The Texas A&M University Student Senate voted on April 3 to discriminate openly against their fellow LGBT students under the guise of "religious freedom." By a vote of 35 to 28, the notorious "Religious Funding Exemption Bill," S.B 65-70, was approved, endorsing the request of any student "who has a religious objection" to opt out of the use of their student activities fees to support the Texas A&M GLBT Center. The only religiously appropriate response this ordained Baptist minister and theologian is able to muster at this sad news is "Jesus wept" (John 11:35).
Cynical efforts to cloak anti-LGBT discrimination in religious authority have been tried and found wanting many times before, even on the Texas A&M campus. In 2011, such a bias-driven initiative was defeated, along with a parallel effort in the Texas legislature to defund other university LGBT service centers throughout the state. This year, such a parallel legislative effort using the disguise of religious liberty has already begun in the legislature. One is left to wonder whether there is a conspiracy between a conservative faction of the Texas state government and bias-driven student activists, given these strangely similar resolutions. It should be lost on no one that arch-conservative and openly anti-gay Governor Rick Perry is an alumnus and former cheerleader from Texas A&M.
Religious people of goodwill everywhere should sound the alarm when the language of the Bible and religious teachings are hijacked to support an extremist agenda. Such abuses not only harm the marginalized communities they target, in this case the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. They also harm the perception of religion in public life, making religion seem bigoted, narrow minded, and hostile to the very idea of diversity that makes both church and state stronger and more humane.
The vast majority of scholars of religion and philosophy, Christian and Jewish, have rejected the sort of religion-based bigotry being used to justify efforts to roll back the calendar to a less diverse, less just day and time. No credible argument can be made for the Bible's opposition to committed, loving, same-sex relationships. No ancient faith leader, from Moses to Jesus to the Apostle Paul, ever had a concept of sexual orientation in their worldview at the time of the establishment of Jewish and Christian religious traditions. Credible biblical scholarship debunks the "religious argument" from Scripture that the so-called traditional values folks have been hanging onto for decades now. While zombies may be popular on cable television, such attempts to marshal biblical texts through efforts like S.B. 65-70 that discriminate against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students, faculty and staff in the name of "religious freedom" are no more than the walking dead.
The administration of Texas A&M long ago saw fit to leave the prejudices of racism, misogyny, ableism, anti-Semitism and anti-gay bias back in the bad old days of the past, when people were less educated and less attuned to the demands of a pluralistic, diverse, multi-ethnic and multi-orientational country. Multitudes of LGBT Texans, their families, friends and progressive allies are proud of the A&M community for establishing one of the premier GLBT resource centers in the state of Texas and in the United States. Such narrow minded proposals as the one passed by Student Senate in College Station deny the fact that millions of dollars come from tax paying LGBT Texans who are glad to support a great university like A&M, whether they attended there or not, and do not need to vet every use of funds on a university campus. A state school is answerable to millions of people beyond its campus, and the progressive community in the Lone Star State surely does not want a public university to endorse discrimination against anyone.
As a Baptist minister, ordained to the Gospel ministry for 36 years now, I can testify that support for the A&M GLBT Resource Center and others like it are a good thing -- a very good thing, and one I am proud of, both as a Baptist and a Golden Rule Christian. I have had the great privilege of visiting the campus, of meeting the leadership of the GLBT Center, and of hearing of its history of service to the larger university community since its establishment in 1994. I wonder why some of my fellow-believers who profess to adhere to the teachings of the Bible and Jesus Christ so easily dismiss the very Golden Rule Jesus commended to his disciples -- that we treat others as we would have them treat us (see Leviticus 19:18 and Matthew 22:36-40)? Nothing else trumps that great teaching in either Christianity or Judaism, as the law, the prophets, and the Christ testify. Why would self-professed followers of the Word now seek to turn the oracle of true freedom into a form of discrimination, to pervert it from its gracious purposes? I do not know.
The heart of religion in a free state is to hold people above ideologies, and protect us from the very sort of discrimination this noxious Student Senate bill has enacted in the name of religion. We hope the A&M community will reconsider what it has done, will not make the same, tired mistakes of centuries of religiously based bigotry, redress this misbegotten action and come to a richer, fuller understanding of responsible religious freedom -- to care for those who have no one else to care for them in the name of God -- rather than to discriminate as if there were some sort of totalizing state religion in Texas.
I and many others like me stand with the brave LGBT students and their allies who spoke out against the harm and discrimination their elected representatives have enacted. I hope many of these LGBT Aggies will choose to run for Student Government office, and defeat some of their classmates so they may be sent back to the classroom of real religion, Golden Rule Religion, where good faith overcomes bad religion, and people of goodwill learn how to devise new ways to treat one another as they themselves wish to be treated.