Friday, July 14, 2006

Real Christians Fight Intolerance

Another great sermon from Reverend J:

"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."

Monday, July 10, 2006

Progressives: Stop Waiting for a Hero

A sermon by the Reverand Jim Rigby, a pastor of St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Austin, Texas, which is worth quoting in full:

"As we get closer to the presidential elections, a conversation will be heard all across America. "Who can liberals choose that will save this country? Is he the one, or is it her?" Lists are being compiled and a debate held over which of the names is America's savior.

For liberals, the correct answer is "none of the above."

I say this without knowing who will be the nominee. I say this not because the individuals in question are inadequate. I say this because progressive values cannot be saved by heroes. Progressive values can only be saved by ordinary citizens living up to their principles.

In the biblical story of the Exodus, Moses dies just before Israel can enter the Promised Land. The story is told as a way of making a point. Leaders can only take you so far. At some point it's up to the people to govern themselves. Eugene B. Debs used to tell his listeners, "I would not lead you into the promised land even if I could, for, if anybody leads you in, someone else can lead you out."

When George W. Bush named his first cabinet I announced from our pulpit that America was going to war. I am no prophet, but I can read the writing on the wall. If you see a robot with guns for hands you can be pretty sure it will not be planting many flowers. A presidential cabinet consisting of corporate lobbyists with ties to oil and weapons makers, but having no ambassadors or diplomats can only produce war and economic rapine.

"President" means someone who presides over the democratic process. That may seem mundane. Often it is. But the flashier title "Commander in Chief" is our leader's title in a time of war. Can anyone imagine Jefferson or Lincoln wearing a jacket and hat emblazoned with "Commander in Chief" as has our current President? When people came to make George Washington king, he put on spectacles so they could see his human frailty. That is what a patriot looks like in a peace-loving democracy.

This President occasionally says he took an oath of office to protect the American people. Actually, he took an oath to protect the constitution. It may not seem as exciting as fighting terrorism, but the day-to-day work of participatory democracy is the life blood of our nation.

The flipside of not having heroes is not having demons either. Liberals must stop fixating on George Bush. Corporations took over America using politicians as sock puppets. It certainly makes a difference who sits in office, but we have not solved our problems if we impeach one of the socks. We must change the system. And the way to do that is from the bottom up.

The Howard Dean campaign suggested how grassroots campaigns can be successful, but liberals must stop focusing on personalities and start focusing on the one thing reactionaries do not have, which is principles. If a future candidate happens to shout in a microphone or cry in public we must not let that disqualify her or him from public service. We are choosing a President, not a stuntman for a Rambo sequel.

The American people have chosen reactionary leaders lately because they show their backbone. True, it is a reptilian backbone, it is cruel, ignorant and selfish, but for most voters a spinal column is a requirement for the job. I would suggest that the backbone of a liberal candidate must be a commitment to improving the human condition.

Progressives must not let ridicule or even political defeat trick them into betraying these values: universal health care, livable wages, civil rights for all people including gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons, reproductive choice for women and a planet governed by people not by corporations, religions or armies.

"But what if those principles cost us the election?" you may ask. We need to remember that the religious right rose to power by losing elections. They ran candidates with very strong views using those elections to identify loyal blocks of voters. They then brokered those voting blocks into swing votes in tight elections. Over time they produced a voter base with unshakable loyalty because they gave people something worth voting for. Lovers of democracy can take back this country the same way.

Bertold Brecht in "The Life of Galileo" has a character say, "Unhappy is a land that breeds no heroes," to which Galileo responds "Unhappy is a land that needs heroes." It is a truism of history that heroes usually lead to war whereas peace and democracy are preserved by an informed and involved citizenry. There is no question about it, America will grow tired of the cruelty and ignorance of the current administration. The only question is whether liberals will be at their posts when she does."