Editor's note: LZ Granderson is a senior writer and columnist for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com, and has contributed to ESPN's Sports Center, Outside the Lines and First Take. He is a 2010 nominee and the 2009 winner of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) award for online journalism as well as the 2008 National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA) winner for column writing.
Grand Rapids, Michigan (CNN) -- My partner and I recently took our mothers to Las Vegas for a week for Mother's Day. It's not our favorite city, but for a pair of 60-somethings who can sit at the penny slot machines for hours, it was heaven.
When they were not being robbed by one-armed bandits, we saw a couple of shows and had some amazing dinners. We also enjoyed trying to figure out which women were hookers and which were just dressed like one. And of course saying "public drunkenness" is pretty redundant after 11 a.m.
But that's why we go to Vegas, right? Life on the Strip. What happens here stays here ... and all that good stuff. By the end of our trip, the four of us had seen just about everything you would expect to see in a place nicknamed Sin City -- except for faith-based protesters.
Funny, a week of walking up and down the main artery of the self-proclaimed heart of moral debauchery, and nary a Bible verse could be heard. In the many times I've been to Las Vegas over the years, I've never seen a religious protest. And yet let a midsize city try to add sexual orientation to its municipal nondiscrimination policy or a high school senior bring a same-gender date to prom, and you would think it was the apocalypse.
The Bible doesn't state that one sin is greater than another, but you wouldn't know that by counting the number of comments that quote Scripture on news stories about the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community. Compare them with how many address murder, or the environment, or the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and well, the word "hypocrite" comes to mind.
I am never ashamed to say I follow the teachings of Christ, but I am not always proud to say I am a Christian. That's because I am bothered by the continual mutilation of my religion's basic principle of love by the extremists in my religion who construct a hierarchy of sin -- which does not exist in the Bible -- for no other reason than to protect their own prejudices.
We've seen this throughout this country's history, and perhaps with the exception of abortion, no current issue illustrates this transgression more so than gay rights.
Some conservatives might attend church only twice a year, but ask their opinion about gays in the military. They can find Leviticus 18:22 blindfolded, handcuffed and sinking underwater: "Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind; it is an abomination."
Rarely do you hear them mention the other "sexual sins" in Leviticus, such as making love to your wife while she's menstruating. There are some people who say Jesus freed us from the old laws with one side of their mouths while using old laws to condemn GLBT people with the other.
Many turn to the destruction of Sodom as proof against homosexuality. But the King James version lists fornication, greed and lying as sins committed in Sodom as well, and never specifies which particular sin caused God's wrath.
In fact, the word "Sodomite," which some like to toss around as an anti-gay insult, is a mistranslation and is not used in the original Hebrew text. The actual word is "kadesh," and it does not refer to the city, its inhabitants or a specific sexual act. It refers to the occult male prostitutes in the shrines, just as "kedesha" refers to the female equivalent. Neither word reflects sexual orientation.
It may be convenient to say Sodom was all about homosexual people, but historically and scripturally, that isn't accurate. This is why I, like so many other Christians, do not follow a literal interpretation of the Bible.
I'm not ducking Leviticus, I'd just rather go directly to the source. Concepts get lost in translation, and we all know history is filled with influential people and institutions that have defined religion for the masses based upon their own selfish needs. For example, King Henry VIII, the man who authorized the first English translation of the Bible, was married six times and essentially had the British Empire separate from the Roman Catholic Church so he could divorce in peace. Then there's King James, whose own writings suggest he was secretly gay or bisexual, according to historians such as Michael B. Young and Caroline Bingham.
He was directed to marry for the sake of the throne before authorizing the version of the Bible that swapped "kadesh" for "Sodomite" in the first place. Hmm, where have we heard that story -- closeted gay politician with an anti-gay policy -- before?
But theology and history aside, it is clear from the lack of consistent reaction to and organization against the litany of other present-day sins that a large number of people who call themselves Christians do not follow the literal interpretation of the Bible either. So, if some of us are picking and choosing which Bible verses to follow, why are so many opting to pick and choose verses that appear to condemn homosexuality and not the one against marrying a woman who isn't a virgin?
If sin is sin, why such Christian angst directed at the GLBT community and not the greedy corporate community, which, quite frankly, has more direct impact on the average person's life?
The answer is simple: Those who are uncomfortable or fearful of someone who is different from them sometimes hide behind religion to gain power, nurture their ignorance and justify their prejudices.
It's no different from Christian slave owners using Scriptures to feel better about enslaving Africans, or men pointing to Jezebel as a way to keep women out of the clergy, or Bob Jones University picking verses that supported the school's ban on interracial dating.
The extremists aren't fighting gay rights because of sin and honoring Leviticus 18:22. If they were, then where are the faith-based organizations spending millions trying to make adultery a crime punishable by death, as suggested in Leviticus 20:10? Is 18:22 more true than 20:10, or does it just support a more common and entrenched prejudice?
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of LZ Granderson.