Mark A. Smith is professor of Political Science and an adjunct professor of Comparative Religion and Communication at the University of Washington. His research focuses on economic and religious groups, ideas, and influences in American politics. In his new book, Secular Faith: How Culture Has Trumped Religion in American Politics, Dr. Smith argues that religion is not nearly the unchanging conservative influence in American politics that we have come to think it is and is best understood as responding to changing political and cultural values rather than shaping them.
On Monday, the Episcopal Church’s leadership overwhelmingly voted to allow the ordination of transgender people, by approving a change to the church’s “nondiscrimination canons” to include “gender identity and expression.” The Episcopal Church currently forbids discrimination based on race, ethnicity, national origin, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, disability, and age for Episcopalians who want to become priests. The church also made it illegal to discriminate against transgender people in non-clergy positions.
Last August’s Religion & Politics Tracking Survey showed that 9-in-10 (90%) white mainline Protestants agree that transgender people deserve the same rights and protections as other Americans. The survey also revealed that around 7-in-10 (69%) white mainline Protestants are familiar with the term “transgender,” and that white mainline Protestants strongly support other rights and legal protections for transgender people:
- Eighty-six percent of white mainline Protestants agree that legal protections that apply to gay and lesbian people should also apply to transgender people.
- Nearly three-quarters (73%) of white mainline Protestants believe that Congress should pass laws to protect transgender people from job discrimination.
- Over three-quarters (76%) of white mainline Protestants favor the expansion of federal hate crimes laws to include crimes committed on the basis of the victim’s gender, sexual orientation or gender identity.
Given this level of support, it’s not surprising that the Episcopal Church was so emphatic in its support for policies furthering non-discrimination against transgender people. However, as the Huffington Post’s Jaweed Kaleem points out, the vote on transgender priests could further strain relations between Episcopalians and the Anglican Communion, which recently delayed a vote on whether to allow women bishops.