Friday, May 19, 2006

Stepping away from the "great debate"

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. (Robert Green Ingersoll, erroneously attributed to Ferdinand Magellan)

11 comments:

Rick said...

Steve, thank you for your post. As a straight guy, I have many friends who are gay. (I will actually have four people who present me at my ordination who are gay.) I find myself doing what you suggested, defending people I love and care for with the texts.

I never thought about it as a "phobia". I've said it was fear and ignorance but the idea of "phobia" hit home.

I just made a post about God hating rare meat eaters and tattoos as a satire on the hypocrisy.

Your post hit home for me. I am just playing the same game and am no different than those I disagree with.

Thanks for pointing this out to me.

Deanne said...

"Why aren't we spending our time pointing people to Jesus, rather than focusing on this relatively small segment of the population?"

AMEN.

Remember the letter I emailed to you a loooong time ago? The woman used the example of a porn store in her neighborhood; people had fought trying to get it closed, but no luck. It DID close, though, when the owner became a Christian. Her point was: why don't we spend as much time trying to point people to Jesus (as you put it) as we do trying to fight this and that? It's something I ponder. A lot.

hazelorbs said...

very well said. a subject that is hitting close to home recently for me. thanks for speaking about it.

Natala said...

thanks so much for writing...
i really love that quote at the end, it really spoke to me today.
thanks..again.

Im A Foto Nut said...

For the sake of discussion, and in an effort to disern how I feel about this, let me comment on the following.

"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?"

In order to simply agree to disagree, we would esentually be splitting the church anyway, wouldn't we? Wouldn't congragents gravitate to churches who's leadership shared their beliefs in this matter, thus splitting the church in all but name?

I find myself agreeing with Nessan, to a point. I feel it is far better for a church to be steadfast in their beliefs, as one unified body, than to present a vasilatory "Faith Face" to the world.

Nessan is 100% correct in that this is a dogmatics issue. When Martin Luther took exception to the views of the Catholic church based on his interpritation of God's Word, he spoke up. I would hope that the Lutheran Church of today would be wise enough to understand that this is dogmatical and allow the creation of a new synod. Without naming those vocal parties heretical, and all but hunting them down to kill them.

Was Seminex so long ago that our learders do not remember standing up for their beliefs and finding it far better to remain seperate, but equal (in a sence)?

I have said, more times than I can count, that the important message is that Jesus Christ is your personal Savior, after that the rest is dogmatics. If you need to speek in tounges to believe in Salvation through Jesus Christ then Knock Yourself Out, but don't knock me, because it takes something different for me to believe that Christ is the way to Salvation.

What I fear is that the left side of the ELCA is not numerous enough to support itself, if it were to break off on it's own. Which would put us all back to were we started.

Thank you Steve for helping me sort out my feelings on this issue.

Ps. I saw Da Vinci Code last night, it was very good. Also, email me your "Snail Mail" address, I have those pictures ready to mail you.

TK said...

Steve,

thanks for your thoughts. They continue to challenge me. Please keep it coming.

tk

Anonymous said...

There's so much noise around the polarized rhetoric. I wonder if we'll ever be quiet enough, collectively, to hear the Spirit speaking Truth?

Vic de Jesus said...

Magellan quote is a fabrication

“The church says the earth is flat, but I know that it is round, for I have seen the shadow on the moon, and I have more faith in a shadow than in the church.” Ferdinand Magellan

The quote is a fabrication of Robert Green Ingersoll. It is found in his essay “Individuality.” This may be accessed at http://www.infidels.org/library/historical/robert_ingersoll/individuality.html
It’s in the fourth paragraph of his essay:

It is a blessed thing that in every age some one has had individuality enough and courage enough to stand by his own convictions, -- some one who had the grandeur to say his say. I believe it was Magellan who said, "The church says the earth is flat; but I have seen its shadow on the moon, and I have more confidence even in a shadow than in the church." On the prow of his ship were disobedience, defiance, scorn, and success.

This was first pointed out, as far as I know, by Dr. Tom Gorski in his website “Knowing What Ain’t So” at http://www.churchoffreethought.org/cgi-bin/contray/contray.cgi?DATA=&ID=000011010&GROUP=048. Dr. Gorski is one of four founders of the The North Texas Church of Freethought.

To the credit of Wikiquote it clearly points out the quote is disputed and attributes it to Ingersoll http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Talk:Ferdinand_Magellan

At http://www.animalliberationfront.com/Philosophy/Religion/Atheist%20Quotes.htm it immediately corrected the attribution: "The church says the earth is flat, but I know that it is round, for I have seen the shadow on the moon, and I have more faith in a shadow than in the church."
..........Robert Green Ingersoll (not Ferdinand Magellan)

At http://www.iidb.org/vbb/archive/index.php/t-63650.html they already were able to determine that it was Ingersoll who in fact said the words he attributes to Magellan. “Regarding a flat earth, please note that Ingersoll used a quote attributed to Ferdinand Magellan (1480-1521), the Portuguese and Spanish explorer: ‘The Church says that the earth is flat, but I know that it is round, for I have seen the shadow on the moon, and I have more faith in a shadow than in the Church.’ Ingersoll uses this quote to make a point: ‘The trouble with most people is, they bow to what is called authority.’ Ingersoll's thrust in this article is that ‘It is the duty of each and every one to maintain his individuality’ and ‘There can be nothing more utterly subversive of all that is really valuable than the suppression of honest thought--No man, worthy of the form he bears, will at the command of church or state solemnly repeat a creed his reason scorns.’ I agree with Ingersoll. If you do not, that is certainly your privilege.” The author assumes Ingersoll got it from an authentic source. But I have read the primary sources on Magellan—eyewitness accounts by Antonio Pigafetta, Gines de Mafra, Francisco Albo, The Genoese Pilot, Martinho de Aiamonte, Sebastian Elcano—nowhere is there such a statement from Magellan. Ingersoll most definitely cites no authority.

Vicente Calibo de Jesus
ginesdemafra@gmail.com

Steve F. said...

Vincente, I appreciate the scholarly way that you demolish the validity of the Magellan quote.

The simple fact, however, is that the reason this quote gets repeated so much is not that Magellan said it - but that we all know (a) the Church actually asserted that the earth was flat, and declared it a point of doctrine for a long time, and (b) they were dead wrong when they did it. Whether Magellan knew it or not, or said it or not, really doesn't matter.

I'll change the quote to show the Ingersoll authorship, and the erroneous attribution to Magellan.

But the Church was wrong about the world being flat - and I believe with all my heart that they are dead wrong about what they are doing to gay and lesbian individuals in the name of religiosity, too.

If you want to talk more about the Ingersoll quote, you can email me directly. Thanks.

Vic de Jesus said...

Ingersoll? Magellan? Flat earth?

The point I'm raising is the truth of the authorship of that quote.

It started as a lie, and its being repeated a million times will not make it a valid not to say truthful assertion of Magellan's being author of the quote. Unless of course you espouse Goebbels axiom.

Did the Church really insist on the earth being flat as a matter of doctrine? The sphericity of the Earth was for thousands of years already written about and as late as the 15th century Michael of Rhodes wrote a treatise on it.

I think what it stood pat on as dogma was the notion the Earth was center of the Universe.

But my real point is: Ingersoll fabricated that quote. And for the rest of us to blind ourselves from that fact, ostrichlike, is not exactly a liberated mind's way to solve a problem of truthfulness.

GraceFilledDevotion said...

1 John 4:18 "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love."

Dude, I just wrote a devo on that verse and then I stumbled across your blog. What you said really touched and challenged me. My personal policy on homosexuals has been to just accept them as they are. But I like how your piece encourages us all to take it up a notch. As a fellow ragamuffin, I realize who I am. My personal darkness far outstrips something as simple as sexual orientation.

I really hope the day comes when we can welcome and accept everybody, regardless of who they are and what they do, the same way God accepts each of us. Jesus broke bread with prostitutes, thugs, and other social outcasts. What excludes homosexuals from this list? Beautiful man, beautiful.