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Laurence Watts Headshot

Why Aren't Churches Trying to Ban Jewish Marriage?

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Let me be clear from the start: in using the above title, I am not being anti-Semitic. Rather, I am trying to make a point by sounding absurd. Ban Jewish marriage? Why on Earth would anyone want to do that? Well, by the same reasoning, why ban or prevent two men or two women from getting married?

I use the above title to highlight a double standard. Conservative Christians here in the U.S. and in my native Britain are spending a fortune fighting what some of them perceive to be an "infringement" on their "religious freedom," specifically what they see as the "redefinition of traditional marriage." Well, what about the redefinition of God? Shouldn't that be more important to them?

The effect on a heterosexual marriage of two men or two women marrying is entirely analogous to the effect that a Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh, or Hindu has on a Christian when they worship in their chosen way (i.e., none). Nevertheless, homosexuality, which is neutral on the subject of Christianity, is being targeted with a rarely seen vengeance, while other religions and religious practices are not. Why is this the case when competing religions denounce Christianity? Put another way, would church coffers not be better spent converting non-Christian believers than in making the lives of gay men and women as miserable as possible?

Apparently the answer is no. Let me give you an example. Although Pope Benedict XVI has spoken out against same-sex marriage around the world, he enjoys a cosy relationship with leaders of other religions. In October 2011, on the 25th anniversary of a similar get-together organised by Pope John Paul, Pope Benedict held a conference for religious leaders in Assisi so that they could share a "journey of reflection, dialogue and prayer for peace and justice in the world." More than 50 Islamic representatives attended, as well as rabbis, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, and representatives of Confucianism and Taoism.

Now, I'm no expert, but I'm fairly certain that while the Bible is ambiguous at best on the subjects of homosexuality and same-sex marriage, it has some fairly incontrovertible passages about other religions. Where should I start? How about the Ten Commandments? The very first one: "Thou shalt have no other gods." If that doesn't satisfy you, non-Christian religions would surely still trip over the proceeding three: "Though shalt have no graven images or likenesses"; "Do not take the Lord's name in vain"; and "Remember the Sabbath day."

Note: despite specifically mentioning honouring thy mother and father, not killing, not committing adultery, not stealing, not lying, and not coveting other people's goods, there is diddly-squat in the Ten Commandments about loving someone of the same gender.

Now, obviously, having tolerance for and a dialogue with other religions is not the same as worshipping another god yourself, but in the same vein, allowing two men or women to get married is not the same as "engaging in homosexuality" yourself. It's the "I don't believe what you're doing is right, but it doesn't affect me, so you're free to do what you want" rule. This is the rule churches apply to leaders and members of other faiths in America, and it's about time they applied that same tolerance to gay men and women.

My hunch as to why interreligious dialogues exist is that these days, religions and religious leaders are more about politics than they are about theology. When I witness interreligious alliances opposing issues like same-sex marriage, it reminds me why I'm an atheist. If any of the people involved truly believed what they were saying, they would have nothing to do with one another. In my view they are failed rock stars and politicians trying to impose their own worldview on others and need to be called out as such.

Why the anti-gay focus, then? Unless you argue homosexuality is somehow a bigger sin than worshipping another god -- that there really is a "special place in Hell" for homosexuals -- the blinkered action of Christian organizations on both sides of the Atlantic makes no sense.

But of course it does make sense. In truth, if there existed evidence that proved any religion to be "the right one," we would all be believers and subscribe to whatever theology had been proved. It doesn't, which is why religions are based on "faith," and why so many of them exist. Any attack by one religion on another harms its own cause, because criticisms of tenets, practices, and fact invariably lead people to question the same aspects of the accusing faith. A religion arguing against religious freedom condemns itself. It's far more palatable to pick on a section of society, like gay men and women, or, historically, African Americans and women, than it is to pick on another religion. In both of those two latter examples, churches proved to be on the wrong side of history. Unless they stop opposing same-sex marriage in America and elsewhere, they will be again.