Loving my (LGBT) Neighbor

Loving My (LGBT) Neighbor: Being Friends in Grace and Truth (Moody Publishers), by Glenn Stanton, staff member at Focus on the Family.

I got interested in this book by reading the book review in the Dec. 5th issue of Christianity Today by Karen Swallow Pride: Christianity Today Book Review

I won’t “review” her review, but I will offer comments of my own. The author makes a big point of his cordial relations with opponents on the issue of Christianity and homosexuality and how they have appeared numerous times to debate each other.   Through that they have developed friendships and come to know each other as individuals, not just as stereotypes. Which, of course, is how people come to change their opinions, attitudes, and beliefs on the issue.

The one point where he will not budge is that evangelicals stand on the authority of the Bible, while his opponents have no standing in how to interpret the Bible. This is the first of his many false choices. Evangelicals appear arrogant when they assume they are the only ones who know how to read the Bible. He stands on their interpretation of the Bible, and there are as many interpretations as they are Protestant denominations.   That is one of the primary reasons why the Protestant church is so fractured, although history, tradition, local social customs, etc. also played a significant role in how the church continued to divide over time.

He ignores Jeff Chu, Jason Lee, and Matthew Vines, who as fellow evangelicals have published very different interpretations of the Bible. In his history of homosexuality he ignores John Boswell, who wrote the most authoritative book on the subject. So he either chose to carefully select his sources or was not aware of these.

He starts off by saying that same-sex marriage cannot be a true marriage because it does not create life. If you follow that logic, the heterosexual couples who are infertile and have sex are living in sin. Where does adoption come into the equation? Paul doesn’t mention adoption in the Bible, except in a very different context. Glenn cites a couple of authors and quibbles with their interpretations of a few of the key texts in a very patronizing manner.   He says, “God is unmistakably clear in these texts,” but there are other theologians who disagree with him. One example is Jack Rogers, the former moderator of the Presbyterian Church, USA. Somehow he skips over the historic fact that polygamy was the traditional practice in Biblical times and nowhere is it condemned in the scriptures although in modern practice it is considered a sin.

He claims that it is not the sexual orientation that is a sin; it is only acting on it. That is the fallacy of many of the evangelicals who focus on condemning people’s actions rather than focusing on what’s in their hearts, which is what Jesus instructed us to do. He gives a quickie orientation on the doctrine of original sin and for the call to obedience to God in that we must confess our sin. But that makes the giant assumption that homosexuality IS a sin, which he has not established logically. It is only a matter of church traditions.

He claims that sexual orientation or gender identity are not comparable to race or ethnicity offering only limited evidence to support that broad claim. He cites a few studies claiming that sexual orientation is not genetically based, but you can’t prove a negative. The fact is that science is inconclusive at this point and new research may prove that it is genetically based. And there’s the rub. If it is comparable to race in that is how God has created us, it is only wishful thinking to believe that we can change who we are. Yes, we can suppress our desires and our actions, but that only creates more internal conflict and psychological trauma as evidenced by the “cure” techniques that have been widely discredited as fraud.

It certainly is encouraging that a representative of an organization that for a decade preached hate of homosexuals to assume a more measured tone of judgment, and he states that we should disagree in civil tones and be respectful of each other. Obviously, I agree that abuses have occurred on both sides, and threats have been made. But I don’t know of any evangelicals who actually have been killed by a homosexual for their beliefs, and I do know of homosexuals who have been murdered by those on the radical right.

His discussion about whether or not homosexuality is a choice missed the point that 40 years ago the American Psychological Association determined that it is not a disorder and is merely a variation from the majority and that homosexuals can live a perfectly normal life. Of course, that doesn’t address whether or not it is a sin, which depends upon your theological point-of-view.

The false choice of being celibate condemns people to a lonely, unhealthy life in which they never are truly complete. The Catholic Church didn’t claim that prerogative for its clergy for a thousand years, and it’s still a false choice for the laity.

Chapter 4 relates the accounts of several people who have formed friendships in spite of strong opposing view on the issue of homosexuality, and these are encouraging examples. I fear that they are merely the exception to the rule, and I hope that I am wrong. Chapter 5 is about possibilities and limits of evangelicals forming friendships with homosexuals with reasonable suggestions. Chapter 6 is OK. In chapter 7 he states that the LGBT people claims special rights rather than the ordinary civil rights that everyone else has, which is another one of his false choices. I won’t debate the same-sex marriage issue simply because it is too complex to go into here. Federal discrimination laws cover race, gender, ethnicity, and age and now include sexual orientation. If you discriminate against an African-American (or any of the other protected classes) because of your religious beliefs, you cannot legally do business. Why separate out sexual orientation as a special privilege to discriminate based on religious beliefs? I agree that making a big fuss over gender-neutral bathrooms is more of an issue of sexual politics than mere practicality.

I don’t usually give such a lengthy, chapter-by-chapter book review, but I found myself debating the points the author made as I read the book. I couldn’t help myself, therefore this lengthy post.

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Finding Our Way: Love and Law in the United Methodist Church Webcast

I just finished watching the web cast of the panel of eight bishops, and I was disappointed just as I was in the book of that name that was published by the Council of Bishops last spring. (Find my review of the book in my blog post of June 20th.) I found the talk of unity disingenuous since the reality is clearly that the church is not united on this issue.   One of the Twitter commenters stated that he didn’t like being described as an “issue” rather than a human being and noted there were no LGBT people on the panel discussing the issue of homosexuality.

I suppose the two webcasts and the book are efforts to fulfill the Wesleyan quadrilateral, but I felt they lacked the spirit of his intentions. His method involves scripture, tradition, experience and reason as four different sources of theological or doctrinal development. The current buzzword is to pray for discernment. The Roman Catholic Church for centuries emphasized tradition and official established church doctrine as the only sources, with very few options for personal beliefs, insights, or enlightenment. Wesley formed the Holiness Societies to not only study the scripture but also to discuss them in the light of their own experience, to reason together as to how they would be most applicable to the circumstances of their time, and to be accountable to each other. The Methodist Church must be held accountable for the damage this long debate and the resulting animosity have caused.

The Evangelical tradition of some Protestant Denominations has placed the scripture as the sole source of doctrine or dogma, and declares that it has been fixed in place for 500 years without regard to translations, exegetical research, original manuscripts, or other issues related to the intended meaning of the actual words in the King James English translation of the Bible. “It means what it says it means,” except of course the 16th Century English that was archaic at the time does not have the same meaning as contemporary English today. The purists claim that progressives are heretics who diminish the true intention of the Holy Scriptures by interpreting them in the context of our modern culture. Of course, they choose to ignore the context of the culture in which those scriptures were originally written down. The writings were compiled after centuries of oral traditions and were not established as the canon until hundreds of years later. (So much for the difficulties of reading and interpreting scripture.)

I still get the feeling that Jesus must have felt in discussing the law with the Pharisees and the Sadducees who claimed that all that was necessary to a good life was to fulfill the law as prescribed by Moses. Jesus taught that we are required to understand and to apply the heart as well as the letter of the law.

And so for 42 years we have been haggling over the wording in the Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, which is the official dogma of the church. The legislative body of the church, the General Conference, has debated this wording and modified some sections but still retained the principal condemnation that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” Political camps have maneuvered every four years with little progress.

The devotees of the status quo claim that because the majority have voted at General Conference, then in the urgency of unity we must all obey and observe that dogma if we are to maintain the integrity of the church and the sanctity of the scriptures. We don’t have people calling out publicly that homosexuals are going to hell or that homosexuality is a sin anymore, but it is clearly implied by our policies.

So why do we get so hung up on seven deadly scriptures that are cited to use the Bible as a club to attack and condemn people rather than to use the Bible how we can best learn to live together in charity and to reach out to everyone to bring them to Christ no matter who they are?

Any church that is preoccupied with maintaining the status quo, regardless of the issue, rather than reaching out in its primary mission of evangelism is doomed to failure. If nothing else, it eventually becomes irrelevant to the needs and concerns of society and becomes defensive in self-perpetuating itself. When dogma has been revealed to not only be damaging to individuals but also to the grace of the church itself, what justification can be given of the primacy of the need to maintain unity? Am I suggesting the United Methodist Church separate as it did over the “issue” of slavery? No, but I do believe the endless dialogue is not productive if it leads to no resolution.   The Jews love to debate the Midrash, but that is not the Christian tradition of how we understand the scriptures.

 

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Where have I been?

Why has there been a 7-week hiatus in this blog?   I had a series of appointments with a variety of doctors, resumed my weekly Bible Study group, attended several political rallies, and went to the annual Gay Pride parade and festival in Durham in Sept. I posted photos of the parade on Facebook. In Oct. I’ve spent the month recuperating from hip replacement surgery. I spent 3 days in the hospital, a week in re-hab, and 2 ½ weeks at home. I really haven’t even read much and have survived just performing the usual activities of daily living plus daily exercises. I’ve pretty much just slept most of the past month in dealing with pain and weakness. I’ve fed the daily email, Facebook, and Twitter accounts, but that’s been the limit of my activity online. So much for excuses.

In the meantime, North Carolina has achieved gay marriage through a recent court ruling, the airways have been saturated with negative political ads, and ISIS and Ebola have stoked the national panic. We’re now one of 20 states offering that recognition. The Raleigh LGBT Center hosted its annual awards banquet with recognition of several outstanding volunteers and activists. The HRC hosted its annual awards dinner in Washington, DC with lots of national press coverage. Within the past week, the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church has upheld the re-instatement of the credentials of Rev. Frank Schaefer, and the North Carolina and Western North Carolina chapters of the Reconciling Ministries Network hosted a successful conference in Greensboro. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend so can’t offer a first-hand report and didn’t get to see Bishop Talbert speak.

So while I sat on the sidelines, the worlds of gay rights, equality, and action have boomed with significant advances in many fields. So is there anything to hinder this burst of optimism? Yes, the radical right continues to propose reactionary legislation, media pundits and preachers still make ridiculous homophobic public statements just to gain notoriety, and the mood of the nation is generally cautious about our economic future. It’s like the economy is on hold until November 4th.   I will be glad the daily panic email appeals from the Democratic Senate Congressional Committee finally will cease, and that I will be able to turn on the TV without Thom Tillis and Kay Hagan attacking each other continually. We still don’t have any employment non-discrimination legislation in North Carolina or in the Congress, and it appears unlikely to come up before 2016.

I hope to be back to driving again this week and more engaged in the community and to become more of a participant rather than just a spectator.

 

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Gay Marriage

Gay marriage was never my issue. I believed in pragmatic politics, and I feared the backlash it would generate with church folks. But the Massachusetts court decision created an avalanche that cascaded through the legal system and surprised even the experts. The backlash I predicted happened in several other states that passed laws or even constitutional amendments banning gay marriage. One-by-one those have fallen on appeal, and public opinion has shifted radically in just a few years. It is happening worldwide and isn’t limited just to the United States. Of course, the churches are still fighting it, but it is a losing battle.

In the meantime, although the majority of the public opposes discrimination against LGBT people, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) has languished in the Congress for two decades. Several states, many communities, and most corporations have enacted similar protections. The Executive Branch prohibited LGBT discrimination for federal employees and recently extended that to apply for contractors doing business with the federal government. But many employees still can arbitrarily be fired just for being rumored to be gay, and housing and public accommodations can be refused to the LGBT population. This is a really big issue for transgender people who face the most discrimination.

So I was surprised by my reaction to a new documentary film with the misleading title of Bridegroom. It features two very attractive young men who find romance and live together for six years even though they cannot be legally married. I won’t give away any spoilers, but the emotional impact of the film went far beyond the comedy that I was expecting. If this film doesn’t change your attitudes or beliefs about gay marriage, then nothing will. It is not yet in general release, but it is available on Netflix.

Currently a lot of people are speculating about what the Supreme Court might do in hearing the rulings of various Federal Courts of Appeals striking down laws banning gay marriage. They have cited the Supreme Court decision striking down the federal law banning gay marriage, known as the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA.) Even the opponents seem to think that gay marriage is inevitable and that state legislatures and courts can only delay it.

Proponents of gay marriage claim this is the new civil rights issue and that LGBT people have the same rights as others. When the rights of one class or group of people are restricted, then it affects everyone. Even the African-American community that long opposed this issue have come around and recognized that we have faced discrimination similar to what they encountered for generations even after a U.S. Constitutional Amendment and many federal and state laws banning racial discrimination. Discrimination is discrimination regardless of how you categorize it. Legislation has become more specific in spelling out what kinds of discrimination are prohibited, but it still exists. Hatred of people who are somehow different than the majority has historically resulted in discrimination. Simon Schama portrayed that recently in his PBS special The Story of the Jews.

So get over it, gay marriage is here to stay.

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Westover Baptist in Kansas and other freaks

The former pastor of this “church” is dead, but the legacy lingers on. I see on my Facebook and Twitter updates numerous reports of people declaring that gays should be stoned, hung, burned, or otherwise murdered. I understand that such outrageous statements are intended to appeal to their hate-filled supporters and to generate controversy in the media (doesn’t the media live on controversy?) But I say the media coverage should not be a question of presenting opposing views on the issue of homosexuality. It is clearly an effort by these radicals to intimidate and encourage violence (even murder).

The Supreme Court has stated that yelling “fire” in a theater is not protected speech, and statements deliberately intended to incite violence are not either. A single incident of homophobia may not be criminally liable or subject to prosecution, but repeated public pronouncements are criminal and should be prosecuted. Some media consider them simply laughable. They are not funny; they are serious and dangerous, and the consequences can be life threatening or worse.

The LGBT media is perhaps the worst in repeating these gross indecencies by putting them in the “isn’t it awful” category, usually with the tag line to send money to counter these pronouncements. Jesse Helms used to be our biggest fund-raiser. But the effort to achieve notoriety and media attention would dissipate quickly if these crazies were simply ignored. Without an audience, who would care what they said or wrote?

I believe in reasoned debate and acknowledge many people have opposing views on this issue and that they are entitled to express their opinions and beliefs —provided that they use language that does not incite violence. Name calling on both sides generates more heat than light, and most public debates on the issue really are not discussions. These confrontations usually end up with people only yelling at each other.

Let’s face it; this is largely a generational issue. Most young people could care less. People who are fixed in their social norms, beliefs, and cultural background are reluctant or not able to change no matter how persuasive the debate. So let’s not prolong the debate; let’s just agree to disagree. We can’t even do that in the United Methodist Church.   We’ve been haggling over it for 42 years and haven’t moved an inch. Time ultimately will resolve the issue of homophobia as socially acceptable. “Calling out” these people only provides them more noteriety, which is their primary objective.

The lunatic fringe on the right among so-called “Christians” isn’t that different than ISIS, who only claim to be God-fearing Muslims who are required to purge the world of infidels. Such people on the radical right give most Christians a bad reputation even if they don’t chop off people’s heads. But they at least indirectly incite violence and also drive people away from becoming Christians because of their climate of hate.

They deserve ignominious anonymity.

 

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Gay & Lesbian Films

The North Carolina Gay & Lesbian Film Festival started at the Carolina Theatre in Durham on Friday, August 13 and will continue through Sunday, August 24th. This is the largest LGBT event of the year in the Triangle and draws 10,000 people. I saw one film on Saturday and will see another next Sunday. The audience primarily was middle-aged and white. I also watched a couple of LGBT films on Netflix last weekend. Rather than review specific films, I want to comment on LGBT films in general and how they have grown in the past two decades.

In the late 20th Century there were few LGBT films produced and even fewer for general distribution. A few groundbreakers such as the Gay Deceivers in 1969, Boys in the Band in 1970, Making Love in1982, and Brokeback Mountain in 2005 opened the doors to queer films available to the general public. In the meantime, the production of film shorts and features distributed exclusively through art houses or LGBT film festivals worldwide have grown exponentially. Of course, the early product of LGBT films was almost exclusively hard core pornography that was distributed by mail order copies of VHS tapes, then DVD’s, and finally via the Internet. Pornography, both gay and straight, is still one of the largest businesses on the World Wide Web.

Dozens of festivals are held every year world wide, and this web site lists them by month: Queer Film Festivals so this is a growing market for these films. In Durham they included about 100 films, both gay and lesbian, shorts and features, and a few from general distribution films. This marked the 19th year for the Durham festival, and the quality of the films has improved significantly during that time. As the queer world has become more open and accepted by society, the funding for this niche market also has grown. Frameline Filmmakers Support Program in San Francisco not only sponsors a festival but also provides grants to independent producers. Frameline

The Internet Movie Database web site listed 94 LGBT films released in 2012, 74 in 2013, and 50 in 2014. The Awards Daily Blog lists the top 50 films of the past 30 years: Top Gay films. In reverse order by popularity (and not in chronological order) Listall cites one opinion of the top gay films as Best Gay Films

Most gay films either ignore organized religion or are very anti-religion. The documentary “For the Bible Tells Me So” directly challenged the fundamentalist literalist approach to selected scriptures that are used to clobber gays. There are still no Christian gay feature films so we have few role models. The usual themes of coming out, romance, couples’ conflicts, comedy, and difficulty in dealing with societal pressures are used frequently without much originality. The gay and lesbian film genre has been much more repressed than the literature, which has been much more explicit for generations going back to the 1950’s. In the early days of film there were hints and innuendoes about gays, but the Hays Commission in the 1930’s put an end to that.

The gay & lesbian community faced many of the same problems suffered by the African-American community; we waited a long time to see ourselves portrayed in a favorable light on the big screen. That day finally has come.

 

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Marriage Equality

The NC Policy Watch Critical Conversations Forum on August 7th featured Chris Brook, Legal Director of the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation, Jen Jones, Director of Communications and Outreach at Equality North Carolina, and Shawn Long, one of the plaintiffs in one of the court challenges to the North Carolina discrimination amendment One.

Mr. Brook observed that the law typically moves very slowly, but this has been an exception with Supreme Court and 20 Appeals Courts’ decisions in a short time. There are three district courts in NC, and Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals includes the southeastern states. The recent decision by that court in the Bostic case was specifically in regards to rescinding the Virginia state law banning gay marriage.  A footnote in that decision refers to the NC Amendment One. Four cases have been filed in NC to repeal Amendment One and are pending in district courts.  If the Supreme Court remands the decisions of the various Appeals Courts, then gay marriage could occur quickly in NC, but if they accept the appeals it may not occur until 2015 – 2016

Ms. Jones noted that Equality NC has partnered with the ACLU to “tell our stories” so that in addition to legal action there is a convincing case in public opinion and political action with the NC General Assembly. In NC there are no safeguards on job or housing discrimination against LGBT people, and resolving the marriage equality issue doesn’t protect LGBT people from job or housing discrimination, including public accomodations.  The issues also include discrimination in the schools.

Foster parenting and adoption are extremely difficult for LGBT couples.   Marriage Equality will not be the solution because other discriminatory laws will still be effect.  NC is one of 29 states that do not have non-discriminatory job protection laws. Legislation has been introduced in NC for the past 8 years without bringing brought to a vote.  In NC 17 counties and 12 cities have non-discriminatory policies.

Shawn Long observed that we are all part of the same big melting pot, and all we want is for our family to have the same rights as others. The organization Marriage Equality USA has a video on their web site addressing the rights and needs of LGBT families.

The 2012 decision of the United States Supreme Court held that restricting U.S. federal interpretation of “marriage” and “spouse” to apply only to heterosexual unions, by Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), is unconstitutional under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, because doing so “disparage[s] and … injure[s] those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity.” This decision invalidated state laws on this issue, and in every subsequent challenge the DOMA decision has prevailed. It already has become part of the regulations in the Federal Executive Departments and agencies, and it is only a matter of time before it prevails in all states.

In response to a question from the floor about the backlash from the rush of marriage equality decisions, the legal and public opinion tactics of the right have focused on the impact of these decisions on the religious liberty of individuals to practice their religious beliefs that may exclude LGBT people from receiving goods and/or services. Where those exceptions have been challenged, they have been held not to be valid.

 

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