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Articles of Faith:
Religious right's moral failures
a result of repressive religion
someone who was raised and ordained as a Southern Baptist I was saddened,
but not shocked, at news of the recent arrest of Rev. Lonnie Latham, a minister
from Tulsa, Okla., and executive committee member of the virulently anti-gay
Southern Baptist Convention. Rev. Latham was reportedly arrested for propositioning
a male undercover police officer in front of a motel known as a high-traffic
area for gay hustlers. Unfortunately, Rev. Latham's story is one repeated
by those in the darkest corners of the closet who are trapped by the damaging
teachings of misguided religious leaders.
The fall of this religious-right figure is part of an inevitable cycle
of scandal, as the self-appointed guardians of "traditional values," their
moral ships sinking from under them, find themselves in the lifeboat with
the rest of us sinners. The moral hypocrisy of many right-wing religious
leaders comes from their fundamental misunderstanding of religion as the
practice of a complicated and esoteric set of rules designed to restrict
human freedom, rather than a way of living which frees individuals to
lives of greater compassion and personal growth.
The incidences of national conservative religious leaders caught in
scandal are many, and run the gamut from the tragic hypocrisy of the closet
to personal ethical lapses to outright crimes. Here are a few recent high-profile
Ralph Reed - Reed, the former executive director of
the Christian Coalition, is embroiled in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal
and stands accused of using funds Christian conservatives had donated
to fight the spread of gambling, to actually promote gambling on Native-American
Monsignor Eugene Clark - Clark used his pulpit at St.
Patrick's Cathedral in New York City and program on the Eternal Word Television
Network to blame gay priests for the Catholic sex abuse scandal and once
denounced the United States as "the most immoral country in the Western
Hemisphere." He resigned in August 2005 after an affair with his married
William Bennett - Bennett is the standard-bearer of
the right-wing "traditional values" crusade and chief propagator of one
of the most damaging lies being spread about the gay community: the "statistic"
invented by a discredited psychologist that the average age of death of
gay men is 43. In 2003, it was revealed that Bennett had a gambling addiction
which he kept hidden from his family, despite losing a reported $8 million.
John Paulk - Paulk is the former chair of Exodus International
who appeared on the cover of Newsweek in 1998 as an "ex-gay," and founder
of Focus on the Family's ex-gay program Love Won Out. He was discovered
and photographed in September 2000 buying drinks for patrons in a gay
bar in Washington, D.C. Although Paulk left Focus on the Family in 2003
to pursue "other ministry opportunities," Love Won Out continues to hold
events across the country.
It is not my intention to cast stones of condemnation at these individuals.
We all have times when we need grace and forgiveness for our ethical failings
or inconsistencies, whether from religious communities or from the community
at large. There is, however, a profound need to understand that, when
religion is used to bring repression and darkness rather than liberation
and light, it is toxic to both leaders and followers. It is inevitable
that those who pile so much guilt on the rest of the world will sooner
or later be crushed by it themselves.
The self-loathing that drives some public figures who have made careers
of espousing "moral values" into lives of deception as they sneak into
dive bars, cheap motels or gambling casinos for a night's escape from
a life of repression is the same fear and shame that causes them to lash
out at lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. The life-altering
message that I and so many other LGBT people of faith have found is that
freedom comes not from lies and denial, but by recognizing our mutual
connection to all our neighbors with honesty and humility in the face
of the Creator.
Based in Washington,
D.C., Rev. Steven Baines is an elder in the Christian
Church (Disciples of Christ) and a member of the National
Gay and Lesbian Task Force National Religious Leadership Roundtable.
He serves as chaplain of Gay, Lesbian and Affirming Disciples.
First convened in 1998, the National Religious
Leadership Roundtable of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is an
interfaith collaboration of more than forty denominations and faith-related
organizations. The Roundtable seeks to reframe the public religious dialogue
on issues involving the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT)
community by amplifying the voices of LGBT-affirming people of faith,
countering religious voices of bigotry and intolerance, and working to
advance full equality for all.
Copyright © by the author
All Rights Reserved
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