Queer Christians Respond To Jeff Sessions' New 'License To Discriminate'

Carol Kuruvilla
Queer Christians explain how taking away LGBTQ Americans' civil rights is damaging the American church.

Alarmed by society’s growing acceptance of same-sex relationships and transgender individuals, conservative Christian groups have become leaders in the fight to strip away the rights that LGBTQ Americans gained under the Obama administration. And after years of waiting, they finally have what they wanted: A president and an administration willing to prioritize their religious beliefs.

On Friday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a directive that undercuts protections for queer Americans. The directive instructs federal agencies to accommodate“to the greatest extent” possible the claims of people who say their religious freedoms are being violated ― removing their burden to prove their beliefs are sincerely held, which could make it easier for their beliefs to override the civil rights of queer people. 

The guidance from Sessions is just one of a series of moves made by the Trump administration to attack progress on LGBTQ rights. 

One LGBTQ rights activist called Sessions’ directive a “license to discriminate.” On the other hand, conservative Christian leaders and organizations are enthused about the development. Religious liberty is a key issue for conservative Christian voters.

But although these conservative religious voices are often the loudest and most politically influential, they don’t represent all of American Christianity. Progressive Christian denominations and queer theologians have for years been preaching and practicing a gospel of love and inclusion. These leaders are fully aware of the toxic fruit that conservative theology produces in the lives of queer Christians and other queer Americans. And on a broader scale, they believe that when queer Christians suffer, the entire body of Christ also suffers.

Amelia Markham, a coordinator for The Reformation Project, told HuffPost she believes that when Christianity is publicly tied to the movement to strip away queer Americans’ civil rights, the mission of the American church as a whole is compromised.

“When discriminatory policy and the social climate that ensues become married to ‘Christian belief’ it isn’t just harmful to LGBTQ people, it is also devastating to the mission of church,” Markham told HuffPost. “Both by the deficit gifts and leadership of LGBTQ Christians within faith-based organizations it creates, but more broadly in our overall witness to the world of what it means to follow Jesus as a body of believing people.”

HuffPost reached out to a few queer Christians for their thoughts on the attorney general’s directive, and how the quest to strip away LGBTQ rights will affect the American church as a whole. These are Christians who, despite the church’s history of persecution and theological abuse, have managed to find a way back to faith.

Listen to their voices below.

Each time we see Christians using power and privilege to target marginalized demographics like the LGBTQ community, the very foundation of our faith is compromised. While Christians should be actively asking ‘How can we help you,’ the message of this ‘license to discriminate’ communicates hard-heartedness towards those Christ would have befriended. Jesus was anti-empire and pro-liberation for all the marginalized, but that message is hardly discernible in current mainstream discourse on Christianity. Unfortunately, this is yet another example of a part of the church turning on its own ― acting as if LGBTQ Christians do not exist or are invalid ― perpetuating years and years of harm. God meant for each and every one of us, LGBTQ included, to thrive as our authentic selves and in as much as any Christians cannot support one another in that, there is little the church has to offer to our aching world.”

― Rev. M Barclay, director of communications, Reconciling Ministries Network

Most Americans support same-sex marriage and are opposed to religiously based service refusals by small business owners. (Thomas_EyeDesign via Getty Images)

“As a young person, I felt that I had to choose between living authentically as a queer, transgender person and being a Christian. Grappling with this conflict caused me a lot of pain, and I eventually left the church when I was 14 years old. It took me over a decade to understand that I am part of God’s divine creation as I am, and these parts of me do not have to be in conflict. I now know that I can be queer, transgender and Christian.

This license to discriminate guidance opens the door for some to misuse their religious beliefs  ― whether they are sincerely or conveniently held ― to justify harming others. This is the kind of harm and hypocrisy that turned me away from my faith for over a decade.

I believe the church should be a source of affirmation and healing ― not discrimination. Our community at Believe Out Loud is home to hundreds of thousands of Christians who feel the same way.”

― Reese Rathjen, campaigns manager, Believe Out Loud

“In dining with the tax collector, or speaking to a Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus’ ministry consistently said YES to those on the margins. Attorney General Sessions’ directive allows blatant discrimination under the guise of faith. Claiming a ‘license to discriminate’ against marginalized people in the name of Christianity is the last thing Jesus would ever have wanted. As Christians, we are called to follow Christ’s example of feeding the hungry, serving the poor, and welcoming the marginalized. Many LGBTQ people will not enter through the doors of a church because they believe Christ has turned his back on them. LGBTQ people believe this largely because of policies like a ‘license to discriminate’ that make Christianity a religion of saying NO to those Christ would have welcomed. As part of the body of Christ I live out my faith by following God’s commandment: to love my neighbor as myself. Attorney General Sessions would do well to follow this same example.”

― Alex Patchin McNeill, executive director, More Light Presbyterians

 “Jesus never gave anyone a ‘license to discriminate’; the concept is completely antithetical to his mission. Read the Gospels: They’re filled with examples of religious authorities hauling people in front of Jesus and saying, ‘Well, what about this person? Look at the religious rules they’ve broken? Surely they should be punished, shunned, cast out, marginalized ...’ (i.e. they shouldn’t be allowed to enjoy the same ‘freedoms’ we enjoy). And the bottom line ― every, single time ― is that Jesus cares more about the people than he does about the rules. The ‘rules’ aren’t what bind us together as the Body of Christ but how we demonstrate Christ’s love to the people around us: our neighbors, employees, classmates and fellow Americans. Discrimination is unconstitutional to our life as Christians, while being generous-with-justice is foundational to life in the Body of Christ.

― Rev. Kaci Clark-Porter, associate pastor, First & Central Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, Delaware

Religiously unaffiliated Americans ― a group some Christians consider to be a potential target for evangelization ― are particularly supportive of same-sex relationships and transgender rights. (Halfpoint via Getty Images)

The Attorney General’s directive furthers the narrative that religion and faith are inherently opposed to LGBTQI people. This is simply untrue. Majorities of believers in nearly all denominations know and love LGBTQI individuals, support equal legal protections for our community, and endorse our right to marry those we love, to live with integrity, and to be free from discrimination.”

― Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director, DignityUSA

“Christians are better off scheming about ways to protect marginalized groups like Muslims, women, racial minorities and LGBTQ people than scheming to discriminate against them. Calling for directives that will make the vulnerable more vulnerable does a disservice to following the way of Christ, which is the way of love.

― Rev. Broderick Greer, Episcopal priest, queer theologian

 “As a gay-identifying Christian minister, this directive inspires the familiar sensation of being caught directly in the middle of an active war zone. The religious atmosphere of the United States has become so preoccupied with drawing lines in the sand that such initiatives only serve to further division and an ‘us vs. them’ mentality. As different parts of the body of Christ, we have never been called to uniformity, but we have pledged ourselves to a Messiah who consistently calls us to unity, reconciliation and peacemaking. The Way of Jesus always involved movement toward those the religious deemed ‘unclean’ and loving the flesh-and-blood person over observing religious regulation. Our personal beliefs and worship practices remain our own to hold, but as an entity that the Bible calls to be identified by love and unity, such division and strife within the Church have become primary factors in driving the students I work with away from it.

― Zach Verwey, campus ministry staff, Incarnation Ministries

“I believe we need each other in the Body of Christ if we are to truly live out a vision of Beloved Community. The song ‘They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love’ begins with, ‘We are one in the Spirit.’ It also reminds us to ‘guard each one’s dignity and save each one’s pride.’ As Christians, this is an imperative ― to protect the dignity of all of God’s beloved children. Any law that does not do that diminishes us all.”

― Bishop Karen P. Oliveto, Mountain Sky Episcopal Area, The United Methodist Church

Queer theologians have for years been preaching a gospel of love and inclusion. (Niklas Emmoth via Getty Images)

“The latest ‘guidance’ issued from the Department of Justice claims to reinforce the constitutional protection of religious liberty. Instead, it baptizes discrimination in religious language, effectively making exclusion an act of piety. Of course, this distortion of religious devotion is the legacy of colonized Christianity, the faith-based system that sanctified indigenous genocides and chattel slavery in America. But colonized Christianity is not the legacy of Jesus. Jesus’ ultimate concern was that all people could lead flourishing lives. He took seriously the importance of religion, yet rebuked public displays of piety that were, in fact, hollow on the inside. The kind of Christianity that fights for the legal right to discriminate has no structural integrity. It is faith that seems holy, but with close inspection, is a toxic threat to everything it touches.”

― Rev. Naomi Washington-Leapheart, faith work director, National LGBTQ Task Force

“I know religious liberty experts say that this directive isn’t clear on how the guidance will be applied by individual agencies, but as a Christian my more fundamental concerns are around the overall message it sends about the person of Jesus and what it means to be the church in a society that is only increasing in its identification as spiritual but not religious. I respect and find value in maintaining firmly held convictions for everyone, but I am uncertain how faithful Christians can read Scripture, learn about Christian history, take in the overarching principles of the gospel message and imagine that their commitment to a marginalized Jewish man (executed by the State for preaching a message of good news to the oppressed) can result in grounding injustice for others who are different than them. When discriminatory policy and the social climate that ensues become married to ‘Christian belief’ it isn’t just harmful to LGBTQ people, it is also devastating to the mission of church both by the deficit gifts and leadership of LGBTQ Christians within faith-based organizations it creates but more broadly in our overall witness to the world of what it means to follow Jesus as a body of believing people.

― Amelia Markham, organizing and programs coordinator, The Reformation Project

  • This article originally appeared on HuffPost.