The disciples saw a blind man and asked Jesus, why is this man blind? Was it his sin or the sins of his parents? Jesus replied that no one had sinned -- and healed the man of his blindness. It awed the crowd and infuriated the religious leaders because Jesus refused to blame the victim. (John 9)
Today, we like to think people of ancient times were ignorant to blame blindness on sin. Not so fast! The issue then and now is less ignorance and more political opportunism. Jesus was leading a movement for poor and excluded people. He told the truth: God cannot be equated with rich people or the religious hierarchy. Being rich was no more a sign of God's approval than being blind, female, sick, or poor was a sign of God's rejection. There was no sin here -- and that enraged the rich and powerful.
Leaders in Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC) have experienced the devastating impact of political opportunism and exclusion of marginalized people. We have been in ministry for almost half a century -- now in 40 countries -- challenging the exclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people.
Not long after we founded our church, the HIV/AIDS epidemic exploded. We buried thousands when no one else would touch the bodies of those taken by AIDS; families of the dead were often nowhere to be found. Newscasters and Evangelicals called it "The Gay Plague."
Too often, religious and political leaders blame LGBTQ people for epidemics, earthquakes, hurricanes, and terrorist attacks. Their claims are absurd, yet they give too many people excuses for hate, violence, and exclusion.
From the start of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, we refused to take the blame. We organized and demanded that the CDC and WHO officials do their jobs! The shame of President Reagan refusing to mention AIDS until tens of thousands had died, led to the SILENCE = DEATH slogan, and people took to the streets. ACT UP members poured blood on church altars to protest faith leaders who blocked the use of condoms as prevention.
Today, Anglican and Catholic prelates in Liberia are now getting it wrong about Ebola. More than 100 religious leaders issued a pronouncement saying that God was angry with Liberia because of immorality -- and they named gays in particular. Not surprisingly, many LGBTQ people in Liberia are now afraid to leave their homes due to vigilantes in the streets.
Other Africans know that fear and lack of information are the worst enemies -- not sexual minorities. In the Liberian Observer, Boima Williams responds to the blame game by religious leaders:
These are some of the reasons why we cannot progress as a nation. I listened to a lot of people who claimed that this EBOLA VIRUS is a way of God's punishment to Liberia and on the Government of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. What makes it so sad is that some of those making this claim are Ministers of the Gospel or (Men of God). Instead of educating our people to take all the necessary precaution / prevention which is vital, we are blaming this virus on a curse. If our people fail to take the necessary precaution, they will just DIE due to the lack of knowledge.
The reactions to Ebola in the United States are also deeply troubling. In the U.S., where a handful of cases have overshadowed the more than 10,000 cases in African countries, fears are escalating to panic levels. Unwarranted efforts to quarantine personnel returning from their service in West Africa reveal that it is easy to begin criminalizing sick people or even people who MIGHT get sick.
Politicians are playing to public fears and act like they are getting tough on Ebola when they are simply positioning themselves to run for re-election or to climb the political ladder. Right-wing pundits blame Obama for reacting too slowly and for allowing African heads of state to come to the United States. And bumper stickers equating Obama with Ebola are showing up in Los Angeles and on E-bay.
Who is to blame for Ebola? Who sinned? Simply put, no one sinned. Stop the blame game! Ebola is a virus. We must face this crisis without prejudice or blame. We must work together across lines of nations, races, politics, and opinions. We must respond humanely and quickly to stop this disease.