Robbie Medwed: ‘Religious freedom’ rally at Georgia State Capitol takes ugly turn

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: