I gave a speech at High Energy Toastmasters this week called “Paul’s Letter to American Christians.” It was a speech Dr. Martin Luther King Jr gave twice, in 1956 and again in 1963, three months before the “I Have a Dream” speech. My task was to read and interpret a famous speech. What I did was choose a famous speaker, and not as famous a speech. But the choice of this speech was deliberate.
The speech was mainly one of King’s many calls to end segregation. In this call, he used a perspective of what the apostle Paul would think if he were transported in time from the first century to America in the 20th century and comment on the society he saw. Paul, King theorizes, would marvel at the technological and medical advances, and the amazing economic output. He would easily see the segregation that was present as evil. He would also chastise the churches in America, which are just as segregated as the rest of society, and that this was just as wrong. He would remind America that correcting this struggle, like every struggle, would only be won through love.
Why did I choose this speech for this forum? We always hear, you can’t talk about religion or politics. Why? In my observation, it is because in both of these topics, we have devolved into beings that have no capability of discussing or debating the issues. We have our beliefs, and we declare, with actions and words, “If you disagree with me, you are not only wrong, but you are also evil. And your voice must be silenced, lest you infect others with your evil.” Think about the discussions you have had, or seen or heard. It takes about 30 seconds for the conversation to deteriorate into name-calling, insults and yelling.
I’m seeing that up close here in Charlotte. This week, the City Council passed an updated version of the non-discrimination ordinance to include protections for those in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Like in some other places, a business can no longer refuse to service anyone in the LGBT group based on that status. The portion that has caused the most angst is the clause that allows transgender people to use the public restroom that matches the gender with which they identify. At the meeting, person after person came forward to speak, allegedly in the name of God, and spewed hatred, swore that anyone who voted for the ordinance were destined for hell, and on and on. It was so typical of many religious people. Hate, hate, you’re going to hell for disagreeing with me, and more hate.
Why does any disagreement have to be dismissed – in a screaming voice – as evil? Who are we, as mere mortals, to judge others? How can any one of us stand up and declare, through our message, “I, and only I, have the final say on what is right and who is and isn’t going to heaven”?
All I can do is say what I believe, and if you disagree, we can talk about it if you wish, and if you don’t, that’s OK too. I’m not God and will never claim to be. I call myself a Christian and strive to live as the Bible instructs. The way I read the Bible, homosexuality is wrong. I know many disagree. I will make no judgements. How you live your life is between you and God, and it’s none of my business unless you invite me to discuss it. Over the years, I have worked with several gay people, and that has never interfered with my ability to work with them or to call them friends. I have also worked with people who cuss like sailors, sleep around, and hate people whose skin color is different from their own. But for whatever reason, most people attach a higher importance on homosexuality. This is erroneous, because the Bible only places one sin as worse than all others, and that is blasphemy. But we as humans think we know better, and attack one or a few things and go nuts about them. None of this matches most of Dr. King’s many urges to fight all battles with love.
So let’s change this. No more name-calling, demonizing or screaming. Let others live their lives and let God be their judge, and when we do have the occasion to discuss and debate, let’s do so without letting the true source of evil, the devil, drag us down with him.