by REV. DEBORAH LAKE
Washington madam Deborah Jeane Palfrey, accused of running a $2 million prostitution ring, said that Louisiana Sen. David Vitter, outspoken politician against gay rights, paid her for sex. Surprised? Male prostitute Mike Jones revealed that Ted Haggard, the then-prominent preacher against gay rights, paid him for sex. Shocked? Venus Magazine publisher, Charlene E. Cothran declared she was saved from a lesbian lifestyle that she called the gates of hell. Astonished?
If the answers are no, then you recognize moral dishonesty in many leaders. Even more, you recognize moral dishonesty in our country. While America claims to embrace a God-fearing, pro-life morality, the number of women, children and men killed by violence and abuse rise; one of two marriages ends in divorce; new HIV infections rise; crime, drug abuse and homelessness all rise; political corruption rises; and a prominent religious institution agrees to pay $660 million to the victims of its predatory priests. These are a few of the reasons why we are not surprised when moral dishonesty and shame in leadership are exposed. Why, in a country where freedom is fiercely protected, are so many of us dishonest, ashamed or afraid?
In Genesis 2:9 of The New Oxford Annotated Bible, we read that the Garden of Eden had a tree of life and a tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God told Adam and Eve that taking food from the tree of knowledge meant death ( 2:16 ) . Adam and Eve chose to take from this tree ( 3:6 ) , and immediately became ashamed ( 3:8 ) and afraid ( 3:10b ) . Today, we face a similar choice. We can choose to take from either the tree of life or the tree of knowledge. The facts that we—like Vitter, Haggard and Cothran—either live morally dishonest lives, are ashamed of who we are or are afraid to confront homophobia illustrates that we still choose to take from the tree of knowledge.
What would happen if we drew from the tree of life instead? Having the tree of life as a source would mean that we focus on the universal needs that connect us rather than the special interests that divide us. We would address problems based on the understanding that everyone needs to be safe and is concerned for the well-being of their loved ones. Choosing the tree of life would mean that we look for the gifts in each individual and include those gifts in the work of deconstructing what divides us.
Just as Adam and Eve, the choice is ours. We can find more ways to dominate, hurt and abandon one another. We can further weaken our societies by developing more division. We can keep taking from the tree of knowledge. At the same time, we can overcome oppression, heal hurt and create authentic inclusion. We can become strong in our unity and strengthen our communities using life-promoting assumptions. We can choose to take from the tree of life and begin to live morally honest lives free from fear and shame.
Rev. Lake is head of Sankofa Way, a local pro-LGBT spiritual organization. See www.sankofaway.org .