister to glbtq Christians of color.

social sciences >> Hawkes, Brent

Senior Pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto, the Reverend Doctor Brent Hawkes has worked with fervor and dedication to secure equal rights for glbtq Canadians.

social sciences >> Perry, Troy

Troy Perry is the founder of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, a Protestant denomination devoted to ministering to the spiritual needs of glbtq people.


Balka, Christine, and Andy Rose, eds. Twice Blessed: On Being Lesbian or Gay and Jewish. Boston: Beacon Press, 1991.

Comstock, Gary David. Whosoever Church: Welcoming Lesbians and Gay Men into African-American Congregations. Nashville, Tenn.: Westminster John Knox, 2000.

Perry, Troy D., with Thomas L. Swicegood. Don't Be Afraid Anymore: The Story of Reverend Troy D. Perry and the Metropolitan Community Churches. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1992.

Schneer, David, and Caryn Aviv, eds. Queer Jews. New York: Routledge, 2002.

Shokeid, Moshe. Gay Synagogue in New York. New York: Columbia University Press, 1995.

Stuart, Elizabeth. Religion Is a Queer Thing: A Guide to the Christian Faith for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered People. New York: Continuum, 1997.

Tigert, Leanne McCall. Coming Out While Staying In: Struggles and Celebrations of Lesbians, Gays, and Bisexuals in the Church. New York: United Church Press, 1996.

Wilcox, Melissa M. Coming Out in Christianity: Religion, Identity, and Community. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003.


    Citation Information
    Author: Dennis, Jeffery P.  
    Entry Title: Gay and Lesbian Churches and Synagogues  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated June 30, 2008  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  


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