Thursday, June 17, 2021

Turning Religious Liberty Into a Weapon of Mass Discrimination

Religious liberty was once again trending on Twitter this morning — and not in a good way.

Whether the debate is about achieving marriage equality or ending employment discrimination and whether the issue is LGBTQ equality or women’s reproductive rights it seems that someone, somewhere is convinced that their religious liberty is under attack because not everyone agrees with them. This is not a new phenomenon. It has been going on since Pat Robertson launched the Culture Wars with the speech that drove me out of the Republican Party in 1992. But I digress.

The reason religious liberty was trending on Twitter this morning -- and not in a good way – was the Supreme Court decision siding with the Philadelphia Catholic foster care agency turning away gay and lesbian couples as clients.

Reviews on the impact of the ruling were mixed. While some conservatives were disappointed the ruling did not go further, LGBTQ advocates agreed it that this loss is another effort to use religion as a weapon of mass discrimination against members their community. As HRC President Alphonso David noted: "Our opponents are constantly looking for opportunities to challenge our rights. So this is not the end of the story."

Far from it. La lucha continua … the struggle continues. And as it does, I give thanks for these strong words from our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry: “My heart is with my LGBTQ siblings in light of today’s ruling by the Supreme Court in Fulton v. Philadelphia,” Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said in a statement. “LGBTQ siblings, we stand with you in this moment, and we continue to affirm that you are — and have always been — a blessing to our church. But above all, you are children of God with the entire human family. The struggle does not end here; the work goes on, and we are committed to the fullness of human equality and to building a just future that is free from discrimination against LGBTQ people.”

And for these from our President of the House of Deputies Gay Jennings who wrote: “Scholars can debate the broader legal implications of the decision, but as a Christian, I continue to be alarmed by the bigotry that lies at the case’s heart. Religious liberty is a bedrock of our country and a right cherished by Americans of many faiths. But disguising homophobia as religious freedom, as the plaintiffs in this case have done, is not only a dangerous legal precedent, it is a gross distortion of the teachings of Jesus.”

So one more time with the reality check: Religious liberty is NOT the liberty to impose your religion on everybody else.

The First Amendment protects us from any laws “impeding the free exercise of religion” thus guaranteeing that each and every American has the liberty to believe — or not believe — absolutely anything he or she chooses about what God wills or intends, blesses or condemns.

It also — thank God — protects the rest of us from any other American imposing those beliefs on us.
For example: A Jew has the religious liberty to keep a kosher kitchen — but not to take away your ham sandwich. A pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic had the religious liberty to abstain from meat on Friday — but not to confiscate my pot roast. And an Evangelical Christian has the right to believe that God doesn’t bless same-sex marriages - but not to deny equal protection to the marriage of the lesbian couple next door.

The First Amendment is doing its job protecting our religious liberty. And anybody who tells you otherwise needs to do a little remedial reading of the Ninth Commandment. (I'll save you having to look it up: that's the "shall not bear false witness" one.) 

This is why we need the Equality Act ... the bill already adopted by the House and waiting action by the Senate which prohibits discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity in areas including public accommodations and facilities, education, federal funding, employment, housing, credit, and the jury system -- specifically, defining and including sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity among the prohibited categories of discrimination or segregation.

It's long past time to end this annual SCOTUS Watch exercise where members of the LGBTQ community wait one more time to see if their full humanity and citizenship will be affirmed or diminished by the ongoing efforts to chip away at those rights by using religion as a smoke-screen for homo/transphobic bigotry. 

Bottom line: The equal protection guaranteed all Americans by the Constitution is not equal protection unless it protects all Americans equally. And we won't quit until it does.

Friday, June 04, 2021

FAQs About Jesus, the Bible & LGBTQ+ People

Here's the annual repost of the Pride Month FAQs I first wrote almost 20 years ago for the Diocese of L.A. booth at Gay Pride and have updated nearly every year since. It's a reminder that we have a chance to offer a counter-narrative to the toxic theology out there wounding precious souls by hijacking the Good News of Jesus and turning it into a weapon of mass discrimination. Happy Pride! 

1. Is being gay a sin?

No. Sins are acts that separate us from God and keep us from loving our neighbors as ourselves. Being gay is not a sin. Bullying is a sin. Being hateful to other people is a sin. Putting yourself in the place of God to judge others is a sin. Being gay is not.

2. What did Jesus say about LGBTQ+ people?

Jesus said the same thing about LGBTQ+ people that he said about all people: God loves you beyond your wildest imagining and calls you to walk in love with God and with each other. He also said a whole lot about welcoming the stranger, embracing the outcast, ministering to the marginalized and loving – not judging – your neighbor.

3. Does the Bible really condemn homosexuality?

The short answer is no, it does not. The handful of passages in the Old and New Testaments that talk about God condemning specific sexual acts have nothing whatsoever to do with sexual orientation and everything to do with contexts such as cultic prostitution or gang rape. To put it another way, using the Bible as a handbook on human sexuality makes as much sense in the 21st century as using it as a handbook on astronomy did in the 16th. The church got it wrong when it misused the Bible to condemn Galileo and it gets it wrong when it misuses the Bible to condemn LGBTQ+ people.

4. How do I respond when people say “God hates f–s”?

First of all, God’s nature is to love, not to hate. We believe that what God cares about is not our sexual orientation but our theological orientation — and that the question that matters is not “who do you love?” but “do you love?” Recognizing that homophobia causes some folks to project onto God their own fears, prejudices and biases against LGBTQ+ people, sometimes the best response is simply no response. It can be a challenge, but getting triggered by hate-mongers prevents us from being the change we want to see.

5. How about transgender and non-binary people? Where do they fit in?

The same place all God’s beloved children fit in: smack dab in the center of God’s care, love and desire for health and wholeness for every single human being.

6. What do I tell people when they say being gay is a sin and a choice?

Tell them that Jesus said absolutely nothing about being gay, but he said a lot of things about judging other people. Then tell them that while there is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay, or lesbian orientation, there is consensus that sexuality is a continuum. So the “choice” is not to be gay, straight or somewhere in between; the “choice” is to build our own healthy relationships — and give other people the grace to build theirs.

7. How do I respond when politicians condemn my sexuality, citing their belief in the Bible?

Remind them that the First Amendment protects them in believing whatever they want to about what God does or does not bless, but it also prohibits them from using those beliefs to decide who the Constitution protects or doesn’t protect. Tell them to stop confusing their theology with our democracy. And then campaign for and donate to their opponent in the next election cycle.

8. What about those who say they need “religious freedom laws” to protect their right to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people because of their religion?

They are wrong. The Constitution already protects their right to exercise their religion. It does not protect their right to impose their religion. Just as using the Bible to justify racial segregation was wrong in the 1960’s, using it to justify LGBTQ+ discrimination is wrong today.

9. So I get LGBT – but I don’t understand the Q. I’ve heard it stands for “questioning” and I’ve also heard it stands for “queer.” So which one is it?

Both. Questioning means someone who is figuring out their gender identity and/or figuring out how they want to identify their sexual orientation. Queer is not specific to sexual orientation or to gender identity but is more of an umbrella term for anything that exists outside of the dominant heterocentric narrative. Originally pejorative for gay, it is now being reclaimed by some gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender persons as self-affirming language.

You may also see the acronym LGBTQIA. The additional "IA" is added to include those who identify as intersex/intergender and asexual. Some iterations of the acronym also add a "+" sign at the end, symbolizing the inclusion of all other identities.

Yes, it's complicated. It is also not at all surprising that as we grow in both our understanding and experience of the complicated continuum of sexual orientation and fluidity of gender identity/expression our language will grow and change as well.

Ultimately, the most important message we have to offer is that whoever you are and wherever you find yourself in the alphabet there is a place for you here.

10. Should I try to “pray away the gay”?

No. If you need to pray away something, pray away homophobia. Homosexuality doesn’t need healing. Homophobia does.