State Senator Mallory McMorrow on reclaiming faith from those who use it as ‘a weapon to hate people’

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(RNS) – Michigan State Senator Mallory McMorrow had several goals when she stood at the podium on the bedroom floor to deliver her remarks on Tuesday, but one was simple.

She wanted to “reclaim faith from people who used it as a weapon to hate people,” McMorrow told Religion News Service.

The result was a fiery speech widely shared on social media which showed McMorrow lambasting fellow Senator Lana Theis. Much of the speech focused on McMorrow’s frustration with a emerging form of conservative rhetoric used by Theis who, among other things, portrays LGBTQ rights advocates as “groomers”.

But McMorrow, a Democrat, also framed her remarks around a discussion of faith, where the dispute between the two lawmakers began: Last week, Theis opened a legislative session praying for children “attacked” by “strengths”, which stimulated McMorrow. and others to come out. Theis later referred to McMorrow by name in a fundraising email, accusing him of wanting to “groom and sexualize kindergarteners.”

McMorrow responded by saying that her mother had taught her faith to be “in being part of a community, recognizing our privileges and blessings, and doing what we can to be of service to others – especially marginalized people, targeted and who had less, often unfairly.”

“I learned that service is far more important than performative nonsense like being seen on the same bench every Sunday or writing ‘Christian’ in your Twitter bio and using it as a shield to target and marginalize already marginalized people” , McMorrow said.

RNS sat down virtually with McMorrow on Friday to discuss the speech, his faith and the intersection of religion and politics. Asked about his remarks, she said, “My personal story is not everyone’s personal story, but everyone has a personal story. So find that way to make a connection.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

In your recent speech, which received a lot of attention, you spoke at length about your faith and identified yourself as a Christian. Can you tell a little more about your history of faith and your religious identity?

I was raised Catholic and we were very active in our church growing up. I sang in the choir, my mother taught CCD (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, or Sunday school). We were active not only every week, but in the middle of the week and there all the time.

But I will say quite frankly that it was not the best experience. Our priest in this parish was not particularly nice or welcoming. My mom and dad divorced when I was quite young, and he treated it very negatively. It was punitive: (He) held a meeting and said that (my mother) did not meet the expectations of the church. I actually talked to my mom a lot over the last week, and she told me that he also tried to fine her $70 for taking me to a soup kitchen outside of our diocese.

They fined you for going to a soup kitchen?

Yes. So, you know, it just wasn’t a good experience. We actually left and became much less active. But what I took away from it – the things that I really loved that were really positive – was the sense of community and giving back. It’s always been something I’ve held very personally.

I went to the University of Notre Dame, and I think one of the things that drew me to Notre Dame was that it was always rooted in service. I attended services in our dorms because you could show up in your pajamas. It was given by our rectors, and it was much more relaxed. I loved our comparative religion class. I loved learning about all the similarities between Catholicism and the Jewish faith and the Muslim faith. It was just tearing down the idea that we’re so different when there are so many things that are actually similar.

So I wouldn’t consider myself attached to any specific faith at this time. My husband is Jewish, I still identify as Christian. Really, for me, it’s that… I hold (former president of Notre Dame) Father Theodore Hesburgh in very high esteem as someone who recognized his position, his privilege as a religious leader and as a than a white man. He helped bring women to college 50 years ago.

I was just on a panel with other alumni, and a woman who works at GE in a leadership position recalled stories of Father Ted calling to ask how the women are doing now that we’re in college… He wanted to make sure it wasn’t just white men who were successful. He was at the forefront of the civil rights movement long before it became popular, and to me, that’s what Christianity is: faith and service.

Frankly, part of what I wanted to do this week is to reclaim faith from people who used it as a weapon to hate people.

In your speech, you referenced Senator Lana Theis’ use of “Christian” in her Twitter biography as “performative,” and came out of a prayer she gave to the state senate before to send the email. Are you saying his actions offended you as a person of faith?

Absolutely.

I think a lot of Americans have a very similar religious background, and that’s a tough thing for somebody running for office, because sometimes you just fill out a form and it says “religion,” and you don’t you only have one word to fill in. I don’t have a word — I have a long explanation.

But when it comes to this attack on groomers and pedophilia – you know, the Catholic Church itself has a really ugly history with this real thing. And to take advantage of this attack on anyone from a marginalized community, whether it’s LGBTQ kids or, frankly, me just for standing up for LGBTQ kids… that’s heinous and it’s wrong.

I think we’ve seen throughout history that religion and faith can be incredibly powerful and a source of hope and community. But it can also be used for really dark stuff. That’s, I think, what we’re seeing happening right now: this performative Christianity and this idea that if you say in your bio on Twitter that you’re a wife and a Christian, that kind of empowers you to tell anyone isn’t that they are less than that and to push policies and rhetoric that is just plain hateful. This is why I came out of prayer.

People ask me, why do we even have prayer in government? Isn’t there supposed to be separation of church and state? You can have that argument, but in my mind, it’s supposed to set the tone for the session. We all serve 10 million people in the state of Michigan, and generally (the prayer) is pretty innocuous and really speaks to that responsibility, and we can come together and hopefully find some guidance. (But) it was a thinly veiled attack on the gay community, on the LGBTQ community, trying to use language similar to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill and claiming our children are under attack .

It’s hypocrisy to say “our kids are under attack”, while not caring about those (LGBTQ) kids, that they don’t matter. I just found it so disgusting and such an abuse of prayer.

Theis made a interview with a radio station this week in which she said the language of her email was “awkward”, insisted that “toilet” is not code for pedophiles and again noted that you have left his prayer. I’m curious about your response, including its continued reference to faith?

Someone asked me today, “Do you think (Theis) is a hateful person?

I don’t know if I would call her a hateful person, but the words sure are very hateful. I know there are a lot of people who may not know anyone in the LGBTQ community.

You can’t simultaneously claim to be a person of faith and want to protect children without really stepping back and thinking about the impact of your words on others. … You can’t just throw words around. There are many ways to talk to members of the LGBTQ community. We have an openly gay colleague, Senator Jeremy Moss, who I spoke with the day before my speech to make sure my tone was right – because it doesn’t affect me. I wanted to make sure I was going about it the right way.

She takes it as a blow to her faith. It’s not, but you should know that words matter.

Would you say your faith doesn’t seem out of place with the support of ongoing campaigns for LGBTQ rights?

Religious freedom in this country means that you are free to practice your own religion, not that you are free to inflict it on other people if they don’t agree. So no, I don’t think there’s a conflict with supporting same-sex marriage, supporting LGBTQ issues, because people are people, and everyone has a right to exist and to express their beliefs, as long as it does not harm others. .

What was the reaction to your speech personally? I know you spoke with your mother — were there any other religious reactions?

You know, I kind of prepared myself for a lot of pushback. (But) I was blown away by how comforting, positive, supportive and kind he was from all sides. We received emails and phone calls not only from all over Michigan and across the country, but from all over the world. We’ve had messages from Germany, Israel and Lebanon and people of all different faiths who say it really resonated.

I picked up a phone call that just rang in the office and said hello. A woman asked if this was Senator McMorrow’s office, and without identifying myself, I said yes.

And she said, “I’m a white, Christian Texan. And (McMorrow) said everything I would like to say to my children, my grandchildren and my neighbors – and his mom should be very proud.

This was the overwhelming response: This faith is not odious.

What would be your message to believers who share your opposition to these bills and campaigns?

Members of the LGBTQ community, especially those who are believers I think, are struggling with this message right now. (But) it’s not everyone, it’s a small subset of people who benefit from these attacks. Many more of us support you, love you, and see you for who you are. I hope you know, speaking from a place of someone who isn’t affected by this rhetoric, more people like me – who are frankly comfortable and okay and have the emotional capacity to bear it – can stand up and take the hits. Because it takes a lot of people who are already under attack to stand up for their own right to exist right now, and they need more people like me.

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