The Washington Post

Bigotry that comes from the pulpit is still bigotry


When one of my kids was 12, he was invited to join an esteemed local choir, one of the crown jewels of Albany’s Episcopal Cathedral of All Saints. Although he was an atheist, he didn’t object to singing Christian music — years in children’s choruses and “holiday” concerts had accustomed him to that.

But as I, high on maternal pride, was calculatin­g how I’d get him to two rehearsals a week, he asked me whether the church condoned samesex marriage. I said I didn’t know. He said, well, if they didn’t, he wouldn’t join.

I checked: They most emphatical­ly did not. When I told the choirmaste­r why my son was declining the invitation, he responded that progressiv­e forces inside the church were working toward change. I wished him well. Even if their efforts succeeded, the change would no doubt arrive after my son’s tenure as an angelvoice­d advertisem­ent for a discrimina­tory institutio­n.

Are you impressed by the moral clarity I expressed . . . after having been schooled by a seventh-grader?

I thought of this moment when I read that last month, Pensacola Christian College in Florida had disinvited the King’s Singers — an a cappella group visiting campus — two hours before their scheduled performanc­e. The college canceled, it later said, “upon learning that one of the artists openly maintained a lifestyle that contradict­s Scripture.” In other words, because one of its members was gay.

In fact, two are. The King’s Singers knew about the college’s position on homosexual­ity when they agreed to play there, but as they explained in an Instagram post: “Our belief is that music can build a common language that allows people with different views and perspectiv­es to come together.”

It’s an extremely gracious statement. Yet I have to ask them, as I belatedly asked myself years ago: Why so tolerant of bigotry?

Are we just so accustomed to the ANTI-LGBTQ stances of conservati­ve religious institutio­ns that they don’t even register? Are we so used to church-sponsored homophobia that we ignore the vast, forbidding landscape of prejudice while celebratin­g the tiniest signs of change?

It made the news, for example, when Pope Francis told the Associated Press recently that homosexual­ity should not be criminaliz­ed, as it is in 67 countries, and urged bishops around the world to recognize everyone’s dignity. Amen.

He noted, however, that homosexual­ity is still a sin. The Catholic Church will keep calling it a sin, and urging sinners to repent, and it will keep refusing to recognize same-sex marriage or to condone adoption by same-sex parents, but in a way that also totally recognizes their dignity!

(Not for nothing: Where does the pope think those countries first got the idea that homosexual­ity should be a crime?)

In January, the Church of England apologized for its treatment of LGBTQ people while clarifying that such people would not be allowed to marry in the church. “For the times we have rejected or excluded you, and those you love, we are deeply sorry,” the pastoral letter reads. And for the times we will continue to reject or exclude you, we are so deeply sorry for those, too!

These official church statements represent genteel, soft-spoken prejudice in God’s name. For a more brutal version, take a look (if you can stomach it) at Hemant Mehta’s recent roundup of “Christian hate preachers,” each opining on video that gay people should be executed.

It’s horrifying.

Of course, many progressiv­e churches — and synagogues and mosques — welcome their LGBTQ siblings as full and equal members. And many that don’t yet will get there eventually.

The Episcopal Church, for example, now officially sanctions same-sex marriage. And the Albany diocese — well, it’s working on it. A statement on the Episcopal Church website notes: “As with all spiritual journeys, everyone walks at their own pace. Some Episcopal congregati­ons are actively involved in LGBTQ ministry and their arms are open wide; others are more reserved, but their doors are still open to all; some are still wrestling with their beliefs and feelings.” Fair enough, right?

Now, let’s pretend that instead of talking about LGBTQ people, the church was talking about congregati­ons “wrestling with their beliefs and feelings” about Black people. Would our spirit of patient forbearanc­e extend to that?

Not too long ago, many American Christian institutio­ns defended slavery, pointing to Bible verses such as Ephesians 6:5: “Slaves, obey your masters.” They then battled integratio­n and interracia­l marriage, arguing that God meant for the races to be separated. Bob Jones University, from which the founders of Pensacola Christian College graduated, prohibited interracia­l dating until 2000.

Homophobic policies are no different — except in that, apparently, people are still more accepting of them.

One day, maybe, the Catholic Church and the Church of England will treat its LGBTQ congregant­s as equals. Maybe even Pensacola Christian College will evolve. In the meantime, let’s not be fooled by the “religious belief ” talk: It’s just oldfashion­ed bigotry.


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