When religious and other leaders are intolerant – a reprise post

I wrote this post almost ten years, so some of the references are dated, but the gist is still relevant in today’s headlines.

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 LGBTQ+ 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 overshadow 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 foments and grows into something more.

Living in North Carolina, I was not surprised, but discouraged by the recent vote to reiterate that the LGBTQ+ 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 President Obama, Vice President Biden, 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. When Graham says things like this, it detracts from the all the good his ministry does.
  • The day after Amendment One, 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 commissioner and reverend 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.
  • Finally, after the Amendment One vote, I was doing some prep work for a meeting in a hotel lobby. A nearby conversation between two lesbian women started as they lamented the passing of this discriminatory amendment. One asked the other if her mother was supportive of her efforts against this bill. She responded that her parents no longer speak with her due to her sexual preferences. This made me terribly sad as no parent should disown a child for who she loves. This is your child.

We must call out intolerance. We cannot remain silent when we see it. Otherwise, the intolerant ones will feel more emboldened. Whether it is the people above, the Koran burning minister in Florida or the family of bigots whose church pickets military funerals because it allows gays to serve, 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 north of the equator. 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 LGBTQ+ 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 LGBTQ+ people differently is not right either. Let’s make our children proud and do the right thing. Don’t be silent.

15 thoughts on “When religious and other leaders are intolerant – a reprise post

    • VJ, so true. There are still too many being taught to hate the other. Yet, the hope is this specific kind of discrimination will age out. It is kept alive by narrow minded politicians who do not have a lot to add. Keith

  1. Well said Keith. This post is still, sadly, fresh and pertinent.
    Bigotry and intolerance are vile enough, but when those who support these sins try and hide behind a façade of their interpretations of religious beliefs they spread their toxins into the Body Religious (as it were).
    One should also be very wary, when quoting from an English translation as if that were God’s natural language. Biblical scholars spend much time and energy looking into the meanings of the original words and contexts (and that’s before we get around to the poetical allegories).
    I don’t expect you to read this link in great detail, but cite it as an example of the complexity of the matter of biblical translation:
    https://academic.oup.com/jts/article/71/1/1/5810142

    • Interesting. I did read part of it. I had read earlier that when translating certain words that had multiple meanings, sometimes the wrong meaning was deployed or emphasized too much or too little. The other part of the translation relates to the language the author used to write the text in. Luke was more of a scholar, so he wrote his gospel and Acts in Latin, while others used their more familiar languages. This is one reason there are a few inconsistencies in the gospels, which were written between 30 to 75 years after Jesus was crucified.

      As for preachers, I have never been much of a fire and brimstone fan of preaching, so I would much rather see a message of love, kindness and inclusion. It is truly a difference in the missions of the old testament and new testament. If someone is set out to read the bible, I would instruct them to read the new testament first, as the person may not make it that far otherwise. Keith

      • Wise advice to a newcomer Keith. The Old Testament is a very difficult collection of works for a Christian embracing Christ’s teachings. As we can see from that discussion concerning Leviticus, the Old Testament is one to be studied very carefully. ‘Getting the Old Testament’ by Steven L Bridge is an interesting meditative account looking beyond the literal English translation and seeking out the meanings the authors were looking to impart.
        Being Welsh fire and brimstone has a certain attraction…but in the style of Christ extolling people to look into themselves and not at others.

  2. It’s a shame we can read your post this long later and nothing my has change Keith!

    this is so trued! 💖

    ” 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.

  3. Reminds me of what I saw in Monday’s paper – after that horrendous synagogue incident in Texas:

    Faith in action: Colleyville churches, other heroes rise in synagogue hostage crisis

    Read more at: https://www.star-telegram.com/opinion/editorials/article257385357.html

    If works flow from faith, this is what it looks like.

    In particular, a neighboring church whose only involvement was the accident of proximity swung into action.

    Good Shepherd Catholic Community opened its doors to many needing help during the standoff, as the Star-Telegram’s Domingo Ramirez Jr. reported Sunday. Most importantly, it provided a nearby haven for the hostages’ families, a relatively quiet space where they could wait out what must have been the most terrifying day of their lives.

    The church community responded with food, and Good Shepherd even opened its doors to reporters covering the standoff for hours in the cold. Trust us, that’s not always the reaction media members receive.

    Local Muslim leaders were among those who swiftly condemned the attack. Jawaid Alam, president of the Islamic Center of Southlake, said that Congregation Beth Israel’s Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, one of the hostages, has been a friend to North Texas Muslims.

    Colleyville police Chief Michael Miller said Saturday night that his community provided generous support, sending food for officers, messages of support and prayers.

    “There’s lots of hope in how the community came together,” Miller said. “I received calls from my colleagues across the nation. … This community, other churches, have all reached out. Food has been brought. Our people have been cared for.”

    Many of our institutions, public and private, have let us down in recent years. The resulting distrust in government, churches and business are contributing to a crisis of community. The pandemic reinforces loneliness and isolation. There are real challenges in law enforcement, too.

    But Saturday’s response on all fronts shows the best of us. Let it be a reminder of what we can accomplish together if we try harder to follow the most important message all our faiths send us: Love one another.

    • Becky, I greatly appreciate your sharing this story. It is uplifting to see an overall community come together, led by various faith communities. It reminded me of what Mr. Rogers said about tragedy using his mother’s line, “watch the helpers.” People who do what they can to help those in tragedy. I know this is off-mission for your blog, but you should post this as it is important. Keith

  4. Excellent post, my friend, and it isn’t only still relevant today, but is even MORE relevant today. It seems to me that certain religious ‘leaders’ are using their religion to promote intolerance of any who don’t fit perfectly into their mold. Is it any wonder that the percentage of people who are non-religious is on the rise?

  5. Note to Readers: I have shared before that one of my favorite ministers called herself Pastor Flo, short for Florence. This African-American woman was as good as any at making people feel welcome. I have never seen a person weave so many folks into one prayer to help those in need. That is inclusion.

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