Suicide > Support

Sometimes people ask about the consequences of religion.  What harm does it really do?  I’m going to provide just one example.

I couldn’t sleep last night so I picked up my computer and wound up on my biggest time waster other than Reddit, Youtube.  I had been watching videos of The Ellen Show earlier so it recommended more to me, one of which caught my attention.  It can be found here.

Over two years ago, Ellen talked about the dangers of bullying and mentioned a number of teen suicides.  I may have been living under a rock, but I hadn’t previously heard of the suicide of Tyler Clementi, an 18 year-old college freshman.  This prompted my further investigation into his death.

I remember the transition period from high school to college.  I was scared, anxious, excited – a whole mix of emotions.  It is a tough time for just about everyone.  I cannot begin to imagine going through this transition after having recently opened up to family about sexuality, especially when some loved ones came off as less than supportive.  That was the situation for Tyler Clementi when he started his first year of college.  Just a few days before leaving to college, Tyler told his parents he was gay.  While he felt support from his father, he felt as if his mother had rejected him, even if that wasn’t completely the case.  He also found his future roommates’ tweets about him being gay.  This same roommate would later point his webcam at Tyler and his guest when Tyler asked to have the room to himself one evening.  He would tweet about a second viewing and invite people to watch while they drank, as if displays of Tyler’s sexuality were a spectacle that everyone had to see.  While the second viewing never happened, the damage had been done.  After Tyler’s guest left he found the tweets and as anyone would, felt humiliated and invaded.  He spoke to residence hall staff, requesting his own room.  While he was offered a place to stay with one of the staff, nothing was immediately done about permanently relocating.  One day after the second “viewing,” Tyler jumped from the George Washington Bridge, taking his own life.  His roommate, Dharun Ravi, spent 20 days in prison for invasion of privacy.

On the surface, it may seem like Tyler’s suicide has little to do with religion, but I beg to differ.  Earlier this year, Tyler’s parents spoke out about the incident.  His mother harbored opinions about the sin of homosexuality.  Her evangelical church taught her this was wrong and spread messages regarding the negotiability of sexuality.  Tyler himself felt as if he could not be gay and Christian.

Yes, it was bad luck in the roommate lottery, and yes, there were students that were cowardly and could have said or done something, but there is a bigger picture.  We need to pay attention to where attitudes and opinions come from.  Much of the hate directed at gays and lesbians comes from a few lines in an ancient book though Evangelical Christianity is not the only culprit.  Mormonism says that feelings of same-sex attraction can be overcome with self-control and a reliance on Jesus Christ.  All major Islamic schools disagree with homosexuality and same-sex relationships are viewed as unnatural.

Tyler’s suicide is just one of many.  Too many.  Although it is progress, it is not enough to change laws, we have to change attitudes.  I’m late to this party, but Macklemore and Ryan Lewis are aiming to do just that.  Their song Same Love is growing in popularity and they are using hip hop to change the world.  The song talks about stereotypes, hip hop, internet bullying, religion, laws, human rights, being an ally, and most importantly, love.

I watch this video and feel so much positivity and progress.  I hope others feel the same.

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Preach it!

Since I nearly forgot my blog existed until I decided I needed to write again, I am welcoming myself back with a post featuring one of my favorite videos.  It makes me cry in a good way.

This preacher is the kind of preacher I can be proud of.  He understands that the arguments that have been thrown around against gay marriage (and the only ones I’ve heard are biblical) are outdated, outlandish, and just plain wrong.  While Christians and atheists do not see eye to eye on everything (obviously), they need to come together when they share a common interest in human rights.  On election day I learned that I have a large number of Christian friends who feel the same way I do in that they wish for marriage rights to be extended to all couples.  While we should not be voting for basic human rights in the first place, I was proud of each of the four states that either legalized gay marriage or prevented their state from defining marriage as being between a man and a woman. 

The image on the left tells me we’re making progress.  The one on the right tells me we still have a long way to go.

THANK GOD for this ounce of good…I’ll ignore all the bad.

I realize that I haven’t posted in a very long time…I’ve been dealing with some bigger issues and I’m mainly using this as an outlet to vent.  Apologies.  I’ll get back to writing regularly soon enough.  Until then, here is my rant…

When dealing with a personal struggle, there is often time for a little bit of self-reflection.  For me, this struggle is my brother being diagnosed with cancer and all that goes along with that.  I took time off of school to be with him and I am now his main caretaker and his advocate.  He, like myself, is a nonbeliever.  We are both bothered by everyone saying that God answered their prayers anytime something goes right throughout this process.  God gets all of the credit and none of the blame.  From the very get-go family and friends were posting and telling us that they would talk to their friend and have him take care of my baby brother.  Still, his cancer spread.  Still, he has cancer in the first place.  Let’s not forget that.  The Christian God is all-powerful and all-knowing, so why is it that so many children are diagnosed with this deadly disease each year.  Spare me the “God won’t give you anything you can’t handle” garbage, because it literally kills children (and adults, of course).  They couldn’t “handle” it.  And apparently, God gave it to them.  If you are going to be Christian and have your beliefs, I am fine with that.  You just have to do a bit of questioning.  Hopefully you can come up with better answers than I can.  I wouldn’t even bring religion into his battle but others consistently do, so I feel as if I have to address it here if nowhere else.

When we receive any sort of good news, I’m thankful for his team of doctors and nurses, for the researchers and those who have tested out these remedies before him.  I am thankful for science and how far technology has come.  I’m thankful for the people who have surrounded him so he knows he is not alone.  Still, others thank an invisible man in the sky.  The question I pose is this: what makes my little brother more special than all those who have gone before him?  Why does he deserve to receive good news when the 8 year-old down the hall hears that he isn’t going to make it, that he can no longer be treated?  What makes God listen to you, praying for my brother, and not the parents praying daily that their child will survive?  After losing my cousin to cancer, I can assure you that during her eight year battle, she received plenty of prayers and still didn’t make it.  It is hard for me to justify all of the unfairness by simply saying “it’s all part of his plan.”  That may provide comfort for some, but it makes me uneasy.

A Lesson from Jerry DeWitt

I am currently in Washington, DC.  I traveled here in my role as a researcher to attend the Reason Rally and the American Atheist Convention.  It is hard to put into words how amazing my experience has been thus far.  I can’t put everything in a single blog post so I’m just going to talk about my favorite speaker although there are a number of close seconds.

Jerry DeWitt is a former Pentecostal preacher that gave his last sermon 349 days ago, came out 165 days ago, and was fired from his job 114 days ago.  What happened to him was what he labeled as “identity suicide.”  He told a story about the first seed of doubt that had ever been planted in him when he was 17 years old.  Up to that point, he had been indoctrinated his entire life.  There were 17 years of Christian ideals planted in his head.  The same people that had told him to look both ways when crossing the street were giving him his worldview.  He had felt called to preach and made a decision to choose that career path before he could serve in the military or consume an alcoholic beverage (legally).  Pentecostalism is all he knew.  Still, at 17 his grandpa made a statement that stuck with him for quite some time.  It was a Sunday morning before church and his grandpa said to him something along the lines of this morning, all you are going to pray all the baptists to hell because they don’t speak in tongues.  The Baptists are going to pray all of you to hell because speaking in tongues is of the devil – Think about that.  You pray each other to hell and then eat fried chicken together afterwards.  This idea of eternal punishment for others when God loves everyone just didn’t seem right to him.  Still, it took him many years for this doubt to turn into anything meaningful for him.  He put it so wonderfully and put things into perspective for me when he said “imagine how long it would take for somebody to convince you that blue is not blue.”  That is what it was for him.  Something he believed his whole life was coming into question.

I was never entirely Christian so I never truly understood the process of leaving religion, especially when your career quite literally depends on your beliefs.  On one side of the scale is your personal history, your family, your friends, community standing, finances, and career, and on the other side of the scale is your conscience.  DeWitt went through some stages in his thinking about religion.  1. God Loves Everybody.  2.  God Saves Everybody.  3.  God is in Everybody.  4.  God is just everyone’s internal dialogue.  5.  GOD IS A DELUSION.  He knew it was real when a friend had called him and asked him to pray.  He said no.  At this point his conscious outweighed everything else.  For his friend with an illness he was not about to pretend that there was anything better than science and reason.

People like him are essential to New Atheism and the movement.  They give people hope that ANYONE can leave religion if members of the clergy can do it.  The Freedom From Religion Foundation and Recovering from Religion can help and there are so many other resources out there and people to talk to if you’re experiencing any doubt.

If you’re interested, here is another former pastor that was interviewed on MSNBC this morning.  I also saw him in attendance at the convention today!

Like I said before, I’ll be writing on the Reason Rally and the American Atheist Convention a lot more.  For now, I wanted to share the story that I was able to hear today, as I found it inspiring.  It takes a lot of courage to fully come out.  I wish I had it.

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Threat to Women

I can honestly say that I don’t mind a certain type of religious person.  This type keeps to themselves and would not even attempt to push their beliefs on anyone else.  They are tolerant of other views and beliefs and respect people from all faiths and all walks of life.  This is a minority these days, it seems.

What I do mind is when the institution of religion begins to threaten the well-being of others, believers or not.  This is happening in our political climate with this war on women the GOP has decided to fight.  It becomes problematic when religion is used to justify discriminatory policies and attacks on certain groups of people.  It is clear that the GOP and the Religious Right have an alliance and this alliance may be becoming a bit too powerful for my liking, especially when we apparently have a separation of church and state in this country (right…).

Exhibit A is the relationship between the Susan G. Komen foundation and Planned Parenthood.  Komen used to provide funding to Planned Parenthood, but suddenly they took this source of funding away because they did not their money to go toward abortions.  In actuality, a donor is able to choose where their funds go, so this was a rather poor excuse on the part of Komen.  What’s even more ironic is that this organization is so willing to “prove” that they are pro life that they are willing to de-fund an organization that provides cancer screenings.  Call me a fool, but if you’re pro life, you should probably be in support of those already living.  Heaven forbid an organization offers abortions on the long list of their services.  I know that Komen has done great things, but that does not excuse this big mistake they are making.  Planned Parenthood provides, in some cases, life saving services.  Plus, if you want all women to have all the babies that are ever conceived, you’d better be willing to step up and provide her with services (ie Welfare), which the GOP clearly despises.

The Oxymoron

Exhibit B, and the one that really infuriates me, is Rick Santorum.  I honestly cannot believe this man is seeking the top political office in this country.  He cannot possibly be electable, but still…  I have to hear him and hear about him so now you get to hear me complain.  From his campaign website “Rick understands that our freedom to practice our faith is not just under attack through the redefinition of marriage, but in nearly every facet of the popular culture.”  This is, of course, blasphemous, but can be connected to his war on women.  Santorum wants his personal religious doctrine to dictate women’s health care.  He said “…contraception is not okay.  It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.  [Sex] is supposed to be within marriage.”  This man has even labeled himself as a champion of faith and families.  It honestly blows my mind that people still utilize an ancient text to dictate their lives.  Not only does he personally use this ancient text, but he hopes to use this ancient text in legislation.  It’s just not fair to subject other people to your own religious dogmas.  He co-sponsored the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act, in hopes that doctors are forced to tell women their unborn child may feel pain during abortion.  He also supports and sponsors abstinence only sex education for religious reasons, of course.  I would hate to see somebody so out of touch with reality running this country.

Obviously women’s rights issues are important to me.  I would never want a government to dictate what services I can and cannot receive or how I should and should not use my reproductive system.  What’s worse is that these people actually use religion as a justification.  Rick Santorum and the higher-ups at the Susan G. Komen foundation are free to believe what they want to believe.  They are not, however, free to impose those beliefs on me or my uterus.

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A New Young Atheist Leader

Words cannot express the sadness and anger I feel right now.  I have been catching up on the story of Jessica Ahlquist, the high school student from Rhode Island that recently won a court case to have a prayer banner removed from her school’s gymnasium.  This student was merely exercising her constitutional rights as a United States citizen and the repercussions she is facing are completely absurd, unwarranted, and unjustified.  As you probably remember, high school is a rough place for some, especially those that are “different” in some way, shape, or form.  Because Jessica chose to fight something that is clearly unconstitutional, she now sticks out like a sore thumb.  She is an atheist.  Let’s throw rocks at her.  If you replaced atheist with any other group that has been prosecuted simply for being who they are, there would be an uproar.  Try black, Jewish, or gay in place of atheist.  She’s being bullied because of who she is and it’s not fair and should not be tolerated.  If these “Christian” students actually practiced Jesus’ doctrine of love your enemies, they would not be treating Jessica the way they are.  There are a number of tweets and facebook posts about this girl, but I’ll share those that I found to be the most shocking:

  • “When I take over the world I’m going to do a holocaust to all the atheists”
  • “she’s not human, she’s garbage”
  • “I can’t wait to hear about you getting curb stomped”
  • “nail her to a cross”
  • “brb i’m going to drown that atheist in holy water”
  • “gods going to fuck your ass with that banner you scumbag”
  • “I hope there’s lots of banners in hell when your rotting in there you atheist fuck #TeamJesus”

Keep in mind, this girl did nothing but have a prayer banner removed from her publicly-funded school’s gymnasium.  She did not request that people are not able to pray.  The court deemed the prayer banner unconstitutional.  Perhaps these students should be taking their aggression out on the courts for upholding the Constitution of the United States.  My guess is that none of them even noticed the banner until someone wanted to take it down.  The bottom line is that if you’re Christian in public school, nobody is trying to stop you from praying.  Jessica did not and can not stop any of these students from praying.  I’m just afraid that students that advocate for the drowning, torture, and death of all atheists do not truly understand the Jesus they apparently praise (Go #TeamJesus).  Of course, Bill Maher says this better:

In closing, I would like to say that Jessica Ahlquist is a strong, new, young leader in the atheist movement and my guess is she won’t be going away anytime soon.  As somebody who is not even fully out in my personal life, I must say I am proud of her willingness to stand up for what she believes despite the feedback she is receiving.  She’s going to do big things.  Now I can only hope the school district takes these threats seriously…

For more information about the story, visit these links:

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Expect the Unexpected.

I realize I have not posted in quite a while.  I also realize that there are probably only two or three people who will read this post so it may not be necessary to point out that I have not written in a few weeks.  Regardless, I’m back.

The reason I have not written for a bit is because something unexpected sort of popped into the lives of me and my family.  That something is a cancerous tumor that lies beneath the surface of my younger brother’s skin.  Seeing as he is 20 years old, I have to say that this was the last thing I expected when I heard my little brother was sick.  This, of course, comes with the idea that you and your loved ones are invincible.  Sure, cancer strikes, but it strikes those other people.  It already took my grandfather and my cousin and that was enough for me.  Now, here I sit, 1700 miles from home and feeling helpless.  At this point, everything is out of my control and out of our hands, and let me tell you, this is not something my family is used to.  We’re the kind of people that take matters into our own hands.  It is rare we’ll ask for help.  Now we have no choice.

As as atheist, these types of situations always tend to be made slightly awkward.  My mom’s posting to facebook that God answered her prayers when we received the first bit of good news…that the cancerous tumor was only in the tissue, not on the bone as was initially thought.  Perhaps she should have prayed that her son would not have cancer at all…  One thing I know is that the tumor would have been the same whether she talked to her invisible friend or not.  Still, I can see how prayer provides comfort to people in situations such as these.  When the control is no longer in your hands, put it in God’s, right?  For me, prayer does not provide comfort.  It does the opposite, in fact.  While I am not unappreciative of people’s kind words and thoughts, I’d rather they took action in a more proactive way.  This is why I just made my first donation to the American Cancer Society, in the hopes that fewer and fewer people will have to be struck with the news that my family was struck with.  While my brother’s cancer is said to be treatable at this point, I know there are many out there (myself included) who have lost loved ones to this deadly force.  Of course, I am a graduate student living paycheck to paycheck, so my donation is nothing to brag about and I am not looking for any sort of recognition.  I just ask that if you feel so inclined to pray for me or my family, pray for the oncologists, the surgical team, the nurses, the researchers, and those working around the clock to find a cure, and perhaps make a donation to supplement your prayers.  I know that my brother is in good hands and these hands are not invisible and coming out of the sky.  I choose to give credit where credit is due.

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Opposing Beliefs = Death Threats

Earlier this week the new atheist movement/secular movement lost one of its prominent leaders.  Unless you’ve been living in a cave you know that Christopher Hitchens, author of God Is Not Great, passed away due to complications from his esophageal cancer.  Hitchens will forever be remembered as one of the great thinkers of our time, but of course, being a controversial figure with controversial ideas, his death was not without controversy.  Hitchens’ name was trending on Twitter in the days following his death.  Most of the tweets were positive.  Things along the lines of rest in peace Christopher Hitchens or tweets thanking him for what he has done.  In addition to Christopher Hitchens trending the title of one of his books, #GodisNotGreat, was also trending.  Of course, this created an uproar among theists, including death threats to the person who started the trend.

Ben Tegland says it best when he says “If you are a theist and you ever wondered why atheists feel the need to put up billboards saying, “Don’t believe in god? You are not alone.” . . .  If you have ever wondered why we detest the brainless acquiescence expected of religious followers? . . .  If you have ever wondered why we fight against a god that we do not believe exists? . . .  Let me be viciously clear, it is because of the religious malevolence of the sort you are about to witness.”

His post follows this paragraph with sample tweets from the trend telling atheists to kill themselves or threatening to kill them or beat them up.

I make the assumption that most of these tweeters are Christian.  What kind of Christian doctrine are you promoting if you threaten to kill fellow children of God or tell these children of God to kill themselves?  I don’t see these death threats as spreading the love of God.  Sure, your beliefs were insulted by this trend.  Your feelings may have even been hurt, but this does not give you clearance to threaten the lives of people who believe differently than you.  This is a promotion of hate and intolerance, when, in this case, non-believers were merely paying homage to one of their leaders.

Some examples can be viewed at the bottom of this story. 

I know not all believers hold these attitudes, but those that do are just adding fuel to the atheist fire.

RIP Hitchens

A Video is Worth 1,000 Words

I came across this video yesterday while browsing Reddit and I must say that this woman baffles me.

There are many things to be said about the content of this video.  I’ll start from the beginning.

Congresswoman and Presidential candidate Michele Bachmann is fielding questions from audience members in Iowa.  The first question is asked by a high school student that is also in charge of the gay straight alliance at her high school.  She simply wants to know what would be done to protect GSAs in high school and how the LGBT community would be supported.  This question is immediately laughable to me because, as most people know, Bachmann is not going to do anything to support LGBT persons.  The answer she actually provides is one of the funniest things I have heard, although I’m positive that was not her intention.

Bachmann contends that as Americans, we all share the same civil rights and government’s role is to protect people’s civil rights.  No special rights or special criteria should exist based on people’s preferences.  This is a statement that I can agree with.  Unfortunately, our interpretations of this statement are completely different.  Bachmann views the marriage of a same sex couple as a special privilege.  I see this as a civil right.  She then goes on to say that everybody has the right to get married, but the law states that you must marry a person of the opposite gender.  A woman that claims to want to protect the sanctity of marriage just confirmed her stupidity.  By saying that everyone can get married to someone of the opposite gender, she is saying that it is okay to marry a person that you do not love and are not attracted to, which is what would happen if homosexual people were marrying people of the opposite gender.  Is that practice really protecting the institution of marriage?   The laws are that you marry a person of the opposite sex, which is privileging one group over another.  This law is telling one group that they are second class citizens.

On to the next point…

Another high school student asked how Bachmann would protect kids with different faiths from getting ostracized.  This is where she plays the card that many people love to play.  The Christian kids are the ones who are having their religious freedoms taken away from them.  Oh, okay.  I don’t understand those who think that anybody is taking away their rights to pray.  Even if this was instituted, I don’t know how anybody would be able to stop a person from praying.  I also don’t know why people feel the need to pray in school, when the Christian Bible says 5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words” (Matthew 6:5-7).  The bottom line is that Christians are not under attack as everyone claims they are.  The separation of church and state is in our constitution.  I think I have the right to have leaders that enforce this document.  I do not advocate taking away people’s rights to religion, but there are places and settings that have no place for religion.

If this woman is elected, I will have lost my faith in the American people.  Please don’t let me down.

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The Rabbi and Homosexuality

As an atheist, I find it extremely refreshing to encounter religious people, namely religious leaders, who have common sense when it comes to human rights.  Religion has been used to justify hate and discrimination based on the interpretation of an ancient text.  In our society, it seems to be acceptable for religious people to use their interpretation of this book to fight for policies that take away the rights of others.  The other day I met a group of Jewish people, including a Rabbi, that demonstrated compassion for all human beings and common sense in the interpretation of their holy book.

The LGBT resource center on my campus hosted an event this week that focused on Judaism, the Hebrew Bible and the LGBT community.  The discussion was led by a female Rabbi that considers herself to be part of the reform Judaism camp.  To be honest, I can’t say I’m very knowledgeable in the Jewish faith.  I didn’t know Jewish law prior to the discussion and I certainly wasn’t aware that this religion is not a biblical religion that interprets the bible literally, but based on a Rabbi’s interpretation of the Bible.

Our discussion started with the two verses I’m sure we’ve all heard: Leviticus 18:22 Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman; it is an abhorrence and Leviticus 20:13 If a man lies with a male as one lies with a woman, the two of them have done an abhorrent thing; they shall be put to death – their blood guilt is upon them.  These verses have often been used to justify the classification of homosexuals as second class citizens.  Not that I follow any sort of religious text, but let us just take a second to review the text written in between these two chapters of Leviticus.  In Judaism, Leviticus 19 is known as “The Holiness Code.”  In includes the following verses:

  • You must not seek vengeance, nor bear a grudge against the children of your people. (18)
  • Revere your mother and your father, each one of you. (3)
  • You shall rise before the aged and show deference to the old. (32)
  • You must not oppress the stranger. You shall love the stranger as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (33-34)
  • You must not go about slandering your kin. (16)
  • You shall not hate your brother or sister in your heart. (17)
  • You may not stand by idly when your neighbor’s blood is being shed. (16)
  • You must not oppress your neighbor. (13)
  • You must judge your neighbor justly. (15)
  • You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself. (18)

Which of these sets of verses does it make more sense to follow?  For me, it is a no-brainer.  The verses that talk about not judging others and loving others seem to align more closely with your “loving God” than do those that call natural behaviors abhorrent and classify them as punishable by death.

Speaking of punishable by death, let’s turn to some additional behaviors that are classified as such in this holy book.  We don’t have to search for long to find them.  Take Deuteronomy 21 for example.  It reads, “If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town.  They shall say to the elders, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious.  he will not obey us.  He is a glutton and a drunkard.”  Then all the men of his town are to stone him to death.  You must purge the evil from among you.  All Israel will hear of it and be afraid.”  Somehow, this verse is ignored.  I know plenty of parents with rebellious sons and daughters.  These kids are still alive despite the fact that the holy book requires us to rid the world of their evil.  Not long after this in Deuteronomy, we learn that if a woman is not a virgin when she marries, the men of her town should also stone her to death.  None of the brides I know would be alive at this point if we still carried out this practice.

The point is that holy books are cherry-picked to fit an agenda.  In my experiences, religious people pick out the pieces that create an other that they both fear and condemn.  If you are going to literally interpret parts of the Bible, you should literally interpret the entire thing.  However, it won’t take you long to realize you’re guilty of breaking some of the laws put forth in this book.  Maybe you should even be stoned to death.

I’m not claiming that ALL religious people are stupid.  I know a few smart people that believe in a higher power.  The point here is that I have never been in a room surrounded by religious people who have come to these conclusions about their holy book on their own.  It is refreshing to learn that there are religious leaders out there that do not preach dispassion or injustice based on the holy word.  Instead, their beliefs center on human rights for all of “God’s children.” If you’re going to preach, perhaps you should follow in their footsteps.

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