Minister’s mission is to share sex-positive Christianity

It’s understandable if the LGBTQ community is wary of the religious right. After all, the Supreme Court’s recent decision in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, which appeared to bolster what opponents of LGBTQ rights refer to as “religious liberty,” does not bode well.

The Rev. Dr. Beverly Dale, a Philadelphia-based minister and longtime community ally, wants LGBTQ people to know that such rulings say more about contemporary American culture than they do about the enduring message of Christianity.

“There are ways of reading scripture and the Bible that can help us — that can liberate us,” Dale said. “And most people don’t ever hear that from the pulpit, because very few seminaries teach that to any of their pastors.”

Fortunately, Dale isn’t your typical pastor. Since leaving her post as the University of Pennsylvania’s campus minister, a position she held for more than two decades, “Rev Bev,” as students dubbed her, has made it her mission to spread the good news that sexuality and pleasure aren’t incompatible with Christianity.

It’s a gospel Dale has preached with equal parts passion, intelligence and humor, so much so, in fact, that the Diabolique Foundation, a local leather and fetish organization, honored Dale with its 2012 Community Service Award, calling her a “Kink-Positive Missionary of Pleasure.”

Dale expanded the scope of her work in 2013 when she founded the Incarnation Institute for Sex & Faith. According to IISF’s website, the nonprofit’s mission is teaching “an inclusive, science-friendly, and sex-positive Christianity.”

One of Dale’s goals at the IISF is to share cutting-edge theology with laypeople. The organization’s new webinar, “Reading the Bible with Sex-Positive Eyes,” is a good example of that effort. The webinar, available via the IISF’s website, is divided into four episodes, each lasting roughly 70 minutes.

The webinar is essentially like a private tutorial with Dale, who covers topics ranging from the origins of Christian sex negativity to sexual decision-making in one’s personal life. She offered a similar class at the William Way LGBT Community Center in 2014; now it’s available to anyone with an Internet connection. (Individual episodes cost $30. All four are $100.)

The webinar’s third episode, “Sex in the Bible: The Good, the Bad & the Ugly,” is of particular interest to LGBTQ viewers. In it, she examines what some progressive Christians refer to as “clobber passages,” infamous snippets from scripture used to bash women and sexual minorities. They include Leviticus 18:22 and Romans 1:26-27, which are frequently cited as prohibitions against same-sex behavior.

Dale’s goal is forthright and unapologetic: “I’m giving people ammunition to stand on strong moral, Christian grounds and to fight back,” she said.

Make no mistake about it — this is Dale’s fight too. As she noted, those who use the Bible to rail against homosexuality are no less vehement when it comes to controlling women and their bodies.

“I come at LGBT issues through the lens of being oppressed as a female,” Dale said. “Because I understand my own marginalization in the church and society because of being female, I gravitate towards other people who have also felt the blunt edge of bad teaching and bad theology.”

Countering the religious right’s insistent message is a daunting task, which is why Dale has enlisted the help of others. Among her advisors at the IISF are Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, who identifies as a trans lesbian evangelical Christian, and Daniel Helminiak, a gay Catholic priest.

The IISF is also always on the lookout for ways to reach LGBTQ audiences. In 2017, for example, it organized a panel discussion called “Becoming a Changemaker Inside the Christian Church” for the National LGBTQ Task Force’s Creating Change conference, which took place in Philadelphia.

For Dale, all the hard work is necessary because the stakes are so high. The issue goes far beyond who one is attracted to or sleeps with.

“We have to build a movement of people who understand that the future of us all depends upon people of goodwill and people of faith coming together to lift up what is fair, what is just, what is loving,” Dale said. “There’s nothing less at stake than the future of the planet.”

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