Sometimes, Jesus must just hold his head in his hands with embarrassment at being associated with people who claim to be his followers.
Jesus was always preaching compassion and acceptance for the most marginalized in his time, those pushed to the edges of society by the condemnation of secular and religious authorities. He saved his sharpest criticism for those who claimed to be religious, but seemed the most reluctant to reach out in love to society's outcast. From the religiously observant priest and Levite who passed by the man mugged and left for dead (and ultimately saved by The Good Samaritan), to the religious leaders who criticized him for dining with notorious sinners, Jesus rebuked those who claimed to do the loving will of God, but had little evidence to show for it.
There is a religious spectacle taking place in Congress right now that surely would make Jesus cringe. The debate surrounding the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which just passed in the U.S. Senate and is now headed for the House, has a number of religious leaders arguing against it. The proposed legislation would make it illegal to fire someone from her/his job simply for being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT). Oddly enough, 90% of Americans believe this protection is already in place for LGBT workers. But they would be wrong. That protection only exists for gay and lesbian citizens in 21 states, and only 17 of those states include protections for transgender people based on gender identity. So, in most U.S. states, there is no legal recourse when someone LGBT is fired - not for poor performance on the job, but simply because the boss discovered that the person is LGBT.
Although the membership of every major Christian denomination shows a majority of support for this legislation, opposition to this bill is coming in large part from many of the leaders of these same religious denominations, demanding ever-broader exemption from the provisions of this law. One amendment which would have added these exemptions to ENDA was defeated in the Senate, but will undoubtedly reappear in the House debate. They would create a hole in the protections big enough to drive a PopeMobile through. It would allow an exception for non-profits and for-profits alike from having to implement the legislated protections, providing they could show at least a thin connection to some religious entity which takes a dim view of LGBT people.
For instance, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is vigorously opposing ENDA, asserting that their right to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity is essential to Catholics' religious liberty. Now stop, and just take that in for a moment. A Church, dedicated to following the man known for his outreach and compassion for the marginalized, petitioning the government to be exempted from the fair treatment of marginalized and vulnerable LGBT people. It takes my breath away.
Can you imagine what Jesus might have said to St. Peter if the disciple had requested an exemption from Jesus' command to "love your enemies?!" What if disciples James and John had argued with Jesus about whether or not "love your neighbor as yourself" actually should apply to them in all cases? What would Jesus have said to the good, religious people of his time when they asked for an exemption to Jesus' command to "love one another as I have loved you," based of course upon their deeply-held, religious beliefs?
I don't know what he would have said. But the shortest verse in all of scripture probably describes what he would have done upon hearing their request: "Jesus wept."
The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, Washington, DC, and is the recently retired IX Bishop of New Hampshire.