Tag Archives: LGBTQ rights

Good News

In Christianity, the gospel is sometimes called the “Good News.” The phrase evidently heralds the imminent coming of the Kingdom of God. If you have landed on this page in hopes of a post exploring that concept, you’ve come to the wrong place. I don’t even recognize “Christianity” these days. (Granted, I’m not a Christian.)

In fact, when it comes to contemporary news, I’ve become used to seeing headlines like this one, on articles documenting the ways in which Evangelical “Christians” have become more and more indistinguishable from GOP cultists. 

A group that says its mission is “to halt and push back the forces of darkness” is holding a tactical event in southwest Missouri this weekend to train Christians in “hand-to-hand combat” and “fighting from your vehicle.”

I’m not Christian, but I really don’t think Jesus would approve…

Peter Wehner, a lifelong evangelical, recently wrote an article for the Atlantic about the internal conflicts being caused by the politicization of Christianity. I recommend it.

My “good news” is very different– an explicit rejection of that perversion of belief . There are evidently evangelical pastors who are genuinely religious–that is, concerned with concepts like brotherly love, ethical behavior and the golden rule. 

The Washington Post recently had the story.

Emotions ran high at the gathering of about 100 pastors at a church, about five miles from the University of Notre Dame. Many hugged. Some shed tears. One confessed she could not pray anymore.
 
Some had lost funding and others had been fired from their churches for adopting more liberal beliefs. All had left the evangelical tradition and had come to discuss their next steps as “post-evangelicals.”

Those  who planned the meeting–which took place in South Bend, Indiana–had expected 25 pastors. Word-of-mouth expanded it to over 100.  The appeal appears to be part of what the report calls a” larger reckoning” that has been triggered in individuals and congregations that are “grappling with their faith identity in the wake of Donald Trump’s presidency and calls for racial justice following the murder of George Floyd.”

Many of the (formerly) evangelical leaders in attendance at the meeting had been deeply concerned when they learned that approximately 8 out of 10 White evangelicals had voted for Trump in both of his presidential runs–evidence, as they see it, that the evangelical movement has been co-opted by Republican politics.

As the pastors traded stories, they quickly found shared experiences. They lamented their conservative evangelical parents who watch Fox News, as well as their peers who had re-examined their beliefs so much that they lost their faith entirely. They skewed younger, many in their 30s with tattoos covering their arms.

Most of the leaders held some belief in Jesus and the idea that people gathering in churches is still a good idea. Many want their churches to be affirming, meaning that they would perform gay weddings and include LGBTQ people in leadership and membership. They preferred curiosity over certainty, inclusion over exclusion.

According to the article, all of the attendees agreed on two things: they opposed Trump and they opposed racism. (Some of us would suggest that Trumpism is racism, so maybe they only agreed on one thing…) 

One of the most positive signs of change came in a quote from Amy Mikal, who was once a pastor at the Chicago-based megachurch Willow Creek.

“The hardest part is that we were taught to take the Bible literally,” Mikal said. “We want to be a place that asks more questions than provides answers.”

I have previously shared my youngest son’s distinction between a good religion and a bad one: a good religion helps you wrestle with morally-fraught questions about life’s meaning and challenges; a bad religion gives you predetermined “correct” answers and demands that you live in unquestioning accordance with them. Mikal obviously reached a similar conclusion.

The article quoted a different participant, Brit Barron (who had worked for a megachurch in California before she began re-examining her beliefs) for a similar sentiment. Barron opined that “Our job is to create the conversation. If someone opens up and says, ‘I don’t know if any of this is real,’ then we’re doing our job.”

The participants in this meeting understood that the “job” of a pastor is to provide a safe space for questions and debates about morality and faith. That sets them apart from the mega-churches and celebrity pastors who increasingly seem to believe that their job is to program troops for the GOP while raking in lots of money.

The refusal of a growing number of pastors to participate in the con games of the Falwells and Grahams really is “good news.” 

 

 

While We’re Talking About Hypocrisy…

Over the years, opponents of equal civil rights for LGBTQ citizens manufactured all manner of secular justifications for their bigotry. They claimed that homosexuality was a mental disorder, that gay men were all promiscuous, that children require a “traditional” marriage between a male and female in order to thrive, and more.

There was no credible evidence for any of these assertions, and as a result, gay folks won important legal victories, including the right to legal recognition of same-sex marriage. Opponents of that progress are left with what has always been the actual justification for their animus: religious doctrine.

Thanks to the First Amendment’s religion clauses, doctrinal homophobia is a protected belief. Pastors can inveigh against homosexuality from the pulpit without fear of official sanction, and people who accept those beliefs are free to avoid socializing with gay folks.

What religious beliefs cannot be used to justify, however, is legal discrimination. When the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed, some “Christians” opposed it because they claimed their religion required separation of the races and submission of women. The First Amendment doesn’t include a right to make those beliefs the law of the land.

The First Amendment protects religious belief. Civil rights laws protect members of marginalized groups from discrimination. What happens when those two rights collide?

In Indianapolis, we’ve seen recent examples of that collision. Two Catholic high schools have fired employees–guidance counselors and teachers of secular subjects–for the sin of same-sex marriage. 

Joshua Payne-Elliott, the teacher fired from Cathedral High School because of his same-sex marriage, is suing the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

Until now, Payne-Elliott had not been identified publicly. His husband, Layton Payne-Elliott, is a teacher at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School. They married in 2017. The couple have been at the center of a fight between their schools and the Catholic Church, which directed the schools to fire both men.

Brebeuf refused to fire Layton Payne-Elliott, so the archdiocese stripped the school of its Catholic status. Cathedral fired Joshua Payne-Elliott to avoid the same fate.

A lawsuit filed Wednesday in Marion County alleges that the archdiocese illegally interfered with Joshua Payne-Elliott’s contractual and employment relationship with Cathedral High School, causing Cathedral to terminate him.

“We hope that this case will put a stop to the targeting of LGBTQ employees and their families,” Payne-Elliott said in a news release

The Archdiocese is arguing that they are within their rights under the current jurisprudence of religious liberty, and that “religious organizations may define what conduct is not acceptable and contrary to the teachings of its religion, for its school leaders, guidance counselors, teachers and other ministers of the faith.”

Payne-Elliott taught world languages and social studies, and Cathedral confirmed that his termination had nothing to do with his performance. The principal acknowledged that he was a very good teacher. Evidently, Cathedral would have preferred not to fire him, but gave in to the demands of the Archdiocese.

Brebeuf, the Jesuit school that employs Payne-Elliott’s spouse, did not, and it deserves credit for its refusal to terminate him.

Given the current makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court, it is likely that the law will continue to favor assertions of religious doctrine over the civil and contractual rights of gays and lesbians. But  the court of public opinion is a different matter. After all, Catholic dogma isn’t confined to disapproval of same-sex marriage. Church doctrine opposes divorce, sex out of wedlock, adultery, even–as I understand it– refusal to attend mass, among other sins. To the best of my knowledge, Catholic schools haven’t been terminating teachers who transgress those rules.

Why this very selective enforcement of doctrine?

And why does the State of Indiana allow public voucher  funds to be used at schools like Cathedral and Roncalli that openly discriminate against a subset of Indiana citizens? Inquiring minds want to know–or really, we can guess.

 

When We Can’t Look Away

I’ve been harping on the role of pictures in generating social change–how the flood of visual testimony of racism, culminating in the video of George Floyd’s murder, has forced recognition of a reality too many Americans hadn’t previously understood–or wanted to acknowledge.

But a couple of recent columns–one by Michelle Goldberg and one by Russ Douthat–have expanded on that observation. Both writers suggest that seeing Donald Trump and experiencing the travesty that has been his administration have also been “pictures.”

Goldberg notes “two big examples” of how Trump’s presidency has triggered progress.

The sudden, rapid embrace of the Black Lives Matter movement by white people is a function of the undeniable brutality of George Floyd’s videotaped killing. But public opinion has also moved left on racial issues in reaction to an unpopular president who behaves like a cross between Bull Connor and Andrew Dice Clay.

And the thrilling 6-3 decision the Supreme Court just issued upholding L.G.B.T. equality wouldn’t be as devastating to the religious right if it had happened under a President Clinton.

Goldberg suggests that the Supreme Court’s LGBTQ decision dealt a real blow to the “but the Supreme Court!” argument made by conservative supporters of Trump. (And this was before the Court slapped him down on DACA.)

We’ve all encountered those people: yes, they’ll admit, Trump is an offensive ignoramus, someone we’d never socialize with or hire, but we need to support him in order to put conservative judges on the courts. (The argument used to be accompanied by “and look at your 401K!”–but that justification disappeared with Trump’s criminally incompetent “management” of the pandemic.)

The phrase “But Gorsuch” is shorthand for how conservatives justify all the moral compromises they’ve made in supporting Trump; controlling the Supreme Court makes it all worth it. So there’s a special sweetness in Gorsuch spearheading the most important L.G.B.T. rights decision since the 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which established a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.

Goldberg quotes one conservative for the sentiment that, if Trump’s appointees can’t  deliver Supreme Court victories to social conservatives, “there’s no point.” If that reaction means that social conservatives will be less enthusiastic about heading to the polls in November, it makes the Court’s decision even more satisfying.

On the Sunday before announcement of the Court’s decision (which, I am happy to report, was accompanied by others that cheered me: refusal to hear a challenge to California’s refusal to co-operate with ICE, refusal to hear challenges to state gun control laws, and one protecting the Clean Water Act) Russ Douthat, one of the conservative columnists at the Times, attributed the increasingly leftward shift of public opinion to Trump’s Presidency, suggesting that “so long as he remains in office, Trump will be an accelerant of the right’s erasure, an agent of its marginalization and defeat, no matter how many of his appointees occupy the federal bench.”

In situations of crisis or grave difficulty, Trump displays three qualities, three spirits, that all redound against the movement that he leads. His spirit of authoritarianism creates a sense of perpetual crisis among his opponents, uniting left-wingers and liberals despite their differences. His spirit of chaos, the sense that nothing is planned or under control, turns moderates and normies against him. And finally his spirit of incompetence means that conservatives get far less out of his administration than they would from a genuine imperial president, a man of iron rather than of pasteboard.

Douthat concludes that Trump has been little short of a disaster for conservatives.

What we are seeing right now in America, an accelerated leftward shift, probably won’t continue at this pace through 2024. But it’s likely to continue in some form so long as Trump is conservatism, and conservatism is Trump — and four more years of trying to use him as a defensive salient is not a strategy of survival, but defeat.

For principled conservatives–in contrast to the more numerous racists and homophobes who’ve adopted the label–the Trump Presidency has been that very bad car wreck at the side of the road–the one every passing car slows down to gape at. 

It’s a horrifying picture, and they can’t look away. None of us can–and the compelling pileups keep coming.

Friday’s effort to fire the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York–this administration’s “Saturday night massacre”– looks to usher in an even more dramatic and compelling collision, as Barr frantically tries to keep the lid on pending disclosures and indictments…

Popcorn, anyone?

As a friend recently posted to Facebook, this isn’t government–it’s the Days of Our Lives. 

 

 

The Fight Is Never Over

When I first began this blog, one of the issues I frequently addressed was gay rights. LGBTQ folks still faced formidable barriers to equality; same-sex marriage was a pipe dream, with DOMA at the federal level and so-called “mini-DOMAs” in many states.  Activists were fighting “Don’t Ask, Don’t tell” and working to include protection against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in state civil rights statutes.

In Indiana, civil rights organizations and major businesses managed to defeat an effort to place a ban on same-sex marriage in the state’s constitution, but we still lack those “four little words”–sexual identity and gender identity–in our civil rights law.  Unless you live in an Indiana city with an inclusive human rights ordinance, it is still perfectly legal here to fire someone for being gay. We also remain one of only five states without an inclusive hate crimes law.

Even in states like Indiana, though, LGBTQ folks have benefitted from the truly dramatic shift in public opinion that has occurred over the past couple of decades. As homophobia ebbed–it certainly hasn’t disappeared, but it has greatly diminished–this blog focused on other issues.

Attacks on LGBTQ citizens may have diminished, but as young folks like to say, “haters gotta hate.” As an article in the Guardian recently illustrated, there is plenty of room for homophobia among the numerous bigotries exhibited by our accidental President and those who support him.

The Trump administration has attacked LGBT rights in healthcare, employment, housing, education, commerce, the military, prisons and sports.

These efforts, it turns out, were just the beginning.

The president’s anti-LGBT agenda could soon gain significant momentum at the US Supreme Court, where Trump’s Department of Justice (DoJ) is pushing to make it legal to fire people for being gay or transgender. The move would fundamentally reverse civil rights for millions of people, LGBT leaders say, and raises fears that LGBT people may lose the minimal protections and resources they have won in past years.

“This is a critical point in history,” said Alesdair Ittelson, the law and policy director at interACT: Advocates for Intersex Youth. “The outcome of this case is going to have a tremendous impact on everyone.”

During the Obama administration, the LGBTQ community won significant victories:  repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” new protections under the Affordable Care Act, an anti-discrimination executive order and expanded recognition of trans rights, among other things. Those victories are now under attack.

Since taking office, the Trump administration has sought to reverse healthcare protections for trans people, moved to ban trans people from serving in the military, eliminated rules protecting trans students and pushed to allow businesses to turn away gay and trans customers if they seek a religious exemption.

Last month, the Trump justice department made its most aggressive anti-gay legal argument to date, urging the supreme court to rule that gay employees are not protected under a longstanding act that prohibits “sex discrimination”. The DoJ filed briefs related to three supreme court cases to be heard together on 8 October – two involving gay men fired from their jobs, and a third involving a woman terminated by her employer after she came out as trans.

The courts have repeatedly held that gay people are covered by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Before Trump, the federal government agreed. But William Barr’s Department of Justice is now arguing that sexual orientation and gender identity are excluded under Title VII because “sex” means only whether people are “biologically male or female.”

Before Trump, the Justice Department pursued justice. Before Trump, judicial nominees elevated to the federal bench were vetted for legal competence, not for fidelity to radical “conservative” (actually fundamentalist Christian) ideology.

Before Trump, even our worst Presidents weren’t rabid White Nationalists, Islamophobes, homophobes, anti-Semites and proud and loud racists.

But that was then, and now is now.

Word Choices Can Feed Bias

A recent headline in the Indianapolis Star read: “McCormick Calls for LBGTQ Strings on Private School Voucher Money.”  (Jennifer McCormick is Indiana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction.)

Strings? Or standards?

The statement by McCormick–with which I entirely agree–was prompted by a local controversy over actions taken by Roncalli High School. Roncalli is an Indianapolis Catholic High School that placed one of its guidance counselors on administrative leave after discovering that she was in a same-sex marriage. The school has evidently threatened to terminate her unless she dissolves her marriage.

Roncalli has received more than $6.5 million in public money over the past five years through Indiana’s most-expansive-in-the-nation school voucher program.

The issue is simple: should public dollars–which come from all Hoosiers, including gay and lesbian taxpayers–support schools that discriminate against some of those Hoosiers?

I would argue that taxpayer dollars ought not support private–and especially religious– schools at all, but that is an argument for another day. In any event, I found the Star’s headline offensive. By characterizing McCormick’s proposed standards for receipt of public dollars as “strings,” it strongly suggested that an unnecessarily picky bureaucracy was trying to make it difficult for religious schools to participate in Indiana’s voucher program. It utterly trivialized a very important issue, which is the use of public money to subsidize discrimination.

As usual, Doug Masson has a more temperate–and eloquent– response to the story, and to the issue.

The issue of inclusiveness appears to be a reference to Roncalli’s decision to terminate a long-time, well-regarded guidance counselor when the school was made aware (or forced to acknowledge) that the counselor had a spouse of the same sex. Roncalli is a private school but it’s funded — in part — with public money. The question becomes whether public money should come with conditions and, if so, what conditions should be attached. Obviously, it should and does come with conditions. Voucher money can’t just go anywhere. The voucher school has to look and act more or less like a school. If it was, for example, a tavern that labeled itself a “school,” then Rep. Behning would likely change his position. He says:

If parents have a problem with the school’s practices, employment or otherwise, Behning said they can send their child elsewhere. In that case their tuition will follow, whether it’s paid by the parent or by the state. “Parents are the ones that should be making those decisions,” he said, “rather than the government.”

Rep. Behning is obviously being a little disingenuous here. The government simply wouldn’t let parents make the tavern decision. So, as the joke goes, we’re just haggling over the price. Is discrimination on that basis against an otherwise well-qualified employee because she has a same-sex spouse something we’re willing to fund or not? I obviously fall on the “not” side of that question, and it sounds like Dr. McCormick does as well. My guess is that the General Assembly will be perfectly willing to continue subsidizing Roncalli, notwithstanding its employment practices. (Because, remember, my view of the three goals of the General Assembly when it comes to school vouchers: 1) Hurt the teacher’s unions; 2) direct education money to friends & well-wishers; and 3) subsidize religious education.)

Before education reformers write me to protest that we need “alternatives” and “choice” and “innovations,” let me suggest that they research the difference between Charter schools, which are public and subject to the Constitution, and schools receiving vouchers, which are private and aren’t.

As usual, I agree completely with Doug’s analysis. (I do think he’s too kind to Rep. Behning…”disingenuous” isn’t the word I’d have chosen.)

Another word I wouldn’t have chosen is “strings.” As the saying goes, one person’s “red tape” is the next person’s accountability.