Sorry I’ve been out of touch, but I’ve been traveling…a lot…to places where the hotels have lousy internet access.
Anyhoo, shall we?
There is an ongoing discussion within my circle of friends about whether a person is being biased toward religious people when one criticizes a religious institution for a policy stance or public statement/position. Included in the debate-based discussion is the question of whether one can criticize a religious institution without criticizing it’s members and whether that’s a bad thing or an unavoidable reality that comes with membership. This all came up again recently because I posted about some new Mormon ads on my personal blog and I wanted to know what a couple of friends thought of them. The ads are running in select states and feature regular folks discussing their regular lives (volunteering, hobbies and family) each ending with the statement that they (the regular folks) are Mormons.
I was curious about the timing of these ads, which come across as a re-positioning of the Mormon brand, given the recent Prop. 8 ruling and the role the Mormon Church played in funding and supporting the anti-equality Prop. 8 initiative in California.
One of my friends defended the ads, stating that they didn’t contain any mention of the church’s position on marriage equality or LGBT people or the state of California in general. And then she went on to say that she was uncomfortable with lumping religious people in with what their religious institutions do politically because there are lots of religious people who disagree with what their church does. Her concern was that we would damage our pro-equality cause by coming across as bigoted should we denounce the faithful when we denounce the actions of a faith.
The conversation got tense…these conversations often do and I keep it real at dinner parties…and ultimately someone changed the subject before our dinner went completely off the rails.
I’ve been advocating for LGBT equality and reproductive justice for a while now and this issue comes up often. Every time religious institutions take public positions on policy and candidates I find myself struggling to word my criticism in such a way as to not loop religious people in with what their church has or has not done.
But I’ve got to admit…I’m not entirely comfortable with doing that. I was raised Baptist and left the church because the church left me…I could not remain a member of an institution that no longer reflected my values or empowered my soul. So, I struggle to understand and accept folks who can remain in the flock after they’ve lost respect for the shepherd.
The problem is that I’m not entirely comfortable with not accepting folks who remain either.
I know some fierce pro-choice and pro-equality activists who are religious leaders in my community and who head congregations that are open and embracing and who want the rest of the religious world to catch up and jump on board. They represent the growing number of religious allies in the social justice movement who are working within communities of faith to advocate for change.
I also know some religious people who totally disagree with me when it comes to abortion rights…hell, I used to volunteer at a woman’s shelter run by a group of nuns and we had some amazing debates on the issue. We sought and were able to achieve common ground and I’ll always be proud of that…but a huge part of achieving that common ground was the fact that both sides were up front about our beliefs and boundaries.
That brings me back to that reoccurring quizzical-based debate that keeps popping up and damn near ruining my dinner parties.
I’m not interested in bashing organized religion…I’m too much a culture buff to find the rhythm of that dance. But there are religious institutions that fund anti-choice and anti-equality campaigns and those institutions are supported by their members. While I support and will defend their right to religious freedom and free speech and non-violent protest (‘cause I sure as shit enjoy the freedom to not be a member of the flock, to speak my mind and to protest non-violently), I also support the rights of we the people to respond to attacks on our rights whether they come from religious institutions or some social club or Target
And I acknowledge the challenge of that even as I confront the reality that not responding to attacks on LGBT equality or reproductive justice from religious institutions is tantamount to conceding defeat.
I have only to look at the recent health care reform battle to know the power religious institutions wield over our political process and far too many politicians.
I can’t help but ponder the precious and oh so conveniently privileged position religious institutions hold in our society.
And I wonder what society would be like if folks like my friend defended my right to not be burdened by the laws of someone else’s church with as much passion as they defend the rights of religious institutions to advocate for public policy that plants their dogma on my neck.
Given the current political climate, something tells me I’m looking at more than my fair share of tense as hell dinner party discussions in the future.