America is not a Christian Nation…Nor Should It Be

Several months ago, I got into a disagreement with a friend over the religious rights of businesses to refuse service to gay people. As I’m sure it’s no surprise, I do not think that businesses have the right to discriminate against anyone–for a host of reasons. My friend believes that the business owner’s religious morality should trump civil law in the case of Sweet Cakes By Melissa’s denial of service to a lesbian bride-to-be. My friend believes that forcing the business to serve the woman would open the door to religious discrimination.

For the record, I am not a Christian. I do, however, believe in the freedom of religion outlined in the First Amendment of our country’s Bill of Rights. While everyone knows about the protection given to those who practice religion, the lesser known part is the protection from the religious practices of others as well as the restriction of the government from favoring one religious belief over another.

The problem with my friend’s stance is that it comes from a view that Christianity is the default religion of anyone involved in this conversation. Aside from the obvious problem of Christianity not being the only religion around, it also fails to specify which version of Christianity is being adhered to as far as this conversation is concerned–and many like it to come, I’m sure.

My experience with religion began within the context of an Evangelical Fundamentalist Christian Church. On those Sunday mornings that our blue church bus would pick my brother and me up, we were conveyed to a local community center where we would receive our religious instruction in the center’s auditorium. It was there that I was taught that Rock Music was “music of the Devil,” our pastor telling us to destroy any and all albums and tapes lest we become corrupted by it. I was taught that the Bible was the literal and inviolable word of God and that the minister himself was the spokesman for the Lord.

This was in 1985 (a year after the original Footloose came out) and I was ten years old. It was also the year that I lost my faith. I remember the exact moment: the minister was telling us about the Devil’s Music and that anyone who listened to it was corrupt and sinful and likely to lead us straight into the arms of Lucifer. The disturbing part of that assertion was he was talking about my parents.

My father was a fan of Iron Butterfly, Led Zeppelin, Frank Zappa, Cheech & Chong, The Who and many other 60’s and 70’s era psychedelic rock groups. My mother, on the other hand, listened to Madonna, Prince, Teena Marie, Rick James, and a number of other artists who often sung explicitly about sexuality that fell firmly outside of our church’s moral mandates.

As a child, being told that your parents, the people who are supposed to love you the most in the world, were in fact leading you down a path to eternal damnation was frightening. More than that, however, it was contradictory and even my little kid’s mind called bullshit. The very week beforehand, the minister had discussed the Ten Commandments, in particular the one concerning the honoring of our parents. He told us that our parents were infallible, that they always had our best interests at heart and so our obedience to them was the best way to honor them. I remember thinking about the parents of my friends in my old neighborhood and wondering how you could honor someone who was capable of beating you with a belt in front of your friends on the front lawn. My parents weren’t perfect, but they didn’t do anything like that, so I gave the pastor the benefit of the doubt–until he started talking about how my parents were leading me to Hell via their music collection.

As you can imagine, that sort of spiritual disillusionment was devastating not just because I had lost God, but I had lost Him because He turned out to be a contradictory jerk. It took me nearly fifteen years to realize that it wasn’t God who let me down–it was the minister and all of his followers.

My belief and understanding in the Divine is much different than when I was a child, but that’s a good thing. My spirituality is more mature and ever evolving. And, while I am a Taoist now, my belief in a creative, loving force has recovered and strengthened–and has no place for hatred and fear-mongering.

My point in bringing all of this up is that not everyone’s experience with religion and spirituality is as tumultuous; indeed, many people are surrounded by loving, accepting people who just want to be good people and feel a connection to something greater than themselves. And a great many of these people are Christian. But they are also Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, and so many more people than I can reasonably list. And then there are the Atheists and Agnostics who are no less important for their search for meaning outside a religious context.

My friend, who believes that it is just fine to deny a cake to a woman who was marrying the woman she loved, in my view, is wrong. She is not wrong for her religious beliefs; that is her right and I would defend that right even if she believes that I will go to Hell for my beliefs. Rather, she is wrong that her beliefs should be the law of the land when the land in question is the United States of America. Her beliefs assume that her religion is the correct one and the fact is, no religion can rightfully make that claim.

America is not a Christian nation, it is a nation that has Christians in it and, just like with race, we would be a much poorer culture without our signature diversity. And that is why we should not even try to be a Christian nation, because it would endanger the religious freedom (or even freedom from religion) of so many of our citizens. And that would just be un-American.

The Correct Side of History

On this day, June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that banning same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

I was awoken by my best friend via text message telling me of the history making news and I began to cry the best tears of joy.

This weekend is Gay Pride weekend in my home state of Minnesota and I will be out and proud at the festivities celebrating.

What a wonderful serendipity that this ruling should fall two days before the 46th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots that is the origin of our Pride parades. Indeed, only three days ago, the Stonewall Wall Inn was named a historic landmark.

While this is by no means the end of the road for our fight for equality, it is a huge step forward–not just for us queer folk, but equality itself. As Dr. Martin Luther King said, “A threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

For the first time in a very long time, I can say without hesitation that I am proud to be a Queer American. Below is a YouTube made compilation of coming out and wedding videos to commemorate this historic day.

Aloha, Ohana!

Why Voting Matters

Today is Mid-Term Election Day and I encourage everyone to go out and vote.

I once had a conversation with a young woman who said that she doesn’t vote, has no plans to vote and doesn’t give a shit about politics. Given the way politicians and political issues are spun and obscured, it is completely understandable that people are so turned around that they don’t know what or who to vote for, but to say that they don’t even care to know and that voting is pointless makes me angry. With the minimum wage, reproductive rights, and voting itself actually being voted on in many places in this election, it surprises me that more people don’t vote. And it just absolutely boggles my mind when I hear people say that voting is a waste of time. What?!

I’m a control freak and because of that, I am often flabbergasted by anyone willfully abdicating control over their own destiny. As a kid, I was often subject to the whims of people who could not be trusted with authority of any sort. As I grew older, I became “rebellious” and “argumentative” when I disagreed with the adults who were in charge. I use quotations because those were words others used to describe my behavior when I openly questioned their knowledge and “wisdom.” I’m not ashamed of this; indeed, I believe it makes me a proper American. I believe in shaping my own fate and I believe in protecting the inalienable rights described in the United States Bill of Rights.

I agree with the sentiment that freedom is not free, we must all work for it. It must be fought for, but not always with violence and bloodshed. The most radical and defiant thing our Founding Fathers did was state that they were done with England’s bullshit and that they were going to take up the reigns of their own fates. It is often said that the pen is mightier than the sword, and the Declaration of Independence is a very specific historic example of that axiom. That document was literally signed proof of high treason–an offense that is punishable by death in every society around the world, past and present. That document was not composed lightly or on a whim, it was done with grave and serious forethought and conviction that it was the only true course for them to follow to maintain their human dignity. With so many people around the world fighting–with words and with actions–for the right to decide their own futures, I believe it to be irresponsible to squander this right that so many have fought and died for.

Now some may argue that it is their choice not to make a choice, and I would partially agree with that idea, however, I might also point out that those people who refuse to even be bothered to vote are the same ones who grouse incessantly about how this country is going to hell in a hand basket. That’s like refusing to breathe because you’re angry about air pollution–it accomplishes nothing and only harms you in the end. It is my belief (and everyone is certainly welcome to disagree with any of this –respectfully, of course) that if you don’t vote, you have no right to complain. You can’t leave the decisions for your life up to others and then turn around and bitch about how it’s not the way you wanted it to be–what did you expect would happen?

So, my fellow Americans, I encourage you go out there and vote. Grab your friends and family and even the occasional stranger and tell them to vote too. Tell the senators, governors, representatives, county commissioners and the like that they work for us and that it’s literally in their job description to listen to us.

Vote because you want your voice to be heard, because you want your preferences and desires and views to be considered. I know some people are laughing as they read this. How naïve am I to believe that in a country of well over three-hundred million people that my lone voice will actually be heard? I’ve heard that very derisive question, or variations thereof, by people my whole life and my response is:

You definitely won’t be heard if you remain silent.