When Turahn Jenkins told a room of LGBTQ folks that he believed homosexuality is a sin, he did not start or create a crisis among local progressives. Rather, he revealed fissures that have been simmering between Christians who share his beliefs and those who do not within progressive and Democratic circles.
Mr. Jenkins does not deserve credit or points for his honesty, which is after all something required of Christians and political candidates (and lawyers) as they move through the world. His refusal to end his campaign creates a roadblock to mobilizing behind another candidate, adding fuel to simmering tensions as the left searches for a credible way to hold current District Attorney Stephen Zappala accountable for his 20 year record.
But Mr. Jenkins is not alone. He is only one of many elected officials and candidates whose affiliation with a religious institution that oppresses and dehumanizes LGBTQ people should be called into question. His remaining supporters are absolutely right to demand that we hold Zappala accountable for articulating how his religious beliefs inform his professional life, especially when those beliefs are in conflict with his job duties..
There is no path to a more fair criminal justice system that does not include and value the LGBTQ community, women, and other marginalized groups in our society.
Some continue to support Mr. Jenkins in spite of his professed beliefs about LGBTQ people; others agree with him, while insisting that these beliefs will not prevent him from being a good district attorney.
Let us not forget how many people have used those same rationales over the years to defend the predominantly white Catholic men who have held elected office. Catholicism is deeply embedded in our local government to the point that it almost seems benign. Nothing could be further from the truth. Bishop Zubik and the Diocese of Pittsburgh sued the federal government over the Affordable Care Act’s birth control provisions. The Catholic Church is currently attempting to obstruct the release of grand jury reports surrounding sexual abuse by clergy in six Pennsylvania dioceses, including Pittsburgh. Allegations around this history of abuse stretch back 40 years, with incidents of reported abuse stretching much further back into our modern history. This includes the parish where I grew up and includes the stories of my actual childhood friends.
We elect a lot of people who adhere to Catholic teachings like ‘life begins at conception’ and somehow manage to convince us that they will vote to uphold Roe v Wade. We trust that they will govern fairly in spite of overwhelming evidence that their faith communities are aggressively trying to interfere in the political realm. It is not a coincidence that most of these individuals are white cisgender heterosexual men. How does that reconciliation look if they are Black cisgender heterosexual Christian men who are not Catholic?
Even the Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network (PIIN), one of the most respected interfaith bodies in the region, has been unable to articulate a vision of social justice that lifts up and affirms the LGBTQ community.
When we talk about vetting candidates, we have to do better than pointing fingers — we have to ask hard questions about how progressive candidates themselves have played a role in creating these barriers by insisting that we lower the bar on our issues to beat Republicans. We have to examine how white privilege creates a path to victory that would otherwise be closed to people with institutional ties to Christianity. We have to acknowledge that a ‘cafeteria Catholic’ lifestyle is not sufficient nor adequate for our health & welfare.
We should expect elected officials to be able to articulate how they separate their personal beliefs from those of their faith communities, not simply tell us that they do and expect us to take them at face value.