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When religion loses its credibility


E.J.

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When religion loses its credibility

By Oliver "Buzz" Thomas, USA TODAY

What if Christian leaders are wrong about homosexuality? I suppose, much as a newspaper maintains its credibility by setting the record straight, church leaders would need to do the same:

Correction: Despite what you might have read, heard or been taught throughout your churchgoing life, homosexuality is, in fact, determined at birth and is not to be condemned by God's followers.

Based on a few recent headlines, we won't be seeing that admission anytime soon. Last week, U.S. Roman Catholic bishops took the position that homosexual attractions are "disordered" and that gays should live closeted lives of chastity. At the same time, North Carolina's Baptist State Convention was preparing to investigate churches that are too gay-friendly. Even the more liberal Presbyterian Church (USA) had been planning to put a minister on trial for conducting a marriage ceremony for two women before the charges were dismissed on a technicality. All this brings me back to the question: What if we're wrong?

Religion's only real commodity, after all, is its moral authority. Lose that, and we lose our credibility. Lose credibility, and we might as well close up shop.

It's happened to Christianity before, most famously when we dug in our heels over Galileo's challenge to the biblical view that the Earth, rather than the sun, was at the center of our solar system. You know the story. Galileo was persecuted for what turned out to be incontrovertibly true. For many, especially in the scientific community, Christianity never recovered.

This time, Christianity is in danger of squandering its moral authority by continuing its pattern of discrimination against gays and lesbians in the face of mounting scientific evidence that sexual orientation has little or nothing to do with choice. To the contrary, whether sexual orientation arises as a result of the mother's hormones or the child's brain structure or DNA, it is almost certainly an accident of birth. The point is this: Without choice, there can be no moral culpability.

Answer in Scriptures

So, why are so many church leaders (not to mention Orthodox Jewish and Muslim leaders) persisting in their view that homosexuality is wrong despite a growing stream of scientific evidence that is likely to become a torrent in the coming years? The answer is found in Leviticus 18. "You shall not lie with a man as with a woman; it is an abomination."

As a former "the Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it" kind of guy, I am sympathetic with any Christian who accepts the Bible at face value. But here's the catch. Leviticus is filled with laws imposing the death penalty for everything from eating catfish to sassing your parents. If you accept one as the absolute, unequivocal word of God, you must accept them all.

For many of gay America's loudest critics, the results are unthinkable. First, no more football. At least not without gloves. Handling a pig skin is an abomination. Second, no more Saturday games even if you can get a new ball. Violating the Sabbath is a capital offense according to Leviticus. For the over-40 crowd, approaching the altar of God with a defect in your sight is taboo, but you'll have plenty of company because those menstruating or with disabilities are also barred.

The truth is that mainstream religion has moved beyond animal sacrifice, slavery and the host of primitive rituals described in Leviticus centuries ago. Selectively hanging onto these ancient proscriptions for gays and lesbians exclusively is unfair according to anybody's standard of ethics. We lawyers call it "selective enforcement," and in civil affairs it's illegal.

A better reading of Scripture starts with the book of Genesis and the grand pronouncement about the world God created and all those who dwelled in it. "And, the Lord saw that it was good." If God created us and if everything he created is good, how can a gay person be guilty of being anything more than what God created him or her to be?

Turning to the New Testament, the writings of the Apostle Paul at first lend credence to the notion that homosexuality is a sin, until you consider that Paul most likely is referring to the Roman practice of pederasty, a form of pedophilia common in the ancient world. Successful older men often took boys into their homes as concubines, lovers or sexual slaves. Today, such sexual exploitation of minors is no longer tolerated. The point is that the sort of long-term, committed, same-sex relationships that are being debated today are not addressed in the New Testament. It distorts the biblical witness to apply verses written in one historical context (i.e. sexual exploitation of children) to contemporary situations between two monogamous partners of the same sex. Sexual promiscuity is condemned by the Bible whether it's between gays or straights. Sexual fidelity is not.

What would Jesus do?

For those who have lingering doubts, dust off your Bibles and take a few hours to reacquaint yourself with the teachings of Jesus. You won't find a single reference to homosexuality. There are teachings on money, lust, revenge, divorce, fasting and a thousand other subjects, but there is nothing on homosexuality. Strange, don't you think, if being gay were such a moral threat?

On the other hand, Jesus spent a lot of time talking about how we should treat others. First, he made clear it is not our role to judge. It is God's. ("Judge not lest you be judged." Matthew 7:1) And, second, he commanded us to love other people as we love ourselves.

So, I ask you. Would you want to be discriminated against? Would you want to lose your job, housing or benefits because of something over which you had no control? Better yet, would you like it if society told you that you couldn't visit your lifelong partner in the hospital or file a claim on his behalf if he were murdered?

The suffering that gay and lesbian people have endured at the hands of religion is incalculable, but they can look expectantly to the future for vindication. Scientific facts, after all, are a stubborn thing. Even our religious beliefs must finally yield to them as the church in its battle with Galileo ultimately realized. But for religion, the future might be ominous. Watching the growing conflict between medical science and religion over homosexuality is like watching a train wreck from a distance. You can see it coming for miles and sense the inevitable conclusion, but you're powerless to stop it. The more church leaders dig in their heels, the worse it's likely to be.

Oliver "Buzz" Thomas is a Baptist minister and author of an upcoming book, 10 Things Your Minister Wants to Tell You (But Can't Because He Needs the Job).

Copyright ? 2006 USA TODAY

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Even our religious beliefs must finally yield to them as the church in its battle with Galileo ultimately realized. But for religion, the future might be ominous. Watching the growing conflict between medical science and religion over homosexuality is like watching a train wreck from a distance. You can see it coming for miles and sense the inevitable conclusion, but you're powerless to stop it. The more church leaders dig in their heels, the worse it's likely to be.

Yay. It doth please me to see this.

And it also proves the church isn't bright enough to learn from its mistakes.

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Yay. It doth please me to see this.

And it also proves the church isn't bright enough to learn from its mistakes.

If I may so bold as to disagree....

The fact that there is a debate in many branches of the church on this subject demonstrates that there are parts of the church that DOES support homosexuality and parts that do not. Just because certain sections haven't taken a lesson from history, that does not mean that the entire church doesn't learn from its past mistakes.

A quick (and only mildly informed) state of play (as I see it):

Roman Catholic: Leadership against, followers for (I'm basing this on a survey in Australia where only 30% of catholics thought homosexuality was a sin).

Anglican Communion: Split -- there are liberal dicoses and conservative dicoses. The African nations are almost totally conservative, the USA is predominantly liberal, and England... I'm not sure, but I suspect a slight majority liberal. In Australia the main leadership is conservative, but again there are liberal sections

Other:

Southern Baptists (USA): Conservative (some rabidly so).

Uniting Church of Australia: Mainly liberal, though there is a significant conservative group.

United Church of Canada: Liberal

I can't comment on the other denominations.

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Okay, I have a few thoughts on the subject as well. First, I say BRAVO to someone with the courage to stand forth and be heard, against the overwhelming tide of fear, hatred, and bigotry spewing forth from supposedly 'Christian' America.

Still, there are a few churches that seem to be progressive enough to provide an up-to-date and humanistic approach to religion in the modern world. Churches like (most of) the Episcopalian branch of the Anglican community, and the Unitarian Universalist Union, are a breath of fresh air and provide Christianity with a message that is, and continues to be, relevant in our weary and tired world.

The point made by the author, and some of our fellow board members, however, is that far too many of the Christian sects continue to cling to outdated and illogical dogma that flies in the face of modern scientific knowledge, logic, common sense, humanity, and perhaps most importantly, the message of Christ himself: a message that is overwhelmingly one of love and acceptance. I know I can't be the only person to have noticed the completely different tone and message between the books of the old testament, and those of the new.

At some point in the not too distant future, the leaders of the faiths who are stubbornly digging in their heels over the non-issue of homosexuality, will find themselves without followers, and subject to the same ridicule as Pope Paul V, who foolishly stuck to dogma over scientific and provable fact, in this case, that the earth was the center of the universe. I just hope I live long enough to see it.

I now yield the soapbox;

Rick

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Hi Rick,

:icon10: I agree with all that you say and I believe it needs to be said.

We are all suffering from the effects of organised religion.

Now before this discussion gets cut short, I would like to add that I think it is important to add that not only organised religions but also political regimes and other sectors/individuals all have one thing in common.

All have an authoritarian desire to control others. The justification as well as the object of their actions and desires varies, but the effect does not. People lose self esteem, are hurt, enslaved, marginalised, and sometimes even killed for what others hold as their belief.

Many of our stories have these elements in their plots. When these stories avoid being gratuitous, they are capable of enlightening us, liberating our own ignorance and setting examples of acceptance of the differences that exist between us.

Similarly when open discussion avoids just trying to convince everyone to certain viewpoints but is truly a discussion, without, (as I think it was blue once said) without being disagreeable, then we have an opportunity to advance human experience rationally and responsibly.

Contributors to this forum seem to be doing that.

:unsure:

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A syndicated columnist with the Boston Globe penned an article recently using the Ted Haggard situation to address organized religions' attitudes toward gays. I think it's Germain to this discussion, but could also be posted in the other thread about the Ted Haggard thing. Anyhow, here it is. This was from the ContraCosta Times.

http://www.contracostatimes.com/mld/cctime...ts/16065345.htm

Thing is, I think the gay movement has come a very long way in the last ten years. South Africa's highest court just last week compelled that country's legislature to join the growing list of now five nations that recognize gay marriage on national level to the chagrin of many of that country's religious leaders. These are very exciting times.

Hugs,

Rick D

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