Sunday, February 23, 2014

Segregation in the Guise of Religious Freedom

It seems to me that at the core of all the major world religions is the principle of compassion. Yet we humans have funny ways of showing that compassion to those with whom we disagree. Fundamentalists of every faith seem to turn away from the fundamental of compassion to its opposite, legalism and judgmentalism.  In this country we are seeing a marriage of both Catholicism and evangelicalism with right-wing politics, an unholy alliance which came into being in the 1970s and continues to be supported by right-wing political organizations fueled by fear of lesbian, gay and transgender inclusion. The newest manifestation of this is the proliferation of “Religious Freedom Restoration Acts” being introduced in state legislatures around the country.

These acts seem to be benign attempts to make sure that everyone has freedom of religion but in fact they are thinly disguised attacks on the LGBT community. The attempt in Kansas was quickly brought up short, but Arizona’s more draconian bill has made it through both House and Senate and will likely be signed into law by the governor in the next week.  This would allow anyone to use religious conscience as a reason to refuse service of any kind to anyone. (I encourage you to sign a petition asking the governor to veto it.)
Since 1976 The Episcopal Church has been committed to fighting discrimination against LGBT people, and we need to continue this work wherever discrimination surfaces.  The Very Rev Troy Mendez of Trinity Cathedral, Phoenix urges us to see this work in the context of Jesus’ call for us to be peacemakers in his statement issued jointly with the Right Rev Kirk Smith, Bishop of the Diocese of Arizona.

We LGBTQ folk, our loved ones, and allies have a right to be angry that these laws are being introduced apparently to promote freedom but actually to introduce a new form of apartheid. We are right to be angry about this concerted backlash against the increasing freedom we are enjoying federally and in some states. But if our anger fuels our hatred against those who are acting out of fear and ignorance, then they have won. If our anger leads us to turn away from involvement in public life, disengaging in disgust from a process that seeks to exclude us, then they have won.

Jesus gave us the supreme example of non-violent resistance. So, as his followers let us be fired by our anger to take action but action which continues to recognize that even those who seek to exclude us are also beloved of God.  Please take note of the bills being introduced to the legislature in your state and start working now to make sure that, as in Kansas, they are defeated by the pressure of public opinion.

Our work is not done until we have created a world where compassion underlies every action.

The Rev. Dr. Caroline Hall is the President of Integrity and author of A Thorn in the Flesh: How Gay Sexuality is Changing the Episcopal Church.

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