Remember last week when we broke the news that an anti-gay mega church is moving to SE Portland and the post sparked a slew of religious-hating comments? I'm an atheist myself, but many of the hateful anti-Christian responses to the hateful anti-gay church struck me as over the top bigotry.

And I'm not the only one. Progressive local
Reverend Chuck Currie
, who's with the United Church of Christ, penned this thoughtful open letter to Blogtown (and the rest of blogworld) about how allowing the extremist Religious Right to define Christianity isn't good for anybody. Here's the letter, most of it's below the cut:

The Portland Mercury recently broke the story that Mars Hill Church, a conservative Seattle mega-church, planned to open a Portland worship center. As a minister in the United Church of Christ, this concerned me deeply because of my personal commitment to Gospel-centered justice that argues that all are equal and beloved by God. Mars Hill Church has a different view and their leaders have regularly preached for the subjugation of women, and gays and lesbians. They lack, in my view, basic tolerance that should be a requirement for Christians. In response to the news of their arrival, however, I am reminded of another truth: some Portlanders are intolerant of all people of faith, as represented in the many comments left on The Portland Mercury's blog.

I understand the anger many feel towards Christians. With sadness, I recognize the harm Christians have done in our current age. Christians have argued for discrimination of all types and even wars. It is my belief that Christians, through hateful rhetoric, have even created a climate where violence is permissible toward gays and lesbians. Those of us who claim the title Christian have much to apologize for.

It would be a mistake, however, to lump all Christians together. After all, it was The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference which lead the Civil Rights Movement in this nation. A generation before King it was a Baptist preacher named Walter Rauschenbusch who launched the Social Gospel movement that aligned churches with unions in the Progressive Era to fight for workers and economic justice. Today, religious leaders have helped fight for universal health care, for environmental protections, and for programs that help people lift themselves out of poverty. And when the vast majority of Americans stood in favor of invading Iraq after 9/11 every single U.S. Christian denomination, with the notable exception of the Southern Baptists, issued statements deploring such a war - standing against popular opinion and laying the groundwork for the anti-war movement which would finally turn popular opinion against the conflict in Iraq.

It is disheartening - but understandable - to read so many hostile comments on The Portland Mercury blog directed at people of faith. Religion has hurt many, I recognize this. As a pastor, I apologize for it. But general intolerance and even hatred toward people of faith is just as evil as hatred directed at people because of their sexual orientation or color. In the United States, respect for religious pluralism - including the right not to believe in God - is a bedrock principle of our national community.

Last week I wrote the people of Mars Hill Church an "Open Letter" in which I asked that they come to Portland "with your eyes and heart open into the ways that God may use this community to shape your ministry" and that they learn to respect the diversity we value so much as a community.

Today, I write the people of Portland to ask that you not allow the far fringes of the Religious Right to define all people of faith. The Christian church universal and Christian individuals have been prominent leaders in some of our nation's most progressive and important causes. We are due the same respect and tolerance that we would hope would be extended to any citizen of Portland regardless of background. While I believe that discrimination against people of faith is still rare it is undeniable that hostility exists among a small but vocal minority. Let's work together to change that and build a city where respect for diversity means respect for all.

Your fellow Portlander,

The Rev. Chuck Currie