Hiding Hatred Behind Religion

Religion is commonly believed to be inherently good. “God” is equated with love, justice, truth, peace. Thus, those who represent “God” are assumed to possess these godly qualities— with their prayers and piety providing a reinforcing saintly effect. Their Christian churches in public squares, with steeples pointing upward, are a constant reminder of religion’s reverence for people’s lives. And if that is not enough conditioning, people put their right hand over their heart to pledge allegiance to “one nation under God.” You can even find “God” in your pocketbook” by following the money, on which is printed the motto, ‘IN GOD WE TRUST.’ Besides that, “. . . so help me God” is the gold standard for truth-telling. And “God bless America” is the Benediction ending every president’s address. With such a high, holy, moral reputation, and armed with an infallible “Good Book” as a guide, religion is often a “righteous” place behind which to hide hatred of other persons.

An influential number of Conservative Christians are seeking to use religion as a cloak to hide their hated of gay and lesbian persons– with a “straight” face. In Indiana, Arkansas and numerous other states, these Christians want protection from laws that would require them to provide services for same-sex persons and couples, laws which they claim violate their beliefs and thus impose a “substantial burden” on their practice of religion. In other words, they want the “religious freedom” to impose a “substantial burden” on those their Biblical bias defines as The Other.

If society were governed by laws protecting the “religious freedom” of Biblically-bound believers and not by civil law, imagine the “substantial burden” that would be placed on anyone who is deemed lesser, or different, or who supports those so maligned and marginalized. If evangelical Christian Islamophobes and homophobes like Rev. Franklin Graham had the legal power, they would create the hell on earth for The Other that they envision for them in the after-life.

The freedom to believe as one wants and to worship as one chooses are not under attack in America. On the contrary, limits must be set on “religious freedom” for the protection of everyone in society.

A personal example reveals why “religious freedom” must have limits for the protection of others in society. In 1973, I performed the same-sex marriage of two male members of Boston’s Old West United Methodist Church. The two men had been students at Boston University School of Theology, and I minister of Old West Church for eight years. In performing their marriage, I was guided by their love for each other, and not by United Methodism’s Book of Discipline, which stated that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” and that “we do not recommend marriage between two persons of the same sex.” I was guilty by association.

Two days after I performed the marriage, my denominational superiors (the Bishop and District Superintendent) met secretly with the psychiatrist with whom I had terminated, and allegedly obtained detrimental psychiatric information about me. The Bishop proceeded to use the allegations to publicly (in a press conference) and privately (to the Conference’s Board of Ministry) say that “indications pointed to a possible illness which might be seriously affecting” my “usefulness as a United Methodist minister.” That I “was not presently in a position to assume pastoral responsibilities anywhere.” And that his “judgment as chief pastor [was] based on competent consultation.” (RECORD APPENDIX, the official lawsuit document before the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, 1985, pages 109, 110.) These allegations laid the foundation for the Bishop and his Cabinet of Five District Superintendents to charge me with other alleged improprieties, effectively assassinating my character and influencing a majority of Conference ministers to vote for my forcible retirement. (For a detailed analysis of my case, see Alberts, Easter Depends on Whistleblowers: The Minister Who Could Not Be “Preyed” Away, Counterpunch, March 29-31, 2013)

In 1974, I brought a lawsuit against the psychiatrist, the Bishop and the District Superintendent for violating my right of privacy. Ten years later, when their lawyers could no longer hide behind legal machinations, the case finally came before the Justices of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. It was here especially that the defendants tried to hide their violation of my civil right of privacy behind their “religious freedom.”

The lawyers for the Bishop and the District Superintendent argued before the SJC Justices that I gave up my right of privacy when I became a United Methodist minister. The District Superintendent’s lawyer cited to the Justices Paragraphs 331, 354 and 357 in The Book of Discipline, and said, “From the above, the argument can be made that upon becoming an ordained minister in The United Methodist Church . . . Alberts authorized (italics added) the invasion of his privacy and waved any psychiatric or medical ‘privileges’ so far as concerned, in particular, his District Superintendent. (Lawsuit’s RECORD APPENDIX, 1985, pages 9, 10) Paragraph 331, for example, states, “. . . They [ministers] offer themselves without reserve to be appointed and to serve as their superiors in office may direct.”

Two other attorneys, representing both the Bishop and the District Superintendent, presented the same argument before the SJC Justices, asserting, “In voluntarily joining the church as a member in full connection, Reverend Alberts submitted himself to a relationship within the church in which his Bishop and Superintendent has broad pastoral, even parental responsibilities and powers.” The defendants even got another United Methodist Bishop to be their expert witness before the Norfolk Superior Court, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts albertsand the U.S. Supreme Court (where the case finally ended up). This Bishop’s affidavit “stated that Church law, as expressed in the Book of Discipline and understood and applied by Bishops and other clergymen in the Church, authorized the kind of inquiry made by Bishop Carroll and Rev. Barclay.” (Supreme Court of the United States, October Term, 1985, Defendants Carroll and Barclay’s ‘PETITION FOR A WRIT OF CERTORARI TO THE SUPREME JUDICIAL COURT OF MASSACHUSETTS,’ page 5)

The defendants and their lawyers even got the National Council of Churches’ (NCC) Office of Religious Liberty to join Methodism’s General Council on Finance and Administration in filing a joint brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in support of the Bishop and District Superintendent. Representing the NCC, with its 30 million members, the Office of Religious Liberty wrote in its joint brief that my lawsuit threatened the very existence of freedom of religion in America.

The NCC enjoys the support of the United Methodist Church, which is the second largest Protestant denomination in the United States. And the director of the National Council’s Office of Religious Liberty at the time was Rev. Dean Kelly, a United Methodist minister.

In December of 1985, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the Bishop and District Superintendent’s appeal, thus allowing the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s ruling to stand. Rather than test out their “religious freedom” argument in a civil trial, the Bishop and District Superintendent chose to settle the case out of court. As did the psychiatrist, who had hoped to ride out of any legal liability on their “religious freedom” coattails.

The SJC of Massachusetts used my lawsuit as a landmark case to create a new case law that prevents “religious freedom” from becoming a badge for bias. The Court ruled that not only is a physician liable, but anyone who induces a physician to breach a confidence. The SJC’s ruling is relevant to today’s attempt by Biblically-bound Christians to hide behind “religious freedom” to deny freedom to gay and lesbian persons. The SJC’s ruling states,

A controversy concerning whether a church rule grants religious superiors the civil right to induce a psychiatrist to violate the duty of silence that he owes to a patient, who happens to be a minister, is not a dispute about religious faith or doctrine nor about church discipline or internal organization. . . . Although the freedom to believe “is absolute,” the freedom to act “cannot be. (italics added) Conduct remains subject to regulation for the protection of society. The freedom to act must have appropriate definition to preserve the enforcement of that protection.” (William E. Alberts vs. Donald T. Devine & others, 395 Mass. 59, Oct. 5, 1984-June 4, 1985)

The Bishop and District Superintendent and their “religious freedom” allies were willing to sacrifice the right of privacy of all United Methodist ministers—and other clergy as well by precedent—to justify and avoid accountability for their punitively-motivated, illegal behavior. And their allies seemed to include many Church leaders.

In a letter to Zion’s Herald, newspaper of New England Methodists, Rev. Landon Lindsay, a United Methodist minister colleague, expressed concern that the lawsuit’s critical issue of a minister’s right of privacy was being ignored. He wrote, “It continues to amaze me that what I consider . . . to be the main issue in this case is never mentioned.. . . . I have been ordained since 1950 and nowhere along the way has this viewpoint of a ‘special relationship’ even been mentioned or interpreted to me as stating that I gave up such rights upon ordination. . . .   My rights are given to me by the State and not the Church.” Lindsay continued, “I would like to think that we owe Dr. William E. Alberts a debt of gratitude for his persistence, despite all kinds of obstacles and legal maneuvering, in making clear in the courts of this country the right of all ordained persons as to their ‘privacy.’ I did not wave any rights in any way upon ordination.” (March 1986)

“Religious freedom” should not be a license for violating another’s civil rights, such as invading another’s privacy. Nor should it be a license for invading another’s country. Like former president George W. Bush did with his horribly destructive criminal invasion of Iraq. Which he repeatedly justified with the words, “Freedom is not America’s gift to the world, it is God’s gift to every man and woman in the world.” (Acceptance Speech to Republican Convention Delegates, The New York Times, Sept. 3, 2004) And a large majority of white evangelical Christians said “Amen!” and followed in the wake of that violent, unnecessary criminal war to convert Muslins to Christ. But oppressed Sunni Iraqis said “No!” to Bush’s brutal invasion and occupation, and matched it in response by forming their own brutal Islamic State.

Religious freedom should be about self-empowerment, not gaining power over others. One person’s religious or civil freedom should not require another person’s subjugation.   Freedom to be and to become and to belong are DNA in every human being, and should be honored by every religion and government—in Indiana and Arkansas and Iraq and everywhere else.

Rev. William E. Alberts, Ph.D., a former hospital chaplain at Boston Medical Center, is both a Unitarian Universalist and United Methodist minister. His new book, The Counterpunching Minister (who couldn’t be “preyed” away) is now published and available on Amazon.com. The book’s Foreword, Drawing the Line, is written by Counterpunch editor, Jeffrey St. Clair. Alberts is also author of A Hospital Chaplain at the Crossroads of Humanity, which “demonstrates what top-notch pastoral care looks like, feels like, maybe even smells like,” states the review in the Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling. His e-mail address is wm.alberts@gmail.com.









Rev. William E. Alberts, Ph.D., a former hospital chaplain at Boston Medical Center is both a Unitarian Universalist and United Methodist minister. His newly published book, The Minister who Could Not Be “preyed” Away is available Amazon.com. Alberts is also author of The Counterpunching Minister and of A Hospital Chaplain at the Crossroads of Humanity, which “demonstrates what top-notch pastoral care looks like, feels like, maybe even smells like,” states the review of the book in the Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling. His e-mail address is wm.alberts@gmail.com.