Religion is not an enemy, though some of its adherents may be. Pedantic, semantic or even romantic, I think it’s an important distinction.
In the battle for the human rights of LGBT people, our richest, strongest and most powerful adversaries are religious people, right? Sort of. Many of those who don the cloak of religiosity are clearly frauds—a kind of “pray for pay”, in which they use religion to make money or to gain political power, or both. Those people are no more religious than I’m from the planet Mars, but their claiming to be “true” Christians (or whatever) sullies the name for everyone else.
That’s the first important distinction. Because for every loud-mouthed religious bigot who tries to use their religion as a weapon to beat others into submission, there are calm, rational people who would never even think of forcing others to accept their beliefs—even when they think the other person is wrong.
Similarly, not all religious belief is equivalent—not even among the most fundamentalist religious believers, the vast majority of whom are not out in the streets trying to make homosexuality illegal, for example, though many probably believe it should be.
What all of this means is that belief isn’t the issue—actions are. That’s because what a person thinks, feels or believes may or may not be interesting to anyone else, but neither is it a threat to anyone until it becomes action.
I mention all this because the most common feature of the fight over marriage equality between religious activists and our side is that there’s too much heat and not enough thought.
I could list all the thousands of ways those religious activists are wrong about LGBT people, I could debunk their claims (and I often do), but they wouldn’t hear me—they probably don’t want to.
The same thing is true especially among some of our friends on the left: They spend so much time attacking the religious beliefs of the right—saying their god is a myth and their religion a fraud—that they don’t even stop to look for a way they might be able to reach their adversaries, to crack the seemingly impregnable shield of religious certainty to connect with the human behind it.
Will Portman found a way: He came out, and now his father—a Republican US Senator from the State of Ohio—backs marriage equality. Sen. Rob Portman is the first—and so far ONLY—sitting Republican US Senator to do so. He didn’t change his mind because some activist screamed that his religion is a fraud, he changed because he loves his son.
The simple fact is that homophobia disappears when heterosexuals find out that someone they like, admire, respect—LOVE—is LGBT. The amount of formal research that proves this is staggering: The best way to achieve equality for LGBT people is for LGBT people to come out everywhere to everyone. It is our humanity that is our strongest weapon in this war, not our slogans, and certainly not shouted insults.
Our adversaries lose when their slogans and shouted insults come up against the reality that we LGBT humans present—our humanity trumps their caricatures of us every time.
Our side’s urge to lash out comes from frustration and also from a real hurt that is caused when our adversaries not only lie about us, but win when they do so. But I suspect that at least some of the fury among our religious activist adversaries (the people, not their leaders) is based on their hurt at having their most basic, core beliefs mocked and dismissed.
Debating religious belief sometimes does involve mockery and dismissiveness. I can attest from personal experience that this is evident among the religious themselves (Protestants mocking Roman Catholics, for example). In a religious debate, that’s probably understandable. Maybe it’s even okay, at least sometimes.
But in the world of secular politics, we ought to at least try to engage humans, not stereotypes, and we ought to respect the right of people to hold whatever beliefs they want to, no matter how strongly we disagree with them—and even when we think their ideas are stupid.
Clearly our adversaries need to learn this, and many will struggle to do so. Accepting the humanity of LGBT people will require them to re-examine some of their basic beliefs. But their inability to easily move beyond their cartoon views of LGBT people, to grow in their own humanity as they accept ours, is no excuse for our side engaging in the very tactics we deplore when they’re used against us.
What I am saying is, as I have so many times before, we must be the change we want to see. If we want our adversaries to accept our humanity, and our human rights that are ours because of it, we must first act like human beings—even when our adversaries don’t—hell, because they don’t! The vast majority of people who are not religious activists are watching the show; which side do we want them to see as being more decent and human?
Religion isn’t the enemy, even if individuals acting under it sometimes may be. I believe we must be careful to not be our own worst enemy, either.