I received a lot of strong reader feedback on my post criticizing "Duck Dynasty" star Phil Robertson's GQ interview. A majority disagreed with my point that A&E Networks was in the right to suspend him. The consensus was that free speech is to be exercised without interference from the rules of civility and without consideration for the dignity of others.
Many wrote that Robertson's anti-gay remarks were justified because he was expressing his religious beliefs. Others wrote that LGBT people are sinful abominations because the Bible says so, and one reader condemned me to a life in hell. Which left me wondering: Did he mean the comic strip or the place?
Few considered what Bible scholar Joel L. Watts wrote about earlier this year, that the Bible is being used by some as an excuse to advocate a harmful, homophobic, point of view.
Freedom of speech doesn't give anyone the right to demean, and this holds true regardless of the fact that Robertson's suspension was brief. Those who denigrate are not immune from the consequences. They should not be surprised when they lose their seat at the table. A quick read of George Washington's 49th Rule of Civility and Decent Behavior bears this out: "Use no reproachful language against any one neither curse nor revile. "
What Robertson said about LGBT people is reviling, and his presenting it in the context of the Bible more so. Robertson used the Bible to advance a false, one-sided, manipulative argument that reduces gays and lesbians to less than equal members of society.
However, he's not the only one. Many politicians and organizations like the Family Research Council and the American Family Association often cite scripture to justify their propagandist arguments that gays and lesbians don't deserve the same civil rights as others, are working to recruit children as part of some homosexual agenda or are disease spreaders. These are all carefully planned messages meant to suspend rational thought so as to attract supporters and donors. If the Bible says it's so, then it must be so.
We saw this at its worst in Uganda earlier this month, where the parliament passed an anti-homosexuality bill making same-sex relations punishable with a prison sentence of 14 years to life. Much of the justification for this law rests on distorted interpretations of the Bible.
If we assume that Christian theology is grounded on love and compassion, this propagandist point of view is fundamentally anti-Christian. The Bible does not provide a right to vilify LGBT people. When one injects the Bible into political conversations about gay rights, rational debate ends. The conversation shifts to an intractable argument over one's religious beliefs and away from a productive one about the political issue.
Using the Bible as a propaganda tool is the anti-gay lobby's last-ditch attempt to win a losing battle. If you're arguing for equality, you're arguing against the Bible. If the Bible says LGBT people are sinful abominations, then they don't deserve respect, dignity and equal treatment under the law. They deserve to be punished.
The word "homosexuality," which didn't exist in ancient languages, entered into the Bible in 1946. It was an offshoot of a political debate brewing in the capital. At the time, Republicans were pushing the Truman administration to take a hard-line against LGBT federal employees, workers they believed posed a national security and communist threat to the government.
Truman quietly fired some of these workers so as to avoid a bigger political problem, but that wasn't enough to mollify anti-gay activists. When meetings about revising the Standard Bible took place in 1946, some saw it as a political opportunity to use the Bible to mobilize public opinion in favor of homophobia. They pushed the revision committee to insert the word "homosexuality," and thus scriptural support for their cause came to be.
Anti-gay politicians made great propagandist use of the Bible during the Lavender Scare, a period in the early 1950s that saw an intense persecution of gays and lesbians government workers. The scare culminated in 1954 when President Eisenhower issued Executive Order 10450, which mandated the firing of all federal employees who were determined to be guilty of "sexual perversion." Over the next few decades, thousands lost their jobs.
It's time for Bible scholars to convene a new revision committee, one to debate to the utility of keeping "homosexuality" in the Bible. Because as it stands, the only usefulness of doing so is to provide politicians, people like Phil Robertson, and organizations like the Family Research Council and American Family Association a way to distort scripture to denigrate a group of people who deserve no such treatment.