The Religious Liberty Quiz, and Why Crediting Original Writers Matters

I keep telling myself that it shouldn’t matter. So long as a good message is getting out there, why does it matter who gets the credit? And in a time when the state of Indiana has passed a law that will hurt so many of my LGBTQ friends and family, why am I wasting my time on an issue of citation?

I keep telling myself that a more spiritual person wouldn’t care about this. But the reality is that I do.

Over the last few days I have seen this graphic shared repeatedly on Facebook, Twitter, and around the blogosphere:

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The first time I glanced at it I realized that I was looking at my own words. Verbatim in many instances. “Oh, someone made that article into a graphic,” I thought. But then it hit me…the article wasn’t being cited on the graphic at all.

In the late summer of 2012 I wrote a blog post called, “How to Determine if Your Religious Liberty is Being Threatened in Just 10 Quick Questions.” I shared it on my own blog, in a local paper, and in the Huffington Post’s Religion section, where I often blog. It was at HuffPost that the article took off. It has now been “liked” on Facebook over 225,000 times and shared widely. Here is the original post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-emily-c-heath/how-to-determine-if-your-religious-liberty-is-being-threatened-in-10-questions_b_1845413.html

I have to admit, I don’t think it’s my best writing. It was written quickly, on an iPhone, while watching the Republican National Convention on television during the 2012 Presidential elections. It was also written just over two months before my wedding to my now-wife.

Heidi and I were sitting in our living room, a minister and a seminarian, making plans about the religious marriage ceremony we would be having at her home church in Boston. This was a marriage that would be recognized by our church, but (in the time before DOMA was overruled) not by our country. And we were hearing speaker after speaker coming to the podium saying that their own religious liberties were being threatened by marriages like ours. (You can read more about that here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-emily-c-heath/the-religious-liberty-qui_b_4878040.html)

It made no logical sense. And so, instead of yelling back at the television, I wrote this tongue-in-cheek quiz to demonstrate the logical fallacies of the “religious liberty” red herring that has been perpetuated for far too long by anti-gay figures.

The piece took off. And, unfortunately, it has been recirculated widely several times in the last few years. I say “unfortunately” because each time that has happened it has been in response to another law like the new “religious freedom” legislation in Indiana. I had really hoped that we could stop having this argument about now, but it seems Governor Pence and others have other plans.

And so, the article is once again circulating. And so is the above graphic, which uses my verbatim wording without crediting the original article. And, like I said, maybe this shouldn’t bother me. But it does.

Here’s why: plagiarism has always bothered me. Maybe the person who created the graphic did not mean to plagiarize. But they did copy exact phrases from an article I wrote and not put my name on it. Deliberate or not, that is plagiarism. Ask your freshman English professor, and they’ll agree.

So why does it matter, especially if the intentions are good? For me it’s because of this: I’m a writer. I’m a pastor first, but a part of my ministry, and a large part of my own spiritual practice, revolves around being a writer. Most of what I write, I write for free. Each month I write two devotionals for the United Church of Christ’s daily devotionals, and donate them to the church. I write blogs for HuffPost Religion and other blogs and I am not paid. I write on my own blog for free. And here’s the thing: I am fine with not being paid. It feels good to me to be able to write, and to share for the benefit of the larger church and others, and to pass on ideas I believe in deeply.

But, writing is sometimes emotionally exhausting work. That is especially true when we are writing about painful things. And that night that I wrote the religious liberty quiz, with a wedding weeks away and people on the screen in front of me saying horrible things about my family, I was feeling some pain. And I took that pain and channeled it into my writing, and into something I believed might help others. I also wrote it both as a LGBTQ person, and as a person of devoted faith, contexts that I believe are crucial to the piece. (Especially as I find most people falsely assume this quiz was written by someone hostile to religion and faith in general, and not someone who deeply loves their faith tradition.)

In the end I don’t need money or fame for it. But, I just think that when anyone writes from their experiences, especially a member of a group being openly and hostility attacked, they should be given the minimal courtesy of being named. For so long my LGBTQ friends and family had to hide because of whom they were. That is, thank God, changing. But the silencing of our experiences comes in so many forms, and even with the best of intentions it is still painful.

UPDATE: This graphic is now being shared at Patheos, Daily Kos, and more. If you see it, please make a note of the source. Thank you.

Journeying Through Advent, Day 2

I spent a good part of the day yesterday decorating for Christmas. My wife and I were married just over two weeks ago, and this is our first Christmas living together. We put up the tree, wrapped the lights around it, and then broke open a box filled with Christmas ornaments from her childhood.

One caught my attention. It had a picture of her as an infant and said, “Baby’s First Christmas, 1983.” After I looked at it for a minute, I realized something wasn’t right.

“Honey, 1983 wasn’t your first Christmas. You were born in October of 1982. Why does it say 1983?”

And then I remembered. My wife was born three months premature. She weighed slightly over two pounds at birth, and slipped down to under two pounds soon after that. Baptized at the hospital soon after birth, she wasn’t expected to survive, and she spent her first few months in a hospital incubator. She was released from the hospital right before Christmas, but was still so fragile that celebrations had to take a back seat that year.

By the next year she was strong, and healthy, and growing. And Christmas was a little different that year. Someone took the picture of her that is now on our tree, and put it in a frame that said “Baby’s First Christmas.” Is it technically right? No. But the reality was that it was the first Christmas that her family could breathe a sigh of relief, know that she was going to be okay, and rejoice. It was the first year that they had time to buy ornaments and take festive pictures to put inside of them.

When I look at the ornament, I think of my wife on her actual first Christmas: tiny, fragile, sick, and struggling to live. But I also think about the strength that must have been inside that little body, and the hope that she gave people against all the odds. In a way, that’s a lot like our Advent journey. We come aware of our weakness, and of the fragility of the world, and yet we come looking for the promise of new life.

That’s what hope is all about. It proves the doctors who say “there’s no chance” wrong. And it transforms a broken world that some days we just want to give up on into a new creation. I believe in hope because I know someone whose life proves the hope is not in vain. And I believe in the journey of Advent because I know that, like Christmas, joy can eventually come out of even the most somber beginnings.

This reflection is part of Huffington Post Religion’s Advent live blog. More reflections can be found here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/01/advent-2012-a-season-of-waiting-before-christmas-photos_n_2221918.html#27_advent-reflection-day-2-fragility-and-the-promise-of-new-life

When Wearing Purple Isn’t Enough – New post on HuffPost Religion for Spirit Day

Check out my new post on Huffington Post Religion about what being bullied has taught me as a clergyperson:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-emily-c-heath/when-wearing-purple-isnt-enough-telling-the-truth-about-bullying_b_1987128.html?fb_action_ids=10100160786150108&fb_action_types=og.likes&fb_source=other_multiline&action_object_map=%7B%2210100160786150108%22%3A440237262678258%7D&action_type_map=%7B%2210100160786150108%22%3A%22og.likes%22%7D&action_ref_map=%5B%5D

The “Religious Liberty” quiz on Huffington Post, and why I wrote it.

Dear friends,

Over the past few days my blog has seen an increase in traffic driven by my latest post on Huffington Post’s religion section. (Found here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-emily-c-heath/how-to-determine-if-your-religious-liberty-is-being-threatened-in-10-questions_b_1845413.html ) That post made the leap from the religion page to the front page, has been shared nearly 5,000 times on Facebook (edited: now about 12,000 times), and has been picked up by other sites. Thank you all for the shares and for your blog visits, emails, tweets, and words of encouragement. I’m humbled.

I wrote the piece on my iPhone last week while sitting watching the Republican National Convention with my partner. That is not to say that this is an anti-Republican post. Not at all. (I know some wonderfully inclusive Republicans and some of the rhetoric at the DNC on this frustrated me just as much.) It’s just to say that was the occasion for its writing.

You see, my partner and I are marrying one another this November at her UCC church in Boston. We are blessed by the fact that our marriage will be recognized legally in both our state of residence and the state in which it is performed. More importantly, it will be recognized by our church. It will not, however, be recognized by the federal government. The question of whether it will be soon, and whether it will be in more states, is causing an increase in calls of “religious oppression” from anti-gay religious folks.

Getting married two weeks after the presidential election, in a year when debate over equal marriage is more divisive than ever, adds a whole other layer to the stress of wedding planning. It means that every quip about equal marriage feels like a referendum on your own upcoming marriage. (And really, between the catering and the invitations, I already have more than enough to think about.)

That’s why watching the RNC, every slight about “real marriages” and “real families” cut us to the quick. And every reference to “religious liberty” used to deny my partner and I the rights we deserve just offended me. My partner and I are religious people who love God. We love the church. And we love Christ, who taught us to love our neighbors as ourselves. But the fact that our neighbors, and our Christian brothers and sisters, were claiming that they were the oppressed ones here, was not just offensive; it was ludicrous.

My partner and I want basic rights. And our basic rights do not intrude on anyone’s religious liberty. How that has become so convoluted, I don’t know. But those who would use religion to claim they are being victimized by the rights of others, are being intellectually, and religiously, dishonest. No one is forcing churches to marry gay couples. Any clergy member will tell you that they are legally free to deny marriage to any couple for any reason with impunity. They know that, but they spread false fear to their communities in an effort to deny the rights of others. Meanwhile, our own church, which blesses our marriage, is being denied equal legitimacy under the law by the actions of these religious groups who attempt to withhold legal recognition from the marriages other religious groups bless.

So here we were, sitting in our living room, watching politicians say that the marriage of a minister and a seminarian would destroy religious liberty in America. And it’s so offensive, so painful, and just so, so false. This is the stuff that used to make me want to drink. Now it just makes me want to fight harder for my rights, and the rights of my partner, and the rights of all of us…because, gay or straight, this is about all of us.

That’s how the quiz was born. Because it’s important for the ones who have oppressed others for so long to understand that they, in fact, are not being oppressed. I know what oppression feels like. I grew up gay in the Bible belt. I was bullied in the name of religion. That’s not what “religious liberty” is about. THAT is oppression. And I’m thankful that, finally, my own religious liberty is being taken seriously by more and more of my fellow citizens. I hope the quiz helps more to be able to realize what “religious liberty” really means.

God bless you all.

Rev. Emily C. Heath

New blog at Huffington Post: Separation of Church and Santorum

“I don’t believe in an America where the separation of church and state are absolute. The idea that the church can have no influence or no involvement in the operation of the state is absolutely antithetical to the objectives and vision of our country. … To say that people of faith have no role in the public square? You bet that makes you throw up.” –Rick Santorum

Rich Santorum’s quote about Pres. John F. Kennedy’s speech on the separation of church and state has received a tremendous amount of airplay this week. Even if you remove that last viral line, it’s a strong pronouncement of Santorum’s displeasure with the limits imposed on religious institutions in the public arena. It’s enough to make the ears of any person of faith who thinks differently than Santorum perk up.

Speaking as a pastor in a mainline Christian denomination (you know, one of the ones Santorum says is in “shambles”) I’m surprised to find myself in some agreement with one part of his quote. I also believe that it is “antithetical to the objectives and vision of our country … to say that people of faith have no role in the public square.” And yet, I would suspect Santorum and I have very different ideas of what that means.

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