The Right to Go to Hell

The Rev. Al Sharpton makes some interesting comments in a recent RollingStone interview. For those who don’t know, Sharpton is one of the Democratic Presidential candidates.

When asked about gay marriages, Sharpton had this to say:

“Asking about gay marriages is like asking about black marriages. It’s a human-rights issue. Gays and lesbians are human beings. You can’t support civil unions but not marriages — that’s like saying you can shack up but not get married. Either you’re for human rights or you’re not. You can’t say, ‘You have human rights up to here, but this part is not for you.’ [Former New York archbishop] Cardinal O’Connor once asked me how I could support a woman’s right to choose abortion. I told him, ‘God didn’t say you have to go to heaven — he gave you the option of hell. I think you may go to hell, and I defend your right to get there.'”

What an interesting take on politics and society. The typical Christian approach is to legislate morality. We tell you can’t do this or that based on the moral foundation of our religion. Of course if you’re not bound by the morals of a particular religion, things get kind of fuzzy. Sharpton seems to favor the approach of giving people the freedom to screw themselves. If you want to go to hell, that’s your choice. I think it’s a dumb choice, but it’s a choice you have to make, and I won’t make it for you.

Something about that approach really resonates with me, especially when dealing with homosexuality. I feel like it is a civil rights issue. While I don’t agree with homosexuality, that doesn’t mean I can impose my views on homosexuals. If they want to live in sin, that’s their choice. But that doesn’t mean I can deny them basic rights. I think some of the benefits that come with marriage would be basic rights, things like health care for your family and survivor benefits. While it certainly funks up the traditional model of marriage, I think it’s a slam to a homosexual’s face to tell them they don’t get health care for their partner.

Whether we want to admit it or not, homosexuality is something we need to deal with as a society. We can’t just thumb our nose at their lifestyle and hope they go away. They’re not going away. And if that’s how they choose to live, I think it’s better to accept their choice and move on. We can certainly disagree with their choice and love them and hope they change. But disagreeing with their choice and then moving to block everything they try and do in life is just wrong.

We don’t discriminate against other personal sins (by “personal sin” I mean a sin that primarily affects yourself). We don’t tell the greedy they can’t have survivor benefits. We don’t tell liars they can’t adopt children. We don’t tell hypocrites they can’t get married.

On the other hand, I’m not so sure about applying this perspective to abortion like Sharpton does. Being gay is a personal choice (on some level) that has little impact on the others in your life. It may make life harder on your children, but I think all our sins and faults would make life hard on our kids. In my view abortion ends the life of a child, not giving that child even the chance for a hard life. I don’t know if that road to hell is worth defending. I doubt Sharpton would defend a man’s right to kill, which is where this debate gets sticky.

Sorry to whoop some heavy politics on you on a Saturday morning, but there it is.

I also liked this comment from Sharpton: “Part of what bothers me about leadership today is we’re more poll-driven than we are moral-driven. And that we don’t want to be right — we want to be popular.” Oddly, I think George W. Bush and Sharpton would agree on this.

8 thoughts on “The Right to Go to Hell”

  1. I have a few issues with homosexual marriage. One, is that marriage is a concept that was instituted by the Christian faith & instituted by God. While I realize that we’re all sinners, we should be trying our best to remain upright and pure out of obedience to God. Yes, grace will cover our sins, but that doesn’t mean we go out sinning or supporting sin on purpose. I think that we cannot support homosexual marriage, because the institution was created and “legislated” by God.

    In terms of the government offering benefits to those in a homosexual relationship, or homosexuals entering into a legal form of marriage, I’m not sure how I feel about that.

    I agree that abortion ends the life of a child without giving the child a voice. In that same way, are we also putting the child in a homosexual home without giving them a voice there? I understand that families have other issues besides homosexuality such as abuse, alcohol, anger issues, neglect…and the list goes on. Don’t we also take steps to keep kids out of situations like this? Or, are we okay with homosexuals having kids as long as they are kind and loving? I bring up the child issue because I think that it is the next step down a slippery slope after legalizing homosexual marriage. How far is too far?

    From Sharpton’s perspective of defending a person’s right to go to hell…why doesn’t he also defend their right to murder a person, beat their wife, or steal? There are governmental consequences to all of these behaviors. Why shouldn’t there also be some consequence to homosexual behaviors? I’m not saying that I necessarily agree with this (I’m not sure how I feel), I’m just saying that I bet Sharpton does put up some road blocks as to what he feels a person can and cannot do.

    I guess that brings us back to the old CWC question — Does God expect us to live godly lives separate from our culture, or does he expect us to live with & change our culture to make it more godly? I think that question needs to be answered before we can move on with this discussion.

  2. I realize his statements were more of a jumping off point for your own thoughts, but Mr. Sharpton is… well, a questionable reverend. Dunno how he even got the title, but there’s been more than a few complaints and books written about his behavior, doubtful belief, etc.

    I’m also going to go off of what Steph said. Religion, society, etc. have certain rules and morals that we’ve come to. It’s also been the right of states to make laws based on their citizens behavior: ie, what they can and cannot do. Even IF homosexuality is something you’re born with, Christianity and US law has mandates and rules about behavior. IS homosexuality, and homosexual parenting/marriage a behavior that we want, etc.? That’s where the argument should be.

  3. I do know that I am against allowing homosexuals to be married. Marriage is a biblical concept. The bible is crystal clear that marriage is between a man and woman.

    Homosexuals raising kids? Optimal? No. Better than an abusive, alcoholic father… definitely.

    But the crux of the issue is not how we legislate the problem, it’s how we solve the problem. The *sin* problem. Because that’s what this is all about.

    Can we legislate away sin? No.

    Only Christ and the Cross can solve the sin problem. So the solution is not to tell homosexuals they can’t have a civil union, it’s telling them that Jesus loves them and wants to deliver them from sin… and at some point work in that their entire lifestyle happens to be a sin.

  4. I’ve been going overboard in my comments responding lately, so I’ll keep this brief.

    To Steph’s comment, I’d say that I think God wants us to interact with and attempt to change culture. But I think there’s multiple ways to do that. One approach is legislate morality, another approach is what Sharpton is recommending.

    To Neal’s comment, sorry, but I don’t know anything about Sharpton. Just pulling out an interesting point he made, and that’s it. As for whether or not a behavior is something we want, and if we should legislate that, I think you’re missing Sharpton’s point. Crankiness is not something I enjoy, but I have to put up with it. I can’t discriminate based on crankiness. A law against crankiness would be pretty lame.

  5. Yeah, I shouldn’t have even pulled that out about Sharpton: you just used his statements to leapfrog into your own.

    The problem, though, is that you’re comparing apples and oranges. Crankiness and homosexuality are not really similar (though I know that’s not your main point). Some things have to be put up with: people being cranky, being morning people (heh)), etc.

    But is homosexuality, etc. in the same class? I don’t think so, and therein lies the rub.

    Another cautionary thing about all of this: Sharpton’s comments came across all too much like either “don’t have standards” or, “if you do have standards, don’t force or even communicate them to others,” which I find questionable- especially for Christianity.

    Christianity shouldn’t be forced with the sword, or even a good Bible thumping, but there’s a difference between that, and having Christian standards and resisting when others try to force THEIR standards on you.

    Oh, and don’t worry about commenting a lot- it’s fun to get a good dialogue going!

  6. I think Sharpton’s comments are interesting because they seem to signal a third way to look at the gay rights issue — the other two being: pro and con. He seems to be navigating in some very interesting territory that I’m not sure I fully agree with, and, ultimately, I doubt many people on either side of the issue will really respect or appreciate (which is to say, Sharpton doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting elected president).

    Seriously though, I think more Christians need to give up on the crusade of “sin management” (as Dallas Willard would put it). At the same time, the passive act of *not* trying to “legislate morality” and actually *promoting* the gay rights agenda (as Sharpton is back-handedly doing) are two very different things. And besides, everyone deserves a lot more love, respect and compassion than Sharpton is offering with his “you have a right to go to hell, so go there” attitude.

  7. Jonathan Rauch, writing in the Atlantic had an interesting perspective on gay marriage (and why social conservatives should be in favor of it). Read his article at

    The idea that “marriage” is ordained by God is accurate only to a point. In the US you may get married in a church participating in a ceremony ordained by God, but you are also participating in a ceremony that is ordained by the government. Many people dispense with the God part as we all know, but no one calls it a “civil union.” Basically, Christians don’t hold a copyright on the word “marriage.”

    It’s worth noting that homosexuality is an issue that often causes Christians (at least of the conservative, Evangelical/Fundamentalist stripe) to forget large portions of what Christ taught. As Christians it seems to me more important to reflect on whether our reactions reflect a Christ-like attitude rather than worrying about fighting the culture war. Even metaphorical swords should cause us to stop and think.

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