Stop peddling LGBTQ discrimination in name of religion

Both the Jewish and Christian Bibles begin with the creation story. God brings the world into being through words. “Let there be light – and there was light.”

From the beginning, words have been used to build, create, and cultivate. Yet some insist on using the wondrous power of speech not to create, but to destroy.

In the General Assembly recently, a small group of self-appointed faith leaders were invited to the Capital, alongside extreme politicians and anti-transgender zealots working to lay the foundation for a hostile legislative session. With the help of this vocal minority, these lawmakers are perverting our faith to justify discrimination against our fellow Georgians under the guise of “religious freedom.”

As two religious leaders here in Georgia, we are appalled that this cherry-picked group, including an anti-transgender extremist flown in from out-of-state, was given a platform to promote such a misrepresentative, divisive agenda in our home state.

Bishop O.C. Allen III, left, and Rabbi Michael Rothbaum

Credit: Contributed

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Credit: Contributed

In our sacred texts, we see the celebration, not condemnation, of LGBTQ+ people. It is in the creation story that human beings are created “in the image and the likeness of God.” In line with our holy teachings, we believe deeply in treating all people as equal, providing a home to those in need, and rededicating ourselves to the alleviation of suffering.

Regardless of what religion or spirituality you follow – or whether you follow no religious path – human beings reach our loftiest heights when we show each other not harsh judgment, but respect, compassion, and dignity. In the timeless words of the Biblical text, we are called on to love our neighbors as ourselves, and we are called to serve the “least of these.”

We’re not alone in these beliefs. A majority of Georgians and people of faith oppose bills that would allow for discrimination in the name of religion, and nearly 3 in 4 Georgians, across political affiliations, support passing protections for LGBTQ+ people. We recently signed onto an open letter with more than 100 other faith leaders from across Georgia, standing staunchly against the homophobic and transphobic readings of our religious texts and condemning dangerous rhetoric, misinformation and legislative attacks that endanger our communities.

Unfortunately, this small group of radical zealots has lost sight of these values. With disregard for the damage it will cause, they are caving to the pressure of national special interest groups with partisan agendas, rather than listening to the needs and values of their own congregations.

Year after year, these extreme, exploitative attempts continue. And for more than 10 years now, they have repeatedly failed. Lawmakers consistently reject these efforts – including in 2016, when former Republican Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed such a bill, citing his faith and belief in Georgia as a “welcoming” state for all people.

That’s in part because, despite what the extremists might say, our right to worship as we please is not under threat. Let us be clear – the freedom of religion is one of our country’s most important and foundational rights. And it is already explicitly protected by both the U.S. Constitution and the Georgia Constitution.

Exploiting religion to infringe on others’ rights to exist freely is a purposeful and inexcusable distortion of this valued freedom. It also constricts our own First Amendment rights. While the First Amendment guarantees the free expression of religion, make no mistake: your free expression stops at the infringement upon our dignity and the dignity of our congregations, which welcome all of God’s creations. It stops at establishing a chauvinist agenda masquerading as religious values – an agenda by which the rest of us would be forced to live.

Allowing faith to be wielded against LGBTQ+ Georgians opens the door for discrimination against so many others – people of color, women, religious minorities, immigrants and refugees, and more. What’s more, these bills are so vague that they have already been used in other states to deny access to basic healthcare, like contraception, HIV prevention and the HPV vaccine. This cruelty has no place in our home state, especially as Georgia faces one of the highest rates of HIV cases in the country. We can and must do better.

As we head further into this legislative session, we’re calling on all faith leaders to stand with us in a united front against extremist attacks that sow division in our home state.

In our congregations, our homes, and our communities, we will use the God-given power of speech to speak in the clear voice of conscience and affirm that every person – including LGBTQ+ Georgians – is welcome, supported, and able to live their life freely.

Bishop O.C. Allen III is the senior pastor of the Vision Cathedral of Atlanta and presiding bishop of the United Progressive Pentecostal, a global LGBTQ-affirming organization.

Rabbi Michael Rothbaum serves Congregation Bet Haverim in Atlanta, where he lives with his husband, Yiddish singer Anthony Russell.