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An Intersectional Conversation that Didn't Happen: Religion and Humanities

The Intersectional Group planned to host an intersectional conversation, a diverse panel discussion exploring intersectionality, about religion and humanities at the end of July 2022. After a few declines, it became clear that this topic is too challenging for folks and communities to discuss in a public forum right now.

Still, we wanted to capture the process and share our thoughts on this sensitive and regularly polarized topic.

For transparency, here are the questions we planned to discuss in this indefinitely-postponed conversation:


How has religion or spirituality influenced your identity?

Do you think religious influences impact political/legal decisions?

How have religious influences dictated women and non-binary folks’ ability to have bodily autonomy, as well as privacy?

How has “manifest destiny” held control over the U.S.?

What is the correlation between abortion rights and racism?

Re-reading these questions, it is abundantly clear that exploring them would have been a heavy conversation and would probably have raised eyebrows and generated challenging follow-up discussions. As some folks shared with us, this would have been an uncomfortable conversation that brings up trauma and triggers anxiety.


When planning for this conversation, we were aware that this event might not happen. Although we are sad about the postponement of this would-be interesting conversation, we are not surprised by the panelist declines. After all, religion is a charged word in our world. There is much generational trauma and many heated debates triggered by today’s political and religious environments. However, we do still hope to host this conversation in the future as we at the Intersectional Group believe religion and humanities should not grind against each other. Instead, they should work together and move us forward as individuals and communities.


At Intersectional Group, we believe that regardless of our religion, spirituality, beliefs, and other spiritual practices, human rights and health care should be guaranteed and protected. We support reproductive health care, same-sex marriage, transgender health care, the right to privacy, and rights that previous Supreme Court rulings have upheld. The bottom line is: as humans, we all deserve to live our lives with dignity, privacy, basic rights, and the legal systems that govern our lives should support this.


Let’s explore some ways that religion has influenced these human rights. Christianity, specifically Catholicism, had held political power in Europe for centuries. The fall of the Roman Empire gave way for the Pope at the time to serve as the political leader of the region as well as a powerful religious leader. The belief that enabled this concentration of power was that the government authority was instituted by the authority of God. Because of the domination of Catholic Christianity, biblical context about the morality of abortion has been the backbone of anti-abortion-access debates. In 2015, “Pope Francis stated that Catholics have a duty to participate in politics to improve the world. The Catholic Church does not officially take political stances and encourages followers to come to their own political decisions, but it also states that these decisions must be made in accordance with natural law.” But, considering the Catholic Church’s centuries-long influence on government, it may be difficult to assume that the Catholic roadmap for improving the world includes all human’s unique needs and values.


That a religious organization’s view of improving the world may not include improvements for all is exhibited by Manifest Destiny, a belief first popularized in the 19th century, which promoted that the United States is destined by God to expand and spread capitalism and democracy across all of North America. This and other Christian philosophies as they expanded to the Americas from Europe were, in part, used to justify the forced removal and extermination of Native Americans and the enslavement of Africans. In one example, Founding Father and 5th President of the United States James Monroe concluded that if Europe interfered with the United States’ continued colonization it would be a challenge to God's will and thus would be seen as an act of war. This stance indicates that those inspired by Manifest Destiny felt that, by the will of their God and by their own hand, some humans could justly suffer tremendously and experience the loss of basic rights to create benefit for a select group of others. It’s an example of how religious organizations can enable governments to impact human rights, in this case creating vastly negative outcomes.


Exploring the impact that religious beliefs may have on human rights and the laws that enable them can be a heavy topic, but could also be a hopeful one. If religious organizations can enable governments to negatively impact human rights, the opposite can be true. Although challenging to have, conversations exploring this have the power to help shape a future in which all have equal access to basic rights, privacy, and dignity. We’re excited to steward these conversations when the time is right.


Cited Sources





Acknowledgments

Author: Zhou Fang; Editor: Kathryn Kennedy; Research: Alysha Rainier

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