Religion beyond the Right

Article excerpt

As a closer look at the Boy Scouts' debate shows, God doesn't wear tidy political labels.

As the Boy Scouts of America reassesses its ban on gay scouts and leaders, we're hearing a lot about the organization's need to remain sensitive to people whose religions condemn homosexual behavior. Their morals must be properly respected, their God aptly revered.

But what about the morals and the God of people whose religions exhort them to be inclusive and to treat gays and lesbians with the same dignity as anyone else? There are many Americans in this camp, and their opposition to the Scouts' ban is as faith-based as the stance of those who want it maintained.

Take Scott Ward, 48, a public relations executive and married father of three in Takoma Park, Maryland. He's a scout leader, with a 10-year-old son who's a scout. He's also an elder in his Presbyterian church. And for him, the ban must go not in spite of what Christianity says about homosexuality (or what selective literalists have decided it says), but because of what it says about humanity.

"From my faith perspective, singling people out for exclusion from the life of the church or the life of the community cannot possibly be part of God's plan," Ward told me on the phone recently.

He added, "If you look at the people Jesus tended to be most suspicious of, they were people who sat in positions of authority to say that they had the unique ability to judge others."

We refer incessantly in America to the "religious right," a phrase routinely presented as if it's some sort of syllogism: to be devoutly religious is to gravitate to a certain side of the political spectrum, one set of values dictating the other. "Christian conservatives" is an almost equally ubiquitous bit of alliteration.

But there's a religious center. A religious left. There are Christian moderates and Christian liberals: less alliterative and less dogmatic, but perhaps no less concerned with acting in ways that reflect moral ideals. We should better acknowledge that and them.

And we should stop equating conventional piety with certain issues only and sexual morality above other kinds.

Our tendency to do that was illustrated by the hullabaloo last year over the Nuns on the Bus. The Vatican officials who wanted them to be more assertively anti-abortion and anti-birth control were portrayed as the dutiful guardians of tradition, while the nuns, focused on matters of economic justice, were the rebels.

Why? It's as fundamentally Catholic and Christian to care about the underprivileged as to safeguard the unborn (or to combat homosexuality). …