Amy Coney Barrett faith group would expel members over gay sex, leader said

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<span>Photograph: Drew Angerer/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Drew Angerer/AFP/Getty Images

The Christian community where Amy Coney Barrett has previously served as a female leader – or handmaid – expels members who engage in gay sex, according to a 2018 interview with Craig Lent, the group’s current head.

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Lent told the South Bend Tribune that the People of Praise, a charismatic Christian community that has counted Barrett as a member, would end the membership of a person who discloses gay sex or any other “ongoing, deliberate, unrepentant wrongdoing”.

Barrett, an appellate court judge who has been nominated by Donald Trump to serve on the supreme court, said in a confirmation hearing on Tuesday that she had “never discriminated on the basis of sexual preference and would not ever discriminate on the basis of sexual preference”.

Barrett has never openly discussed her affiliation with People of Praise. But media reports have pointed out she appears to be a longstanding member based on multiple factors: her work as a trustee at a People of Praise-affiliated school, which required her to be a member; the fact that she lived with one of the group’s co-founders when she was a law student at Notre Dame; the publication of her picture and other family announcements in the group’s magazine, Vine and Branches; and her father’s role as a leader in the group.

The Washington Post also was first to report that Barrett was listed as a handmaid, or female leader, in a 2010 directory.

Asked by the Guardian to comment on the apparent policy of expelling members who have gay sex, and asked whether this was a discriminatory policy, a spokesperson for the People of Praise said in a statement: “In the People of Praise, as in the Roman Catholic church and many Protestant churches, we follow the traditional New Testament teaching that marriage is a union of one man and one woman.”

The spokesperson added: “People of Praise holds the standard Christian teaching that sexual activity is meant for marriage, understood as the union of a man and a woman. We don’t engage in hypothetical discussions. We treat each situation with compassion and discernment.”

While most members of the People of Praise are Catholic, it calls itself an ecumenical Christian community. The group is not a church, but has obtained legal status as a 501c3, a non-profit tax exempt organization.

A handbook and other literature produced by the group, which is based in South Bend, Indiana, states that members are expected to be obedient to authorities – or heads – within the group, which are the male leaders. Members of the organization are also expected to give 5% of their earnings to the group, and agree in a covenant to support each other “financially and materially and spiritually”.

Like the Catholic church, People of Praise is opposed to abortion and same-sex marriage, and has stated that same-sex attraction is not a sin, but that acting upon it is. People of Praise appears to take a more aggressive stance than the Catholic church against members who disclose having gay sex by expelling them as members.

“They are super-Catholics – that is the whole point. People form these covenant groups because they think the parish is not enough, they are looking for more structure and they have stricter rules about who’s in and who’s out,” said Robert Mickens, a Rome-based English language editor of La Croix International, a Roman Catholic newspaper.

Barrett was criticized on Tuesday after she said in response to a question that she would not discriminate based on a person’s “sexual preference”, a term that the Democratic senator Mazie Hirono said was used by anti-LGBTQ activists to suggest that sexual orientation was a choice and not a key part of a person’s identity.

Barrett then apologized for her choice of phrase, saying: “I certainly didn’t mean and would never mean to use a term that would cause any offense in the LGBTQ community.”

As Barrett has not discussed or disclosed her relationship with the People of Praiseit is not clear whether she may have participated in any move to expel a gay member of the organization. Decision-making within the group seems to fall only in the hands of male members, however.

Barrett served on the board of Trinity school from 2015 to 2017, a private school that is linked to the People of Praise. According to a report in the New York Times, the board in 2014 adopted a policy to not accept children of unmarried couples, reflecting what the organization’s president said was its support of heterosexual marriage. Ex-Trinity staff members told the New York Times the admissions policy excluded students of gay parents.

Barrett has not faced questions about her relationship with the People of Praise, but has said that her religious convictions would not influence her decisions as a judge.

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