As a Queer Catholic, 'Religious Freedom' Measures Are Baffling
Queer Americans dodged a bullet from Trump's executive order last week. But it's only the beginning—and it's all insanity.
A still from a video of Trump signing his Executive Order
Standing in the White House Rose Garden last Thursday, Donald Trump boldly declared that "freedom is a gift from God." Well, guess what, Donald: So is my sexuality.
Flanked by a gleeful Mike Pence, who notoriously advocated for a discriminatory religious liberties bill in his native Indiana, Trump said the executive order he signed that day would block the government from "bullying and even punishing Americans for following their religious beliefs." Apparently, those beliefs include the ability for clergy to endorse political candidates from the pulpit without fear of losing their church's tax-exempt status—which is all the order really does, in concrete terms. Trump also assured evangelicals that they'd never be forced to choose between the law and their faith ever again.
This month alone, Alabama governor Kay Ivey has signed legislation allowing faith-based adoption agencies to bar prospective gay parents from using their agencies; eight other states have passed or are considering similar legislation, and it's expected that more "religious freedom" protections are expected to hit the federal level sooner or later, too.
And though Trump's fresh signature stops short of enacting broader federal protections like those of Alabama's, more and more states are moving to protect business owners, service providers, and civil servants who feel that my queer existence impedes on their God-given right to live their life—odd, when they're doing their best to keep us from living ours, under the false assumption that it is a direct attack on their spiritual journey.
Now, I personally don't read Scripture (despite having a dusty copy on my night stand), but I know what it says: "Love thy neighbor as thyself." It's Christianity 101, folks. I mean, that's my simplistic approach to summarizing a text that has not only given millions of believers spiritual sustenance for centuries but has also defined the past 29 years of my life as a somewhat-devout Catholic from a Jesus-obsessed Mexican American community. I can only vaguely remember parables, and I'm hazy on disciples' names, but our Lord's greatest commandment—to love as he loved—sticks with me.
I've had to remind myself of that since Trump first assumed office with the help of 80 percent of white evangelical voters who, like their president, probably know "Two Corinthians" (Two Corinthians, Second Corinthians, what's the difference?) by heart. And despite the impulse to despise my fellow Christians who condoned Trump's racist, sexist, and xenophobic behavior with their votes, I—an out Latino from the Texas-Mexico border—continually find solace in my faith, because my parents raised me to always see the good in others (much as Jesus did when he embraced tax collectors, prostitutes, and lepers). I'm not saying it's been easy, but it's been necessary in order to function in a society still reeling from the election of a man who openly described himself as being "much better for the gays" than Hillary Clinton. (Guess he didn't see those "Yaaas Hillary" tees.)
Although Thursday's measure doesn't explicitly include the same anti-LGBTQ provisions outlined in a draft leaked this February, what's true is that some right-wing conservatives see this order, and Trump's rise to power in general, as only the beginning. This order, and similar legislation across the country, represent a safety net that didn't exist under the Obama White House—one that allows them to finally express their true feelings about LGBTQ Americans and other marginalized folks.
Trump himself even said that the order puts religious Americans "in a position to say what you want to say," and that it will "give our churches their voices back." "I know you'll only say good," he added. But it most certainly won't be good for folks like me.
And the fact that religious leaders—including those within the Catholic hierarchy—pushed hard for the directive is disconcerting, to say the least. It's yet another reason why I feel that queer parishioners like myself need to continue fighting back against the institution we love. After all, the church supposedly seeks to promote love to ALL of God's children. I am God's child and have been since July 1988. So why is it that my brothers and sisters in Christ continue fighting me for simply being me? Do I have to call Dad? Just so you know, he and I have a pretty great relationship, and he usually answers whenever I call.
Jason Steidl, an openly gay doctoral student of theology at Fordham University, feels similarly. "[Jesus] is the one I follow today—not the leadership of the Catholic Church," he said, "who claim to act in Christ's name, yet continue to speak out against the inherent worth of the LGBT community and the holiness of their relationships.
"The Catholic Church is much larger than its leadership," he added. "If we imagine the church as a body, the bishops may be the head, and the head may speak out against LGBT rights, but it is powerless without the body of Catholic believers who understand the difference between bigotry and religious liberty."
And religious liberty, according to renowned author and Jesuit priest Reverend James Martin, "cannot be, and should not be, a camouflage for hating, persecuting, or excluding people who are different from you." Martin's forthcoming book, Building a Bridge, explores the relationship between queer Catholics and the church, which he admits has become increasingly strained because of what they've heard for years, both at the pulpit and in private. Remember: Trump's executive order now protects such inflammatory language.
Reverend Martin, like myself, also doesn't buy the argument that American Christians are under attack and thus need "religious freedom" laws. He wrote me that "while a few laws make it harder for some Christian organizations to carry out facets of their work in good conscience, there is still a basic freedom of religion," adding that in the United States, "you can go to church publicly, choose your own religion, and even wear religious symbols on your person."
I'm one of those people—I wear a cross necklace daily, not to shove my religion down anyone's throat (sound familiar?) but to remind myself of the commitment I made to my Lord and Savior years ago. And none of that is dependent on my sexual orientation. I'm a good person because it's honestly not that hard to be one. If only the fearful faithful understood that and didn't campaign against my other community.
This week's executive order presumably leaves LGBTQ people safe from religious discrimination, for now. But as it is written in the Gospel of Matthew, "Stay alert, because you know neither the day or the hour." Who knew the Apostle could've anticipated the arrival of the Apprentice?
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