Most religions teach that their respective gods or goddesses are interested in the well-being of humankind. The Judeo-Christian tradition sees a loving God in whose image humankind were created, and like whom we should strive to be. If this is true, and we are God’s children whose task it is to follow God’s example and to become as much like God as our human condition allows, then surely those qualities which we hold up as ideals—love, kindness, forgiveness, compassion, patience—are found in God in far greater measure than in error-prone humans.
Yet even human parents have difficulty giving up on their children, no matter how grave the error of their ways. Mothers of condemned killers have been known to stand by and love their children and never cease to hope that somehow a way to redemption will be found.
If a merely human parent can show this kind of unconditional love and forgiveness to a child whose error and willful wrongdoing are of the most serious nature, how can one believe that a loving God of whom we are but pale images could ever be the sort of wrathful, vengeful being that some people claim?
“If no one had ever challenged religious authority there would be no democracy, no public schools, women’s rights, pursuit of science, medicine, abolition of slavery, and no laws against child abuse.”
Humans make mistakes. Sometimes honest ones; sometimes not so honest. One of the most difficult things for us to do is to admit when we are wrong. The more significant the error, the longer it has continued, the more burdensome the task to fix it, the harder it is to own up to it. Taking a critical look at beliefs one has held for one's whole life is very difficult indeed. Yet people of faith are called upon to do just that if they would not do evil in the name of religion.
History is full of examples of evil things done in God’s name. As the the saying goes, “the Devil can cite Scripture for his purpose” and he has plenty of human help. Scripture has been misused for centuries to justify human slavery (Leviticus: “Slaves you may indeed own...”), racism (Genesis: the mark of Cain), murder and genocide (passim!).
So how do you tell whose purpose someone quoting Scripture is serving? Well, when God’s second greatest commandment (according to Jesus) is to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mt 22:34/Mk 12:28/Lk 10:25), and someone is citing chapter and verse to justify hating or persecuting their neighbor, it should be obvious whose purpose it isn’t.
Christians would do well to put aside the preaching of modern pastors, and pay greater attention to the example of Jesus of Nazareth. Not once did Jesus condemn anyone other than organized religion. He called the chief priests, scribes and Pharisees “hypocrites” and really got mad at the temple moneychangers. He had a great deal of contempt for the pastors and religious hierarchy of his day. But ordinary sinners making mistakes? “Let the one among you who is without sin cast the first stone.” Did Jesus threaten the adulteress with the lake of fire if she didn’t shape up and start going to temple and keeping kosher? Did he rouse the citizenry to keep people like her away from children and out of “normal” society? No. Jesus told her he didn’t condemn her. He urged her not to sin any more, but what he showed her was not fire and brimstone and wrath, but unconditional love, sin notwithstanding.
Who were Jesus’ constant companions? Religious leaders? Respectable citizens who supported their temple and were good Jews? No. He hung out with prostitutes, tax collectors, the poor (and homeless)—sinners with whom respectable churchgoers would not associate or even acknowledge in the street.
Three of the gospels recount Jesus’ teaching that the second greatest commandment (right after “love God”) is “love your neighbor as yourself.” Thus, perhaps Jesus’ most important teaching is the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:25) wherein he explains exactly what “neighbor” means. “Good Samaritan” was an oxymoron to Jews of the time. Judea and Samaria were enemies. Jews despised Samaritans because they followed a different religion and did not obey the same laws. Jesus’ message in this tale is that the two pious, upstanding Jews (the priest and the Levite) even though they may have kept kosher and followed other biblical laws, disobeyed God’s commandment to love their neighbor.
It was the Samaritan—the pagan, the unclean, the one whose way of life was not in keeping with the religious laws and values of the Jews—who showed this neighborly love to the wounded traveller, his enemy (who, if conscious and not bleeding to death on the highway, probably wouldn’t have given him the time of day). It was the Samaritan—the one whose lifestyle was not in keeping with the Word of the Lord—whom Jesus held up as the example of what it means to be neighbor to someone.
Hating your neighbor, even if their way of life is contrary to your religion, is thus in direct contravention of the teaching of Jesus. For all practical purposes, the insidious rationalization of “hate the sin, love the sinner” is just an excuse for good, old-fashioned persecution of those who fail to live their lives according to your beliefs. Where’s the love in that? The parable of the Good Samaritan reminds us that even the person who doesn’t profess your faith may practice it better than you do.
The United States is not a “Christian nation”—we have no established religion, thanks to the specific provisions of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States—although it is certainly true that among those who profess a faith to the bean counters at the Census Bureau, Christians are the largest group. Our tradition of strict separation of religion from the state began with the first European settlers, who were of a minority Protestant sect which had been persecuted in England because they were not of the established religion (i.e. the Church of England). They fled first to the Netherlands and then to the New World to escape this persecution.
Others, too, were concerned that no all-powerful state religion of the sort which prevailed in European countries would be established in the United States. Thus, the Constitution of the United States was drafted with especial care to prevent this, and Article VI specifically provides that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” The First Amendment makes that protection against religious involvement in the state even stronger.
Thus, even the Christian founders of our nation were concerned that religion and government be kept separate. It is just this separation of church and state which affords every citizen the freedom to practice any religion they choose and prevents any one religion from interfering with the religious freedom of others.
Because religious freedom is guaranteed by the Constitution, no law may be based solely in religious teaching, but must serve the secular needs and purposes of the people, and must not infringe on anyone’s religious freedom.
Thus, in a place where Jews are in the majority, they could not pass legislation enforcing the dietary laws (kosher) or forbidding the transaction of business on Saturdays. Mormons cannot make coffee and chocolate illegal. Conservative Baptists cannot outlaw dancing. Nor can anyone force any of these religious folk to abandon their personal faith, so long as they don’t harm anyone else.
If there exist at least two religious traditions which proclaim themselves each to be The One, True Faith, then there must exist people who honestly believe that their faith is the only one in which a person can find Salvation, discover God’s Truth, or learn of the Divine Plan For Their Lives ... and are wrong in this belief. The logic is inescapable. If there is such a thing as a One, True Faith, then there cannot be two, can there? And if there isn’t one, then everyone who believes otherwise is wrong.
And in fact, there are several religions which assert themselves to be the only true path to God. Can any of them be right? Is everyone who has chosen the “wrong” faith damned for eternity no matter what kind of life they’ve lived? Or must one explore every single religious philosophy in existence in order to be certain that one hasn’t missed the one true teaching?
The bottom line is that every human, regardless of race, creed, gender, age, sexual orientation, socio-economic status—every human, period—is our neighbor. The vast majority of religious teaching supports this view, especially once you strip away a few centuries’ worth of hypocritical rationalization and go back to what the Great Teachers (Jesus, Buddha, Mohamed) actually said themselves. We may believe that someone is living in a way which is not best for them and in which we would not choose to live, yet that does not stop them from being our neighbor nor does it take away our obligation to respect our fellow humans or their right to choose their own path (and make their own mistakes).
Hating your neighbor (or teaching your neighbor to hate himself) is evil, no matter in whose name you do it.
Jesus treated everyone as a neighbor according to God’s commandment, sin and error notwithstanding.
“Do this and you shall live.” (Lk 10:28)
Those interested in a more specific discussion of The Bible and Homosexuality are referred to the Web site of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches where others have written better and more extensively on such topics as the sin of Sodom, the law of Leviticus, and the meaning of arsenokoitai than I can.
Please visit your local independent bookseller. There are lots of reasons to shop with an independent rather than the giant national chains (or Internet behemoths). Just ask them. Your bookseller can order these books using the International Standard Book Number (ISBN). If you don’t live near an independent bookseller (or you are lazy), you can also view information about and order these titles from amazon.com by clicking on the title. Appease your guilty conscience with the knowledge that this site participates in the Amazon.com Associates program and receives a small commission on purchases completed immediately following a click-through from these pages.
Aarons, Leroy. Prayers for Bobby: a mother’s coming to terms with the suicide of her gay son ISBN 0-06-251122-X (cloth) ISBN 0-06-251123-8 (pbk.) (HarperSanFrancisco, San Francisco, 1995)
Bass, Ellen and Kate Kaufman. Free Your Mind: The Book for Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Youth and Their Allies ISBN 0-06-095-104-4 (HarperPerennial, New York, 1996)
Helminiak, David A., Ph.D. What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality ISBN 1-8863600-9-X (Alamo Square Press, San Francisco, 2000)
Hill, Jim and Rand Cheadle. The Bible Tells Me So: Use and Abuse of Holy Scripture ISBN 0-385-47695-7 (Anchor Press)
NOTE: Bass & Kaufman and Helminiak include bibliographies. Bass & Kaufman’s includes many references to resources, including welcoming religious groups. Helminiak’s bibliography includes sources from both sides of the theological issues.
Copyright © 1996, 2001 by Charles E. Galvin Jr. All rights reserved.
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