prejudice

Freedom of Religion in Indiana

Religion is under attack in America. It has been for a long time. But recently, it is specifically the Christian Faith that has been targeted. The classic example is secularizing Christmas; stripping Christ from the celebration with the use of “Xmas.” Yes. I realize that among scholars this a practice dating back hundreds of years and has nothing to do with secularization. X represents the 22nd letter of the Greek alphabet, “Chi”, and has long stood as a symbol for Christ. Therefore, Christmas and Xmas are actually the same—both of them meaning “Christ Mass.” But that’s not the point. The issue is that today it is not just Christian scholars who are using Xmas. So are non-Christians and even non-believers. It’s a little like a family—I can say anything I want about my sister, but you can’t. Infantile? Without question. But there are other, even greater onslaughts against religion.

In more recent years, marriage has become the weapon of choice for attacking the Christian Faith. Everyone knows that marriage is only between a man and a woman. The Bible never says that, but it implies it. In recent years there have been feeble attempts to fight back with slogans such as, “It was Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!” But if homosexuality is the great sin against God that many Christians believe, we need more than slogans. We must fight back with all the ammunition in our arsenal. Enter the great State of Indiana and Governor Mike Pence.

Pence just signed legislation that guarantees the free practice of religion. Bakeries, florists, dress makers, tux shops and photographers, will not be forced to support same-sex marriage. And indeed, why should they consort with sinners? Indiana had to take a stand. Before this legislation was passed and signed by the governor, every same sex couple in Indiana sought out anti-LGBT establishments to provide the food and decorations, etc. for their wedding ceremonies. Why couldn’t they just patronize gay establishments? We needed this law.

There is another, even more important, dimension to this crisis. Indiana is evangelical territory. As such they always ask the question WWJD? Well, what would Jesus do? Better yet, what
did Jesus do?

Jesus frequented the company of prostitutes. I don’t mean that he slept with them. But they did hang out together and share a few drinks. And when it came to tax collectors, Jesus did more than drink. He enjoyed their lavish meals, even though other religious leaders criticized him for it. And let’s not forget the lepers. Jesus not only allowed them to approach him, he reached out and touched them, thus making even the Son of God unclean according to the religious laws of his day.

Does this mean that Jesus endorsed the activities of tax collectors or the life-styles of prostitutes? Of course not. But he did fraternize with them. More importantly he did not condemn them or shun them. As for the lepers, they did not choose their situation and Jesus embraced them for who they were.

On the basis of these and other things that he did it is reasonable to suggest that Jesus would have attended gay weddings. He would have enjoyed the company and the food. He would have shared in the toast and maybe even danced with the two brides. Who knows? Maybe he did. The Gospels certainly do not say that he didn’t.

Hmmm! I may have been terribly wrong about the Indiana legislature and Governor Pence. As it turns out this law is not about the free practice of religion. It is about the free practice of prejudice, bigotry and hate. There is, after all, another way to view the current situation of religion in America. Christianity is, indeed, under attack. But the threat comes from within.

Many Christians have lost sight of who Jesus is and what Jesus did. Whatever answer one offers to the question WWJD, Jesus certainly would not be supporting legislation that condemns, discriminates and pushes people to the margins of society.

This new Indiana law is not so much anti-LGBT as it is anti-Gospel and anti-Jesus. The irony would be comic if it were not so extreme. Every serious scholar acknowledges that Jesus never appeared in ancient America. But there is a new question today: “Will Jesus ever appear in Indiana?”
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Miscarriage of Justice? The Zimmerman Verdict

The old saying comparing opinions to the human anatomy is true. Everybody does have one. And when verdicts are handed down, as in the George Zimmerman case, the opinions fly. These trials create mirror-like reactions. Had the judgement been reversed so would have been the responses. There would still be an outcry.

One need only look at the O. J. Simpson trial to recall a miscarriage of justice. In the Zimmerman case, the jurors are being denounced as racist because he killed a young black man. In the Simpson trial, they were accused of pandering because Simpson, himself, is a black man.

We might do well to step back from the actual trials and verdicts and look at the broader picture. If any truth is to emerge from this case, it is tragically simple: The justice system in modern America is broken. At least the jury element. At least in Florida. And yet…

This goes way beyond Florida. It just seems that Florida has a perverse desire for headlines, which seems odd given its specific racist history. Mind you, I am not trying to say that George Zimmerman should have been found guilty of murder. The prosecution overreached in its initial charges, necessitating the late addition of a manslaughter charge. That prosecutorial decision had to have influenced the jury and raised doubts. Maybe the prosecutors were not so sure of their case and were just grasping at straws.

Nor am I saying that George Zimmerman is innocent. Certainly his intent and motives are questionable, if not despicable. He was told by a 911 operator to cease his pursuit and let the proper authorities handle the situation. But Zimmerman lives in a fantasy world and has long been an incident waiting to happen.

Nor am I passing judgment on Trayvon Martin. He may have been innocent enough, initially. He may have defended himself too vigorously after being accosted. He may have done nothing wrong whatsoever. We certainly know he was unarmed.

What I am saying, is that Florida is the latest--and perhaps worst--example of a justice system incapable of justice. One that is still mired in prejudice, because we, the people, are still mired in prejudice. We pretend that we have put the divisions of the past behind us. After all, we have a black president. But that reality has not buried racism nor healed the racial divide. In fact, at the risk of veering off topic, much of the opposition that President Obama faces in Congress is rooted in racism. There is honest difference of opinion on some policies, but he would not be facing the same obstruction and ad hominem attacks if he were white.

An honest evaluation of the Zimmerman trial must conclude that if Trayvon Martin had been white, Zimmerman would never have followed him in the first place, nor engaged him in a physical confrontation. Consequently, he would not have shot him and there would have been no trial.

The truth is, much of white America is threatened by black men--whether they be 17 our 52, slight or muscular, educated or not. The great paradox of this mentality is that it is delusional, yet very real.

Whether or not Zimmerman was innocent or guilty is almost beside the point. The inequity in the justice system can be demonstrated by looking at another, less publicized Florida trial that concluded two months ago, in May.

Marissa Alexander, a black woman, picked up a gun and fired two warning shots to ward off an abusive husband. She did not fire
at him. She had no intent to kill. He was not wounded. Marissa was clearly in physical, possibly life-threatening, danger. Not only was she arrested and brought to trial, she was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

George Zimmerman provoked his altercation. At least initially, he had no reason to fear, other than what arises from his own racial prejudice. There was no evidence that he was ever in life-threatening danger, even during the scuffle. Yet, after killing Trayvon Martin, he was released by the police and eventually acquitted by a jury.

One often hears whites accuse black people of always claiming racism when things go wrong. That is too easy and simplistic. If blacks in America were accustomed to an equal share of justice, they would never have celebrated the Simpson verdict. If blacks in America were treated as equal persons, there would not have been a Zimmerman trial. If blacks in America were valued and treated like whites, Marissa Alexander would be free today.

I suppose we can continue to delude ourselves. But until we move beyond the ignorance that fuels the racism of people like Zimmerman, we will probably have to suffer more such trials, and justice will remain merely an illusion.
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Supreme Court and Same-Sex Marriage

This past Wednesday, The Supreme Court of the United States weighed in on same sex marriage issuing two decisions, one dealing with a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the other with California’s Proposition 8. As is frequently the case, especially given the divisions within the Court, advocates on both sides of the debate are expressing some disappointment.

In the case of DOMA, the Court decided that the federal government must grant to married homosexual couples the same benefits its accords to married heterosexual couples. This is a victory for same sex couples and a defeat to those who oppose same sex marriage. However, while effectively gutting DOMA, the court did not strike down the entire law. Its decision does not force states to recognize same sex marriages performed in other states.

In the case of Prop 8, the court determined that the plaintiffs had no standing to bring the suit to the Supreme Court, leaving intact the lower court decision that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional. This is at least a temporary victory for gay rights in California, and a defeat for opponents of same sex marriage. At the same time, it does not guarantee a right to same sex marriage in all 50 states. Instead, it leaves in place the right of individual states to ban same sex marriage.

No one should be surprised at the response of the religious extremists—today’s prophets of doom—who anticipate a continuing wrath of God. Reiterating comments I made for
Effie Magazine, “These two decisions are neither harbingers of a godless nation, nor reflections of a religious demise already in progress.”

The fact that people on both sides are displeased, should not suggest that the court was wise or balanced in rendering its judgments. Something more serious is in play. The Supreme Court displayed a disquieting lack of courage in its decisions. Not unlike Congress, the Court is incapable of leading. Worse, still, the Court seemed unwilling to live up to its most basic duty of guaranteeing equality and justice for all.

Whatever one’s positions on states’ rights, the U.S. Constitution stands as the foundation of equality, with the Supreme Court its guarantor. Individual states frequently enact laws that are determined to be unconstitutional; laws driven by principles based on differing faith or denominational values. However genuine these values, the United States is not a theocracy. The Constitution guarantees both freedom
of and freedom from religion.

In previous generations a commonly held belief was that blacks were either not human, as in the case of slaves, or at least not 100% human. Pains were taken to root these ideas in religious values and, ultimately, distorted interpretations of the Bible.

Today there are those who make the same claims about homosexuals. Every time some religious fanatic claims that homosexuality is unnatural or contrary to God’s plan, they are disguising the same kind of prejudices that denied all races equality under the law. Again today, individual states codify those prejudices in discriminatory laws. The fact that they root their claims in religious morality, merely discredits both faith and the law.

I am reminded that it was not until 1967 that a truer and more honorable Supreme Court invalidated all laws outlawing inter-racial marriage. Such laws are unconstitutional. I hope we do not have to wait until 2067 for a more courageous and faithful Supreme Court to invalidate laws opposing same sex marriage.

Our independence was declared on this simple, yet profound, principle: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…”
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Time's Up! Law, Morality and Religion

It seems as though every aspect of life has been partitioned into an “us” v. “them” mentality. The most obvious example is black v. white--most obvious because it is so visually demonstrative. It has become the absolute metaphor for good versus evil, and right versus wrong. This is fine as far as it goes, but most of us do not live in an absolute world. Our lives are tinted by shades of gray.

The problem intensifies when we start applying that analogy to the real world, assigning goodness and evil to other people simply because they are different from us. This is particularly odious in the areas of morality and religion. And, no. They are not the same.

Moral values transcend religion in the same way that God transcends religion. To some that may seem incongruous, but the simple truth is that both God and morality existed prior to any concept of religion. Wrapping morality into one’s religious ideas, at least trying to make them synonymous, is an exercise in futility. It is certainly futile when one is in search of truth. At the same time, it is quite successful in creating a simplistic view for the simple-minded. But that has its own drastic consequences.

Several generations of white people believed that blacks were inferior. Some ignorant people still do. Who knows the actual root of such prejudice? Perhaps it was rooted in the economic and structural development of the Western world. But did such advances make the West more civilized? I suppose it depends on how one defines civilization. One thing is clear: The resulting prejudice defiled religion as believers sought to justify their bigotry in their faith.

A similar kind of discrimination occurred with women. In fact, choose your group and there is a prejudice to match. Many people of faith have continually twisted their thinking into knots to justify bigotry that has no rational foundation. And they have managed to complicate the matter even further.

Recently, people of religion have been making louder and louder claims to be the guardians of morality. Almost without exception, these claims to moral superiority are rooted in their religious values--values that are neither absolute nor universal.

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments for and against same-sex marriage. There is nothing inherently immoral about same-sex marriage, nor about homosexuality itself. The morality exists only by way of social construct. And those constructs, like all moral values, differ from one society to the next and are always in a state of flux or evolution between generations.

To claim that religion determines morality is like saying religion determines God. Wait a minute. That is exactly what many believers do! They can only accept and believe in a God who conforms to beliefs they already hold. They are not about to be challenged by God. By extension, they can only accept people who believe and act the same way they do.

How else to explain the absurd refusal of some fundamentalist Jews to recognize a non-Orthodox marriage? How else to explain the absurd claim by Christian fundamentalists that non-Baptized people are going to hell? How else to explain the absurdity of Muslim fundamentalists who say that a person who converts from Islam should be put to death? How else to explain the religious belief that same sex couples cannot marry—a religious belief with a very uncertain ground in truth and no claim on the mind or heart?

Enter the law. One of the beauties of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are that they are not based in any religious tradition. The Declaration transcends faith, at least beyond the general acknowledgment that certain unalienable rights are bestowed by God. The Constitution transcends the contextual limitation of social morality, at least insofar as those same unalienable rights are inherent in being human.

The result of the American experiment in democracy is that law is the all important and ultimate measure of our society. Neither morality nor religion can make that same claim. A certain credit must be given to those who vociferously claim that God is being pushed out of public life, schools, etc. They have managed to distract many people from the truth. Many people, but not the courts. So a certain gratitude also must be expressed to those judges that have consistently held that God does not belong in public life and schools. The United States is not run on Christian or any other religious principles.

In this country the law is the foundation of our society. It should not be capricious, nor should it be dictated to by religious whim. Our Declaration of Independence states that all are created equal and endowed with rights. The rights mentioned are not meant to be all-inclusive. What is all-inclusive is the all people have these rights.

I disagree with the religious position of the anti-gay movement. It is a skewed and false reading of the Bible. But it does not matter. The United States is not a country based on the Bible, and that is a good thing. It is a country based on the law.

All people have a right to marry, black and white, gay and straight. I would like to believe that anti-gay is the last great prejudice to be overcome by our society. History suggests that as soon as we succeed, something else will spring up in its place. There will always be those people who seek to cast a black
v. white, a good v. wrong pall over the world of gray that is human life.

For now, times up! In the United States of America, law, justice and equality trump religion. Thank God! And thank the Founding Fathers!
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