As a politician and lawmaker, I have campaigned to advance the public policy position that religious rights and rights for gays and lesbians cannot coexist. I contended that if religion is to maintain its freedoms, granting new rights to members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) community must be prevented. I was wrong! There is a way — “the right way” — for religion to contend for its rights while at the same time accommodating rights sought by the LGBT community.
However, “the right way” will not come from politicians pacifying interests on either side of the issue. It will not come from public policy positions, however principled they may be. It will not come from public relations calling for compromise to secure goodwill. Their efforts, separate or combined, will never produce “the right way” because it cannot come from them without further dividing the nation.
What too many fail to fully recognize is that the conflict between religious rights and LGBT rights has the potential to expand the cultural wars like no other, save for perhaps abortion. In other words, like abortion, if “the right way” is not advanced, the conflict over rights will persist, no matter what the government does. It will only deepen and intensify for people of faith.
Three world religions born out of the prophet Abraham — Judaism, Islam and Christianity — have taught through their ancient prophets for millennia that homosexual activity is unacceptable in the eyes of God. For Christians, this has been further reinforced by apostolic teachings from the New Testament. People of faith cannot negotiate away traditional doctrine and moral standards promulgated by their prophets and apostles through the ages without serious consequences for their religious traditions and their personal faith.
Social scientists have demonstrated that religions adhering to traditional standards of doctrine and morality flourish, but if they become permissive, they soon flounder. Some religions try to “go along to get along.” They hope compromising and rebranding will be more appealing, resulting in expansion. Inevitably, just the opposite happens. They become increasingly irrelevant as adherent numbers rapidly decline; all the while, rigorous religions grow and prosper.
The growth of rigorous religions is a result of gathering the faithful around traditional doctrine and moral standards, whether popular or not. Their commitment motivates them to share their faith with others, galvanizing growth and stability. Stability, in a world of ever-changing mores, is the appeal and it is why rigorous religions grow while permissive ones do not.
The cost of compromise that violates traditional doctrines and moral standards of the Abrahamic religions is significant for religion and its faithful. The institutional and personal cost to the faithful is not adequately accounted for by politics, public policies or public relations, and that is why they cannot lead “the right way” through the conflict. Continuing to underestimate or ignore the cost to Abrahamic religions and their faithful will only ensure an expanding cultural war.
“The right way” to be compassionate without compromise, to be progressive without permissiveness, to contend for religious freedom while accommodating LGBT rights can only come through religious leaders trusted by the faithful. The foundational doctrines and moral standards of the Abrahamic religions have come down through religious leaders of old. Therefore, their respected successors are the only ones who can pioneer the very straight and narrow way through the conflict between the Abrahamic religions and the LGBT community.
To resolve the intensifying conflict, religious leaders must have inspired courage to lead the way — “the right way” — contending for religious rights while accommodating LGBT rights. To abdicate or for any others to usurp this responsibility will result in folly for the faithful and the nation.
Stuart Reid is a Utah state senator representing District 18.
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