Fit for Print: Stop weaponizing religion

By : Steve Blanchard
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From a very young age it was drummed into me that there was a right way to act and a wrong way to act. I’m talking, of course, about my days in church.

Fortunately, the church I attended wasn’t a fire and brimstone kind of place. There were plenty of messages about kindness, doing unto others and helping those who are less fortunate. But every message had the same footnote: “By the way, stay on the straight and narrow and avoid an eternity in the fiery pits of hell. Do what you’re told to do and the big man in the sky who spends all of his time spying on you won’t have a reason to punish you forever.”Once I was older and comfortable enough to think for myself, I distanced myself from what I view as a made-up set of rules that were created to keep the masses in line. Instead, I decided that the difference between right and wrong was easy to decipher and that I didn’t need a creeper in the clouds to tell me what I should and shouldn’t do. I can admit, when I do something wrong my gut punishes me plenty enough to get me back on the proper track.

As I’ve distanced myself from religion, I’ve watched as the religious right weaponized everything I had learned in my formative years as a way to scare youth, sway politicians and influence communities. At first, it was mostly comical watching people freak out over what looked to me like a mythological world view. But recently, it got very scary and very real.

In July, Washington D.C. introduced us to the new Religious Liberty Task Force, which will be an actual physical creeper that will punish anyone who does not agree with a religious point of view.

Well, let me amend that: it will take aim at anyone who does not agree with a so-called “Christian” point of view.

While I have been surrounded by those who have called themselves “Christian” for a majority of my life, it’s rare that I actually see one support freedom of religion in the way it was created by our founding fathers. This country was set up on the grounds that people can worship whatever or whoever they want—as long as it doesn’t infringe on the rights of others.

Today, people forget the second section of that sentence, and this new task force will continue to ignore that important caveat. In fact, according to NBC News, the task force is backed by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which is no friend to the LGBTQ community.

The ADF, founded in 1994, is a legal advocacy organizing coalition for Christian nationalists. Its definition of religious liberty only embraces Christianity and the members truly believe it’s up to them to save the United States from its moral decline. In the early 2000s, ADF president Alan Sears wrote that marriage equality was a plot to silence conservative Christians and lead men and women into homosexuality.

The translation of that is that those different than the ADF’s base were a threat and that a line had to be drawn in the sand. Now we’re looking at battles over wedding cakes, floral arrangements and most alarming, health care rights.

My religious beliefs—or lack of beliefs—have nothing to do with my role in society. My relationship with my husband is also of no consequence to anyone but the two of us. But there will be a day, if we continue on this current path, when I will be denied some kind of service because I don’t fit a certain mold that a religious zealot has carved out for society.

Is it any wonder that church attendance is down? According to a recent Gallup Poll, less than 20 percent of Americans regularly attend church. One study also pointed out that while many

Americans no longer attend church, they do still identify with their church roots. Translated, that means they feel disconnected from the church or that the overall church community is no longer welcoming or a comfortable place to visit.

That is also my assessment. Why would I want to support or attend anything that immediately celebrates division?

Religion is supposed to offer comfort. It’s supposed to provide hope. Instead, it’s become a weapon that divides us and tries to shame people into fitting molds that simply don’t exist.

I don’t care what your religious background is nor do I care who you pray to or what tenets you follow. For those who continue to promote messages of love and kindness and doing unto others, I applaud you.

I do have to object, however, when your beliefs are so abstract and dangerous that you have to form a task force just to ensure that your discrimination goes unpunished.

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