Here’s the Story of Gay Rights and a Brady: Why the Definition of Religion Matters

“…we toss the word ‘Christian’ around and write it into our bylaws like it means the same thing to everyone… It doesn’t– and we know it. So why aren’t we talking about this issue?”

I posted this quote from the article Theological Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell written by Danny Spears last week.  Some time back I also posted an article of my own called What is a Christian and Who Gets to Decide?  Yesterday, in fact, I posted thoughts that came to me on reading a book review.  The reviewer felt as though the depiction in my novel Angel of a Christian church did not fully reflect the reality of the many different types of Christianity that exist.

Today as I was reading an article on the actress who played Cindy Brady in The Brady Bunch, it became clear to me why the answer to this question matters.

Susan Olsen decided to express her feelings on the marriage equality momentum this week via Facebook,  She posted an emotional tribute to Robert Reed, the actor who played her father on the series.

“Bob was a family man. Had he been allowed to form a relationship with another man, he would have been the best husband ever and might still be alive,” she wrote.

She went on to say that because she realized that the treatment of her important father figure by religion was wrong, she could never be religious.

“I could never worship, let alone LOVE, a God who would put my beloved father into the fires of Hell because he loved men. THAT is a God who deserves disdain. THAT is a God who must be ignored. THAT is a concept of God that must go away just as surely s humans have shed their prehensile tails.”

In this, I would agree as would many people who consider themselves to be “religious.”  It is frustrating that one form of Christianity has managed to become synonymous with the word “religion” in the minds of many people.  “Is religion good or bad” is a nonsense question.  (I have written on this subject before.  See for example “Is Religion Good for You?“)  No one practices a generic thing called “religion.”

What is more, a minority of Christians have come to create the picture of that religion for everyone.  Almost every book that I read on the Bible or Jesus scholarship spends a great deal of time arguing against the proposition that the Bible should be approached as the literal, inerrant word of God (God’s instruction manual, if you will) even though, as I have mentioned here before, a poll done by a Christian organization of Christians showed that only 30% of self-identified Christians approach the Bible in that way. Why is it that almost every discussion of Christianity addresses a minority view as though it is the default assumption?

Drama sells, and it serves the purpose of entertainment driven news media to show religion and the gay community as polar opposites, to juxtapose a guy in drag at the Pride parade with a spokesperson for the most conservative Christian group.

Religious people should object whenever such spokespeople claim to speak for “Christians.”

It probably doesn’t matter in the greater scheme of things if “Cindy Brady” has shunned religion.

But I do think that there is value in people coming together in community to celebrate their sense of being a “family,” and at least in theory, to put the needs of the group above their own.  There is value in sharing a sense of wonder at this marvelous thing called life, to talk about transcendence and mystery with other people instead of contemplating it alone.

Susan Olsen, I was moved by your love for Robert Reed, and by your heartfelt tribute to him.  A lot of religious people will be too.


  1. Right, not all religious people are Christians and not all Christians are Fundamentalist Christians and the word “religious” has been taken here in political debates to be generally synonymous with Christian fundamentalism.

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