Five years ago when I returned home to Oklahoma, it was with the conviction that Oklahomans were fair, decent, compassionate people. In the effort to advance human and civil rights, surely Oklahomans would listen, and ultimately these values would persuade.
In recent weeks, the Legislature overrode a series of gubernatorial vetoes, eroding individual freedom and medical care for women. This comes despite legislative galleries filled with women and pro-women males clad in pink and calling for the vetoes to be sustained. This prompted USA Today, that most mainstream of American newspapers, to editorialize that one of the new laws " the one forcing ultrasounds " goes "way beyond acceptable limits in any context," because "the law intrudes far deeper into people's medical decisions than anything in the controversial new federal health care law."
The San Francisco Chronicle was even stronger, calling for all women to leave the state of Oklahoma because of its "ignorance" and "misogyny." One of their columnists wrote that Oklahoma serves as a reminder "just how backwards and archaic are a few lingering hunks" of the United States.
No NBA team or downtown makeover can overcome the bad politics that has consistently violated those values of fairness, decency and compassion that I had thought were our core values.
Then, we read in The Journal Record about Oklahoma City Council member Brian Walters who voted against the permit for the 23rd annual Pride Festival and then gave some embarrassing public comments as to why.
Walters said that he wouldn't vote to support a gathering of pedophiles or wife-beaters and compared LGBT persons to such. Of course, child abuse and domestic violence are criminal activities. Having a minority sexual orientation or gender identity is not criminal; it is a basic fact of human biology and is recognized as such in American law.
Walters further stated, "The reason I voted 'no' on that is that I'm a born-again Christian and don't believe in the homosexual lifestyle."
Walters is presenting his sectarian view as the Christian view, despite the number of denominations and congregations that take widely different views. And, more significantly, he is using that sectarian view in determining public policy.
There is also an interesting confusion in Walters' statement. My charitable read is that he means he doesn't believe living as a homosexual is an appropriate thing to do. But what he says is that he doesn't believe in something that actually exists. Walters is like the Flat Earth Society, stubbornly ignorant of reality. Despite his "belief," homosexuals do exist. We are lawful citizens with inalienable human rights.
If a council member voted against a Jewish festival and said "I don't believe in the Jewish religion," would we tolerate them? All fair, decent and compassionate Oklahomans should reject Walters' bigotry.
And until Oklahomans stand up for their core values, they will continue to get the embarrassing, ignorant, backward politics we've seen recently. We get the government we vote for.
So, this is goodbye for now. I have accepted the call to become pastor of the First Central Congregational Church of Omaha. My work will continue elsewhere, but I won't cease to pray that my home state lives up to its best self.
Jones, who holds a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Oklahoma, is leaving his post as pastor of the Cathedral of Hope United Church of Christ in Oklahoma City.
(Editor's note: Brian Walters, who represents the Oklahoma City Council's Ward 5, declined an invitation to write a counterpoint response.)