Monday, April 30, 2012

Fight Fire With Water

It has been an eventful few days in here in Pacific Northwest Christian-land. First, an activist group identifying itself as “The Angry Queers” vandalized the Portland campus of Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church, breaking windows and damaging church property.

And, Dan Savage, the visionary behind the anti-bullying “It Gets Better” campaign, delivered a speech in Seattle to high school students in which he said that the Bible contains “bullshit.” This prompted a handful of Christian students to walk out, which Savage then described as a “pansy-assed move.”

Seriously, WTF, people?

I’ll first dispense with the massive irony that a gay-rights advocate is using the term “pansy” as an insult. Dan Savage apologized for it yesterday, but he simply said it was wrong, which to me is wholly inadequate. There’s a reason why calling someone a pansy is wrong, and that reason is because “pansy” is a derogatory slur for a gay man.

This is a grown man whose magnum opus is a campaign against the bullying of gay and lesbian youths, and the first thing he reaches for when describing the youths who walked out on his speech IS A GAY SLUR. And then he doesn’t even acknowledge that in his apology.

I won’t say that Savage’s words are unforgivable, but they are shocking, and his apology feels a bit disingenuous.

That having been said…I’m still trying to figure out this entirely false dichotomy of either the Bible is “bullshit” or I have to be anti-gay as a Christian, because I still believe in the Bible as the Word of God.

And it isn’t that I deny that Levitical law addresses same-sex relations between two men. Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 are in Scripture.  It's that I much prefer to actually tackle those verses head-on than simply pretend like they aren’t there. There’s responsible exegesis involved in understanding why those verses are phrased the way they are (to say nothing of Paul’s own writings on the topic in Romans 1), and we do ourselves a disservice when we either gloss over them entirely or adopt a “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it!” approach. The way we have found around this conundrum, though, I think, is that we each have our own “canon within a canon,” that is, our own favorite verses, stories, passages, and lessons from the Bible (if you think I've sang this song before, it's because I have!).

So, if I agree with one thing in Dan Savage’s apology post, it is that we all do in fact read the Bible selectively. And it’s a valid critique. If we outlaw same-sex marriage, so the critique goes, then we should outlaw the consumption of ostrich, because both same-sex relations and eating ostrich are called abominations in Levitical law, 18:22 and 11:13-16 respectively (yes, we eat ostrich. It is apparently quite tasty). Savage’s critique here centers around Biblical rules regarding slavery and divorce, but still, it is the same basic point.

In other words, we’ve done a pretty good job of making a mountain out of a very small molehill, and in doing so, we commit the sin of the scribes and Pharisees of “neglect(ing) the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.” (Matthew 23:23, NRSV)

I am reminded of the recent crackdown that the Vatican announced on the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR, the representative organization of American Catholic nuns) for being more concerned with alleviating poverty than with denouncing abortion and gay marriage. Part of this crackdown will involve a five-year effort to reboot the LCWR’s priorities. Imagine if those five years, the human hours and monetary costs, were used instead on spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ and ministering to the poor instead.

Similarly, imagine if the thousands of dollars the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints spent on passing Proposition 8 in California instead went to their mission efforts and charitable works.

So hopefully, you can see why I feel like the passion for fighting marriage equality that many Christian churches and organizations exhibit is misplaced.

Which brings us to the vandalism perpetrated against Mars Hill Portland. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of Mark Driscoll. But vandalizing his church is just as much a form of bullying as anything else he has done towards women or gays and lesbians. Protest him, publicly criticize him, hope that people stop listening to him, whatever. But taking retribution to this level more than just crosses the line, it pole vaults over it.

No matter how hurt the Angry Queers feel by Mark Driscoll, there’s a saying about turning the other cheek that comes to mind. That hurt is just as misplaced as the passion for fighting marriage equality is that I talked about just a few paragraphs above.  Both are painful.

In a season two episode of the television series The West Wing, President Josiah Bartlet (played by the venerable Martin Sheen) takes an environmentalist group to task for not condemning instances of eco-terrorism, saying that friends are honest with each other, and that moderates should take responsibility for criticizing extremism. In that vein, these two instances are not representative the greater equality community, and they should not in any way be taken as such.

So…this is me trying as humbly as possible to be honest, as an ally and as a Christian, to the same-sex equality community (GLBTQ folks and allies alike): please, remember your humanity. And remember the humanity of the people on the other side.

Because such words and actions do not alienate simply your opponents (or outright endanger them)—they also alienate people like me, someone who feels called to love and welcome gays and lesbians precisely because I am a Christian, not despite me being a Christian.

Name-calling is not the answer.

Violence is not the answer.

Indeed, fighting fire with more fire seldom is the answer. There is a reason why we fight fire with water instead.

Yours in Christ,

No comments:

Post a Comment