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Austin Cline

Civil Rights for Blacks, Civil Rights for Gays

By July 12, 2006

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Many opponents of social and political equality for gays bristle at the mere suggestion that efforts to secure that equality has any similarity to the struggle for civil rights and quality for blacks in America. Even when they argue against this comparison, though, they often end up making arguments very much like those of the racists who hated blacks.

Commenting on an article about Al Sharpton speaking out against homophobia in black churches, Nick Sweeney achieves just this by writing:

I am disappointed that Mr. Sharpton has elected to use a national hero like Martin Luther King to promote such a political position from a pulpit.

Why should someone be disappointed with Sharpton? Civil Rights for blacks is a political position — would Nick Sweeney have been disappointed for Sharpton to promote that from the pulpit? I doubt it. So I guess Nick Sweeney is only "disappointed" that he promotes something Sweeney disagrees with. Now, is that a fair or rational basis for "disappointment"? No.

As far as we can tell there are few if any mainline churches who are attacking people who are homosexuals. Most churches, regardless of the ethnic make-up, reject acceptance of homosexuality as normal. Mr Sharpton contends that churches are somehow making scapegoats or promoting violence against people who elect to practice that behavior.

At one time, few mainline churches attacked black Americans but they also rejected race-mixing as normal. Was that OK? No — and by refusing to stand for justice and equality, they were effectively helping those who did commit violence.

For Mr. Sharpton to slightly intimate that Reverend King would support those who practice homosexuality indicates that Mr. Sharpton is in need of a history lesson.... Mr. Sharpton should ask this question: Would Reverend King, who was a man of God and one who communed with God, have rejected any man? I think not. But would Dr. King ever welcome a person to come in and live in sin in the presence of his congregation? Absolutely not. The Scripture would not have allowed Dr. King as a moral man to do so.

How does Nick Sweeney know he would not have? Sharpton likely has a better idea of what King would or would not have done than Sweeney. Coretta Scott King was an ardent supporter of civil rights for gays. Does he suppose Mrs. King might have a better idea of her husband's beliefs than him? Bayard Rustin was a gay man who worked closely with King in the Civil Rights movement and, as far as anyone knows, King never told Rustin that he was immoral and wouldn't be welcome in his congregation. Or does Nick Sweeney imagine that he knows better?

As a Christian I am confident Dr. King would love all people, but he would not welcome their sin as Mr. Sharpton has.

As a Christian, Nick Sweeney is self-righteous, arrogant, and homophobic. Nick Sweeney presumes to speak for someone he never knew in the arrogant assumption that they would share his hateful bigotry when the truth is that those much closer to that person have rejected that bigotry. Nick Sweeney can offer no basis for his assertions except the snide insult that no moral Christian would act any differently from him when the truth is that his bigotry makes him the immoral party here.

Mr. Sharpton says to be open minded. Many can be. But he should not foist acceptance of his political ideas on our black chuch community because of his political ambitions. The true church is not a political tool and is neither black nor white. Our allegience is to God. I beg Mr. Sharpton to consider stop using God as a political tool for political advancement. For many of us it is an affront to the work we have done as Christian people.

Funny, but white racists used to use similar arguments against black Civil Rights leaders like Martin Luther King. How ironic that Nick Sweeney began his comment presuming to speak for King and, by the end, he started channelling the spirit of white Christian racists who opposed King. This is only to be expected since Nick Sweeney's position on gays today is almost indistinguishable from the arguments and bigotry which white Christians used to hold regarding blacks in America.

Mr. Sharpton can be as political as he wants but he should stay out of the church. His political ambition and attempt to sway our people from God’s Word is wrong. Mr. Sharpton may reject God’s word as narrow if he wishes, but he should not ask us to support his folly.

This is also ironic because conservatives usually object when anyone suggests that politics should be kept out of churches. Of course, this is usually in response to complaints about brining political campaigning into churches — few people object when moral issues that have political implications are brought up in churches. Here, however, we find precisely that — but only because Nick Sweeney objects to the position in question. I really don't think that Nick Sweeney has adopted a principled position against raising moral issues in churches when those issues have political implications of some sort.

 

Marriage, Gay & Straight:

 

Gay Rights, Gay Marriage, and Religion:

Comments
Matt Dedinas(1)

of course they bristle because the assertion that someone with a sexual dysfunction needs “civil rights” is completely ridiculous. As ridiculous as NAMBLA is or a dominatrix/submissive civil rights movement would be.

July 13, 2006 at 1:15 am
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the assertion that someone with a sexual dysfunction needs “civil rights” is completely ridiculous.

A person’s civil rights aren’t dependent upon whether someone else believes that they are somehow “dysfunctional.”

July 13, 2006 at 5:56 am
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John(3)

Someone with a sexual dysfunction needs a “Limbaugh” (a/k/a Viagra).

July 13, 2006 at 10:12 pm
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Nick Sweeney(4)

Dear Mr. Cline,
My apologies for presenting the information as I did. Clearly I failed to acknowledge the fact that it is a disadvantage to converse with someone about the spiritual things of life when there is a serious doubt in one party’s mind, yours, if spiritual things even exist. Let me attempt to be clearer for you.
For those who care, the disappointment is that the political element has superseded the purpose of Church, to worship and honor God. Yes it is my opinion that sometimes the political makes its way into church, but the fact is most people go to church to worship God. Gay rights is a political issue. As you know the conservative church has fought this because it is considered deviant sexual behavior by most conservative churches. Reverend Sharpton believes it is acceptable to promote this behavior as acceptable. Unfortunately, the Scriptures themselves do not support Mr. Sharpton’s statements. Every person in the country should be granted equal rights. But every person in the country should not be in a position to force the right to anti-Christian behavior on others. This is a fair and rational reason for disappointment.
You correctly note that at one point in time some churches rejected race mixing. It is a historical fact. What you fail to mention was that it was many, white people who came to the aid of our African-American brothers who were indeed being treated wrongly. The sin in the church was clearly with those whose discriminated against others simply because of the color of their skin. But what you are suggesting is that there are now those who suffer the same type of discrimination because of their behavior and lifestyle. Whether you accept it or not, homosexual behavior will not ever be accepted into the mainline churches in America. If you don’t believe that then take a peek at the Episcopalians as they self destruct over the issue. Christians should always stand for justice and equality for all people, even those who are gay today. But we do not have to tolerate insensitive behavior that spits on the word of God.
It is always important to consider one might be wrong. It may be I have given Reverend King too much credit as a man of integrity. He was inspiring in the way he wove the Word into his thinking. It would be hard for someone who did not understand the Scriptures to speak from them so well. You may be correct in your inference that Rev. King thought more like Mr. Sharpton. But it is doubtful. I would agree that Rev. King would demonstrate a love for everyone, regardless of race or the sin in their lives. My guess is he would have loved them all. But it is also very likely that because of his faith, he would never have accepted the behavior of someone as “acceptable” no matter what the behavior was. Your logic dictates that if homosexual behavior deserves civil rights, then all other behavior deserves rights as well. You should examine what this means. The consequences of accepting that thinking are tremendous and dangerous.
If you knew me, which you don’t, you would come to understand how unfortunate and inaccurate your statements are. Your hypocrisy is revealed in your own statements about me. I regret your hate is so significant that your judgment is impaired. The statement you created is your wrong opinion. My thinking is based on literal interpretation of the Scripture. If I am condemned for that, so be it.
While you may want to craft similarity between Civil Rights for people in the same breath as rights for people who behave in a certain way, they are different. People are not bigots simply because they refuse to accept behavior they hold to be inappropriate. Yet you would gladly steal away their rights to live as people who do not want to be forced to accept other people’s behavior into their lives. How can you possibly accept that double standard?
You have judged many people in your discourse. You have failed to understand that there is indeed a difference in granting civil rights, something everyone has today, along with more rights because of behavior.
Please note that even though you have said many things against me and made several assumptions about me, I am not upset. It is good to have some discussion on issues. What is a concern to me is what appears to be your hatred towards Christians. Maybe I am wrong, I’ll give you that. But from what you have written it appears you have a hate towards Christianity. I understand if you are angry when you see Christians fail, but why the apparent hate? It does not make sense.
Thanks for the forum.
Nick Sweeney

November 18, 2006 at 3:02 am
Reply

For those who care, the disappointment is that the political element has superseded the purpose of Church, to worship and honor God.

Christian opponents of civil rights said the same thing about Martin Luther King. Jerry Falwell was prominent among people saying just this, if I remember correctly. If you are consistent in the application of your principles, then you should be equally disappointed in King.

Gay rights is a political issue.

So is civil rights for racial minorities.

My original comment thus stands: I doubt that you would be disappointed if Sharpton were promoting civil rights for blacks, so your “disappointment” can only arise from the fact that Sharpton is promoting a position you disagree with.

As you know the conservative church has fought this because it is considered deviant sexual behavior by most conservative churches.

Conservative churches also fought against civil rights for racial minorities because they considered deviant. They fought interracial marriage because they considered that to be deviant sexual behavior.

Reverend Sharpton believes it is acceptable to promote this behavior as acceptable.

1. Homosexuality is a sexual orientation, not a behavior.

2. Whether homosexuality is “acceptable” or not is a separate question from whether people should be treated as second class citizens simply because they are gay. You can disapprove of homosexuality while supporting laws that would make it illegal to deny housing or a job to someone simply because they are gay. Some of the most significant bigotry stems from people’s inability to separate these two.

Unfortunately, the Scriptures themselves do not support Mr. Sharpton’s statements.

Unfortunately, the “scriptures” are completely irrelevant when it comes to political issues like whether some group deserves the same civil rights as everyone else. By admitting that equal civil rights for gays is a political issue, you remove your religious scriptures from table as a relevant factor.

Every person in the country should be granted equal rights. But every person in the country should not be in a position to force the right to anti-Christian behavior on others.

Homosexuality isn’t behavior, much less anti-Christian behavior.

This is a fair and rational reason for disappointment.

No, it’s not. Sharpton is promoting equal rights for gays. Thus, your disappointment in him is disappointment in his promoting equality for everyone. You are disappointed that he believes in everyone’s equality, even in the equality of people you don’t personally like. He’s not a bigot.

You correctly note that at one point in time some churches rejected race mixing. It is a historical fact. What you fail to mention was that it was many, white people who came to the aid of our African-American brothers who were indeed being treated wrongly.

Just like many straight people, like Al Sharpton, are coming to the aid of their gay brothers and sisters who are being treated wrongly.

The sin in the church was clearly with those whose discriminated against others simply because of the color of their skin.

Just like the sin in the church today is with those who support discrimination against others simply because of their sexual orientation.

But what you are suggesting is that there are now those who suffer the same type of discrimination because of their behavior and lifestyle.

The discrimination isn’t always the same, but it’s still discrimination – and it’s discrimination against a sexual orientation, not a behavior or lifestyle.

Whether you accept it or not, homosexual behavior will not ever be accepted into the mainline churches in America.

People once said the same about race mixing and racial equality.

If you don’t believe that then take a peek at the Episcopalians as they self destruct over the issue.

Most American churches split over slavery, too. Most southern churches remain split in the sense that they are segregated.

Every single thing you write reinforces the parallels between Christian attitudes on race and Christian attitudes homosexuality. People are going to think that I wrote this myself in order to create a straw man I can knock down more easily…

Christians should always stand for justice and equality for all people, even those who are gay today.

Then you have to support equal civil rights for gays, otherwise you don’t really stand for justice and equality.

But we do not have to tolerate insensitive behavior that spits on the word of God.

People said the same about segregation.

It is always important to consider one might be wrong.

You mean, like how you are wrong in thinking that gays don’t deserve equal civil rights?

It may be I have given Reverend King too much credit as a man of integrity.

So, it’s not a sign of integrity to be consistent in the application of your principles? It’s not a sign of integrity to refuse to be a bigot when you are fighting against bigotry against yourself?

He was inspiring in the way he wove the Word into his thinking.

He also made his arguments on the basis of basic political principles – he did not argue solely as a preacher.

But it is also very likely that because of his faith, he would never have accepted the behavior of someone as “acceptable” no matter what the behavior was.

Given how many Christian clerics today accept that gays should have the same civil rights as everyone else, there’s really no basis for this assertion. Lots of Christians who aren’t clerics agree. You are making a grave error by presuming that everyone who disagrees with you must not really have Christian “faith.” Funny, but Christian opponents of emancipation, desegregation, and civil rights had the same attitude. Do you think you’re in good company?

Your logic dictates that if homosexual behavior deserves civil rights, then all other behavior deserves rights as well.

No, because homosexuality is an orientation rather than a behavior. Your “logic” is based upon a faulty premise.

If you knew me, which you don’t, you would come to understand how unfortunate and inaccurate your statements are.

You haven’t pointed to a single inaccuracy in any of my statements and, if I did say anything inaccurate, I think you would have said so.

My thinking is based on literal interpretation of the Scripture. If I am condemned for that, so be it.

Well, Christian opponents of emancipation, desegregation, and civil rights also based their thinking on the literal interpretation of scriptures. We all know what happened to that thinking.

While you may want to craft similarity between Civil Rights for people in the same breath as rights for people who behave in a certain way, they are different.

There are always differences, but in this case there are no differences that make a difference. Furthermore, the most significant similarities come from you, not from the people being discriminated against. The similarities aren’t so much between gays and blacks, but between the arguments arrayed against their demands for equality.

You and your Christian brethren supply almost all of the parallels because you are recycling the same basic arguments that you used to try to deny equality to blacks 50 years ago. Your position on gays today is almost indistinguishable from the position your conservative Christian brethren had with regards to blacks and desegregation. Your brethren lost then and you’ll lose now because too few conservative Christians have learned that those arguments are all bad. Even worse, they are mostly irrelevant because so many presume to offer religious objections to a political issue.

Yet you would gladly steal away their rights to live as people who do not want to be forced to accept other people’s behavior into their lives. How can you possibly accept that double standard?

Christian racists made the same argument when they claimed a right to not have to associate with blacks. There was no double standard then and there is no double standard now: you don’t have a religious right to treat others as second class citizens. A person whose racism is based on religion can’t refuse to hire or rent an apartment to a black person. A person whose anti-Semitisim is based on religion can’t refuse to hire or rent an apartment to a Jew. A person whose homophobia is based on religion can’t refuse to hire or rent an apartment to a gay person.

You have judged many people in your discourse. You have failed to understand that there is indeed a difference in granting civil rights, something everyone has today, along with more rights because of behavior.

No one is seeking “more rights because of behavior.” If they were, you’d be able to point it out.

What is a concern to me is what appears to be your hatred towards Christians.

If I hated Christians, I wouldn’t be defending Al Sharpton, would I? No criticism I make about racist Christians in the past or homophobic Christians today can legitimately be interpreted as criticism of all Christians generally or of Christianity itself as a whole. I recognize that Christianity is a diverse religious tradition which encompasses many different political, social, and religious perspectives. Some are hateful and bigoted; some are not. Criticism of the former is not a criticism of the latter or of the whole.

You seem to be assuming that your beliefs are necessary and automatic from Christianity; therefore, anyone who disagrees with and/or opposes you must hate Christianity. That’s just wrong.

November 18, 2006 at 7:29 am
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Zack(6)

I always enjoy Austin’s reasoning. Usually he understands both sides of an issue better than his would-be adversaries.

It’s too bad that most people today know so little about logic, reason, and argumentation that they can’t even hold a legitimate discussion of opposing views.

November 25, 2006 at 1:58 am
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Nick Sweeney(7)

Thank you for your insight. You are a passionate person who strongly believes in your way of thinking. That is a powerful thing.

Your statements have caused me to review my own thinking about how I treat people. I think it is always reasonable to review one’s own thinking. Ultimately I believe people would prefer to understand truth and to do what is right rather than live in falsehood and do what is wrong. In my life I have always tried to encourage all people and to be kind to them even if it was undeserved. So to have you judge me as a bigot certainly caused me to review my own thinking. My experience has been that I have attempted to serve people all over the world without regard to their race or differences. I have now asked myself, is it possible that I have had repressed hate for someone in some way? If this is true then I have failed in my belief as a Christian. This would be disappointing.

I know as Christians we are called to love all people even if they do things that are hate ful, harmful and sinful. We should love all people even if they reject God and hate the fact we do not. While we might not like the sin, I don’t believe that gives us the right to hate anyone. While it is true many times we as Christians fail this test, I still believe that it is reasonable to try be compassionate to all.

As I reviewed my earlier comments, I realized I let my emotions into the picture. I apologize if I was offensive to you in anyway. That was not my intent. My goal remains to do one thing, to do my best to be obedient to the Scriptures. For those who do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, this is a hard thing to understand. But it is important for me as I seek to serve all people. Thank you again for your insight and words.

Nick Sweeney

November 25, 2006 at 12:43 pm
Reply

Your statements have caused me to review my own thinking about how I treat people.

Thank you. I regard my main purpose here to get people to review, rethink, and reconsider their beliefs — atheists as well as theists. I don’t promote atheism per se, but a more skeptical and critical perspective on beliefs, ideas, and claims. I’d rather encourage someone to remain a theist who treats their beliefs and theistic claims skeptically and critically than to become an atheist who doesn’t understand what all that means.

Ultimately I believe people would prefer to understand truth and to do what is right rather than live in falsehood and do what is wrong.

I’m not so sure. Most people probably say that, but how many actually evince a desire to hold on to comfortable and comforting beliefs regardless of their truth? I think that what you say is a good principle to hold and I wish people generally held it, but I don’t get the impression that many do when it really comes down to it.

In my life I have always tried to encourage all people and to be kind to them even if it was undeserved. So to have you judge me as a bigot certainly caused me to review my own thinking.

I have not judged you a bigot, though I will confess to having strong suspicions from time to time. I try to avoid judging the person as a whole because I don’t know you well enough, though if you were to (for example) push enough different bigoted positions with enough fervor, it would be a hard conclusion to avoid.

Instead, I try to focus on the positions themselves and I would argue that your position on gays and homosexuality is (just going by what you wrote before, not knowing what you have in mind at the moment) bigoted. It’s not a question of considering homosexuality a sin or thinking that gays are violating what God wants — it’s possible to think all those things and not be bigoted and I would not think you bigoted for holding such positions. The problem lies in wanting to treat gays differently in the political and social realm on the basis of such beliefs.

This is an especially serious problem because Christians are usually able to separate the belief “this is a sin” or “this is wrong” from the conclusion “this person should be treated differently.” Consider the ideas laid out in this post: Hindus are also violating basic biblical standards at least as much as gays, but when was the last time you heard anyone claim a right to treat Hindus worse than others because their behavior “spits on the word of God” and that Christians shouldn’t “be forced to accept” that behavior as if it were acceptable?

I’ll bet you wouldn’t support policies to deny Hindus jobs as teachers or to give people the right to refuse to rent apartments to Hindus. I’ll bet you’re willing to live and work alongside Hindus even though they reject your religion and violate basic tenets of your faith. From my perspective, though, that willingness to tolerate people who violate your religion’s rules shouldn’t suddenly dry up when a gay person walks into the room.

Treating gays as second-class citizens for violating your religion’s rules is no better than treating Hindus as second-class citizens for violating your religion’s rules. The latter would be regarded by almost everyone (including you, I am sure) as a form of bigotry; using the same standards, I treat the former as a form of bigotry as well. In neither case do the religious origins of these attitudes change that conclusion. Thus I’m not taking the position that you’re bad; instead, I’m accepting your ability to be tolerant and insisting that you uphold that and apply it consistently.

My experience has been that I have attempted to serve people all over the world without regard to their race or differences. I have now asked myself, is it possible that I have had repressed hate for someone in some way?

I can’t say whether you have repressed any hatred for anyone, though since you’re as humans as everyone else it’s plausible that you have. We all have, at one time or another, and research indicates that our brains can react to unconscious prejudice without our ever realizing it. There’s no fool-proof way of avoiding prejudice that we aren’t even conscious of and that’s why we have to take seriously what others say about our behavior and attitudes. If someone else says that we have behaved in a bigoted or prejudiced manner, we shouldn’t dismiss that on the assumption that only our internal intentions and conscious assumptions are ever relevant.

I will suggest, however, that you may be under the negative influence of the “hate the sin, love the sinner” excuse for attacking homosexuality. That principle may sound nice in theory, but in practice it only ends up leading to hating the sinner as well. In defense of my claim, I’ll offer an unequivocally Christian source: the so-called “hidden encyclical” (Humani Generis Unitas), a condemnation of racism and anti-Semitism that Pope Pius XI had commissioned in 1938 but never had a chance to revise and issue as a public rebuke against the Nazis.

One of the sections on anti-Semitism says: “Zeal against the sin readily becomes zeal against the sinner; but zeal against the sinner soon throws off its mask and shows itself for what it really is, an assault, under the pretense of protecting society from a single social group, upon the very basis of society, an evocation of limitless hatred, a license for every form of violence, rapacity, and disorder, and an engine against religion itself. Thus we find that anti-Semitism becomes an excuse for attacking the sacred Person of the Savior Himself, who assumed human flesh as the Son of a Jewish Maiden; it becomes a war against Christianity, its teachings, practices, and institutions.”

If every person is created in the image of God and is supposed to be treated as if they themselves were Jesus, then hatred of a person’s sins becomes hatred of the person and, in the end, hatred of God, Jesus, and Christianity (at least from a Christian perspective — I’d stop at “against the person”).

I stated earlier that the parallels between the Civil Rights movement and equal rights for gays today lies mostly in the counter-arguments being offered by conservative Christians. There aren’t so many parallels within the movements themselves (except for the general desire for equality, which I don’t mean to minimize). Contemporary Christian homophobia is, in many ways, much more similar to traditional Christian anti-Semitism than to more recent American racism. Gays, like Jews, get treated as scapegoats for everything hated about modernity, liberal democracy, the Enlightenment, etc. That makes the above quote even more relevant than it may first appear.

I apologize if I was offensive to you in anyway.

That’s OK, you didn’t offend me and I hope you didn’t take anything I wrote personally.

November 25, 2006 at 1:38 pm
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