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Friday, Oct 31, 2014
Joe Henderson Columns

Henderson: Tolerance works both ways

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The issue of tolerance — or, more to the point, acceptance — of gays remains a line many fundamentalist Christians just will not cross. We saw that again this week when Holy Trinity Presbyterian Church near downtown Tampa told a Boy Scout troop that has been there for 60 years it will have to leave.

The reason the church gave was the decision last May by the Boy Scouts’ national organization not to ban openly gay Scouts. If I were a member of that church, I would have argued against the decision. People shouldn’t have to hide or be made to feel less worthy because of who they are.

But that’s a tough call for anyone who truly believes continuing to sponsor the Scouts would violate their beliefs, and I get that.

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In my book, tolerance works both ways. Just as gays should be understood and respected, so should conservative Christians. They believe they are being true to an eternal calling, following Old and New Testament scripture that does speak out repeatedly against homosexuality.

Of course, the Bible also says, among other things, that a rebellious son must stoned. I’ll leave biblical scholars to work all that out.

The Holy Trinity Presbyterian Church isn’t a government institution, so this isn’t the same thing as public policy that discriminates. The Scouts will no doubt find another place to meet and the church won’t be in the position of sponsoring something that violates its beliefs.

The Scouts also won’t feel like they’re in a place that doesn’t want them, and this church clearly doesn’t.

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It’s interesting that this is happening now, with all the emphasis on the 50th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech. It has been said that gay rights is the civil rights issue of our age, and I’m old enough to remember what it was like to grow up in that earlier era. It was a mighty struggle.

Churches everywhere, not just in the South, were not always on the right side of that issue, either. I remember a Sunday morning service in an apostolic church I attended in Ohio. I was maybe 13 at the time.

A middle-aged man stood to address the congregation, and I can still hear the disgust in his voice as he said the white son of the junior high principal was dating a black girl. He said we had to take a stand against that. It seemed ridiculous even then that anyone could think like that, but they did. Thankfully, times have changed.

The mainstream church I attend now has a diverse congregation served by a black pastor originally from Barbados, and I love that place.

And yes, we sponsor a Boy Scout troop. I hope we continue to do so.

I also understand those who just can’t compromise on this issue.

That’s between them and God.

The sad part is that kids trying to learn to tie a square knot got caught up in this, but just chalk it up to learning another life’s lesson. Maybe there should be a merit badge for it.

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