Commentary: God, Love and Religion at Easter

Keith Boykin explores new laws in Arkansas and Indiana.

A new report this week predicts the number of Muslims will nearly equal the number of Christians in the world by the year 2050. Each faith will claim about 3 billion adherents, creating near parity between Muslims and Christians "possibly for the first time in history," according to the Pew Research Center.

Here in America, despite the rapid growth of Islam in the rest of the world, Christians will still make up two-thirds of the population in 2050. Most of those who leave Christianity in America will not convert to Islam. Muslims are only projected to account for 2 percent of the population in 2050. But many former Christians will leave organized religion altogether as the ranks of the unaffiliated are expected to swell from 16 percent of the U.S. population today to more than 25 percent by the middle of the century.

The new report comes just as Indiana's Republican Gov. Mike Pence and Arkansas's Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson spent the week struggling to defend and then amend controversial new "religious freedom" bills that critics warned would allow businesses to discriminate against gays and lesbians.

These new laws are disturbing but not surprising. Many of the religiously unaffiliated in America have abandoned their faith as they've watched conservative evangelicals hijack religion to justify their right-wing political beliefs. It was conservative Phyllis Schlafly, after all, who once described the atomic bomb as "a marvelous gift that was given to our country by a wise God."

Some of the same self-described Christians who do not believe the government should house the homeless, feed the poor or provide health care for the sick will freely invoke their religious faith to justify their opposition to abortion and homosexuality.

That's an odd choice. Jesus never addressed abortion or homosexuality in the Bible, but he repeatedly admonished his followers to feed the poor, aid the sick and assist those in need. This, then, is the double standard in selectively employing Christian teachings as the basis for public policy in a pluralistic, secular society.

As an American, I believe no religious text should ever dictate the rules of our government. As a person of faith, I believe religion has a valuable role to play in parts of society. But to understand the impact of faith in America, we must first acknowledge that Christianity has been used in this country to justify racism, sexism, homophobia and other evils.

"It would not be hard, even today, to make a biblical case for slavery," wrote Peter J. Gomes in The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart. "Nowhere does the Bible condemn it; everywhere in the Bible it is the practice."

"Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property," says the book of Exodus. Elsewhere, Peter orders slaves to "submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh."

Women are treated little better. " I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet," says the Bible. Earlier in the same book, women are ordered to dress modestly, "not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes." That may come as something of a disappointment to anyone who's been to a gospel music service in recent years.

So it is not surprising that American religious conservatives quote passages from Leviticus to justify their opposition to homosexuality but ignore other passages from the book that prohibit eating pork or shellfish, planting multiple seeds in a garden or wearing poly-cotton blends.

At times, Christians get so caught up in all their conflicting rules that they lose sight of Jesus's message. When asked what was the greatest commandment, Jesus told the Sadducees and the Pharisees that the greatest commandment is to love. "This is my commandment," Jesus says elsewhere in the Bible. "That ye love one another, as I have loved you."

Jesus teaches us to love our enemies, turn the other cheek when attacked and surrender our riches to help the poor. These are not principles widely embraced by America's capitalist, militarist evangelicals. Indeed, if Christianity is under attack in America, as conservatives argue it is, it is not from the feminists, the gays or the Muslims. The greatest threat to Christianity in our country is from other Christians who have chosen to deploy their faith as a weapon of hate rather than a tool for love.

Keith Boykin is a New York Times best-selling author and former White House aide to President Clinton. He attended Harvard Law School with President Barack Obama and currently serves as a TV political commentator. He writes commentary for each week.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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