State of Belief host Rev. Welton Gaddy is away with a State Department delegation, discussing religious freedom in Sri Lanka. We’ll hear all about his trip on an upcoming show, but this week on State of Belief, Interfaith Alliance’s weekly radio show and podcast, Huffington Post Executive Religion Editor Paul Raushenbush will guest-host. Paul will sit down with Sister Simone Campbell on the Vatican’s abruptly ended investigation of American nuns, and speak with Rabbi Jay Michaelson on the hidden agenda behind far-right evangelical designs on the Jewish community. And we’ll get to meet a few other members of Paul’s team at HuffPost Religion as they discuss their new Muslim in America series.
Having Nun of This Investigation
In 2008, the Vatican announced that it was investigating the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an American organization of nuns, for diverging from Catholic doctrine and even entertaining “feminist thought.” But last week, the Vatican – rather abruptly – called it off. This week we’ll be joined by Sister Simone Campbell, Executive Director of NETWORK, and one of America’s leading social justice activists. She’ll walk us through what the Church’s decision means, how it affects her work and her hope for the future of change within the Catholic Church.
Muslim in America: A Huffington Post Religion Project
Next Paul brings on two of the journalists who help him provide the excellent coverage at HuffPost Religion: senior religion reporter Jaweed Kaleem, and associate editor Antonia Blumberg. They’ll discuss their new project called Muslim in America, an interactive, multimedia series on the experiences of this growing and dynamic segment America. Tune in to hear their goals and objectives for the project, as well as some of the challenges they face in covering religion responsibly and accessibly. And be sure to check it out at: http://projects.huffingtonpost.com/muslim-in-america.
Jay Michaelson: “Don’t Be Shocked by Jewish Honor for Anti-Gay Pastor Charles Stanley.”
As the Supreme Court prepares to hear a case about marriage equality, recent polling shows that 77 percent of Jewish Americans support same-sex marriage. Despite this, a major Jewish organization recently announced plans to give an award to Charles Stanley, a vehemently anti-gay but staunchly pro-Israel pastor. Jay Michaelson will speak with Paul this week about why focusing on the homophobia of Stanley and his end-time evangelical ilk risks missing an even bigger problem.
By Ray Kirstein on April 24, 2015
Here’s what’s coming up this weekend on State of Belief Radio, with Huffington Post Executive Religion Editor Paul Raushenbush filling in for Rev. Welton Gaddy as host:
The Vatican says “never mind” to those American nuns that had been under close supervision for what was called “radical feminism.” Sister Simone Campbell, Executive Director of NETWORK, a national Catholic social justice lobby and the original “Nun on the Bus” will explain what this means, and what’s next, as Pope Francis moves the Catholic Church away from the culture wars and towards a moral imperative for social justice.
Also, the challenges of covering the world’s religions. We’ll be joined by the Huffington Post’s Associate Religion Editor Antonia Blumberg and Senior Writer Jaweed Kaleem, to discuss producing the new project, “What it Means to be Muslim in America.”
And author and activist Rabbi Jay Michaelson. His recent writing raises the alarm about the growing alliance between Evangelical and pro-Israel Christians – and the fact that their goals are probably very different from your goals. We’ll focus on his recent article in The Forward, Don’t Be Shocked by Jewish Honor for Anti-Gay Pastor Charles Stanley.
By Jack Moline on April 24, 2015
In anticipation of oral arguments in the Supreme Court marriage equality cases, clergy across the country are giving sermons this weekend on the religious call to marriage equality. If you or a religious leader in your community is speaking about marriage equality this weekend, share the sermon with us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Next week the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Obergefell v. Hodges, the case that could decide once and for all whether every state in the nation must recognize and perform same-sex marriages. The legal questions at issue seem almost simple, even to those of us without a legal education. The First Amendment’s promise of religious freedom tells us that a state’s decision to grant a marriage license or not cannot be motivated by religious doctrine; the Fourteenth Amendment ensures that we are all treated equally before the law, regardless of our identity.
But because the legal questions are relatively easy, and appear to be mostly settled, I’m asking us to do something harder. It is one thing to find within our legal code the ability to grant same-sex couples equal status in our courts, it’s another to find within our religious traditions and histories the ability to grant same-sex couples equal status in our hearts and communities.
We all read Scripture selectively. It is impossible not to do so – whether it is the Bible, the Quran, the Bhagavad-Gita or the Book of Mormon, some part of the sacred word will speak with greater urgency to you than another. It is true even of those who do not believe the words of sacred text. It is inevitable that they will look for some verse or parable that will justify their disbelief.
It is not my purpose to challenge your faith with these words. Rather, it is my hope that you will celebrate the different ways we understand the mandates of our faith or philosophy. After all, the freedom to consider and embrace a particular way of believing is guaranteed to us as a human right by the United Nations[i] and as a Constitutional right.[ii]
The Supreme Court will hear arguments this week on a subject that was unimaginable a generation ago. May a man marry a man or a woman marry a woman? To answer in the affirmative is to upend one of the presumptions about marriage that have been a part of American society from its inception and that have been a part of religious traditions for much longer than that.
I don’t want to dismiss out of hand the mantra of most religious communities: we’ve always done it that way. After all, a reliance on tradition and continuity of practice and philosophy is the mainstay of the life of a faith community. But in order for a community to stay vital, its members must be able to find meaning in that tradition. So I ask you today to think about the purpose of marriage and how your understanding of our tradition applies to this previously unimaginable question that is going to be addressed by the highest court in the land.
In different eras of human history, marriage served multiple purposes. It is almost certainly the way most societies created a sacred and sanctioned circumstance for human intimacy and reproduction. The complicated urges and emotions that accompany sexual attraction were channeled by this arrangement that assigned some measure of exclusivity to two individuals. In some societies, there were multiple partners in a single tribe or household, but marriage took place two people at a time and created a way from people to build families and give expression to their desires.
Marriage also had an economic aspect to it. The collaboration of two householders, usually defined as the male hunter-gatherer and the female nurturer and homebody, created identifiable economic units that became the building blocks of community. Parents were not expected to support their children indefinitely. At age 15 or 21 or 26, children would become self-sufficient, just as their parents had before them.
Marriage had a political function as well. Royal families built dynasties, landholders built real estate empires, business owners built networks, scholars and stevedores and seamstresses found like-minded and like-hearted partners to advance their cause and prestige. Families could arrange for an appropriate match for a child that would benefit everyone involved in a very practical way.
There are plenty of other purposes that marriage served in the past. But in most communities, nobody thinks of marriage anymore as being motivated by politics, economics or the control of physical urges. Indeed, all of the other purposes of marriage still exist, but the essential aspect of marital partnerships in every tradition is love. Marriage may begin with love or it may develop into love, but without love, there is no marriage. Marriage is to sanctify love.
Our tradition has evolved in its understanding of marriage over the course of its long history. It has also evolved in its understanding of the nature of the human being, the differences between men and women, the relative place of the earth in the cosmos, and so many other matters that were, at one time or another, central to the understanding of our faith. Roman Catholics had Galileo, Jews had Spinoza, and Muslims had Rumi whose divergence from doctrine was outrageous in its day but later became a source of pride. The very nature of Sikhism, Baha’i and Mormonism challenged the religious ethos from which they grew, yet today boast their own deeply ingrained truths and established religious traditions.
Human attraction is another such frontier. In our lifetimes we have crossed into realm of possibility that once existed only on the other side of a border of faith. And what we have discovered in that new frontier is the same lesson our ancient traditions have held as basic: love is Godly. Not everything that imitates love is Godly, but real love, the love that carries with it deep and abiding commitment, is Godly. To love in a Godly way to embrace holiness. To refuse to love in a Godly way is to frustrate the image in which we were created. Marriage affirms holiness. Without the possibility of marriage, we frustrate the very image in which we were created.
I contend that this lesson rests at the foundation of our faith. It is not some gossamer romantic notion experienced on a moonlit beach. Love is powerful, demanding, respectful and committed. It is what motivated the lessons handed to us in Scripture. It is the context of every text and the subtext of every text. Everything else is commentary, and therefore nothing else carries the same authority. A verse plucked from here and another plucked from there is text without context. A teaching applied to deny love reveals a subtext that is anything but love.
I know that for some of us, marriage equality feels like a no-brainer. I know that for some of us, marriage equality feels as wrong as anything we can imagine. What the Supreme Court decides later this year will determine the law, but it will not determine your feelings. But if you want those feelings grounded in the values of our faith tradition, then let me commend to you that you hold them up against the foundational message of our faith: in the end, God loves you and expects you to love each other.
[i] UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 18 http://www.ohchr.org/EN/UDHR/Documents/UDHR_Translations/eng.pdf
[ii] US Constitution, Amendment I http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/bill_of_rights_transcript.html
By Ray Kirstein on April 23, 2015
Interfaith Alliance Executive Director Rabbi Jack Moline’s strongly-worded op-ed in The Advocate Magazine draws a clear line between anti-gay pseudo-science and the religious language that has been inappropriately used to try to give cover to pray-away-the-gay “therapy”:
There is such a thing as “junk science” and there is such a thing as “junk religion.” When the two converge, the result can be not just disastrous but deadly. A prime example of this confluence is so-called conversion or “reparative” therapy; the attempt to “reorient” sexual or gender identity, especially in children.
Recently, when the White House announced its opposition to this practice, President Obama, Valerie Jarrett, and Amanda Simpson, the first openly transgender presidential appointee, spoke movingly about the severe damage that this “treatment” has done to LGBT youth. They told tragic and all-too-familiar stories of people like Leelah Alcorn, who was driven to depression, anxiety, and suicide when forced to undergo conversion therapy. These types of treatment are not only ineffective but harmful to LGBT youth, as countless studies have shown. Less often discussed — and more my concern — is the role of some of America’s faith communities in causing this damage.
As the attempts to change children’s sexual orientation or gender identity have been abandoned in medical and psychiatric circles, purveyors of this false treatment have cloaked themselves in the guise of religion. Whether these providers are religious leaders or counselors with secular credentials, they use religious identity, religious language, and connections to religious communities to peddle their services. Vulnerable families of faith, who have been taught to reject differences in identity, grasp at the straws held out by these purveyors of pseudo-science and pseudo-faith. At its core, conversion therapy has become religiously sanctioned child abuse.
There are faith traditions that have strongly held beliefs that homosexuality is a sin. The implications for LGBT believers in those traditions are obviously heartbreaking. My own denomination, like many others, has embraced equality for the LGBT community, following a generation of activism by courageous people unwilling to give up either their faith or their sexuality. The freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution demand my respect for those who disagree.
What we can’t allow is for belief to translate into dangerous practices that put lives at risk. Faith leaders who cling to discredited notions about the origins of sexual identity nevertheless have a role to play in ensuring that their sacred traditions are not co-opted to justify abuse; there is no verse in any Scripture that endorses this bogus therapy. In the end it is our children who have been hurt most when communities are complicit in validating ignorance and bigotry.
Demanding an end to conversion therapy — and, more importantly, denying its supporters the cover of religion — is an important way for religious communities and families to begin to heal. Each community will need to find its own path to understanding. Finding inspiration within each faith tradition to accept the wholeness of our children and their identities, to love them as they were created, and to find the presence of the divine in who they grow up to be is a struggle worth having.
Communities that have been the sites of pain and disempowerment for too many of our brothers and sisters must now be centers of affirmation and inclusion for all. An important first step on the road to inclusivity is to end conversion therapy. This work is not solely about healing; it is vital to our broader struggle to define and defend religious freedom in America.
We who champion genuine religious freedom have long understood the need to distinguish between science — which addresses how things work — and religious faith, which asks why things exist. These distinctions are challenged time and time again: in the debate around teaching creationism in science classes, religious objections to sex education, or the theological patina given to climate change denial. Our government has twin obligations in these instances. It has the responsibility to regulate and interrogate science and scientific research, and it is constitutionally proscribed from challenging or policing religious belief.
Conversion therapy is not constitutionally protected precisely because it fails government’s first responsibility.
Defenders of genuine religious freedom reject attempts to weaponize the First Amendment — that is to turn religion into a tool used to deny the rights, freedoms, and identities of others. We reject the notion that an employer’s religious beliefs supersede an employee’s right to health care access. We disaffirm that a store owner’s religion counteracts the right of customers to access public accommodations. We disavow that the religious ideology of one citizen can invalidate the legal recognition of another’s relationship. Others disagree.
But in the case of conversion therapy, the solution looks relatively simple. We cannot possibly defend the use of religious ideology to attack, delegitimize, and seek to change the identities of young people as an act of religious freedom. Here, there must be a bright line.
There is profound instruction for those of us striving to better understand religious freedom through this struggle. It is a lesson about how we all must live in a world in which our beliefs will be challenged, sometimes by the children we dearly love. It is a lesson in how not to fear that others’ identities, desires, and choices are not ours to challenge or control. It has always been this way and it will always be this way; protecting true religious freedom will better guarantee a faithful outcome.
President Obama has set a lofty but achievable goal. We should abolish conversion therapy in America. I am confident that one day soon we will. But the work to repair our religious communities, to dispel the aura of religion from these abusive practices, and to make stronger our argument for religious freedom can begin right now. For people of faith, this struggle is every bit as much about banishing this convergence of junk science and junk religion from our communities as it is about banishing it from our laws.
RABBI JACK MOLINE is the executive director of Interfaith Alliance, a group that promotes religion and democracy and challenges extremism.