Friday, June 1, 2012

A Sermon Too Far

In America we cherish our freedoms, especially our freedom of speech. The idea that we can express any opinion is hard-wired into our political DNA. We also cherish freedom of religion. So religious speech is doubly protected. If you believe your god requires you to dance naked around a bonfire at midnight every third Wednesday, so be it. The result is there are numerous variations of Christianity practiced in America. Just this week a snake handling pastor from West Virginia died after being bitten by a rattlesnake.

In America we, unfortunately, also cherish our ignorance. I personally do not know the difference between the beliefs of Sunni and Shia Muslims. I know the distinction is based on differing claims as the true heir to the prophet, but I am regretfully ignorant beyond that speck of knowledge. I cannot recall which countries belong to which branch (Iran? Shia, I think. Saudi Arabia? Maybe Sunni? I honestly am not sure). I suspect the vast majority of America is in the same boat.

Americans intuitively understand there are many variations of Christianity in the religious marketplace. As a result we tend to ignore the versions we disagree with and write them off as wrong or misguided or inconsequential. But, because we do not understand the wide variety of other religious nearly as well, we tend to lump them all together. As a result we are far less tolerant of extremist views from those other religions. Instead of assuming the extremist speaks for a tiny sliver, we incorporate their view into the majority position.

To see what I mean, try and imagine what our reaction would be if a radical Muslim cleric in Yemen  argued that the government should start killing all homosexuals. Or if a Hindu priest in India called for the forced imprisonment behind electric fences of all "lesbians, queers and homos". Or if a prominent Sikh came out and stated he personally liked the idea of killing all homosexuals (even if he acknowledged it was not ordained by the scripture and probably shouldn't be done).

The United States would demand the leaders of those religions object to these radical, wrongheaded, vile statements. We would expect the moderate voices of these communities to shout down the hatred. And if they did not immediately and convincingly decry the statements, we would use that inaction as proof that all of the religion accepted those positions.

Unfortunately all of those things have been stated in the past few weeks. But not by Muslims, Hindus or Sikhs. And not in far away lands. All of those comments, and more, have been issued by "Christian" leaders. Here in America. You can find the details here if you are interested. Even more unfortunately, the most extreme, most disgusting, least defensible statement came from a pastor in Kansas.

These individuals are entitled to their views. As an American I understand they are allowed to believe whatever they choose. But I would hope that most Americans, by a huge majority, would find these statements offensive, regardless of how you feel on the political issue of gay marriage. And because we would expect others to condemn these statements as perversions of their faith I believe those of us who are Christian must do the same. It is not enough to simply ignore these statements as representing fringe elements. Even if you personally believe homosexuality is a sin you should also recognize the God reserved the right to judge for him or herself. And Jesus would not agree with enslaving or murder a group of people, any people. As Christians we cannot ignore these statements and hope they go away. We must strongly, forcefully, vigorously and loudly condemn them or we, too, are guilty of allowing the lunatic fringe to speak for us.

I understand there are lots of good people who believe homosexuality is wrong. I respect your belief and will defend your right to it. But I also believe these recent comments are abhorrent and do not reflect the views of mainstream American or Christians. I also understand that a majority of America is not directly impacted by these statements. I personally am not; as a happily married straight man the issues of gay rights and gay marriage have almost no direct impact on me or my life. But I cannot allow these extremist to espouse vile hatred and not speak out against it.

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