I have given the better part of my life to religion. For me, religion is humankind’s shared awe before the mystery of the universe. What any of us know is always a small island surrounded by a boundless ocean of mystery. Religion, to me, means never forgetting to be moved by awe before that uncharted mystery. At the same time, I also hold that believing we should impose our feeble understanding upon others is the original sin of religion.
I live within a little school district that understands why the public arena must be protected from sectarian religious bias in its policies. The Pflugerville Independent School District courageously decided recently to provide health benefits to domestic partners and same sex couples. Their reasoning was unassailable: justice, in a democracy, means giving others every right that we claim for ourselves.
Unsurprisingly, conservative churches in the area mobilized to support candidates who would overturn those benefits, and silence the view that every citizen deserves to be treated the same way. I want to be clear in saying these churches have every right to gather in community and teach a moral framework based on their beliefs. If, in their community they want to withhold leadership from women, or to withhold marriage from same sex couples, they should be free to do so; but only at the level of their private gatherings. When such teachings are brought into the public sphere they become an assault upon our democratic understanding of justice.
Such assaults are bad civics; but, as a minister, I must also say they are even worse expressions of Christianity. We cannot take something Jesus did not address and assert that it is a central teaching of the church. To do so replaces Jesus’ teaching of love with our own understanding of morality. To say Jesus condemned homosexuality is to lie about scripture as well as to bear false witness against our neighbor.
Jesus’ command that we not judge one another cannot be taken out of the Christian message. It is a central warning label against imposing our Christian religion upon others. Anti-gay religious activists often quote the first chapter of Romans to justify their assaults on same sex couples, but Paul’s argument is that all of us fall short and therefore make bad judges. His summary statement in verse 2:1 is not a condemnation of homosexuality, but of religious judgment. To impose Christain teaching upon others is not only bullying, it is heresy to the message of love.
As clergy, I cannot not publically endorse any particular candidate; but I can and must encourage everyone in the area to vote. If you appreciate a school board that believes in equal justice for all, then please support them against a sectarian religious campaign seeking to impose one religious understanding upon the rest of us. Democracy hangs in the balance at times like this. Freedom for anyone of us to live out the religion of our choice also means we must be free from anyone else’s.