Why Campaign Staff & Supporters Have to Ask Hard Questions About Religious Liberty and LGBTQ Identity

Note: I wrote this yesterday (Thursday) and was waiting to hear a report out from today’s meeting between candidate for DA Turahn Jenkins & LGBTQ community members before posting. That meeting took place. I will report what I learn in another post. ~ Sue

One pressing question for me at this moment in time, in Western Pennsylvania – how are campaign staff, volunteers, committeefolks, donors, and the behind the scenes string pullers who bring forth candidates for ANY office, how are they going to face the issue of ‘religious liberty’ head-on when it comes to vetting their candidates?

It is not just about wedding cakes and not just about queer people.

I mean on all sides, including established electeds who are firmly enmeshed in mainstream white Judeo-Christian faith communities.
I asked about the fact that a candidate for DA is a self-described ‘active member’ in a Christian church that is anti-LGBTQ at their core.

Today, I ask the same question about the current DA is who deeply enmeshed in the Catholic Church and Catholic social networks emanating from Central Catholic onward. Catholics and Protestants have always benefitted from being the mainstream religious group and navigate ties with homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, social injustice more deftly because of white privilege.

This article illustrates my point (I hope) about the potential (and historical facts of ) abuse from elected attorneys general. It involves the Catholic Church using the courts to continue suppressing information about perpetrators of sexual violence against children by priests and the people who protected those priests.

But we cannot run away from the question of religious liberty as it spews its way into our society. Not actual freedom from/of religion, but the distorted concepts of religious beliefs that put them on par with our actual rights (access to healthcare, freedom of association, etc.) Nor can Christians, who benefit the most from this regardless of denomination, throw up their hands and say with any credibility “not our problem.”

To protect ourselves, we must ask candidates at all levels how they will navigate differences between their personal religious beliefs and their jobs. Their job is not to be a Christian/Jewish/Muslim elected official. That may be their personal priority, but not their job. I do not believe the status quo of just trusting that people will act right has proven effective.

So to return to my original question which is very specific – how are the people who decide whom to run, the campaign organizers, the allies, how are they going to address this at the get go? How are they going to set the tone from the campaign announcement about religious influences on the candidate?

I’m so beaten down by Christian oppression that I *always* check for religious affiliations on pretty much any person I have contact with, especially public figures. Queer people know what it’s like to work with someone who talks a good game in public, but have few qualms about inflicting religious beliefs in the workplace. It is as much a part of my lifelong experience as misogyny. It is so pervasive in Pittsburgh that no one bats an eye at scheduling political events in churches or synagogues. My partner, a public employee, was sent to an official training in a mega church along with her Black male colleague. For two days. That’s so ridiculous, but the City of Pittsburgh made that call. And that’s helmed by elected officials, right? See how insidious it can be – who forces queer and Black folks into a suburb white megachurch for two days? And, yes, her Black coworker was questioned about ‘belonging’ there by random white people he passed. Sigh. Us taxpayers paid for both of them to endure this oppression just to do their jobs. That’s tiresome.

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When Turahn Jenkins announced his candidacy, he missed an opportunity to set the tone on this issue during his announcement speech. I’d like to know why the folks mapping out his campaign didn’t think about it and have some conversations and plan for questions like mine. My quibble is not with Mr. Jenkins, per se, who seems to be a very qualified and highly respected candidate. I do want him to address the issue, but my actual quarrel is with everyone else. His campaign planners, his supporters who hold or will hold elected office, his campaign savvy volunteers and allies.

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How are we not taking religious affiliations as seriously as the extreme right wingers do? It doesn’t mean people of faith cannot run for office or be effective in elected office. It means that we need to acknowledge that religion has caused a lot of harm in our society and presents a real threat to actual robust liberties as Americans. Not all religions, not all religious people. But enough that it should be very much in that campaign planning toolkit.

A white guy who was a member of council in Ross Township won the primary for State Senate. This is what his website says about his church affiliation:

Of course the lack of specificity caught my eye – I was looking for it! And it took me about 3 clicks to determine that Jeremy and his family are part of Three Rivers Grace Church. Here’s a sample of where that church stands on LGBTQ folx. Shaffer’s website is filled with God-speak so I don’t doubt for one minute that he deliberately did not name his church to avoid being pegged as a right wingnutter, but used code to assure voters that’s he on #TeamJesus. And it worked, right?

This is not how progressive should operate. We should not hide our religious beliefs, but be able to articulate how we reconcile our beliefs with our everyday lives. And if we can’t do that, we have a problem. That is not a problem you bring to work with you. That is not a problem your potential constituents should have to figure out on their own. That is not a problem that campaign staff and supporters should overlook. This isn’t a Frank Underwood story. It is our real lives.

This is about the campaign staff, the committees, the volunteers, etc. Do your job and be mindful of a candidate’s religious beliefs or affiliations, especially as they intersect with the identities of various constituencies. If you are an ally or yourself part of the LGBTQ community, you have to do this work before you ask for our support for any candidate.

While you can rest assured that I will diligently look up the full biographies on anyone who sends me a glossy campaign mailer, I’m not a sorting hat for the houses of Christianities. I am, after all, a survivor of Church inflicted violence myself.

No, I cannot offer you a solution. I can merely point out that there is a very deep problem, a consequence of the decades and millenia of letting cis het white Christian men run the show in the name of their God. I can describe how the growth of the Religious Liberty industry perpetuates great harm against all of us that transcends wedding cakes. And while Catholic white men will have a buffer against what might be unfurled if Daryl Metcalfe is not checked once and for all (and Mike Pence), is that acceptable?

I say it is not. I hope Turahn Jenkins’ campaign will respond with thoughtfulness to my questions. I hope that my fellow white LGBTQ folks and progressives will not allow this to blind them to their own collusion with white Christianity.

And I hope the DSA, the ACDC, the various political groups and the campaign staff who earn a living doing this work will get up to speed on best practices before we get too much closer to the November mid-terms. Because they will be the ones who continue to identity, recruit, and bring forth new candidates in elections to come. If you talk about intersectionality, you need to talk about it with your candidates.

Let’s ask a lot of questions. Let’s leave no stone unturned, no idea unexamined in this quest to hold back the forces of oppression and forge a new path. Let us remember that while people are free to practice their religion in this nation, we are also free from religion. Let’s acknowledge that this question is about thousands of years of hurt, trauma, and violence to the most vulnerable among us.

Let’s do this better.


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