On Theology, Action, and Whether or Not You’re A Bigot

The fact of the matter is this: theology leads to action.

Lessons and ideas are presented in church as gospel truth, with the expectation that the hearers work them out in their own personal lives. This can lead to disastrous effects in the lives of those who adhere to the beliefs, as well as to those who aren’t a part of churches at all.  Try as we might, we don’t live in neat, separate bubbles. Our political and theological choices affect people in real life. We are far more connected then we’d like to admit, bonded by the realities of location and legal mandates.

There is no safe discrimination, no harmless separation of theology and societal impact. You’d think that Brown v. Board of Education demonstrated that, but many have failed to acknowledge the religious force behind racism and segregation. This religious force is also present in other political issues of the day. To throw a theological bomb that explodes people’s lives while hiding behind religious freedom is ignorance at best and cowardice at worst. Theological differences aren’t merely a difference of thought. They bring great consequences and harm to those that fall on the wrong side of them. This damage isn’t delayed until an anticipated afterlife where the “incorrect” people are punished, but in the every day lives of people that just want basic human dignity.

It’s astoundingly disingenuous to teach that perspectives and orientations of life are dangerous and then expect people not to make political decisions based on those ideas. Church and State are separated in theory. In practice, they often have too much to do with one another. And to be fair, perhaps it’s silly to believe that religious viewpoints and political affairs could exist in separate spaces. We bring our whole selves to whatever venue we enter, including our beliefs. Still, it’s simply unfair to legally force people into restrictive situations based on a faith that is not shared by all.

Unfortunately, restriction is the aim and goal for far too many. For example, in 2012 Maryland took up a public vote to affirm same-sex marriage. While many churches mobilized with the intent to have the bill turned down, the referendum passed with popular support. DOMA still existed at this point, but even with that limiting federal law there were legal benefits that some Christians, people who claim to love, actively worked to deny others who may or may not share their faith. To many Christians, defending a theological stance at the expense of people’s request for equal treatment in the eyes of the law is fine. Never mind the fact that there are still a multitude of legal implications for people who don’t fit traditional norms in any way, shape or form.

Or what about the idea that a woman’s respect is connected to how much clothing she has on, and how few sexual partners she has? An idea of purity that is paraded as a personal, religious viewpoint plays a huge factor in laws concerning rape and reproductive rights (and no, that doesn’t just mean abortion). Countless stories of sexual abuse take place due to the idea that somehow a woman presented herself in such a way as to invite violence into her life. Yet, the idea of modesty is upheld as a magnet for righteousness and a repellent for violence. (I’m sure the sufferers of violence where the law requires woman to be fully covered would disagree with that idea.)  Of course, no one is blatantly saying that rape or other types of sexual assault are okay. But the line connecting uncritical teachings about women and real world consequences for their well being is much thicker than many would like to admit.

What about the predominantly white evangelical political machine, that works and advocates for policies and ideas that will hurt the least of these that Jesus championed? Who think issues of race no longer exists?

What about the women who have had sex, either by force or by choice, who must deal with the ingrained teaching that they are “damaged goods?”

What about the men and women, boys and girls, who have killed themselves because their sexuality didn’t match their church’s doctrine?

What about the single mothers and single fathers?

There is no such thing as nice bigotry. Being polite may alter rhetoric, but it doesn’t alter the effects that people deal with as a result of religious teaching. If you, as a result of your belief, actively work towards or consent to the marginalization and discrimination of others, you’re a behaving like a bigot.  If you are okay with someone whose life is lived harmlessly different from your own being less protected by law, you cannot claim religious exemption. Be honest about the implications of our beliefs. There are those who have to deal with the repercussions.

If anything, Jesus should be the defining factor. Jesus did not excuse sin, but he also spoke out against societal and governmental influences that conspired to harm others. Whether or not you agree with someone’s choices, find the compassion in Christ (or wherever you may look) to not create oppressive situations for others.