TFN Insider is pleased to present this guest post from Rev. Dr. Kyle M. Walker, Transitional Pastor at Faith Presbyterian Church in Austin. In February, Kyle participated in Faith Advocacy Day, sponsored by TFN and Equality Texas. He writes about how that experience prompted him to work within his own denomination to build opposition to misleading “religious freedom” proposals in Texas that misuse religion in ways that could lead to harm and discrimination.
Several weeks ago I participated in Faith Advocacy Day for Equality at the Texas State Capitol. Although we went to meet with a lot of legislative aids rather than directly with senators and house members, the conversation hasn’t left me. Many of you have been through this drill. We would enter into some offices of legislators that had known negative records on equality issues and share with them why we, as religious leaders, have great concern for certain bills. What struck me though was how these aids in the most hostile territory weren’t hostile at all. Now maybe they were just good at being a non-anxious presence, but I truly got the sense when they told us they didn’t know the negative effects of all this discriminatory legislation that perhaps they really didn’t know. Then I heard this is one of the least experienced legislative bodies in the history of our state. If there is true ignorance, that’s our responsibility. And we’ve got work to do.
Then I reflected on those clergy that marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. at Selma. Lest we forget, slaves were emancipated in 1863 and it was another 101 years before passage of the Civil Rights Act. 101 years! In the interim, religions including Southern Presbyterians and Southern Baptists spent that time getting over their biblical and theological justifications for slavery and race discrimination. It took 101 years for we religious folks to get on board that religion cannot be used as a disguise for racial discrimination. 101 years of deadly racial hatred that took lives and that produces continual hurdles for racial minorities to this present day. We aren’t done yet on race either. I don’t have to remind us of current events in Ferguson, Mo., among many others.
With the advent of LGBT equality before the law, we cannot afford to be on the slow track on LGBT equality as well. We should have never had a backlash against racial minorities. So we should not allow a new backlash to develop against LGBT persons. And those of us who are religious persons certainly should never allow it to develop in God’s name.
Sadly, Trojan-horse legislation is back using God’s name in order to discriminate in the civil square. As examples, HJR 125 and SJR 10 call for a very sweet-sounding constitutional amendment that would, in effect, nullify the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act (TRFRA). Why is that important? Well, first of all, it arrogantly negates TRFRA, which is a document our state government collaborated with Texas’ broad religious landscape to create. It is considered one of the best such documents in the country. HJR 125 and SJR 10 “fix” something that isn’t broken and actually goes further and breaks something that is helping us strike a balance between freedom and rights. Why squander that gift? Why allow for mischief that only sets us back and sets up more struggle and strife?
A couple of weeks ago, Central Presbyterian Church, Faith Presbyterian Church and St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, all here in Austin, unanimously passed resolutions calling for a critical look at such legislation and asked our overseeing body, Mission Presbytery, to consider a similar statement. Mission Presbytery (which covers a line from Del Rio to Brady to Georgetown to Corpus and all points south to the border with Mexico), unanimously adopted the following resolution:
WHEREAS Mission Presbytery historically supports the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act (TRFRA) created in 1999 after strong deliberation, significant input, and broad consensus from Texas’ diverse faith community;
WHEREAS proposed legislation changes to TRFRA lack the same broad-based consensus, risk discrimination against religious minorities imposed by religious majorities, and potentially adversely impact the ministries of Mission Presbytery;
THEREFORE be it resolved that we call upon the Texas Legislature to reject any changes to the Texas RFRA in the 84th Legislative Session, and further resolve that any future changes to the Texas RFRA be considered only after a public process that includes substantial conversation with the broad spectrum of Texas’ rich and diverse faith communities.
And a movement has begun. Similar resolutions are being sent to the state houses in Arkansas and Oklahoma from four other presbyteries. Conversation is happening in the other four Texas presbyteries as well.
Will your faith (or non-faith) tradition speak as well? We Presbyterians wish to be your partner in this effort. Freedom in practice should never take over 100 years after it is achieved in print. Let’s work together for equality for all people. The Golden Rule we all share is waiting to be lived out.