Religion-based bigotry against LGBT people is simply wrong. It causes harm to individuals of a minority which finds itself the target of its moral and religious stamp of disapproval and all of society when such prejudice and hostility is embedded in the social fabric of a nation’s consciousness.
It becomes even more oppressive when the societal climate it helps foster – one of rejection, prejudice and discrimination – is allowed to flourish in our laws and government policies.
The particular religious teachings of any given religious majority cannot be used to deny minority groups their civil rights in a democracy. California Supreme Court Justice Joyce L. Kennard said it best in her concurring opinion in the May 2008 ruling for marriage equality:
“The architects of our federal and state Constitutions understood that widespread and deeply rooted prejudices may lead majoritarian institutions to deny fundamental freedoms to unpopular minority groups, and that the most effective remedy for this form of oppression is an independent judiciary charged with the solemn responsibility to interpret and enforce the constitutional provisions guaranteeing fundamental freedoms and equal protection. “
Religion-based bigotry’s history in America is undeniable. Older North Carolinians, particular those of faith communities, are aware of how certain biblical teaching has been misused in the past against other minorities. Many can remember when interpretation of certain passages in the Bible helped justify and promote the attitude that African Americans were inferior and undeserving of full human dignity. Many can remember when interpretation of certain passages in the Bible helped justify and promote the attitude that women were somehow inferior to men and was used against them as they sought their right to vote and to be treated equally and fairly.
And of course many of us of course remember how interpretation of certain religious teaching was allowed to promote the notion that whites and black should not marry.
Faith in America traveled a short distance from Raleigh in 2007 to a small wood-frame house in Virginia where the late Mildred Loving, an icon in the Civil Rights Movement, lived at the time. Ms. Loving told us how painful it was for her to know how religious teaching had once been used to justify hostility and discrimination against her and her family.
Her and her husband married in Washington, D.C. in 1958 and later moved to Virginia where they were arrested were arrested because Virginia at that time banned interracial marriage. The trial judge in the case clearly injected religion-based bigotry in the case when he declared in his ruling that “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”
When Faith in America spoke with Ms. Loving in 2007, she told us how painful it was to know that people who adhered to the same faith that she adhered to had used certain teachings from that faith to condemn her as inferior and unequal. Later in her own words, she stated:
“My generation was bitterly divided over something that should have been so clear and right. The majority believed that what the judge said, that it was God’s plan to keep people apart, and that government should discriminate against people in love. But I have lived long enough now to see big changes. The older generation’s fears and prejudices have given way, and today’s young people realize that if someone loves someone they have a right to marry.”
A new documentary released this year tells her story. You can more at http://www.tribecafilm.com/festival/features/Nancy_Buirski_The_Loving_Story.html
Anyone reflecting on times in our history in which certain religious teaching has been used to justify prejudice and discrimination, can look back today and see how wrong and how harmful it was to individuals like Mildred Loving and society at large. We can know that for certain from the apologies that have issued for such misuses of religious teaching against minorities based ethnicity, race, gender and religious affiliation.
Ethincity – Native Americans…Apology by U.S. Catholic Bishops in 1977
“All of us need to examine our own perceptions of Native Americans–how much they are shaped by stereotypes, distorted media portrayals or ignorance. We fear that prejudice and insensitivity toward Native peoples is deeply rooted in our culture and in our local churches.”
US Bishops: A Time for Remembering
Statement of the U.S. Catholic Bishops on American Indians, May 4, 1977
Race – African-Americans – 1995 apology by Southern Baptists
Be it further RESOLVED, That we affirm the Bibles teaching that every human life is sacred, and is of equal and immeasurable worth, made in Gods image, regardless of race or ethnicity (Genesis 1:27), and that, with respect to salvation through Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for (we) are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28); and
Be it further RESOLVED, That we lament and repudiate historic acts of evil such as slavery from which we continue to reap a bitter harvest, and we recognize that the racism which yet plagues our culture today is inextricably tied to the past; and
Be it further RESOLVED, That we apologize to all African-Americans for condoning and/or perpetuating individual and systemic racism in our lifetime; and we genuinely repent of racism of which we have been guilty, whether consciously (Psalm 19:13) or unconsciously (Leviticus 4:27);
Resolution On Racial Reconciliation
On The 150th Anniversary Of The Southern Baptist Convention
Gender – Women – Pope John Paul II apology to women 2005
“Unfortunately, we are heirs to a history which has conditioned us to a remarkable extent. In every time and place, this conditioning has been an obstacle to the progress of women. Women’s dignity has often been unacknowledged and their prerogatives misrepresented; they have often been relegated to the margins of society and even reduced to servitude. This has prevented women from truly being themselves and it has resulted in a spiritual impoverishment of humanity.”
And should we not also regret, among the shadows of our own day, the responsiblity shared by so many Christians for grave forms of injustice and exclusion? It must be asked how many Christians really know and put into practice the principles of the Church’s social doctrine.
John Paul II, “Tertio Millennio Adveniente (As the Third Millennium Draws Near),”
Religious affiliation – John Hagee apology to Catholics 2008
“Hagee, an evangelical who has been outspoken in his support for Israel, had enraged Catholics with statements about the “apostate church” and the “great whore.” He said in his letter that he meant neither of those to apply to the Catholic Church.”
Media Matters may 14 2008
Billy Graham apology to Jews
About the same time, another shocking revelation broke into the news. The National Archives made public thousands of tape recordings of conversations of the late President Richard Nixon, who was notorious for his slurs against Jews. On some of these tapes, were exchanges between him and the famed evangelist, Rev. Billy Graham. In 1972, Graham agreed with Nixon that our nation’s problems lie with the satanic Jews. Both accused Jews of dominating the media, one of the oldest anti-Jewish canards. Graham went on to blame Jews for putting out pornographic stuff. He told Nixon that the Jewish stranglehold has to be broken or the country will go down the drain. He admitted to Nixon that Jews do not really know his true feelings about them.
“Although I have no memory of the occasion, I deeply regret comments I apparently made in an Oval Office conversation with President Nixon. They do not reflect my views, and I sincerely apologize for any offense caused by the remarks. Throughout my ministry, I have sought to build bridges between Jews and Christians. I will continue to strongly support all future efforts to advance understanding and mutual respect between our communities.”
New York Times, Sunday, March 3, 2002
The history of religion-based bigotry is clear. So is the judgement history places on this heinous form of bigotry.
North Carolina’s lawmakers have a very clear choice. They can embrace a form of bigotry that has been deemed by history as morally corrupt and one that today is immensely harmful to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender citizens. Or our lawmakers can embrace the ideals of human dignity, fairness and equality for all and seek to better the lives of so many individuals and families who call North Carolina their home.
Imagine telling a 13-year-old child who is just coming to understand that his or her sexual orientation is different from her peers or her siblings that there is something terrible and awful about the very person they were created to be. That it is so ugly and bad that they will never be treated with the human dignity and respect of others. Something so shameful that they will never be able to experience the sanctity that is seen by others in a lifelong, committed relationship with someone they want to share their life with.
More than a million LGBT teens today are suffering debilitating depression because families, pastors, peers and elected officials promote a societal climate of rejection and condemnation toward them. Suicide rates amongst LGBT youth are four times higher than heterosexual youth. It truly is a national disgrace. It truly is shameful that this is still going on in America. We must not allow it to go on in North Carolina.
LGBT people are victims of discrimination and bigotry, which is justified and promoted often by religious teaching that says homosexuality is immoral, sinful or an abomination. It is a debilitating form of oppression that brings to bear an incredibly destructive force to bear on innocent lives.
In 2008, Faith in America Founder Mitchell Gold printed and self-published the book, “CRISIS: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social, and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing Up Gay in America.” Traveling the country promoting CRISIS, we have seen first-hand the pain that so many gay and lesbian people, especially youth, are suffering at the hand of reloigion-based bigotry. This is what Dr. David Gushee, a Christian ethicist, author and Southern Baptist minister wrote about CRISIS in the June 2009 issue of Christian Century “As an evangelical Christian whose career has been spent in the South, I must say I find it scandalous that the most physically and psychologically dangerous place to be (or even appear to be) gay or lesbian in America is in the most religiously conservative families, congregations and regions of this country. Many of the most disturbing stories in this volume come from the Bible Belt. This marks an appalling Christian moral failure.”
Faith in America has spoken with thousands of gay and lesbian individuals, especially youth, who have relayed the emotional and psychological pain and trauma that they have experienced from religion-based bigotry and those who promote it and also those who are complicit in the harm it causes through their silence or unwillingness to stand against it.
The possibility of being fired from a job is in ways harmful to a person but it cannot compare to the type pain and trauma associated with being condemned or rejected as morally inferior by a parent, your school peers or society at large.
An article in the Oct. 5, 2010 edition of the Washington post entitled “As life experiences of gay teens illustrate, the world is still far from accepting” included the following observations:
“Trina Cole remembers the head-to-toe, white linen outfit she wore to junior prom.
And how the outfit looked after she was attacked, how the cranberry juice her classmates threw at her as they yelled and screamed and shoved her in front of everyone made it look as though she were bleeding, even though it only felt that way.
Rejection, harassment and humiliation – first by her conservative Washington family and then by tormentors in high school and at a college in West Virginia – have left scars all over her arms.”
Cody J. Sanders is a Baptist minister and Ph.D. student in Pastoral Theology and Counseling at Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth, TX. Last October after the rash of gay teen suicides that received national attention for weeks, Sanders published an article entitled “Why Anti-Gay Bullying is a Theological Issue And the moral imperative of anti-bullying preaching, teaching, and activism.” In the article he states:
“While a majority of LGBT people may avoid ever becoming the victim of a violence, none will be able to avoid the psychic terror that is visited upon LGBT people with each reminder that this world is one in which people are maimed and killed because of their sexual and gender identities. It is this psychic terror that makes life so difficult for many LGBT people. It is this psychic terror that does the heavy lifting of instrumental, systematic violence. It intends to silence and to destroy from within.
“Anti-gay bullying is a theological issue because it has a theological base. I find it difficult to believe that even those among us with a vibrant imagination can muster the creative energy to picture a reality in which anti-gay violence and bullying exist without the anti-gay religious messages that support them.
“I cannot count the number of times I have heard well-meaning, good-hearted people respond to this appeal, saying, “Things are a lot better for gay people today than they were several years (or decades) ago. In time, our society (or churches) will come around on this issue.” To these friends and others, I must say, “It’s time.” For Lucas, Brown, Clementi, Walsh, and Chase the time is up. For these teens and the myriad other bisexual, transgender, lesbian and gay youth lost to suicide, the waiting game hasn’t worked so well.
“As simply as I can state the matter: The longer we wait to respond, the more young people die.”
The thought of a young teenager taking their life for any reason should make us shudder. The thought that a life was ended because we as a society have allowed an awful form of bigotry and oppression to bear on their young lives is truly horrendous.
While suicide is the most tragic consequence of such oppression, there are many other harms inflicted upon gay and lesbian youth, their families and other gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals that can take other tragic forms of harm.
According to recent research by Caitlyn Ryan with the Family Acceptance Project, LGBT teens who are highly rejected by their parents and caregivers are at very high risk for health and mental health problems when they become young adults as they are more than 8 times as likely to have attempted suicide; and nearly 6 times as likely to report high levels of depression.
This is the very real and very painful emotional, psychological and physical harm that is brought to bear on gay and lesbian youth when they face the type rejection and condemnation that is promoted within our society by expressions of religion-based bigotry.
Make no mistake – the anti-gay amendment on the ballot this May is an expression of such bigotry. It will unleash a torrent of ill-will in North Carolina against children in our schools and homes, parents with gay and lesbian children, our friends whom we cherish, our co-workers in the workplace and those who we worship with in our faith communities.