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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What Religious Freedom and What is Discrimination?

The recent Supreme Court decision regarding the rights of Hobby Lobby have echoed throughout public opinion, with defenders on the right and critics on the left. The 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states that there shall be no laws passed that would abridge on the freedom of religious expression. The courts have a long history of cases of how to interpret that amendment: how absolute it is and when the public interest overrides it. The courts therefore have held that there are some limits to religious activities but have been more open in terms of religious beliefs. The debate is when the right to believe what you want comes into conflict with the impact of how your expression of those beliefs may impact the rights of others. Does the amendment allow you to discriminate against others based on your religious beliefs? The courts generally have said that does not apply in terms of voting rights, employment, etc., but have been more circumspect in terms of property rights.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not mention LGBT people as one of the protected classes, and the current argument about the Employment Non-Discrimination Act is that some versions allow for exceptions based upon religious beliefs. In other words, if I believe that it is OK to discriminate against you because you’re gay or lesbian or transgender, then I’m allowed to do so because my rights trump yours.

The narrow debate over religious beliefs and expression ignore the context in which the 1st Amendment was written. At that time the common situation in most countries was that of an official state-sanctioned religion. Everyone was required to observe the practices of the official religion and pay taxes to support it. In many European countries that is still the case. In England, there were narrow exceptions for dissenters who were allowed to practice certain aspects of their beliefs as long as they didn’t conflict with the official religion.

The founding fathers said that there must be a separation of church and state and that no one religion may be the official church of the state and that everyone must be allowed to establish his or her own church and to practice the dogma of that church. They did not want a theocracy such as exists in Iran. So we have Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and hundreds of Protestant denominations that function within the US without restrictions. Churches are exempt from paying taxes although religious individuals are not. The debate sometimes has focused on exactly what constitutes a church. If I have a congregation of 10 people who meet in my house, is that a church? What if a church operates a business? (See the following article from the Advocate: Advocate Commentary )

Because the federal government cannot impose laws upon our religious expression does that mean that churches, religious-supported organizations such as hospitals, schools, and universities are free to discriminate? What about corporations, which the Supreme Court has now declared to have the same rights as people, although some folks interpret to mean that legally they are real persons rather than some artificially contrived legal construct. If you carried that to its logical conclusion then you might say that corporations are exempt from paying taxes if that is the religious belief of their board of directors. In the Hobby Lobby case the exception was made because they were “closely-held,” i.e. privately owned rather than public corporations. Well, once you start unraveling the legal strings then the whole system collapses.

It is not my intention to debate the Hobby Lobby case since I am not qualified to comment on the legal arguments. In my opinion when religiously based organizations try to stretch their exemptions from federal laws too far then they weaken the entire structure of separation of church and state. When they claim that they are without exception above the law, then that rationale weakens the concept of the rule of law in this country.

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Finding Our Way in the Methodist Church

Last week I attended the annual conference of the United Methodist Church in North Carolina. I helped host the exhibit of the Reconciling United Methodists group, and we received a lot of interest, comments, and questions. Perhaps part of that was due to the fact that we were the first table as you entered the Greenville Convention Center from the parking lot, and secondly because we gave out free water and snacks. Even those who disagreed with us came by for water and goodies so at least we reached some level of their consciousness. I set a record of one 40-minute conversation with an earnest and questioning young man who raised the pointed question of whether homosexuality is a sin. He couldn’t get a straight (pardon the pun) answer from our bishop, and the same is true about a new book that was distributed at the Cokesbury store at the conference. Titled Finding Our Way: Love and Law in the United Methodist Church, the small paperback book includes an introduction and three sections: options, responses, and steps. It includes commentaries by eight UMC bishops on the issue of the controversy about homosexuality, including ordination, marriage, church trials, the Discipline (the official doctrine of the UMC), the role and the institution of General Conference (held every four years), and suggestions for bridging the breach that has developed over the past 42 years since it was first discussed at General Conference in 1972. But for all the posturing, logical debate, and search for unity, none of them directly addressed the issue of whether homosexuality is a sin. They frequently quoted the wording of the Discipline that it is “incompatible with Christian teaching,” which still dances around the question. Several recent books directly address the issue by citing the so-called “gotcha” Bible scriptures that are quoted as addressing the issue. Some challenge whether these scriptures are citing same sex practices or discussing temple prostitution, gang rape, cultural norms of the 1st Century, or historical Christian traditions. After all, the traditional marriage in Bible times was polygamy. While I view it as counter productive to debate various interpretations of these scriptures because you are unlikely to change anyone’s interpretation of them and thus waste time that could be addressed to other issues, the debate over church dogma ultimately depends upon how the church’s doctrine posits its polity based on these scriptures. A recent book review in Christianity Today predictably challenged Mathew Vines interpretation in his book God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships (see my blog post of May 19th.) Thus, the theologians will contain to debate the scriptures as they have done for centuries, and the conflict between orthodoxy and so-called heresy will continue as it has done for more than 2,000 years. Although the conflict started with the very beginning in the establishment of the Christian church after the death of Jesus Christ (he was a practicing Jew), it reached its nadir in the 16th Century with the Inquisition. Fortunately, we’re not putting people on the rack in the current debate, but we’re still doing a lot of damage not only to individual lives but also to organized religion that is struggling to discover its relevance in today’s society. If we continue to be preoccupied with internal debates over dogma while the world dies of starvation not only for food but also for salvation, we are being sidetracked from our mission. So some people say just quit the debate or go away or form another denomination or just listen to the Holy Spirit to resolve the conflict. The Holy Spirit seems to have been silent in our discernments at conferencing in the United Methodist Church, and I’m not sure that bishops’ contributions have clarified or obscured the issue. It seemed to me there was a lot of pontificating, but then I guess that’s what Bishops do. I found it interesting that only one quoted the Wesleyan quadrilateral of scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. Are we here to maintain order and the status quo, or are we here to grow the church in every sense of the word?

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God and the Gay Christian

Two years ago Matthew Vines posted a video on YouTube titled “The Gay Debate: The Bible and Homosexuality” that went viral. This spring he followed up with a book titled “God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships.” It was written from an Evangelical Christian’s point-of-view, and many Evangelicals hav challenged his interpretations of the scriptures since he does not follow the literalist tradition. Several years ago Jack Rogers, former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church USA, published a similar book challenging the traditional interpretations of the “gotcha” scriptures that often are cited as the basis for condemning homosexuality.

Vines’ book has a broader scope that just another reiteration of the scriptures. He also cites his personal experiences and those of other LGBT persons who have been discriminated against and hurt by the church for its exclusionary polity. It’s not just a question of whether or not homosexuality is a sin, but what impact does the judgment of the church and its officials have upon the lives of those it chooses to exclude. In reality, the impact has been devastating on thousands of people, many of whom have chosen suicide because they could not reconcile their Christian beliefs with their own sexuality.

He traces the history of the church is dealing with other controversies, such as whether or not the earth is the center of the universe and whether or not the church should accept slavery. He devotes an entire chapter to the issue of celibacy and whether or not it should be enforced or voluntary. I won’t belabor the points he makes on each of the scripture citations. You really need to read the book to follow his logic, references, and historical citations to understand his conclusions both from a theological and secular point-of-view. Of course, I believe that he has reached the right conclusions, but I am not a theologian. However, many other contemporary theologians have agreed with him.

He uses the terms “affirming” and “non-affirming” to describe the opposing views of homosexuality, and he comes from the Presbyterian tradition. The Presbyterians have dealt with this issue as long as the Methodists but have made much greater progress in coming to some kind of reconciliation. The Methodists have been fighting over it for 40 years and still condemn homosexuality in their official church dogma, known as The Discipline.

I think he has raised the ire of the Evangelicals because he has portrayed himself as one of them. He claims that the Evangelical tradition is more than just a literalist interpretation of the Bible but is an energetic and forceful movement for Christian evangelism and thus by excluding a large minority of the population they are weakening their mission to bring the Gospel to all.

He also addresses the Gay Christians in that they have a right to be both fully sexual beings and to express that through their actions in committed relationships and to expect to be fully accepted into the church and not relegated to second-class status. He sees the controversy over this issue as yet another reformation of the church to make it more dynamic and closer to the Kingdom of God.

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