Today at the state capitol building, I had the privilege of being a member of the panel at an education event about proposed changes to Idaho’s Human Rights Legislation. I was the religious voice on a panel of civic and business leaders. We were all speaking, from our own perspective, about why we feel it is important to Add the Words, allowing people who are gay, lesbian, and transgender to be protected under Idaho’s Human Rights codes.
It was an honor and a privilege to be able to speak. Here are my remarks, more or less…
My name is Marci Glass, and I serve as pastor of Southminster Presbyterian Church in South Boise. My husband, sons, and I moved to Boise in 2008 and love living in this community.
I never set out to be a campaigner for equal rights for people who are gay, lesbian, or transgender. It is not my personal experience or struggle.
And yet, here I am. And honored and proud to be here, and thankful for the invitation today.
Because until all of us are free, none of us are.
I have become vocal in my support of equal rights for all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, as a pastoral response to the pain I have seen inflicted on members of my congregation and on people in the community.
I know a young man who dropped out of high school in Meridian because of the bullying he experienced as a young, gay man.
I have met people who cannot get jobs because of their gender identity.
I know couples who want to be joined in marriage, but cannot because of their sexual orientation.
In addition to the exclusion from the foundational ways our culture has created families, people who are gay and lesbian also lose out on benefits the rest of us take for granted. Tax breaks. The denial of hospital privileges normally afforded to family members when their loved one is hospitalized, and many other privileges.
I know people who have been deeply wounded because of their exclusion from family, faith communities, and schools.
My call, as a minister of the Good News of Jesus Christ is to proclaim justice for the oppressed, and to stand with people as Christ would. Jesus offered radical hospitality, inviting all people, no exceptions, all people, to participate in the work of God’s mercy and love.
So it is my deep commitment to the God revealed in Scripture and to the teachings of Jesus that I am here today to speak for non-discrimination. While Scripture says very little about sexual orientation, it says quite a bit about justice, about hospitality, and about welcoming the stranger.
My stance for non-discrimination is deeply rooted in the word of God, a God who created each of us, all of us, in the very image of God and declared that creation good. A God who became human and lived among us, full of grace and truth, eating with outcasts, touching the unclean, and inviting all to join in the work of grace, mercy, and peace.
I was then asked this question:
As a religious leader how can we balance religious liberty and non-discrimination?
There is no conflict between non-discrimination and religious liberty. My freedom to practice my religion does not include my ability to impose it on others.
Let me give you an example. As a woman, I have equal rights under the law, correct? I have the right to pay taxes, to vote, to speak, to have equal pay for equal work. Or that’s the theory, at least.
But there are many religious organizations who would not allow me to speak in worship, because I am a woman and because of how they interpret a few verses of scripture. The Catholic Church has the freedom, for example, to prevent me from being a priest because of my gender.
If non-discrimination legislation were intent on limiting religious freedom, then surely we’d have female priests in the Catholic Church and women speaking in pulpits across all religious traditions. And we do not.
Non-discrimination legislation is necessary for religious freedom, in fact.
We all need equal opportunity to worship God—or to not worship God— as the Spirit leads us. If for some people, that means that women shouldn’t speak, and people who are gay and lesbian shouldn’t be full participants, then they should be free, within the walls of their buildings, as long as no one is harmed, to practice their faith as they feel called.
But it would not be religious liberty for one religious tradition to limit my right to worship by imposing their particular interpretation of scripture on my faith community. It is not religious liberty to allow one group of people to cause pain to another group of people in the workplace, in schools, or in the public square because of how they interpret scripture.
My advocating for equal rights legislation is not to impose changes on how other faith communities practice. It is to allow the people in Idaho the freedom to live as I live, with the same rights I have.
And then the final question….
What is one final thing you would want to say to the Legislature?
When our ancestors wrote the founding documents of our nation, they included provisions to “promote the general welfare”. They didn’t make this a nation of “each person for themselves”. While we have not done such a bang up job of remembering that lately in our national discourse, it remains deeply coded into our identity as Americans. We are the people who have concerns for our neighbors. We are the people who act for the benefit of people we may never meet. It can call us to remember our better nature.
This legislation to extend protection to ALL Idahoans is in keeping with this great founding principal of our country. It is right and good to care for our neighbors. It is right and good to extend concern for people we may not even know.
More than that, it is an idea that is also foundational to almost all of our faith traditions. Concern for the neighbor. Hospitality for the stranger. The flourishing of the community. Those are all grounded in our holy documents and traditions.
If you are an Idahoan, I would encourage you to contact your representative and senator and let them know how important this legislation is to you. Thanks. More information can be found at Add the Words.