Working in Texas as a progressive person of faith can sometimes be a weary task. Christianity is unashamedly used to promote policies and values that make me anything but proud to say I work at a church in Texas. As the current Texas legislative session proceeds, it seems there is another statistic being voiced every day about Texas being at the bottom of some painful list in regards to access to education, poverty, workers’ rights, literacy or some other basic human need. Ask anyone who lives in Austin and they’ll tell you – another day means another rally at the capitol. People from all backgrounds are often marching up and down Congress St. or standing on the steps of the capitol to voice the cries of injustice that we all want our legislators to hear. Unfortunately, far too often, religious voices in Texas are associated less with those marching, rallying, or lobbying for equal rights and much more with the voices within the Capitol who are determined to maintain an unjust status quo in the name of faith.
For instance, in the 2011 Texas Legislative session, dramatic cuts were executed to family planning. Since, extensive efforts have also been made to officially ban Planned Parenthood from the state funded Texas Women’s Health Care program. Long story short, women in Texas, especially those in rural areas and those with low-incomes, are no longer easily able, if able at all, to access basic family planning needs. Along with Governor Rick Perry, many legislators have gladly assisted in the passing of such legislation all too often in the name of religion. In listening to the rhetoric that often comes from the mouths of Texas reps, one would think that all people of faith in Texas share their passion for keeping women from birth control and other health care needs. It turns out, however, these representatives are apparently clueless about the faith of their constituents.
Texas Freedom Network, a local grassroots advocacy organization, recently polled Texas citizens about their views on access to contraception. The poll revealed that 77% of Hispanics, 69% of Republican women, 70% of Catholics, and 66% of self-identified born-again Christians in Texas support access to birth control. This poll makes one thing clear – when it comes to the representation of Texas citizens around issues of contraception, our legislators are getting it wrong across demographics and party lines.
Many Texas religious leaders are tired of our faiths being co-opted by voices creating and supporting legislation which work against basic values of justice, compassion, and the interconnected lives we believe in. In response to this frustration, over 370 religious leaders of various faith backgrounds and a diverse geography signed a letter supporting access to birth control, not in spite of our religious beliefs but because of them. This letter was recently delivered to all the legislators in the capitol. Legislators like Rep. Johnathan Stickland who put forth bills working against access to birth control and in support of corporations like Hobby Lobby who use the language of “religious freedom” to state their moral opposition to providing their employees with insurance coverage of contraception can no longer use the voice of Texas people of faith to support their cause with any hope of maintaining a sense of integrity.
Over 35 of these religious leaders who signed the letter even showed up to the capitol for a gathering of prayer and public witness. It was incredible to stand among Methodists, Unitarian Universalists, Baptists, Jews, Presbyterians and more as we prayed together and participated in a call and response that our legislators may be reminded – people of faith living in Texas, not just in Austin but all over the state, believe in religious freedom, justice, women’s access to contraception, and in a divine source of love and of life who hopes to see all her people flourish.
Sometimes it’s hard to be a person of faith in Texas. It’s painful when it feels like the voice of faith is only used for harm in policy making. But then there are days when the false rhetoric and the co-opting of the religious voices are sidelined. On those days, a faith which lives on the streets where people of many backgrounds rally every day for a more just society is actually heard. They are days where a faith that is working to move Texas up on all those ugly lists of statistics is put to action. And they are days, where instead of shame or embarrassment, I carry pride – I am a religious leader in Texas among an incredible group of others. Our voices are often drowned out by power politics or a corrupt moral agenda, but we are always testifying, always praying, and always workings towards a more just society. I hope that one day, this is the sort of faith that Texas will be known for.