Back a few months ago I asked my friend Artie to do an interview on the blog. I wanted to spread the posts out throughout the past year but life just got really hectic and I did a terrible job organizing out any sort of posting schedule (Post 1 can be found HERE). To Artie, my apologies for inconsistency. Indeed, I think I’ve started two other topical series of which there is currently only one post…I’ll get to them…eventually. It’s a personality flaw. :/ I am about to go on a lengthy blog hiatus (see tomorrow’s post), so I wanted to get the rest of it up before then.
Having grown up in traditional conservative Christianity (by the way, I still consider myself generally traditional and conservative, though I know one “wrong” opinion on any particular topic is enough for some to write you off), I have watched as friends and loved ones have engaged in passionate debates about homosexuality in a way which tends to circumvent talking with individuals who identify with that orientation. People lose their faces and become topics.. And while I think there are benefits to abstraction and objectivity, there is also something revealing, confronting, and truthful in standing face to face with people. We may deal with topics abstractly, but they must be able to come back down face to face eventually if they’re to have any real significance and power.
Because I want conversation I have been intentional about not outlaying my own particular position on homosexuality, at least on this blog. With all the voices and opinions being tossed this way and that on the internet, media, and churches I wanted to simply ask my friend Artie to answer a few questions from his perspective. Artie and I have never discussed at length the topic (nor do I see any need to really, as if it’s a litmus test for a friendship) and there are points in this interview that I disagree. But guess what…that’s fine! It’s a conversation worth having! Instead of circumventing people and only adhering to talking points, we may find ourselves learning from someone who has something personal to say about it all.
The Interview (Part 2)
Q. There are numerous Christians out there that struggle with knowing where to fall on the question of homosexuality. If there was one thing you could say to these particular people, what would it be?
A. They are not alone. They might be surprised at just how many Christians are also struggling with this issue; with some coming to conclusions that challenge everything they’ve been told in the past and believed without questioning any of it. You who have the courage and boldness to take part in this struggle on your own are doing nothing wrong or “sinful” because you’re seeking answers and conclusions for yourself. You are, to me, the brave souls of the church and Christianity.
In the not too distant past the very idea of questioning church teachings and doctrine or scriptural interpretation was discouraged and not welcomed. What your pastor or priest said had to be true because, after all, he or she was God’s spokesperson. But you failed to realize that they were speaking with conviction what had been said to them. They were telling you their (or someone else’s) version of God’s truth.
But that seems to be changing. No longer satisfied with being spoon fed a faith contained within a restrictive box of “do’s and don’ts’s”, Christians are allowing themselves to question what they have always been taught about homosexuality; reexamining those certain scriptures always used to justify anti-gay rhetoric from the pulpit; looking beyond the words themselves and into the context of when and why they were written; asking if those scriptures even refer to same sex attraction as we’ve come to understand it today?
And what is behind this? Why now? Why are many Christians giving themselves this freedom of thinking for themselves? Is it because of the social acceptance of gay people growing throughout the country? Do they have a gay friend or relative that they never could conceive of deeming an abomination? Or are they realizing that discriminating against any group of people is wrong; particularly when it comes to taking from them their basic civil rights.
Just about every denomination is being challenged by the “gay issue” and there are more and more churches, pastors and church members who both welcome and affirm the gay community. Or even if some Christians are still unsure of where they stand on the issue from a spiritual perspective, they can distinguish gay equality for what it truly is; not a religious issue but a civil rights issue. You struggling Christians need to find a public voice that speaks for you; a Martin Luther unafraid of nailing the theses of equality for all on the church doors.
I know it can seem quite daunting to dare to speak out against what little is left of the “moral majority.” It’s is similar to 30 years or more ago when gay people were so afraid of what others would think and say about them that they built invisible, internal closets that kept them safely behind a locked door. LGBT people understand that fear of having your friends find out you are different and don’t agree with them. We know what it is to be afraid of being judged or ostracized. We LGBT people have been there. But in due time, and at our own pace, we open our closet doors and step out into the world proudly. I encourage you brave souls to do the same; when you are ready to show the world that “we all aren’t like that.”
Q. So, one of the big questions that has come up recently is the definition of marriage. How do you define the term? What sort of implications do you think homosexual marriage would have on religious terminology and do you think, maybe, that one of our basic problems exists in inadequate definitions?
A. It’s really quite simple. A marriage license is not a religious document; it is a government document. A marriage license isn’t signed by a pastor or priest but usually by a county clerk. A marriage certificate is signed by whoever officiated at a wedding; be it a religious figure or a county judge. A marriage can take place in a church or synagogue as well as the county courthouse.
I don’t know how much more straightforward one can get. Christians don’t “own” the lawful commitment of marriage. Marriage isn’t a religious institution even though many couples choose to celebrate their marriage in a church or synagogue to present to the public their commitment to one another. But a couple can be married in the most nonreligious setting of their choosing. Hell, they can fly to Vegas and be married in a 24 hour chapel by an Elvis impersonator.
Marriage equality is clearly a civil right; not a religious service. Christians really have no business inferring that marriage is anything else. Yet they seem to feel it is their responsibility to speak for God and the country; insisting their personal opinions and beliefs should rule the day.
Their arguments against gay marriage have so many holes in it. Put simply, it’s none of their business who I want to marry. Reflect back on the resistance and insistence that interracial marriages were unholy and shouldn’t be allowed. Thankfully justice and civil rights won out. And now State by State justice and civil rights are prevailing for gay couples.
Civil rights and legal rights be damned. Christians just don’t want us playing in their sandbox. If gay couples start exhibiting loving commitments to one another and create loving families of their own it will be more and more difficult for the church to continue using that tired stereotype of us being nothing but sexual reprobates. So who can they preach against then? Because, you see, for them there always has to be a visible enemy. There always has to be someone or some group to point a finger at and call “sinner.”
Once full gay equality is a reality throughout every State there will be no cash cow. Anti-gay clergy and organizations won’t have us as the marketing tool of evil that needs “your dollars” to fight. So then those churches and organizations will be faced with the question of “what would Jesus do”. Do they close their doors to gay couples and families; displaying hate? Or do they acknowledge and welcome the gay couples and families; exhibiting love? Hate or love? Acceptance or rejection? I don’t think we need any new definitions. We only need to broaden the one we already have. Marriage – noun. Two lives legally joined together as one.
Q. Do you think the homosexuality issue has any significant bearing on your current agnosticism? If so why?
No not at all. Any agnosticism I might convey is the result of something much bigger than the homosexual issue; and of greater significance to me. It is the day that my life, as I knew it, ended; as I stood on Church Street in front of the World Trade Center the morning of September 11, 2001; the day when everything, for all of us, changed forever. And, even after 12 years, I’m still putting together the broken pieces of who I was; reassembling those shards into the person I am continually evolving into. I lived in New York City for 26 years and three months before 9/11 the law firm I worked for moved into new offices; across from the twin towers. And on that morning I became an unwitting witness, participant and survivor of the beginning of a war of terrorism.
I don’t blame God for what happened. I know bad things happen to good people. I’ve experienced my share of tragedy in my lifetime. Death, in particular, has not been a stranger to me. But if you were to put all the tragic events I’ve experienced in my lifetime together, the result wouldn’t even come close to the traumatic magnitude of that morning. The images are with me still and I think of 9/11 every day. I still grieve the deaths of people I didn’t know and my survivor guilt surfaces from time to time. And, spiritually, I don’t know what I believe anymore. Whatever faith I once had now lies in shambles.
One vivid memory I carry with me from that morning of chaos is after the second plane hit the south tower, and those of us in the street had to literally run for our lives, I remember screaming out loud, “God, save us all”; a prayer that God was unable to answer. The principles of nature that He established became restricting rules that not even He was able to break. The morning of 9/11 I witnessed the powerlessness of God. A powerlessness He created.
I don’t know how to view God now or how to understand Him. I question at times His existence or, if He is there, is He a participant in our lives or just an observer. I question why I should bother to pray because I know there will always be prayers God can’t answer; like those of the people trapped on the upper floors of the twin towers who must have been pleading with God to save them. I don’t know how having Him in my life makes a difference anymore because everything changed the morning of 9/11. I discovered that God wasn’t “Oz, the Great and Powerful”. He is just the man behind the curtain.
Q. Alan Chambers of Exodus International recently made news headlines with shutting down the restorative sexuality program of his organization, noting that homosexuality is biologically and psychologically inherent and basically irreversible (I say ‘basically’ due to the following question). I think this is quite in step with the increasing death of ‘it’s a choice’ mentality. What do you hope the closing of restorative therapy has on those Christian homosexuals wrestling with the tension of their faith and sexuality?
A. That they will now breathe much easier. I hope they will see this as yet one more confirmation that their sexual orientation wasn’t/isn’t a choice (in spite of how many times they’ve been told it is by Christians who have no idea what they are talking about; letting their ignorance propel their damaging words).
I hope LGBT Christians will at last be able to embrace the freedom that comes with knowing God loves them as they are; straight, gay, lesbian, bi, transgender. I hope they will let that freedom touch their spirits and their souls. I hope they will seek out a church that will welcome and affirm them. There are many affirming websites out there as well; thinking, in particular, of the Gay Christian Network (http://www.gaychristian.net).
Q. I want to avoid making assumptions regarding the homogeneity of either religion or society on this issue. We both are aware that you cannot boil religious people to an “anti-homosexuality” stance and secular society to a “pro-homosexuality” stance. The convictions of each are much more complex and versatile than is often portrayed. Regarding social issues like abortion, immigration, LGBT, etc. how do you see the influence of state on Church and Church on State? Further, do you think the State and secular society has actually come to a positive moral stance on this, especially when it comes to the portrayal of homosexuality in comedic media?
A. I don’t think that the State and secular society particularly look at this from a religious moral stance (as in is it “good or bad”). Most, I think, look at this from a civil rights stance of what is the morally right thing to do. I think the younger generation (both teenagers and young adults) are the generation that is pushing this country forward on this issue.
For the most part, the media has been a positive influence as it portrays gay characters (in film and TV). The characters are more fully defined as being more than just their sexual orientation. When I watch movies from the 60’s or 70’s that include a gay character I inwardly grimace at the offensive stereotypical portrayal that was then the norm. I think it is very similar to how African Americans were portrayed early on in film and television; as a stereotype.
The problem I see with “the church” (meaning specifically the mouthpieces of evangelism) is that they want our country to be run by laws that are based on their personal religious beliefs; with no regard to anyone else’s faith or secular opinion. Somehow they believe they are entitled to speak for God; arrogantly presuming they know what God wants and what we, as a country, need. And to them, the need is for us to believe as they do or at least conduct our lives as they do (publicly; we don’t know what goes on behind closed doors).
If you believe homosexuality is a sin because of your religious belief that’s your freedom of choice. But when you take that belief and use it as your basis to deny someone their civil rights (which should not be based on scriptures) you’ve gone too far. I’m sorry to see that, politically, evangelicals’ words and opinions have been given so much weight. It bothers me that the media, in general, even gives them a platform to spew their religious, moral beliefs. But that’s what makes for “good television” and what sells newspapers.
Obviously, this whole issue gets under my skin. I blame both the religious world and the secular world. There is no clear distinction between Church and State. The religious faction tries to push their religious beliefs on all Americans and the secular faction gives them the air space and print space to do so. Unfortunately we have given them the bullhorn; allowing their hate speaks to be louder than our cries for justice and equality.
So, to answer your question, I don’t think the State and secular society has done enough to ensure a complete separation of Church and State. They are failing at their job and “the church” is taking full advantage of that.
It has recently been reported that Utah’s new Attorney General, Sean Reyes, is willing to pay $2 million in taxpayers’ dollars to fight marriage equality; which is already established in that state. $2 million to prevent same sex couples in love from joining their lives together legally. Is the idea of gay people having equal rights and being allowed to marry really the biggest evil this country has to act against?
Think of what that $2 million could do; aside from trying to exclude gay Americans from the Constitution’s promise of equality. Feed the hungry in that State? Shelter the homeless? Train the unemployed? Provide a safe place for battered women or help in rescuing young girls forced into prostitution through human trafficking. The list could go on.
Christians love to use the acronym “WWJD” which represents the question “What Would Jesus Do?” hmm. I wonder what Jesus wo