Queer Catholic Politician Runs on Faith and Justice

A queer Catholic woman who ran for Congress in Washington State this past primary cycle sees her intersectional faith, political, and personal identities as a source of power rather than constraint. 

Rebecca Parson

Rebecca Parson ran a primary challenge to unseat the Democratic Representative Derek Kilmer, who represents the state’s 6th Congressional District. While Kilmer ultimately won the primary, Parson would have been the first woman and the first LGBTQ person to represent her district. 

While some regard her identity as a queer woman incompatible with her Catholicism, and her Catholicism incompatible with her Democratic policies, Parson sees her intersecting identities and experiences as “fully coherent and mutually reinforcing.” 

Raised Catholic, Parson has spent her life committed to advancing the cause of the marginalized. She currently serves on the Tacoma Area Commission on Disabilities, is a tenant rights organizer, has worked as a human rights observer in an indigenous community in Mexico, and has worked for the International Association of Genocide Scholars. 

Asked by the Religion News Service about her Catholic faith, Parson described rediscovering the affirming Catholic Church: 

“I grew up as a Catholic and went to Catholic school, and as I got older, the rituals and practices started feeling empty. I just didn’t get them, so they didn’t carry much meaning for me. It was also hard for me to stick around as a queer woman because a large portion of the church was hostile to that. So I stopped going for a long time. 

“A couple of years ago, I started feeling an urge to reconnect with faith, and I came across a Catholic church that was LGBTQ-affirming. That blew my mind! I don’t know if you can imagine — I never, ever, ever thought that would be possible…It’s been so different than how I experienced religion growing up. 

“I’m now at a Jesuit Church that is deeply committed to social justice that feels so organically connected to my own commitments. It also feels less empty as I have learned more about the meanings behind the rituals and symbols, so now I feel like I can access the spiritual depth I always wanted. It reminds me a lot of how I think about patriotism, actually. These words and actions feel most true when they have the right ideas and understandings behind them.

Rather than compartmentalizing her politics and her faith, Parson appreciates, as other religious politicians do, how her faith informs her policies and sustains her activism. The Catholic Church lives up to the mission entrusted to the Apostles when it follows in Jesus’ footsteps. For many politicians, that mission means only attending to their spirituality and focusing on the sexual morality of the Church. Parson identifies the need for Catholic politicians to be committed more broadly, to the larger social teachings of the Church. 

There she finds conscientious leadership on issues she is particularly passionate about–workers’ and tenants’ rights, peace and nonviolence, economic justice for the poor and working class, and the equal treatment of LGBTQ people. There, too, she can find the spiritual nourishment to deepen her relationship with God, herself, and others. 

Isn’t that exactly what we would want from Catholic politicians? 

Rather than further isolate and exclude LGBTQ people from church, Catholics should welcome the LGBTQ community with open arms, inviting them into a deeper commitment to God’s cause–the cause of the poor and marginalized–and an enriched relationship with Jesus. As Parson shows, welcome and affirmation, not exclusion and scorn, invite LGBTQ folks into a deeper appreciation of their faith and spirituality. 

We need more LGBTQ politicians like Parson who value their faith and their commitments to justice all while being unapologetically and fearlessly queer.

Kevin Molloy, New Ways Ministry, September 2, 2020

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