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Articles of faith

Articles of faith


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

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.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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