I spend a lot of time discussing gay rights and gay marriage on this blog. There’s a reason for that. I see a lot of overlap between fighting against homophobia and fighting against religious privilege. I’ve spent a lot of time exploring my own values, trying to figure out why I believe the things that I believe. Over time, I’ve come to realize that the foundational concept that drives my view of the world is that of fairness. Equality. Any time I see one group being unfairly singled out, it enrages me.
Another way gay rights and religious freedom overlap is that religion is one of the greatest drivers of inequality in the world. Books written hundreds or thousands of years ago are, and have always been, used to justify the suppression or persecution of one group of people or another. Whether it’s the oppression of women, enforced servitude of blacks, or rigid societal structures of the caste system, the most virulent defenders of oppression do so with a Bible, Koran, or Veda in their hand.
This is why I find religion so damaging to the world. When criticizing religion, one the most common objections I hear is that religion does so much good for people. Why would I want to attack something that makes people happy? Why would I want to do away with religion when it gives so many people meaning in their lives, and comfort through their troubles? I want to because the price is too great. If giving comfort to those in need and meaning to those who are lost were all that religion provided, I would probably have a much different outlook on it, but that’s not the only way it’s used.
Take, for example, the story about two local Methodist preachers who were recently suspended without pay for violating church law by marrying gay couples. Rev Cheryl A. Fear and Rev Gordon Hutchins are both being punished with a one day unpaid suspension by church authorities for officiating the weddings of two gay couples. The punishment comes after two other church leaders filed complaints against them. Both pastors who filed the original complaint have stated that the punishment the two reverends face is too lenient.
According to Methodist law, “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” This language was added to The Book of Discipline, the Methodist law-book, in 1972. According to the Methodist Church’s official website,
“The debate over the church’s stance on homosexuality has surfaced at every General Conference since 1972, and delegates consistently have voted to keep the incompatible language.”
In one of the cases in question, Rev. Hutchins decided to marry Wayne and Mike Simonsons after a number of conversations with them. The Simonsons have been a couple for over 40 years. They met in a now defunct church and fell in love. The Church’s response was to force them to leave. Now four decades later, after Washington State approve same-sex marriage, the couple wanted to be married in the church they met in (which goes by a different name, and is headed by Rev. Hutchins). Hutchins, after hearing the Simonsons’ story, felt compelled to marry them, saying, “How could I say no?”
The Methodist church isn’t what you would consider a fringe or extremist denomination. In fact, they’re considered one of the more liberal, mainline denominations in Christianity. Their website bears the slogan “Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors.” and states that,
“The United Methodist Church is an 12.5-million-strong global church that opens hearts, opens minds and open doors through active engagement with our world.
John Wesley and the early Methodists placed primary emphasis on Christian living, on putting faith and love into action. This emphasis on what Wesley referred to as “practical divinity” has continued to be a hallmark of United Methodism today.”
But apparently open hearts and open minds only apply to certain people, and open doors will be shut in the face of two people who love each other just because their genitals aren’t different enough.
That’s what religion does to the world. It makes otherwise reasonable and intelligent people believe that one kind of love doesn’t deserve the same recognition and respect that another type of love does. It takes the words written thousands of years ago and holds them in higher esteem than the real lives of people today.
More liberal Christians want to disown the more fringe elements of the church. They’d like to pretend that groups like the Westboro Baptist Church don’t count. They like to dismiss the as crazy extremists who don’t believe what real Christians believe. The problem is that the people at Westboro probably known their Bibles better than the people trying to dismiss them.
What’s wrong with the Westboro Baptist Church isn’t that their crazy ideas aren’t supported by the Bible; the problem is that their crazy ideas are. And while the Methodist church may not carry offensive signs and picket funerals, they’re using the exact same biblical support to try to stop gays from getting married.
Only could religion lead someone to think that a couple who’ve loved each other for over 40 years without hurting anyone else doesn’t deserve the same public recognition and benefit as any other couple.