Paul Mero: To truly defend religious freedom, we should stand down on LGBT issues

First Published      Last Updated Mar 17 2017 07:58 pm

Is it possible to defend religious freedom and not oppose LGBT rights? Yes. In fact, standing down on those rights is the only way to effectively defend religious freedom today. Kathy Carlston ("Become as Christ dreamed and unite with transgender community," March 11) is right to advocate for a Christian view of the LGBT community. No, her prescriptions are not popular among conservatives or in Utah, and incomplete in crucial ways, but a couple of us have been quietly arguing behind the scenes, considering the spirit of what she advocates.

The irony of my message is not lost on me. As surprising as all of this will sound to fellow conservatives — and as cynical as all of this might sound to the LGBT community coming from me — it is time for those of us who cherish religious freedom to stop, yes stop, opposing gender equality. This is no trade-off, no compromise nor quid pro quo. Neither is it unilateral surrender. It is neutrality and it is wisdom.

Unfortunately, Carlston unwisely conflates the LDS Church and its members' behavior. Nevertheless, we can save the spirit of her message. To effectively defend religious freedom, religion can choose (and should choose) to stop opposing gender equality. It should "render unto Caesar" and get out of public policy negotiations and litigation. Religion cannot with credibility commiserate with the LGBT community and then turn around and condemn private, sexual behavior over the pulpit. Though scheming lawyers and political operatives may disagree, religious institutions, for good reasons, should not engage in disingenuous political posturing with the LGBT community to protect religious freedom.

Religious adherents are another story. Politics do not occur in a vacuum. To tell its adherents to stand down on any serious issue, religion might inappropriately signal a retreat from their civic duties. Religious adherents must act as moral agents. Freedom stands on the shoulders of certain virtues, public and private. Religion should teach its adherents correct principles and leave them to govern themselves. With religion out of the political ring, its adherents really would be left to themselves.

Data bolster my argument to stand down. For several years now, Utahns have supported LGBT rights (other than same-sex marriage) by a surprisingly wide margin. But when faced with a choice between LGBT rights or religious freedom, the data show a 45-point swing in support of religious freedom. The biggest takeaway for me from this data is to encourage Utahns to focus on defending religious freedom and stop railing against LGBT rights. Much to my regret, I ignored this advice at the time.

So, as an act of penitence, let me take this idea one step further: To achieve an impenetrable defense of religious freedom, Utah conservatives should stand down on LGBT issues. Neither support them nor oppose them. Let LGBT issues run their own course. Whether they gain support or not will be left to the LGBT community and their efforts. Our policy eye should be single to defending religious freedom. Unless LGBT issues infringe directly on religious freedom, we should stand down.

We also must maintain our integrity. Perhaps there are a dozen reasons to oppose transgender bathrooms, but not one of those reasons for individuals should have anything to do with religious freedom. The one is not a threat to the other unless religion is being forced to comply by the government.

We cannot afford to keep doing what hasn't worked and isn't right. Religious freedom needs to be defended on its own merits, not on the backs of its perceived enemies. And, if on its own merits, it must be a reflection of its own virtues. Live your faith, love your enemy, and no viable grounds will rise to challenge individual religious freedom.

Paul Mero manages ptmstrategies LLC.