MAXWELL:  Intolerance as policy

8/9/1998- Printed in the PERSPECTIVE section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper


Not surprisingly, the world’s Anglican bishops have joined other religious groups worldwide in validating intolerance. Meeting last week in Canterbury, England, the conservative prelates voted 526-70 to adopt a resolution condemning homosexuality as being “incompatible with Scripture” and advised against ordaining gays and lesbians.

This move, which Anglicans have a perfect right to make, will gladden America’s hateful Christian Right, along with the Trent Lott and Dick Armey wing of the Republican Party, who _ while hiding behind a bogus scheme called “Christian therapies” that supposedly turns homosexuals straight _ have declared an unholy war against those whose sexual orientation they despise.

But to my basic point.

With regard to religion and gays and lesbians, I want to go on record as saying that, although I am not a supporter of organized religion, I am a proud Unitarian who believes in the “First Principle” of the Unitarian Universalist Association: All humans possess equal dignity and worth.

Reared by devout black Baptists and Pentecostals, I struggled with the intolerance and selective sinfulness all around me and became so disenchanted with such teachings that I joined the Unitarian church in 1970 in Daytona Beach.

What a refreshing experience. I sat alongside fellow parishioners who may have been atheists, agnostics, humanists, Jews and, believe it or not, even Christians.

I was so impressed with the Daytona Beach group, then led by the Rev. Al Harkins, that I moved to Chicago in 1972 to attend Medville Theological Seminary to become a Unitarian minister. I got sidetracked, however, and studied English at the University of Chicago.

One of my first roommates became a Unitarian minister. We attended the First Unitarian Church of Chicago and worked with a Boy Scouts troop the church was affiliated with. When he told me that he had been a Scout and is gay, he was surprised that I _ a straight who was married _ was unfazed.

I told him that I fully accepted him as a fellow human. And besides, I said, at least three gays had belonged to my all-black, tough Scout troop in Crescent City.

Again, I am proud to be a Unitarian because the Unitarian Universalist Association, which has 215,000 members, has told the Boy Scouts of America to take a hike. Until recently, the Boy Scouts of America Religious Relations Committee let Unitarian congregations award a “religion in life” emblem to Unitarian boys in Scout troops. The emblem is worn on the uniform like other Scout emblems.

But no more. The Boy Scouts of America has declared that Unitarian boys can no longer wear the “religion in life” emblem because the Unitarian Universalists Association officially opposes the Scouts’ policy of banning homosexuals from the organization. The Scouts rejected the Unitarians’ entire religion curriculum because the church does not force individuals to seek spiritual truth. Instead, the church permits “human choice” in matters of spiritual truth, said the Rev. Dee Graham, pastor of the Unitarian Universalist Church of St. Petersburg.

In all fairness, I must acknowledge that individual congregations can still sponsor Scout troops if they accept the Scouts’ policy of barring homosexuals.

Like me, though, Graham agrees with the Rev. John A. Beuhrens, the association’s president, who condemned the Scouts’ intolerance during an interview with Gustav Niebuhr, religion writer for the New York Times: “I think I would encourage people to understand that teaching kids to treat others with fairness, teaching kids not to discriminate just on the basis of something belonging to a particular group, requires the stand we have taken vis-a-vis the Boy Scouts.”


Obviously, the Boy Scouts can accept and reject whomever they wish. But officials should bear in mind that they, like the Christian Right and the Anglican bishops, are disserving the nation’s boys _ mere children _ when teaching them to hate fellow humans.