Tag: gay marriage

The Anger You Don’t Understand

gay_s640x427One of the bloggers that I love to read is Rod Dreher.  While we share some similarities politically, we are on different sides of the same-sex marriage issue.  Rod has written a number of posts on what he sees as the coming troubles facing social conservatives as the opinion on gay marriage changes.  I decided to comment on a recent blog post.  One of the things he is bothered by is the meanness on the pro-SSM towards social conservatives.  While I agree that there has been a lot of spiking the ball on our side, I thought Rod needs to understand where some of that anger comes from and it doesn’t come from nowhere.

Before I share the response, I want to add that I do appreciate Rod.  He is one of the most honest people I know striving to honor God in the best way he can.  He has helped me see that not all social conservatives are horrible monsters.  So, while I am offering a bit of pushback here, I don’t do it out of anger.  I just want to him (and others) to understand a little about our side and what might be fueling the anger. 

Rod,

Part of the issue that needs to be addressed is the bitterness that many in the gay rights community has towards social conservatives. A lot of this comes from the pain we have experienced from people who were religious and yet treated their sisters and brothers with cruelty. One of the things that Ross Douthat shared in his Sunday column is the abuse LGBT folk have suffered in the past. I think it is important for social cons to at least admit that some of this vitriol is a knee-jerk response to some of the things we have faced.

The other issue that is a problem is how social conservatives are viewed by the larger society. When I was coming out in the 90s, the image I saw was Pat Buchanan venting at the 1992 GOP Convention in Houston. The image most gays and allies have of social conservatives is one of hateful people bent on destroying LGBT people. It’s not a true image, but it’s there. My view of social conservatives have changed for two reasons: one I take the call from Jesus to love our enemies seriously. Second, I’ve met many social conservatives and see that they don’t have five heads and eat gay babies. Because American society is so fragmented with like-minded folk clustering together, most gay folk have never encountered a social conservative and see them as complex beings instead of caritactures. And because we don’t know you, hence the hostility.

I don’t know what the answer is. I have used my blog to express that social conservatives are not all monsters, but I have also got pushback from people who write me talking about the pain they have faced and how it makes no sense to show mercy. The negative image of social conservatives is ingrained in many gay people and their allies and that is what keeps them from showing and sense of forgiveness and love. Gay people can and should speak up and maybe even seek out social conservatives and befriend them (somthing I’ve tried to do). But I think the only way this is going to change is when social conservatives themselves reach out and be Christ to gay people. When gay people can see that social conservatives are people, things will change. I know that’s not what you want to hear, but realize that a lot of the anger is warranted. Trust has been broken. LGBT people like myself can and should reach out, but until gays and trust social conservatives such hostility will continue, even if it is not right.

By the Time I Get to Arizona

ArizonaAbout a week ago, I wrote a post on same-sex marriage and how those of us who support it should act towards those that oppose it.  Can we be good winners to the losers?

Some of the response to that post got me thinking (and agonizing) over this issue.  In two states, Kansas and Arizona, bills have made their way through the state legislature that would give people the right to refuse service to gays.  I think both bills are unconstitutional on their face and bring to mind the dreadful memories of Jim Crow.

That said, these laws are the signs of a way of being that is passing.  I as said in my previous post, those in favor of same sex marriage have won.  But there is still something nagging me.  How do we live with those who are the losers?  How do we deal with those who say their opposition to gay marriage is based on religious teachings?  Do we ignore them?  Do we try to stamp them out?  What is deemed as religious (even if we think it is weird) and what is not a religious practice?

The issue of a baker or florist refusing to serve a gay couple brings out conflicting emotions.  I do think at some level there is the potential of bigotry behind that refusal.  I also think that having laws where people can refuse service could cause chaos in our economy.  But then I think about how someone who is a social conservative would see this.  There’s something about compelling someone to do something they don’t agree with because of their interpretation of the Bible that bothers me deeply.  Those of us on our side tend to see this simply as case of bigotry.  Bigots don’t deserve protection and they should shut up and do their job.  After all their “religious objection” is just a smoke screen for their hate.

But the thing is, seeing homosexuality as a sin was considered the normative teaching in our society until recently.  That doesn’t mean it isn’t wrong, but we have to take in account that tradition is not something that you can easily dispose of.

The tactic that I have shared at times is that it’s okay to believe what you do in private, but in public you have to set your beliefs aside.  But upon thinking on this, I found this reasoning to be bothersome.  We are basically saying that their faith is a hobby that can be pursued at other times, but not when we enter the public square.  For the faithful, religious belief is not something that is private, but very public.  It orders every part of one’s life.  I think it would be difficult for someone who might think that same sex marriage to have to set their belief aside.  In fact, it wouldn’t make sense.  Why would they knowingly put themselves in a position to sin?

About three years ago, writer Jonathan Rauch wrote about the change that was heading our way on marriage.  He called on the LGBT community and allies to not immediately try to challenge the other side when it came to issues like refusing service to a gay couple.  To do so would be to make social conservatives fears come true and would basically play into their hands.  He writes:

…gay rights opponents have been quick, in fact quicker than our side, to understand that the dynamic is changing. They can see the moral foundations of their aversion to homosexuality crumbling beneath them. Their only hope is to turn the tables by claiming they, not gays, are the real victims of oppression. Seeing that we have moved the “moral deviant” shoe onto their foot, they are going to move the “civil rights violator” shoe onto ours.

So they have developed a narrative that goes like this:

Gay rights advocates don’t just want legal equality. They want to brand anyone who disagrees with them, on marriage or anything else, as the equivalent of a modern-day segregationist. If you think homosexuality is immoral or changeable, they want to send you to be reeducated, take away your license to practice counseling, or kick your evangelical student group off campus. If you object to facilitating same-sex weddings or placing adoptees with same-sex couples, they’ll slap you with a fine for discrimination, take away your nonprofit status, or force you to choose between your job and your conscience. If you so much as disagree with them, they call you a bigot and a hater.

They won’t stop until they stigmatize your core religious teachings as bigoted, ban your religious practices as discriminatory, and drive millions of religious Americans right out of the public square. But their target is broader than just religion. Their policy is one of zero tolerance for those who disagree with them, and they will use the law to enforce it.

At bottom, they are not interested in sharing the country. They want to wipe us out.

He continues writing what should be our response:

In a messy world where rights often collide, we can’t avoid arguing about where legitimate dissent ends and intolerable discrimination begins. What we can do is avoid a trap the other side has set for us. Incidents of rage against “haters,” verbal abuse of opponents, boycotts of small-business owners, absolutist enforcement of antidiscrimination laws: Those and other “zero-tolerance” tactics play into the “homosexual bullies” narrative, which is why our adversaries publicize them so energetically.

The other side, in short, is counting on us to hand them the victimhood weapon. Our task is to deny it to them.

I think we have to decide what level of discrimination is acceptable and what is off limits. As James Antle notes in his latest article, that at least according to the 1993 Religious Freedom and Restoration Act, there has to be a compelling interest for the state to force someone to violate their religious conscience:

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 seems to have this much right. Freedom of conscience isn’t absolute. But the government can only override religious conscience to serve a compelling interest and then must pursue that interest using the least coercive means available.

So even if there is a compelling public interest in ensuring access to contraception, if contraception can be made affordable and readily available through means other than forcing the Little Sisters of the Poor to pay for contraception or contraceptive coverage, than those other less coercive means should be employed.

The same logic would seem to apply to participation in same-sex marriage services. If we can allow conscientious objectors to refuse to fight in wars, we can surely make some allowance for people to who don’t want to bake cakes, provide floral arrangements, or take photos at a particular wedding. A case could also be made that same-sex couples should prefer to send their business to vendors who share their values.

A sense of proportion matters here. It’s unlikely that we are talking about very many businesses, and even fewer large companies. In some parts of the country, at least, vendors who take this stand risk being picketed out of existence. A few news stories about a same-sex couple who was refused service in their town could easily attract a flood of free wedding cakes, floral arrangements, and photography offers from other more supportive businesses.

He also brings up something that I’ve been thinking about. The analogy that has been used likening these proposed laws to segregation doesn’t really work:

Should gay business owners be forced to provide services to Chick-fil-A, Phil Robertson or organizations that lobby against same-sex marriage? Should gay advertising executives be compelled to write ads in defense of the Defense of Marriage Act? Freedom of conscience applies here too. So does the market’s ability to punish irrational discrimination and a business’s willingness to turn away paying customers.

If a Muslim fundamentalist car dealer refused to sell automobiles to women on religious grounds, even if it was not against the law, he would almost certainly go out of business. (If he didn’t, then immigration laws might need to be revised rather than the First Amendment.)

This is where the Jim Crow analogy, used by Kirsten Powers and others, fails. People often argue for or against the civil-rights laws of the 1960s on the basis of abstract principles, pitting generic equality against generic freedom of association, but they were in fact a reaction to a very specific set of circumstances.

Jim Crow was a system of extensive discrimination, not isolated incidents. It relied on the state enforcement of laws requiring racial separation and the non-enforcement of laws banning private acts of violence when the victims were black. It denied blacks’ constitutional rights and was rooted in state government coercion and social customs so powerful they were largely impervious to market forces. The federal government had repeatedly attempted to remedy these problems through more modest measures.

It is theoretically possible that allowing a New Mexico photographer to refrain from taking pictures at a same-sex wedding ceremony—or more plausibly, allowing the Kansas legislature to enact the previously mentioned bill—would create conditions like this for gays. But it is not very likely.

I would agree. On the surface the two seem the same, but not in context. The Jim Crow that my father lived through in Louisiana was not simply one person refusing him service, but an entire system that was placed into law. There is a difference between the two, not that refusing a gay couple is okay, but it is not backed by a system of laws, at least not in every state but Arizona it seems.

The point of my rambling is that those of us in favor of same sex marriage and those opposed have to find a way to tolerate each other.  Those who have a traditional understanding of sexuality have to understand that being gay is becoming more and more normative.  LGBT folk and their allies have to understand that the other side isn’t going away anytime soon and in many cases they are compelled to follow what they interpret to be from God (even if we think this is pure hogwash).  We have to learn to coexist, because this tit for tat war of stigmatizing is futile and for those of us who are Christian not very Christ-like.  We have to learn to love the other even if we think they are wrong.

I want to end with the words of fellow pastor Trevor Lee who has this to say about tolerance:

Tolerance now means completely accepting viewpoints that culture, and especially the media and TV/movie industry deem correct. Many of these viewpoints are against traditional moral stances. So those who hold to the “outdated” views are intolerant. Yet this has almost nothing to do with tolerance. In fact, very often those who rail against those “intolerant people” are being intolerant in the process. Here’s what it comes down to…

You do not tolerate someone or something you agree with.

The dictionary defines tolerance as “a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from [emphasis mine] one’s own.” So the only people and opinions we can logically tolerate are those we disagree with. If we change our opinions and beliefs we would now be tolerant by continuing to respect and treat with dignity those we used to agree with. I am for tolerance (really I’m more for love than tolerance, but we’ll get to that in a minute), but this is teetering on the edge of being a useless word in our culture.

I pray for more tolerance in our society. On all sides.

We Are the Champions

It’s over. We won.

same sex couplesI’m talking about same-sex marriage.  In the months following last year’s decision by the Supreme Court on marriage, state after state has had laws banning same-sex marriage ruled unconstitutional.  This week alone, we’ve seen Virgina and Kentucky move forward in the march towards marriage equality.  Different parts of the federal government are providing full rights to same sex couples.  So, this year my partner Daniel (we had our civil ceremony last September) nd I can file taxes jointly in Minnesota and with the IRS.

What many of us thought would take a while for the nation to accept is only taking months.  Step by step, state by state, the cause of marriage equality is advancing.

This is good news and it should be celebrated. But as we start pouring champagne, Progressive Christians need to ask a question: how do we win with grace?

You see, there are winners in this argument over same sex marriage and of course there are losers, those who believe in “traditional marriage.”  As we bask in the light of a new day, there are others who feel their world is crumbling around them.  How do we deal with these people?  How do we treat them?  Do we create space for them to live out their lives with little interference from the state or do we seek give them no quarter?

My fear is that for all of the talk in mainline churches about loving the enemy, we won’t be gracious winners.  It’s a fear that has come true.  Without going into much detail, I have seen how pro-gay folks have treated those who are on the other side and it wasn’t with open arms.

The template that the gay rights movement has used in our fight for equality has been the civil rights movement of 50 years ago.  Those that forbid gay marriage are just like the racists who opposed interracial marriage.

It’s easy to see the struggle for gay rights in the same light as civil rights.  It’s an easy way to get people to understand the movement and casts us in a more positive light.  I used this analogy for a long time.

But at some point, I stopped using that analogy.  Partially because I got to know some more conservative folks who weren’t the monsters I envision them to be.  It’s hard to liken someone to the Klan when you just had a good conversation over a beer. But the main reason is that the struggle for gay equality isn’t just like civil rights.  While there are similarities there are also some big differences.  The general understanding of religious conservative is that they use the Bible to exclude people they don’t like just like the slaveholders of old used the Bible to justify slavery.  The problem with this line of thinking is that it doesn’t take into account that the objection to gay marriage or gay clergy is less about hating gay folks than it is about biblical integrity.  Long story short: I think they actually believe that the Bible forbids same sex marriage.  They actually believe being gay is sinful because they interpret the Bible that way.  This is less about homophobia (though some that does exist) than it is about them wanting to follow Scripture.

Writer Damon Linker wrote this week about gay marriage and if those who oppose it are akin to racists.  His view?  No.

As countless liberals have done before him, (Issac) Chotiner breezily equates those believers who once appealed to Scripture in defense of racism and those who currently reject gay marriage. The first position has been socially, morally, and legally marginalized with no negative consequences for faith, Chotiner asserts, and the same will soon be true about the second. So what’s the big deal?

The big deal is that strictures against homosexuality are rooted far more deeply in the Judeo-Christian tradition than racism ever was. Yes, slavery is found throughout the Scriptures and comes in for criticism only, at best, by implication. But race-based slavery — and the racism that made it possible and continues to infect ideas and institutions throughout the West to this day — receives no explicit endorsement from the Bible…

Which isn’t to say that those seeking to justify race-based slavery or racism couldn’t, and didn’t, twist biblical passages to make them provide such justification. But the Hebrew Bible and New Testament clearly do not teach (either explicitly or implicitly) that buying, owning, and selling African slaves is next to godliness.

The same cannot be said about the normative teaching on human sexuality contained within the Judeo-Christian scriptures — and even more so, within the interpretative and theological traditions that grow out of them. In dismissing this teaching so casually, Chotiner ends up implying that traditionalist churches and religious communities are the moral equivalent of the Ku Klux Klan.

If that’s an accurate evaluation of their moral status, then we can expect that before long traditionalist religious views will be denied legitimacy by the courts, denigrated in the public schools, and thoroughly marginalized in our public life.

While those of us who are pro-gay and don’t see the teachings in Leviticus and others parts of the Bible as normative, there is still a large segment of Christians in America that do.  Is there a way that they can be allowed to follow their consciences without giving up my hard-won rights?

Maybe I’m being a softie, but I don’t know if I’m wiling to go a far as pushing people out of the public square.  I want to respond in love and not with a taste for revenge.  I fear that we will gain our rights at the expense of our souls.

I am happy that society seems to be moving forward on gay rights.  But because I’ve learned to see my opponents as people and not monsters, I don’t want to do it at their expense.  I don’t want to send them to the margins.  I’m not saying this because I’m week or anything.  I’m saying this because as a Christian, I think we are supposed to be different from our sisters and brothers.

I am proud to be gay.  But I also follow the One who said we are to love our enemies and forgive our persecuters.

As the advance of gay rights moves forward,  I pray I can look at the other side with God’s eyes of love and not with a desire for revenge.

A More Excellent Way

And I’m going to show you an even better way.

-I Corinthians 12:31

2009-06-07_love_enemies-294x300I remember several years ago reading a newsstory about the same-sex marriage debate taking place in the Canadian province of Alberta.  Two men who wanted to get married took the province to court and won.  When asked about the verdict, one of the men responded with a snarky comment to the other side.

 

I remember being rather bothered by the reaction.  Why the man using this experience to taunt his opponents?  This was a moment of celebration, of building up and not tearing down.

That event was one of the first showing me how much bitterness and anger that LGBT folks have towards the rest of society.

A lot of the animus is not without warrant.  For many centuries, sexual minorities were treated with contempt by the wider society.  We were kicked out of our homes, shunned by loved ones.  This experience of being devalued can tear our hearts asunder. The tears in time scab over, to protect us from others who mean to harm us.  The scabs and scars heal our hearts and protect them, but at a terrible price.  We become hardened and distrustful.  We use the pain we feel as a weapon to keep danger away.  I don’t think that Canadian man who was taunting the plaintiffs was wanting to be mean, but it was a defense weapon to protect himself and hopefully to bring the offender to some sort of justice.

This is common, at least to me, among the gays I meet.  We carry past pain and harden ourselves to protect from the next attack.

But the thing is, for those of us who are called Christian, we are also called to love our enemies as well as pursue justice.  The Jesus that drove the money changers out of the temple, also sat down for lunch with Zaccheus, a tax collector for the dreaded Roman government.

How do we love those we disagree with?  Do we even love them at all?

Brandon Ambrosino wrote a post today taking on the topic of those who oppose same-sex marriage.  He asked if it is possible for someone to be against gay marriage, and not anti-gay?  Or do the two go hand-in-hand?  Ambrosino, who is gay himself, thinks that we should give those who might disagree with us the benefit of the doubt.  He writes:

I would argue that an essential feature of the term “homophobia” must include personal animus or malice toward the gay community. Simply having reservations about gay marriage might be anti-gay marriage, but if the reservations are articulated in a respectful way, I see no reason to dismiss the person holding those reservations as anti-gay people. In other words, I think it’s quite possible for marriage-equality opponents to have flawed reasoning without necessarily having flawed character. When we hastily label our opposition with terms like “anti-gay,” we make an unwarranted leap from the first description to the second.

To me, recognizing the distinction between opposing gay marriage and opposing gay people is a natural outgrowth of an internal distinction: When it comes to my identity, I take care not to reduce myself to my sexual orientation. Sure, it’s a huge part of who I am, but I see myself to be larger than my sexual expression: I contain my gayness; it doesn’t contain me. If it’s true that my gayness is not the most fundamental aspect of my identity as Brandon, then it seems to me that someone could ideologically disapprove of my sexual expression while simultaneously loving and affirming my larger identity. This is what Pope Francis was getting at when he asked, “When God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?” The Pope probably won’t be officiating gay marriages any time soon. But because he differentiates between a person’s sexual identity and her larger identity as a human being, he is able to affirm the latter without offering definitive commentary on the former. Maybe his distinction between Brandon and Gay Brandon is misguided, but it isn’t necessarily malicious, and that’s the point.

I think what has been missing in our civil discourse is grace.  The culture wars has made us all calloused; distrustful of those who aren’t like us.  I think that has to change.  Yes, there are people out there who are truly homophobic.  But being against gay marriage doesn’t mean that you are Hitler incarnate.

During my years with the Presbytery, I had the opportunity to serve folks from accross the theological spectrum.  What I learned is that conservative Christians are not as scary as I once thought.  I will disagee with them, but I stopped seeing them as the Other.  I’ve learned to see them as children of God.

None of this is easy.  But what if God is speaking through them?

Yes, we need to be careful about safety.  Yes, there are some real bigots who mean to do us harm.  But what if we welcomed those who disagreed with us to the communion table.  What would that be like?

Maybe a foretaste of the king of God.