Religion should liberate people, not divide them


I grew up in rural upstate New York, where life was tough and often isolating. The people in our community were very poor, but we took care of each other. The neighbors extended love and support to my family.

Yet there was a deep undercurrent of abandonment and anger.

Far to the south, Confederate flags pierced the landscape. And in church, there was often little help for people struggling to overcome isolation, daily struggles or poverty. Instead, the focus of church life for many people around me was the sin of sex – particularly homosexuality.

My father was a minister, and my mother and grandmother were hard-working union organizers. So even at 9 years old, this hyper-focus on homosexuality made no sense to me. People had no heat in the freezing New York winter. But instead of trying to change that, the church focused on sex?

Instead of directing people’s anger at our unequal political system, the church has directed that anger at love: men love men, women love women. And people realizing they were a different sex than they were assigned at birth.

When it wasn’t about that, it was a vague idea that people of different skin colors, languages, or religions were somehow taking jobs from white people. rural, or were supposed to be paid more for doing less work.


It was about the idea that bad moral character, rather than an unjust economic system, led some members of our community to escape into alcoholism, drug use, and drug addiction. This has led many of us to blame other struggling people – of all races and religions – for our own legitimate suffering.

I grew up surrounded by this culture of anger and hatred, which pitted people against each other and was, perversely, called “Christianity”.

But thanks to my family, who fought for the rights of hard workers, I knew there was another way than this distorted moral narrative of Christian nationalism. I didn’t know if I could find it in the church, but I wanted to try.

I got a scholarship for a parish in Central America, where the people were also quite poor, but where Christianity was very different. It was a Christianity that sought freedom from all forms of oppression.

This experience pushed me to follow my vocation to become a pastor. I wanted to find paths that heal rather than blame. As part of my personal healing, I accepted the God-given revelation that I am male, even though I was raised as a girl – something I knew deeply from childhood.

Blessed with this grace, my pastorate eventually led me to another rural, impoverished community, full of the same struggles – but also the same wisdom and leadership – as my home community.

I co-founded Chaplains on the Harbor in Grays Harbor County, Washington, with other liberation-minded pastors. We walk alongside people who live in poverty, struggle with addiction and seek connection. We walk alongside them as they make the journey from drug rehab on the county jail floor to testifying about their experiences and ideas in the halls of power.

Now I am a proud and loving father and part of a national faith-led movement called the Campaign of the Poor. We are hundreds of thousands of strong people, working for justice for the 140 million of us in the United States who are poor and low-income.

We work to transform systems of inequality rather than blaming people for struggles beyond their control. We do not identify sexuality, gender, race or religion as the source of evil. We identify the policy choices that create suffering – and work to change them.

Like Martin Luther King Jr., Sojourner Truth, Marsha P. Johnson, and my own mother and grandmother, we love, witness, and walk. On June 18, thousands of us marched on Washington to call for transformation.

When we welcome everyone with grace and love, we can truly be free.

Aaron Scott grew up in Mechanicville.

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