Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Christianity and Bigotry

This article originally appeared at She Thought, a website that features articles on criticial thinking. I am fortunate to count myself amongst the site’s contributors.It also appears over at FlyingOskar where my weekly column is housed.

Lately there has been a lot of discussion, especially in some Christian circles, about bigotry, especially against gays. This particular discussion is very positive in theme and has been challenging the negative status mindsets that have become so prevalent in the church, especially amongst conservative evangelicals. Hard questions are being asked, and solutions are being offered using the tools of scripture, civil discourse and science to back up the better positive mindsets about our interaction with the gay community. Personally I find it most heartening.

I couple of months ago, I stumbled across a blogger named John Shore. Mr. Shore has managed to get himself a place at The Huffington Post’s religion segment. I happen to use the Huffington Post as one of my sources to see what may be considered news this week. His personal blog, quickly became one of those I read regularly as his topics touch on many things not often discussed openly and honestly, especially in Christian circles. In Shore’s writings, I have discovered a man whose views on Christianity and interaction within others in our communities that was refreshingly different and inclusive. Others obviously have noticed it because he often gets hundreds of responses to his blog entries, especially when he discusses Christianity and our LGBT neighbors, and why the church needs to change their tune.

Reading his work, and that of a few others, my beliefs have been strengthened in knowing that bigotry has no business having a place in my faith. Sadly it isn’t just the LGBT community that is facing bigotry within the church, they are just the ones getting a lot of attention. Hispanics (they will steal our jobs, and steal from us) liberals (they are going to turn the nation into a socialist form of marxism) Muslims (they are going to force conversions on us and bomb us to smithereens) are some of the others that some Christians seem to hate and fear. They are being fed this mindset repeatedly by a variety of means and to stand up and say “NO” is often to risk being cast into the mix of people to hate because doing so means that you stand for sin and depravity and against God’s word and his purpose for man.

I assure you that, like you, I find the line of thinking in that last sentence to be a load of crap.
I then read a manifesto by a pastor named John Shelby Spong. Pastor Spong is an Episcopalian pastor who has long been doing work to bring inclusiveness to his denomination. He believes in the beauty of diversity and that separating some because they are different or don’t fit into some preconceived mold is wrong and differs from the teachings of the Christian faith. His statement was quite startling. In it he declares:
I have made a decision. I will no longer debate the issue of homosexuality in the church with anyone. I will no longer engage the biblical ignorance that emanates from so many right-wing Christians about how the Bible condemns homosexuality, as if that point of view still has any credibility. I will no longer discuss with them or listen to them tell me how homosexuality is “an abomination to God,” about how homosexuality is a “chosen lifestyle,” or about how through prayer and “spiritual counseling” homosexual persons can be “cured.” Those arguments are no longer worthy of my time or energy. I will no longer dignify by listening to the thoughts of those who advocate “reparative therapy,” as if homosexual persons are somehow broken and need to be repaired.
The rest of the article explains why he is taking that stand. While I utterly agree with his views on how the Church is wrong in condemning homosexuality I disagree with his decision to opt to no longer engage in dialogue about this matter. This is why. Those of us in Christianity who feel that the movement to forever keep gays on the outside of the church is completely and utterly wrong are a minority. Many disagree with us and just can’t understand why we can calmly state that we believe what they say and encourage others to believe is wrong. They also don’t know how to counter thoughtful, factual evidence that supports our views, and instead opt to attempt to lump us in with “those sinful reprobates”. Spong’s views that “we’ve already won this battle, all that is left are skirmishes” is to me, short-sighted. The attack against the LGBT community is just one in a long line of ethnic or cultural communities that some in the Christian faith have decided to treat in ways that starkly counter those of the one they profess to emulate.

We need to continue to stand against bigotry of all kinds and to do it reasonably, yet passionately. We need to demonstrate that the Christian form of love encompasses all human beings, not just those that fit into our little cubbyholes of acceptance. We need to demonstrate that we welcome people into our little circle and who they are, with ethnic, cultural, religious, political differences being assets rather than liabilities. We need to find delight in the diversity of humanity and see the value that can be brought to the collective table. We need to, and must continue to work towards that goal, even if it seems impossible. Jesus said “blessed are the peace makers.” What a better way to bring that about, than by breaking down cultural barriers so that we can see how alike we really are?

Mr. Spong has been fighting this fight much longer than I have. I can respect his decision to step away to most likely focus elsewhere also needed. I do wish he would stay, and that there were many more like him. My war against inequality and bigotry is just beginning. Maybe he is stepping aside to let new voices step in and carry on the fight. If so, I can thank him for his example and dedication, as well as people like John Shore and gladly add my voice along with them so that one day we can see these horrendous actions come to an end.