What is the role of religion in the public square? With some regularity, clergy weigh in on matters of public concern. This is appropriate for people of faith because we are voting citizens. However, the rhetoric of people of faith must be judged by the guiding principle of all major religions - love of neighbor - which is consonant with the aims of most secular moral belief systems. When clergy put forth statements of exclusion that drum up fear and hate, they have failed to meet the standard by which we can reasonably expect them to behave and teach.

Christianity has spectacularly failed in the public square in West Virginia. The religious voices which dominate public discourse demand that governing bodies act according to their beliefs, even using language like “sin” and “salvation” in formal documents addressed to legislators. These kinds of demands stem from a similarly coercive and colonial theology to convert the world. The converse problem is the silence of clergy and laity who practice a different kind of Christianity, one that is rooted in genuine and humble invitation. Both have failed to act from a place of love.

When clergy rail against the identity of LGBTQ+ people or claim that the presence of Pride flags in a high school persecutes Christians, they are failing the public once more and failing the queer people in their own congregations. A gay friend who once told me, “In West Virginia you can identify as a queer person or a Christian, but not both. You have to choose.”

By standing fast on principles of exclusion or electing to remain silent, people of faith are not only further alienating the general public, they are alienating people in their own faith communities, perpetuating harm rather than love.