Reflections on Faith and Political Advocacy

The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change
— Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider

Audre Lorde’s eloquent words speak to a fear many have concerning religious advocacy for GLBT equality. Some good people of faith and secular activists argue that by advocating for legislation we are mixing religion and government.  They suggest that bringing religion into legislative and electoral politics is using the master’s tools, in this case the Christian Right’s tools, for our own short-term agenda.  They argue that although we might temporarily disable the Christian Right’s massive machinery, in the long run we will only provide them with a precedent of religion enmeshed with government, bringing us even closer to a theocracy and thus silencing dissent once and for all. 

These are understandable concerns.  In this current political climate, we have seen a chipping away at what Thomas Jefferson famously referred to as a wall of separation between church and state.  Bill Moyers noted in 2004, “Nearly half the U.S. Congress before the recent [2004] election –231 legislators in total—are backed by the religious right.  Forty-five senators and 186 members of the 108th Congress earned 80 to 100 percent approval ratings from three most influential Christian right advocacy groups.”  These numbers have gone down in the 110th Congress, but we know the Christian Right still has an extraordinary hold on lawmakers. 

We in the GLBT community have felt the effects of this more than most

How many times have we heard politicians cite their faith (usually Christian) as justification against marriage equality?  How often have we seen selective interpretations of the biblical text used to thwart what should be non-controversial legislation–such as extending hate crimes protections to GLBT people? 

Religion can be dangerous in politics, but the answer is not to silence dissenting voices of faith.  In fact, we believe just the opposite.  Making “genuine change,” as Audre Lorde calls upon us to do, requires all of us to speak out from our deepest sources of compassion and justice.  Working for GLBT justice is not easy; for many of us, faith is what carries us through the long cycle of jubilant short-term victories and crushing defeats.  When authentically felt, our faith traditions also offer us a language for justice work that connects us to other people of faith and gives them a way to see the morality behind our advocacy.   

Forcing people to follow a particular faith or legislating based on that faith is nothing short of tyranny.   This does not mean, however, that the beliefs that sustain and motivate Americans must be excluded from our political discourse.  To the contrary, we believe that the preservation of church-state separation requires that our diverse and divergent religious voices be heard. 

When we advocate for GLBT equality as people of faith, we are promoting religious diversity.  For too long the Christian Right has gone unchallenged in their claim that their perspective is the faith perspective. When a narrow, yet vocal and wealthy, religious tradition is allowed to speak for all religions it becomes easy to caricature faith as a set of legislative postures: “marriage is between a man and a woman;” “abortion is murder;” “premarital sex is a sin;”  “evolution should be taught in schools as an unproven theory.”  When people of faith confidently argue for GLBT issues and other progressive issues, they make it far more difficult for politicians to claim they are speaking for all “ordinary church-going people.”  When we are present in the debate, it becomes much more plausible to ask: “to what church-going people exactly are you referring?”

In addition to our theological differences, the diversity of our faith traditions strengthens our movement.  Faith work for GLBT justice has always been interfaith.  In our Clergy Call for Justice and Equality this past April, for example, we had over thirty religious traditions represented. 

Diversity is not only the strength and life blood of our movement; it is also a strength for our country as a whole

When we speak for justice from a variety of faith traditions, we give testimony to the religious freedom that our system of government guarantees.  Religious tyranny is not sustainable when we, with all of our differences, are vocal about who we are and what we believe.  Our desire in the end is that everyone should be talking and everyone heard.  No one should be silent in the debate about the role of GLBT people in our country.

Our work with thousands of people of faith across the country has shown us that at the core of all faith traditions are strong guidelines about how we ought to treat one another: we are told to love our neighbor and those less fortunate, to work for justice for all people, and to love better and more expansively.   Working for GLBT equality asks us to live up to these ideals and to the best in our traditions.  We ask that politicians listen to this truth, and in hearing us, struggle in their own consciences to do the right thing. 

Theme: Elation by Kaira.