As horrific as the shooting at The Pulse in Orlando was, and it was absolutely horrific, some of the comments being made by religious leaders in its aftermath are even more frightening. Yes, the sentiments expressed in the name of religion by fundamentalist ministers may have been rare, but the fact that they exist at all should give us pause.
Rachel Maddow, on her show Tuesday evening (14 June 2016), highlighted two of the most extreme cases imaginable. The first were comments from Pastor Roger Jimenez of Verity Baptist Church in Sacramento, California. Just hours after the mass carnage in Orlando, Jimenez preached a sermon entitled "The Christian Response to the Orlando Murders." During the sermon he asked: "Are you sad that 50 pedophiles were killed today?" He went on to answer his own question by saying, "Um no, I think that's great! I think that helps society. I think Orlando, Florida is a little safer tonight."
Not content to stop there, Jimenez went even further: "The tragedy is that more of them didn't die. I'm kind of upset that he didn't finish the job."
This hateful message was echoed by the words of Pastor Steven Anderson from Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, Arizona. Anderson claimed that there was both good news and bad news arising from the Orlando massacre. "The good news is that there's 50 less pedophiles in this world because these homosexuals are a bunch of disgusting perverts and pedophiles. That's who was the victim here. The Bible says that homosexuals should be put to death in Leviticus 20:13.... The bad news is that a lot of the homos in the bar are still alive."
Let's ignore the completely baseless assertion that both Jimenez and Anderson made that gays and lesbians are more likely to be pedophiles than are straight individuals. And let's ignore their factually incorrect claim that all of those who died were either gay or lesbian.
Instead, let's focus just for a minute on their belief that we should celebrate the violent deaths of gay and lesbian human beings because their reading of the Bible says it should be so. Leviticus is a fascinating portion of the Bible and it provides penalties for at least 76 separate acts, many of which "require" the death penalty.
Do Jimenez and Anderson really advocate that if a man has sex with his neighbor's wife, both should be put to death (20:10)? Or that capital punishment is the appropriate punishment for cursing either of ones parents (20:9)? Or that a blasphemer should be stoned to death (24:16)?
Do they believe it imperative that people obey the orders set forth in Leviticus making it improper to cross-breed animals, to plant more than one type of crop in a field and to wear clothing woven from more than one material (19:19)?
Of course they don't believe all of these things. Like so many fundamentalist preachers, they seem comfortable picking and choosing which parts of the Bible they opt to read literally, which parts they read with a more nuanced eye and which parts they simply ignore.
Behavior of this type, behavior perhaps best described as hypocrisy, is both self-serving and gives religion a bad name. Yet, there is very good reason to believe that the vast majority of religious leaders, leaders from the vast array of the faiths present in the world, don't practice hypocrisy of this sort.
The more than 14,000 religious leaders in the United States who are members of The Clergy Letter Project recognize this point and turn to religious texts for reasons other than legal or scientific guidance. These religious leaders recognize the value of all religions and, more importantly, recognize the value inherent in all human beings.
These religious leaders are unwilling to pick sentences and phrases from their sacred texts to condemn others. Rather they believe that life is precious and should be celebrated, that diversity can enrich us rather than divide us.
The Clergy Letter Project, as it has done previously when it condemned Islamophobia, is taking a stand against homophobia. Homophobia is wrong, it is divisive and it is both demeaning and hateful. It is particularly unsettling when the language of religion is used to promote such odious and harmful behavior.
Please stand with the more than 14,000 clergy of The Clergy Letter Project and celebrate our shared humanity.
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