Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake

[politics|religion] The soft bigotry of church doctrine

One meme I've seen lately in political discussions both in the wider Internets and even here on my blog and in related discussion threads on my Facebook page is the notion that some conservatives opposed to gay marriage and equal rights have that they're not really bigots at all. They're just following church doctrine. They're nice people, they don't really have anything against their gay and lesbian friends. They're just being obedient to God's words. What Slacktivist Fred Clark calls "reluctant bigotry".

A corollary to these complaints is the bigot feeling unfairly treated for being called out on their bigotry. As R. Eric VanNewkirk says: if you don't want to be called a bigot, stop acting like one. I'm not about to hold back just because you say it's your religion. And nobody ought to.

The church doctrine defense is ridiculous on the face of it. Church doctrine is not immutable. It has in the past been profoundly immoral and bigoted. And it has changed. Whatever your opinion of God (and most readers here are probably all too familiar with my opinions on the topic), His word is demonstrably Protean, changing with the needs of each generation and culture. Otherwise, all His followers would look like Orthodox Jews and live like the Amish ETA: look and live like Samaritans. (Thanks to [info]fjm for the correction) If you eat shrimp or wear mixed fabrics or cut your hair or drive a motorized vehicle, you've already abandoned the literal and immutable Holy Writ in favor of the realities of modern life.

To put it somewhat more logically, if the precepts of the Bible were as immutable and unchanging as many modern American Christians claim to believe, there would only be one denomination of the Christian church, instead of tens of thousands.

We don't have to look very hard into American history to see where church doctrine has failed miserably. The most blatant and grotesque example is the biblical justifications for slavery. They are too numerous to bother to link to here, but were woven into the American national conversation from long before the founding of the Republic right through the Civil War. Doctrinal disputes over slavery are why the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, the Southern Baptist Convention, exists at all.

Were defenses of slavery through church doctrine morally acceptable, even at the time? Do they appear morally acceptable even to the most conservative of religious Americans today?

If you think so, then we don't have much to talk about now, because there's something deeply wrong with you.

If you think not, then why can anyone use church doctrine today as a defense for discrimination against gay and lesbian Americans? It's nothing more or less than the same bigotry that wrapped slavery in the Bible for centuries and more. Surely the Bible has verses condemning homosexuality. It also has verses condemning the eating of shrimp, and verses condoning many forms of slavery. We've proven time and again that the meaning of the Bible is reinterpreted to suit the tenor of the times. Someday fairly soon, we will look back on the current religious conservative position on homosexuality as every bit as wrong and immoral as the historical religious conservative position on slavery. Or interracial marriage. Or any number of other things church doctrine has been mistaken about over the years.

In other words, sometimes God is wrong. His word is reinterpreted in every generation, in every culture. Pretending now that church doctrine excuses the believer from doing the right thing is both disingenuous and dismissive of the history of belief.

To claim you oppose equal rights for gays and lesbians because it's God's will is a cop-out for your own moral decision making. There's certainly no compelling (or even trivial) social interest in this discrimination, and plentiful compelling social interest in righting these historic wrongs. Insofar as I can tell by observing who opposes full civil rights for my gay and lesbian friends with their words and their money, such opposition is rooted almost entirely in a religious conservative mindset. Come on, people, at least have the courage to own your bigotry instead of hiding behind the Bible.

And in truth, would you rather be on the right side of church doctrine, or on the right side of history? Especially when church doctrine will inevitably change with the times? Just as it has over and over again throughout history.

Tags: gay, politics, race, religion

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