Rev. William Sloane Coffin, 1924-2006

For those unfamiliar with his life and work, there is a fairly comprehensive write up in the LA Times.

This is what he had to say about the 2004 United Church of Christ ad that was rejected as “too controversial” because of its depiction of the exclusion practiced by some faith communities.

At my age, I harbor far fewer illusions than I did in younger years. Still, I was shocked by the refusal of NBC and CBS to air a TV ad by the United Church of Christ. The UCC is a mainline, Protestant denomination of 1.3 million members who gather in some 6,000 congregations across the country.

There was nothing unseemly or hateful about the ad; quite the contrary. In effect, it said that there are no outsiders to a God who created all humankind, and as Christ himself was the soul of hospitality, a faithful church strives to be inclusive. Pictured among a variety of people who have been hurt by exclusion were two men walking hand in hand.

Inevitably, in a homophobic society, many people feel uncomfortable with displays of same-sex affection. But their comfort is not the issue.

At issue is the discomfort of gays and lesbians who for years have been isolated, silenced, abused, and killed. The image of Matthew Shepard hanging on a Wyoming fence still burns in many American minds and hearts.

So NBC and CBS were guilty not only of censorship but also of insensitivity to considerable suffering. No doubt, the networks feared a right-wing backlash. It is true that such leaders of the Religious Right as Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and Gary Bauer repudiate violent forms of homophobia. But to deplore the violence, while continuing to proclaim the ideas that undergird it, strikes thoughtful people as hypocritical. Seeds of disrespect all too often blossom into hatred and violence.

The UCC properly implied that millions of American Christians are at odds with the Christian Right. They know that the Biblical book of Leviticus forbids homosexual relations. They are also aware that the same book condemns barbequed ribs and Monday Night Football for it is “toevah” – an abomination – not only to eat pork but merely to touch the skin of a dead pig.

In reality, there are no biblical literalists, only selective literalists. By abolishing slavery and ordaining women, millions of Protestants have gone far beyond biblical literalism. It’s time we did the same for homophobia.

Homosexuality was not a big issue for Biblical writers. All told, there are only seven verses in 66 books that refer to it. Nowhere in the four gospels is it ever mentioned. Not everything Biblical is Christ-like, and verses involving more hate than love have no place whatsoever in the human heart. For Christians, the problem is not how to reconcile homosexuality with the scriptural passages that condemn it, but how to reconcile the rejection and abuse of homosexuals with the love of Christ. The UCC ad claims that it can, and must be done.

In a Washington, D.C., cemetery, on the gravestone of a Vietnam veteran, it is written, “When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.”

Is a man loving another immutably immoral? Cannot Hamlet once again persuade a reluctant Horatio that “there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy?”

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