In 1977, I appeared on a panel about religion and media at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, joining a priest, a rabbi, a fundamentalist Baptist minister and an atheist to discuss religion in a modern-day, media-driven environment.
At one point, a student asked the priest: “Father, why are there so many religions?”
The priest replied: “Many religions are based on which portions of the Bible that particular religion chooses to accept and believe.”
So I asked: “Father, if you can accept the fact that some believers in God can pick and choose sections of the Bible as truth how can you condemn an atheist who chooses to accept none of the Bible?”
He didn’t have an answer.
I thought of that panel discussion this week while covering Circuit Court for The Floyd Press. One of the cases on the civil docket concerned a lawsuit between Indian Valley Presbyterian Church and the regional Presbytery over the church’s desire to leave the fold because it disagrees with the Presbytery’s recognition of gays and lesbians.
Indian Valley is not alone. Other Presbyterian churches want to go out on their own over the issue. They don’t want homosexuals in their flock.
From where we sit – as flaming heterosexuals – the whole uproar seems blatantly anti-Christian.
At the center of the argument is the belief of fundamentalists that homosexuality is a sin. That point of view comes from Leviticus 18:22 “Thal shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.”
The Bible is that kind of document, a wide-ranging collection of articles and stories that are often quoted and misquoted to support a particular point of view. It is called the “word of God” but one could argue that it is – in fact – the words of mortal men who wrote what they thought or were told was the word of God.
On that panel in Illinois 35 years ago, I argued that the authors of the Bible were – in fact – the journalists of their day, reporting what they saw, heard and were told. God did not write the Bible. Men did. They were mortal men, men with biases, perhaps less-than-perfect memories and particular points of view.
As a Christian, I believe in God. I do not, however, necessarily believe in organized religion because I feel various religions have subverted a belief in a divine power to fit various pre-defined agendas.
And I do not believe – for one second – that an understanding and forgiving God would condemn a man or woman for their sexual orientation any more than he (or she) would condemn us for the color of our skin or variations in our beliefs.
Refusing to welcome someone into a hall of worship because they love another of their sex is neither Christian nor holy. From our point of view, it is more of a sin or abomination than anything cited in the book of Leviticus.