Michigan Religious Leaders Weigh in on Religious Exemptions

By |2020-01-08T11:21:26-05:00January 7th, 2020|Michigan, News|

Rev. Ric Beattie
Pastor and Spiritual Leader
Unity of Royal Oak

How are religious exemptions being used to harm the greater LGBTQ community?
Religious exemptions allow people to hide behind their prejudices and preconceived notions about people who they perceive as different from themselves. In addition to harming the LGBTQ community, they hurt many communities. In our region, some of the targeted communities are LGBTQ, Muslims, Arabs, persons of color, immigrants, Hispanic-Americans. One of the areas that I have seen is with denying access to services and second-parent adoption.

How are you as a religious leader helping to fight that harm?
I have historically spoken out about these things from two perspectives: 1. Justice. I believe that the God that I serve is just and loving and we are called to be the same. 2. There is a moral and ethical issue, because I believe that all humans are reflections of one life, which some call God, to get people from differing opinions together to talk to get to know each other. I remind our very inclusive congregation about our responsibility to live what we teach.

How can we as a society move the dialogue forward?
We move society forward just as we have always moved all the dialogue forward. By speaking the truth without judgment, by daring to be out and share our stories and our struggles. I have been an activist for more than 45 years. I’m 64 years old. Frankly, I never thought in my lifetime that I would see marriage equality but I worked hard at it for a long time. I believe that we’re on the verge of a new way of being with each other. That really came into focus with the adoption by the Supreme Court of marriage equality. The old order doesn’t give up easily, and so we’ve had some pushback. I think one of the things that we do in the LGBTQ community is to remain positive to embrace who we are to share our story with other people. And to get people who have different points of view together to have a conversation.
One of my greatest concerns as a pastor is that we seem in America to have lost the ability to have a dialogue. We have resorted to a one-sided, “you’re the problem so shut the hell up and get out of my way” monologue instead of open-minded authentic dialogue. It’s time to restore civility. At Unity of Royal Oak, during 2020, we are sponsoring 20/20 several Civic Engagement Open Forums on topics where we seem to be at a stalemate and we may address this one as well.


The Rev. Elizabeth Bingham
Associate Rector
St. John’s Episcopal Church Royal Oak

How are religious exemptions being used to harm the greater LGBTQ community?
I don’t have any specific information or examples of how individuals or organizations are using exemptions. I know what I have read in news stories, but I don’t have any firsthand knowledge or experience.

How are you as a religious leader helping to fight that harm?
In the Episcopal Church, we believe that all are welcome and that everyone belongs. Jesus never sought to exclude anyone for any reason. He was always seeking to bring people together, to break down barriers that separated people. Jesus’s message was about love for all people — no exceptions. This is what we preach and teach at St. John’s. We are committed to ensuring that everyone feels welcome and loved in our community. This is the St. John’s welcome statement that is printed in the weekly service bulletin and is on our website:
Welcome! We are St. John’s, a parish that invites you to enter the open doors of our community and warmly embraces you when you do.
At St. John’s, our history has taught us that accepting and embracing true diversity is challenging. As a result, we have come to claim a firm, undying commitment to inclusion. So, here is our invitation to you: regardless of your cultural background, ethnicity, gender, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or heterosexual identity, economic status, physical or cognitive ability — you will be not labeled, singled out or excluded here. You will be welcomed, affirmed, embraced and celebrated! We will be better because you are here.

How can we as a society move the dialogue forward?
From my perspective as a person of faith, I believe we can move the dialogue forward by first recognizing that we are all created by, and in the image of a loving God whose desire for us is peace, justice, equity and love. The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, The Rt. Rev. Michael Curry puts it this way: “If it is not of love, it is not of God.” We just don’t believe that God ever wishes for anyone to be excluded for any reason. God loves and cherishes every person and we are called to do the same.


The Rev. Sharon Janot
Abiding Presence Lutheran Church

How are religious exemptions being used to harm the greater LGBTQ community?
Sadly, these are attempts to legalize discrimination by another route. Since outright discrimination against LGBTQ folk is, thankfully, falling out of favor, it is another attempt to couch legalized discrimination now under the guise of religion. So, the funeral home worker was fired here in Michigan for so-called religious reasons after claiming federal protections didn’t cover gender identity or expression. It is a misuse of religion — primarily coming from a fundamentalist Christian point-of-view — to cause harm to another, which religious principles prohibit broadly speaking. The case argued in October before the Supreme Court identified a need for clarification of Title VII provisions to include gender identity and sexual expression as protected classes that were not specified when the law was first adopted.

How are you as a religious leader helping to fight that harm?
Our congregation, Abiding Presence Lutheran Church in Rochester Hills, is a Reconciling in Christ community, in affiliation with the organization Reconciling Works. This means that we welcome into full participation in all aspects of our ministry all people and specifically identify LGBTQ folks as included. So, we have families with LGBTQ parents and have the adults involved in leadership, on our board, leading in worship, teaching Faith Formation and serving in outreach. And we publicize this part of our identity front and center on our website and printed materials. In my teaching and preaching I cite positive examples of LGBTQ folks in church and society, and encourage us to think about how we can respond to discrimination. We have work to do, though, and this winter we will be developing a plan for being more active in anti-discrimination work going forward.

How can we as a society move the dialogue forward?
Keep lifting up the need for inclusion, identify discrimination where it happens, clarify that not all Christian churches support anti-LGBTQ discrimination, and most importantly that Jesus did not discriminate against the other nor does the Bible when read non-literally. For the good of church and society we really need to give up a literal reading of scripture, for that is at the root of much of these attempts to codify discrimination.


The Rev. Dr. Roland Stringfellow
Senior Pastor and Teacher
Metropolitan Community Church Detroit

How are religious exemptions being used to harm the greater LGBTQ community?
No one should face discrimination because of who they are or who they love, but in Michigan and 29 other states across the country, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people remain vulnerable to discrimination. Currently in Michigan, an infant can be denied medical care because the mothers are lesbians. Aimee Stephens, from Redford, who identifies as transgender, is currently having her wrongful termination case heard at the Supreme Court. That’s because our state lacks express, enduring protections for LGBTQ people. These are just two instances in which residents have been rejected based upon someone else’s religious beliefs. In a pluralistic society, we must strive for the freedoms of all people, including those we disagree with. It is wrong to impose our beliefs on others, yet this is what religious exemption legislation is striving to do.

How are you as a religious leader helping to fight that harm?
Currently, I am the board president of Inclusive Justice — inclusivejustice.org — a statewide coalition of congregations and religious leaders committed to LGBTQ inclusion in our communities. We are working with legislators to help expand protections against discrimination and Inclusive Justice invites others to join our efforts to win these critical nondiscrimination protections. We have to keep up the statewide conversation, including with our family members, friends and legislators. Our goal is to build a Michigan where everyone has a fair chance to succeed and live free from discrimination.

How can we as a society move the dialogue forward?
I offer the resource found at religiouslibertyforall.org that houses a curriculum I authored helping explain the history of religious liberty and how it has shaped current debates. Here is a link to a newsletter article I wrote about a recent trip to Washington DC to meet with legislators: clgs.org/2019/12/lgbtq-leaders-meet-with-congressional-representatives-about-non-discrimination-protections/. I am also attaching a photo of me meeting with Rep. Andy Levin, District 9, about partnering with him on an upcoming project to address harmful religious liberty bills.

About the Author:

Jason A. Michael
Jason A. Michael earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Wayne State University before joining Between The Lines as a contributing writer in 1999. Jason has received both the Spirit of Detroit Award (presented by the Detroit City Council) and the Media Award from the Community Pride Banquet & Awards Ceremony for his writing and activism. Jason is also an Essence magazine bestselling author having written the authorized biography "Strength Of A Woman: The Phyllis Hyman Story," which he released on his own JAM Books imprint.