Part Seven: Weaponized Religion

Weaponized Religion

Part Seven of Thirteen

In Medieval Europe, the Catholic Church declared itself good, and anyone who challenged the power of the church was, naturally, declared evil. Not much has changed. Listen to any MAGA conservative leader and you’ll hear the same message being broadcast today.

In this chapter, we examine how conservatives have taken every single good thing from the Bible, melted them down in the flames of hell, added in the seven deadly sins, and forged it into a weapon. A ring. One ring to rule them all. You think I’m exaggerating? Read on.

Make no mistake, the same fear and rage that so effectively drive the G.O.P.’s voting base to the polls are equally effective at inciting violence and bloodshed against Black and trans communities. Trans people, especially Black and Native American trans women, experience around four times the violence as the cisgender population. The relentless dehumanization of trans youth has also caused an already devastating suicide rate to rise even further and has fueled more violence against young trans students in our K-12 schools.

Those who practice fear mongering are not constrained by facts and evidence. This is especially true for the Christian-centered group of medical and mental health practitioners who reject evidence-based practices in favor of their personal interpretation of biblical principles.

The phrase sexual mutilation, for example, has been popularized by anti-trans doctors and legislators as they continue to wage disinformation campaigns in an attempt to discredit the medical and mental health community’s Standards of Care. Anti-trans health care professionals who disseminate false information must be held accountable. Their recommendations are so blatantly contrary to medical consensus that it warrants investigation for negligence, and given the harm it causes, even medical malpractice.

In addition to violence against the trans community itself, trans-affirming educators and allies are often targeted by radio hosts, influencers, and podcasters who make false accusations about them on social media and expose them to abuse and violence. It has led to death threats against doctors and even bomb threats like the ones made against Boston’s Children’s Hospital.

We can expect the lethality of the violence to escalate as the conservatives continue their fear-mongering campaigns. Violence like that ignited by torch-wielding white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups in Charlottesville, VA – widely seen as the coming-out party for the emboldened alt-Right. Violence like the lynching of Rasheem Carter in Mississippi and the mass murders of Black shoppers in Buffalo, NY.  Violence against Black trans women that has become so commonplace as to be relegated to back-page news, if it makes the news at all.

All of these events should have been a wake-up call for our country. Instead, we stayed asleep.

When will we learn?

Black Americans were shackled by dehumanization and legalized segregation for nearly 100 years after emancipation and to this day continue to face systemic racism and the litany of injustices it breeds. A continuous indoctrination and reinforcement of lies became ingrained in American culture and institutions, lies that were endorsed by most white Christian churches.

Segregation was not just physical or social alienation. Entire ethnic groups were denied equal and equitable access to voting, education, employment, justice, housing, health care, businesses, transportation, public facilities, hotels, and recreation. This exhaustive segregation was meant to dehumanize and isolate, to destroy the spirit as well as the body and mind. Equality and justice were as far away in the 1950’s as the 1850’s. And both times, it required bloodshed to make any progress.

Some people may be surprised to learn that the same forces fighting to suppress trans identities are also fighting to suppress Black identities. The same forces that deny the rights of trans people also deny the rights of Black people. The same forces that demonize and incite violence against trans communities also demonize and incite violence against Black communities.

Christian nationalism is the political-religious machine behind those forces. It is a rebirth of the Religious Right. The same Religious Right that defied the Civil Rights Act and fought to keep their Christian universities as segregated, racist institutions well into the 1970s. The same Religious Right that supports conservative leaders who openly court white supremacists and endorse restrictive voting laws. The same Religious Right that strives to eliminate Black lives from American history in our public schools.

As Steve Phillips adeptly points out in his recently published book, How We Win the Civil War, the allure of the confederacy and the glory days of white supremacy are like a drug. Trump’s Make America Great Again (MAGA) movement is today’s drug of choice, the magic elixir for conservatives who seek to satiate their cravings for those glory days.

Phillips writes, “It’s the logic-defying elixir that prompted God-fearing, church-going Christians to put on their Sunday best and take their children to witness Black men being hung from trees. And it’s the fuel that drove historic Republican voter turnout in 2020.”

Phillips speaks of creating a new social contract, one that at last honors the intentions of our Declaration of Independence and Constitution that all people deserve to be treated equally and have the same rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This new social contract is necessary because America has for far too long been in breach of its original social contract.

The eradication of white supremacy from American institutions will be front and foremost in our new social contract, but it is not the only violation that must be rectified. The same states that fought against Black freedom and civil rights now lead the fight against women’s reproductive rights, trans existence, and L.G.B.T.Q. rights: states like Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, Tennessee, Florida, and, of course, Mississippi, a state known as the most inhumane in the nation by Black leaders in the 1950s and 60’s.

As reported recently in the NY Times, a barrage of anti-trans bills in Mississippi is making it impossible for trans kids to exist, criminalizing affirming health care and erasing them from public schools. Mississippi denies the existence of trans identities, declaring, “Separate is not inherently unequal,” a reference to Plessy versus Ferguson, the 1896 ruling in which the Supreme Court upheld segregation. Trans and Black lives are not safe in Mississippi.

There are currently hundreds of anti-trans bills making their way through state houses. In the states enacting these laws, state officials are proud to share why they are making it a top priority to deny the rights of trans kids and prosecute the parents, doctors, and educators who support them.

For example, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey didn’t need many words to explain why she was signing anti-trans legislation into law,

“If the Good Lord made you a boy, you’re a boy, and if he made you a girl, you’re a girl.”

A firmly held religious belief is enough justification for those legislators to create laws that jeopardize my son’s life and would put me in prison – possibly for life. We’re not far removed from when a similar rationale was used to justify genocide, slavery, and segregation of Black and indigenous peoples. In this, we are no different than the tyrannical theocracies that are governed by Sharia law.

Statements like this one from Representative Marjorie Taylor-Greene demonstrate how normalized it has become to use supernatural claims to dehumanize and condemn others. On the House floor in 2021, Greene declared that her opposition to L.G.B.T.Q. equality is based on her belief that it will destroy God’s creation:

“God created us male and female. In his image, he created us. The Equality Act that we are to vote on this week destroys God’s creation. It also completely annihilates women’s rights and religious freedom.”

I once again couldn’t wait to tell my son that he has the power to destroy God’s creation. Like any powerful superhero, he was nonplussed by that disclosure and simply shrugged his shoulders. I, on the other hand, was beaming and proudly telling everyone I knew that my son is a destroyer of worlds – even though he likely got that power from his mom.

But it turns out the conservatives who are protecting God’s creation from my son were just getting started.

In his majority opinion overturning Roe versus Wade, Justice Alito proudly interprets the Constitution through the lens of Catholic Canon Law and doctrine going as far back as 800 years, referencing the views and morals from 17th and 13th-century Christian doctrine. It won’t end there, as Justice Thomas declared that all past rulings will be viewed from this lens.

The danger of allowing religious beliefs to be accepted as objective truth is painfully illustrated in recent anti-trans legislation. For years, experts and professionals have debunked every argument made by anti-trans conservatives. We have provided overwhelming evidence via peer-reviewed studies, documented assessments and testimony from every credible medical and mental health organization. These arguments have thus far proven ineffective against a conservative ideology that can simply ignore facts and evidence in favor of religious doctrine.

The recent 2024 budget negotiations provide another shocking example of how far conservatives are willing to go to erase trans identities and appease their religious base. With a government shut-down only hours away, Republicans recklessly added dozens of anti-trans riders to the proposed stop-gap $1.2 trillion budget deal, risking a government shutdown in the process.

As reported by Katelyn Burns, the conservative budget proposals “included everything from barring federal funds from going to hospital systems that give puberty blockers to minors, to blocking federal funding for any form of gender-affirming care, at any age,” and, “would have rolled trans health care back several decades.” All but one of the riders were finally removed, but only at the eleventh hour.

Let that one sink in. An economy still emerging from a Covid-induced nightmare, stagflation, major crises in hot spots all over the globe – and conservatives are laser-focused on trans kids? For the love of God. Still think I’m exaggerating?

Peter Tchoryk

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