When Religious and Other Leaders are Intolerant

I have written several posts in the last few months around the subject of intolerance and exclusion in religion. The issues have tended to be around my support for the rights of the LGBT community. Like many Americans, I am religious, but not evangelical. I am less strident in my views and favor inclusion and treating all of your neighbors well. These are the greatest teachings of Jesus and the themes find their way into other religions, as well.

When religions are inclusive they do wondrous things for people. They lift the spirits of those who worship and send them off to do good deeds as stewards of this inclusive mission. When they are exclusive and intolerant, they can become about as bad a group of people as you can find. They are bad in that their piety and general kindness overshadows the intolerance that lies beneath the surface. Last night, my daughter and one of my sons joined my wife and me as we watched “The Help,” a movie that looks at how African-American maids were treated before the Civil Rights Act in the early 1960’s. There are many lessons therein, but the one that strikes me most is how presumably pious people can treat others the way they do and how people who have distaste for this treatment remain silent. These silent witnesses are how intolerance ferments and grows into something more.

Living in North Carolina, I was not surprised, but discouraged by the recent vote to reiterate that the LGBT community cannot marry in this state. The equally troubling part of this Amendment One gives the license to deny civil unions in place for both gays and non-gays. The lone positive to be taken away is the Amendment was defeated in the larger Metropolitan areas (Charlotte, Raleigh-Durham, Greensboro) where centers of education are located. At the same time, I am very encouraged by the stance of the President, Vice President, Secretary of Education and NAACP on gay marriage in the future. I just wish the President had made his statement before the NC vote.

During the lead-up time before the NC vote and since that time in early May, let me reiterate some of the less tolerant things that have been reported, some in NC and some elsewhere. These trouble me as they are forewarning of how intolerance can manifest into something ugly. As citizens, we need to call out this intolerance. We can say you can choose to believe the way you do, but you cannot denigrate and step on the freedoms of others. For the Constitutionalists out there this is for what our Bill of Rights stands.

Here are a few lowlights of late from my perspective:

  • Reverend Franklin Graham besmirched the name of Billy Graham, his father, by demonizing the gays and lesbians and promoting intolerance. I realize Billy Graham is still alive, but I personally feel he has always been about inclusion and tolerance and if he were alert, he would not let Franklin do this. Franklin’s earlier stances against Muslims showed how intolerant he can be.
  • The day after Amendment One, Bill James, a county commissioner in NC’s largest county requested the elimination of domestic partner benefits for the county employees. This was less than 24 hours after the vote. This commissioner has a public record of intolerance, so his personal stance is not unusual, but this is the kind of action that was feared by those who were against the Amendment as they saw similar examples in other states.
  • A minster in a less metropolitan, but not rural NC county advocated this past Sunday about putting homosexuals behind an electrified fence. This is fueling a fire and could be construed as abetting a future crime in my view and he should be called out on this.
  • In Mississippi, a minister and reverend, Andy Gipson posted on his website his belief that the only ruling on gays is Leviticus 20:13 which advocates the killing of both men who are gay sexual partners. When pressed, he said he does not advocate the killing of gays, but this occurred after the backlash he received. Some say if you ever want to create an Atheist, have them read the bible. In my view, the bible was written and re-written by a lot of imperfect men who sometimes placed their imperfections in the bible to interpret God’s word. I personally do not want to worship a God that people believe feels this way.
  • That bring us to Presidential Candidate Romney. His “hi-jinks” as a youth bother me. Bullying should not be tolerated and holding down a young man who was effeminent in looks (Romney said he did not know he was gay), is a little more than hi-jinks to me. Yet, if we give Romney the benefit of the doubt, what troubles me most is he cannot remember the incident. His fellow bullies are tormented to this day by their actions and one said he spoke with the victim before he passed away to share his apologies. The victim had not forgotten. I never did anything this cruel, but I can remember every bad thing I did as youth as I try to do the right thing whenever I can. This is a teachable moment and frankly gives us a poor window into Mr. Romney’s character. I recognize he is a good man and has raised a good family, but he should have come clean on this because he is either lying or did so many hi-jinks that he cannot remember them all.

We must call out intolerance. We cannot remain silent when we see it. Otherwise the intolerant ones will feel more licensed. Whether it is the people above, the Koran burning minister in Florida or the family of bigots whose church pickets military funerals, let these people know intolerance does not have a place. As Americans, we must support the right for people we disagree with to voice their beliefs. That is one of the tenets of our Bill of Rights. Yet, when their rights damage or infringe on the rights of others, that is when we must step up.

When leaders, religious and non-religious, are intolerant and exclusive, they will drive people away. Even the silent witnesses will eventually vote with their feet and leave. The Catholic Church is seeing that as their church is on the demise. More and more Catholics are staying home due to its intolerant positions not to mention its hypocrisy in masking criminal pedophilia in its priests. Please remember, religious leaders are human just like the rest of us. They can be full of crap just like you and me. So, when they are, tell them just like you would tell one another. I think if you said, “Minister, I hear what you are saying, but I don’t think that way,” you will get your message across. If he does not get your message then you can make an informed choice to leave. There are many inclusive, tolerant ministers who would welcome you.

Silence abetted the denial of the civil rights of African-Americans for the longest time. Let’s not be silent on the denial of the rights of LGBT citizens. Our children read history about the civil rights movement and ask how could people have tolerated that behavior? They see injustice and they know treating LGBT people differently is not right either. Let’s make our children proud and do the right thing. Don’t be silent.

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7 thoughts on “When Religious and Other Leaders are Intolerant

  1. Hear, hear! Excellent post. It reminds me of this poem: “In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.”

    — by Martin Niemöller, prominent German anti-Nazi theologian and Lutheran pastor, best known as the author of the poem First they came….

    Glad you are speaking up!

      • Thanks! Google is my best friend. 😉 But seriously, it is so important for people from a wide range of backgrounds to speak out, and if you really are an “old” fart, your perspective is critical on this issue. Thanks again for a great post on an important topic.

      • Jenni, thanks. Unfortunately I qualify myself as an Old Fart. I am 53 and counting. I agree about many of all types speaking out. The minister in NC is a piece of work. One of his parishioners was on the news saying “the minister loves people.” I would tend to disagree based on the recent evidence.

      • FYI. I used your quote from Martin Niemoller in a letter to the editor about calling out bigotry from the pulpit. Thanks

  2. I also like the quote above, and would add one more that seems appropriate, from Edmund Burke: “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”

    I had that quote in mind when I wrote a post yesterday about the pastor who suggested the electrified fence. I really could not get over that one. As bad as all the other anti-gay tirades were that came before it, this one in particular was just heinous.

    • Thanks Chris. I like Burke’s quote as well. I was thinking we have these websites that track the worst dictators, maybe we need a Wall of Shame for Intolerant Religious Leaders. Always appreciate your comments.

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