The IRO has not developed a position on persons with alternative lifestyles

Dear Editor,

It was with great consternation that I have read in the Stabroek News (June 9, 2014), a statement attributed to Pastor Ronald McGarrell to the effect that, “homosexuals and other persons with alternative sexual orientation should reside on an island by themselves.”

As a member of the Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO), I wish to categorically state that the IRO has not developed a position on the question of persons with alternative lifestyles, even though I know from many discussions that the majority of the members have extremely conservative views similar to those allegedly expressed by Pastor McGarrell.

One must also bear in mind that if the statement attributed to Pastor McGarrell was indeed what he said, then he would be obviously speaking from the narrow perspective of his faith community, even if he was so empowered. But one also needs to be cognizant of the fact that very few faith communities have a homogeneous and uniform perspective on this and other issues.

Regarding the threat that Pastor McGarrell predicts, it is difficult for us to understand what he means, as he is reported to have said, that, “the pervasiveness of LGBT lifestyles threatens God’s ideal of a family.” And what specifically does he mean by the ideal of a family? Whose ideal?   Is there a universal standard of what an ideal family is?

From a Hindu point of view, while there is general acceptance of the traditional ideal family, as having at a minimum, a wife and a husband and children, there is nothing in Hinduism that warrants the demonization of persons with alternative lifestyles, let alone invoking the wrath of God on anyone. Hinduism recognizes the complexity of human nature and therefore has more or less inbuilt mechanisms to accommodate a wide range of beliefs and behaviours even within the unit of a family. Its greatest singular strength is its respect for diversity.

Of course, Hinduism does have its perspective on family, but it is something more than just husband and wife and children. Vedic texts recognize the family as a value based entity. In this regard the Atharva Veda describes a family as a sahridayam and samanasyam, a place where hearts and minds are united in a common purpose.

It is avidvesham, where there is no hatred. Members of the family are urged to love one another as a cow loves its calf, which is a common imagery of love in the family in Sanskrit literature. Children are urged to honour and respect parents. Gentleness, sweetness and harmony should characterize the relationship between husband and wife.

The same text specifically and explicitly urges that brother must not hate brother and sister, sister. Bound by a common vow, relationship in the family should be civil and cultured. It is further stated that the food and drink should be common, and with Agni, the sacrificial fire, as its centre, the family should gather around like spokes around a hub.

Coming back to Pastor McGarrell’s statement, it seems that some men possess a mysterious ability to discern the will of God and to decide on whom God’s wrath should fall. The world becomes a simplistic place of “us” against “them.” But we know wherever this sharp polarization has been constructed between good and evil, between “God” and “the Devil,” it has been accompanied by judgment and punishment, bloodshed and suffering.

One of the ways of destroying the Devil is to destroy those whose behaviour is believed to be influenced by the Devil. This Pastor McGarrell would have us believe that God has a plan for humanity, but if he does indeed believe that, “heavenly intervention might be immiment,” then he might be best advised not to usurp God’s function and refrain from invoking divine fire and brimstone. Why not leave it to God?

What is also quite alarming is the view that, “laws should be passed in universal principles to raise morals and ethics in society.” But it is public knowledge that wherever such laws have been passed at least one deadly consequence is seen, that is, morality police become a necessity and society inevitably descends into depravity and barbarism, the evidence of which surrounds and overwhelms us almost on a daily basis.

It will also do well for Pastor McGarrell to spell out what he means by “universal principles.” I do realize that adherents of religions seek to universalise their particular, narrow, limited perspective bound by time and place, and this is why there is the fear that it may all boil down to this or that religious belief, which by definition cannot be universal.

On the other hand, if by “universal principles” Pastor McGarrell means values such as fortitude and forebearance, compassion and forgiveness, control of the mind and senses, truth, non-injury, humility, cleanliness and purity of mind and body, patience, honesty, charity, fearlessness, and an absence of envy and greed and the like, values which do not have to depend on “heavenly intervention,” God, or religion, then however desirable they may be they cannot be legislated. Then again, if a person, regardless of sexual orientation, shows any or a combination of these values, what more can we ask of any human being?

Finally, we are again and again assured that God loves unconditionally and offers us everlasting grace, through no merit on our own. But if we do not respond appropriately, then that same God will send us to be tortured forever in hell. One theology emphatically affirms that of all the billions of people who have ever lived only a select number will make it to the land of sunshine. Does God punish billions of people with infinite eternal torment for the things they did in the few years of their human life? Will God consign even a single human being to such a fiery eternal damnation merely on the basis of his/her sexual orientation?

Yours faithfully,
Swami Aksharananda





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