We Can’t Leave Faith Behind
Posted by Ofelia Alonso
April 17, 2018
I grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness. I spent my formative years devoted to my relationship to God and my spiritual community. In my religion one of our core values was service, community, and advocacy. I remember with great vividness waking up at 8 in the morning to go door to door, talking to people about God. I learned resilience, messaging, and the power of storytelling from an early age. As I grew older, I found that issues that I valued didn’t align with the church. There was a disconnect between the values that were taught to me and the rules that were imposed on us by the church. We were taught compassion and tolerance, but if I were to ever come out as queer to my church elders, I would get formally punished through expulsion from the church. I left the church behind when I was 17, I understood that as much as I had a connection to the community I had since childhood, it was hard to maintain that knowing that there was so much intolerance towards queerness, reproductive justice, and even feminism.
Last week, I attended a workshop on how to engage with faith communities to continue moving forward as activists and organizers. In that workshop, religious leaders spoke to us about how they were able to build trust and engage with faith-based people to enact cultural change. Like with my experience, religious leaders used the core values of community, self-determination, and empathy to talk about abortion, LGBTQ equality, and immigrant rights. I realized that I had left behind my faith, and the concept of faith, because it was too complicated to reconcile with my progressive values. However, it is so important to make this effort, and connect with people outside of the bubble that I am in. Further, I have challenged myself to connect my activism with the religion that I grew up with.
We now see religion as something that can be weaponized by politicians who do not respect the values they claim to uphold. The Trump Administration has used religion to attempt deny people abortions, remove protections for LGTBTQ folks, and take away birth control from people that need it. Scott Lloyd of the Office of Refugee Resettlement denied Jane Doe her abortion because he did not want to “be complicit in sin.” Mike Pence has consistently attacked LGBTQ folks by citing “family values,” and claiming that being homophobic was not discrimination, but rather “an enforcement of God’s law.” The Department of Health and Human Services removed all mention of LGBTQ health on their site, and replaced the information to more links to “faith-based organizations.” The Trump Administration has also rolled back the birth control mandate of the Affordable Care Act because they want to “offer an exemption to any employer that objects to covering contraception services on the basis of sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions.”
Religion gave me a foundation of love, tolerance, and community. Even though the structure of my church ultimately antagonized me, I now realize that it was my religious foundation that made me the activist I am today. I want to move forward and disprove that faith-based people can only be mobilized to pass policies that are ultimately hateful. I want to move past our politicians’ belief that because my hometown is predominantly Catholic, then I should support anti-abortion policies. There are so many beautiful things that can be realized through religion, and I am committed to not leaving that behind. I want to keep faith in our conversations around reproductive justice.
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