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Other Sheep Discusses LGBT Community, Christianity at Central Baptist Church

Elizabeth Vollmer

evollmer@eastern.edu

 

On Saturday evening, January 18, Central Baptist Church in Wayne, PA, hosted an event featuring the work of nonprofit LGBT Christian organization, Other Sheep. Central Baptist in Wayne is attended by many faculty and students at Eastern University.

Founded in 1992 by Rev. Dr. Thomas Hanks, Other Sheep “works worldwide for the full inclusion of LGBT people of faith within their respective faith traditions.” On Saturday, Other Sheep executive director Steve Parelli gave a presentation on the organization’s work, along with Steve’s husband and Other Sheep Africa/Asia coordinator, Jose Ortiz, and Joey Stalnaker, an Other Sheep Missioner to the Pennsylvania German community. The primary work of Other Sheep is “connecting people with people, and people with resources,” says Parelli. Ortiz and Parelli have traveled to South America, Asia and Africa, meeting with churches and religious leaders to help educate people on the intersection of religion and homosexuality.

Parelli and Ortiz use their own stories when teaching others abroad about the reconciliation of religion and homosexuality. The two men met while attending a Baptist support group for individuals who were gay, and were taught to believe that homosexuality was an illness one could be healed from. However, Parelli recalls waking up one morning and wondering whether the church was wrong in its approach to the LGBT community. Parelli and Ortiz then began a journey of accepting themselves as they were, while still remaining members of the Christian faith. This journey is a complicated one, they admit, but “I think it is okay to be on a journey of asking questions,” says Parelli.

Other Sheep sheds light on and educates the public about what it means to be a part of the LGBT community, and how laws should not be based on religious opinion, especially if they are endangering the lives of its citizens. Other Sheep has impacted religious communities all over the world. Through the work of Other Sheep, a Ugandan pastor says, “I see Parliament cannot make laws based on religious teachings,” referring to laws that discriminate and endanger the lives of those that identify with the LGBT community. A woman in Rwanda told Other Sheep, “Now I understand that homosexuality is not a choice.” Parelli says of working overseas, “The greatest resource we have as LGBT people of faith is people…the best resources are already over there, waiting for [networking].”

Joey Stalnaker, a member of Other Sheep and a missioner to the Pennsylvania German community since 2011, has also worked to connect people with resources. Once a closeted gay man in a strict Baptist community, Stalnaker understands how thepressure members of the LGBT community feel in such an environment. In order to provide help and information, Stalnaker produces a blog to reach out to this specific community and open up conversations about homosexuality and religion. Stalnaker says about working locally, “You might not know someone in Africa or Asia, but you might know someone down the street. Share resources here.”

To find out more about Other Sheep, and to learn how to contribute to their work at home and abroad, visit their website at www.othersheep.org.

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