In national and state politics, religion has increasingly become an oppressive tool in the hands of some politicians. Sacred texts have been misinterpreted or fabricated to deny LGBTQ and pregnant people their bodily rights. We’ve also seen a wave of religious doctrine misapplied to reframe public education policies in ways that serve no one but these bad actors. These actions are why it became urgent and necessary to counter that narrative with our Just Texas project, an assembly of faith communities committed to using their faith to fight for justice and truth. In this interview, Shan Schaffer, our new Just Texas Faith Organizer, discusses why this work matters and why all people of faith in Texas should join the effort.
What draws you to this work?
Growing up in Texas, I know firsthand the harm done at the hands of extremist religion. I grew up within a conservative Christian denomination, so my relationship to God was shaped by the moral and social norms created by extremists to uphold systems of power and oppression. I learned from this faith the limits of how I could live my life and still be loved by God. I was told who I could and could not be, what I could and could not do with my own body, all in the name of God. As I grew older, I began to separate from my faith and it wasn’t until I was introduced to activism related to bodily autonomy and reproductive freedom that I began to renegotiate my relationship with my faith. Through this process, I learned that my beliefs were linked to a commitment to the safety and wellbeing of my community. I realized that the values from my connection to God’s love and care were still dear to me and they could include reproductive freedom for all. I began volunteering and working to better support Texans of all ages and identities in accessing abortion and other necessary reproductive healthcare. Through this work, I’ve seen how people’s religious experiences impact their reproductive stories, for good and bad. Within my life, my faith story and my reproductive story wouldn’t exist without the other and I am drawn to this work because I believe these stories should not be in conflict. I am thankful for the opportunity to bridge these connections between social justice and faith with my Texas community. I know my faith became stronger when I began to recognize my beliefs in bodily autonomy and abortion access. I hope to create a space where others can explore how reproductive freedom can strengthen their own faith and their own community.
How do social justice and faith intersect?
No matter our faith, we are united by a commitment to seeking acceptance through our stories. This acceptance and understanding from storytelling is limited if we only prioritize those with the most privilege and power. The history of this country shows us how progressive people of faith have long fought for social justice, from the early abolitionists working to end enslavement to those who helped people access safe abortions pre-Roe through the Clergy Consultation Service. Centering those most marginalized in understanding our faith allows us to recognize the harm that has been done at the hands of religion, but also creates space to imagine the type of community we want to live in: one that provides care, support, and love. It is crucial to consider the harm extremist religion ideology has caused; as people of faith, it is our responsibility to repair that harm. Creating a community that allows for healing and is free of stigma and shame means leading from a faith perspective that is anti-racist, pro-abortion access, invested in economic and disability justice, and believes in LGBTQ+ equality. As people of faith, we must work towards making a world where everyone can flourish and that begins with connecting our commitment to community and care to the fight for social justice and freedom for all.
What issues will Just Texas prioritize in 2022?
With the devastating Dobbs decision this summer, Just Texas will continue prioritizing our Reproductive Freedom Congregation initiative. We hope to redirect the narrative that faith communities are not in support of reproductive healthcare like abortion. We know, as people of faith and as Texans, that people of all faiths and identities access abortion care. Caring for our communities means supporting access to necessary healthcare, including abortion, and providing space that is free from shame and judgment.
We must also view this fight as inherently connected to other movements for justice. The fight for reproductive freedom is a fight for bodily autonomy and this includes showing up for our trans siblings across the state as they face increased violence. God loves trans kids and we want Texas to reflect that. As Texas becomes increasingly hostile towards trans people, and especially trans kids and their families, it is vital to show that our faith does not discriminate and those seeking to harm trans Texans do not represent our beliefs.
What direction do you see Just Texas moving in?
As I enter this role as Faith Organizer, I hope to strengthen our connections across communities of faith who support making Texas a just place. Just Texas was born out of clergy committed to fighting the long fight and not waiting until moments of crisis to show support for our communities. Similarly, I plan to work across the state to connect clergy and congregations with one another so we can become a better, more unified community. My hope is that we don’t have to wait until we’re called to the Capitol steps to meet and see one another. As Texans, we know this will be a long and challenging fight and I believe that strengthening our interfaith community will better support all of us in this fight.
How can prospective members get involved?
I’m so thankful for your interest in building a more equitable Texas. By filling out this page, you can sign up to learn about any upcoming Just Texas events or actions. I am also available by email at email@example.com if you want to speak individually about how I can better support you and your congregation in the fight for a more Just Texas.
Born and raised in Austin, Texas, Shan Schaffer is dedicated to ensuring all Texans have access to the reproductive healthcare they want and need. Shan has experience providing community outreach and support around reproductive justice and LGBTQ+ issues throughout the state and in Chicago, Illinois. Shan can often be found at the various Epoch coffee shops across Austin, buying blueberries at H-E-B, or taking pictures of Shan’s dog near the deer that inhabit Shan’s neighborhood. Shan loves calling Texas home and hopes to make the state more equitable and just for all of those who live here.