Saturday, April 25, 2009

Thoughts on Homosexuality, Christianity, and the like

Last Friday, I took part in the Day of Silence on campus, and during the debriefing session, we were asked by the administration not to serve communion. They gave some cover reason that really didn't make much sense, unless of course they were trying to make everyone happy by washing their hands of the gay community. I have, and have had, an immense amount of respect for Dr. Neuhouser for unashamedly supporting Haven and furthering the conversation about homosexuality and Christianity.
Then, later that night, I went to XY, basically a "Let's Talk About Sex" for guys (which has been a long time coming, by the way). The speakers were Shawn "Papa Shawn" Whitney, student counselor and former Hill RLC, and Dr. Rick Steele, professor of Theology and the man who told me I ticked him off by sleeping too much in his class. During the question and answer time, there was a question (submitted anonymously) along the lines of, "I am a gay Christian, and I want out. How do I rid myself of this, and am I destined to a life of celibacy?" Both speakers were initially just silent - which I appreciated, as a kneejerk reaction of "go to an ex-gay clinic" isn't terribly helpful, in my opinion. And then Dr. Steele took the card, read it over again, asked for clarification, let out a long, pained, struggling sigh, and said, highly, powerfully emotional yet very firm, this (as best I can remember):
What we can't do is make the Bible say that homosexuality is OK. I've seen it, it's crap exegesis. But what I can say, is that when I see a homosexual couple that is wholly loving, committed, and in every way, except perhaps the physical aspect, the very picture of a holy and godly relationship, and then there is a heterosexual couple that is screwing up their relationship, and screwing anyone they can, the idea that the homosexual couple is somehow less of a couple than the heterosexual couple is absurd, and hurtful, and wrong. Which plugs go in which holes is not nearly as important as the relationship, the devotion, the commitment.
As far as I could tell, I was the only one that Amened his answer, but in that moment, Dr. Steele gained so incredibly much respect in my eyes. It was obvious that this was not something he took lightly, not something he had a quick answer for, something that he had thought, studied, prayed, and struggled over intensely. It wasn't a pat, surface "love the sinner, hate the sin", "accepting of the person but not affirming the lifestyle" easy answer that either only makes those who have already otherized the LGBTQ community happy, or doesn't fully answer the question, depending on who is saying it. This answer was the raw, real, powerful, and genuine result of a man who knows what he's talking about really wrestling with the issue. He then went off on a tangent discussing celibacy, and that it is not necessarily the cursed life that it is assumed to be, but only if you are called to it - which he has no way of knowing one way or the other, after which a former homosexual (is that a PC enough term for ex-gay?) went ballistic, making sure that we all knew that HOMOSEXUALITY WAS DIRECTLY FROM SATAN, AND IT IS AN ABOMINATION, AND A PERVERSION, UTTER PERVERSION AND FILTH AND PERVERSION and then went on to shout about how in High School, he had lustful desires for men, and just had sex all over the place, men, women, anyone he could, just sex all over the place, lust lust lust...and it hurt my heart. As he kept preaching, it became clear that his perversion was not (primarily?) homosexuality - it was lust. Pure, unbridled lust. Which is destructive, and a perversion, and hurtful. But the fact that he bludgeoned everyone over the head with his personal struggles with lust, after Dr. Steele had so carefully, lovingly, truthfully and insightfully poured out his soul on the quite separate issue of homosexuality, made my heart sink. It didn't even make me angry - it just made me deeply sad. One careful step forward, and then we go tumbling back down the hill.
This reactionary, angry, shouting, otherizing approach to homosexuality is deeply harmful, and I have severe doubts that it will ever solve anything. Yes, I'm sure that guy has a very personal, convicting, deep story that I'm trampling all over, and I'm not thinking of his feelings. But the post that inspired me today, over on pastor Eugene Cho's blog, has a couple tragic, convicting, deep stories to consider for anyone who dares use the heartstring defense against the LGBTQ community, or dares to raise up anger against the evildoers. And I refuse to play that game - I am emphatic that emotional appeals aren't effective in actually solving anything, and there is just as much emotional charge on one side as the other. The facts are that the appalling suicide rates, homeless rates, and dropout rates of LGBTQ youth is a rousing sign that we as a nation are sorely in need of a fresh set of eyes on the matter. We are urgently in need of reconciliation - a word that SPU is strangely fond of, considering their response to Haven. It's all well and good until it comes against the massive hatred and fear of the LGBTQ community among Christians, and then it all falls apart. And really, I can't blame the administration too much - they rely on this community for donations to keep this school going, to send students their way, and it probably would be suicidal to be more openly approving of the LGBTQ community. That sucks, and it's wrong, but it's the reality. Because change doesn't happen from the top down. It never has, and it never will. It starts with hearts, and gradually works its way up. And that is where I am hopeful. Because people like Dr. Neuhouser, Dr. Steele, everyone who participated in the Day of Silence, and the many students on campus that support Haven, are thinking, praying, wrestling, and most importantly, changing hearts. We will get there, I truly believe. It will take a while, it may even take a whole new generation of open hearts. But I am hopeful.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Go Iowa!

The other day, my girlfriend was reading for one of her classes about Brazil, where they have several tiers of marriage, and religious marriage is left up to the religious organizations, and the government just deals with civil marriages. Call me a crazy liberal, brainwashed by living in Seattle for these three years, but this is my ideal system for the US - one where the government doesn't have anything to do with marriage, and people can get married if they want, in a religious organization, without any legal implications. This sort of exists in the US with civil unions, but it's far from actually implemented, and there is still a huge stigma to civil unions. I know Brazil doesn't allow gay civil unioning, but the system would allow for it in the US.
Then today, I was reading through an an opinion piece about an over-the-top cheesy anti-gay ad, and it alluded to the actual filing from the Iowa decision to allow gay marriage. It included this section, written by judge Mark S. Cady, evidently a Republican nominee:

I. Religious Opposition to Same-Sex Marriage. Now that we have addressed and rejected each specific interest advanced by the County to justify the classification drawn under the statute, we consider the reason for the exclusion of gay and lesbian couples from civil marriage left unspoken by the County: religious opposition to same-sex marriage. The County’s silence reflects, we believe, its understanding this reason cannot, under our Iowa Constitution, be used to justify a ban on same-sex marriage.
While unexpressed, religious sentiment most likely motivates many, if not most, opponents of same-sex civil marriage and perhaps even shapes the views of those people who may accept gay and lesbian unions but find the notion of same-sex marriage unsettling. Consequently, we address the religious undercurrent propelling the same-sex marriage debate as a means to fully explain our rationale for rejecting the dual-gender requirement of the marriage statute.
It is quite understandable that religiously motivated opposition to same-sex civil marriage shapes the basis for legal opposition to same-sex marriage, even if only indirectly. Religious objections to same-sex marriage are supported by thousands of years of tradition and biblical interpretation. The belief that the “sanctity of marriage” would be undermined by the inclusion of gay and lesbian couples bears a striking conceptual resemblance to the expressed secular rationale for maintaining the tradition of marriage as a union between dual-gender couples, but better identifies the source of the opposition. Whether expressly or impliedly, much of society rejects same-sex marriage due to sincere, deeply ingrained— even fundamental—religious belief.
Yet, such views are not the only religious views of marriage. As demonstrated by amicus groups, other equally sincere groups and people in a survey in the Des Moines Register in 2008 found 28.1% of individuals surveyed supported same-sex marriage, 2% opposed same-sex marriage but supported civil unions, and thirty-two percent of respondents opposed both same-sex marriage and civil unions. The Des Moines Register survey is consistent with a national survey by the PEW Research Center in 2003. This PEW survey found that fifty-nine percent of Americans oppose same-sex marriage, and thirty-two percent favor same-sex marriage. However, opposition to same-sex marriage jumped to eighty percent for people “with a high level of religious commitment,” with only twelve percent of such people in favor of same-sex marriage. Iowa and around the nation have strong religious views that yield the opposite conclusion.
This contrast of opinions in our society largely explains the absence of any religion-based rationale to test the constitutionality of Iowa’s same-sex marriage ban. Our constitution does not permit any branch of government to resolve these types of religious debates and entrusts to courts the task of ensuring government avoids them. See Iowa Const. art. I, § 3 (“The general assembly shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion . . . .”). The statute at issue in this case does not prescribe a definition of marriage for religious institutions. Instead, the statute declares, “Marriage is a civil contract” and then regulates that civil contract. Iowa Code § 595A.1. Thus, in pursuing our task in this case, we proceed as civil judges, far removed from the theological debate of religious clerics, and focus only on the concept of civil marriage and the state licensing system that identifies a limited class of persons entitled to secular rights and benefits associated with civil marriage.
We, of course, have a constitutional mandate to protect the free exercise of religion in Iowa, which includes the freedom of a religious organization to define marriages it solemnizes as unions between a man and a woman. See Iowa Const. art. I, § 3 (“The general assembly shall make no law . . . prohibiting the free exercise [of religion] . . . .”). This mission to protect religious freedom is consistent with our task to prevent government from endorsing any religious view. State government can have no religious views, either directly or indirectly, expressed through its legislation. [Knowlton v. Baumhover, 182 Iowa 691, 710, 166 N.W. 202, 208 (1918)]. This proposition is the essence of the separation of church and state. As a result, civil marriage must be judged under our constitutional standards of equal protection and not under religious doctrines or the religious views of individuals. This approach does not disrespect or denigrate the religious views of many Iowans who may strongly believe in marriage as a dual-gender union, but considers, as we must, only the constitutional rights of all people, as expressed by the promise of equal protection for all. We are not permitted to do less and would damage our constitution immeasurably by trying to do more.
The only legitimate inquiry we can make is whether [the statute] is constitutional. If it is not, its virtues . . . cannot save it; if it is, its faults cannot be invoked to accomplish its destruction. If the provisions of the Constitution be not upheld when they pinch as well as when they comfort, they may as well be abandoned.
In the final analysis, we give respect to the views of all Iowans on the issue of same-sex marriage—religious or otherwise—by giving respect to our constitutional principles. These principles require that the state recognize both opposite-sex and same-sex civil marriage. Religious doctrine and views contrary to this principle of law are unaffected, and people can continue to associate with the religion that best reflects their views. A religious denomination can still define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and a marriage ceremony performed by a minister, priest, rabbi, or other person ordained or designated as a leader of the person’s religious faith does not lose its meaning as a sacrament or other religious institution. The sanctity of all religious marriages celebrated in the future will have the same meaning as those celebrated in the past. The only difference is civil marriage will now take on a new meaning that reflects a more complete understanding of equal protection of the law. This result is what our constitution requires.

All I can say is, wow. That is one powerful piece of writing, coming from a state on the fringes of the Bible belt. No east or west coast crazies involved here, this is coming the heart of the country. And it is long overdue.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Tradition Sucks.

"Hey, when I showed up, I didn't go about using big words or religious terminology. I didn't pretend to be more educated or have special insight when I told you about my experience with God. It was my goal to know of nothing except Jesus Christ, crucified, when I was with you guys. I was weak and afraid. Very afraid. My thoughts, my message weren't from a high vernacular, not set in persuasion or wisdom. They were a demonstration of the Holy Spirit's raw power, so that you can have faith because of God and his power, not me or any other man."
--1 Corinthians 2:1-5, paraphrased

Just so you know that I'm not completely off my rocker with my (admittely biased) paraphrasing, here's the NIV:
"When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power."

I finally am reading the rest of Pagan Christianity, and will move immediately onto Reimagining Church after this. It's a good sign when books like this have you straight up read some scripture, and this one stood out to me. A few choice quotes from this chapter, with my thoughts: "The sermon creates an excessive and pathological dependence on the clergy. The semon make the preacher the religious specialist—the only one having anything worthy to say. Everyone else is treated as a second-class Christian—a silent pew warmer. (While this is not usually voiced, it is the unspoken reality.)"
Not only is that a doozy of a first sentence ("excessive and pathological dependence"), it's a good one. I find, as I read this and as I consider my experience on my own, that that last parenthetical phrase is anything but unimportant. It instead describes the church I know all to often. "Bad" things are often not voiced, or even vocally denied or condemned, but in reality are all too true and present. Things like this class system, the idea that the pastor is above everyone and the focus of Christianity (have you ever seen a church? The chapter on architecture was fascinating), the concept of love the sinner, hate the sin, the idea that works are a necessary result of "faith", the ridiculous obsession with wealth and prosperity. But those are getting into other issues. Back to the topic at hand:
"It [the sermon] has become so entrenched in the Christian mind that most Bible-believing pastors and laymen fail to see that they are affirming and perpetuating an unscriptural practice out of sheer tradition. The sermon has become permanently embedded in a complex organizational structure that is far removed from first-century church life." And a quote from David C. Norrington, author of To Preach or Not to Preach: "The sermon is, in practice, beyond criticism. It has become an end in itself, sacred—the product of a distorted reverence for 'the tradition of the elders' seems strangely inconsistent that those who are most disposed to claim that the Bible is the Word of God, the 'supreme guide in all matters of faith and practice' are amongst the first to reject biblical methods in favor of the 'broken cisterns' of their fathers (Jeremiah 2:13)."

The power of tradition is intimidating, and overwhelming. It is not always bad, but can often perpetuate bad practice. Tradition is the only reason that a majority of Christians (by my estimation, anyway) will tell you that people laughed at Noah, there was no rain before the flood, there were three wise men that showed up when Jesus was born, and Jesus had a whip when he chased the sellers out of the temple. None of these have the slightest shred, however, of Scriptural evidence. It is also the reason that some churches (like mine) have sacred communion tables, polyester choir robes, and yes, the sacred sermon (which every church that I've been to has). And it's not a good reason. There are many reasons that the sermon as it stands is a bad idea. And you should read Pagan Christianity. Because it's really, really good.