how do you choose between a fight for one’s life versus a fight for one’s faith?

So much anger and hurt today. On both sides of the aisle. How do you discuss a topic that is seemingly a fight for one’s life versus a fight for one’s faith?

I could have spent today feeding the flames of my own passion by talking with like-minded people. I was blessed instead to hear from my conservative, heterosexual, Christian, fundamentalist, and republican friends. It was time well-spent.

I know where I stand. I know why I believe what I believe. I needed to understand members of the “opposition”. This goes beyond a chicken sandwich or a pint of chubby hubby. It is a heated topic that will not see a resolution today. As we wait for that resolution, many of us are vilifying those with whom we disagree. Many of the people we are branding as the enemy or the instigator are good people. They share our desire for an end to the controversy, for peaceful resolution, and for preservation of relationships. My real fear is that each side sees this issue (perhaps rightfully so) as too crucial to back down and there will be the proverbial bloodshed before it is all over. We will have all lost on that day.

My first conversation of the day was with Ryan – a white, heterosexual, Christian male who was raised in a fundamentalist home. He’s also an employee of Chick-fil-A.

Ryan had been “on call” all day and had to go into work this afternoon to help with the bombardment of Chick-Fil-A supporters. He told me about being confronted at work over the last week by people from both camps. He bemoaned the gay rights activists who were using the drive-thru window to challenge him (As though Ryan made the ethical/financial decisions for corporate). He also bemoaned the conservative Christian woman who came up to his counter spouting off incorrect information about the issue at hand. What did Ryan have to do with any of this? How is he possibly supposed to correct it? Both parties owe an apology to the employees like Ryan who are caught in the crosshairs and are handling it with overwhelming grace and patience.

We touched on the many arguments: freedom of speech, the “right” Christian response and so on and so forth. Where did we land? We landed on the “why?” Why do “traditional family (TF)” Christians (remember not all Christians fall into this group) have so much passion for supporting Chick-Fil-A? We weren’t absolving the other side of their single-minded focus.  This was simply where the conversation went.

Why were the TF Christians lining up around the block to buy a sandwich today? Why were they willing to give their time and their money? Why this issue? Together, we puzzled over the fact that organizations around the nation struggle to engage the Christian church. These organizations are working for an end to slavery, poverty, oppression, illiteracy and more. They are struggling to ignite passion, to raise up volunteers, and to get people to give of their finances. Most have never known what it is to have the church rise up in support of them and line up outside their doors. What a sight that would be. I yearn for the day Florida Abolitionist supporters can be seen waiting in line a ¼ mile down the road, all saying, “Here I am. How can I help?”

My second conversation of the day was with Pastor Neely and occurred over Facebook – the birthplace of the most volatile and antagonistic posts I’ve seen on this matter.

Pastor Neely is a heterosexual, African-American, born-again Christian pastor. I posted an article addressing the Christian or non-Christian nature of the “Chick-Fil-A appreciation day” occurring across the nation.

Pastor Neely, a man I have always respected and enjoyed hearing preach, said,” There are so many different ways of looking at this situation. I would like to think that most of the Christians that went to Chick-Fil-A today were doing so to encourage a brother who simply expressed his biblical beliefs about marriage. If you go and read his comments in their entirety he never mentioned Gay marriage one time. The majority of his comments were made on father’s day and dealt with the absence of fathers in the home. Sometime later on another date he was asked if he believed in traditional marriage and he said yes. The man has been accused of being a bigot and condoning discrimination. Just because I disagree with you does not make me a bigot or a person who discriminates.”

This led into a discussion about Cathy’s words, the Chick-Fil-A funding of groups that do not support LGBT people, freedom of speech, and came around to the issue of reparative therapy.  Money from Chick-Fil-A has been donated to reparative therapy programs.

I explained the dangers of reparative therapy – the links to self-mutilations, drug use, and suicide. I shared how it has been denounced by the American Psychiatric Association, and even conservative groups like Exodus International – “world’s largest ministry to individuals and families impacted by homosexuality”.

The reason I found this conversation so valuable is not because of what I brought to it but what pastor Neely brought to it. His humility and willingness to hear others out is an important lesson for all of us. He could have played the clergy vs. layperson card or dismissed me as some liberal LGBT advocate person but he stopped and he listened.

“Wow. thank you for your insight on Reparative therapy. I have a great deal of respect for Exodus international and Value their opinion highly. This is the first time I have heard about this information. I would like to however give Cathy the benefit of the doubt that even in his support of this particular therapy he trying in his own way to help people. I don’t know the man’s heart so I guess all we can do as mortals is judge a man’s actions. Again thank you for your insight. You have helped me today and challenged me to think critically about this issue some more.”

Because of his willingness to listen I was better able to receive his words on Dan Cathy’s behalf. We are not in the same place on this issue but we are also not divided.

My last conversation of the day was with my boss. The founder of Florida Abolitionist, a republican, and a Mexican-American, heterosexual male. Tomas is a peace-maker by nature and wants more than anything for the fighting to stop. We talked about how, if, and why it should or should not stop. Can it stop before TF Christians have sufficiently protected heterosexual marriage? Can it end now without ensuring that LGBT people end up unprotected and underrepresented? How do we ride the wave of this civil rights movement without destroying each other?

We discussed so many of the underlying issues around this and settled on Tomas’ concern for those opposing the LGBT movement who are trying to be civil and loving but have it thrown back at them. Tomas lamented the way in which certain LGBT people/supporters seem to reject Christians and Republicans without even hearing them out.  He shared the story of a friend and republican politician who was “offended” by the outright rejection he felt from the LGBT community despite never having said he was against them. I shared with Tomas how, much like Christians having to apologize on behalf of the church even when they did not personally commit an act, that people like his friend must take the first step, make the apologies, and initiate the dialogue. For years now the republican party has become synonymous with rejection of LGBT people and one man’s words may not be enough to wash away a well-founded distrust and wariness of members of his party. It takes work.

All of this takes work. It is going to take painful discussion, grace, healing, patience, and a monumental effort to process our anger and not speak straight from it.

People feel they are fighting for their rights and potentially their lives.  A loss for them feels tantamount to a loss of freedom . Others are equally driven to live by their faith and not “go against God”. They cannot see a way to compromise. These feelings can be an all-consuming passion and motivation. They cannot both win – at least not as they would define winning. Someone will be the “victor”,  but if we continue the discussion as we have, we will all lose. We are on a path towards creating fractures that may never be repaired.

So how do you discuss a topic that is seemingly a fight for one’s life versus a fight for one’s faith?

Confession: I love Jesus and “The Gays”

This has been weighing on me for some time and I can no longer remain in the “closet”. You’ve probably seen the signs… had your suspicions… I’m just going to come out and say it…

I’m a heterosexual. I love Jesus. I…GULP… love “the gays” too.

Somehow, these 3 concepts, particularly the latter two, have been labeled opposing ideals. I beg to differ…

The church needs to repent for its exclusion, persecution, and alienation of LGBTQI people. Some would say that day is never coming. I understand their frustration. I feel it as well. Yet, I am always hopeful. Hopeful that people would mature and evolve. Hopeful that Christians would work to actively heal the wounds the church has inflicted. Hopeful that a heart of justice and mercy would take root in the church. Hopeful that people would let go of the party line and form real opinions based on knowledge and logic.

I’m always hopeful for these things. That’s why seeing them fail to happen breaks my heart.

 I will address the scripture in the anti-gay arsenal but it is important to begin by saying that part of my decision to identify as a Christian LGBT Ally is that the alternative (“anti-gay”, “pro-marriage”) does not sit well with my soul.  I don’t use that term lightly.  The concept of rejecting an entire group of people (or their actions as some Christian groups would distinguish) based on who they do/do not love or feel attraction for feels ridiculous and cruel. I will not call myself a loving Christian with one breath and denounce them with the other. That, to me, is truly hypocrisy.

Case in point: I have a beautiful friend who is a Christian woman and attended a Christian university (Ironically named, Grace University). After it was discovered that she was in a monogamous relationship with another woman she was expelled from the school because they did not agree with her “lifestyle choice”. She allowed me to read the expulsion letter. It was anything but full of grace.

This is not a lifestyle choice; it is a sexual identity that is a part of their creation. The concept of aversion therapy or cures is incredibly offensive and treats a healthy person as though they suffer from a mental disease or defect that requires correcting. These types of therapy may result in a change in behavior but not a change in actual attraction. That is why Christians have so cleverly come up with terms like same-sex attraction vs. practicing homosexual.  “You can be gay just don’t ever act on it and we can all pretend it’s no longer true”. Homosexuality is not an affliction to be cured with the right remedy (1-part “holy water”, 1-part “pray the gay away”, and 1-part “shame them back into the closet”?)

The high rates of self-mutilation, suicide, and drug use among homosexuals is not a product of shame, it is a product of shaming. We know that abuse victims, no matter how false abusive statement are, will eventually internalize the vitriolic hate they are subjected too.  Self-mutilation, suicide, and drug use are not indicative of a fault in homosexuals but rather a failing of society.

Why this issue? Why so much passion and attention? The church has a multitude of sins to choose from in scripture.  I would arguably say the most important one being the existence and treatment of those living in poverty. Yet, our politics, our sermons, our debates focus heavily on homosexuality and its “threat” to marriage. Perhaps because this is a “sin” heterosexuals  feel no threat of falling prey to themselves and therefore can judge and condemn without fear of having that condemnation returned?

We love to pick and choose the easy targets. A friend of my once hit on the ridiculousness of the church’s fervent efforts to prevent gay marriage rather than doggedly pursuing reform among other marriage-related issues, “If we are going to make laws that two gay people can’t marry because it isn’t Christian, then why can two atheists or two Muslims marry each other? Why should we permit divorce? Why don’t we punish adulterers? How is any of that any different?”

Now for those bible verses that many love to throw around…

People spout the church rhetoric regarding homosexuality because that is what they have been indoctrinated with for years and therefore they don’t question it or even bother to challenge it. Rather than repeating the party lines of “God made Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve” and even more ridiculous ones I would encourage people to really look at what they are saying. Many Christians throw the “but the scripture says…” line out with such passion but can’t even name a particular verse (I’m leery of people who don’t even know why they say what they say).

For those who can name the scripture: how much time have they spent reading it? Have they looked at the surrounding verses for context, considering the historical relevance, cultural influences, or even the fact that Jesus himself never once addresses the issue of homosexuality? How do they reconcile the church’s abolishing of so many other Levitical laws but its harsh stance on maintaining this one?

Leviticus 18:22, 20:13 are the go-to OT verses that appear to condemn homosexuality.  The church is in agreement that Leviticus was a list of laws given to the Jews by God that focused greatly on ceremonial cleanliness. It’s why we have abolished so many of them.

Consider that scary word “abomination” being used in these verses. An abomination? How much more horrifying could something be?  You know what other horrible thing God calls an abomination: eagles (Lev. 11:13).

“And these are they which ye shall have in abomination among the fowls; they shall not be eaten, they are an abomination: the eagle, and the ossifrage, and the ospray…”

Eagles are an abomination – they are unclean. Had much poultry lately?

We, the church, often make a point of stating that dietary laws etc… in Leviticus were meant for a specific people, at a specific time.  It is our explanation for setting aside laws such as Lev. 11:13. The Levitical laws that appear to be addressing homosexuality are directed at the Israelites.  It is a warning to them not to worship false gods such as Molech. The chapters are breaking down the false worship practices; which include sexual acts as a way to gain favor from the gods.

“When read in textual and historical context, the prohibitions in Leviticus 18 and 20 are clearly directed at homosexual temple prostitution, and that is how they should be applied.”

These are just a few things to consider…

But what about the story of Sodom and Gomorrah?  Sodom & Gomorrah is a party-line favorite. “Down with the gays! God destroyed entire cities because of them! He will smite them!”  Sodom and Gomorrah is not some warning tale of the perils of homosexuality. It’s an issue of hospitality and of sexual violence not consensual homosexual acts (man raping angels) – refer to the book of Judges.

As for the New Testament…

Our understanding of NT verses that appear to address homosexuality is so deeply flawed. Strip away years of church rhetoric and it comes down to a poor translation/understanding of Greek language; particularly the words “arsenokoites” and “malakos”. The modern church has translated these words to mean “homosexuality” or “homosexual activity” (Romans, 1 Corinthians, 1 Timothy).  So many members of the church seem to have this issue with questioning church “authority”.

“someone else translated it to mean homosexual therefore I don’t have the right or inclination to look at the evidence that the translation is wrong”

“We’ve always read it to mean that, therefore it must be true.”

Sidenote: The words “arsenokoites” and “malakos,”. didn’t appear until the mid-late 20th century.  Malakos (“soft” or “effeminate”) can be found in other Greek literature. It should be pointed out that it is not always a sexual reference [hetro/ homosexual])

The creation of the word “arsenokoites” is actually attributed to Paul himself. He created this word despite the fact that there were several other words in the Greek language (“erastes,” “eromenos,” “paedika,” “paederastes”) that already reference sex between two men. Could it be he was attempting to make a distinction between homosexuality and something else entirely?

If you look at the verses using “arsenokoites” with a more discerning eye you will note that Paul does not use this term when listing sexual sins, he uses it when listing sins of exploitation or economics – implying a reference more likely to male prostitution.  I find it interesting that the very verses the church uses to fixate on homosexuality as a sin may be drawing us back to that greater and more readily ignored issues: poverty, exploitation, and injustice.  Very interesting indeed.

One would hope this makes the loving Christian who claims to “hate the sin and not the sinner” and even the most staunch anti-gay activist lay down their “God hates fags” sign and pick up a bible. Consider your true motivations and reasons for jumping on the church bandwagon. At the very least.. take pause.

Last August, I had the humbling pleasure of spending a few days on a private retreat with Franciscan Priest Richard Rohr at the Center for Action and Contemplation. Most of my time was simply spent sitting and soaking up his words. I managed to write a few of those words down…

“We are responsible for our unconscious motivations and how they may result in hurt. Our sincerity is not enough.”

A Religious Rape Culture

Introduction: I am honored to have a friend and life teacher, Greg Stevens, as a guest author today.  I greatly admire this man and the passion with which he pursues God, equality, and justice.  The following is a male-perspective response piece to my article, The Commoditization of Women and North American Rape Culture.  I hope it challenges and motivates you in the same way it has me.

CLICK ON THE ABOVE IMAGE TO LISTEN TO GREG STEVENS, SLUTWALK ORGANIZER AND COLLEGE PASTOR, SHARE HIS SISTER’S STORY

As a Christian pastor and religiously hopeful person, I sadly say that the Evangelical and Fundamentalist church is as much cause for the American rape culture as the mass media.

The influence religion has on society is possibly even more powerful than that of the media – when god is used as justification for ideology, there is a dangerous power that follows.

Religion is literally defined as a way in which people are “tied” or “bound” together through sacramental rituals and belief systems. That which ties and binds isn’t always healthy, beautiful or beneficial for the greater whole. This is visible in the hate speech and hateful acts of many religiously devout. From the blowing up of buildings (most notably, Timothy McVeigh and September 11th) to the current “War on Women” as titled by progressive groups fighting the Religious Right for the re-productive rights of women in North America. Much of this religious bigotry is often the reason people end up quoting Ghandi as he once said, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

In the Christian community many popular brands of Christianity deny women the right to leadership, they deny women their right as humans to have equal and loving relationships with their male partners, and they deny women the right to have relationships with those of the same gender. It’s common, from my experience in the conservative Christian community for women to be bad mouthed in various ways as well – jokes about making sandwiches, working in the kitchen and not having leadership roles outside the children programs is prevalent. Personally, the reason I began studying gender was because of the disrespect my boss, at a large Methodist church, had for my female coworkers.

When god is a considered a man both linguistically and figuratively, the patriarchy- problem thrives – ironically the language with which men worship this deity has many homosexual tendencies “Oh, How He loves us,” “He reigns in me,” “He is all I want” etc. This hyper-masculine culture in North American churches is strange because statistically most churches are made up of women. Even still, the church leaders, marriage leaders and general relational leaders are male. In this belief system the male person (a highly socially constructed entity) is the leader of relationships of every kind.

This convoluted relational “headship” is most recently visible in Mark Driscoll’s (a conservative mega-church pastor) new book Real Marriage where he argues that wives should submit to their husbands sexually, at the mans every need. In a sermon from 2007 he said (and further unravels in his book),

“Men, I am glad to report to you that oral sex is biblical…The wife performing oral sex on the husband is biblical…Ladies, your husbands appreciate oral sex. They do. So, serve them, love them well. It’s biblical.”

With the doctrine and lifestyles of mega-church pastors, conservative laypersons, and religious political leaders, I argue that the male-oriented culture in Evangelical and Fundamentalist churches is cause for acts of sexual assault and the lack of change in the larger sociological situation we find ourselves.

Christian radio stations, T.V. stations, bloggers, newspapers, magazines, websites and the various other media outlets of the Religious Right have hijacked the notion of female inferiority and capitalized on it to “save” people, to raise financial support and to promote homophobic legislation.

As AnaYelsi Sanchez said, “Media and advertising is one of the strongest forces behind how we perceive females.”  The reason why media and advertising is so impressionable is because over 3,000 times a day people are targeted with ads that tell them they are ugly, poor and in desperate need of new clothes, a new couch and a new car. If we were to add to this statistic, an hour on Sunday morning and Wednesday nights, general church functions, and a supporting faith community to the 3,000 daily adds, a quirky man-dominant-culture emerges quickly.

With the statistics and issues Ms. Sanchez raises, I’d like to add the Christian church (and other male-dominating religious institutions) to the list. These are not simply doctrinal ideas; these are ways of being in the world that are drastically affecting the culture. In her book, She Who Is, Elizabeth Johnson writes,

“Speech about God shapes the life orientation not only of the corporate faith community but in this matrix guides its individual members as well…The holy mystery of God undergirds and implicitly gives direction to all of a believing persons’ enterprises, principles, choices, systems of values, and relationships Speaking about God sums up, unifies, and expresses a faith community’s sense of ultimate mystery, the world view and expectation of order devolving from this, and the concomitant orientation of human life and devotion.”

Speech to and about the mystery that surrounds human lives, the mystery we’ve called “God,” is a window into the activity of a community of faith. When we peak into the window of Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christianity’s we see a vengeful God of hyper-masculinity, domineering power and coercive sovereignty. We too see a community created in this God’s image.

It’s this image that creates the androcentric system we must stand up against, for it’s this system that is created by a religious people living into sexism, racism, classism, militarism, and human-centrism.

As a Christian pastor and religiously hopeful person, I sadly say that the Evangelical and Fundamentalist church is at much cause for the American rape culture as the media.

Data from Albert L Wineseman. 2004. “U.S. Churches Looking for a Few White Men.” Princeton, NJ: The Gallup Organization. Here’s a blog post about this quote. There’s a link to the sermon transcript on the post. http://tinyurl.com/6n6t2hh

Note that I said we are each targeted with more than 3,000 ads each day, rather than estimating the number we each actually
 see. The number of ads each person sees daily in the U.S. varies widely and is impossible to know definitively. Some sources cite 3,000 ads per day (e.g. The American Academy of Pediatrics, Committee on Communications Policy Statement on Children, Adolescents, and Advertising, in PEDIATRICS Vol. 118 
No. 6 December 2006, pp. 2563-2569 retrieved on 11/9/07 from http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/118/6/2563) and some cite even more.

She Who Is, Elizabeth Johnson, page 4

Enjoyed this? Continue on to Greg’s insightful conclusion to this discussion: Beer Goggles and a Feminist Hermeneutic

GREG STEVENS IS THE COLLEGE PASTOR AT THE MISSIO DEI COMMUNITY – A HOLISITC, MISSIONAL, INCLUSIVE CHRISTIAN CHURCH. WITH A DEGREE IN GENDER STUDIES FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH FLORIDA, HE SEEKS TO CONTINUALLY DISCOVER NEW WAYS TO UNITE FEMINIST ACADEMIA WITH LOCAL FAITH AND JUSTICE INITIATIVES IN THE TAMPA BAY AREA. HIS WEBSITE IS HTTP://GREGSTEVENS.TUMBLR.COM, AND YOU CAN FOLLOW HIM ON TWITTER @HELLOGREGORY.

The opinions expressed above are those of the guest writer and do not necessarily state or reflect the views of Brown-Eyed Amazon. Publication on this website should not be considered an endorsement.