Organized religion has not been kind to the LGBT communities. Traditional Judaism, Christianity and Islam treated sexual and gender diversity as “abominations” worthy of death or worse.
This did not prevent LGBT people from expressing their spirituality, either within the faith that they were raised in or in other spiritual directions. Queer communities of faith are found all over the world, even in countries that do not welcome us. Some of us worship in mainstream temples, churches and mosques while others have joined or formed spiritual groups with a specifically-LGBT outreach.
The largest LGBT-friendly religious organization in the world is also one of the oldest. The Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches was founded by Rev. Troy D. Perry in Los Angeles on October 6, 1968.
According to the web site (MCCChurch.org) the MCC “has been at the vanguard of civil and human rights movements” and “was the first to perform same-gender marriages.”
According to historian Fred Fejes, “the MCC congregation was often the first visible gay organization formed in a number of cities. It had a rapid growth and by 1977 there were over eighty active congregations across America, making it the largest national gay organization at the time” and for decades after.
The Sunshine Cathedral, Fort Lauderdale’s MCC affiliate (SunshineCathedral.org), is large enough to be considered a megachurch, even by mainstream standards. Founded in 1971 as the Church of the Holy Spirit MCC, the Sunshine Cathedral grew under the leadership of four energetic pastors: Rev. Ted Calloway, Rev. Elder John Gill, Rt. Rev. Grant Lynn Ford and Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins.
Today the Sunshine Cathedral has gone beyond its original outreach, ministering to heterosexuals and non-Christians and serving the community as a whole as a venue for the performing arts.
Though the Sunshine Cathedral MCC is one of our community’s triumphs, its southern sister, Miami’s Christ MCC, was not as successful. Christ MCC was founded in 1970, making it one of the first churches outside California.
According to Fejes, “by the end of the year it had over two hundred members and served as the hub of a growing, visible community.” Under the leadership of Rev. Keith Davis and Rev, Joseph H. Gilbert, Christ MCC supported the then-unsuccessful attempt (1977) to bring sexual minority rights to Miami-Dade County.
Rev. Gilbert, a veteran of the MCC and the gay rights movement, was one of two MCC ministers who honored me by being my friend - the other one being Rev, Grant Lynn Ford. (See Rev. Gilbert’s biography in LGBTReligiousArchives.org.) Soon after the Miami-Dade debacle Gilbert left Christ MCC over a dispute with the board and briefly ran his own church, Emmaus MCC, on Miami Beach. As for Christ MCC, it managed to exist for two decades until it finally dissolved.
Though Christ MCC is gone, its Jewish stepchild, Congregation Etz Chaim, continues to flourish today. According to historian James T. Sears, the synagogue began its career in 1974 when, “through the support and encouragement of Keith Davis, Bob Basker along with B. Jay Freier and his roommate, Phil Wallach, helped form the Etz Chaim - the Tree of Life - congregation.”
For many years CEC also went by the name of Metropolitan Community Synagogue in honor of the group that helped give it birth. Like the Sunshine Cathedral, Congregation Etz Chaim’s outreach goes beyond LGBT Jews, serving spouses, parents, families and friends as well as anyone who feels at home in this community of faith.