There are those who vehemently oppose LGBTQQI people being treated fairly in society. They promise to elect candidates who will repeal laws and rulings that afford equal protection to the Queer community, and until such legal protections are reversed, they will try to pass new laws that exempt them from honoring the current ones that protect same-gender loving and gender non-conforming citizens. These opponents of equality say that their disdain for Queer people is religious in nature and religion should guarantee them the freedom to deny freedom to those they dislike. It’s a circular argument meant to protect their privilege, but they stand by it.
Here’s the thing: When people hide behind religion to justify and enforce their prejudices, they discredit religion (not the people against whom they are using religion as a weapon). They make religion seem petty, vile, mean-spirited, intolerant, and dehumanizing. They make religion less appealing to those who might benefit from cathartic rituals, sacred stories, and a framework to share life-journeys. Religion can be wonderful, but not if it is reduced to a psychological bulldozer knocking down human dignity.
I am a person of faith, not to secure privilege in a future life, and not to condemn and demonize people I don’t like in this life. I am a person of faith because prayer is the language of expressing my heart’s deepest longings. I am a person of faith because ancient scriptures show people struggling to overcome obstacles and to make meaning of life even and especially when life seems unfair. I am a person of faith because loving, spiritual communities bring hope and healing to people in crisis, and they provide holy space to express hope and celebrate the joys of life. I am a person of faith because it is the poetry of religion that persuaded me that I am never alone in this universe, that I am somehow connected to all that is, all that has ever been, and all that ever will be. There are many reasons to be a person of faith, and none of them include verbal gay-bashing.
We are once again in a season when Queer people will be targeted, blamed, vilified, objectified, shamed, accused, and utterly disrespected. Homophobia will be not only justified in the name of religion, it will be featured as virtue and hailed as a moral value; but hatred disguised as holiness and fear presented as faith are both reprehensible acts that blaspheme the very nature of religion.
Religion at its best affirms human dignity, bears witness to the unity of all humanity, celebrates the sacred value of all people, rejoices in human potential, and blesses genuine love unconditionally. Religion, or perhaps I should say spiritual community, says as a first century Galilean prophet reportedly once said, “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.”
Religious language will be used a lot in the days to come to promote hatred. Please don’t fall for it. It is your choice whether or not to identify as a person of faith, but don’t accept or internalize the rhetoric of others who claim to be persons of faith who misuse the language of faith to damn or deprecate you. They may claim religious authority but they do not speak for religion in its healthiest expression. Using religion to cause pain is not the same as being faithful.
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins is the senior minister of Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale