Friday, September 14, 2012

Religion Shouldn’t Be an Excuse to Hate- Written by Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

       I usually write about spirituality as it applies to LBGT people and their allies. But today, the story of the US diplomats being attacked and killed in Libya this week is on my mind. Actually, I may not be straying from my usual message.
        If I remember the details correctly (and admittedly, I’m not a journalist), the US military aided the Libyan revolution against long-time dictator Gadhafi and as a result, the leader was toppled. It seemed in the aftermath that the liberated Libyan nation was mostly grateful to the United States. In fact, polls even showed that the majority of Libyan citizens had positive feelings for the leadership of the United States. So, the world understandably responded with shock and dismay when US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other embassy staff members were murdered in Benghazi. What happened?!
        Sociologists and political scientists can analyze the power vacuum that may have been created when an old regime fell. And, certainly politics and relationships in the Middle East can seem complex even to news junkies, and even more so to those who may not be keeping up that much.
        Reportedly, the murders took place as part of a protest over a US made film that insulted Islam.
From my sideline view, it seems that an anti-Muslim extremist infuriated Muslim fundamentalists who responded by attacking people who were not responsible for the questionable film. What a mess!                
      But see, here is where we get back to the matters I usually write about. I was relieved to see faithful Muslim Libyans holding signs saying that they deplore the violence inflicted on the US diplomats. Some will always use religion negatively to insult other religions, to demonize same-gender loving people, to justify sexism or xenophobia or child abuse. Some people will always blaspheme their religion, whether it is Islam or Judaism or Hinduism or Christianity, by insisting that religion causes them to hate, demean, attack, or exclude “the other.”
       But the truth of almost every major religious tradition is that it values peace, human dignity, hope, love, kindness, and compassion. Those who are violent in the name of Islam are no more representative of the best of their religion than homophobes, racists, or misogynists who call themselves Christian adequately represent the spirit of Christ.
       The recent attacks should not be used to promote intolerance of religions not our own (if we happen to be religious); and, in our pluralistic world that is smaller and more accessible than ever, we must stop using our religions to justify our bigotries. One may hate, fear, or not understand same-gender loving people, but she or he should not blame their prejudice on their faith. One may distrust people from a certain region or country or culture, but again, that prejudice shouldn’t be dressed up in the language of religion. Hatred disguised as values is no less hateful, nor is it any less dangerous.
       I am deeply sorry that faithful Muslims were insulted by anti-Muslim bigotry. And I’m deeply sorry that innocent Americans were killed because some people wrongly felt that having their religion insulted was more appalling than taking the lives of people who did not insult them. I’m sorry that religion can be misused to create division and pain. And I call on all people of faith, regardless of what spiritual tradition they claim as their own, to affirm the human dignity of all people and to stop cloaking their fears and hatreds in the language of faith.
      Sometimes the victims of religiously sanctioned hatred are gays and lesbians. Sometimes the victims are Muslims, or Christians, or Jews, or Atheists. The offending party misusing their noble religious tradition may change and the most recent victim may be from a different community that the one before, but the problem is always the same: prejudice posing as piety, viciousness posing as values, rage posing as religion, and fear posing as faith. Those of us who claim to be religious simply must be better representatives of the basic social institution we call Religion.
      No matter what our religious tradition may be, we all are meant to live by the Golden Rule, which stated only slightly differently from one tradition to the next, tells us to treat all others with the decency and kindness with which we would want to be treated. Until we can do a better job of that, we bring more shame than honor to the word “religion.”  
Durrell Watkins holds sociology and theatre degrees from Henderson State University and Goddard College, respectively, as well as a Master of Divinity degree from Union Theological Seminary and a Doctor of Ministry degree from the Episcopal Divinity School. He is the author of Wrestling with God without Getting Pinned: Old Stories, New Thoughts, & Progressive Spirituality (Outskirts Press, available at, and is the Senior Pastor of the Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale (

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