On sincerely-held religious belief in the American right to discriminate. 

A writer friend of mine this week reached out for some of my perspective on recent laws passed across these United States that, in effect, codify the right to discriminate into certain State’s laws. The conversation has, bizarrely, been framed as a matter of religious liberty, and the government interest being sought framed as the protection of our personal right to hold religious beliefs. The Religious Right, in a coordinated legislative effort, has purportedly sought to further codify the spirit of the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment, but like most public policy efforts undertaken in a malaise of fear, spite, and ego, we’ve arrived several bridges too far. These States, through their effort to respect certain religious freedom, have declared forfeit a variety constitutionally-guaranteed freedoms long relied on by the macro version of the American Dream. It’s all pretty gross. 

Perhaps most frustratingly, from a religious perspective, these laws are chasing ghosts rather than true policy aims. Online and elsewhere, I’ve discussed the political propriety and legality of this brand of State action, but the religious argument against it is just as compelling. 

So when Raina posted a general query to all of her Facebook friends and then to me specifically, seeking my perspective as a Christian who opposes permissible discrimination against LGBT Americans, she centered my thinking on an aspect of this debate that I’ve not given all that much thought. Raina’s final product was published yesterday and I was honored to have my perspective as a person of (some) faith included in such a comprehensive discussion of why these discrimination-sanctioning laws are bunk. In the interest of posterity and whatnot, I wanted to republish some of the broader thoughts I shared with Raina that were always too long to make it into her piece. 

[regarding whether my personal religious beliefs are protected by these laws]: My personal life is guided by my beliefs. The social contract we live under in America is not, however; the Constitution is a better document for shared ideals of society and government, since it was (and is) intended to bring disparate peoples and beliefs under one American umbrella.

[regarding my religious identity and how my sincerely held beliefs are represented by these laws]: (a) I identify as an Episcopalian, generally from the liberal perspective of that denomination. I was was born into the Church and attend regularly still.  

For me, that identity means, most importantly, a relationship with God focused on Justice and Love through Communion. Belief that God exists, that Jesus was his son, are not particularly central to my faith except to the extent those ideas reveal the human spirit that binds us all. For me, God’s grace reveals itself in others and when I talk about Justice, it’s primarily about finding ways to honor that spirit and grace in others. 

I think the laws are primarily aimed at serving people who purport to be Christian but who have not fully come to an understanding of that shared spirit we have, and who generally fail to engage in any sort of rational undertaking to learn how rigid dogma can be destructive. Insofar as my belief is based on love for others, compassion for others and, importantly, recognition that humanity is diverse and no one person’s humanity is inherently wrong or a mistake, it’s antithetical to my faith. 

Moreover, it’s antithetical to the idea that these Christians want to be witness to – that God loves all his creation and that we were all created by his omnipotent will. The idea that God is all-powerful is not consistent with the reality of diverse sexuality and gender identities. If anything, I tend to believe that God created diversity in humanity as a challenge to us as we seek to live more fully in love; it’s easy to be compassionate when everyone is the same as you, and challenging when they are different. As a Christian, I can’t help but see the laws enacted in Mississippi, North Carolina and elsewhere as a failure of Christian principles.

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