Why I Use the Word “Bigot”

Portrait of Galileo Galilei by Giusto Sustermans

Portrait of Galileo Galilei by Giusto Sustermans (Wikimedia Commons)

So why do I refer to people who deny full inclusion to LGBT persons in their communities as bigots? This is actually a fairly common question raised by those who comment on my various writings and Facebook posts. Here is my response.

After fifteen years as an ordained member of the clergy – during which I have consistently advocated for LGBT rights, even at the cost of a very traumatic firing from the pulpit – I now hear anti-LGBT comments with the same visceral response that I have when I hear people use racial epithets.

Thankfully, we have reached the point in educated, polite society where it is as unacceptable to make anti-LGBT statements as it is to make anti-ethnic or anti-woman comments. That is to say, people still do so, but everyone – even the bigot speaking – knows that you are not supposed to.

The one place where there seems to be an exception to this is the Church, or at least in certain expressions of the Church. This is due to a widely-held attitude that religious beliefs are not accountable to the same standards of critique as other ideas. I find the preposterous. Some beliefs are – quite simply – stupid. Others are ignorant or ill-informed. Some beliefs are nonsensical or incoherent. Some beliefs are patently and obviously wrong. I will not pretend otherwise because certain folks want to shield their otherwise-unacceptable beliefs behind the veil of “theology.”

Religious ideas should be critiqued, analyzed, and – sometimes – mocked using the same criteria we apply to any other idea. Using religion as an excuse for treating LGBT persons differently is bigotry, whatever the justification. Denying ordination to women is bigotry, whatever the justification. Seeking to impose medieval or ancient social customs on the modern legal system is bigotry, whatever the underlying theological claim.

Frankly, if we cannot shed bigotry and superstition from our religious systems, one of two things will happen: either religion will become irrelevant as humanity moves into the future or, more terrifyingly, the culture as a whole will be unable to move forward because a narrow interpretation of religious beliefs held us back.

I value the work of my colleagues in fostering the dialogue that will bring us forward. My role, I think, is to make sure that bigotry does not hold us back.

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