Grace Community Fellowship, a fundamentalist evangelical Christian church that spreads anti-gay bigotry, has two congregants running for school board positions – Fred Johnson (WISD Trustee position 6) and Daniel Gaona (WISD Trustee position 7). Grace’s hateful, anti-gay message cannot be allowed to find a foothold in our community.
If you’d like to see for yourself exactly what Grace is preaching, you’re in luck – they’ve got plenty of videos online telling you exactly who they are. One such video, posted to the Facebook page GCF Wharton Youth on October 7th, shows youth pastor Andrew Sweeney detailing Grace’s teachings on homosexuality. (https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=367369451287276). Sweeney calls homosexuality “vile” and “disgusting” and says that people who are gay “deserve death” for their sins. Sweeney alleges that all gay people are pedophiles and says outright that it is a bad thing that our society seeks to appreciate and celebrate the differences in others and to create an environment of inclusion for LGBTQ people. It is worth noting in particular that Daniel Gaona, candidate for WISD Trustee Position 7, personally liked this video.
It goes without saying that Grace’s hateful interpretation of the Bible is beyond wrong. The Bible has been interpreted through several languages over the course of centuries, and biblical scholars have made it clear that these anti-gay interpretations of the bible rely on language that is not consistent with the original Hebrew and Aramaic of the Bible. (http://wp.production.patheos.com/blogs/thegodarticle/files/2011/10/Clobbering-Biblical-Gay-Bashing-Printable.pdf).
This is but the latest development in centuries of misuse of scripture for hateful political ends – the Bible was, after all, used in the 19th century to justify slavery (https://www.nytimes.com/2003/11/01/arts/from-noah-s-curse-to-slavery-s-rationale.html). After slavery was abolished, evangelical preachers used the bible to justify Jim Crow laws and segregation by arguing that God created the races separate and did not intend for them to mix. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/made-by-history/wp/2017/12/05/discriminating-in-the-name-of-religion-segregationists-and-slaveholders-did-it-too/).
Of course, this is America – the 1st Amendment protects our freedom of religion. Should we really be judging political candidates based on their religious beliefs? Normally, no – but here, there are two important reasons that we must do so.
First, our Constitution also guarantees a separation of church and state. Grace’s Facebook pages are full of posts that fly in the face of that constitutional right – their youth page is full of political videos that espouse far right political views. And they make the connection between their faith and their politics themselves – Sweeney’s video about homosexuality is positioned as a direct response to the Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which guaranteed same-sex couples the right to marry in every state. Perhaps the IRS should investigate their tax-exempt status, which is only granted to entities that do not do any political lobbying.
Second, we should not defer to someone’s freedom of religion when their religious beliefs are harmful to others. A 2018 study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found that LGBTQ college students were far more likely to have suicidal thoughts if they self-identified as someone to whom religion was very important. (https://bit.ly/2qt3gYC). As many as 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ, according to one study, often because evangelical churches like Grace pressure parents to disown their LGBTQ children if they dare to come out as gay. (http://religiousinstitute.org/resources/fact-sheet-lgbt-youth/).
In my conversations today with folks from Grace, they have claimed to offer “counseling” to LGBTQ youth. Such “counseling”, more properly called conversion therapy, seeks to force LGBTQ youth into being heterosexual. Both the American Psychiatric Association and the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry consider conversion therapy to be unethical. (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/political-minds/201811/gay-conversion-therapy-associated-suicide-risk). Further, LGBTQ teens who go to conversion therapy are five times as likely to attempt suicide. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30403564/). It should of course be obvious to all of us that gay conversion therapy does not work because being gay is not a choice – the American Psychiatric Association notes that the research is conclusive that conversion therapy is not effective. (https://www.apa.org/pi/lgbt/resources/sexual-orientation?tab=1).
It is not an exaggeration to say that Grace’s hateful stances literally endanger the lives of LGBTQ teens. Allowing Daniel Gaona or Fred Johnson to sit on the WISD School Board would be a disaster for our community, and a massive disservice to our LGBTQ students. We deserve better.
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