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What you shouldn’t forget when following battles between religious freedom and gay rights

Amid religious freedom conflict, it’s important to remember that many faith groups recognize that anti-LGBTQ discrimination is a problem

Photo Illustration by Alex Cochran
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I love writing about religious freedom and LGBTQ rights, especially when doing so requires explaining complicated policies or significant legal battles.

However, I often worry that my intense focus on conflict between these two values leaves readers with the wrong impression about religious views on the gay community.

To be clear, many faith groups do oppose same-sex marriage and, in part because of that, seek religious exemptions from LGBTQ anti-discrimination laws. A recent survey showed that opponents of gay rights are more likely than U.S. adults in general to identify as white Christians.

But it’s also true that there are a large number of churches that support and promote the rights of gay and transgender Americans. I was reminded of this fact when many of my pastor friends put a rainbow border around their profile pictures last week to celebrate the start of Pride month.

Overall, two-thirds of white mainline Protestants and 61% of Catholics favor same-sex marriage, according to Pew Research Center. And although the percentage of white evangelicals that support gay marriage (29%) is much lower, that figure has more than doubled since 2001.

Perhaps more importantly, a growing share of people of faith recognize that discrimination against the LGBTQ community is a problem in America. Nearly two-thirds of white Catholics and white mainline Protestants, as well as 42% of white evangelicals, told Public Religion Research Institute as much in a January survey.

Findings like these often get lost in debates over religious freedom and LGBTQ rights. Observers sometimes assume that religious rights advocates don’t sympathize with the plight of gay and transgender Americans, as Josh Wester, chairman of research in Christian ethics for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told me earlier this year.

Those fighting for additional religious freedom protections may disagree with LGBTQ rights activists about policy proposals, but they share a desire to build a safer, more peaceful country, he said.

“Christians do not favor discrimination against LGBTQ people. It’s not as if we want to see them be treated badly,” Wester said. “The same faith that we’re seeking to protect tells us that all people are valuable.”


Fresh off the press

I don’t have a new article to share this week, but I thought it would be helpful to resurface a story I wrote in June 2020 that explores even more data on religious support for LGBTQ rights. The article was timed with the five-year anniversary of the Supreme Court making gay marriage legal nationwide.


Term of the week: Southern Baptist Convention

The Southern Baptist Convention is exactly that: a convention, or group, of Southern Baptists. It’s the official name of that particular religious denomination.

The Southern Baptist Convention, or SBC, is significant because it’s the largest Protestant denomination in the country. Around 5% of U.S. adults identify as Southern Baptists, according to Pew Research Center.

For this reason, the convention is covered by the national media more often than other denominations. Last week, the spotlight was especially bright due to reports of in-fighting among Southern Baptist leaders over racism, politics and women’s roles in the church, among other topics.


What I’m reading

Justice Neil Gorsuch took me by surprise last week when he denied two churches’ request to be protected from Colorado’s pandemic-related gathering rules. I didn’t understand why he’d side with state officials after repeatedly ruling in favor of churches over the past year. When I read CNN’s coverage of the case, things became clearer. It turns out that the churches were asking for much more than the religious organizations involved in previous decisions received.

My friend and faith beat colleague Peter Smith has started a new job at The Associated Press, where he’ll coverage the national religious landscape. I learned a lot from his recent stories on the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre.

As COVID-19 cases drop in the U.S. and the vaccination rate rises, houses of worship are gradually reopening their doors for in-person services. In so doing, some faith leaders are having to face their fear that some worshippers won’t want to return, according to The Washington Post.


Odds and ends

From 2016 to 2020, the share of Republicans who believed being Christian is a “somewhat” or “very” part of being “truly American” fell from 63% to 48%. This finding is among the fascinating data points highlighted by Pew Research Center in a recent post.

I never thought I’d say this, but here it goes: The best story I read last week was a profile of a dog. Madeleine Aggeler at Texas Monthly did such a beautiful job explaining the allure of Benji the blue heeler, who is canine companion to YouTube yoga celebrity Adriene Mishler.