Beliefs Chris Stedman: Faitheist Culture Ethics Institutions NBP Opinion

Gay and nonreligious in a Republican state, Rep. Brian Sims puts his faith in humanity

PA Rep. Brian Sims. Photo courtesy of the Office of Representative Brian Sims.
PA Rep. Brian Sims. Photo courtesy of the Office of Representative Brian Sims.
PA Rep. Brian Sims. Photo courtesy of the Office of Representative Brian Sims.

PA Rep. Brian Sims. Photo courtesy of the Office of Representative Brian Sims.

Pennsylvania state Rep. Brian Sims (D-Philadelphia) is an openly gay Democrat in a largely Republican state—in fact, he’s the first openly LGBT legislator to be elected in the state.

But that may not even be the most surprising thing about him: He’s also openly nonreligious in a nation where most elected officials pledge allegiance not only to country, but to God.

Rep. Sims is one of a small but growing group of elected officials, such as Arizona state Rep. Juan Mendez (D-Tempe), who do not claim a religious affiliation.

I spoke with Rep. Sims about his religious background, his “faith in humanity,” the relationship between LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) civil rights and religion, and what inspires him to help other people.

Chris Stedman: Were you raised religious?

Rep. Brian Sims: My parents raised us generically Irish Catholic—Christmas and Easter Catholics. When I was around sixteen, I stopped going to church with my family. I don’t remember what prompted it, but one Christmas Eve my parents asked me if I wanted to go. I said I didn’t, and they didn’t put up much of a fight. Twenty years later, they still don’t put up much of a fight. [tweetable]I’m the only elected official in Pennsylvania that didn’t have to set foot in a house of worship to get elected.[/tweetable]

CS: You’ve said that, when it comes to your beliefs, you aren’t too keen on labels…

BS: [laughs] I’m chuckling because, as a gay guy, I always crack up when people say they’re not comfortable with labels. So I suppose it makes me sound like a bit of a contrarian to say the same in the religious sphere. But it’s true—it’s just not something I give much time and attention to. I have very deeply religious friends, and I find aspects of their different faiths interesting. I just don’t care about the dogma at all. [tweetable]For the last ten years, if someone has asked, I’ve said my faith is in humanity.[/tweetable]

CS: That sounds like something many Humanists say, but I won’t label you. [laughs]

BS: It’s not that I would mind the label—I just haven’t studied Humanism enough to say, “Well, that’s clearly me.” But by all measures, it sounds like it.

CS: Humanist or not, you definitely fall into a growing category of Americans: Those who say they’re not religious. Have you felt nervous about being openly nonreligious?

BS: No. When I ran for office, I had someone do an opposition report on me. [tweetable]Of the things that were going to bother people, being nonreligious was low on the list.[/tweetable]

I’m an openly gay Democrat in a Republican state. For some people, standing up for your community means standing up for your religious community. I think what people in Philadelphia recognize is that, for me, it means a lot of civil rights work. Most don’t really care that I don’t identify with a faith.

CS: How do you think conversations about LGBTQ identity and religion can improve?

BS: That’s a big question. The reason I’m not a person of faith really has nothing to do with being gay—I knew I wasn’t a person of faith long before I knew I was gay. I have LGBT friends who are deeply, deeply religious. And they are the first people to tell you that being LGBT and a person of faith aren’t mutually exclusive. I take them at their word.

[tweetable]An important thing I’ve learned in the LGBT civil rights sphere is the difference between the pulpit and the pews.[/tweetable] American Catholics, for example, are more supportive of LGBT civil rights and more supportive of legal recognitions for LGBT relationships than the American population as a whole. People are shocked to hear that, but it’s completely true. The problem is the only messaging we hear on behalf of the faith is so horribly anti-LGBT. But my daily interactions prove to me that American Catholics are often wonderfully supportive of LGBT people.

I know that we can’t have a discussion about the future of LGBT civil rights without understanding that a lot of religious institutions have some growing up to do—but the marriage equality movement is a really good example of the fact that LGBT civil rights are a freedom of religion issue, too. [tweetable]There are churches and religions all across the U.S. that would’ve been marrying LGBT people 15 years ago if they’d been allowed to do so.[/tweetable]

CS: Would you say that your Catholic background has played a role in your public service?

BS: No. [tweetable]I’m as Catholic as I am Jewish, as I am Muslim—namely, not at all.[/tweetable] But I’m happy to report that I serve alongside people with a lot of volunteer hours under their belt, and many are people of faith. I’m glad for whatever compels them to volunteer and donate their time.

CS: Many people cite their religious beliefs as a motivation for public service. As a result, some folks only associate service with religion. What inspires you to serve?

BS: I had a wonderful experience with co-equal parents, and a wonderful coming out experience on top of that. So I’ve had a chance to see what things can look like when they go well. [tweetable]I do a lot of this work because I know how close we are to getting it right.[/tweetable]

I have a colleague named Patty Kim. She’s a very religious person, actually. When Rep. Kim was asked why she supported the PA nondiscrimination law that we were trying to pass, she talked about all the hardworking LGBT people she knows and the work they had put into passing this legislation: “Imagine what those people could do if they didn’t have to spin their wheels wasting their time like this. If we could recognize that people deserve to be treated fairly, all that time and energy could be spent elsewhere.” That realization motivates me.

CS: You’ve said that your faith is in humanity. Now that you’ve held public office for a while, would you still say that?

BS: Absolutely. Being a legislator now for 20 months has certainly reaffirmed that. People always give me this sympathetic eye when they ask me what the job is like. But the truth is that I have been more affirmed by the issues we’re working on, and the people I’m working on behalf of, than I thought I would be. [tweetable]This job is giving me and the people around me an opportunity to impact the things we care the most about. Everybody wants that.[/tweetable]

Portions of this interview were minimally edited for length or clarity. Subscribe to this column by entering your email under “Subscribe by Email” in the sidebar. You can also follow the author on Twitter at @ChrisDStedman and ‘Like’ him on Facebook.

24 Comments

Click here to post a comment

  • Patty Kim is a Democrat from an urban constituency. That she’s carrying water for a Democratic client group is unsurprising.

    Someone should ask her if all these industrious sexual deviants are so manifestly valuable it would be necessary to put lawyers in charge of second-guessing the employment decisions of landlords or merchants. They have an interest in good tenants and good employees. And Patty Kim’s pre-political occupation was…television reporter. A purveyor of human interest stories. Big [email protected]*%$ing surprise.

  • So Mr. Sims believes that man ruling over man is beneficial and that man can solve ALL of his problems on his own?

    As the prophet Jeremiah once said: “I well know, O God, that to earthling man his way does not belong. It does not belong to man who is walking even to direct his way.” (Jeremiah 10:23).

    The wise King Solomon also confirmed what kind is rule would take place when man rules over man:

    “All this I have seen, and there was an applying of my heart to every work that has been done under the sun, during the time that man has dominated man to his harm.” (Ecclesiastes 8:9).

    God’s Word, the Bible, provides much wisdom on how to live a satisfying and happy life through God’s principles and guidelines.

    In addition, the Bible provides all meek persons a marvelous hope that God’s kingdom or heavenly government will soon put an end to all wicked ones (Psalm 37:10,11; no more terrorists!), all corrupt governments (Daniel 2:44), and rule with righteousness, love and justice (Isaiah 11:1-9) over mankind on earth!!

    Besides that, God’s kingdom will soon put an end to all sickness, disease, old age and death, something no man or his governments can provide (Revelation 21:1-4)!!!!

    Conditions are only getting worse on earth, and these are all signs we are nearing the end of all the problems we now face (Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21).

    There’s a marvelous future ahead of us, but it will only come about from God, who truly cares about and loves humans, and not from man.

  • Good to see your ad hominem mojo has not diminished. Still slinging the mud. Stay classy Art. 🙂

    “Someone should ask her if all these industrious sexual deviants are so manifestly valuable it would be necessary to put lawyers in charge of second-guessing the employment decisions of landlords or merchants. ”

    Unequivocally YES!! Since its obvious that discrimination in housing and business is becoming more obvious and prevalent on a level not seen since Jim Crow. Just because you think Jesus says its OK it doesn’t mean it is. 🙂

  • Good to see your ad hominem mojo

    That term does not mean what you think it means.

    Since its obvious

    That term does not mean what you think it means, either.

  • .. its easy for a gay and godless guy to say they have faith in humanity when your neighbors are mostly Christian ..

    you don’t hear from such persons in a Islamic country..

    faith in humanity there ,,, proves such faith is worthless

    yet you hear of Christians who won’t convert who are in Islamic countries . Their
    faith in Christ is WELL worth THE dying for ..

  • “Pennsylvania is not a Republican state.”

    Indeed. According to the Pennsylvania SoS, the state has 4 million registered Democrats, compared to only 3 million registered Republicans.

    And while they’re currently GOP-controlled, Pennsylvania had a Democratic Governor, two Democratic Senators, and 13 Democratic Representatives (out of its 18) as recently as 2010.

    Plus, he’s a state rep from Philadelphia. And in that county, there are literally SEVEN TIMES as many Democrats as Republicans. Registered Democrats are a whopping 80% of the registered voters in the Philadelphia County. The district is so heavily Democratic that Sims hasn’t even *had* a Republican opponent in the general election since he first ran in 2012.

    http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/gateway/PTARGS_0_2_85662_12725_572645_43/http%3B/pubcontent.state.pa.us/publishedcontent/publish/cop_general_government_operations/dos/am/content/bcel/voter_registration_statistics/2014_primary_election_vr_stats.pdf

  • Yeah, yeah. We’ve been hearing that we’re in the “end times” for oh, about two thousand years now. And no, conditions are NOT getting worse. The vast majority of people live like kings of old, only longer, healthier and probably happier; we live in an age of wonders the like of which our ancestors could not have imagined; and we live in a freedom unparralelled in history, a freedom of politics, of religion, of social and personal choice. And all your whining about people not following your obsolete, worthless book (or to be more accurate, your personal interpretation of it) won’t change anything. We’ll just keep on making the world a better place. Even for you.

  • Since when did Pennsylvania become a “largely Republican state?” Maybe if you took the time to understand more about the state other than the narrow stereotype you had of it, you’re article wouldn’t sound ridiculous. But as soon as you failed to do that, you lost all credibility. By the way, Pennsylvania hasn’t voted for the Republican nominee for President since 1988, has over a million more registered Democrats than Republicans, and Democrats do exist outside of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Lackawanna County, for example, was President Obama’s best county performance in the entire state outside of Philadelphia’s coterminous county/city. Lackawanna County was more Democratic in 2012 than Montgomery, Bucks, Delaware, and Allegheny counties. Go figure. The state had a Democratic governor through 2011 and will likely have one again after this years election and if it weren’t for severe gerrymandering in the state, Democrats would hold more House seats than the 5 they currently do. Oh and the states Democratic US senator and attorney general come from Scranton, not Philadelphia or Pittsburgh. But I forgot, outside those cities, there are no Democrats.

  • In Islamic countries you have governments which run along Biblical terms (Sharia is merely Leviticus elaborated upon) whose leaders rule in the name of God.

    Just like many Christians want for the United States. Just like you want Rob!

    faith in humanity there ,,, proves such faith is worthless”

    Because you hate people! 🙂

  • I agree with most of your points, but I would hold back about claiming Obama’s great numbers in Lackawanna county represent that county’s political alignment. Joe Biden is from Scranton and that probably held a bit of sway amongst voters.

  • Loren, it’s pretty clear Rep. Sims was talking about present day Pennsylvania, not the Pennsylvania of 2010, which is currently Republican controlled in both the House and Senate and Governors office, making it, as Rep. Sims correctly indicated, a Republicam state. Even taking political parties out of the equation, Rep. Sims is still correct. Pennsylvania is a republican state by philosophical definition. A republican state is a state in which the power of government resides in the people and is ruled by a government of officials elected by the people, also known as a representative democracy.

    Fran, as for you and your tragically misguided belief that whatever higher power is out there cares about and loves us, I challenge you to find me 1 example of a “father” who treats his children and loved ones the way your God treats his children here on earth that is A) universally loved and respected by those children, B)has not been accused of or found guilty of any crime of abuse, neglect, abandonment, dereliction of duties, etc. I’m going to make it easy on you, that father doesn’t exist! If any human father treated his children the way your god treats us, he’d be divorced by his wife, disowned by his children and thrown into jail for life if not executed for crimes against humanity. Any father that willingly allows or deliberately causes harm to come to his child, who allows terrible things to happen to his children, who stands by and does nothing while innocents are massacred in his name, allows terrible injustices to happen to good honest people is not fit to be a father, nor should he be worshiped or exalted by any religion!

  • Matthew, perhaps you should do some research of your own before calling anyone else’s credibility into question. Since 1790, when the first Governor of Pennsylvania took office, there have been there have been 46 governors. 32 of which have been Republican and only 12 Democrats. Of the 64 terms served by Pennsylvanian Governors, only 16.5 terms have been served by Democrats, 6.5 terms served by other parties leaving the vast majority if 41 terms served by Republican governors. Republicans hold majorities in both houses of the general assembly and of the 18 congressional districts 13 of them are held by Republicans, with the Senate seats being split. The fact that there are more registered Democrats than Republicans means nothing in a system where voters are restricted to voting in their residential districts and the vast majority of Democrats live in a small number of districts. Despite past results, Rep. Sims was speaking of Pennsylvania’s current political manifestation, being a Republican state. Some advice for you before you comment again. A wise man once said, “it is better to remain silent and only thought a fool than to speak up and remove all doubt.”

  • Your correct, I live in PA, I’m a conservative and one thing PA is not is “republican”. This is a very liberal state in most areas. I moved here from NJ and the ppl. who are born in PA generation after generation are really clueless to the struggle going on in other states. People in PA are very Nieve, like clueless to what’s going on, they think they know but generational PA ppl. I find to few vey ignorant. They think everyone is kind, good & that Dems. are going to give them something for free…. Hahaha…. Very stupid ppl. in PA.

  • Also..one more thing, more & more ppl. are moving into PA from NJ & NY (we’re the ones who are being priced out of the metro area) but we are wiser, more common sense & more often 2 or 3 gen, of immigrants (stronger ppl.). And we’re moving to PA & we’re voting here & I’d predict it her than Phil. Pitts. & Scranton in the future more conservatives & constitutionalists will win elections.

    Ppl. Who were born & raised in PA (most) have no common sense.

  • Thanks a bunch for sharing this with all of us you really know what you are talking about! Bookmarked. Kindly also visit my web site =). We could have a link exchange contract between us!

  • Your willpower will suffer if you dont decouple your experience of injustice from your acts of anger. Being flexible in your approach to people will actually give opportunity for putting more IQ behind your manifestation.

  • Sims is a good man, but believing (totally) in humanity will always be…disappointing in the end.

ADVERTISEMENTs