Washington, D.C. — People of faith have long been at the forefront of social change across the United States, fighting for equality, justice, and an end to discrimination. With another year of regressive policies coming from the White House and state legislatures, people of faith have never had a more critical role to play.
Today, the Center for American Progress named nine faith leaders to watch in 2019. Through their work, these extraordinary leaders have proposed powerful visions to reform the criminal justice system, advance climate justice, dismantle systemic racism, and more. Some have been fighting for justice for decades, while others have found their calling more recently. Some are already well known, while others are making waves from behind the scenes. These leaders all play a pivotal role in fostering bold, progressive policies to create a more just world.
While the faith leaders to watch list is announced annually, this year CAP decided to focus on LGBTQ leaders, given the significant challenges that the LGBTQ community has faced. From a recent vote in the United Methodist Church to strengthen its ban on marriage for same-sex couples and LGBTQ clergy to the Trump administration’s rollback of nondiscrimination protections under the flimsy guise of religious liberty, these faith leaders are playing a critical role in resisting injustice and articulating a moral vision for the nation.
The nine leaders to watch are:
Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons, progressive Christian writer, activist, and deacon, Louisville, Kentucky.
Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons is a leading voice in calling for a more just world under the Trump administration. After the 2016 election cycle, Graves-Fitzsimmons launched The Resistance Prays, a now widely popular daily devotional for progressive Christians. He is currently a senior media associate at ReThink Media and a campaign consultant for Faithful America and serves as a deacon at Highland Baptist Church in Louisville.
Abby Stein, Jewish educator, writer, speaker, and activist, New York City.
Abby Stein works to raise support and awareness for transgender rights and for those who leave the ultra-Orthodox community. Stein left her Hasidic community in 2012, and in 2015, Stein came out as a “woman of trans experience.” Across the United States and throughout more than a dozen other countries, Stein has worked with organizations such as Transfaith to share her story. Currently, she serves on the steering committee of the Women’s March.
The Rev. Naomi Washington-Leapheart, faith work director, National LGBTQ Task Force, Philadelphia.
The Rev. Naomi Washington-Leapheart is an ordained minister affiliated with the Fellowship of Affirming Ministries. She works to unveil the ways that religious freedom has been misused as an instrument of white Christian supremacy, trains LGBTQ people in faith-based activism, and advocates on behalf of vulnerable people in support of federal nondiscrimination protections. She currently serves as the faith work director for the National LGBTQ Task Force, the nation’s oldest LGBTQ advocacy organization.
The Rev. Dr. Nancy Petty, pastor, Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina.
The Rev. Dr. Nancy Petty is an activist pastor at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. She has long been a champion in the fight for LGBTQ equality, and her church has been LGBTQ-affirming for more than 25 years. The Rev. Petty also chairs the board of directors of Repairers of the Breach, a national faith-based organization that reconnects faith values with public policy rooted in justice, fairness, and general welfare. Repairers of the Breach launched the now highly influential Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival to articulate a moral agenda to end systemic racism, income inequality, environmental destruction, and other areas.
Mahdia Lynn, executive director, Masjid al-Rabia, Chicago.
Mahdia Lynn is a disabled transgender Shi’a Muslim woman who serves as the co-founder and executive director of Masjid al-Rabia, a mosque in Chicago that commits to be LGBTQ-affirming, anti-racist, pluralist, accessible, and woman-centered. Lynn helped to create the Black and Pink Crescent, a prison ministry and outreach program that is the only one of its kind in the world. The program provides direct services such as a pen-pal program, library resources, religious resources, and advocacy to incarcerated and detained LGBTQ Muslims.
The Rev. Frederick Davie, executive vice president, Union Theological Seminary, New York City.
The Rev. Frederick Davie serves as executive vice president of Union Theological Seminary in New York City. In his public service work, the Rev. Davie was most recently appointed as chair of the Civilian Complaint Review Board of New York City, the nation’s largest civilian police oversight organization, where he covers issues such as police brutality and conduct. He is particularly interested in reforming the relationship between the New York City Police Department and New York City’s LGBTQ community and communities of color.
Rabbi Rachel Timoner, senior rabbi, Congregation Beth Elohim, Brooklyn, New York.
Rabbi Rachel Timoner is the senior rabbi of Congregation Beth Elohim, a Reform Jewish congregation in Brooklyn, New York. Among other things, she leads the congregation in advocacy for anti-racist criminal justice reform. She also helps organize thousands of Brooklyn residents of diverse faith and ethnic backgrounds to take action for democracy and human dignity and against racism, misogyny, and xenophobia. Rabbi Timoner serves on the leadership team of the New York Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, a statewide coalition of Reform congregations.
Drew Konow, scholar of religion, cultural critic, activist, New Haven, Connecticut.
Drew Konow is a scholar of religion, a cultural critic, and an activist. His current scholarship teases out the interplay of religion, sexuality, and capitalism in artifacts of popular and queer culture. As a queer Catholic layperson, he has worked for several years at the intersection of religion and LGBTQ activism, bringing both personal experience and issue area expertise to his advocacy for progressive policy. In his former role as the director of communications and LGBTQ programs at the Religious Institute, he helped lead several national, faith-rooted advocacy campaigns on issues surrounding LGBTQ rights, often from behind the scenes.
The Rev. angel Kyodo williams, writer, activist, ordained Zen priest, senior fellow, Auburn Seminary, New York City
The Rev. angel Kyodo williams is a trailblazer both within her faith community and in broader social justice movements. She is a Black, mixed-race, queer woman and American Buddhist, and the second Black woman ever to be recognized as a sensei, a teacher in Japanese Zen tradition. The Rev. williams works to create a more effective and sustainable social justice movement by empowering individuals to radically transform their inner lives. She founded Transformative Change, a national organization that counteracts activists’ burnout by fostering spiritual grounding.
Read the column: “9 LGBTQ Faith Leaders to Watch in 2019” by Emily London, Maggie Siddiqi, and Luke Wallis.
For more information or to talk to an expert, please contact Sam Hananel at gro.ssergorpnacirema@lenanahs or 202-478-6327.