President Trump has nominated Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback to be the U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, a selection narrowly endorsed by a Senate panel in late October by an 11-10 vote.
A “favorite of Christian conservatives,” according to the U.S. News & World Report, Brownback’s nomination has drawn fire because of his stance on LGBTQ issues. In 2015, the governor reversed an earlier state order that banned workplace discrimination against members of those groups.
Also approved by the committee in an 11-10 vote was the nomination of Richard Grenell, President Trump’s first openly gay selection for ambassador.
Grenell, whose appearances on the Fox News Channel drew questions from Democrats on the panel, would serve as the U.S. ambassador to Germany.
Brownback, an evangelical Christian turned Catholic and former U.S. senator, served eight years as a member of the chamber’s foreign relations committee and at the confirmation hearing said, “Religious freedom is a fundamental right of every human no matter where they live, who they are or what they believe.”
An appointee of President George W. Bush who earned his undergraduate degree at a private Christian university and his master’s at Harvard, Grenell remains the “longest serving U.S. spokesman in history at the United Nations.”
Q. Is Brownback’s view on LGBTQ rights contradictory to his nomination as an ambassador for religious freedom? Does Grenell’s nomination, given his sexuality, fall into conflict with Brownback’s stance on employment protections?
The fact that Gov. Brownback has moral and religious convictions about LGBTQ issues does not make him less qualified to be an ambassador for religious freedom than anyone else who might have opinions contradictory to his. In fact, having strong convictions and the proven boldness to speak out for them even if they will draw criticism is a necessary quality for a person to successfully fill such a position. A person of faith might even be more qualified than others. When faith is important to us we can know in a deeper way how important it is to others and be willing to fight for its unhindered practice. The Christian faith in particular emphasizes the importance of the individual’s unforced, free choice to follow Jesus Christ. Of Jesus, John 3:15 says, “whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.”
Christianity teaches that salvation is free and available to all who come to Christ of their own free will. Of course, this means that they are free not to choose him. A person who embraces such beliefs is a perfect candidate for the job in question. To address the second question, Grenell’s nomination doesn’t conflict with Brownback’s stance on employment protections. Grenell, I assume, was chosen for his ability to do the job, not on the basis of his sexual preference.
Pastor Jon Barta
Ambassadorships can be little more than ceremonial positions, with fairly low bars for qualifications. Some level of personal or business familiarity with the country is nice, but deep expertise is often lacking.
Mr. Grenell has extensive government and public relations experience, including long service at the United Nations. The German government sees him as representing a mixed message — he has diplomatic expertise but is seen as a loyalist of President Trump, who doesn’t get along with Chancellor Merkel and is very unpopular in Germany. Puzzling though it is to me that any gay person would be a Republican, nothing seems dubious about his appointment.
U.S. foreign relations has emphasized human rights for many decades, with diplomats working to encourage countries to improve their records on respecting the civil, political, religious, gender and other rights of their people. But under our current administration many key positions in the U.S. State Department remain unfilled. That this religious ambassadorship exists and is being occupied is evidence of a political agenda.
Gov. Brownback’s statements on his beliefs are both revealing and contradictory. Here is his idea of religious freedom: “It is the right to do with your own soul what you choose, without the interference of any government or groups.” He claims it is his firm belief that all people should be allowed to express their “innermost convictions.”
Why doesn’t he understand that our sexual and gender nature, which some would say is divinely ordained, is the epitome of our innermost soul?
In that many religions proscribe homosexuality either in their texts, teachings or both, it isn’t a surprise that this president, with this base, has nominated this man to be his ambassador for religious freedom. We can even hear the “...whatever that means” echoing from the Oval Office. While a reasonable person might say Brownback’s nomination is a cynical choice, Trump lacks the discipline for cynicism and instead hands jobs to ill-suited loyalists. Brownback joins a growing group of Trump picks whose words, deeds and experience seem to contradict their appointment to posts atop the Departments of Energy and Education, the EPA, etc. As the president feels his bread has been buttered by a conservative Christian base, so serial butterer Brownback has been rewarded for his loyalty.
While pressure from homophobic conservatives may have spurred Richard Grenell’s hasty departure from Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, Grenell’s media savvy and foreign policy experience may be a boon to this administration’s troubled relationship with Germany. So while Grenell’s sexuality may be distasteful to Brownback, it is not as if the ambassadors to Germany and Religious Freedom are made to sit next to each other at parties. Having been thrown this late-career sinecure sop by a president who doesn’t value religious freedom, Brownback likely won’t have much to say about his fellow ambassador’s Bible-scorned orientation.
Unitarian Universalist Church
of the Verdugo Hills