In 1801, the census was invented to measure the population crisis in Britain. There were too many mouths to feed. People were growing insular, less willing to share with one another or view the challenges of poverty and hunger as collective responsibility. This disconnectedness made it particularly easy to objectify immigrants and the homeless.
The March 27, 2011 census will show that not much has changed. We have recently heard of Britain's escalation of the deportation of Ugandan sexual minorities, denying them asylum and sending them home to almost certain death. Most concerning is the justification used by the British authorities. They say that they have no way to prove that these refugees are really gay or lesbian, so who is to say that they will be harassed or killed when they go home?
I can think of no more chilling way to objectify another human being than to say, "I don't believe you are who you say you are, so I will decide who you are."
If we step back 2000 years to the mob that called for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, we hear similar words from those who justified his death. "We don't believe you really are the Son of God." Some of Jesus' own followers shrank away from him in fear, denied him and hid out while he was killed. They disconnected and, in many ways, the religion of Christianity has been burdened by their choice for centuries. If you can deny Christ, you can deny anyone.
Ironically, Jesus was the King of Connection. From The Message, in Ephesians 2:14-15, we read:
Jesus has made things up between us so that we're now together on this, both non-Jewish outsiders and Jewish insiders. He tore down the wall we used to keep each other at a distance. He repealed the law code that had become so clogged with fine print and footnotes that it hindered more than it helped. Then he started over. Instead of continuing with two groups of people separated by centuries of animosity and suspicion, he created a new kind of human being, a fresh start for everyone.
I believe that fundamentalism makes a mockery of Jesus Christ in that it disconnects us from one another, objectifies and denies the God-given worth and dignity of every human being. Fundamentalists show up and their churches grow most rapidly at the intersections of deep social disconnection -- and at the root of some of the most intractable social problems in the world: violence, war, racism, ecological devastation, subjugation of women, homophobia and economic inequality.
Sadly, with increasing frequency, governments that might limit the intrusion of these fundamentalists are:
Accepting the rationalizations and subterfuges of repressive governments, favoring private "dialogue" and "cooperation" over more hard-nosed approaches. In principle there is nothing wrong with dialogue, but it should not be a substitute for public pressure when the government in question lacks the political will to respect rights(Human Rights Watch, 2011)
The United States has it own challenges in this area as well. Why are fundamentalists succeeding?
These churches tend to be those which are most socially and morally conservative because they generate a distinctive subculture focused on the family, Christian educational establishments and "Christian" television, movies, games and books. They purport to defend "traditional family values" and insist on highly differentiated sex and gender roles for men and women.
They are very adept at aggressive attacks on liberal forms of Christianity, particularly those with more fluidity in terms of sexual regulation, i.e. those churches that ordain women and openly affirm and include lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex believers.
Wherever this form of Christianity thrives, violence will expand. In its most extreme form, fundamentalism in all forms is culpable in the elimination of its problems and enemies through ethnic cleansing -- in the Balkans, the Holocaust, and the genocide of Rwanda.
What can we do?
First, I think we have to start with private and then public confession of the injustice that we can see in our own communities and what we can learn about from credible witnesses like the Human Rights Watch and Soulforce. We have to object to objectification of human beings.
Second, we have to be willing to constructively engage with people who are different than us. If we don't know them, we can ignore them.
Third, we have to face our complicity in the status quo and change.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "To ignore evil is to become an accomplice to it."
If you have not yet voiced your support of the decriminalization of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people around the world and your support of equality of women and their right to education and health care, now is the time to contact your elected officials in Washington and the United States Ambassador to the United Nations. Add your testimony to life and dignity for all human beings. Send an e-mail or make a call.
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