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Tennessee Needs a Lesson in Separation of Church and Hate

Tennessee Needs a Lesson in Separation of Church and Hate


Legislators in the Volunteer State have forgotten why this country was founded.

It would seem that the Tennessee House of Representatives have not read their bibles, nor the constitution, very closely. Or perhaps their vision is blurred and they have begun to see the bible and the constitution as one and the same. Whatever it may be, it's clear that Tennessee is doing everything they can to legislate their particular version of Christianity as the law of the land.

Two bills in Tennessee are of particular concern. First, there was HB2414, another "bathroom bill" fueled by the anti-trans bathroom predator myth. This law would have barred transgender students from using gender-appropriate restrooms, locker rooms, and other public facilities -- but was thankfully pulled.

Second is HB1840, which is meant to allow licensed counselors to refuse treatment to LGBT individuals due to their "sincerely held religious beliefs." The bill, still alive, allows Christian counselors to turn away LGBT clients, a community with disproportionate rates of mental illness.

Coupled together, HB1940 and HB2414 are a dynamic duo of anti-LGBT animus guised as religious beliefs. The group Family Action Council of Tennessee, a proponent of both bills, say that it's their "belief is that healthy families and communities come about when basic values from the Bible are embraced and upheld." Where are those beliefs in scripture? They're not. The individuals at the dubiously acronymed FACT would have to invent scripture to justify turning away LGBT clients or to promote binary-gendered bathrooms.

The issue with these laws, on top of them being blatantly discriminatory in nature, is the complete erosion of the separation of church and state. Indeed, under the same session, Tennessee's Senate introduced legislation which would make the bible the official state book. This move would alienate those who aren't believers of Christianity, and is likely unconstitutional. Thankfully, Governor Bill Haslam acknowledged this truth and vetoed the insane legislation.

These discriminatory bills go against both a Christianity that is centered in the Jesus story -- one that stands up for society's most marginalized not criminalizes them -- and, of course, the Constitution, which allows for a plurality of religious beliefs.

What is taking place in Tennessee is legislation not of Christianity but a particular version of Christianity. The God-fearing, biblically- literalist, gun-touting Republicans of Tennessee want to see their conservative, rightwing version of Christianity legalized. In reality, it's a bastardization of the Christianity I know and love.

As a bisexual Christian, I recognize these bills have nothing to do with religious freedom. True religious freedom is about defending the right to practice your religion without fear of persecution. These bills do nothing of the sort. They are fueled by ignorance and intolerance.

There's a lack of basic, fundamental understanding on gender identity and sexuality that fuel these bills. These representatives, as do many Christians who occupy the pews once a week, see LGB people as nothing more than sex. They vaguely remember six verses on sexual acts, out of context, that they believe accurately depict sexuality as we understand it today. Thus, anything to do with LGB people -- from marriage, public accommodations, and job protections, to bullying and disparate suicide rates -- all is reduced to the act of male-male or female-female sex.

As for transgender individuals, very few, if any, Christian denominations have taken the time to actually parse out any theology against transgender identities. Indeed, it would take them inventing scripture that simply isn't there to have such theology. And yet, they haven't taken the time to forge such theological foundation. Their ignorance, and in its manifestation of hate, leads their actions. For these particular type of Christians, their church and hate is one and the same.

In this same fashion, Tennessee's Christian legislators see their religious beliefs and the constitution as one in the same. Since queerphobia is a tenet to their Christianity, it must to be for their state laws. This, of course, ignores a constitutional amendment that provides a separation of church and state -- a necessary separation to keep individuals from legislating their faith into law.

ELIEL CRUZ is a proud bisexual and the executive director of Faith in America. Follow him on Twitter @ElielCruz.

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