'We can't lose if we stand up against hate': an interview with Michigan's Mallory McMorrow
I told you yesterday about Michigan State Senator Mallory McMorrow. She took to the floor Tuesday morning to dress down a Republican colleague who had named her in a fundraising email as someone who grooms young children “in an attempt to marginalize me for standing up against her marginalizing the LGBTQ community,” she said.
There’s much to admire about McMorrow’s speech, not the least of which is its modeling for Democrats of how to react to a GOP that now sees everything that’s against them as being the worst thing ever.
For me, though, the salient feature was her vision of Christianity. It strives to elevate love and community over sin and punishment. Those who do the difficult work of serving others, in whatever fashion they may choose, are from the former camp. Those who write “Christian” in their Twitter bios, as McMorrow said, are from the latter.
One tries to achieve good.
The other tries to avoid punishment.
This vision of Christianity places at the center of human affairs the ancient demand of “The Sermon on the Mount” to honor the Golden Rule — “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you: do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.”
Usually forgotten, however, is how Jesus updates the rule. He exhorts followers to treat every human being equally, yes, but he also privileges people with little or none. After all, the blessed are the poor, grieving, meek, hungry and persecuted. Those with privilege? He tells us:
“No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other.
“Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”
That’s why I think McMorrow’s speech was a sermon, one that empowers us to show righteous – and liberal – fury against the Republicans who are punching down on the most vulnerable among us, in this case, young kids and teens struggling with their identities, for the purpose of defeating right-wingers and getting elected.
They serve mammon in the name of God.
I got in touch with the Michigan senator. We talked about faith, contempt and why the Democrats nationally must find a way to “shut down hate” while addressing real problems everyone really shares.
“I represent a swing district,” McMorrow told me. “I beat a Republican incumbent. I was the only first-time candidate who beat a sitting incumbent in that cycle. I represent probably one of the most purple districts in the state. I was saying we have to be forceful against hate as well as point out Republicans who are lying to their supporters.”
Can you tell me more about the role of your religion in pushing back against Republican smears? It seemed central to your speech.
I decided to go that route because we've seen a rise in the GOP and rightwing groups politically weaponizing Christianity as a means to hate and target and marginalize. That is not what faith means.
I was raised Catholic. I was active in my church. I went to the University of Notre Dame. I met people who believed that as long as they showed up at services every weekend and followed all the rules, they were better Catholics or better Christians than other people.
I learned from my mom very early on that religion and faith were about service. When she was criticized by our priest for not attending Sunday services all the time, we became less active in the church.
I don't know that that meant we were any less active with the teachings and with what faith means – that you are a part of a community and you're supposed to care for the sick and the poor and those who have less than and try to right the wrong in the world.
That is something that attracted me to attending Notre Dame, the idea that everything we worked on was mission-driven – that we were always trying to leave the place a little bit better than we found it.
It's so disgusting to see people openly, brazenly weaponize Christianity as a shield to do hateful, horrible things. So I decided to stand up yesterday and say that it’s not okay. Faith isn’t what this is. This is just hate and you can't cover it up by saying what it's about faith.
You said: “I want every child in this state to feel seen, heard and supported, not marginalized and targeted because they are not straight, white and Christian.” I noticed that word “Christian” – you seemed to say it with contempt and a lot of it. I’ve been writing about the absence of contempt. I wonder what your thoughts are on that.
We have to be unafraid to be angry – and show it.
I feel like Democrats – and probably a lot of people in this world – are so afraid to talk about their faith sometimes. Or afraid that it means different things to many different people or afraid that even people who don't necessarily ascribe to a particular religion might believe in a higher power or that we are all a part of a community.
These are all valid.
Senator Theis in particular has made this brand for herself as a faithful Christian wife who’s protecting kids but at the same time who’s making kids lives miserable if they happen to be gay, or trans or Black.
After I found out about the fundraising email about me, I called my mom and told her what it said. My mom was devastated that somebody would say this about her daughter. However hard that was for my family, it’s much harder for a gay kid or a trans kid who hears every day they are wrong by somebody claiming to be a Christian.
After I posted a transcript of your speech yesterday, I got a great reaction, especially from liberals and Democrats dissatisfied with the rhetoric coming out of the national Democratic Party.
I have been on both sides. I have sympathy for Democrats in swing districts trying to appeal to voters already leaning Republican. But I'm also with those saying we need a more robust reaction to the GOP’s smears and hateful things. Where do you stand on that?
I represent a swing district. I beat a Republican incumbent. I was the only first-time candidate who beat a sitting incumbent in that cycle. I represent probably one of the most purple districts in the state.
In my speech, I was saying that we have to be forceful against hate as well as point out Republicans who are lying to their supporters.
They are trying to redirect anger and fear and hatred toward a marginalized group – which is easy to do, because by definition, there are fewer of them – rather than address problems constituents face.
Instead of working to address issues like water quality and the cost of healthcare and how difficult it is to find a mental healthcare provider – what they are doing doesn't solve any of those things.
It just makes you angry and hateful towards somebody else.
We can't lose if we stand up against hate. There has to be a way to talk to constituents about issues as well as not be afraid to shut down hate.
Your speech shows Democrats in Washington you can sit on the Sermon of the Mount. Just sit there and say, “Actually, we should privilege the sick, the poor and the powerless, just like Jesus did.
One of the commentaries said about my speech yesterday that I redefined myself as a “Jesus Christian,” not a “Republican Christian.”
I think that's powerful.
Whether somebody is faithful or religious or not, this his job and all of our roles in the world are supposed to be of service to others. And that's not what is happening right now in the Republican Party.
To what extent are you seeing among your constituents connections made between Republicans nationally and Russia? There is a fifth column growing, but how clear is that to everybody else.
In my district, I work with a fairly significant Ukrainian population. I haven't seen a connection directly between Republicans and Russia. In Michigan, there's been pretty strong alignment on both sides of the aisle in that everyone stands with Ukraine and that Vladimir Putin is an authoritarian and that what his country is doing to Ukraine is awful.
I think the split is how we respond.
Republicans are trying to take advantage of that to push for increasing domestic oil production instead of attaining real energy independence. How we respond to Russia is where I think I've seen the difference.
But I don't know that it's been as clear-cut as, “Republicans stand with Russia and Democrats stand with Ukraine.” That's not the case.
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