Being Religious Doesn’t Justify Bigotry

How in the world did religion become the operative excuse to justify bigotry?

In amazement I have watched and listened to reports of state legislatures passing bills that use religion as the seedbed from which the determination to refuse civil rights to the LGBTQ community.

Shaken and angered by the United States Supreme Court’s upholding of the right of same-sex couples to marry, and now being made to deal with the reality that transgendered individuals are a part of society, state lawmakers have gone over the edge.

All this change has been too much for them to bear. They yearn for the way America “used” to be, where LGBTQ people stayed “in the closet” and would not dare even suggest that a law be passed to make their marrying legal. And …they yearn for an America where “girls were girls and men were men.”  Archie Bunker, Norman Lear’s choirboy for “the good old days” when white supremacy reigned unfettered, put his yearning into song with his wife Edith every time “All in the Family” came on. (http://artists.letssingit.com/archie-and-edith-bunker-lyrics-those-were-the-days-48fhzf1) Lear’s ability to portray bigotry in a comedic role was brilliant, but the reality of bigotry in real life caused no such laughter.

Bigotry seems to be antithetical to the beliefs of all religions; a study of Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and other religious dogma reveals texts that admonish the faithful to treat each other with respect and dignity. So it is puzzling that religion is so often, and has so often, been used to justify bigotry of any kind – racism, sexism and homophobia for starters.

Historically, the Christian faith in America was used and quoted as the basis and justification of racial segregation and hatred . Though racial discrimination based on the Bible was most obvious in the South, white churches in the North were not much better.  Douglas Hudgins was a well-respected theologian who lived in Mississippi. White believers in the South in general had convinced themselves, based on selective reading of the Bible, that God deigned that the White church remain just that – the White church. They believed that changes in race relations that permitted integration was a defilement and violation of “all that was sacred and pure.” (Charles Marsh: God’s Long Summer: Stories of Faith and Civil Rights, p. 83)  Hudgins preached the rightness of keeping white folks’ religion pure and said that civil rights, or the reach for civil rights by black people, was a “defilement of social purity and irrelevant to the proclamation of Jesus Christ as God.” (God’s Long Summer, p. 89, emphasis mine) ) Hudgins said in that same sermon that the cross of Christ had nothing to do with social movements or realities beyond the church;’ he believed that the Cross should inspire “decent white people toward the preservation of the purity of the social body.”

Even as the Civil Rights movement continued to move forward, fighting religious bigotry as hard as it fought political inequality, religion continued to rear its ugly head against “the least of these.” When Ryan White, the Indiana teen who contracted HIV/AIDS from having received contaminated blood used to treat his hemophilia, he was shunned by …his church. Church members, some of them, refused to shake his hand. (http://www.hemaware.org/story/remembering-ryan-white) No doubt, some of them refused to shake his hand because so little was known about the disease that people were genuinely afraid of contracting it, but some religious people shunned people with AIDS because they believed it to be the “homo” disease, meaning they understood that only gay men got the disease and gay men, the would tell you, were an abomination to God.

The dis-ease with different sexualities has persisted to the present day, with acceptance of it culminating for some in the ultimate affront against God: same-sex marriage. A wide swath of religious people are infuriated that the United States government has endorsed what they think is a sin. They repeat over and over their belief that “the Bible says” that marriage is between a man and a woman. Conversations about transgender individuals are almost non-existent, the thought is so heinous to many “people of faith.”

And so, as in the case of fighting racial discrimination, the Bible is being used again as the weapon to discriminate against the LGBTQ-Transgender community, and state legislators, individuals who take an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States as well as the constitutions of their states, are passing laws saying their rights as religious people are being threatened by the rights afforded to the LGBTQ and transgender communities – and they’re not having it. God is on their side, they believe. God would ordain and sanction their discrimination against these people. No “agape” love is to be afforded these people. They are an abomination and an affront to God and they, good, religious people, are going to make sure their religions remain “pure.”

Laws impinging on the rights of LGBTQ people, and transgender people,(http://www.cnn.com/2016/04/06/us/nationwide-bill-religious-freedom-sexual-orientation/index.html) have little to do with God and everything to do with a segment of the population wanting religion to remain “pure.”

The idea of purity has been a central point of much fundamentalist Christianity, again most notably in the South but everywhere. In 1964, as state lawmakers fought the federal government’s  intrusion into their “southern way of life,” those who yearned for the unfettered days of white supremacy and its attendant white privilege were no doubt aware of the poem, “Ode to Sovereignty:”

“O Sons of Mississippi, Remember your mothers; Remember your fathers and grandfathers and great aunts. Remember and salute. How, in this wilderness, they sowed And we reap what they have sowed. It is all for us, the Sovereign state, Of flowing rivers and happy Delta land; O Sovereign state, pure and white, O Sovereign state, where might makes right. O Mississippi, our words are trite But Thou art precious in his sight. O Sovereign state, Dear Homeland, Stand ye firm in these crisis days. Let not Truth confuse thee; God is on our side.”

The poem clearly indicates the belief that God is on the side of bigotry, that God loves the State of Mississippi more than God loves the people whom God created. There are a lot of problems with this theology, but one of the biggest is that the theology being touted as the justification of bigotry is not the theology, the will of God, as found in sacred scriptures. What is being attributed to God is actually the mindset of people; ideology is being presented as and justified as being …the will of God. Such a theology, were it true, would cast doubt on the sovereignty of God, questioning the “state of mind” of God when God created so many different kinds of people. Presumably, since there are in fact, LGBTQ people all over the world, and since there are transgender people all over the world, and people who are asexual and bisexual …there’s a problem if one believes in the ultimate sovereignty of God, which presumes a belief, or the  belief, that God created all things and all people.

Bigots who base their bigotry on their religious beliefs therefore reveal a serious doubt about the very sovereignty of God they claim to love. If God creates all things and all people, then God created people of different sexual persuasions. To reject human and civil rights to any of God’s creations seems to be an abomination in and of itself, based on religious dogma and doctrine that teaches us that God says to love and accept all people.

This line of thinking would come off as poppycock to any of those now fighting for “religious liberty.” Their quest has little to do with God and religious doctrine, but everything to do with personal bias and the inability and unwillingness to love and accept all people. God notwithstanding.

A candid observation…

One Group Forward, Another Group Back

The United States Supreme Court did the right thing, I believe, in striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), clearing the way for members of the LGBT community to get the rights they deserve as American citizens. As more and more states lose their resistance to allowing same-sex marriage, the rights of these couples will finally be treated with dignity and will be entitled to federal benefits  that heterosexual married couples now enjoy. Some religious folks are decrying the decision, insisting that the Bible says marriage is supposed to be between one man and one woman but the decision of the Supreme Court really did make justice possible for one group of people who have been too long discriminated against.

But while the LGBT community enjoyed a victory, African-Americans suffered a serious setback. In effectively striking down the guts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the Supreme Court invalidated the work over the years by activists to make sure the right of African-Americans to vote was protected. The high court left the door and the way open for dishonesty and hate-based-on-race to have its way …again. The blood, sweat and tears – literally – of activists, black, white, Christian, Jewish – was dishonored by a court whose chief justice, John Roberts, said, “our country has changed.”

It brought me to tears.

Voting is about power, and from the outset, some people in some states, historically, knew that all too well. To allow the growing population of African-Americans in the South to vote would upset and challenge the balance of the white power structure. To guard against that,  ridiculous, immoral, unethical and disingenuous “tests” were set up to weed African-Americans out. People were asked to tell how many jelly beans were in a jar; they were given literacy tests by many who were themselves illiterate. They were given tests on the United States Constitution. Some blacks would stand in line to register to vote for hours only to get to the registration point and either be turned away because they “failed” one of these tests or to find that voting registration was closed for the day.

The court specifically struck down Section 4 of the Act, which required specifically named states to get pre-clearance from the Justice Department before they made changes to requirements and procedures for voting, to change polling places, or redrawing electoral districts. Congress in 2006 renewed the act, extending the preclearance requirement for 25 years. Now, however, the states that were named have been released from the requirement that they be monitored and get preclearance (Section 5). Federal attorneys can go to individual states and see what they are doing, but clearly, states will have more freedom to do as they wish, hoping that they are not “caught.”

Politics is about power, not about people. In spite of our founding documents saying that government is “by the people, of the people and for the people,” the reality is that those words, that stated belief, is not really true. Far too many American people suffer from a democracy and democratic principles that do not extend to them. While the Congress gets up in arms about democracy needing to work and/or be established in foreign countries, democracy in America is in intensive care.

The Supreme Court this week pushed one group, the LGBT community, move forward while simultaneously pushing another group, African-Americans, back. The court showed notable sensitivity to the group, and familiar and painful insensitivity to another.

The struggle continues. It just never ends. Racism, and the inequality it metes out, is America’s cancer. It resists all efforts to get it out of the life-blood of American society.

A candid observation…

Big Government or Not?

Washington DC: United States Supreme Court
Washington DC: United States Supreme Court (Photo credit: wallyg)

 

It’s confusing sometimes, understanding when government is supposed to step in and when it isn’t.

 

Conservatives argue against “big government,”  but they also vouch for the right of the federal government to step in on some very personal issues. In the current discussion going on about same-sex marriage, the mantra of many Conservatives is that “we don’t need government to step in and redefine marriage.”

 

Yet, they want government to step in and “define” marriage in a way that fits into their ideology. Right?

 

Did the United States Supreme Court overstep its authority when it ruled that women have a constitutional right to have abortions? Are abortions, who has them and who does not, within the purview of the duties and decisions of the governments, via the nation’s highest court? (http://www.denverpost.com/nationworld/ci_22857283/supreme-court-same-sex-marriage-case-has-echoes)

 

Many people think the SCOTUS did  overstep its authority in the Roe Vs. Wade case, but they are pulling for the high court to settle the current disagreement on same-sex marriage. I am totally confused. When is “big government” all right? Does a court ever have the right to decide what is “right” in such personal issues?

 

It seems like we are straddling a rail. We want government, big government, but only on the things where there is an ideological dispute, right? We want big government when there is a tragedy, or a natural disaster. We don’t want big government when it is too concerned with helping the poor, spending money on people whose lives seem to many out of control. Big government should stay out of those kinds of things. Of course, had it not been for “big government,” many people would have been swallowed in the nation’s most recent economic debacle. but many people are still very critical of the government’s attempt to help people who were drowning.

 

So, “big government” is out of line when it comes to dealing with issues of poverty and economic despair, right?

 

But big government needs to come in and set the records straight when it comes to personal situations involving sexuality and abortion, right? In those cases, the government gives into a responsibility to make moral decisions for the citizens of the United States. Right?

 

The bottom line is that there is no consistency on when big government is necessary and needed and expected. When Hurricane Sandy came, people were expecting government to step in and help those who had been so severely impacted. Had “big government” not done that, it would have been criticized soundly.

 

And now, big government is being called upon to decide who gets to get married and who does not…but this is a moral question, right? Is government really allowed to tell people what they can or cannot do as individuals? Is that the purview of government?

 

The thought of the government having the power to decide who can get married, and thereby be entitled to the legal benefits of marriage, is as distasteful as the idea of the government having the authority to tell women how many children they can have, and whether or not they can get an abortion. I don’t believe that abortion is good, but it doesn’t seem that government has the right to tell a woman if she can or cannot get one. Isn’t that kind of subversive?

 

It seems like there ought to be a new constitutional convention or something, to define big government and to clarify what the federal government can and cannot do, and what it must and must not do.

 

At the very least, though, it seems that those who rail against “big government” ought to tailor their criticisms. The argument against “big government” ought to explain that folks are only against big government when it comes to allocating money, especially for the poor and downtrodden, the oppressed and pretty much forgotten citizens of this country. When it comes to defining morality, though, and what personal decisions Americans are allowed to make, big government needs to step in and do…what a good government does.

 

Do I have it right?

 

A candid observation …

 

 

 

Why the Hatred?

Bible
Bible (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

What I have been trying to figure out for the longest is why there is so much hatred directed at gays and lesbians.

By now, everyone has seen the absolutely horrid “sermon” of Charles Worley, a North Carolina pastor, who preached that if he had his way, he would put gays and lesbians in fenced in electrified pens, and drop food down to them. Sooner or later, he  preached, they’d die off.

He said, “The Bible’s agin (sic) it, God‘s agin it, I’m agin it and if you have any sense you’d be agin it, too!”

He said he’d keep the lesbians, homosexuals and queers in these pens, and sooner or later they’d be gone because they wouldn’t be able to reproduce themselves.

He said that the thought of same-gender loving people (that’s now how he said it) made him puke.

His words made me want to puke.

The hatred directed toward the LGBT community cannot simply be because religious people think that same-gender relationships are a sin. There are a lot of sins and a lot of sinning people, and there is not this hatred, spewed from pulpits, and claiming God’s will is being done in the words of hatred being spoken.

If it’s not because they deem homosexuality to be a sin, then what is it?

Is it ignorance? Arrogance? There’s not so much venomous religious speech when women are abused, sexually and/or physically, by their husbands.  We don’t see it when children are molested, too often by fathers, uncles, brothers or close friends.

There’s not such venomous religious speech when people commit adultery…and that should arouse some passion, shouldn’t it, since opponents of anything LGBT will say that marriage is supposed to be between “one man and one woman.”

There are no such hate-filled outbursts when women are raped, or when innocent people are put to death for crimes they didn’t commit.

There used to be such vitriol when it came to Christians supporting racism. The Rev. Worley said he wouldn’t vote for Mr. Obama because he was a baby-killer and a homosexual-lover. Used to be if one stuck up for the civil rights of African-Americans, he or she would be called a nigger-lover.

So, race and sex, not any sex that is truly immoral, but only homosexual sex – are the only things that arouse this kind of hatred. Why?

Supposedly the hatred against the LGBT community is worse in African-American communities. I’ve been trying to figure that one out, too. I have read the historical context of the opposition of religious African-Americans to homosexuality. I understand how, since African-American males have been historically emasculated by this American society, that anything that further feels like a continuation of that would be objectionable.

But I do not understand how what one man may do with another man can affect the masculinity of a heterosexual man or woman.

It can’t be just that “the Bible says” it’s a sin, that “the word of God” says it’s so…because the Bible and the word of God say that lots of things are wrong, and we just don’t get that uptight about it.

The hatred spewed by Christians against anyone is antithetical to Christian theology, a theology that says that God is love. The “Great Commandment,” found in the Hebrew scriptures and then repeated by Jesus himself, says that we are to love God with all our hearts, all our minds, and all our souls…and we are to love our neighbor as ourselves.”

I especially do not understand the capacity of African-Americans to hate or discriminate against another group of people, as we have been so discriminated against ourselves.

I do not believe the hatred is supported by “the word of God,” or by “the scriptures.” I think the hatred is a uniquely human reaction to a fear and ignorance about sexuality in general. I think the hatred directed outward is a reflection of the self-hatred many feel as they struggle with their own sexuality. While sex is beautiful as an expression of love between two committed adults, the fact of the matter is that too many people, especially religious people, have treated it as dirty and bad. I have heard some Christian women express remorse when they’ve had good sexual relationships with their husbands, because they’ve been taught that sex is bad.

So, if people have issues with committed heterosexual sex, then it’s not hard to understand that they might struggle with “sexual fantasies” or with any sexual activity they might deem “unnatural,” but which they might really want to try themselves.

Sex is not what makes a loving relationship; it’s the commitment between the people that makes a relationship pleasing to God.  There clearly is a lack of commitment in heterosexual relationships, as evidenced by the ever-increasing rate of divorce in this country.

I would feel less uneasy about the objections to homosexuality spewed by religious people if I felt like it was genuinely rooted in the will and word of God, but God is not hatred, God does not condone hatred, and God does not cause hatred. Rev. Worley, in my opinion, ought to be worried, using the pulpit, a holy space, to spew unholy rhetoric. God would not want anyone to put  “gays, lesbians and queers” in electrified pens, with people, religious people at that, “dropping food” down to them until they died.

That kinds of sounds like something Hitler would advocate. (It is estimated that nearly 200,000 homosexuals were murdered during the Holocaust…)

These words of hatred are, in fact, anti-Biblical, statements of ideology and personal belief which ought to be called such… There is no God and no Jesus in any of what these words convey.

A candid observation …

Wikipedia: queer definition: worthless, counterfeit.

The Consistency of Discrimination

Discrimination is a remarkably consistent phenomenon.

In the area of racial discrimination, history shows that blacks were tolerated as long as they stayed “in their place.” Because of the assumed second-class citizenship of African-Americans, whites felt justified in treating them as such, even though many said they “loved” their “nigras.”‘ Nobody, however, wanted an “uppity” Negro; blacks couldn’t hide who they were by virtue of the color of their skin, so they had no choice but to learn how to survive and “stay in their place.”

For gays and lesbians, and indeed people of the LGBT community in general, there has been, again, a feeling that “they” are all right as long as they stay in their place. In the black church, that “place” has historically been in the role of musician – either choir director or accompanist or both. People in these positions might be noticeably gay, but no person in the church would say anything; they were “in their place,” and therefore, tolerable.

But let a member of the LGBT community try to step out of that prescriptive place, and, say, try to work as Director of Christian Education, or perhaps as a Sunday School teacher, deep protest, borne out of deep bias against gays and lesbians, would rise like a phoenix out of the ashes of scriptural righteousness. All of a sudden, “what was right was wrong,” meaning, it was all right for a gay person to be an amazing musician, but it was blasphemous and unconscionable that a person might want to do anything else.

Women in the black church have always had their “place.” Though the majority of membership of most churches tends to be female, the church is still a bastion of male supremacy…and so a woman might be a “deaconess” or she might be relegated to teaching Sunday School or changing the flowers on the altar, but preaching and being a pastor was a no-no. Such a woman had …stepped out of her place.

Older people have their “place.” Employers, too many of them, will look at a person’s age and without even thinking about it, discard him or her as a viable new employee. Old people are OK if they (we!) stay in their place, and their place, apparently, is out of sight, out of mind. Age discrimination is rampant, but we really don’t want to talk about it.

As the comments, commentaries and conversations have escalated since President Obama made his statement in support of gay marriage, I began to think about how successful discrimination depends not only upon the beliefs and determination of another’s status of those who oppress but upon acceptance of that relegation on the part of the oppressed. Discrimination is rather cowardly; it bullies people, but the bullying stops or abates when those being bullied say “enough.”

In the instance of African-Americans and women, the discrimination and relegation to the “back of the bus” has eased up some because people in those groups have pushed back. They have refused to stay “in their place.”  Women and members of the LGBT community, I think, learned much about how to push back against discrimination by watching African-Americans fight for their rights and thus, the feminist and womanist movements changed the lives of women, and the movement for LGBT rights is changing not only the lives of people of that community but also lives of people who have nestled in and taken comfort in their ability to discriminate.

Stepping out of one’s “place”  is risky and painful; power concedes nothing without a struggle and the power that has always been fights against the power that is fighting “to be.” But once someone realizes that the place someone else has relegated to him or her is not all there is and does not have to be permanent if one realizes his or her own worth, in spite of what the common opinion is, the mere urge for a new life and a new reality creates a power that cannot be stopped.

I am guilty of being an idealist; I wish we as humans did not have the capacity to discriminate against each other so easily, but discrimination is not going to end. Perhaps, though, if we understand how consistent are the principles that feed discriminatory behavior, there might be less of it as time goes on, leaving room for people to be who God created them to be, without all the drama.

A candid observation…