Articles of faith

The religious right’s high-profile moral and ethical failures could be a direct result of repressive religion

BY Advocate.com Editors

January 26 2006 1:00 AM ET

As someone who
was raised and ordained as a Southern Baptist, I was
saddened, but not shocked, at news of the recent arrest of
the Reverend Lonnie Latham, a minister from Tulsa,
Okla.., and executive committee member of the
virulently antigay Southern Baptist Convention. Reverend
Latham was arrested in Oklahoma City for alleged lewd
behavior, propositioning a male undercover police
officer, in front of a motel known as a high-traffic
area for gay cruising. Unfortunately, Reverend
Latham’s story is one repeated by those in the
darkest corners of the closet, who are trapped by the
damaging teachings of misguided religious leaders.

The fall of this
religious-right figure is part of an inevitable cycle of
scandal, as the self-appointed guardians of
“traditional values,” their moral ships
sinking from under them, find themselves in the lifeboat
with the rest of us sinners. The moral hypocrisy of
many right-wing religious leaders comes from their
fundamental misunderstanding of religion as the
practice of a complicated and esoteric set of rules designed
to restrict human freedom, rather than a way of living
that frees individuals to lives of greater compassion
and personal growth.

The incidences of
national conservative religious leaders caught in
scandal are many, running the gamut from the tragic
hypocrisy of the closet to personal ethical lapses to
outright crimes. Here are a few recent high-profile
examples:

Ralph Reed 

Reed, the former
executive director of the Christian Coalition, is
embroiled in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal. He stands
accused of using funds Christian conservatives had
donated to fight the spread of gambling to actually
promote Native American tribal casinos secretly in the
South instead, and vice versa.

Monsignor Eugene Clark 

Clark used his
pulpit at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City and
program on the Eternal Word Television Network to blame gay
priests for the Catholic sex abuse scandal; to once
denounce the United States as “probably the
most immoral country, certainly in the Western
Hemisphere”; and call for chastity and celibacy
throughout the nation. He resigned in August 2005
after an affair with his married secretary.

William Bennett 

Bennett is the
standard-bearer of the right-wing “traditional
values” crusade, and he is chief propagator of
one of the most damaging lies spread about the gay
community: the “statistic” invented by a
psychologist’s discredited data that a gay
man’s average age at death is 43. In 2003 it
was revealed that Bennett had a gambling addiction, losing
a reported $8 million over 10 years.

John Paulk 

Paulk is the
former chair of “ex-gay” group Exodus
International (he appeared on the cover of Newsweek in
1998 as an ex-gay) and founder of Focus on the
Family’s ex-gay program Love Won Out. He was
discovered and photographed in September 2000 in a
Washington, D.C., gay bar, where he even bought drinks
for patrons. Although Paulk left Focus on the Family
in 2003 to pursue a “new ministry
opportunity,” Love Won Out continues to hold
events across the country.

It is not my
intention to cast stones of condemnation at these
individuals. We all have times when we need grace and
forgiveness for our ethical failings or
inconsistencies, whether from religious communities or
from the community at large. There is, however, a profound
need to understand that when religion is used to bring
repression and darkness rather than liberation and
light, it is toxic to both leaders and followers. It
is inevitable that those who pile so much guilt on the rest
of the world will sooner or later be crushed by it
themselves.

The self-loathing
that drives some public figures who have made careers
of espousing “moral values” into lives of
deception as they sneak into dive bars, cheap motels,
or gambling casinos for a night’s escape from a
life of repression is the same fear and shame that causes
them to lash out at lesbian, gay, bisexual, and
transgender people. The life-altering message that I
and so many other LGBT people of faith have found is that
freedom comes not from lies and denial, but by recognizing
our mutual connection to all our neighbors, with
honesty and humility, in the face of the Creator.

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