Mallory McMorrow Talks Faith, Politics, and Giving Grace at Vanderbilt Event


Justin Holmes

Mallory McMorrow (center) answers a question with Dean Emilie Townes (left) and Dr. Katie Crawford (right)

Justin Holmes

Michigan State Senator Mallory McMorrow’s conversation at Vanderbilt opened with a playing of the powerful speech that propelled her into the national spotlight earlier this year. “It’s really strange to watch that even now,” said McMorrow at its conclusion. 

The Vanderbilt Divinity School and the Vanderbilt University LGBTQ+ Policy Lab hosted McMorrow at their Faith and Politics event centered around the topics of social justice and reproductive rights on October 3rd, 2022. A rising star in the Democratic Party, McMorrow went viral in April for her response to a colleague’s fundraising email that accused her of wanting to “groom and sexualize children.” “I realized that I wanted to respond in a way that would hit back, but I had no idea it would have as far a reach as it has,” said McMorrow.    

The accusations against McMorrow took place in a climate of culture war battles playing out in legislatures throughout the country. At the center of these debates are the topics of trans youth participation in sports and historically accurate education in schools. 

Throughout the event, McMorrow emphasized an approach to culture war discussions that highlights how unimportant these issues are to most people’s lives, noting that “those of us who are on the other side of the issue have taken the bait and we’re debating the issue on its merits when it doesn’t have any merits to begin with.” She believes that “the more powerful solution for those of us who are in these jobs or care about it is figuring out ways to talk to people and point out that these are not real issues—they aren’t hurting you and it doesn’t solve any of your day to day problems.”

Right-wing culture war issues often have religious justifications. McMorrow focused on what she considers a misappropriation of the Christian faith throughout the discussion. “In probably the angriest moment of the speech, I called out writing Christian in your Twitter bio and using that as a weapon.” Drawing from history, she said, “we recognize that faith and religion can be incredible forces for good and hope or can be weaponized and used to hurt people.” “The idea that somehow people can stand up and claim a moral high ground and say I am a Christian therefore you are wrong or you don’t belong or you are somehow filthy or made wrong is disgusting.” 

McMorrow stressed reclaiming faith as a tool for Democrats to remind people of the inclusive potential of religion. “There’s too many people that have ceded this ground that allows people to take it over and say that unless you are this very finite version of what it means to be a Christian then you don’t fit here.” She continued, “It just felt so important to reclaim my own identity and to use it to signal to other people like me that it is on us to fight back so that these identities are not taken away from us and used to hurt people, particularly the most vulnerable.” 

When asked how one can “give grace to those that threaten your rights and justify it by invoking their religion,” McMorrow spoke of her frustration with the Republican controlled Michigan Senate never hearing one of the 40 bills she’s introduced. “I think this is true in faith, I think this is true in religion and politics—[grace] has to be reciprocal. That doesn’t mean you try to tear the other person down—you have to put out the olive branch…but understand when that is not being reciprocated and cut it off.” 

Unabashed in her defense of the vulnerable and embracing of motherhood and faith, McMorrow’s positioning appeals to a diversifying suburban population turned away by the intensely racialized rhetoric of the right. She concluded the discussion with a thread of insight into how she incorporates faith into politics “leading by example and hoping that others will come along with you.” “I mean that was the teaching of Jesus.”