I speak fairly often about the need for moderate believers to stop telling me that they’re moderate. If I’m having a civil conversation with you, I can tell you’re moderate. If you’re not telling me how evil I am, I got that. I don’t need to know how supportive you are of queer people, I don’t need to know how tolerant you are of other beliefs or the lack there of, I don’t need to know how supportive you are of women’s rights or minority rights or really any rights, and I believe you when you say you think science has more to say about the natural world than ancient texts. If you’re active, that’s amazing, and anything I say about people who make hollow statements of support is not about you, so there’s no reason to tell me how active you are unless you want to trade war stories over Scotch, at which point I’m totes there.
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate it, but most likely, I already know because your actions have revealed it. When I rage against homophobes, misogynists, theocrats, etc., I’m not talking about you, though I will often use broad terms to not give people the rhetorical out that comes with using words like “some”.
With all of this in mind, I point to a really wonderful development, then immediately rain a bit on it.
This bit of good news is from Cranston, RI, or, as I like to call it, “New England’s Tennessee.” After months of hatred, inhumanity, and generally disgusting behavior from the various residents of a state founded specifically on religious tolerance, we have a statement from a number of religious leaders calling for an end to the persecution of Jessica Ahlquist.
You know what? Good on them. They heard what was happening and decided to say something. They took a stand against intolerance and for decency. They all spoke eloquently and passionately, and they deserve respect and credit for that.The way Rev. Dr. Anderson ended it was especially moving, and he seems like a man I would like to one day meet.
So what’s my problem?
I have several problems, actually, not the least being that it took months of abuse and weeks of heavy local TV coverage for this to happen. But really the first is that they did it on a church’s steps in the middle of the day on a Tuesday. This has nothing to do with the location itself except that that’s not where the problem is. It’s all well and good that you’re doing a news conference, but where you’re needed is the Cranston school board meetings where your co-religionists are trying to shut down conversation in true Archie Bunker style.
You know when would have been a really good day to say this? Sunday. In front of your congregations. Or Friday, or Saturday, or whenever your particular faith gathers and recognizes the Sabbath. Some of you have, and I encourage you to continue. It’s cool that you’re all together with the cameras and everything, but the problem isn’t with the television viewers, it’s with your parishioners. Yes, there will be some overlap, but if your religion is about teaching moral behavior, then use your religion to teach moral behavior and do it in the place commonly accepted to be where those lessons go on.
And it’s cool that you got so many of you up there. Imagine how many people there would be if each of you encouraged your congregation not only to be tolerant, but to stand against intolerance. Told them that standing for goodness and justice is a virtue, one they should embrace actively. Told them that this behavior is wrong and in some cases evil and should come with social consequences. It’s one thing to tell people not to be bullies, and quite another to tell them to not let bullies get away with their actions.
Making the rounds on my Facebook today has been a reax from the 2010 Chicago Gay Pride parade in which a group of Christians from the Marin Foundation publicly apologized for the bad behavior of their co-religionists. This is an old story, and was shortly thrown into a whole lot of mud by the actions and statements of founder Andrew Marin, but whatever Marin’s intentions, I can believe that some (most) of the people there were genuinely sorry.
The problem is, so what? Yes, I appreciate that you’re sorry you believed what somebody told you a book meant and that it applied to reality. It’s wonderful that you’re rejecting those attitudes and we welcome you to our side. So I guess that means you’re going to be helping to stand up against other people who still believe those terrible things that you’ve very rightly rejected, right? Let’s look at the video from the next year when hatemonger “Johnny Duran” decided to add his voice to the Chicago parade. I don’t know about you, but I’m noticing a distinct lack of Marin Foundation members condemning his bad ideas.
It’s not enough to be sorry for what you did, and if you insist on apologizing for those who did bad things in your name, what they did. We’re glad that you realize your (their) mistake and want to make up for it, but that requires actually making up for it.
And that’s what I say to the religious leaders who called for civility in Cranston. Your call is heard and appreciated, but you’re the spiritual leaders of many of these same people. You volunteered to be the moral guide for them, not an easy task and one that comes with a lot of responsibility for the actions of others, and their ethical course is badly mis-charted. It’s good that you’re stepping up now to say you’re sorry and call for civilized dialogue, but if you really want to be leaders, if you want people to realize that your faith isn’t some Orwellian rebus, you need to show people that. You need to not just take soldiers off the field, but lead them in ranks for the cause of justice. You can do so much more, and I really do want you to join us in doing so.
Tolerance is wonderful, but this is about more than just preaching the tolerance of another person. This should be about preaching the virtue of actively standing up for a brave teenager who has been singled out by her community, by her elected representative, and by the monsters who wear the cloak of holiness. If you believe that something is wrong, it’s not enough to not participate.
You need to fight.