A number of area religious zealots who, in my opinion, attempt to rationalize their bias with misuse of “the word of God,” have gone after me on Social Media over the past couple of weeks because I have said publicly that I do not believe the God I worship is opposed to alternative lifestyles like homosexuality and transgender identities.
Those who accept the preaching of some of fundamentalist ministers say I am “sacrilegious” and “Godless” or an “atheist.”
“You are a pervert who endorses depravity,” posted one.
“Your lies have no basis in religious teachings,” claims another. “You are reciting liberal mantra.”
Really? I grew up in the Presbyterian Church and have spent more than a half-century writing about religion and interviewing ministers, preachers, rabbis and holy men and women. I’ve sent time in Jerusalem, Bethlehem as well as other holy sites and discussed religion and beliefs with those of many faiths.
I base my judgments on the opinions of — and conversations with — a variety of religious theologians who hardly qualify as liberals or atheistic. They are Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Mormons and more.
“There is nothing in the Bible or in my own theology that would lead me to believe that God regards homosexuality as a sin,” says the Rev. Dr. William R. Stayton, a Baptist minister who holds a master of divinity from Andover Newton Theological School and a doctorate in psychology from Boston University.
Referencing Mathew 23:36-40, he adds “There is nothing in the mind of God that could be against a loving, sexual relationship, freely entered into, without coercion, among sincere adults whether or not the Bible condemns homosexuality.”
Evangelicals and right-wing ministers preach otherwise. They claim gays are sinners who will go to hell. Others embrace racists like Phil Robertson, a sexual predator and pedophile who is often quoted as the redneck spokesman for right-wing religious extremism.
The Baptist church is not normally considered “liberal” but Dr. Stayton is a Baptist minister who says conservatives who claim the Bible condemns homosexuality are misquoting the the Good Book.
“There is nothing in the Bible regarding homosexual orientation,” he says. “In fact, the Bible does not concern itself with sexual orientation.”
Dr. Stayton leads bible study programs on the subject and preaches that “the Bible does not address the issue of a person’s sexual orientation.”
He is not alone among ministers who often hold advanced college degrees in religion and divinity. Many have told me over the years that those who claim they are preaching the “word of God” to condemn alternative sexual orientation, bias and racism are substituting personal bias for religious reality.
Episcopal Bishop John S. Spong is the author of 11 books and more than 50 articles on religion. He is a phi beta kappa graduate of the University of North Carolina, with a masters in divinity.
Bishop Spong says preaching against homosexuality comes from those who reject “people or things outside their understanding. The God of creation speaks and declares ‘I have looked out at everything I have made and behold it is very good.'”
He also says “Christ says we are loved, valued, redeemed, and counted as precious no matter how we might be valued by a prejudiced world.”
Not so, claim most the fundamentalists, zealots and evangelicals have encountered over the years. They preach long and loud that God despises gays while promoting racists and bigots as men and women of God.
The writings of Paul in the Bible are often used to rationalize condemnation of homosexuality and other intolerance, but Bishop Spong asks: “Was Paul’s opinion about homosexuality accurate, or was it limited by the lack of scientific knowledge of his day and infected by prejudice born of ignorance?”
Paul, he adds, was anti-Semitic and held what are considered outdated attitudes about the treatment of women along with intolerant, racist and bigoted claims now under re-examination by the church and many Biblical scholars. Paul, he said, was not alone among authors of books of the Bible who misused God to rationalize hatred towards those with differing views, the role of women in our society and the ability of one to think on his or her own.
“Religious freedom” is, sadly used as a rationale to promote racism and a return to segregation-oriented atrocities in America. Writes Emma Green in The Atlantic:
Racial discrimination is being paraded as “religious freedom.” A similar explanation was argued in the recent controversy over an Arizona photographer’s refusal to take pictures at a gay wedding, and in this poll, a portion of respondents said it’s okay to refuse services to gays and lesbians. Sixteen percent agreed that this is acceptable, including 19 percent of men, 21 percent of Republicans, and 26 percent of white evangelicals.
Bishop R. Steward Wood, Jr., graduated from Dartmouth and holds both a masters and doctorate from Virginia Theological Seminary.
Does he think God really regards homosexuality as a sin?
“No,” responds Bishop Wood. “Our sexual orientation is a given, something we discover about ourselves — some might say ‘a gift from God.’ ”
As for the Bible, he sees widespread “concern for homosexual acts” by extremists in the clergy but “I see no addressing in the Scriptures of the condition or orientation.”
Consider this preaching from Methodist Bishop Melvin Wheatly, Jr., an ordained elder of the United Methodist Church:
The preponderance of evidence now available identifies homosexuality to be as natural a sexual orientation for a significant percentage of persons as heterosexuality is the natural sexual orientation for the majority of persons. Homosexuality is an authentic condition of being with which some persons are endowed (a gift from God, if you please), not an optional sexual lifestyle which they have willfully, whimsically or sinfully chosen. Certainly one’s sexuality — heterosexual or homosexual — may be acted out in behaviors that are sinful: brutal, exploitative, selfish, superficial. But just as surely, one’s homosexual orientation as well as another’s heterosexual orientation may be acted out in ways that are beautiful: tender, considerate, mutual, responsible, loyal, profound.
I hear the same opinions from many Presbyterian ministers who have not joined with the self-declared “fundamentalists” who have left the Presbyterian Church (USA) denomination because it recognized homosexuality gay marriage.
I grew up in the Presbyterian Church. I no longer attend the church that my grandparents helped start — Slate Mountain Presbyterian — because the current leadership left the Presbyterian Church (USA), claiming it left them because it chose to accept homosexuality as a belief and lifestyle that God accepts.
The Presbyterian Church (USA) is the largest denomination of Presbyterians, even thought the conservatives, fundamentalists and evangelicals keep predicting its demise.
I remain a member of the Presbyterian Church (USA) that Amy and I attended before moving to Floyd. The recurring theme I heard from our minister there and increasing number of ministers in this nation is that being gay or transgender are normal human conditions that are neither sinful or rejected by God. There is a also a growing belief that those in the clergy who do are substituting personal bias for religious beliefs and misinterpret the world of God to support discredited beliefs.
(Edited to provide additional information and correct typographical errors.)