I am honored today to participate in a press conference in our nation's capitol. Basically, I, along with several hundred clergy from around the nation, gather to urge Congress to pass two pieces of legislation before them: the hate-crime bill and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
Following are the brief comments I plan to make to the media:
"Good morning. My name is Miguel De La Torre. I am the associate professor of social ethics at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colo., and author of A Lily Among the Thorns: Imagining a New Christian Sexuality.
"More importantly, I am an ordained Southern Baptist minister, who stands before you today because I am a born-again man of faith who believes strongly in the Word of God as revealed in the Holy Bible.
"My Lord and Savior, through words and deeds, has taught me to stand with those who are oppressed. Today, the Congress has an opportunity to redress some of the oppression faced by our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters. Today the Congress has an opportunity to be used by the Almighty as an instrument of salvation and liberation.
"Because all are created in the image of God, violence committed against any one person is violence committed against the very image of God. For this reason, the two pieces of legislation before the Congress are fundamentally an issue of justice. Will we create a society where everyone's basic right from harm is protected, or are certain people excluded?
"Violence need not be limited to the physical. Denying anyone the right to work because of their sexual orientation or gender identity is also a form of economic violence. Every human being has a right to work so as to feed themselves and their family. Yet in 33 states today, a person can be fired for things that are very personal but have no relationship to their work.
"As a Latino I know all-too-well the sting of discrimination in the workplace, and for that reason I have no choice but to be here today advocating passage of the hate-crime bill and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
"Some Christians from the far Right will attempt to paint these as special rights for gays and lesbians, asking where will it all end. I'll tell you where it ends. It ends, in the words of the prophet Amos, when justice rolls down like water, and righteousness like an everlasting stream."
For those unfamiliar with these pieces of legislation, the hate crime bill is intended to add sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and disability to existing federal law. This provides authority to the federal government to investigate and prosecute violent crimes.
Regardless of what stance Christians take on the issue of homosexuality, all Christians can agree that violent acts against anyone need to be punished by our civil society.
Regardless of how repugnant hate speech may be, this bill does not cover it. It only covers bias-motivated crimes that "willfully cause bodily injury to any person or, through the use of fire, a firearm, or an explosive or incendiary device, attempts to cause bodily injury to any person."
Why is this law needed? Even though sufficient evidence exist that hate crimes are under-reported, still, in 2005 the FBI released that of the 7,163 bias-based crimes committed, and 14.2 percent were due to the victim's gender identity or sexual orientation.
The second legislation needing passage is the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. This law will make discrimination in the workplace illegal, specifically firing, refusing to hire or refusing to promote an individual simply based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Shouldn't employment decisions be made on a person's qualifications rather than on their skin color, ethnicity or orientation? It is immoral, unethical and non-Christian to deny anyone the means by which they feed themselves or their family.
But what about religious organizations that oppose homosexuality? Will they have to compromise their beliefs and hire homosexuals? No--because explicit language used in the legislation upholds the Constitution's guarantee of protecting such organization from governmental interference.
As a Christian, I cannot imagine why the body of Christ would even think twice about supporting these laws.
I recognize that some Christians may struggle with accepting gay, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders as brothers and sisters in Christ, but I would at the very least hope that no Christian would advocate not holding responsible those who perpetrate violence on humans or deny qualified humans the ability to feed themselves through hard work.
Thus, I am in our nation's capital today, speaking the word of the Lord that justice may prevail for all, regardless of their gender, race, ethnicity and--yes--their gender identity or sexual orientation.
Miguel A. De La Torre is director of the Justice & Peace Institute and associate professor of social ethics at Iliff School of Theology in Denver.
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