Are You Hiding Bad Behavior Behind Your Religion?

This post first appeared on The Good Men Project.

AbelBibleClaiming grace and forgiveness doesn’t mean you can be a jerk to everyone else.

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In August of 2015, Michigan Republican Representative Todd Courser devised a plan to cover up his affair with fellow Representative Cindy Gamrat. Both ran their campaigns and were elected on conservative Christian values. The affair continued for months amid speculation and consequent denials.

In a weird, twisted tale, Gamrad’s own husband, unbeknownst to anyone, began stalking her and her secret love affair to blackmail her lover, Courser, into resigning his position. In an even weirder response to the blackmail, Courser concocted a story of homosexual encounters to throw the blackmailer and fellow Republican critics off the scent. Being gay, he thought, would be an even bigger story than a heterosexual affair, and one he could more easily deny.

Courser and Gamrad’s downfall finally came when Courser fired his aide, in whom he had confided everything. Fellow Republicans, who told them, in no uncertain terms, that they were a disgrace to the party, voted both Courser and Gamrad out of their positions.

In a recent 20/20 interview, Courser, finally confessed all the sordid details, explaining, “Everybody would hear that I’m a believer in Christ. They wouldn’t hear the part that I’m failed and flawed, you know, like everybody else.”

The sickening irony is the pretentiousness on which Courser built his “traditional values” political career. He easily dismissed his behavior as “failed and flawed,” and yet had no tolerance for behaviors of those people with whom he disagrees. By his own ideology, Courser believed that he deserved grace; his opponents needed to be voted out of the system of equal rights. Why? Because he is a “believer in Christ.”

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In other words, simply claiming to be a Christian relieved Courser of the responsibility of human decency. His transgressions – deception, lies, adultery, abuse of power – were quickly and easily erased because of a profession of faith. The ultimate show of Courser and Gamrad’s arrogance and audacity came only a week after their dismissal when they decided to run for office again to try and regain the seats they were thrown out of. Voters weren’t buying it and both lost re-election.

Courser and Gamrad are not the first to hide bad behavior behind their piousness. There have been a long string of conservative Christians in recent months, including former Family Research Council’s lobbyist, and reality TV star, Josh Duggar.

Duggar’s child molestation charges, and then affairs, became media fodder for months as the stories of deception and cover-up unfolded. Infamous Republican presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee, a former pastor, stood beside Josh Duggar stating in a Facebook post that Duggar’s actions were “’inexcusable,’ but that doesn’t mean ‘unforgivable.’”

Rowan, Kentucky County Clerk Kim Davis refused marriage licenses to same sex couples in spite of her four marriages, affairs and illegitimate children, all of which are condemned by her fundamentalist faith. Yet, again, presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, and presidential candidate Ted Cruz, along with a long list of conservative Christian leaders stood beside her. One pastor called her a “minister of God.”

Davis explained away her discretions by saying, “Following the death of my godly mother-in-law” (she doesn’t state which one) “over four years ago, I went to church to fulfill her dying wish. There I heard a message of grace and forgiveness and surrendered my life to Jesus Christ. I am not perfect. No one is. But I am forgiven and I love my Lord and must be obedient to Him and to the Word of God.”

In years past, we have seen the likes of televangelists Jimmy Swaggart caught with prostitutes, Jim Bakker’s affair with Jessica Hahn, former leader of the National Association of Evangelicals, Ted Haggard’s drug abuse and gay encounters and countless other politicians and “family oriented” leaders caught in an array of deceptive and illicit activities. What they share in common, besides bad behavior, is their belief that a confession and admission of guilt sets them apart from other human beings, namely non-Christians, and places them back on the pedestal of “not perfect, but forgiven.”

Affairs sometimes happen, even among the most devoted of spouses. Planned, long-term deception and cover-ups, however, require a lot more energy, thought and intent. Belief that “God will just forgive me,” reduces whatever graces the individual believes about God to a tool for power, manipulation and control. Perhaps the person claiming forgiveness doesn’t see what he’s doing, but it’s obvious to everyone else and diminishes, even further, the intended message of a loving and forgiving God.

When religious people set themselves apart from their actions, claiming “imperfection” and “brokenness,” yet do not extend the same grace to non-believers, those words translate into “self-righteous” and “holier-than-thou.” When politicians and preachers spend their lives denying equal human rights to LGBT, non-religious, or non-conformists citizens, the glaring hypocrisy creates walls and chasms between groups of people. Politicians and religious leaders expect special favor because they are “sinners saved by grace,” while they continue to dehumanize and further disenfranchise people who hold a different point of view.

Courser, Gamrat, Duggar and many of the others hid behind religion because they wanted to continue the dishonest behavior they enjoyed. None of them had any intention of stopping the behavior, as represented by the fact that they did not come forward on their own; they were exposed. While they can claim that God has forgiven them, and perhaps even justify why they should enjoy their former positions of distinguished citizenships, their integrity has been lost forever. God himself cannot erase the consequences of their actions. Their legacy is deception, cheating and lies. Thanks to the Internet, it is electronically encased forever.

The disturbing fact is that religious ideologies, particularly fundamentalism, attempt to squeeze people into conformity. When people don’t neatly fit into the gender, sexual orientation, or philosophical categories, they compromise. They justify behaviors, which are often driven underground.

One study, for example, by researchers at Brock University in Ontario, Canada found that states primarily identified as religiously and politically conservative looked up more online pornography than more liberal states. The Bible Belt, according to research released by one pornographer, has the highest consumption of gay porn.

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The false dichotomy of hiding behind religion is that religion often covers the shame people feel over behaviors they want to control, or the belief that tells them they are shameful, sinful and unworthy. The circular thinking that accompanies the thought – I am sinful and need religion, which tells me I am sinful and need religion – keeps people from finding freedom from the bad behaviors that drive them and which causes them to use religion as a cover in the first place.

Faith and belief can have positive roles in people’s lives, as evidenced by a multitude of studies. Religion in and of itself is not bad, but using it to avoid introspection, or worse, to marginalize others by manipulation and control doesn’t make a person better, it makes him a jerk.

Photo –Caity Rymel

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