Righting America

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Rejecting Religious Fascism, and Loving LGBTQ Youth and Their Families | Righting America

by Julie Nichols

Julie Nichols is a practicing Catholic, a Native Texan, and a wife of nearly 30 years.  She is a pediatric Academic Language Therapist who serves children with developmental, learning, and cognitive disabilities, and is a part-time advocate for disabled and LBGTQ youth and their families. She holds specialties in Autism, Dyslexia, Cognition, and Inclusion in LGBTQIA+ Healthcare. She is also a part-time lay minister in LGBTQ Religious Trauma Recovery, an early-onset Parkinson’s Disease patient, and the first recipient of Advanced Deep Brain Stimulation Surgery in South Texas. She is currently completing a lay ministry certification with an emphasis in Social Justice. Her publications have appeared in Catholic sites such as New Ways Ministry, Outreach, Fortunate Families, and Catholic New Zealand. 

Picture of Donald Trump mocking and making faces of New York Times Reporter Serge Kovaleski.
Donald Trump mocking New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski (pictured right) in 2015. Image via Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund.

Christian Nationalism – better labeled as Religious Fascism – has taken over a good part of the Republican Party. This Religious Fascism is antithetical to authentic Christianity, Catholic Social Teaching, the heart of the Gospel message, and everything Jesus Christ said and did.   

Having witnessed how badly minority groups outside the womb were/are treated and discarded during the Trump era (and even before), I – a life-long moderate Texan Republican – became a Democrat in order to stand with the marginalized outside the womb. Even though shifting, growing, and changing to a more progressive Gospel-centric worldview was very difficult for me, the results have enriched my spiritual walk, helped me develop relationships with a richer and wider diversity of people, and more tightly bonded my relationship to our Creator who is the Lover of all humankind, not just some of humankind.    

In many ways my political conversion began the day in 2015 when Trump mocked the disabled reporter. Given my profession as a pediatric specialty therapist, my eyes started opening to a broad spectrum of social injustices, especially in the areas of racism, legislative attacks on transgender children in Texas, and a dangerous relaxation of gun restrictions in Texas.  I also became painfully aware of how white religious leaders in the Republican Right have weaponized 15 to 20 Bible verses which speak about the subjugation of women and sexuality, in the process coercing other Christians to vote Republican out of “Christian Duty.” 

In the process they have ignored 2,000 Bible verses and Catholic Social Teaching in order to wage war on the poor and the marginalized. Over the past few decades they have gutted life-giving services and safety for millions of vulnerable Americans in the areas of: disability, healthcare, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, WIC, food stamps, gun control, and environmental safety. They refer to our social safety net and safety precautions as “Socialism” or even “Communism,” even though America can well-afford to care for the most vulnerable in our society, and we can well afford to keep our citizens safe. 

They defend themselves by claiming that care for the vulnerable is the responsibility of the Church and the non-profit world. But church and non-profits cannot and do not, on their own, sufficiently provide for the Common Good. I know this very well from serving disabled children in my profession, raising a disabled son for 20 years, and battling Parkinson’s Disease myself.

Essentially, for the past four decades Religious Fascists – including large numbers of white Protestant and Catholic fundamentalists – have demonized women, people of other faiths and races, LGBTQIA+ people, and others whom they see as “less than fully human.” 

Two years ago, I discovered something I did not know: many Christian families have been forced to leave their churches because their children came out as gay or transgender. Through my work with FreedHearts, an LGBTQ-affirming nonprofit that aims to spread a “message of love, inclusion [and] belonging” between LGBTQ people and Christian churches, I have met many families who left their churches because they had to choose between upholding their LGBTQ child’s right-to-life and remaining in their parish.

According to a 2019 Trevor Project research study, when one parent fully supports their LGBTQ child, the rate of suicide attempts drop dramatically, by 40 percent. Any efforts to coerce or change an LBGTQ child’s identity, such as through gay “conversion,” “reparative therapy” or threats of eternal damnation, cause lasting psychological damage.

Fully accepting the LBGTQ identity of children can be difficult for some Christians parents, because they have to reconcile their religious faith with unconditionally loving and supporting LBGTQ youth and adults. That is why, even though there is a theological conflict with parts of the Catholic tradition, my religious faith helps me place the sanctity of life, the dignity of the human person and unconditional love above any doctrinal struggles I have. The Hogg Foundation for Mental Health states that every word and action of love, affirmation or acceptance can be the difference between life and death for LGBTQ people. This is why I place life and human dignity first.

When we look at the consequences of rejecting LBGTQ children, we find depression, anxiety, self-hatred, shame, self-harm, substance abuse, and separation from God, church, and family. But when we teach that God and the church accept these people unconditionally, LGBTQ people can find peace, joy, self-acceptance, reconciliation, and wholeness.

LGBTQ youth need unconditional love and support, especially from other Christians and faith leaders. Love and support from other Christians is seen as love and acceptance from God, while Christians rejecting, trying to change or coerce LGBTQ people is seen as rejection and abuse from God. Jesus taught us to defend all those who were in any way marginalized.

If we claim to act in Christ’s name, we need to follow his command to love our neighbor as ourselves. This would mean loving transgender/gender dysphoric youth unconditionally, including using their preferred pronouns. These affirmations help reduce suicide statistics dramatically.

The church must move to reconcile with the LGBTQ community and provide safe and affirming pastoral ministry that aligns with mainstream science.  Anything else will continue to endanger and disrupt the lives of LGBTQ people and their families.  

It amazes me that even when I share the life and death consequences of not reconciling with these vulnerable populations and their families, ministers will still not listen, and even become hostile. Some on the Right think that other peoples’ lives are up for debate rather than a non-negotiable matter of life, death, and human dignity. 

As the Civil Rights Activist James Baldwin said, “We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and my right to exist.”

For those in the Catholic Right who use doctrine re: sexuality as a weapon to destroy LBGTQIA+ people and their families – ripping families apart and sometimes resulting in suicide – here’s some good Catholic teaching for you.  By advocating for LBGTQIA + inclusion, we are following Catholic Social Teaching which honors the Sanctity of life and Dignity of the Human Person, The Call to Family, Community, and Participation, and Solidarity by keeping the family intact.  I am following Pope Francis’s directive in his Encyclical Amoris Laetitia and the Catechism of the Catholic Church to give appropriate pastoral care to the LBGTQIA person by including him/her because it’s a matter of life and death. This grows out of loving God with all our heart, and loving our neighbor as ourselves.

On these two Commandments hang all of the law and the prophets.