America's history is peppered with stories of battles for equality for minority groups. Everyone is familiar with the battle for equality that African Americans have fought throughout history. From being freed from slavery to being allowed to vote, the victories have been well-deserved and hard to come by. Women have also had to fight for equal rights and have seen many victories including getting equal pay for equal work.
Fifty years from now, students will be examining the war that is being waged to establish equality for homosexuals. Perhaps they will study the bill that is being passed this week in Arizona. On February 20, 2014 Arizona lawmakers gave their approval on a bill that many believe will allow discrimination towards gays. This bill will allow business owners to refuse service to any customer they want to based on their own personal religious belief. If serving a particular customer would violate their religious beliefs, they will be allowed under the law, to refuse service.
I can understand companies being allowed to deny service to someone who is acting erratically, or someone who is making the choice to go out to eat or go shopping while being naked or at least not wearing shoes or a shirt. These are choices that people are making and have more to do with poor judgement than it does with them as people. But to refuse someone service simply because of the way the were born is wrong. Unfortunately, this type of discriminatory thinking is not confined to Arizona, but is alive all over the world. It is seen everyday as gays are denied service in local businesses, are mistreated and abused and are shunned, even in a place that is supposed to be safe and inclusive, such as a church.
I'm quite familiar with the Christian mentality, as I have spent much of my life in Christian circles. I don't agree with many of the traditional viewpoints that are often taught there, particularly when it comes to the issue of homosexuality. I do understand, however, how the typical Christian thinks, which is why I DON'T understand why so many of them shun homosexuals. Not only do they snub gays in their daily lives, but also within the confines of their church communities.
Most people, Christian and secular alike, would agree that the point of Christianity is, to a great extent, to be Christ-like. For anyone who doesn't know or who hasn't cracked open the Bible or history book for that matter, Jesus Christ was not a hater. In fact, he was by definition of character, the epitome of love. He loved the so-called "unlovely." He hung out with prostitutes, fishermen, tax collectors, thieves. He hung out with people the religious leaders wouldn't.
But that is not the case with many modern Christians. As we all know, Christians hang out in cute little cliques. Good Christians, with Bibles in hand, go to coffee shops together. Sinners go to bars. Christians go to church on Sundays. Homosexuals go to church... on Sundays... whhhhhhaaaa????? At least they used to and they'd like to, but some church-goers don't like that idea too much. Churches are for heterosexual Christians, not sinners and certainly not homosexuals. Amen?
The respected Pew Research Center released a study in the summer of 2013 that brings clarity to the state of the relationship between homosexuals and the church-going community. This study details how members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community in America view the country's prominent religious groups. To sum up the study, homosexuals think church-goers are a bunch of unfriendly jerks.
A whopping 73 percent of gays surveyed said they felt that evangelical churches were unfriendly towards members of the homosexual community. In other words, they didn't feel welcome in the Christian churches. They didn't feel loved, nor did they feel like they could hang out and listen to a sermon, pray, praise, fellowship or develop their relationship with God as part of the church community.
One might wonder why Christians have such a closed community. From all that I know about the faith, it was always meant to include others and not be exclusionary. So what motive do the modern-day Christians have for excluding members of the homosexual community? Perhaps the most obvious reason is their belief that homosexuality is a sin. There has been much debate in recent years as to the original meanings of the scriptures often quoted which condemn homosexuality. What was once accepted as fact is now being questioned and examined. But most Christians hang on to traditional beliefs which dictates that homosexuality is a sin and they love to quote the scriptures they feel support their belief. They also like the ones that approve of "righteous judgment." They don't have quite as much clarity on those verses that command them to love people, or rally them to act as Christ did and treat others with respect. They also don't like discussing how God loves us all equally. The church crowd believes Christianity and homosexuality are mutually exclusive or an oxymoron. How can a homosexual love God and more importantly, how can God love them?
Another reason I believe Christians aren't welcoming to the gay community is fear. As we've seen demonstrated over and over again in history, fear is a result of ignorance. Many conservative groups are fearful of gays simply because they have not been exposed to them. They don't hang out in gay bars, nor do they befriend their gay neighbor. They don't have coffee with their homosexual co-worker and certainly don't invite them over to their homes for dinner. Many Christians and conservatives turn a deaf ear to stories of homosexual discrimination that are being discussed in America's classrooms and living rooms. They don't watch television channels that cover stories of gay beatings or bullying. Though ignorance may be considered bliss in some situations, in today's world, it can also create hate and misunderstanding. I think of the words of Benjamin Franklin who said, "Being ignorant is not so much a shame, as being unwilling to learn." If conservatives, specifically Christians, would take the time and open their hearts and minds to cultivated relationships with members of the homosexual community, they may find that there are more similarities than differences between them. They may find a new fishing buddy or someone who could teach them about theater or music. They may even find a new church member if they looked hard enough.
Church discrimination may also be a result of Christians' insecurities. Some Christians may worry that their own sexual orientation will be questioned if they were to have a gay friend. Their Bible study buddies may question their walk with Christ or their sexuality if they are caught having coffee with an openly gay friend. The Christian may even start questioning their own sexual preference as they develop a relationship with someone openly gay. What if hanging out with a homosexual turned people gay? What if a homosexual were to hit on me? What if the gay buddy wanted to share a dessert, would I get AIDS? Insecurities about their own well-being and reputation may be a contributing factor as to why these Christians discriminate against gays.
Fears, ignorance and insecurities are standing in the way of harmony. They're standing in the way of community and outreach.
Many gays have grown-up in a Christian home, have gone to church and have identified themselves as Christians. And I think I speak for many of them when I say that they don't want this part of their life to disappear when they start to openly explore and expose their sexuality. As it currently stands, coming-out of the closet door means being kicked out of the church door. Living an honest life should not require giving up a huge segment of who they are.
If you're a Christian and still reading this, it means, perhaps that you are a brave soul. It will take a few gutsy Christians to bridge the gap between the heterosexual and homosexual communities in order to make a substantial difference. Don't be afraid of people who are different than you are. Realize that gays have the need for fellowship and community just like everyone else. Gays don't reject you because you are heterosexual, so show the same respect.
Being a heterosexual Christian doesn't give you a cool plasticized card to a groovy club with exclusive rights to the throne of God. And before you quote that one scripture you know about righteous judgment, think about what the Bible says about love. Think about the example Christ set and by contrast, the example you are setting. We may disagree on a lot of what the Bible says, but I think it's pretty hard to misunderstand what the Bible says about how we should treat each other. Christ didn't run away from those who were different than he was. He embraced and loved them.
Church and American history is being written right now. How we react to the issue of homosexual discrimination in our churches and in our courtrooms will be remembered for years to come.
So take the chance to reach out to others, to live in harmony and to fight for what you believe to be right. Remember Rosa Park's simple act? This humble woman stood up for what she believed in and refused to be bullied and made an impact on history that is felt today. Perhaps your name will be remembered too for a small act of kindness or rebellion that will have a lasting impact on the story of country.