A new, cross-denominational organisation for Australian Christians will collect signatures for a grassroots-driven apology to LGBTI people in an effort to "address the harm" caused by the church.
The fledgling group Equal Voices, which currently comprises a steering committee of seven, will hold its inaugural AGM on January 30.
The group was formed by Christians concerned about the way LGBTI people are treated and perceived in the church.
Former High Court justice Michael Kirby will officially launch Equal Voices at Pitt Street Uniting Church, Sydney, in early April.
Spokesperson Natalie Cooper told BuzzFeed News that most of the people behind Equal Voices are lay people from "fairly conservative church backgrounds".
"We represent a variety of denominations," she said. "We've got quite a number of Anglican and Catholic members, Baptists, Uniting, we have a couple of people from ex-Pentecostal backgrounds, a couple from the Metropolitan Community Church."
The group is also mixed when it comes to identity, with LGBTI Christians working alongside their straight and cisgender allies.
The group seeks to fill a gap in the conversation by bringing together advocates in a national, cross-denominational, grassroots organisation focused on reconciliation between LGBTI people and the church.
One pressing priority is to facilitate a national apology to LGBTI Christians and the wider community.
From March 1 Christians will be able to add their signature to an apology on the Equal Voices website.
Cooper said the group had deliberately penned a comprehensive explanation for why an apology is needed.
"Some people might say, 'I don't need to apologise, I don't know what it is I need to apologise for'. If you read the apology – I'm sure it doesn't cover every single thing – it's to educate people in the church," she said.
The explanation cites previous apologies to LGBTI people, including 2016 examples from the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and Pope Francis.
The end goal is to present the apology to the LGBTI community in Parliament House, Canberra.
Cooper said the people involved in Equal Voices felt strongly that straight Christian advocates should play a bigger part in helping churches become more inclusive.
"For too long gay and lesbian people in the churches have been asked to carry the load by themselves," she said. "What's often denied is that there are large numbers of LGBTI people of faith. Some of those people are in church, some of them are out, a lot of them are closeted because they don't feel safe being out.
"That's something that's not really recognised a lot in churches – you're either gay, or a Christian."
Cooper also said that the name Equal Voices was chosen for two reasons. The first is to say that LGBTI people are equal to straight people in the church. The second is about broadening Christian voices in LGBTI debates.
"Very often, the impression given is that there is just one point of view, just one Christian voice," she said. "We want to make it clear there are lots of Christian voices, and give everyone a seat at the table."
Equal Voices is currently funded by personal contributions. It will shortly open up formal membership and charge a fee for joining.
This article has been updated to clarify the make-up of the Equal Voices group.
Lane Sainty is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.
Contact Lane Sainty at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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