Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Can Religion Ever Lead the Way?

Congress is holding hearings on discrimination in the government against transgenders, who are finally being given a chance to tell their story. Hats off to Representatives Barney Frank of Massachusetts and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin for these hearings.

The Bush admin has been a hostile environment, but the simple truth is sadder: the TG community has long been on the thin margin, and only the recent efforts of the gay and lesbian community has brought the light of compassion and common sense to bear.

But once again, "religious" folk reveal a narrow, if not malicious mindset - hiding behind religion, convoluting and twisting it, rather than using religion to open doors and "make straight the way of the Lord."

Opposing the legislation, Glen Lavy, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund, said it would be a mistake to define gender identity or gender expression as a protected class. He said that objections to "the concept of transgender" are based on religious beliefs and that forcing the idea as a valid concept "is like forcing an Orthodox Jew to eat pork." And he said that employers would have difficulty enforcing dress codes and assuring privacy.

Exclusion arguments all have the same ring.

Read what folks said about integration 60 years ago. Dire predictions of social decay and disruption, not to mention "religious beliefs" supporting segregation.

Religion always has a narrowing impulse (see Leviticus), yet this is the very book Jesus quoted when adding a second component to His summary of the Law: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18).

When Peter (a Jew) is engaged by God to reach outward to the Gentiles (Acts 10), Peter has scruples, but in a vision/dream, Peter sees a sheet (picnic blanket) coming down from heaven with all kinds of unclean animals on it - the Lord says, "Eat!"

It seems that Peter was hungry!

Peter objects: "I've never eaten anything unclean."

The Lord says, "Don't call unclean when I've made clean."

Did the Lord have a change of mind?


Lots of things necessary at one point give way to a new scheme - that's pretty much the heart and soul of the Bible - God really changes - not in love or purpose, but in the details, as God moves religion along a pathway from exclusion to inclusion, from narrowness to expansiveness, from hatred to love of neighbor, reminding all of us to not call "unclean" what God calls clean.

In these days of transition, God is clearly shaking the pillars of religion all around the world. Giving us a good shake, we're nervous, clinging to outmoded models and shouting our little laws and traditions all the louder, in the hope of proving their validity by our volume.

Like Peter, are we not hungry?
For Justice and Peace?
For a better world?

Like Peter, are we not tempted to stand by the old laws and regulations, the old patterns of thought and prejudice?

Yet in our hunger, God shows us a better way. At first, "Oh no, Lord; I'd never do that."

But God is doing a new thing (see Isaiah 43:19).

I thank God for the windows of understanding and tolerance being opened. I just wish "religious" folk could be at the vanguard.