The Universal Notebook: Keep your religion to yourself

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I know I’m skating on thin ice when I talk about someone else’s religion. I’m very apt to be accused of intolerance. But religious tolerance simply means accepting the religious views of others as long as they don’t try to force them on you.

For instance, I accept the recent United Methodist Church re-assertion of its ban on same-sex marriage and ordination of LGBTQ ministers, as long as they don’t try to ban same-sex marriage for non-Methodists. In fact, their anti-gay policies are dividing Methodists.

When our Congregational church voted to allow our pastors to bless same-sex unions, a handful of families left the church. But by the time the congregation voted a decade later to become an Open & Affirming church, one that welcomes LGBTQ people into the full life and ministry of the church, the vote was unanimous.

Back in 2009, when Maine voters repealed legislatively authorized same-sex marriage, the Catholic Diocese of Portland led the charge. But when Maine voters legalized same-sex marriage in 2012, the Catholic Church blessedly stayed out of it. As long as they were not required to perform same-sex marriages, it was none of their business what the rest of us did.

The Catholic Church, of course, is on pretty thin ice itself preaching about sexual morality. I admire Pope Francis’ liberal instincts on many social issues, but there are limits to his ability to drag the Holy See out of the dark ages and into the sunlight of the 21st century.

The recent Vatican summit on sex abuse by priests failed to take any meaningful action, according to survivors of sexual abuse, such as adopting a code of conduct for bishops or creating a lay commission to review all complaints of sex abuse by priests.

As a Protestant, it has always seemed to me that the Catholic Church could solve a lot of its problems simply by doing away with celibacy, allowing priests to marry and ordaining women. But historian Garry Wills, author of “Why I Am a Catholic,” wrote a Boston Globe column in January entitled “Celibacy isn’t the cause of the church sex-abuse crisis; the priesthood is.”

The most destructive religious force in this country is evangelical Christians like Mike Pence, who support Donald Trump despite the fact that Trump is not a Christian in any meaningful way and has a history of dishonesty, infidelity and lechery that would make a true Christian cringe.

Trump embraces the prosperity theology of charlatans such as Paula White the same way he embraces the American flag – creepily and insincerely. Mega-church televangelists preach that God will make you rich if you donate to religious causes. Baloney. Trump’s charitable giving is non-existent and the only people prosperity theology makes rich are prosperity theologians.

The Christian right is the primary reason “religious freedom,” which once meant the freedom to worship as one chooses, has been perverted to mean the freedom to force one’s religious views on the American people. The Christian right tries to dictate national policy on sex education, birth control and abortion, same-sex marriage and gay rights, stem-cell research and evolution, and so much more. And that’s why I have no compunction about criticizing them.

It’s fine to believe whatever you like as long as you keep your religion to yourself. But it becomes everyone’s business when you try to turn our democracy into a theocracy.

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.

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