Robbie Medwed is the assistant director of SOJOURN: Southern Jewish Resource Network for Gender and Sexual Diversity. (Courtesy photo)

Robbie Medwed is the assistant director of SOJOURN: Southern Jewish Resource Network for Gender and Sexual Diversity. (Courtesy photo)

I’m a pretty religious person. I attend synagogue nearly every Saturday—and sometimes during the week, too. I’ve read my Bible cover to cover more than a few times (well, it’s what you’d call the Old Testament; that whole “New Testament” thing is a bit foreign to me) and I’m pretty well versed in what it says (even the super-troubling stuff). I even jokingly refer to myself as a “Professional Gay Jew” in my Twitter bio. And I have to say that as of late, I have not heard the Bible quoted and preached as often as I have at Georgia’s state capitol during the so-called “religious liberty” rallies. Tuesday’s rally was typical.

The rally began and ended with the singing of hymns accompanied on guitar. I could have closed my eyes and easily confused the state capitol for an old-timey church revival event somewhere. The speeches were exactly what you’d expect them to be: “Pass this bill without any amendments;” “Christians are being persecuted across the world and across Georgia;” “Just like ISIS is beheading Christians in the Middle East, we cannot let our government take our heads off.” That last one was one of my personal favorites. I don’t want to discount the threat of ISIS by any means, but no one’s head is getting chopped off by the state government because they’re a person of faith.

None of the rally’s early statements were all that surprising. A few were a bit more out-there than others, such as when Gerald Harris of the Christian Index said, “I remember the day when a girl who got pregnant in school would be shamed. I remember the day when abortion was illegal. I remember the day when there were no X-rated movies—or even R-rated movies, and I remember the day when, after saying the pledge of allegiance, we all bowed our heads in prayer to our Lord Jesus Christ.” Mostly, though, the statements were run-of-the-mill Erick Erickson-style professional-victimhood jargon. It worked very well with the attendees and earned the speakers quite a few rounds of applause.

It wasn’t until the end, though, when the Bishop Wellington Boone of The Father’s House got up to speak, that I was truly troubled. No, troubled is the wrong word. Sickened might be more appropriate. Certainly shocked. Bishop Boone began by railing against the biblical figure of Adam for “allowing his wife to sin” and for “not being the head of the household” as God intended. And then he held up a copy of the Bible and shouted with all of his might:

“I know that LGBT is [sic] putting pressure on you. I know that their lobbyists are out there. Lobbyists?! They are politicians! How can they put pressure on you when they don’t even know what gender they are?! You gays won’t stand before God—how can we let you stand before us? You say that you have a civil rights struggle—that you are denied your rights. You say you go through the same thing as blacks? You’ve got another thing coming!”

And the crowd jumped to their feet and roared in support.

I have never felt as unsafe in my own state’s capitol building as I did the afternoon of March 3. I clearly did not belong—and I was clearly not wanted there. I am grateful now that I had chosen to stand overlooking the rally on the balcony, separated from the crowd, at a safe distance. Thank God.

It is obvious that Bishop Boone and I do not pray to the same God. The God I worship teaches that we shall all be holy because God is holy (Leviticus 19:2). The God I look to teaches that all of us are created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27), and the faith leaders I trust teach us that we must regard our neighbor’s dignity as though it were our own. (Pirkei Avot 2:10). The faith to which I subscribe certainly has its challenges and its troubling Bible verses.

But never—not even once—does the Bible say that the simple act of existing is a sin. And even more so, nowhere does the Bible say that those whom God has created to be different are unworthy of love and acceptance. In fact, Judaism has a special blessing to say when one encounters a person who is exceptionally different from them. Even in challenging moments, we are commanded to stop and recognize the holiness in each person. We are commanded to stop and remember that every person is deserving of dignity and love and happiness.

Bishop Boone and his supporters—the advocates for the poorly-named “religious liberty” bills: Mike Griffin Sr., Jonathan Crumly, and so many others—made so many of us feel unwelcome in our own state today. They told us that we were unworthy of God’s love and that we should be ashamed of ourselves simply for existing.

Sponsor state Sen. McKoon (R-Columbus) wasn’t at the rally, but House sponsor Rep. Teasley (R-Marietta) was. Their biggest supporters (and donors) were there, too.

McKoon and Teasley keep repeating over and over that their bills are not meant to be discriminatory, yet they refuse to allow specific language to be added to the bill that would ensure that. They tell us that these bills are not meant to be anti-gay or anti-trans, yet their supporters shout it from the rooftops (and under the Gold Dome). I can’t say for sure if they’re farming out their bigoted statements to others in order to cover themselves publicly. And I can’t say for sure if they really do want to allow discrimination in the name of religion.

What I can say, though, is that on March 3 I felt unwanted in my home state and in my own backyard. I was unwelcome and unsafe as a Georgian, as a gay man, and as a Jew.

Robbie Medwed is the assistant director of SOJOURN: Southern Jewish Resource Network for Gender and Sexual Diversity. Follow him on Twitter at @rjmedwed.

Clips of the rally:

12 Responses

  1. Steve Dix

    I suspect that Bishop Boone would do well to read some of his own Bible. I, too, am Jewish, but I do know a thing or two about the New Testament. I suggest he pay heed to Matthew Chapter 6, which deals with the admonition to be humble in righteousness, charity and prayer. This chapter has been used over the course of time to discriminate against the Jews as they are referred to as hypocrites, but I suspect the words were not really directed to all Jews, just those whose appearance of piety was not matched by their actions – which is true of some people of all faiths at all times. Fortunately, we live in a time when this is better understood by many than is has been in past times. At any rate, Chapter 6 reads in part as follows (this is from the New International Version):

    6 “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

    2 “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
    9 “This, then, is how you should pray:

    “‘Our Father in heaven,
    hallowed be your name,
    10 your kingdom come,
    your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
    11 Give us today our daily bread.
    12 And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
    13 And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from the evil one.

    14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

    Reply
    • tom

      The new testament only applies when they say it does, just like they have pretty much done away with most of the old testament to suit their needs! they treat the bible much like a buffet just pick and choose what you want!

      Reply
  2. Tod

    These people don’t give a shit about religion. They want power, and they think the power they’ve had in the past due to their being white and Christian is fading away. And it is. They’re terrified that, once they are the minority, they will be treated the way they have treated other minorities.

    Reply
    • Steve Dix

      Except of course that Bishop Boone is a minority himself – which makes it all the more sad and discouraging.

      Reply
      • Willem

        i can see where it would be appealing to bishop boone to be in the majority on this. face it, nobody wants to be the bottom of the pile…which is where black folks have found themselves for centuries here. i’m guessing he doesn’t see that the old, white fundamentalist christians are using him to reach a base they couldn’t get to before…faithful black voters. if you scare folks into believing they are going to lose something they haven’t had very long, they’re gonna come out in droves.
        i’m guessing we’re looking at a religious war in the making.

  3. k

    this bill ISN’T about religious freedom at all. if it was, it would be addressing accommodations your workplace should provide for you, such as receiving time off for passover, etc. many workplaces do not provide such accommodations or give the employee a difficult time about it.

    Reply
  4. BK

    I am so damn sick and tired of these cafeteria Christians and their bellyaching about being “persecuted.” In their warped minds, persecution is when people don’t allow them to shove their religious beliefs down their throats, or when people remind them that Christianity is NOT the official religion of this country.

    If this becomes law, I look forward to the day when a Christian is discriminated against and there won’t be a damn thing they can do about it because of the law. The butthurt will be epic.

    Reply
  5. Kyle

    I have some breaking news for you, Robbie: religion is for mouth-breathing idiots. Free yourself of the dreadful, man-made nonsense.

    Reply
  6. Rev. Sonya Williams

    in my opinion, these religious leaders are no more than terrorists. They use religion to murder and annihilate the hopes and dreams and freedom of the citizens of this country. Whatever happened to love thy neighbor? whatever happened to love covers a multitude of faults? Whatever happened to judge not lest you be judged? And inevitably whatever happened to God is love? in my opinion this replicates the spirit of Isis. Woe unto them on the day of judgment. Non the less I will continue to love them as God commands. -Rev. Sonya E. Williams

    Reply
  7. Ben

    I am right with you at being shocked that this is getting applause and praise. It’s nothing short of hate speech. But to be fair, the Bible does say in Leviticus 20:13 “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.”

    The Abrahamic God is not a very tolerant one, no matter how many times it says we’re made in his image and that he loves us.

    Reply
  8. Cheryl Courtney-Evans

    We’ve got to start showing up at the Capital in as large numbers as these terrorists do, making OUR voices heard! These religious bigots seem to have forgotten the meaning of the SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE, and are using their “crusading zealotry” to shame or scare legislators into legislating religion for the masses through enactment of these foul laws.

    Reply

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