By Sharon Gittleman
ROYAL OAK – Straight people aren’t the only ones in God’s congregation in Rev. Carlyle Stewart’s view.
“People who are homosexual are worthy of God’s love and they are open to God’s gifts and graces,” said Stewart, the senior pastor of Hope United Methodist Church in Southfield.
Stewart and Rabbi Tamara Kolton of the Birmingham Temple in Farmington Hills spoke about faith and morality at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Royal Oak on May 24.
The talk, presented by the Michigan Coalition for Human Rights, was intended to spark a conversation in the community at large about morality in the face of conservative religious figures’ political ascendance.
Before the gathering, Rabbi Kolton said gays and lesbians are more than welcome at her congregation.
“We are excited to have their participation and voice,” she said. “The Birmingham Temple was founded on the principal of human dignity.”
Many of the members of the Temple don’t believe in God, said Kolton, who describes herself as an agnostic.
“We’re not theists,” she said. “Judaism is more than a religion that worships God. We’re a civilization.”
Kolton spoke about her vision for a new day, when human dignity is truly appreciated, and a new clergy and a new religion – based on putting the planet first – comes to light.
“I want a new clergy where power flows from the people to the top,” she said. “Clergy should be experts in empathy.”
Stewart spoke about what he saw as a troubling trend – the fusing of Christian theology and political ideology. This powerful combination has led to the demonization of gays and lesbians, the global empowerment of multi-national corporations, the plundering of the environment and the emergence of a general climate of intolerance, he said.
“My concern is for a religion that breeds intolerance and bigotry – a religion that relishes in the condemnation of others,” he said.
Religion is used as a tool of the state to condemn people who dissent, said Stewart. This leads to “moral hypocrisy,” and an “ethical gerrymandering,” where the sins of one group are emphasized and the sins of another are ignored.
Stewart called for the end of the practice of “reducing Jesus to a patsy to political interests.”
The guiding light of the government should be the Constitution, not the Bible, he said.
If the Bible was really at the heart of people’s moral leadership, condemnations would be as forthcoming for adulterers, fornicators and bigamists as they are for gays and lesbians, he said.
The speakers’ messages resonated for many in the audience.
Onlooker Joe Bassett, 84, said he thinks everyone is created in God’s image.
“We want everybody to feel the dignity of their own person,” said Bassett. “No one should be isolated.”
Bassett’s wife of 63 years, Luella Bassett, 85, agreed with her husband.
“We’re open to letting people be who they are,” she said.