Progressive Christians tend to be nonjudgmental and to feel that challenging the intolerance of others is itself intolerant. For that reason we often sit by silently when Fundamentalist Christians criticize homosexual persons. We tend to think of this as being open minded.
Not that long ago, it was considered consistent to be a Christian, and yet, hold slaves.
The day came when slavery was understood as an affront to the gospel itself. I want to suggest that the day has come when Christians must declare that gay bashing is an attack on the gospel and that real Christians do not participate in any form of discrimination.
Several years ago, I was asked to do the funeral of a gay man who had been beaten to death in a hate crime. At that time, I had never thought deeply about the danger many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people face in this culture. That week as I worked on the service, I kept hearing a local “Christian” radio station blaming gay and lesbian people for everything wrong in America. By the end of the week I understood the link between religious hate speech and the funeral I was performing.
I know that critics of homosexuality do not consider themselves to be hateful. They would say they “love the sinner but hate the sin.” If the shoe were on the other foot, however, and someone were attacking their families, trying to take their children away, and constantly working to pass legislation to deprive them of basic civil rights, at some point they would understand that “homophobia” is too mild a word for such harassment. “Hatred” is the only proper term.
I was raised in Dallas, Texas and had classmates who were in the Klan. I remember that they did not consider themselves to be attacking other people. They perceived themselves to be defenders of Christian America. Their “religion” consisted of an unrelenting attack on people who were black, Jewish or homosexual. If anyone challenged these views, these Klan members considered themselves under attack and believed that their right to free exercise of religion was being threatened. In other words, they felt that harassing other people was a protected expression of their own religious faith.
In the Gospel, biblical literalists and judgmental people were the negative example in many of the stories. The point of those stories was to teach us the hypocrisy of judgmental religion. When a woman was caught in adultery, the Biblical literalists lined up to protect family values. They pointed out that the Bible literally says that adulterers are to be stoned. If Jesus took the Bible seriously, they claimed, he would have to participate in the mandated biblical punishment of an adulteress.
Instead of following scripture, Jesus tells the woman to get her life together and tells everyone else to drop their stones of judgment. The only way to take this story seriously is to conclude that real Christians don’t use the bible to condemn other people.
It violates the teaching of Christ to say that God will get angry if America does not confront homosexuality as a sin. Jesus did not mention homosexuality and it is a lie to say he did. Furthermore, Jesus said “judge not or you will be judged.” These false prophets are saying “judge or else you will be judged.”
Jesus was kind and understanding, but he was not silent about those who abused the vulnerable. He called them “wolves in sheep’s clothing.” Christians must follow the example of Jesus and confront those vicious predators who use the Christian religion as a camouflage for bullying. We must be as understanding and kind as we can be, but to be tolerant of the oppression of others is not true tolerance.
I believe the time has come to say that genuine followers of Jesus Christ do not participate in discrimination against gay and lesbian persons. Is it intolerant to challenge intolerance? Are we doing the same thing as those we are challenging?
Gay bashing is not just an opinion, it is an assault. Just as the Klan did, religious fundamentalists have a right to believe that homosexuality is a sin. They even have a right to preach a message of hate. But when they harass people in public, it is time for Christians to rise to challenge their intolerance. We have an obligation to protect our neighbors from harassment and slander, especially when it is done in our name.
It is time to say that gay bashing is not only wrong, it is unchristian. If Christianity is grace, then judgment is the ultimate apostasy. If Christianity is love, then cruelty is the ultimate heresy.Ed.: I wish I lived in Austin... I'd be in the front row of Rev. Rigby's church every Sunday!