Bullies in Clerical Clothes
By Rev. Dr. Michael Tino
Our nation has recently been made to focus on the widespread problem of childhood bullying. Unfortunately, it took the suicides of several young men who were humiliated repeatedly because of their perceived sexual orientation, to make us realize the trauma that nearly all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth (and many who are not, but thought to be) experience on a daily basis. If, however, we seek to blame this problem on the mean kids on the playground, we are deluding ourselves; we are absolving each of us of our responsibility for and our complicity in the bullying epidemic. Bullies, you see, come in all shapes and sizes.
In the midst of heated political campaigns, some of those bullies take to the airwaves. Name calling, violent imagery and vicious lies are thrown back and forth without regard for who gets hurt in the process. Here in New York, we have more than our share of politicians who are nothing more than bullies seeking political office. Recently, gubernatorial candidate Carl Palladino used anti-gay rhetoric to seek the votes of Orthodox Jews in New York City. “I don’t want [our children] brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is an equally valid and successful option,” Palladino said, to thunderous applause from his audience.
Outrage against his remarks was swift, widespread, and bipartisan. Palladino backtracked and apologized in haste, but the damage was done. People across New York had their own homophobia validated by a major-party candidate for the state’s highest office. Bullies of all shapes and sizes were validated in their actions—overt and subtle—to marginalize, harass, intimidate and humiliate lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Palladino’s comments—even retracted—will undoubtedly embolden and enable countless people to be mean, unjust, and perhaps even violent towards those who they consider “less than.”
The voters of New York will decide Palladino’s fate, though. What we as liberal religious people should be outraged about is the ways in which bullies cloak their behavior in the mantle of religion. Carl Palladino was supported in his remarks by people of faith, who applauded his vitriol as evidence that their narrow-minded views were gaining traction in the public arena. Bullies in clerical clothing are the worst sort of all, for not only are they unapologetic in their discrimination but they claim the moral authority of God to back them up in perpetuating injustice.
Those of us who stand on the side of love must be unequivocal in our response to these bullies. We must forcefully say that they do not speak for us, for what we hold holy, or for our God. Our nation was founded on ideals that include religious freedom and toleration. Yet while all people have the right to believe what they want to, none of us has the right to oppress others because of those beliefs. In standing on the side of love, we must denounce those who perpetuate hatred in the name of religion, in whatever form their hate shows itself.
We must, with love, say that religious people who perpetuate violence against women (and other, more subtle, forms of sexism) are wrong. We must say that religious people who spread intolerance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are wrong. We must say that religion is no excuse for anti-Semitism, for anti-Muslim bigotry, for racism or for anti-immigrant sentiments. All of these things are simply wrong, whichever Scripture you revere, however it is that you pray, whatever name you use for the divine.
As religious people seeking to stand on the side of love, we must put forth a different possibility. It is possible to worship a God that loves every part of creation equally. A God that stands with the “least of these.” A God that has an infinite capacity for forgiveness and compassion. A God that dislikes bullying in whatever form it takes, but most of all, in God’s own name.