For the Bible Tells Me So, Dinner Parties, Brazil, and Gay Marriage

October 20, 2007

I saw For the Bible Tells Me So last night. What a great and well-needed movie!

It combines personal stories with just about all of the relevant facts and talking points that are needed in today’s struggle for equality.  It does well what I have tried for so long to do here– to articulate the connection between the persecution, injustice, hate crimes, high suicide rates, and downsides of LGBT life and the church’s persecution of us.  It even touches on the fact that the church at her worst has historically looked for an “other” to be the scapegoat for her fears and insecurities– Women, Jews, Blacks, and unfortunately that “other” happens to be LGBT people at the moment.

It successfully refutes the literalist interpretations of scripture that proof-text selected passages while ignoring others, and certainly ignoring the larger themes of the narrative.  It discusses the contextual nature of scripture– one of my favorite examples is the rabbi who talks about how marriage has changed; in ancient Biblical times marriage was a one-way street– the woman received a ring from the man and the man was free to take other wives.  That is Bibical marriage.  David certainly had many wives– but literalists do not use that as an example of marriage.  Today we have the man and woman exchange rings.  They are given to each other, a two-way street.  Marriage changes.  It always has.  The attempt at selective memory is, well, selective– to serve an agenda.  It is not the Biblical witness.

I also particularly liked the discussion of “abomination.”  Leviticus clearly calls for restrictions against same-sex relations in the purity code.  The punishment for that abomination– death.  The literalists want to abscond from that responsibility and say that the civil authority should take it up– they do not want to be the ones to enforce the stoning of us LGBT people but they do want a literalist interpretation and want it to be enforced.  At the same time, interestingly, when faced with the economic regulations calling for giving away all that one has to the poor, they somehow seem to suspend their literalism…  The income levels of James Dobson, Pat Robertson, and the like are well into the millions– I would venture to say that is certainly non-egalitarian and not a literal reading of the very egalitarian economic imperative of the gospel.  (Of course the movie presents the current contextual thinking on Leviticus, Romans, and other passages which require that we do NOT stone LGBT folks… but if you read my blog I assume you already know those positions.  If not, it is very similar to the marriage argument– times change; the scripture is the story of a people of God, not the story of God Godself.  It is the story of the journey of faith of a people of God– it answers questions of a particular time and place– we use it to help us answer questions of our particular time and place.  Those are my words, not the words of the movie, but it is effectually the same thing– it is contextual.)

Perhaps most telling and interesting for me, though, was a small dinner I attended after the movie.  It was a heavily Brazillian crowd – much of our conversation revolved around the status of gay equality in Brazil.  What was interesting is how contextual our situation is now– after hearing about Brazil it reminded me very much of what the situation was in the U.S. in the era immediately after Stonewall.  Identity was based primarily off of sexual activity (as opposed to now, when, in the healthiest places in our country, sexual activity flows from relationship and relationship from identity).  It is an evoluationary process; one that only can happen when we are allowed to live authentically and free ourselves from the heteronormative baggage that just comes from living as “different” in a straight world.  Just like Larry Craig, when we are repressed we begin to exhibit unhealthy behaviors.  When we begin to live authentically we grow.  Each culture necessarily manifests the process differently– that is why we have different cultures– but it is a process of growth and development that we see at different stages in the U.S., in Europe, in Brazil, in Nigeria, in Uganda.

The interesting thing about Brazil is that, unlike the United States, they are not just growing on their own as the U.S. did– they also have the international pressure of the U.S. and, even more pronounced,  the European Union to move forward with marriage equality– clearly on the evolutionary scale of the U.S. that development took decades to happen.  They are being forced into it much earlier then we were.  I’m reminded of Star Trek’s famous prime directive which required that the crew would not interfere with other cultures but rather would allow them to develop at their own pace.  I have wondered about that much in the last year, not only in Brazil but for the world as a whole, especially as it relates to our ongoing Anglican Antics.  What is the cost of globalization, as cultures are forced to interact at a pace and level that are unprecedented?  How do we both allow such  global communication and allow cultures to accept or reject outside influence without rupturing the very fabric of society?

It may not be such an important question.  The answer for me is that we work to help people (perhaps right now, most especially in our own culture) understand the importance of relationship with the “other”; that in relationship human nature automatically accounts for these things:  people will allow themselves to be changed and unchanged as they are ready.  They will be pushed and they will resist.  They will push back and in some cases change, in other cases determine that the issue so goes against their core identity that they will not change (take the issue of immigration in the U.S. – something we are struggling with today; an historic part of our identity and one we are currently discerning whether to accept as part of our ongoing identity or reject).  But I think the most important thing we have to teach is that whether we decide any particular issue is something that we will embrace or reject, we continue in the relationship.  BUT– we have to value relationship for that to work– it has to be a goal in and of itself.

Back to dinner— the conversation about Brazillian affairs inevitably lead to U.S. affairs.  The clear majority opinion in this circle was that a strategic mistake had been made by the HRC, Lambda Legal, and the other crafters of “the gay agenda” in deciding to pursue marriage equality instead of civil unions.  I was in the minority– in fact I was perhaps the only one in this crowd– that had a very strong opinion about marriage equality and was opposed to civil unions.  Since coming to Texas I have found myself in that position more and more often– I relate it much the same to the difference between the U.S. and Brazil.  Just as gay Brazillians are struggling to understand what it means to be gay in an oppresive culture and that necessarily means something different than in the U.S. where circumstances are less oppresive, so are Texans struggling to understand what it means to be gay in a culture that is more oppressive than in California.  I do not mean for this to sound like I am “enlightened” and those not from California are not– it is simply a different context.  I have heard pro-civil-union themes in California too– it isn’t like you evolve out of them or that my dinner companions were somehow not as progressed as me.  It is just that I hear these arguments more often in Texas, and I think that says something about the culture.  Whatever that is, it certainly also is a reminder that we are a diverse people, we LGBT folk, and we cannot be labeled by our orientation alone.  We do actually have different opinions.

The argument for leaving marriage behind was passionate last night, and I had to leave to get my children so I’m not sure any of us clearly got to have our points heard fully.  It was definitely the secular left crowd, not the newer form of the religious left.  From what I understood, there were a couple of major themes:  1)  marriage is conflated with religion and we ideologically have a separation of church and state; 2) politically we have support for civil unions while we do not have support for marriage; and 3) we do not want to have anything to do with the historical institution of marriage which is corrupted by the church and other heteronormative institutions (which oppress us).

My secular responses are secular, as always my religion informs my values and politics but I am committed to separation of church and state for the common good.  1)  We may have an ideological separation of church and state, but the last twenty years have seen a rise in the Religious Right who desire a theocracy and the institutionalization of their conservative religious views; at least one plank in the platform should be dedicated to changing the cultural perception that our “lifestyles” are contrary to Christian values (thus the importance of “For the Bible Tells Me So”).  This argument seemed to raise concern and I’m not sure the tactic was well understood– the ideology of separation of church and state got in the way of the political reality:  Making the Christian marriage argument in the secular arena is a means to secular marriage equality even for those who have no interest in Christian marriage.  (Of course– that is hard to say when marriage has deep meaning for me religiously, but it is true from a secular standpoint, and I don’t doubt that somebody at HRC sees it that way.)  Its hard to sell equality when people don’t care enough about separation of church and state to forget about their religious values which prevent marriage equality.  You have to first show them that religion has only taught this literalism for the past hundred years or so, and undo the religious damage that has been done.

2) There may be political support for civil unions, but separate is simply not equal.  It never has been, it never will be.  If you want it as an incremental step on the way to full equality, perhaps there is some value.  But as an end in itself it will only be as valid as separate drinking fountains, restrooms, etc., were for “coloreds” in the pre-MLK jr. era.

3)  I did not get to fully rebut the third point last night at my dinner, but it is perhaps the most important one, pastorally speaking, to respond to.  I hear the deep pain that the church and other heteronormative institutions have caused.  I understand the desire not to assimilate and to keep a firm and distinct identity– that is hugely important for us at this time.  We must not assimilate.  But we must not segregate either.  We must neither segregate, nor assimilate– we must integrate– we must keep our identity distinct while integrating with a heteronormative society.  To segregate completely ghetto-izes us and puts us back in the “separate but equal” place that we know is not really equal.

From a religious standpoint, there is nothing wrong with being angry with the church– even with being angry at God (who, by the way, is not the same as the human-run church!!)– for how we are being treated.  But to make a decision now that denies future generations full equality is a selfish motivation.  We may be angry, but we must make decisions that take into account not only our feelings, but also take responsibility for those who come after us.  Is it really responsible to say, “I don’t want marriage AND therefore I don’t want anyone who comes after me to get married?”  I don’t think so.  The time to pave that road is now.  There may be incremental steps along the way we have to take.  There may be alternative arrangements for straight and gay couples who do not want marriage that we have yet to define (in Europe, there is a much better model for this).  But to deny full equality does us all an injustice.

As for the anger at the church, the anger at God (and now I’m preaching), I would use Christian language.  I would say take it to the cross.  That is what it is about.  We are being crucified.  That is the Christian story– the outsider gets crucified.  But there is a resurrection at the end of that story.  That does not eliminate the horror of the crucifixion.  But it does offer hope.  If we see that hope as being only about “me” then we will surely be disappointed.  But if it is about something bigger then it may just come to pass.  That is just what God does.  God fixes it when we humans screw things up.  But it does take time– we are impatient and are not willing to wait; we want instant gratification.  We look in all the wrong places for God’s fix.  That hope also requires of us a willingness to live and work for something bigger than ourselves.  That hope and that world-view is what is required of everybody, but most especially of us who live on the outside as we are being crucified.



One Response to “For the Bible Tells Me So, Dinner Parties, Brazil, and Gay Marriage”

  1. Jeff Says:

    Really good post over at Jakes on the real sin in the church: Of course it won’t be anything new to most of us, but it is very well articulated and wonderful to read.


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