Friday, May 19, 2006

Stepping off the "great debate" train

Over here at Paradoxy, there is a fairly positive discussion of the infamous Levitical texts related to homosexuality. And part of me really wants to weigh in on that discussion, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. It's not that I don't think people should speak to these passages. It's just that I've grown a wee bit tired of discussing the same six or seven texts (depending on whose list you use), and whether and how they are meant to exclude gays and lesbians from heaven.

Part of the reason I've tired of the debate is because the religious right insist on cherry-picking the Biblical commandments they want to enforce. It's the same old discussion - which parts of the Holiness Code are you going to enforce? (In fact, I need to post that wonderful list of the 10 questions about the holiness code we should all ask the religious right...I'll do that in this post immediately below.)

Another part of the reason I don't want to ante up to the discussion is that in the end, it's mostly futile. First, homophobia is a phobia - by definition, it's an irrational fear. One of the wisest things I've heard about combating homophobia since I've been out is this gay truism: You will never be able to logically or rationally argue someone out of a belief or fear that is, by definition, illogical and irrational. A war of words won't transform 99.44% of anti-gay forces, because they aren't responding to words, they're responding to fears and boogeymen.

But even more important is this truth: in the end, both the homo-haters and the homo-supporters appeal to different parts of the same book to justify their attitudes. This is at the heart of a short but extremely useful book by one of the few sane ELCA voices in this discussion: Craig Nessan's Many Members, One Body: Committed Same-Gender Relationships and the Mission of the Church. Nessan is a pastor and theologian at Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, IA, and he wrote this book (at least in part) to help inform the discussions concerning homosexuality and same-sex ordination at the ELCA national assembly in 2005 (and beyond, since nothing was decided in 2005...)

Nessan suggests that the Old Testament writers had no knowledge of sexual orientation, versus sexual preference - any more than they understood astrophysics when they wrote that the earth was the center of the universe. So the concept of a created, inborn desire for the same sex was impossible for Biblical writers to understand. And the concept of committed same-sex relationships was an impossibility in a world where property and the social order depended on siring male heirs.

You see, I will agree with Levitical writers and with Paul - from a "survival of the people of God" standpoint, hetero men jumping the tracks and having sex with men, back then, was a bad idea - for the same reason that risking eating improperly cooked pork was a bad idea. The "people of God" weren't gonna last long that way.

But what the religious right refuse to acknowledge is the fact that for a number of men and women, they have not "exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones" (Romans 1:26) because they never had those "natural" desires to begin with. Those men and women never "abandoned natural relations" with the opposite sex - for them, those desires were simply absent, from the beginning.

Trying to enforce those rules on homosexuals today makes no more sense than having church officials persecuting NASA employees for saying the earth revolves around the sun. We simply know better, now. And the conditions that threatened the survival of the nomadic tribes of Israel simply no longer apply.

The trouble, Nessan says, is that both sides of the debate are appealing to different parts of the Bible, and both hold the Bible in esteem (though certainly to different standards), what you have is two mutually-exclusive hermaneutics - two completely irreconcilable ways of understanding the Bible and "those passages" in particular. And so both sides stand on either side of the Biblical chasm, shouting at the other side, who could care less about what's being said.

Nessan suggests that that at the level of "love God, and love your neighbors," both sides are essentially "one body, with many members." He makes the pitch that, if we aren't going to split the church over caring for the poor, and we aren't going to split the church over abortion, just war, divorce, hospitality to strangers and/or any of a hundred other topics that Jesus felt were more central to following him, then why should we even consider splitting the Body of Christ over homosexuality? Why can't we simply agree to disagree, as we have with these other topics? Why aren't we spending our time pointing people to Jesus, rather than focusing on this relatively small segment of the population?

Unfortunately, once again, this is a rational approach to an irrational fear. And the religious right has built up those irrational fears through outright lies and half-truths, turning gay men into predatory monsters bent on overthrowing the social order of straight Christianity. They need an enemy, and they've targeted gays and lesbians as the focus of their ire.

So I'll encourage my friends to carry on the discussion - when they find the occasional Christian who really want to hear facts an understand, rather than just shout at the "homos" and "fags." For me, I will sign up with the author of this great quote:

The Church says that the Earth is flat. But I know that it is round, because I have seen the shadow on the moon, and I have more faith in a shadow than in the Church. (Ferdinand Magellan)

Ten questions for the religious right

1) When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord (Lev 1:9). The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

2) I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

3) I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness (Lev 15:19-24). The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

4) Lev. 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?

5) I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?

6) A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an Abomination (Lev 11:10), it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. (After all, have you seen what whole shellfish look like?) Can you settle this?

7) Lev 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?

8) Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev 19:27. How should they die?

9) I know from Lev 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

10) My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? (Lev 24:10-16) Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Getting back in the saddle

I can't believe it's been more than a month since I've posted here. Yeesh.

I dunno why I stopped posting here - it's not like the "journey out" has stopped or I have somehow decided to go back into the closet. Anything but, in fact.

I have been on quite the self-discovery time - lots of reading, lots of reflection, and yet lots of bouts of deep "what the hell does it matter if I'm out?" kinds of thoughts. There's probably lots to write about on that topic - but I think it's been part of a larger struggle with where my life is going, and what it will look like in the future. Certainly my work, and the enormous drain it has put on my life, was a big portion of that - and the good news is, I'm forcing myself to be more reasonable about the work-a-day portion of my life.

But I have to admit that there have been days - like today - when simply suiting up and showing up at the hallowed halls of The Job have been, well, a massive effort. I love the people, I love the challenge of some of what I do - but there is a sizeable component of my day-to-day work that I just really would rather not do. And when I get home, I don't want to do much of anything else. Cleaning, dishes, that kind of crap has been relegated to the "yeah, fine, who cares" region of my psyche.

I'm still struggling with that sense of depression - but having tried anti-depressants and found them desperately wanting (they work wonders for lots of folks, but did nothing for me) I have to believe the road out of my funk is going to be found in physical and spiritual therapy and healing.

I've found a whole bunch of new muses - and I started to write all about them, but realized quickly that this blog-post would turn into an epistle (about the size of the Biblical book of Romans), so that will have to wait. A quick snapshot of my reading list, though, shows the breadth of my blessings (and my expenditures with Amazon!):

-Wounded Prophet: A Portrait of Henri J.M. Nouwen by Michael Ford;
-Homosexuality in the Church: Both Sides of the Debate, edited by Jeffrey Siker;
three books by Chris Glaser:
-Uncommon Calling: A Gay Christian's Struggle to Serve the Church,
-Coming Out As Sacrament, and
-Coming Out To God: Prayers for Lesbians and Gay Men, Their Families and Friends;
-The Lord Is My Shepherd and He Knows I'm Gay, by Rev. Troy Perry (founder of the Metropolitan Community Churches);
-Stranger at the Gate: To Be Gay and Christian in America by Mel White, former ghost-writer to many conservative Christians and now one of the directors of SoulForce; and
-Is the Homosexual My Neighbor? A Positive Christian Response, the classic 1978 text by Letha Dawson Scanzoni and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott.

The preface to Is the Homosexual My Neighbor? is worth the cost of the book by itself. Letha Dawson Scanzoni is a straight woman, and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott is a lesbian, and the preface tells how the book grew out of the conflicted feelings each had when Mollenkott came out to Scanzoni while working on another book project.

Mollenkott "remembered the color draining from Letha's face in shock over the revelation, the news having been a total surprise" (remember, this book was first published in 1978, when being out was still pretty new stuff). Virginia mentioned her friend's expression in a letter, which Letha took exception to (thinking that Virginia felt rejected, when there had been no intention of it). Virginia's words in a letter back to Letha are instructive:
...for me it is a dreadful thing to know that I am a person who can cause such trauma to a good and decent and loving Christian person. I did not say, nor have I ever thought, that you went pale in condemnation of me. It is the fact that I have to turn you pale at all that is distressing to me...

...No matter WHY you went pale, to me it is awful to be the sort of person who has to deliver such psychic blows to another Christian in the process of being honest about who I am. I was talking about my identity, my wish that I could be acceptable without trauma to others...I was trying to express my inner agony at being a person who is not acceptable until after another person I admire has gone through all kinds of painful changes in order to be able to accept me without deserting their moral standards...I was saying that I wish I had been created acceptable. It isn't your fault I was not.
Those few words really crystallized my own internal struggles about coming-out. I've come to believe that I, by myself and by God's grace, am acceptable. But I've also come to the realization that more than a few of my friends (especially those in the church) probably had a similar reaction (though I haven't known, since many of my "outings" have been by mail or email). And I have to admit that I resent having to break down the barrier of inculturation and prejudice that has grown up thanks to the religious right and others, supposedly in the name of God.

[:::end mini-rant:::]

This weekend is going to be insane. Kind of as bookends are two events that my emplooyer is helpng to sponsor. One of the reasons I was drawn to The Job is that there is a considerable effort on the part of my employer to openly support GLBT causes. As a result, there is actually a workplace PrideAlliance employee group that has more than 200 members, and a co-worker said, "Why aren't you a PrideAlliance member?" So I got on the mailing list, and about 2 days later, we got two different invitations.

The Out&Equal 2006 Workplace Summit will be in Chicago in September, and my employer is one of the sponsors of the conference. There is a reception this coming Friday evening - at the Hyatt Regency Chicago, of all places - for the sponsors and organizers, and my employer has invited members of the PrideAlliance to attend. There will be boring speeches by folks from Da Mayor's office, but it should be fun nonetheless. My first gay social event!

And then on Sunday, The Employer is treating us to a fundraiser for the Center on Halsted, the gay community center that will open up in Boystown in early 2007. The fundraiser is a champagne brunch at Sidetrack, a gay video bar known for their Sunday afternoon show-tunes. We'll see what happens there...I know enough to stay away from the champagne, but as Tom & Damien pointed out to me, it will be a fabulous chance to mix and mingle and just see gay life away from the Queer As Folk stereotypes.I don't know any of the 8 folks who will attend (they're all from our Up North office) but it should be fun, nonetheless.

In between, the good/sad news is that Michael and Damien's move to Wisconsin Dells will finalize Saturday at noon. In a fit of insanity, I'm going to follow their rent-a-truck up to the Dells, just to help them with the last few big pieces of furniture, and to see their new place up in the Land of Ten Thousand WaterParks. But I'll have to scoot pretty early on Sunday AM in order to get back for the brunch.

Several people have questioned my sanity at a four-hour drive on each end of that trip in less than 24 hours. But I love to just get out and drive, at least once we get outside of the city of Chicago (especially since I got the iPod - listening to some of my music collection that has just been collecting dust). And I never have made it up to Tom's farm during the construction phase, so it seems right to get up there this weekend, even if it means I'll need a weekend to recover from the weekend (especially before Hell Week at The Job).

That's it...I've got to get to bed - trash day is just a few short hours away But I want, and need, to keep my thoughts flowing as I keep on going down this river of gay life. And this is a good start!