The Raleigh Rant
This morning I’m suffering somewhat from intellectual whiplash. I recently published two book reviews on Goodreads. The liberal Living the Questions: The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity challenges all our traditional beliefs. The conservative What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality assumes a very defensive position for the evangelical literal Biblical tradition. Reading those books seemed like the authors live in two different worlds. I won’t repeat the reviews here since they also already have appeared on my Facebook and Twitter pages thanks to Goodreads.
What concerns me the most is that these authors exemplify the pattern of people talking past each other, trying to win debating points, defending their theological positions, and with very little effort to reach out in some type of Christian reconciliation. If we are so adamant and disagree on so many issues, how can the Christian Church thrive? We already have hundreds of Protestant denominations that have fractured the church into slivers of divisions both theologically and organizationally. Of course, there are even divisions with the Catholic Church. So why do we get so hung up on dogma?
I guess it’s the human quality to want to prove that we’re “right”, and whoever disagrees with us must be wrong. The popular philosophy of a decade ago of finding “win-win” solutions to social problems seems to have dissolved into the partisanships beyond our politics. As Americans we can’t seem to agree on anything: religion, politics, economics, national defense, race relations, public safety, guns, etc. While we long have been a culturally diverse nation with an amalgam of immigrant cultures and traditions, we used to be able to compromise and cooperate at least at the basic functioning levels of government. We’ve become so dysfunctional that we can’t even agree literally on what time it is. Whatever became of civil discourse?
Of course there were fights (some literally) in the early stages of the creation of the United States, but eventually we passed a Constitution and a Bill of Rights. We’ve only amended the Constitution a handful of times so it seems to have worked reasonably well over almost 250 years. Our threats from international terrorism, income inequality, and lack of social mobility seem pale in comparison with the struggles our forefathers faced. Certainly the cataclysm of the Civil War was the low point in our struggle as a nation. Are we sliding down that path again?
Within the Methodist Church we have made an effort at dialogue and discernment, but I can’t see that it has produced much in resolving social or church legislative issues. We keep kicking the can down the road, whether it’s reorganizing the boards, ministries, or the role of the bishops. General Conference has become a 2-week long morass of budgeting and policy debates that are no way to run an organization effectively. The statistics of declining membership in the mainline denominations indicate an issue of lack of relevance in the everyday life of people and their need or understanding of organized religion. Certainly these unresolved debates about dogma can only drive people away from the church.
I have moved this blog from WordPress to my web site. For those of you reading on Facebook or LinkedIn, you may not have been aware of where it originated. There is no need to go into the details, but I would like to explain the rationale of the move. It allows me more closely to integrate and coordinate my online activities and to be more efficient with my time as well as more clearly focused on my agenda.
About 18 months ago, I did a 180-degree turn on the blog and changed the subject from writing to the evolution of gay Christians and their impact upon society and vice versa. That is the story of the struggle that I portray in my book, and that is the struggle to which I still devote a lot of my time. We’re beginning to see a cultural shift in society not only in the acceptance of gays, but also of gays “coming out” as Christians. I have included a longer feature on the new web site of the Cultural Revolution in the US.
Although a few political candidates are still trying to use homosexuality as a wedge issue in the upcoming national election, it’s a dead issue except to a small, hostile minority that can’t win elections. Corporations understood the benefits of diversity 30 years ago and actively promote it, but some politicians (and a lot more churches) are still behind the times in not understanding the shift in cultural norms. It’s no longer a debate between the Christians and the secular world; it is a failing tactic to try to block the inevitable change that already is occurring worldwide.
We’re being reminded that race is still an issue in this country although we thought we made great strikes with major federal civic rights legislation and the election of our first African-American President. We’ve seen the continuing strident personal animus against Obama and the subjugation of people of color in cities large and small. That has happened not only economically and politically but also in the skewed system of justice. So even these issues we thought were behind us keep raising their ugly heads, and the controversial issue of homosexuality and its context within Christianity (is it a sin or not?) only increase the resistance of those who want to turn back the clock to the days of Jim Crow. Civil rights are not issues of liberal versus conservative philosophies. They are the continuing struggle to finally fulfill the promises made in our Bill of Rights and Amendments to The Constitution.
I came home from the Jack Crum Conference on Prophetic Ministries in Durham this evening both encouraged and discouraged. I was encouraged by the prophetic voices that spoke and encouraged us to keep on in the struggle to make the United Methodist Church live up to its motto. I was discouraged that in spite of weeks of publicity and promotion, only 63 people (not counting speakers and guests) showed up. I think it is indicative of how the progressive arm of the United Methodist Church is struggling to find traction in the recalcitrant majority of clerics who are fearful of their careers and unwilling to take risks if it involves their retirement benefits. We have a sympathetic Bishop in North Carolina who is restricted by the legal authority of her position to uphold the Book of Discipline, and who even advertised the meeting on the NC Conference web site.
The fact is the Methodists are dragging their feet on LGBT issues in comparison with the other mainline denominations that have moved on to other issues. Some of the clergy present acknowledged that they have moved on to other denominations where they serve as ordained elders without fear of reprisal or intimidation. Such is the hypocrisy of the United Methodist Church that clergy who lie or wink can be ordained, but those who are truthful or honest cannot. That was the traditional practice 50 years ago, but it is an abomination today.
I also was struck by the fact that the majority of those in attendance at the conference were allies rather than gays or lesbians. That is only a reflection of the obvious fact we as a group have either never been a part of an organized church or have left because we were unwelcome and regarded as second-class members. The church will take our money, but we can’t serve in leadership positions or be openly recognized, particularly if it involves our spouse.
A friend and I discussed the criticism that he has received for remaining as a member of the church that is so backward in its polity. Why doesn’t he just leave and go to another denomination that is more relevant to the needs of today’s society? It’s simple. We were born and raised Methodists, and that not only reflects our common belief, but also is the home and source of our support in spite of what the official policies of the church may be. We are in communion with others in our congregation, and that is where we feel at home.
The church is SO distracted by the issue of same-sex marriage and unthinking of the idea of evangelism to the disposed that we risk the hazard of becoming irrelevant in the face of an increasingly secularized society. Are we presumptuous to claim that (LGBT) people are the new face of the civil rights movement in America, and that it is being fought not only in the legislatures but also in the churches? I think not. Today the parallels between homophobia and racism were again brought clearly into focus. We have not resolved either issue, and it is a long road ahead that deserves our best energies and efforts.
A lot of news coverage recently has focused on discriminatory laws in Indiana and Arkansas restricting services to legally married same-sex couples and pending legislation in other states. Most reports have ignored the fact that LGBT people can be denied employment and housing in the majority of states. Gays and lesbians can be fired simply because of their sexual orientation without any protection from discrimination. Federal legislation, dubbed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), has been pending since 1993 that would add LGBT as a protected class similar to the other classes of people cited prior laws.
In common practice, fewer gays and lesbians are being fired in spite of the fact that is legal to do so because businesses and other organizations have found that to be damaging to their images if they discriminate. It’s simply bad business practice if you want to recruit and keep good employees, including many straight allies. But that doesn’t excuse the practice that still exists among some companies, and particularly churches, who still discriminate based solely on sexual orientation. Some church-related colleges recently have been in the news because of their discriminatory practices. They claim their religion protects them from claims of discrimination because of their belief that homosexuality is a mortal sin and therefore all homosexuals are unworthy of employment. Of course, some people go even further and say that all LGBT people are worthy of death, imprisonment, or at least physical and mental abuse.
In those cases where such acts of violence occur, some states are including LGBT people along with race as a category in their hate crimes laws. Basically those laws impose additional punishment if the motive to a crime can be proven to be the result of a person’s hate of another individual and not just a crime of passion. Such situations are very hard to prove in court and probably offer little protection or deterrence. So-called “bullying” laws against abuse of LGBT youth have been much more effective in that they impose responsibilities on teachers and administrators to act when bullying occurs rather than to ignore it.
Some would say that all this proves the point that you can’t legislate morality, and where discrimination and abuse exist in the name of religion you simply have to wait until time brings about the change in the public’s beliefs and perceptions about homosexuality. Public opinion is changing along with the laws that have decriminalized homosexuality and legalized same-sex marriage, but the radical right is still a holdout in the cultural changes of recent decades. Their hatred of Obama because of his race is re-enforced by his support of LGBT issues. The politics of fear mongering has been successful through the ages, and as long as you continue to tell the big lie it works. It only unravels when the lies are revealed. The radical right group LGBT people with Muslims and Jews and other people they hate and justify their hatred in the name of religion. Their religion, however, is the antithesis of Christianity and everything that Jesus preached. In reality what they want is a theocracy similar to Iran when the majority can impose their religious beliefs and practices on everyone so that there is no freedom of religion and the state and the church are one. Our founding fathers learned from the abuses in Europe of those practices and set America on a course to separate the two. Thus we have the hypocrisy of Religious Freedom Restoration Acts.
The recent release of the movie “I am Michael” again has raised the question of whether sexual orientation can be changed. I haven’t seen the movie, but the storyline is that of a man who comes out of the closet and then goes back in again. The premise of the religious right is that sexual orientation is a choice, and with proper treatment and prayer it can be changed— although no one has ever claimed to make a straight person gay.
Let’s start with a few definitions: gender identity, sexual orientation, and sexual expression are not synonymous. Gender identity is how we view ourselves as male or female. Transgender persons suffer cognitive dissonance in that their psychological identity does not match their physical characteristics, and so they undergo physical and psychological treatments to change their gender. They are not gay.
Sexual orientation was perhaps best explained in the Masters and Johnson’s historic study on human sexuality in which they surveyed hundreds of people to discover that only a small percentage is exclusively gay or straight. Most fit in the bell curve and have some gay and straight inclinations and/or experiences, which seems to explain the concept of bisexuality. For years gays thought that bisexuals were simply closeted gays, but experience has shown that people can respond to a variety of sexual stimuli and/or experiences. While we may be inclined in one direction more strongly than the other, circumstances and social pressures can influence our decisions and behavior. Prison is a good example. For decades, most gays got married to “pass” for straight, had children, and lived so-called normal lives. The experience varied widely, and some were more successful than others. Most eventually came out as gay, but they might or might not get divorced.
Sexual expression is how we express our sexuality. For gays that is primarily masturbation (mutual or otherwise) or anal intercourse. The “kinky” sex of sadomasochism or leather appears to appeal to both straight and gay, and seems to reflect an early experience of conflicting pain with pleasure in creating arousal. People can choose to remain celibate and repress their sexuality, but that frequently results in distorted personality and psychological problems such as pedophilia.
Conversion therapy was practiced for decades in the US and is still legal in some states even though it has been banned in a few. All of the professional organizations have disavowed the practice as creating more problems while still not creating a cure for homosexuality. In most cases, the regimen simply uses aversion therapy to repress sexual feelings. The largest group, Exodus International, closed its doors two years ago and apologized for misleading people that it could provide a cure.
Opponents of gay civil rights claim that because a gay gene has not be proven, then gays have a choice and can change since it is not genetic. On the other hand, you can’t prove a negative so there is no proof that is not genetic. Clearly the trait does tend to run in families, but life experiences also can determine how it is expressed. Because of the changes in social attitudes in our society, many people are now coming out later in life as they have learned how to lift their repressions and to be able to more fully express their inner personality and true self.
Homosexuality is not a disorder nor is it criminal behavior. That has been settled by professional organizations and the Supreme Court. The continuing debate is whether or not is a sin. Those who proof text the Bible claim that it is a sin, and others who interpret the Bible differently claim that references refer to prostitution and sexual domination. In ancient times male rape was the ultimate form of submission.
The issue has been debated endlessly, and it probably will continue to be depending upon your assumptions. If you make certain assumptions, then you can make a case either way. Unfortunately, the continuing debates lead to more suicides, violence, and discrimination based on homophobia.