COLUMBIA — In light of the recent outcry against President Barack Obama omitting the word "Creator" while referencing the Declaration of Independence, the strong opposition to Park51 (formerly known as the Cordoba House) being built near Ground Zero and the sex scandal rocking Bishop Eddie Long, a well-known African-American preacher, it seems Christian tolerance and understanding are lacking.
Long, pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Georgia, leads a flock of 25,000 parishioners. He is a celebrity of sorts, driving around Atlanta in a $350,000 Bentley, making cameos on television, and even making guest appearances on rap albums. Long has also been a long-standing opponent of homosexuality, promoting his ministry’s ability to “cure” gays and lesbians. In 2004, along with Bernice King, youngest child of Martin Luther King Jr., he held a protest against same-sex marriage, prompting the Southern Poverty Law Center’s magazine to call him “one of the most virulently homophobic black leaders in the religiously based anti-gay movement.”
Ironically, Long is currently facing allegations in a lawsuit that he coerced four male members of New Birth into sexual relationships against their will, with the lure of money, trips, cars and the presentation of himself as a trustworthy father figure. Long has vehemently denied these accusations, using the Bible to liken himself to David against Goliath.
Yes, Long is using the same Bible that he uses to denounce homosexuals, the same one once used by slave owners to convince his ancestors it was God’s law to keep them enslaved and docile, to defend himself against alleged homosexual relationships. Very reminiscent of Ted Haggard, if I must say.
It’s also that same Bible that Fred Phelps and the folks over at Westboro Baptist Church uses to justify their vile military-funeral protests against homosexuality.
Phelps, who is consistently in the news as a result of these abominable antics, is currently named as a defendant (along with two of his daughters) in the case lodged by Albert Snyder, father of the late Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, currently on the Supreme Court’s docket.
The right to free speech, regardless of how hateful, is at the center of this debate, and the high court’s decision could produce ramifications unimaginable. Yet, beyond a discussion of the First Amendment, this ignites a separate discussion about the complexities of religion, Christianity to be exact.
What is the common link between these men in these instances? The Bible, the same book you can still find in hotel rooms or your nearest church pew. The Christian Holy Book that I, like fellow Christians, look to as guidance — as the “basic instructions before leaving Earth.”
As a woman baptized in the Christian faith, and more so as one who considers myself to be a devout follower as I have been for the majority of my life, I have to wonder where the respect for loving thy neighbor as thyself has gone.
What, if anything, separates the abhorrence Phelps spews from that which Long spreads since both utilize the Bible as their guiding light?
Is it because there is a larger, general consensus that Phelps is just outright shameful, disrespectful and senseless, that we just write him off?
Phelps, just like Long, has a consistent following (regardless that Phelps’ flock is mostly made up of family members). Their followers refuse to believe they are spreading hate or could be guilty of any wrongdoing. They believe that what they are spreading is the word of Jesus Christ, and anyone who does not agree with them, like myself, will burn in a fiery hell.
We like to believe we are the “righteous” type of followers and those other fanatics are just those “other” kind of Christians. Yet, aren’t we dangerously treading the line of being just as bad as them by turning a blind eye to their hate speech?
We don't consider them our "kind" of Christian and hence offer them no attention. But they are our "kind" of Christian. They read, believe and try to practice the same book we do. It’s the same book I like to quote when attempting to encourage someone or offer comfort. The same Book people refuse to believe that President Obama reads and also believes in. And yes, it is even that book Brother Jed uses to base and spread his confrontational Christian message in Speakers Circle, semester after semester.
What should bring us together by being devotees of the Bible — a common belief in and respect of the basic Christian principles of loving one another and not judging others — actually separates us. I’m all for free speech, but I missed the verse encouraging hate speech and any justification (perverse or not) to spread it.
As Gandhi observed, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.”
Jennifer M. Wilmot is a graduate student at MU and a Columbia resident.