Thursday, May 17, 2012

Conflicting Emotion: Pride in the President, Shame at the Response of Many Church Leaders

I saw this on + Jack Spong's blog.  He speaks much of what I think about President Obama's support of Gay Marriage.  

When the President of the United States, announced his support for gay marriage, the political landscape began to roil and I was filled with two quite opposite sets of emotions.
First, there were the positive feelings.  There was enormous joy when I thought of what this would mean to close friends of mine who have worked so hard, waited so patiently and risked so much to help bring this day about.  I could hear their names and see their faces parading through my mind:  Elizabeth and Barbara, Louie and Ernest, Melissa and Fran, James and Mark, Cynthia and Rebecca, Michael and William, just to name a few.  They dared to confront both their church and society by living out their love with an integrity that was awe-inspiring.  I am thankful they could see this day and grateful for their witness that moved me and others beyond our cultural homophobia into a new sense of what humanity means.

My second positive emotion was an intense sense of pride both in my nation and its elected chief executive.  Here was a man who had known the lash of prejudice in his childhood and who still had decided that he could work within the system, not outside it, to bring about change.  He held high the dream and the promise of America as a land in which people are to be judged neither by the color of their skin nor their sexual orientation, but by the quality of their character.  In a nation politically divided and dealing with vast levels of fear and negativity it was a risky decision. Yet, President Obama chose to risk his presidency on this issue.  He did not come to his decision quickly or easily.  Many elements and many people pushed him in both directions, but he made the decision positively without equivocation and he shared elements of his personal decision making processes, and something of the pain that leaders face when leadership is required. To duck or waffle is easy; to have resolute courage is hard.

My next positive emotion was amusement as I watched the pundits spin the story to justify their points of view.  The liberals were full of praise, but many of them could not resist the exhibitionism that seems to mark those who have never stood where the President stands and who will pay no price for his decision.  They chided the President for taking so long to reach his conclusion, barely concealing that congratulatory self-righteousness of the especially enlightened.  Righteousness is sometimes hard to tolerate gracefully in public places. The conservatives on the other hand were revelatory more than anything else.  Sean Hannity and many of his friends at Fox News dismissed this decision as “pure politics.”  It would loosen the coffers of Hollywood money, they said, and bring new young voters into the political process.  The revealing thing here was that the conservatives interpreted this decision as a political plus.  Having used homosexuality as a wedge issue in the campaigns of 2000 and 2004 to their advantage, they now seem to be admitting that the majority is no longer on their side.

More amusement came from those commentators who appear to identify marriage only with sex.  Senator Mitch McConnell falls into this category, but Bill O’Reilly, again of Fox News, was the star of this point of view.  He likened the President’s decision to “legalizing sex with turtles.”  It was a cruelly inappropriate analogy.  To put it crudely, if Mr. O’Reilly wants to have sex with a turtle there is no law that would prohibit him from doing so.  Sex and marriage do indeed overlap, but they are certainly not identical.  Marriage is a relationship of love, trust and caring, a relationship in which at best both partners are assisted into wholeness, making each other more capable of living, loving and being.  Sex is a function of the human body that can be practiced outside of a loving relationship, but when it is no life is expanded, no love and worth are communicated and no one becomes more whole.  Perhaps Mr. O’Reilly has not noticed that this fight has not been about turtles, but about human beings who want their love for another human being to be lived out in a relationship of exclusiveness and ultimate commitment.

My amusement is heightened when I listen to the irrationality of those whose arguments are designed to keep their prejudices from looking silly.  When gay and lesbian people seek to be included inside the experience and legal protection of marriage, how is it possible to claim that this will destroy marriage?  Abuse, infidelity and divorce destroy marriage, loving gay couples do not.  When people are justifying a dying prejudice, however, we probably should not expect rational arguments, for prejudice is sustained only in irrationality.

There was, however, another set of emotions that enveloped me as this historic announcement was made. “Shame” is the word that best describes this side of the equation.  My sense of shame was directed primarily toward those religious voices, predominantly Christian, that rushed into public with negative responses.  First, there was Billy Graham, a noble man in many ways, who is now in his 90’s and not well.  He was followed by his son, Franklin, whose only claim to fame is that he is Billy’s son.  Both issued statements that this decision by the President was in “direct opposition to the Bible.”  That is a tired, threadbare argument.  It was used to support the divine right of kings and to oppose the adoption of Magna Carta in 1215.  It was used against freeing America’s slave population and later against the dismantling of segregation.  It was used against the movement for equality for women.  It is now used against justice for homosexuals.  How arrogant to use the Bible to place God on the side of one’s prejudice!  No one, not even the fundamentalists, really takes the Bible literally.  If they did they would seek to pass laws that would make being homosexual a capital offense for which execution would be required.  That is biblical.  Execution is also called for in the Bible for willfully disobedient children, for those who worship a false god and for those who commit adultery. With that standard we could keep the electric chairs working overtime. Before one seeks to impose a literal Bible on our society one might actually want to read this sacred text.

Roman Catholic leaders in New York and Milwaukee trotted out their “homosexuals are deviant” argument and reasserted that monogamous marriage between one man and one woman was a “God-given pattern.” They appear not to know about the polygamy so prevalent in the Bible nor its patriarchal abuse. A Texas Baptist preacher was shown on a late night comedy talk show claiming that the President’s decision went against the teachings of Jesus.  Perhaps someone should tell this preacher that there is not one word about homosexuality in any of the four gospels.  No one ever recorded Jesus mentioning the subject.  Next, an African-American bishop appeared on a cable news network to perfume his homophobia with a wealth of words about his “deep concern” for children.  He feared that their educations and values would be altered and that future generations would be adversely affected.  He seemed not to realize that each of these arguments was once used to sustain segregation.  How quickly yesterday’s victims can become tomorrow’s victimizers.  Probably the most embarrassing misuse of Christianity came from Tony Perkins, a graduate of Jerry Falwell’s College, who is now president of the Family Research Center, an offshoot of James Dodson’ Focus on the Family movement.  Perkins, being interviewed by Chris Matthews on MSNBC, made statements designed to show that good parents can keep their children from becoming gay, as he claimed that he and his wife had done, a point of view that is not held by any reputable scientific or medical authority.  When his obvious ignorance was challenged he kept modifying his words in an effort to remove the offense.  It cannot, however, be removed.  Ignorance is ignorance.  Homosexuality cannot be created by improper parenting, nor can it be changed or “cured” by prayer and therapy and all those organizations identified with fundamentalist Christian bodies, that claim to do so, are fraudulent and should be prosecuted for attempting to practice medicine without a license.  The attitude of uninformed Christian people on this subject and the unwillingness of the Christian Church and most of its leaders to stand up for justice and against the oppression of gay people has been and remains the source of my deepest shame as a Christian.  It was a political leader, we need to note, not the Pope nor an Archbishop nor a spiritual leader who took the proper stand on this great moral issue of our time.

No comments: