230 religious leaders from various faiths descended on Capitol to back LGBT rights by lobbying for hate crimes, anti-discrimination bills
The visual must have been astounding:
Two hundred and thirty members of the clergy Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Hindu standing together in our nation’s Capitol, bringing a new language of faith to the halls of Congress.
They were in Washington, D.C., April 16-17 to bring God’s message of love and inclusion to a Congress that just may be ready to hear it. They were brought in by the Human Rights Campaign’s Religion and Faith Program to lobby specifically on national hate crimes and nondiscrimination bills, both of which have been introduced.
Harry Knox, the director of the HRC program, told me in an interview the weekend before their visit that all 50 states and the District of Columbia would be represented by various clergy.
“What we’re particularly pleased about is that one-third of the clergy are from districts that are legislative targets for the bills. This is going to make a difference in the unusual places,” he said.
“Unusual places” are districts that are represented by conservatives on both sides of the aisle who want to do the right thing but have historically been cowed by the actions and words of the radical Christian right.
“The reason for the clergy going is to call on the representatives to do the right things but also to equip them with language to be used back home,” said Knox. “We’ve got to talk the language of faith if [that] is the language of people in power.”
As Knox aptly points out and it is a point worth making over and over the radical Christian right does not have a corner on God’s word. Knox contends that fair-minded clergy “have been so frustrated by having God portrayed routinely as hateful.”
This is clearly an opportunity to redefine God for congressional fence-sitters.
At a press conference on the first day of the gathering, a number of religious leaders spoke out using some incredibly powerful words.
“I want to emphatically add my voice to what I believe is one of the most significant civil rights issues of this century,” said Bishop Carlton D. Pearson of the New Dimensions Worship Center in Tulsa, Okla., which describes itself as “the friendliest, trendiest, most radically inclusive worship experience.”
“The issue of not special, but equal rights for God’s same-gender-loving children is a moral imperative. [They] are our doctors, lawyers, police officers, preachers and politicians. They are taxpaying, law-abiding, God-loving and, often, Christ-following Americans who are, and well should be, protected under the U.S. Constitution.
A Roman Catholic theologian and president of the Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis, the Rev. Charles Bouchard, O.P., used Vatican doctrine and documents to support both bills.
“The church has repeatedly affirmed that as persons, gays and lesbians have the same rights to work, housing, freedom from violence, and other basic human rights as every other person,” he said.
Bouchard went on to explain that the hate crimes and nondiscrimination bills “do not create special rights.”
“They do not endorse any lifestyle, and they do not interfere with legitimate religious beliefs about moral behavior,” he said. “They simply offer appropriate legal protection for persons who are victims of violence because of who they are, and ensure that workers are judged on the basis of their job performance and not on the basis of prejudice.”
He added: “When one of us is threatened, we all live in fear. When one of us is treated prejudicially, we are all shamed.”
Of the need for a nondiscrimination bill, Rabbi Denise Egger of Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood, Calif., said: “It is morally wrong to deprive anyone of the means to feed themselves and care for their families. Jewish tradition teaches that we have an obligation to protect the rights of workers. This legislation is about fairness and justice.”
Rabbi Egger cited the familiar “love thy neighbor” passage in the Bible when speaking about the hate crimes bill.
“We cannot always teach people to love one another, but it is our moral duty to protect one another from hatred and violence,” Egger said. “Congress has the opportunity to exert its moral authority and to correct this great injustice. I pray that both houses of Congress will overwhelmingly pass both bills.”
The Rev. Dr. Miguel De La Torre, associate professor of social ethics at Denver’s Hiff School of Theology, said: “Because we are all created in the image of God, violence committed against any one person is violence committed against the very image of God. For this reason, the two pieces of legislation before Congress are fundamentally an issue of justice.”
He explained that violence need not be “limited to the physical.” Employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is “economic violence,” he declared.
Reading these words, hearing these folks talk maybe God really is on our side.
Libby Post is a political commentator on public radio, on the Web and in print.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, April 27, 2007.