Last week’s column, “Mainstream Christians Must Stand Up to the Religious Right,” caused quite a stir. E-mail flooded into my in-box and there was much online discussion.
“…the number of mainstream Christians fighting the hate campaigns of the religious right is disappointing,” I wrote. “With thousands of churches, millions of members, and a vested interest in fighting back against religious extremism, they have consistently underachieved and failed to reach their potential.”
There were generally four reactions to the column. The first was from non-believers who completely dismissed religious people as loopy and seemed ambivalent to their assistance in fighting the right. The second was from non-religious people who agreed with the column and urged the religious left to stop passively sitting on the sidelines. The third was from people of faith who supported the column and wanted to join the fight for freedom.
“Wayne, next time you need religious progressives to stand with you contact the local Unitarian Universalist churches. We will be glad to march with you,” wrote one person based in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The fourth reaction came from people in denial who defended the deafening silence in too many liberal and mainstream churches, rather than admit their obvious shortcomings.
“Just because they do not call a press conference or take to the streets does not discount the fact that millions of Christians are hearing a message of love and inclusion each week in services,” wrote one person on The Huffington Post.
I agree that these religious leaders should not call a press conference. They should call dozens of press conferences until the media pays attention. And, yes, they should also be in the streets. As someone who organizes and participates in several protests each year, I can attest to the fact that they are often unpleasant and unglamorous. Sometimes it involves waking up at ungodly hours on weekend mornings to march for hours in inclement weather.
Is this reader suggesting that these churchgoers are somehow superior and shouldn’t get their hands dirty? I find it elitist and reprehensible to push the burden of defending this nation’s inclusive values onto a small group of dedicated individuals, when a broad-based movement is what is desperately needed. If we can’t all be activists, at least we can be active. Why shouldn’t we all be out there doing our part, standing up for our beliefs, and speaking out against the zealots that would transform this nation into an unrecognizable beast?
Fortunately, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Here are four examples of mainstream Christians who are leading the way:
• In August, fundamentalist preacher Dr. Michael Brown organized a regimen of red shirted zealots to infiltrate Charlotte’s gay pride event with their self-righteous slogan “God Has A Better Way.” Kathy Baldock of the Christian organization Canyonwalker Connections stood up to the fanatics.
“As we walked and prayed around the perimeter of Pride Charlotte that morning, we did not know we were stepping into more hatred than either of us had ever before faced,” wrote Baldock of the experience.
• Christian writer John Shore offered a perfect example of how mainstream Christians can be a powerful voice: “Jamey Rodemeyer is a 14-year-old kid from Buffalo, NY, who earlier this week, after years of being bullied for being gay, committed suicide,” Shore wrote on his website. “If you’re a Christian who believes that being gay is a morally reprehensible offense against God, then you share a mindset, worldview, and moral structure with the kids who hounded Jamey Rodemeyer, literally, to death. It is your ethos, your convictions, and your theology that informed, supported, and encouraged their cruelty. We Christians who believe that God created gay people as much in His own image as he did straight people are begging you to reconsider your theology – to do nothing more than be open to an alternative, fully credible, scholastically sound interpretation of one or two lines from Paul. How can you be unwilling to do something so simple, when you see the horrible ultimate cost of that refusal?”
• In a CNN interview with Don Lemon, Rev. Jay Bakker, son of televangelists Jim and Tammy, spoke in favor of LGBT rights: “They (fundamentalists) get hung up on a few scriptures that really in my opinion have been taken out of context and they almost let them trump love your neighbor as yourself. It’s really a scary thing.”
• Actress Kristin Chenoweth recently appeared on HLN’s Joy Behar Show. “I am a Christian. I believe in God and I don’t believe He makes mistakes. So, I believe that being gay is not a sin and, in fact, it’s how you are made.”
Clearly, the loving and inclusive rhetoric of some mainstream Christians is fruitful. The million-dollar question is how do we get such voices to multiply and amplify? The decline of the Religious Right depends on faith communities rooted in fairness who pray to a Jesus that stands for justice.
Wayne Besen is a columnist and author of the book “Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth.”