When the Senate passed a long-overdue bill that would outlaw lynching in the United States, it seemed like an obvious step in the right direction. And then evangelical Christians stepped in and tried to take us two steps back.
This week Liberty Counsel, an evangelical legal organization known for its political lobbying on behalf of the most conservative of the religious right, put pressure on House lawmakers to remove language from the bill that explicitly includes protections for people on the basis of sexual and gender identity. Seriously.
On the surface, it may look like another religious extremist group lobbying against policy, but a closer inspection reveals the reality undergirding its ideology.
It would seem that Mat Staver, the founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, and his supporters are trying to prevent LGBTQ people from being protected from lynching as a means to keep them from being protected from discrimination. An anti-lynching law is, according to Staver in an interview he gave to the Christian news siteOneNewsNow, only a baby step to one day passing employment, housing and health care legislation that would offer protections to LGBTQ people. Thus LGBTQ people’s lives become a small sacrifice for the ideological comfort and control of the religious right. He and Liberty Counsel seem to care more about what people do in their sex lives than the violence and inequity that they experience because of their identities.
Staver and his organization have made it clear they would rather see LGBTQ people dead without justice than see them alive and acknowledged as fully human.
While Staver says that he is generally opposed to lynching (does he really want credit for that low bar?), he and his organization have made it clear with their opposition that they would rather see LGBTQ people dead without justice than see them alive and acknowledged as fully human. Liberty Counsel, which once advocated for Kim Davis and her refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, uses quotes around language like transgender and gay on its website to invalidate the lived identities of people who obviously exist.
He and his supporters are fighting the culture at large in an attempt to keep the political system from acknowledging the humanity of LGBTQ people. Those Christians essentially use their bigotry as a rock to live under, not recognizing that no matter how many times they refuse to acknowledge the existence, dignity and rights of LGBTQ people, they do exist. They don’t need Christians’ affirmation to suddenly make them real.
Many Christians, often concerned about compromising their sense of what they believe that Jesus would want, have doubled down on their fragile self-image of being holy, pure and sanctified. In their fear of compromising their beliefs about sexuality and gender, they have almost fully compromised one of the core teachings of Jesus: to love God and your neighbor as you love yourself.
These Christians instead choose to play God vying for the position of arbiter of whose life is worthy of protecting. This is antithetical to Christian values of grace, love, kindness, gentleness and caring for those on the margins. In this political environment, it has become clear over and over again that a few lives of people considered unworthy are worth sacrificing for the moral control and power that oppressing them brings to powerful Christians.
We are having a political argument about whether people should be legally protected from lynching. Lynching. Extrajudicial and generally identity-based killings. I am incensed that, in an unsurprising expression of self-righteousness and moral control, self-proclaimed Christians are leading the fight against the measure.
The sad reality is that significant elements of Christianity in the United States are entrenched in political power, on Sundays teaching that Jesus loves everybody but then moralizing people out of the Gospel that they say is free.
Liberty Counsel in and of itself isn’t the problem. (It certainly is a problem, just not the problem.) A Christianity that uses the pulpit to teach discriminatory ideologies and Christian superiority is. The group is a case study of what happens when politics and Christianity are so tied that Christians cannot or even refuse to see the people that policies are supposed to represent. Many religious people have consistently used the intersection of their understanding of Scripture and the law to dehumanize.
When Christians get behind any type of movement to further dehumanize entire communities in the name of Jesus — a man who was lynched by a crowd of politically frenzied religious zealots — we must pause. No, pausing is not enough; we must both listen and speak up.
We must listen to the voices of LGBTQ people, many of whom are Christians — to their stories of oppression, pain, joy and historical and present triumph. We must let their stories change those of us who are not marginalized on the basis of gender or sexual orientation and follow in the fight for a more equitable world. I must, as a Christian reject any ideology, law or practice that strips people of their humanity.
Week by week, many Christians in political power seem to try to one-up the bigotry and oppression of their colleagues. It’s the now-proverbial hold-my-beer ideology, with those Christians vying to be the most powerful and, by consequence, the most oppressive and violent. The sad reality is that significant elements of Christianity in the United States are entrenched in political power, on Sundays teaching that Jesus loves everybody but then moralizing people out of the Gospel that they say is free.
If there is ever a question about whether any people should be protected from lynching, we have a problem. If there is a question about whether LGBTQ people are made in the image of the God we claim, we have a problem. Christians must recognize, particularly in the political realm, when we’re failing to hold truly Christlike belief and behavior.
Brandi Miller is a campus minister and justice program director from the Pacific Northwest.