Aug 31, 2017

We interrupt your regularly scheduled program for a BREAKING NEWS flash! Apparently, right-wing Christians gathered in Nashville recently to craft a statement saying they don’t want gay people to marry!

This isn’t a new phenomenon. We had the avowedly theocratic Manhattan Declaration not too many years ago, which was orchestrated by Chuck Colson. And now we have the Nashville Statement, which has nothing more to do with the city of Nashville than that's where they all happened to gather. (The mayor of Nashville has already criticized the statement.)

I have been a United Methodist my whole life, and within my own denomination, there are differences of opinion on LGBTQ rights. That’s no surprise, but what concerns me most is that many of the people who signed the letter have a history of trying to force the government to side with them and elevate their oppressive dogma to public policy.

In their "Nashville Statement," Religious Right leaders make it clear that they do not like events like this.

The fact is, we all deserve equal protection of the law. In 2015, the Supreme Court affirmed that that includes same-sex couples. Since then, not one church has been forced to marry a same-sex couple and American society did not collapse. In fact, polls show a growing number of Americans favor marriage equality.

The Religious Right remains stuck in the past. Its clergy are free, of course, to preach anti-LGBTQ messages from their pulpits all day long, but that’s never enough for this crowd. They insist on using the power of the state to bring the rest of us in line.

I’ve always believed that adherence to religious beliefs that cause harm to people as a direct consequence of that belief and practice is not actually faithful religious adherence at all. A lot of folks may disagree with me on this – and I am cool with that, by the way – but the thing we need to keep in mind is that it simply isn’t the job of the government to act as a theological enforcer.  

And this is the major reason why I am at Americans United for Separation of Church and State. We have a statement too: all people have the right to practice their religious beliefs—or to practice no religious belief at all—so long as their practice does not cause harm or discriminate against others. The Religious Right, on the other hand, seem to believe just the opposite: that the government must facilitate them practicing their religion even when it innately harms and discriminates against other people (often LGBTQ Americans).

I fundamentally disagree. And this is why AU’s Protect Thy Neighbor project is so important to the work that we do on a daily basis. So much of what has happened in so many states is motivated by a desire to misuse religion for the sake of harm.

Ensuring that religion is not being used to harm people or take away their rights is why Americans United started Faith Leaders United. Many religious leaders have joined this network, and if you are a member of the clergy, I urge you to get involved.

The Nashville Statement is an affront to me as a Christian because my faith calls me to lift up and encourage, to stand alongside people who are being demonized and to organize and advocate against efforts to harm or discriminate. But I know that many non-religious people are equally offended when they look at the statement and realize it means the signers will be making another tiresome attempt to transform their dogma into law.

It is high time that all of us who see the danger in statements like this band together and work against the theocratic vision put forward by those on the far right. I don’t care where, how or if you worship, but if you agree that government-imposed religion is a threat to basic rights, I invite you to join us. We are stronger together.