Call It What It Is

As the Friday deadline creeps up on Arizona Governor Jan Brewer regarding a potential veto of SB 1062 in her state, I think it might be time to call the bill what it is.  If you are not familiar with the bill, it was passed under the guise of “religious freedom,” along party lines, with Republicans voting in favor, and Democrats voting against passage.

The bill would make it legal in Arizona for businesses to discriminate against a patron based on their sexual orientation.  Unreal.

So, let’s call that bill exactly what it is…it is hate.  It is hate mixed with fear, and it is being passed off as religious freedom.

Supporters of the bill claim that doing business with gay people somehow violates their right to practice their chosen religion.  I don’t stoop this low often, but I think an exception is necessary.  That is a stupid argument made by small-minded and simple people.

Can someone please tell me how someone’s sexual orientation infringes on another person’s right to practice their religion?  The simple answer is that it does not.  Which brings us to the essence of this bill in Arizona.

It is hate, pure and simple.  Now, I know that not all conservatives or Republicans hate homosexuals, but the voices in that camp sure are louder than the voices of reason.  John McCain’s opposition is being drowned out by the hate-filled ramblings of Rush Limbaugh, and sadly, more people look to Rush to give them their opinions than listen to voices of reason like John McCain (at least on this issue he is being a voice of reason).

I am sick and tired of people hiding behind the Bible and religion to spread their hate.  I thought the Bible was all about love and forgiveness and atonement for sins, but too many people use it as their handbook for hate.

Supporters of this bill that legalizes hate will scream loud and proud (although why would they be proud of being hate-filled people?) that their right to practice their religion is being trampled on by serving gays.  Wrong.  Plain and simple.  Serving homosexuals does not infringe on anybody’s right to practice their religion.  If you think otherwise, you need to think again.

Let me put it another way.  What if Governor Brewer does not veto and allows this type of discrimination to take place?  What would the outrage be if this were law and a Muslim business owner or Jewish business owner refused to serve someone who is a Christian?  I bet Arizona Republicans would be beside themselves if that were to take place.  That, my friends, is hypocrisy in the truest form.

Put Down Your Pitchforks

On numerous occasions on this very blog, I have admitted that I am no Biblical scholar.  But, just because I am not one, nor am I a pastor, priest, or rabbi, that does not exclude me from finding variations and such from the Bible fascinating.

Take, for example, the widely accepted premise that Judas betrayed Jesus.  This belief was accepted, of course, because it appears in the Bible, and people like to point out that everything in the Bible is true and accurate.  However, it seems that Judas may not have betrayed Jesus after all, so it might be time to put down the pitchforks, people.

According to scientific evidence (those are like swear words to some people), there is a Gospel of Judas that was excluded from the Bible that appears in its present form.  Sort of like the Gospel of Thomas, it was omitted because somebody did not like what it portrayed and because it differed from what “mainstream” Christianity was at the time.

But, how can that be?  I thought the Bible was God’s word, and that it was true and accurate.

It is reported that, “A “Gospel of Judas” was first mentioned around A.D. 180 by Bishop Irenaeus of Lyon, in what is now France. The bishop denounced the manuscript as heresy because it differed from mainstream Christianity.” (source)  But how can one person decide which of God’s words are to be included, and which are to be left out?  Weird.

If, as the science suggests, the Gospel of Judas is legit, wouldn’t Christianity basically be turned upside down?

A lot of people balk at the suggestion that the Bible may actually be incomplete, but I do not understand why.  It is like they are scared to question anything, and would rather stand firm in thinking that the Bible is 100% complete.  I do not fall into that camp.  I believe that the Bible is but a fraction of what it could and should be, and that we are doing ourselves an injustice by not seeking more.  While time has most likely eroded away a vast majority of what was excluded, the stuff that is out there, like Thomas and Judas, should be considered for inclusion going forward.  It does not make me “un-Christian” or a non-believer or “lost” to hold a view that there is more out there and that someone can have a right relationship with God without going to church on Sunday; the folks who see my view as a bad thing do more damage to Christianity than they imagine.

I hope the Gospel of Judas, and that of Thomas are legit, and I hope they are included in future publishings of the Bible; their inclusion will only serve to give people more insight and allow them to open their minds even more.  Of course, there are some who wouldn’t want that.

Can Someone Clear This Up?

I don’t know that this is a recent source of confusion for me or not, or just maybe it is just coming back to the surface now that same-sex marriage is in the news so much.  Who knows, maybe the Supreme Court will do the right thing and strike down both California’s Prop 8 and the federal government’s DOMA, but that is not what has me confused.

What has me confused is the argument that opponents of same-sex marriage seem to use as a fallback, especially when it cannot be proven that such marriages would “erode the institution of marriage” as we now know it.  You know, the one that is so strong that about 50% already end in divorce.  Seems like a weak foundation is already in place.

Anyway, the general fallback argument is to reference Bible passages, as if we are some sort of theocracy.  In particular, those against same-sex marriage cite Leviticus 18:22, “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.” (source)  This is where my confusion starts to set in.  I am no Biblical Scholar, pastor, or priest, but I do know that Leviticus is in the Old Testament.  With that knowledge in hand, I then assume that people who use this passage as a reason believe that all Old Testament laws should be followed; often, I am corrected and told that the New Testament supercedes the Old Testament.  Talk about confusing.

To briefly recap, the Old Testament says that homosexuality as an “abomination,” thus same-sex marriage should be banned.  But, where the Old Testament says, for example that people should not eat shellfish (Leviticus 11:10 “And all that have not fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that move in the waters, and of any living thing which is in the waters, they shall be an abomination unto you”), that was erased by the New Testament.  Strange.

Maybe it is my “if, then” kind of thinking, or maybe it is because I don’t necessarily see how people can just randomly pick and choose which Biblical laws are to be followed, but I see it as having to be one way or the other.  If you want to use the Old Testament for one thing (homosexualilty), then you must for everything else (including shellfish).  Likewise, if you want to use the New Testament when it comes to shellfish, then you cannot quote Old Testament in opposition to homosexuality and same-sex marriage.  That is just basic common sense to me.

As I often do, I read a lot of article online, especially when the subject is controversial.  Same-sex marriage is pretty controversial.  I like to read the comments on the articles because, while the tone of the article will vary based on what site I am on, the comments, when on an article hosted on a news site (NBC, CBS, CNN, etc.), tend to really give me insight as to what people really think about the subject at hand (although sometimes the comments become nothing more than playground name-calling).  I would like to share a comment I read on an article about same-sex marriage (I apologize for not having linked to the article as well) where the commenter responds to someone who used Leviticus 18:22 as their argument against same-sex marriage:

"Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's Law. When someone tries to defend thehomosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate. I do need some advicefrom you, however, regarding some of the other specific laws and how to followthem: When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates apleasing odor for the Lord - Lev.1:9. The problem is my neighbors. They claimthe odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them? I would like to sell mydaughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, whatdo you think would be a fair price for her? I know that I am allowed no contactwith a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness - Lev.15:19-24. The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women takeoffense. Lev. 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male andfemale, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mineclaims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Whycan't I own Canadians? I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath.Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated tokill him myself? A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is anabomination - Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. Idon't agree. Can you settle this? Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach thealtar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wearreading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle roomhere? Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair aroundtheir temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27. Howshould they die?I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes meunclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves? My uncle has a farm.He violates Lev. 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, asdoes his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread(cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is itreally necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole towntogether to stone them? - Lev.24:10-16. Couldn't we just burn them to death ata private family affair like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws?(Lev. 20:14) I know you have studied these things extensively, so I amconfident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that God's word is eternal and unchanging."

I thought that this commenter, while obviously sarcastic in their tone, did a nice job in pointing out the blatant hypocrisy of the argument presented by another commenter.

 

What’s At Stake?

Today, the Supreme Court kicked off two days of hearing arguments for and against same-sex marriage.  No matter what they decide, these hearings are bound to upset a large swath of our country.

I recently read an article on CNN’s website that presented, I think, a well-reasoned argument for same-sex marriage.  You can click here for the entire article, but I wanted to share some of the points raised by the author, and what I thought about his opinion.

“Religious liberty, as the American Jewish Committee told the Supreme Court recently in a friend-of-the-court brief, does not give anyone the right to demand that someone else be deprived of the “right to live the most intimate portions of their lives according to their own deepest convictions.” That some religious groups regard same-sex marriage as an “abomination” does not authorize the government to ban such relationships. That is one price we all pay for protecting religious liberty.”

Take a second and read that again, and remind yourself that the author, Marc D. Stern, is general counsel for the American Jewish Committee.  Specifically, the part that reads, “That some religious groups regard same-sex marriage as an “abomination” does not authorize the government to ban such relationships. That is one price we all pay for protecting religious liberty.”  The price we pay for protecting religious liberty (sounds little like the First Amendment to me) is protecting those with beliefs, values, or lifestyles that are contrary to those held by a particular religion.  In other words, imposing a religious mandate, in this case banning same-sex marriage, is exactly the opposite of what the First Amendment is there for.  People who are adamantly opposed to same-sex marriage on religious grounds seem to consistently forget about the First Amendment right of citizens of this country to be free from religion; we have no nationalized religion.

“Conversely, when government does recognize same-sex marriage, it creates a new set of problems for the liberties of religious believers.  Must rabbis, priests and pastors provide religious marriage counseling to same-sex couples?”

The easy answer to that question is no, rabbis, priests, and pastors would not (or should not) be compelled to provide religious counseling to same-sex couples, just like Chick-fil-A cannot be compelled to open on Sundays.

Lost in the argument against same-sex marriages based on religious grounds is the fact that the ceremony that takes place in the church is virtually meaningless in the eyes of state government and the federal government.  That is why, before two people can get married, they have to apply for a marriage license at a courthouse and not a church; the state sees it as two people of legal age, or with consent, entering into a contract.  Nothing more.  Nowhere on a marriage license or application is there fine print that says that the couple must now attend weekly church services, or attend church at all.  Which is why, and I have written this before, I can legally perform wedding ceremonies as a notary; the couple that I performed a ceremony for in August are legally married, just like the two couples I am performing ceremonies for next month will be legally married.  None of the ceremonies will have taken place in a church, yet all are valid marriages.

If you believe in God (I do), and you believe that we are all made in God’s image, how can you justify the denigration of homosexuals by limiting their right to enter into a valid legal contract?  Same-sex marriage, if made legal, will have absolutely zero impact on my marriage at all.  Zero.  None.  It will have no impact on how I raise my daughter.  If, when she is older, she decides she does not want to get married, it will not be because same-sex marriage was allowed; if she comes to Amber and I when she is older and “comes out,” we will still love her just the same as we did 10 minutes before her announcement.

The question I always circle back to when I talk to people about this topic is, “How exactly does it impact you personally, or your marriage, if homosexuals are allowed to marry?”  The truth is that it does not impact you at all.  I once asked a friend of mine who is gay how he felt about the issue, and he told me he really did not care one way or the other because he had no plans on getting married anyway; I would venture a guess that since it does not impact his life, that is his rationale for not caring about the issue.

“The Court can make all winners, or at least avoid allowing one side to suppress the other’s deepest beliefs.”

Exactly.

Starting To Get It

I have to admit, when I first saw that Republican Ohio Senator Rob Portman had changed his stance on gay marriage, I figured he was a candidate for what has become my “Hypocritical Much?” series.  Portman had previously come out (no pun intended) against gay marriage, only to change his stance after his son revealed to him that he was gay.

But, I always like to dive a little deeper into stories like this, just so I can be sure to be fair and present most accurate information that I can.  So, I went ahead and read the article, which you can read as well by clicking here.

Generally speaking, when you hear or read about people coming out (again, no pun intended) against gay marriage, the argument tends to center on how gay marriage erodes at the foundation of marriage and family, or how it goes against someone’s interpretation of the Bible.  And, oddly enough, Rob Portman provided a great quote on exactly those two reasons that people cite as why they are against gay marriage.

Portman said that he “considered his Christian faith” and then continued with this:

“…in a way, this strengthens the institution of marriage.”

“The overriding message of love and compassion that I take from the Bible, and certainly from the Golden Rule, and that fact that I believe we are all created by our maker, that has all influenced me in terms of my change on this issue.”

I think he hit the nail squarely on the head when he said that the “overriding message of love and compassion” he takes from the Bible were strong influences in him changing his position.  He even had the nerve to say he believed that gay marriage “strengthens the institution of marriage.”  Well done, Mr. Portman!

Personally, I am all for gay marriage.  I don’t believe that it is any religion’s right to dictate who can or cannot get married, especially considering that before I got married, I had to apply to the state for a marriage license, not to a church.  I performed a wedding last fall, and I am performing a wedding next month, and I am not a member of the clergy, yet each of these marriages will be legal in the eyes of the State of Florida.  How can marriage be religiously defined when someone (me) who is not a member of the clergy can legally perform a ceremony?  If one chooses to adhere to the view that marriage should be defined by what religion says, then I believe that they must also hold the view that only clergy can perform a ceremony.  Yet there is not a single state among our 50 in which it is required for wedding ceremonies to be performed by a member of the clergy.  As for gay marriage, since there is no religious requirement to enter into what is basically a legal contract between two consenting adults.  I do not see how the argument can be made that gay marriage weakens the “institution of marriage” at all; I have friends who are gay and have been married in states that are not close-minded and allowed them to do so, and their marriage is in no way undermining or weakening my marriage.  In fact, their marriage has no bearing whatsoever on my marriage.

When people use the “weakening of marriage” argument, is it possible that they are really saying that their particular marriage maybe isn’t as strong as it should be?  Why would the marital status of anybody be of concern to anybody else?  Like I wrote above, gay marriage does nothing to erode at my marriage, nor does it undermine what Amber and I teach our daughter.  Gay marriage does not erode at the foundation of my family.  Other friends of mine who are gay (not the same couple I mentioned above) will have, once they are married, a combined family with four children.  And having seen the love they have for those four kids, I can safely say that the sexual orientation of the parents makes no negative impact in the way they are raising those kids.

It is time for our country to get out of the Dark Ages, and realize that our First Amendment and the whole “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion” extends to our laws regarding marriage.  By restricting the rights of gay people to get married, Congress, by default, is yielding to religious doctrine, which is just short of fully endorsing or establishing a national religion, which would be in clear violation of the First Amendment.  (We can save the whole “we were founded on Christian principles” myth/argument for another time.)

Kudos to Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio for finally starting to get it.  All it took was the discrimination he was supporting to hit close to home to open his eyes.  Sometimes the path to doing the right thing is long and circuitous, but once his eyes were opened, he saw the light.

Thomas

If those who lead you say to you, ‘See, the kingdom is in the sky,’ then the
birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’ then
the fish will precede you. Rather, the kingdom is inside of you, and it is
outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known,
and you will realize that it is you who are the sons of the living father. But
if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty and it is you who are that
poverty.

I’m no theologian, Biblical scholar, or Pastor, so maybe I am not the best one to comment on certain topics, but I wanted to go ahead and give it a try.

Last night, I got Amber to do something she rarely has done in the past…I got her to sit with me and watch the Military Channel.  She was probably only willing to watch that particular channel because the program that was on had nothing to do with the military or war; instead, it was lost secrets from the Bible.  This particular episode talked about the lost Gospel of Thomas.

Biblical scholars (again, not me) often point out that the Bible was written and edited by men, and that such edits have included the omission of certain parts of the text.  If the particular Roman emperor did not like something, it was left out at the time; if the Pope at the time thought something should be excluded, it was excluded.  What we have, in its current form, is a Bible with the four Canonical Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

I guess you could easily put me in the camp of those who believe that there has to “be more to the story” than what is presented.  The Bible is a wonderful book, but if we take it exactly as presented, we are accepting what is basically a watered-down version created by men to suit the rulers of their time.  And if we are not getting a complete and accurate depiction of the Word of God, aren’t we short-changing ourselves?  Who among us believes that they are one who can preach steadfast adherence to the Word as it is presented, when there is evidence that information was left out?  What I am not saying is that we should discard the Bible.  I just think that we should take the Bible, and educate ourselves with the information contained therein, and then yearn for more.  We should seek to find out, as the late Paul Harvey used to say, “the rest of the story.”

The Gospel of Thomas, unlike the Four Gospels of the New Testament, does not necessarily tell the story of Jesus.  It is more of a collection of quotes from Jesus.  If you were to read all 114 (the third entry is at the beginning of this post, and the fourteenth is at the conclusion of this post), you would probably recognize some from their inclusion in other parts of the Bible.  If we are to believe the results of carbon-date testing performed on the scripts, Thomas pre-dates the other Gospels, so an argument could be made that the quotes from Thomas that are presented in the other gospels of the New Testament, were taken from Thomas, while the others were discarded.  To acknowledge the authenticity of Thomas, however, would be to also acknowledge teachings of the Church have fallen short for centuries.

I don’t profess to know if the Gospel of Thomas is legitimate or not, but it is interesting to read.  What I do know is that I thirst for a deeper knowledge and understanding of the world around me, and the Bible is part of that world.  I would challenge all of us to seek to continue to learn, and to know that it is ok to question things.

If you fast, you will give rise to sin for yourselves; and if you pray, you will
be condemned; and if you give alms, you will do harm to your spirits. When you
go into any land and walk about in the districts, if they receive you, eat what
they will set before you, and heal the sick among them. For what goes into your
mouth will not defile you, but that which issues from your mouth – it is that
which will defile you.

Asserting The Absurd

“We’ve systematically removed God from our schools.  Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?”

That is the question Mike Huckabee posed Friday, even as the country was learning about the carnage in Connecticut.  Yes, he did continue with, “God wasn’t armed. He didn’t go to the school, but God will be there in the form of a lot of people with hugs and therapy and a whole lot of ways in which he will be involved in the aftermath.”  Maybe he should have led with what he finished with.

I am all for God.  I’m a big fan.  But I also believe that God has a place, and that place is not in our schools.  There is a separation of church and state for a reason.  If you choose to attend church and worship and pray there, that is spectacular.  If you choose to worship and pray in the privacy of your home, that is also spectacular.  Where the waters become muddy is when there is what amounts to state-sponsored prayer in school.  No, I am not talking about forced prayer.

Let’s say, for example, that it was decided that prayer would be allowed and encouraged in public schools.  What would that look like?  Would students be allowed to pray in a Christian-like fashion?  Would the Muslim student be allowed to lay out his prayer rug multiple times each day for prayer?

Here is what I think the answers to those questions are.  The God that so many people want to “be allowed” in school is the one recognized by Christian faiths.  And I doubt that people would be ok with the Muslim student laying out his prayer mat several times each day.

I may be completely off base in my thinking, but I doubt it.  What Mike Huckabee was asserting was that the God he knows, and the God I know, is the one that should be allowed in schools.  That, to me, is asserting something that is absurd.  Mike Huckabee was not saying that we should allow Muslim prayer in schools, he was asserting that Christian prayer be allowed in school.

I don’t think that Mr. Huckabee was saying that students should be forced to pray in school.  Not at all.  At least I hope he was not saying that forced prayer should be allowed.  Doing so would ostracize those who do not believe at all, and we are a country founded both on religious freedom and freedom from religion.

I also disagree with Mr. Huckabee that not having God and prayer in school was the cause of the shooting.  I believe that the murderer would have shot all of those people regardless if the students were allowed to pray in school.  Asserting otherwise is to assert that the wrath of God was brought down on those 26 innocent people because they were not encouraged to pray in school.  Likewise, I disagree with James Dobson of Focus on the Family when he says, “I mean, millions of people have decided that God doesn’t exist or he’s irrelevant to me, and we have killed 54 million babies, and the institution of marriage is right on the verge of a complete redefinition. Believe me, that is going to have consequences, too.”  He is asserting, again, that those who were killed were somehow deserving of God’s wrath because of political policy.  That is absurd.

I might be mistaken here, but I do not know of any student who has been taken to the office or otherwise disciplined if they chose to take a moment to pray in school.  Just because there is not someone leading the school in prayer over the intercom does not mean that students are not taking time for silent prayer.  It is not that God is not allowed, or that prayer is not allowed, it is that our public schools are just that–they are public.  And in our country, that means being inclusive of people no matter of their religious beliefs, so having someone leading a daily prayer over the intercom would exclude people of different faiths or those who do not practice religion at all.  For all of the cries to keep the government out of our lives, you would think that Mike Huckabee and James Dobson would be all for the government imposing yet another mandate on us, but what they really want is to be the ones imposing mandates.

Before we look to blame political policy or separation of church and state for what happened at Sandy Hook last week, let’s first place the blame where is squarely belongs.  The blame goes to the person who carried out 27 murders last Friday.  It was not lack of prayer, the abortion policy of the United States, or autism spectrum disorder that caused those murders.  It was the actions of someone who had no regard for human life and the ease of access he had to a military-style weapon.