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.
I believe I have heard that a bill in the Texas legislature is attempting to overturn the PISD and AISD rulings on this by denying such benefits to all state employees, which ISD employees are. I think it’s part of the massive budget bill the legislature must pass, so it will have to be taken up there before they can adjourn. 4/30/13, 07:56 CDT
You know, I kind of disagree with you here partially. I don’t want to, don’t get me wrong! 🙂 I want to think it’s not their place to run candidates but honestly, I think it is. I think that’s exactly the point of a school board. The sad thing is that they may be able to take advantage of the fact that so many people don’t pay attention to local politics and make decisions the majority don’t agree with.
I believe that the point of government, any part of it, is to work together to find ways to make society work, not to impose our morals on others. But not everyone agrees with that. Many people do think the basis of law should be morality and they vote and run their politics that way. Sometimes it works towards equality and sometimes it works against it. But that’s what we have to deal with when we decide we’re going to allow everyone to have a voice.
Suzanne, Disagreement is welcome here. And I agree that they have the legal right to run, I just believe their approach is undemocratic because it puts the rights of minorities up to a popular vote. Our question should be “what does every citizen deserve?” Thanks for expressing your opinion.
FROM THE BEGINNING, our democracy has been based on separation of church and state. Laws should not be made to enforce your religious beliefs on others! Protection of minorities is at the basis of our democracy. EQUAL PROTECTION UNDER THE LAW is essential. I view it as UNCONSTITUTIONAL to make laws barring people from equal rights. The court rulings should be based on that principle! I support you, Jim, and so enjoy your style of writing about such an important issue of our time.
Thank you Carole. Well said.