Tensions Triggered by Gay Rights Question Threaten Interfaith Coalition

World Religions
“Coalition to Protect Religious Liberties Fractured By Differences on Gay Rights” (http://huff.to/1bed7Ax) describes the friction that arose in an interfaith gathering of religious leaders when the issue of gay rights popped up unexpectedly. Mostly this article is written with a focus on the growing pressure issues of homosexuality are causing for various faith communities.

But it got me thinking about the challenge this gathering faced from a slightly different perspective. Instead of directly addressing the actual issue of homosexuality I find myself wondering if it might be more of a ‘presenting problem’ (significant as it may be in and of itself).

By definition, the purpose of this second annual National Religious Freedom Conference was to address a growing concern “that government and popular culture are eroding religious freedom” (http://huff.to/1bed7Ax) in the U.S. All could agree on the importance of ensuring religious freedom in the U.S. and, for a time at least, having this desire in common was enough to keep the coalition together.

But the triggering issue of homosexual rights brought the reality of their differences in belief to the fore. Gay rights may have been one problem but they weren’t really the problem – different views on what is true and righteous were the real problem. Which is why I believe it could have been any of a number of presenting issues that created the friction. Had issues like beliefs around marriage, divorce or gender equality and rights arisen the impact likely would have been the same.

One is left wondering if this coalition is the best way to address the issue. Can people with diverse understandings of what is true really work together to effectively preserve religious freedom?

In his book Truth and Tolerance Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger suggests that, as people of faith, we each live with a “double cultural identity” – our faith cultural identity (in my case Christian) and our historical cultural identity (in my case Canadian). He argues that these two “will never be in complete synthesis.” There will come points at which they clash and when this occurs we are forced to choose which will be ultimate.

Perhaps this is really what happened at this conference. I suspect that the participants shared the idea of religious freedom as an American historical cultural value but when the question of gay rights arose the reality of the differences in their faith cultural values became obvious. For some the question quickly became, “Which will prevail, the faith cultural value of what I believe is true and right or the historical cultural value of religious freedom which drew the coalition together to begin with?” The significance of this choice should not be underestimated for the very future of this coalition and the work they are doing could be determined by how participants answer it.

At the same time though, I think there maybe a deeper question that is worth pondering. Truth and freedom … are they really competing goods? Or is that a deception espoused in our historical culture? Christ promises that the two are inextricably linked (John 8:32) and so, as followers of Jesus facing these challenges and opportunities we are wise to ask if any freedom can really be achieved if we must compromise our belief in what is true to achieve it?

Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal. Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions. San Francisco: Ignatius Press. 2004.

Tensions Triggered by Gay Rights Question Threaten Interfaith Coalition http://huff.to/1bed7Ax



4 thoughts on “Tensions Triggered by Gay Rights Question Threaten Interfaith Coalition

  1. You raise some interesting points here, and I appreciate especially your reference to Ratzinger’s work on culture and religious identity. That section stood out to me as well in my reading. Reading the article and your response to it made me wonder how common it is for people with varying religious backgrounds to agree on anything. What is common ground within a group that includes Muslims, Christians, Mormons, Hindus, and Sikhs? The answer would get even more complex if you put a Sunni and a Shia Muslim together, as well as charismatic, Catholic, Baptist, United, and Greek Orthodox Christians together. We barely know how to get along within our own religions, let alone across religious lines.

    Rights for people who are gay is a divisive, emotional, and difficult issue to wrestle with from a religious perspective. There is not likely to be complete agreement between any two faith groups on this issue, and even individuals within faith groups may have opposite perspectives. Within my own tiny church there are a wide variety of beliefs on this topic. This is why I think it is remarkable that the coalition is able to exist at all. In fact, I wonder if extremely narrow agendas, such as the common desire for religious freedom, could be all that could be discussed. Could even the desire for world peace be discussed? My readings on Islam this week make me wonder.

    Thanks for sharing this article!

  2. It seems that every once in a while, a new “hot button” topic emerges as the main focus to religious dialogue. The disagreement over the rights of those who identify themselves as LGBT (among variants) has been a primary issue in Christian circles for the last few decades (a little bit of a break was taken during the US Presidential election, when attentions were turned toward to Mormonism, thanks to the spotlight on Mitt Romney), but now the debate over sexual orientation is back in full-force. I agree with your statement that, “Gay rights may have been one problem but they weren’t really the problem – different views on what is true and righteous were the real problem.” These hot-button topics point to deeper convictions than the issues at hand. But then, a question must be asked: are these “issues” central to the beliefs of a religious body?

    Did God ever say, “I am the God of your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob . . . and I am opposed to [fill in the blank]”? Did Christ ever say, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him and ceases to [fill in the blank] shall not perish but have eternal life”? Of course, Scripture does have something to say about certain lifestyles. This means that we cannot ignore these issues at hand; they are important. But the question lies with what our faith is rooted in.

    The article reads, “Rivers said his tolerance ends where people force him to accept anything beyond what he knows as biblical truth, or when opponents threaten his tax-exempt status because of his beliefs.” I question where this conviction comes from. Does the Bible say anything about defending one’s own tax rights? Are tax-exempt statuses a religious conviction and right?

    One issue (again, this may be peripheral, and not the main issue) might be that many in the Western world seems to think we’re still living in a Christian society when our lives can be better described as a “diaspora.” North America can no longer be viewed as faithfully homogeneous (if it could’ve ever been considered that). Rather, there are Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Sikhs, Taoists, Agnostics, and Atheists in every corner of this continent. Right-living needs to precede right-teaching. Efforts in making people follow one’s own religious truth, when religious and scriptural authority is not mutually recognized, are futile. It is divisive, and makes many people act in ways that are contrary to to faith they profess.

  3. It is interesting that homosexual issue became the burning issue in the religious circle. Reflecting on the issue, no matter how much interest we have on the issue, I feel it is unreasonable to be so emotional toward this issue. Christians could sit together with atheists to discuss the issue of the existence of God, while not feel offended. However, why do they feel offended when talking about the issue of homosexual? That is not the core issue of our faith at all.
    Personally, I totally believe in the traditional value toward marriage. However, I feel there is bias. It is much more about culture than about religion. Why not take the burning issue as an opportunity for dialogue? Behind the homosexual issue, it is the psychological issue. And this issue can usually be traced back to family and social problems. On those grounds, church could play a big role. This is exactly the place where Christianity different from other religions.
    Pope Benedict XVI said about the challenge of relativism (Truth and Tolerance, Ignatius, P.117). He believes relativism is the problem church faces since modern age starts. However, I could not agree with him. Relativism is not a problem but the truth in this world we must face. It seems relativism to have sympathy toward homosexual people, but it may seems equally relativism when Jesus touches those who are unclean.
    Scripture provides such a challenge to us. Only when we are challenged, we could see who Jesus is and what the true heart of God is like. In such a relativism challenge, we see the God face in Jesus, the road, truth and life.


    • Thanks for your ever clear, and thought-provoking post! I particularly appreciate your raising the issue of the competing nature of truth and freedom. It does seem that in choosing to stand united on issues of religious freedom an ultimate priority needs to be made as to whether convictions for truth or convictions for freedom are the ultimate ideal. The conference’s intent appears to to promote unity in religious freedom however at the core of the principle is a precondition of diversity. Is a forum seeking to stand united on principles of freedom the appropriate place to seek unity of principles?

      By the very nature, the intent of the American Religious Freedom Program is to protect religious freedoms: “working with a broad range of religious-freedom supporters of all faiths and backgrounds, the American Religious Freedom Program fosters sounds understandings of and respect for religious freedom among members of the public and the media, government officials, and the legal and academic communities” (http://www.religiousfreedom.org/about%5Fus/). Does not freedom require there to be something to be free from? The concept of freedom is a tricky one in this sense in that pressing for freedom on one side of the fence requires one to uphold freedom for those who oppose their view as well.

      I wonder what Christ’s intent in John 8:32…was it for us to find truth in seeking freedom…or to find freedom in seeking truth?

      It will be interesting to see what priority/direction the conference will take in 2014.


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