Sheila S. Kennedy

Bigotry and the Founding Fathers

Filed By Sheila S. Kennedy | January 11, 2007 9:19 PM | comments

Filed in: Living

It won't exactly come as a surprise to readers of this blog that a lot of anti-gay bigotry comes clothed in "Christian" rhetoric. As if we needed additional confirmation, a recent post at Dispatches from the Culture Wars told about a Texas newspaper that did a story about a gay couple in Texas and their commitment ceremony. After the story ran, the newspaper's editor ran a follow up column, recounting the furious and appalling responses he got from many of the paper's readers, who buried him in vitriolic responses for daring to tell the story of what a gay couple goes through (because if you even mention the existence of gays, you're obviously part of the ubiquitous Gay Agenda ™). The response will not surprise anyone who has written on this subject. The editor wrote "For me, this has been an eye-opening week. Not all our callers were unreasonable. Many were thoughtful and asked good questions. However, a surprising number were blindly, nastily and profanely hateful. In the case of a few, I saw bigotry and unreasoning hatred that would make the Ku Klux Klan blush. Then they often told me I'd offended all good Christians."

When I write columns for the Star supporting gay rights, I frequently get the same ugly reaction.

On the other hand, gays and lesbians shouldn't feel lonely about this assertion of what "all good Christians" think, or about being excommunicated from the presumed majority; as a Jew, I've experienced similar attitudes directed at me for my religious identity. Once, a woman who didn't approve of the political opinion I had expressed in a column, emailed to tell me that a) God had personally installed George W. Bush as President; and b) as a minority, I was in this country by virtue of Christian 'tolerance'--and if I found it difficult to go along with the Christian majority's desires, I should move to Israel.

These are the same people who are constantly writing letters to the editor insisting that this is a "Christian nation." (Their particular version of Christianity, of course--not the Christianity of those liberal Unitarians and Quakers!) They often cite the language in the Declaration of Independence that we were "endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights" as evidence that this was meant to be a "godly" nation. That's pretty weak evidence, but it's all they have, because nowhere in the Constitution is there a reference to God, Jesus, or any other diety.

Most history books do note that the founding fathers were not traditional Christians--most of the founders, in fact, were products of the Enlightenment. But the books are rarely very specific about what "untraditional" means. I knew that Thomas Paine and Ethan Allen were what we call "Freethinkers," and that Thomas Jefferson had rewritten the King James bible by taking out everything but the moral lessons, but I was pretty foggy about the rest of them. So I was pleased to come across the following, quite specific, information about the religious views of the American founders.

Non-Christian Deists: Thomas Paine, Ethan Allen
Deistic Christians/Unitarians: Ben Franklin, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe
Orthodox Christians: Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams, John Jay, Elias Boudinot, John Witherspoon

I think I'll clip this list out and stick it in my purse to keep it handy. And the next time one of those "good Christians" objects to equal civil rights for gays and lesbians, or Jews, or any other group of Americans, I think I'll ask them to identify who, among the men who created America's legal framework, was "their kind" of Christian.

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Thanks for a wonderful, insightful post. I really appreciate your sticking up for people like myself.


I thought I'd share this with you... I was out to dinner last night when this very nice lady stopped me and started talking about It was this post that she was referencing specifically. She said repeatedly how much she enjoyed the post.

When I asked her why she didn't comment, she said she didn't want to seem stupid after reading the brilliant writing from Sheila. I suggested to her that Sheila isn't that judgmental (Nor, rumors to the contrary, is she Zen-like! She doesn't have ALL the answers - just some of them! *grins*).

You know it's a good post though when folks stop you at dinner...