The Raleigh Rant

God and Gays

For several years I have compiled a resource guide of videos and books for the Reconciling United Methodists of North Carolina. Somehow I missed the 2006 film “God and Gays.” I found it on Netflix and watched it recently. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who was late learning about it because it barely registered on IMDB. My guess is that film faced distribution problems and thus had little impact.

It follows the usual documentary format of people telling their stories, but this time it seemed different. The discussions had more theological depth to them. Perhaps that was because some of the interviewees were ministers. Most came from a fundamentalist background and told of their difficulties in coming out. That process was not just a public statement but also a period of spiritual growth and development for them. They didn’t deny their faith and then recover it. As they came to know and understand themselves, they also came to have a closer relationship with God.

They didn’t debate the Biblical scriptures about homosexuality or how they learned to re-interpret the scriptures in a new way. Their testimonies were about how they grew in their faith and understanding of religion and how to relate with God. Through their internal conflicts, they drew closer to God.

Apparently this film made the round of a few LGBT film festivals, but it didn’t make it to our area. The founder of SoulForce is prominently featured in the film, but I don’t recall seeing anything about it in their publications. Perhaps that was because it was not one of their projects, and they focused on what they were doing.

At that time, the LGBT community and organized religion were such poles apart that neither side wanted to acknowledge the other. In the meantime, several Protestant denominations (except the Methodists) have made major strides in changing their policies about LGBT issues. I recommend the film for many reasons. It is not just about reconciling mainstream religion and homosexuality. It demonstrates that the LGBT community through their struggles can offer a guide to a deeper personal relationship with God rather than just going through the routine rituals of religion.

I doubt that either the opponents or supporters of the LGBT community will change their beliefs after seeing this movie, but it offers an opportunity for discussion that isn’t limited just to rehashing a few scriptures over and over again. The people in the movie experienced a process of discernment that not only enabled them to grow in character but also in faith.When our faith is challenged, it either grows or dies. Unfortunately, a lot of LGBT people have lost their faith because of these difficult challenges.

Kim Davis is Dead Wrong

We not only have freedom of religion in this country, we have freedom from religion. According to her oath of office, she certifies that the records are accurate and maintained in proper order. She does not certify that she personally approves of the records or endorses them. If as a matter of conscience, she believes that she cannot fulfill the duties of her office, then she should resign. That is her right, but she does not have the right to choose what law she will or will not obey. If everyone did that, the entire legal system would collapse.

In real terms, her actions and those of others are simply efforts to subvert the law by claiming religious freedom in the practice of her conscience. The record of her religious observance thus far has not been good so why is she suddenly becoming so pious? This clearly is a strategy of the Republicans to undermine the Supreme Court decision and to confuse the issues through legal wrangling in which the Court repeatedly has said that she has no merit or standing for appeal.

The Bill of Rights and legal precedence have been interpreted in numerous cases that there shall be separation of church and state, which not only means that the government can not impose a state religion, but also means that no religious institutions can impose their dogmas or persons their beliefs upon others or enact them as mandatory requirements to obtain basic civil rights. There are no religious tests for holding office, nor are there religious exceptions for not obeying the law.

The Constitution and legal precedence have established that federal law supersedes state or local law in most cases where the Federal Government has a primary interest. Equality before the law clearly is one of the foundations of our legal system, and when it is not observed then we have a corrupt and unjust system. The Supreme Court merely declared that this one minority couldn’t be excluded from having the same rights as other citizens. And because it addresses a fundamental right, then it must be equally applied under the law and cannot be over ridden by state law.

The Supreme Court decision does not address the issue of what churches or synagogues or mosques may or may not do when it comes to same-sex marriage. The rites and rituals of the church are beyond the purview of the court. Although the clergy are authorized to issue a marriage certificate, they are not restricted in what ceremony they may choose to use or to whom they may refuse to offer the ritual. The law applies only to public officials.

Kim Davis is an elected public official who has chosen to put herself above the law and thereby disqualify her for office. She cannot be fired; she only can be impeached and that is a very lengthy and expensive process. She claims she is taking a moral stand, but is it moral to disobey the law? Especially when you are a public official elected to uphold the law? This is a deliberate effort to avoid the implementation of the law and to exclude a protected minority as defined by the U.S. Supreme Court. We already have many abuses of our legal system, are we to tolerate one more abuse?

The Church and Homophobia

Some people use the Bible as a club rather than a guide and try to clobber people into changing and becoming Christians only by observing a strict set of beliefs or dogma. That approach doesn’t work because it just antagonizes people. It makes the people who are quoting the Bible feel more pious that they’re preaching the Gospel, but it’s bad news not good news. Jesus said to repent, but he applied that to everyone.

Several organizations have the word “reconcile’ in some form of their title, which implies dialogue or at least compromise. The mainstream Protestant denominations are in various stages of dialogue or discernment of how to deal with the sin of homosexuality. Of course, that starts with the basic assumption that it is a sin. So does it all comes down to interpretation of a handful of verses? No, not really. Homophobia presumes an attitude of whether to be welcoming and inclusive or exclusive and judgmental. Once you have decided that, it is a question of finding means to justify your assumptions.

I grew up in the church, and it’s a big part of who I am. I’m not going to let people run me off simply because they’re judgmental and hostile to me. I can quote the Bible as well as they can. But those kinds of arguments only confirm people’s original positions and create more hostility.

So, let’s play nice and just get along together? It takes a lot more work than that. Let’s start with a little empathy for our opponent’s understanding and worldview. A lot of hostility against the LGBTQ community is simply based upon fear. That’s why we’re encouraged to come out and became open in our orientation so that we’re not just the unknown or stereotypes. Because of the past sins of the church, many in the LGBTQ community are so hostile to any organized religion they can’t even hope for reconciliation.

It was a long struggle for me. Your family background, education, life experiences, and personality all factor into how you may or may not reconcile these conflicts. Sometimes they primarily are internal, and sometimes they are open, argumentative, or even life threatening. Dealing with conflict is difficult and requires persistence. The LGBTQ community and the church have been at odds for decades, but I see a little more openness on both sides so perhaps there is hope of reconciliation.

Equality for all

Kim Davis has become the poster child for the radical right’s backlash against same-sex marriage in the US. I refuse to use the term conservative Christians because these extremists defy every tenet of Christianity. We have many Christian denominations with varying beliefs and practices, but the extremists go beyond the bounds. Other countries have been far ahead of us in granting equal civil rights.

The facts are simple: she had neither the legal or moral right for her actions. As a three-time divorcee and an adulterer, she can claim no moral high ground or religious basis for her bigotry. The oath of office that she took offers no exceptions of her duties for religion. When she issues a marriage certificate, she does not personally approve the marriage. She merely certifies to the state that it is legal and the process is in order. Whether she may choose just to quietly resign or to assume the role of a movement leader and appeal for funds and more publicity may not be a personal decision. Those who would use her to promote their cause may impose it upon her.

It is too early yet to see how this media spectacle will play out. The divisive tone in the nation is inflamed by the media seeking controversy that plays to the extreme and absurd for attention. They’re not interested in real conversations about basic issues affecting our country such as war and peace, economic injustice, racism, refugees, and the oligarchy. These issues are too complex and don’t photograph well. We’ve already seen in the national political campaigns the media flock to whoever is the meanest and shouts the loudest. It doesn’t matter whether or not they are in command of reality or have a substantial platform. It’s just pure entertainment and not news. The reality shows have gone prime time, including the news segments on the cable networks.

Same-sex marriage is the law of the land, and people can choose whether to obey the law or to disobey. We saw mass disobedience of the law during Prohibition, and the Constitutional amendment was repealed. Perhaps those in opposition are hoping eventually for a reversal of the U.S. Supreme Court decision and thus feel justified in disobeying the law. Perhaps they’re just angry and want to vent their anger in any way possible, including violence.

The real issue isn’t about same-sex marriage. It is about social and legal justice. It’s about equality before the law and that no laws should enshrine discrimination against minorities. It’s also about equal enforcement of the law without discrimination. We’re still struggling with that in terms of race, and the radical right is trying to reverse the gains of the past 60 years and take us back to the 1950’s. They demonize the poor and glorify the rich and thereby ignore all of the declarations of the Bible, including both the Old and New Testaments. They will use any means, including lies and distortions, to impose their theocracy upon a democratic nation. They would make us a flip-of-the coin compared with Iran.

Those who would appeal to our Founding Fathers also ignore the fact that the founders established not only the separation of church and state but also the protection from religion imposing upon the rights of the state and individuals. The folks who wrote our Constitution understood the mistakes of centuries of state-sponsored religion in other countries and offered us a unique opportunity for religious diversity and freedom of expression. You not only could be Catholic or Protestant, you could be Jewish or Muslim, Buddhist or Hindu. We welcomed people of all faiths and nationalities. Of course, it took 150 years to also include all races.

Let’s face it; the extremists have given all religions a bad reputation, not only in this country but also around the world. ISIS would try to take us back to the 8th Century or earlier. We have not yet seen that level of violence in the United States, but the KKK and others are ratcheting up the level of violence. Hopefully we will not return to the mass murders of the 1920s. Transgender people seem to have become the new primary target of prejudice. Our nation was founded upon equal opportunity for all; let’s hope that we can keep the dream alive.

North Carolina Gay & Lesbian Film Festival

I am attending the first weekend of the annual North Carolina Gay & Lesbian Film Festival at the Carolina Theater in Durham. This is one of the biggest LGBT events in the Triangle, exceeded in numbers only by the annual spring GoRaleigh street fair that draws a large percentage of allies who come to join the fun.

We have moved out of the ghettos and are becoming mainstreamed into American society so why do we continue to need Gay Pride parades and festivals? First, we have yet to achieve full rights legally and are still discriminated against in spite of recent accomplishments in the courts. We need to push to cross the boundaries of homophobia not only in the courts and legislatures but also especially in our churches.

For generations we were shamed and rejected and hid in the relative safety of our bars and social clubs, and those years became part of our history and culture. We have a unique history that goes much further back than the United States, and many of us have forgotten or never knew of that history. It is a part of who we are and should be celebrated beyond just Stonewall.

Many of the films in this festival will never go into general theatrical release both because of their limited audience appeal but also because they are independently produced and distributed. They are not part of the giant media network, and without these festivals that happen all across the country they would have no audience. With no market, the writers, directors, and producers (usually only one or two people) would not be able to get funding or find story material. These films don’t have the giant market the porn industry does that is usually distributed directly via DVD or online.

What does it mean to a young gay man or lesbian to see a love story that reflects their secret dreams? How do transgender people feel when someone dares to tell their story honestly and with hope? What about parents who are struggling to accept the news that their children are LGBT? I certainly had few LGBT role models when I was a teenager or even a young adult struggling to find self-awareness and acceptance. If homosexuality was even dared to be mentioned, it always was in the context of perversion, and the characters were either sad, comic or evil.

So are these just gay propaganda promoting a lifestyle? That’s what opponents would have you believe. If we dare to tell a story with a happy ending or show a gay or lesbian couple in love, then we’re accused of flaunting ourselves and offending the public. The landmark film “Brokeback Mountain” is celebrating its 10th anniversary as one of the few that told a gay love story that appealed to the general market and was hugely successful. Of course, it had to end tragically to satisfy the critics, but then other love stories also often end that way also.

I’m no longer ashamed of being gay, and celebrating with others in these festivals is a joyful experience that I recommend to everyone.