By Dr. Susan M. (Elli) Elliott, Analyst Westar Think Tank | March 1, 2021
Red Lodge, Montana

A recent message from Franklin Graham of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association to his followers begins by raising an alarm, “We Cannot Remain Silent! The Equality Act is a dangerous threat to our nation.”

  • “Whose nation?” we might ask.

Much of Graham’s message identifies and exaggerates his issues with the Equality Act. His message assumes his followers’ desire to assert their right to discriminate on the basis of their religion. Graham’s message foments their fears.

He raises the specter that his followers may be required to be fair to people their religion has taught them to be prejudiced against and to fear.

  • Is the Equality Act a threat to the USA as a nation?

In appealing to his followers to voice their opposition to the Equality Act, Graham assumes a version of Christianity that would exclude many people in the USA from full participation. Whatever his religion would dictate, however, his form of Christianity is not synonymous with the United States of America.

Graham and others who subscribe to versions of Christian dominionism may want to make this a nation ruled by their religion, to make it their nation. Yet their religion is still not “our nation.”

  • Where is the real threat?

A form of Christianity that asserts the right to impose its own prejudices does pose a threat, however. Other Christians who do not share a dominionist interpretation, members of other faith traditions, and those who ascribe to no faith tradition are also part of this nation and have every right to full membership.

In its promotion of religious literacy, the Westar Institute seeks to provide information and tools to address national discourse and contention over the role of religion in the body politic. In a nation where many forms of Christianity are practiced, Westar also continues the work of biblical scholarship that offers foundations for a variety of other viewpoints than the one that Graham and his followers assume. A great deal of biblical scholarship points to an understanding of the life and teachings of Jesus that counters the prejudices Graham promotes in the name of Christianity.

In the meantime, the Equality Act offers long-needed legal protection against discrimination for LGBTQ people in parts of everyday life that every person in this nation should be able to take for granted – “in employment, housing, credit, education, public spaces and services, federally funded programs, and jury service.” For more information from one organization that supports the act, see https://www.hrc.org/resources/the-equality-act

Susan M. (Elli) Elliott

Writer, Workshop Leader, and Environmental Activist in Red Lodge, Montana

Susan M. (Elli) Elliott is a writer, lecturer, workshop leader, and environmental activist based in Red Lodge, Montana. She began her doctoral work after years in urban ministry in Chicago where she served a local church, directed human rights organizations, worked in grassroots economic development, and organized direct actions on local and international justice issues. For several years, she managed construction companies and a mailing service as ventures to employ and train urban young people in Chicago. She also spent a year in a village in Mexico assisting with the economic development work of the Arizona Farmworkers Union.

Elli Elliott’s scholarly work focuses on the pagan and Roman Imperial backgrounds of early Christianity, including Greco-Roman mystery cults—particularly the cult of Cybele—and central Anatolian popular religiosity. Her first book explores Paul’s letter to the Galatians and the relation of the circumcision controversy to the practice of ritual self-castration. Her current book project is based on a lecture series offered in local churches and uses George Lakoff’s work on the family metaphor in political discussion to understand early Christian family language in the context of the Roman Empire She is the author of scholarly articles and reviews that have appeared in the Journal of Biblical LiteratureCatholic Biblical QuarterlyBiblical ResearchSemeia, Bryn Mawr Classical Review, and Listening, and a contributor to Eerdmans’ Dictionary of the Bible and The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible.

Books

Academic Credentials

  • B.A. equivalent, The Institute at Prescott College, Prescott, Arizona
  • M.Div., Jesuit School of Theology at Chicago
  • Ph.D., Loyola University Chicago

Academic Appointments

  • Adjunct Instructor, Humanities Department, Northwest College, Powell, Wyoming, August , 2010 to present
  • Faculty Member in New Testament, Lay Ministry Institute, Montana Association of Churches, August, 2008 to closure of institute
  • Faculty Member, Theological Education Institute of the Central Rocky Mountain Region of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the Rocky Mountain Conference of the United Church of Christ, 1999–2003
  • Visiting Assistant Professor of Theology, Loyola University Chicago, 1997
  • Lecturer of Theology, Loyola University Chicago, 1993-1996

Professional Service

  • Minister, First Congregational United Church of Christ, Fairmont, Minnesota, 2005–2007
  • Minister for Faith & Learning, Plymouth Congregational Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 2003–2005
  • Pastor, Zion United Church of Christ, Sterling, Colorado, 1997–2003
  • Director, Justice and Peace Network of the Illinois Conference of the United Church of Christ, 1990–1992
  • Pastor and Community Program Director, Douglas Park Church of the Brethren, 1987–1990
  • Director, Interfaith Coalition for Justice to Immigrants, Chicago, 1981–1982
  • Coordinator, Alliance to End Represssion, Chicago, 1978–1980

Membership in Professional Societies

  • Society of Biblical Literature
  • Westar Institute
  • Catholic Biblical Association
  • North American Patristics Society
  • Chicago Society for Biblical Research
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