Why the politics of Gay versus Christian hurts everyone (but the politicians).

Indiana.

Oh, Indiana.

Over the past few days, I’ve drowned in a barrage of posts from my Indiana-based friends expressing outrage and dismay at a legislature that doesn’t represent them.  The comments I’ve heard have ranged from the mild, “I never thought this would go through” to the brutal “I feel like the state senate has turned against us, and they aren’t going to stop until Indiana is stripped down to nothing but spare parts for big business.”  For those who don’t currently live in Indiana and aren’t terribly immersed in state politics, let me just say that Indiana has a well-storied history of it’s people being ignored.  I can’t say precisely why the idea of a representative democracy is so far from a reality in Indiana, but over the past 10 years there have been a number of significant changes to the state’s operations and laws that the people have openly fought tooth and nail, yet have been celebrated in the press and true victories.

So, many Indiana citizens watched the drama unfolding as what would become SB 568 came into being, in horror.

I’ve seen people asking where the Christians who opposed it were.  They were in Indiana, actively fighting against the law being passed.  Many churches, from the Disciples of Christ to the Mennonite Church to the Episcopalians, did in fact organize and fight the bill being passed.  A common fear they expressed was that the bill could not only be used to discriminate against gays but could also be used to discriminate against other Christians.  This may seem like a ridiculous idea, but let’s not forget that the Mennonite church, highly prevalent in Indiana, found itself in the United states after it’s founders were being burned at the stake for heresy by other Christians.  The common idea of “religious freedom” touted in America today may be the freedom to not participate in society at will, or to discriminate when the Bible can be cherry picked in defense, but that isn’t what free religion meant in the days when this country was founded.  There are some of us with a long enough memory to feel like freedom is still the right to not be persecuted by others of our same faith.  

No one has the right to dictate to an individual what their faith should be: not the government, and not other parishioners.

Now, post-passage of the bill, people are asking where the Christians are.  “Business men are speaking out, sports organizations, but where are the Christians?”

Well, for one, they are still speaking out.  Many churches and religious leaders have openly denounced the law, but a google search for this won’t yield much, since most news organizations have focused not on the religious opposition to the bill, but to the possible ramifications as businesses and public organizations cancel events which quickly rack up millions of dollars in lost tourism revenue.  It’s been said before that dollars talk, and that is the same here.

The sad, bitter reality is that no one cares about the spiritual ramifications of the bill or whether or not the religious support that Pence has touted is actually real.  The tone of the story, from the beginning, was carefully controlled.  Yet major news organizations aren’t asking some very real questions about why.

Let’s look at some of that now:

  1. Politicians have, for years, used fear mongering tactics to pose a false “battle” between gay rights and Christian ones.  This is never more apparent than in the tales of poor elderly Christian baker-ladies who are dragged to court and reduced to Victorian-era poverty when their religious scruples don’t allow them to bake a cake for Adam and Steve’s wedding.  While there have been cases of bakers being sued for refusing to make cakes, what is interesting is that we rarely hear about the baker sued for not making an ANTI-gay marriage cake.  Not to mention the fact that these lawsuits are only possible because the Civil Rights Act ensures that any business offering services to the public at large must not discriminate in their practices.  If you are going to make a cake for Susy and Bill’s shotgun wedding, or Mary and Mark’s atheist wedding, or Jane and John’s jewish/Christian wedding (oh, hey, the Bible openly condemns that one) you’ve got to bake that cake for Adam and Steve’s gay wedding, too.  If you don’t want to bake cakes for weddings that offend your sensibility, maybe stick to just baking cookies.  After all, I can guarantee you’ve baked cakes for sinners.
  2. The news media has very little motivation to cease posing any issues over gay rights as a battle.  Conflict sells, and the more heartfelt the conflict, the better.  There’s not much news to be made from stories that read like this:  “Religious leaders form coalition to lobby for equal rights for gay people.”  Why?  Where’s the conflict?  On the other hand, “religious organizations picket funeral of public figure to protest gay rights” almost always makes the headlines, even when numerous groups have condemned such things and even staged counter-protests that outnumber the original anti-gay gathering.  The truth is that even amongst well-established religious communities, support for gay rights has become nearly ubiquitous, but there’s no headlines to be made by saying that religious opposition to gay rights is becoming a minority belief.
  3. Politicians have everything to gain by continuing to monopolize on gay rights as a campaign tactic.  While gay rights may have widespread bipartisan support, the people who oppose gay rights are loud, rich, and politically motivated.  Political science majors the world over are familiar with a very simple truth:  even if the majority are middle-of-the-road, campaigns can be won by a very active minority who feels there is an immediate danger to the other side winning.  No one fights harder than someone who feels outnumbered and as if their way of life is at risk.  So what do we hear from the politicians?  That “sacred” marriage is at risk, that the “family” is eroding, that the American way of life is ending, that society is on the verge of collapse, that homosexuality led to the fall of Rome, and as the numbers become more marginal the rhetoric gets more hateful and louder.  But let’s look at Indiana specifically.  How did this particular bill get passed?  Again, you have a very vocal minority.  The amount of Christians in Indiana who truly felt their personal liberty needed defending from gays may have been minimal- but they were there, and they were loud.  The bill was originally introduced as a necessary protection from contamination by secular sources.  And as soon as the bill was introduced, concerns were raised.  Often by other Christians who felt that the legislation was too problematic and unnecessary.  (A common quote was, “why defend rights that already exist naturally?”)  In order for the legislation to pass and the minority, who have huge political clout, to be appeased the tenor of the debate had to be carefully controlled.  It’s no wonder that even as evidence mounted that Indiana as a whole did NOT want this bill passed, the legislature continued to stonewall and repeat the basic message that this bill was wanted by the people and absolutely necessary.
  4. Once a tone is set, it continues. Like the basic physics concept that an object in motion tends to stay in motion, once something has hit the news the story tends to stay the same.  The people with the loudest voices tend to be heard first, and the people with the loudest voices tend to be the ones with the most political clout or money.  As an example of this, think about the woman who burned herself on McDonald’s coffee.  By the time the story had hit the mass media, it was reduced to a handful of words that made it sound as if someone had spilled coffee on themselves, was annoyed, sued, and somehow wrongfully was awarded millions.  The actual facts in that case (that the burns were so severe they were disfiguring and the woman had to be hospitalized) were overlooked.  The media had decided from the moment the story was first aired that the tone should be that a corporation was being wronged by fatuous lawsuits.  The actual story?  Irrelevant.  There are hundreds of cases of this where by and large the national coverage of a story is one-sided.  That is also the case with Indiana, where the only coverage of widespread opposition to the bill is from small local reporters who know their cities well.  National news coverage doesn’t seem to know, or care, that the people of Indiana themselves feel wronged.  The only local voices being heard in the national stories tend to be ones who support the bill, or gay people who oppose it.  Where are the Christians who oppose the bill?  Unheard of, despite existing.  How can I be so sure that’s the case?  I’m originally from Elkhart county, Indiana, and my friends and family there are deeply concerned that the bill will make things worse, instead of better.
  5. The outcry that Christians who oppose the bill are staying silent is a false story.  Like Muslims who condemn extremism, Christians who condemn extremism in their faith seem to be largely ignored.  Everyone listens to the Pat Robertsons of the world calling gay rights a steamroller obliterating the faith, but when Christian groups band together to support gay people, no one listens.  This is no different than the constant outcry that Muslims don’t condemn extremist Islam.  Muslims do, regularly, both publicly and privately.  So why isn’t it heard?  One reason is because, like moderate Christianity, it just doesn’t make good headlines.  “99% of Muslims go another day without participating in or condoning violent acts” just doesn’t push papers, does it?  Plus, there’s a lot to be gained from continuing to pose the dialogue the way it is.  People who want to remain with their prejudices aren’t going to seek out evidence that they are wrong, similarly, the people involved in the political wrangling between ultra-conservatives groups and gay rights don’t have a lot to gain from realizing that the moderate middle ground is growing.  So what do they do?  Continue the conversation as it is.

One could question if when the Moral Majority first entered politics if they were a majority at all.  What they were was a political powerhouse that monopolized on both a certain brand of politics and flavor of faith.  That amount of political clout has incredible power to guide the national narrative and quash any minority voices.  And while the “moral majority” may no longer exist as such, the truth is that they forever changed the landscape of politics for moderate, socially liberal Christians.

The best way forward, both for gay rights and for Christian freedom, is to take back the power from the political machine.  And we have to do that by partnering together and no longer allowing the dialogue on the national stage to pit us as natural enemies.  After all, we aren’t enemies.  Moderate Christians want the preservation of basic civil rights just as much as gay people do, and we as moderates also have much to lose if moral extremists are the ones making laws.  The same people who want to keep Adam and Steve from marrying have proposed laws that would force me to be investigated for infanticide if I don’t carry my child to term (even if I miscarried naturally!) and have said such vile things as that “rape is like the weather, and you’ve just got to relax and enjoy it.”  (No link, google “republican politicians on rape” if you dare.)  Moderate Christians fear legislation that will punish single parenthood and women who work outside of the home.  Moderate Christians question the logic of tying together religion with lax gun restrictions or other questionable stances.  One of the greatest of these is the policy of rewarding corporations with generous tax write-offs while cutting back social services to the mentally ill, disabled, and poor.  We need to be partners in fighting the political ideology that uses religion as a crutch while spitting in the face of some of the basic principles of brotherhood and good citizenship that Christ so fully embodied. If moderate Christians are going to take their voice back from the politicians who have bent and twisted the faith for personal gain, we need the support of others.  So if you are talking about cases like the Indiana Religious Freedom law, be sure to point out that moderate Christians do not support it.  If you are a journalist writing about divisive politics, bring gay and moderate Christian voices together.  If you want to see more moderate voices in the political landscape, donate to churches like the Disciples of Christ, the Mennonite Church, and the Episcopalian Church, specifically to their political action committees who have a well documented history of supporting gay rights.

We can take back our fair country from the hands of bigotry together.

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What are we fighting for?

I should be working on homework, but I’m giving myself an hour to do this first.  I just have one question I’d like to ask my Christian friends:

What are you fighting for?

In the past week, I’ve seen a number of posts on various social media and traditional media outlets that I’ve found deeply disturbing.  There are times in life where there is a great amount of convergence, and the past week has been one of them.  People have been posting about gay rights.  NPR did a story on trans and gender-queer representations on TV that raised some flags for some people- I had a few queer friends who were like, “oh, hey, an honest conversation about the media!” and of course, inevitably, this raised a backlash of other people commenting about the inevitable decline of a moral society.

‘Cause you know, folks, we can take it for granted that the character of Roscoe on House of Lies is representative of the downfall of society, but the cutthroat capitalist landscape the show is based in is totally cool.

Then I was showed this article from the Christian Science Monitor, about the inevitable decline of the evangelical church.   While I find it deeply resonating and many aspects of the opinion there are undeniably true, I still felt a great sadness.  So many people believe so deeply in something which, for better or worse, society is tired of.  And it is hard, when I see well-meaning people berating queers for being happy that their lives are represented in the media.  I just want to say, “do you know society is tired?  Society is tired of this fight, lay down your sword and love somebody.”

WHAT ARE WE FIGHTING FOR?

I know what people say, “The Bible says.”  Sure, okay, the Bible says.  The Bible says a lot of things, folks, and what you choose to focus on really shows your opinion of God.  The Bible says not to be bound by the law.  The Bible says freedom in Christ.  The Bible says that we are not judged by works alone.  The Bible says to balance grace and mercy with adherence to the law.

And where is the grace, the mercy, the love, in constantly choosing reiterating judgment over an honest conversation with your friends?

Oh, and Dan Haseltine (lead singer for Jars of Clay) tried to start a conversation with his fans about gay marriage, and was of course roundly condemned for it.  He really just asked, “what are the real arguments about?” and was lashed out at for even asking that question.

But, hey, I’d like to know the answer:  What are we really fighting for?

There’s something deeply disturbing about a world in which Christians will leap on any opportunity to berate and bludgeon their friends for having the temerity to be gay or want their gay friends to be married, while in the meantime we live in a society that is wholly based off of principles that contradict even greater messages in society.  If you want to think about a secular society that could lead to the downfall of mankind, think about what the American economy would look like if we had another housing collapse, another international banking disaster, another Fortune 500 bankruptcy.  Then come back, and tell me that gay people are the real problem.

I will ask again:  What are we really fighting for?

I don’t believe it’s about gay people.  I believe it’s about living in a world where we lack control.  Living in a society where the messages that blare at us from the billboards and radio and flyers up in stores, the TV channels and magazines and jacket covers of books, the clothing in the store windows, the cars on the street, and the flyers nailed to telephone poles all tear at our insides.  Living in a world where we feel assaulted and unsafe, where we are left with more questions than answers and reduced to tears when we consider the implications of truly following our conscience.

Cause when I read the Bible, I feel a weight of conviction that shakes me from the tips of my hair to the soft spot under my toenails.  And I don’t feel convicted about my gay friends or my own sexuality.  I feel convicted about the way I spend money, the career I have chosen, the way I raise my kids, the coldness I feel about international politics, where my shoes come from.

I feel convicted about myself, and I want to ask myself why I don’t try harder but that hurts.  I feel like there isn’t that much that I can honestly control, as if no matter how hard I tried I would never actually come close to approaching the ideal I feel God has imagined for me.

So I get why it would be tempting to take all of that anger and regret and make gay people the proverbial scapegoat, sent out into the desert to die.

But it’s wrong to do that.  So wrong.

So what are we fighting for?

 

Duck Dynasty, Exposure, and Godliness.

So, Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame apparently couldn’t stop talking about how sinful being gay is while giving a reporter from GQ a tour of his home.  His subsequent suspension from appearances on A&E created a dual dust-up:  Gay people that are offended that yet another high-profile Christian has made them into a whipping boy, and Christians who scream “free speech” in response to his censure at the hands of the production company.

I had a handful of kneejerk responses to seeing the news.  The first was that I checked on all of my gay friends on Facebook, because if any of them had posted an angry, sad, or bitter retort I wanted to express my condolences for any pain they felt.  The second was to check on all my Christian friends, just in case I felt the need to offer some perspective.  The third was to hunt down the original article in question and read it carefully.  After that, I had to do some thinking.

My feelings on this issue are complex, as my feelings inevitably seem to be.

First, I am tired to my very bones of Christians feeling the need to pick at the sins of society as a whole.  We can’t ever fully understand God or his motivations, but we can look to the Bible and see what examples he gives us.  In the old Testament we see God ordering one of his prophets to marry a prostitute, as this is a metaphor for his love for his people.  The metaphor?  The man loves his wife but she leaves him to pursue her own interests time and time again, only coming back when she is beaten and bruised.  Hm.  Another example I find illuminating is, of course, Christ.  He did talk about sin, but he lived a life that was not focused on it.  His life was focused on compassion.  Then there are the letters of the apostles which of course are filled with admonitions- but they were talking to fellow Christians, and we really honestly cannot use their language as a model for how to speak with unbelievers, so what are we left with?

Looking back at the story of Hosea and the prostitute Gomer, I am continuously struck by the fact that while her sin and abandonment of her vows was an issue, the greater focus was on God’s love for his people and how Hosea’s love of her was a reflection of that.

The story of salvation may involve sin by necessity, but it isn’t the story of sin.

duck heads

Focusing on sin misses the mark, and that’s where I think that Phil Robertson’s portrayal of Christianity falls short.  You can say that his remarks about how guys ought to dig vaginas were a defense of Christian beliefs, but is that what Christianity boils down to?  Not liking anus?

Given a platform to discuss anything, or to defend the faith, what exactly needs defending?  The right to consider homosexuality a sin, or the right to demonstrate God’s love?

For me, at least, the choice is clear.

Then, when it comes to considering whether or not A&Es censure of Robertson is a condemnation of faith or simply an investment-saving move, I think the truth is equally as clear.  Robertson was given the time with the GQ reporter to further A&Es brand, which is bound up in the Robertson family’s persona.  While that persona involves their Christianity-inspired down-south values, consideration has to be given to the audience at hand.  GQs audience probably isn’t reading a spread on Duck Dynasty to hear about how being gay is bad.  It’s simply bad PR, and from A&Es point of view Robertson’s job was as a brand ambassador, not an ambassador for Christ.

He’s being censured for not doing his job.

This is the problem with mixing God and money.  If you choose God, you aren’t choosing money, and if you choose money you may have to turn on your morals.  If Robertson’s ultimate goal was furthering his version of the gospel, in the end losing his screen time should be a price he is happy to pay for having done that.  If his ultimate goal was money, well, he had the choice to keep his mouth shut.

(Although, honestly, there is a fair argument to be made that furthering God doesn’t necessitate gay-bashing.)

Now, for the issue of free speech:

If Robertson was an atheist and had said that Christianity had no place in American politics and that politicians should be censured if they admit to their personal ethics being influenced by the Bible, would the Christian community be saying his right to free speech is sacrosanct?

Food for thought.

Picture from Jamesjustin

Militant Homosexuals

Lately I’ve been hearing a lot about “militant homosexuals” who have a “propensity for voilence” and are a “threat to society.”

I’ve been having a hard time really verbalizing my feelings about this.  But I will try, for your sake.

Remember the peace movement?  I’m talking Vietnam War here.  There you saw a movement for peace, and it started out with people sitting around on laws.  Having “lay-ins” in the streets, peaceable obstruction, quiet protest.  They tried to fight fire with love, and they were largely ignored.  Then you saw an escalation.  People started chanting, yelling, holding more boldly worded signs.  There started to be an energy, an anger.  A bitterness.  And still, the war raged on.  That’s when you started seeing riots and broken windows and things that escalated beyond “civil disobedience” to violence and terror.

Why?

Because no one really listened.  They were written off as selfish and naive at first, and misinformed to the last.  The government ignored them and would have continued to do so indefinitely if public opinion had not changed as a whole.

Now we are seeing the same thing.

First the gays quietly protested, they kept to themselves, they stood peaceably on street corners, put gimmicky bumperstickers on their cars and wore rainbow tshirts.  They tried to mobilize- but let’s be honest: they are a minority.  Even in California there are rainbow colored pockets on the coast, but the state as a whole is farmland.  Conservative.  “Family Values”.  So the minority lost it’s voice, as always happens in these cases.

They lost their voice.

I can’t even imagine how it must feel, to be doing everything you can to fight for what you believe is right, and then to simply have it all silenced.  The media says, “well, now that’s over”, and you are expected to go home to your wife who is no longer your wife, to your children whom you are no longer legally entitled to, and to simply shut up.

Of course the demonstrations escalated.  In ANY case where a minority tries to vocalize and are cast aside, the demonstrations escalate.  And gay people are no more prone to voilence than peace protestors, blacks or latinos.  In every case where once peacable demonstrations take a turn for the bitter and evocative it is not done because they WANT to be voilent, but because they see NO OTHER WAY for their voice to be heard.

Not that I approve of voilence- of course not- but I understand.

I understand that this is the way the world works, and unless the government takes actions to protect the rights of a minority from the subjugation of the majority, in EVERY SINGLE CASE the minority will turn to civil disobedience and eventually voilence.

And in every case, while there are pockets of anger, the greater sum of people simply suffer voicelessly, dependent on someone else to take up their cause.

You shouldn’t be afraid of “militant homosexuals”.  You should seek to hear the subtext- to truly understand what is happening.  Just as I seek to be the voice for the voiceless, believing that Christ would do the same were he still in possession of a physical body.

Oh, wait, he is: me and you.

Me, and you.

The fundamental right to know love

I’ve already blogged about the other side of the coin– now it’s time to write about the side that I find myself landing on.

As Keith Olbermann recently said, it’s about the fundamental right to know love.

The argument against gay marriage goes something like this: “it’s a sacred union of a man and a woman, and if a gay person wants to experience it, they can stop being gay.”

I find several problems with this.  The first is the question of what makes it sacred.  Because it is “special”?  Because God consecrates it?  Because they feel a deep and abiding love for each other?

If it is the first- simply because it is “special”, then certainly allowing gay people to participate might make it less special.  But, then again, considering the high divorce rate, I would say that it’s specialness would also benefit from certain heterosexuals being banned from participation as well.

If it’s because God consecrates it, then allowing gays to marry wouldn’t change a thing- because if God doesn’t want to consecrate them he simply wouldn’t.  Unless, of course, God is bound by the laws of man.  Which he isn’t.  So that argument, well, I don’t think it holds much water at the end of the day.

Then there’s the question of deep and abiding love, the inference being that gay people do not share the same level of love or commitment that heterosexuals do.  I would think that it takes an enormous amount of courage and commitment to enter into a long term relationship knowing the reaction you’d get from your coworkers, your church, possibly even your family.  It takes a very deep and abiding love for two men or two women to say “forget what other people think, I love you and I’m going to commit to you.”

While I have a tremendous amount of respect for the gay people I have known who have felt called to live a heterosexual life in spite of their orientation, knowing the struggle that entails only makes me that much more against the idea that someone who wants the benefits of marriage should simply marry someone of the opposite sex.

How could you ever require someone to marry without attraction?  Without need?  To marry out of a sense of responsibility alone?  While that kind of commitment can and has fostered a very deep bond for many generations of men, I can’t imagine life without the butterflies and sprays of glitter.  I can’t imagine going through a life without seeing my husband staring at me like I’m the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen.  I can’t imagine being buoyed through the days of heartbreak without hope for future romance.  I can’t imagine trying to hold on to my sense of self worth without being told that I am beautiful and precious and irreplaceable.  How could anyone have the temerity to tell someone that gets those butterflies and pulse pounding ecstasy from someone of the opposite sex just to go without?

And as for the joy, the hope, and the security that comes hand in hand with the marriage license and the vows… How can you look at two people who love each other more than their own lives in spite of all of the social awkwardness and rejection that such devotion can breed, and tell them they can’t have the same safety and security and pride as you because their love is evil and scary- while out of the other side of your mouth maintaining you have no real prejudice?