05/22/2012 04:02 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

'They Are to Be Put to Death'

Mississippi state representative Andy Gipson recently published some comments that included several passages quoted from the Bible about homosexuals. The controversy arises from these words he wrote: "According to Leviticus 20:13, 'If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads" (emphasis mine). After reading his comments I went to his Facebook page to gather more information about the controversy. I was upset to discover that his follow-up comments were making light of the severity of his words. His justification looked like this:

Apparently the Huffington Post (a California-based liberal blog) ran an article falsely stating or implying that my facebook post citing Leviticus 20:13 was to "suggest" that gay people should be put to death. I reject and resent that accusation; I have NEVER condoned or requested the killing of ANY PERSON. I believe all are created in the image of God, and one of the 10 Commandments is "Thou shalt not murder." What I did intend and did say is that the Bible clearly defines homosexual conduct as morally wrong -- a sin. I cited this and another scripture for the purpose of pointing out that the conduct is sin, in defense of my stance against same-sex marriage. What I find amazing is that the same people asserting the virtue of "tolerance" will tolerate all views except the view of Scripture...

There are so many aspects of this story to address, but I want to talk about his language and the broader question of so-called "hate speech." I'm willing to accept that in his ignorance, he was indeed simply making the point that the Bible calls homosexuality wrong. The problem I see is this attitude that if something is quoted from the Bible, then the one quoting it is exonerated from responsibility for the ideas espoused in the quotation. I've long argued this point in conjunction with my family's hateful messages. Their response always looks the same. With their hands raised and a look of mock surprise and outrage, they insist: Don't look at me, I'm just telling you what the big guy has to say about it. It's not me talking. It's God.

The problem is that we continue on in a world where there is no evidence to support their assertions about God; there are only the words and deeds of men that we are left to deal with. When my family declares that "God Hates Fags," they hide behind an unprovable assertion that humans act on to do harm to their fellow humans. When I consider the words on my father's flagship placard, my thoughts go like this:

"God": In the absence of any sensory or causal evidence of the existence of this idea, we are left with the words and deeds of the one carrying the sign. Therefore, the first word on the sign should properly read "I."

"Hates": By and large society does not address the thoughts or emotions of a person but their words and deeds. What are the actions of the sign bearer when they think or feel hatred toward another? They do harm and commit evil acts.

"Fags": This is one of many euphemisms our society has coined throughout our history to label and belittle minority groups that we use as scapegoats. The sign could just as easily read "women," "Jews," "illegal immigrants" or "blacks." The important point is that we develop complex justifications for demonizing these various groups. The end result is a system of beliefs that convince us that these groups are less human than we are. The further we can remove them from equality in our minds, the easier it becomes to justify harming them.

So when I see that sign, I see: "I Do Harm to Those I Judge As Less Human Than I."

As demonstrated by the words of the good Rep. Gipson, one of the most effective ways to marginalize a group is to invoke the words of a god. It's not just that they aren't your words; it's that they originate from an unassailable source. And in the case of Christianity, the same "divine" source says so many contradictory things about so many different subjects that you can fill the air with all sorts of wonderful-sounding ideas that mask the simple truth that you've justified harming another human by uttering certain words. Invoking a divine Nuremburg defense does not, and cannot, free a person from responsibility for the words they use and the harm it does.

Of course, it's never as easy or cut-and-dried as we like to think. I've learned over the years that the world isn't black-and-white but an uncomfortably gray. As I read Rep. Gipson's justifications, I was also looking at the pictures of his wife and children. I eventually made my way to his wife Leslie's blog. Her gentle words of love and kindness brought balance back to my outraged sensibilities. I was reminded again that even the most heinous words can be uttered by basically decent humans. Rep. Gipson is likely a good man. In this instance he just said some really thoughtless, hurtful things. I realize again that so often it isn't the person so much as the ideas that we need to reject in our society. We need to be cautious in our response to these situations. To wish harm on this man is to repeat the mistake he made. Wish instead for these ideas to be destroyed. Take action to challenge flawed, harmful notions, but always remember to treat each human as an equal.