Should Christian Leaders Be Made To Perform Same-Sex Weddings?

Since the wave of marriage equality first began to sweep the globe, many Christian leaders have expressed concern over what this might mean for them. Many worry that the state (whichever state or nation they hail from) may impose upon them a legal obligation to perform same-sex weddings against their convictions. It is indeed true that in some places this has happened, but by and large it hasn’t been an issue … until now. People are starting to call for this, citing discrimination, and a defeated bill in the U.S. state of Georgia this week would have protected against such a law. The question I wish to discuss today is whether or not the state has any business making Christian leaders perform same-sex marriages at all?

It may surprise you when I say that I am strongly against making church leaders perform same-sex weddings. Allow me to explain.

Among the many values that I espouse, separation of church and state is high on my list of priorities. The church is, of course, subject to certain laws (though not enough in my opinion as I feel they should be paying taxes) – governance is, after all, the role of government. But when it comes to matters of faith, religious conviction, doctrine, and things of that nature, well, we have the protection of religious freedoms for a reason. Now, I am all for fighting against the church. I criticize Christianity, and a number of churches in most of my writing, and I have good reason for it. They have no right to influence us in the public square unless we are all afforded the same opportunity, but their practices within their houses of worship are some of the many things freedom of religion is meant to protect. As distasteful and hurtful as their refusal to accept same-sex couples is, it does not fall under the category of religious practice that has to be banned for obvious reasons (ie: human sacrifice, sharia law, etc). When we do ban such things as a church refusing a couple wishing to marry, we venture onto shaky ground. A precedent for restricting freedoms is set, and that puts us all at risk.

Marriage is NOT a religious institution. It is a legal institution in which the marriage license, at least the one that is binding, is issued by the state. As a structure responsible for ensuring free and equal protections under the law, it is incumbent upon the state to legalize and legitimize marriage equality. Not so for the church. While I think that churches that do not perform or recognize same-sex marriages are wrong and should be confronted about their discriminatory beliefs and principles, having the state mandate their actions in this regard would be an actual violation of religious freedom.

At this point in a growing number of nations, marriage equality is the law of the land. Same-sex couples can get married the same as heterosexual couples can, and enjoy the legal benefits that go along with that. There are also a small number of Christian denominations and churches that do believe in marriage equality. The United and Presbyterian denominations, some churches and dioceses within the Anglican/Episcopalian communion, and a scattered number of others, for example. LGBTQ+ Christians who wish to get married in a church can make that happen, and I do hope to see more churches open their doors to them in the coming years. But none of this happened through legal mandate. The churches that solemnize same-sex marriage decided to do so on their own. This is what has to happen in places where church and state are recognized as two different entities with very different roles.

If things were different, if the church issued legally valid marriage licenses for example, I would feel very differently about this. And it’s not that I think churches should be given a pass on their exclusion. It’s just that marriage equality as a matter of law, is a legal issue. Many churches believe and do things that I and others are disgusted by, but they have the freedom to do those things because we have freedom of (and from) religion. I wouldn’t want to live in a country where this was not the case. Passing legislation that makes Christian leaders perform religious ceremonies that go against their religious convictions is, in my opinion, a step too far. Such a restriction on religious freedom effectively puts my own freedoms at risk, and that is something I am not prepared to accept.

 

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The Pope Met Kim Davis: What Matters Is The Impact

I was waiting for confirmation from the Vatican before saying anything, and now that they’ve confirmed it, it’s time to talk about the Pope’s recent visit with Kim Davis. If by now you don’t know who Kim Davis is, I recommend both reading my September 5th post “Kim Davis Broke The Law,” and doing a quick Google search for her name. This woman is a hero to the evangelical right, and a pariah to the secular left. She is a polarizing figure to say the least, a beacon of God-inspired exclusion. She has been marketed as a martyr, embraced by Mike Huckabee, and now Kim Davis seems to have found favour with the most influential Christian leader on Earth – Pope Francis.

Pope Francis has done a lot of good. He refuses to live lavishly, he shuns the rich to eat with the poor, he is a champion against our destruction of the planet, and he was surprisingly impressive when addressing the U.S. Congress on his recent visit. He is also a skilled hypocrite. Very recent exceptions aside, the Pope panders to his nearest available base. He eats with the poor but does little to help them. He said “who am I to judge,” and then slammed the LGBTQ+ community at a Vatican-run interfaith International Colloquium On The Complimentarity Of Man And Woman. He is, quite frankly, very similar to another well-known Catholic figurehead – talking out of both sides of his mouth while holding to the values and ideals that keep those he claims to care about in the same desperate situation. Francis is nothing new, he is merely a deceptively polished version of the same charlatanry the papacy was built on. His meeting with Kim Davis should come as no surprise, but the impact of it is worthy of discussion.

Now, it should be noted that Charles P. Pierce wrote a piece for esquire.com, published just yesterday, effectively arguing that the Pope may have been swindled into meeting with Davis; an attempt by his enemies within the Vatican to discredit him. Mr. Pierce is not the only one suggesting a set-up here, and I must admit his argument is plausible. That being said, for the reasons stated above, I believe it naive to just give the Pope a free pass. Meeting with Kim Davis is not unbelievable given his loyalty to traditional doctrine, and he may very well agree with the many Christians who praise her ridiculous behaviour as heroic. Given the likelihood of Francis agreeing to meet with her had he known the situation, the issue of whether or not he actually knew and was tricked into it is irrelevant.

On to the important part of this story – the impact. Pope Francis’ approval numbers are through the roof. Catholics, evangelicals, members of most Christian denominations, even some Atheists, like this man. What he says carries a fair amount of weight. So what is a 10-year-old child supposed to think when the man they have been told to revere meets with a woman who is seeking to deny that child the same rights and freedoms as the heterosexual cis majority? Even if Francis never utters a public word about Davis, his actions speak loudly enough. The LGBTQ+ children dragged to mass every week learn that the Pope stands against them, the church stands against them, and their parents tell them to listen to the Pope and the church. In this childhood scenario, the world is not safe. These damaging influences on the developing minds of young people more often than not cause self-loathing, fear, hatred, bullying, too often suicide, and fatal attacks. We know this because it’s not a hypothetical. It keeps happening. Religious and familial influence play a huge part in who we become, and when that influence tells you that who you are is wrong, the impact is devastating.

It doesn’t matter if the Pope knew about Kim Davis, and despite the noise being made about what might have been said at the private meeting, the words spoken don’t matter either. What matters is perception, and the perception here is that the figurehead of the Roman Catholic church had a private meeting with one of America’s most notorious homophobes. The message sent is that the Vatican approves of Davis’ actions, and although not surprising to some of us, the impact this can have on LGBTQ+ Catholics is something we should be concerned about.

The message I wish to give to LGBTQ+ Catholics is this: There is nothing wrong with you. Kim Davis is wrong. Pope Francis is wrong. The doctrine that dehumanizes and oppresses you is wrong. Many of us understand the difficulty reconciling your identity with what the church teaches. We’ve been there, and we can help if you reach out and ask for it. You’re never alone in this. Whatever your identity, no matter who you are, Outspoken Ally has people who can help at the email address on the ‘About’ page. We can also put you in touch with other organizations that are on your side.

You don’t have to listen to the Pope. What’s wrong is wrong, no matter who says it.

 

3 Quick Points To Improve Our Approach

To my LGBTQ+ and Allied readers: Please accept this as constructive advice. To my evangelical Christian readers: Please feel free to read my outline of the approach I wish to see LGBTQ+ rights advocates take. I am interested in opening dialog with an understanding of where you are coming from. We are not angry rabid animals as many of you seem to think.

As a former evangelical Christian with an education in cultural anthropology and religious studies, I advocate for social equality and LGBTQ+ rights as ‘Outspoken Ally.’ Understanding religion and its effects is my life’s work, and I advocate by confronting the religious foundations of anti-LGBTQ+ ideals. As we push forward and gain tremendous ground in the fight for understanding and acceptance, I feel that many opportunities for discussion are being lost, and this is due to the fact that we can’t engage with what we don’t quite grasp. Traditional religious doctrine, in this case traditional Christian doctrine, is ingrained into our culture. North American society was built, after all, with Christian teaching in mind. Our laws, traditions, holidays, our collective worldview, and our cultural norms all share a Christian foundation. This also applies to the way we view difference, and in the case of the LGBTQ+ community, difference is both misunderstood and wrongly condemned by churches who adhere to a perceived 11th commandment: thou shalt not be gay.

Understanding religiously fuelled exclusion is vitally important if we are to confront it. We can’t just ignore the issue, or at least the cause of the issue, and saying “you’re just an asshole” does nothing but make the problem worse. If we are to achieve equality – true equality, and true acceptance – we have to meet our opponents on their level. Given that LGBTQ+ phobia is firmly grounded in religious teaching, that level IS religious teaching. The problem is that very few of us understand, and many just don’t care, why so many Christians feel the way they do; and why they fight so vehemently against a level of acceptance that should be of obvious benefit to everyone. There are three quick points that we should all keep in mind when confronted with comments like “it’s a sin,” “it’s a choice,” “it’s unnatural,” etc. We should also remember that there is more to it. This is just a start, Christianity is surprisingly complex, but these three things are a good baseline for understanding.

#1: They mean well

When an evangelical Christian says ” I don’t agree with homosexuality, it’s a sin,” we immediately think “what a jerk.” In many cases, though, they actually mean well. The Bible explicitly tells believers that they are to witness, to spread the gospel, and this means pointing out the sins of others so they can know God and be saved. It comes out as hate of course, and we’re right to take them to task for that, but we must do it with the understanding that they have no idea what impact their words have. For me, understanding this causes a reaction of calm rather than anger. There is a lot of dishonesty on the evangelical side to get angry at, but if I know the person I am speaking with genuinely doesn’t understand what they are talking about, I feel sorry for them. They have been taken in by a false doctrine. Empathy for their situation makes me proceed with more calm than aggression.

#2: They either don’t understand the Bible, what homosexuality IS, or both

There is an entire page on this site titled “Think,” dedicated to discussing apparent biblical condemnations of homosexuality. The reason I wrote it was that few Christians understand the culture in which the books of the Bible were written. More importantly, they don’t understand what homosexuality, or any identifying term other than their own, actually IS. It’s important to know this, because if we know they mean well, and that they don’t even understand the thing they are condemning, then we can take it upon ourselves to educate. Just be sure that when you attempt to confront someone with factual information about LGBTQ+ issues, you come across with empathy. Too many of us attack, and come across as … well … jerks.

#3: They will be quick to defend

Even after calmly and rationally explaining things, many people will still feel attacked, and that spurs a rush to defend themselves. This can be very frustrating, because it feels like you’ve wasted your time and breath. The important thing to remember as they fly into a diatribe is to keep your composure. Show them that you aren’t here to fight, you’re here to talk. I rarely get into heated arguments anymore, because nothing gets accomplished. If my opponent gets loud, I let them shout, and I speak again once they calm down.

We’re all quick to defend when we feel that a personal aspect of our identity is under fire, and that’s how deep it goes for many in the anti-gay camp. A lot of emphasis is put on homosexuality at the pulpit, especially in the last decade, to the point where bias around it has come to be viewed as a vital tenet of faith. The more personal something becomes, the more defensive people become of it. It’s not okay to defend exclusion, bigotry, or misinformation, but understanding where the defensive stance is coming from makes a big difference. Understanding informs us on how to proceed with pointing out the exclusion, bigotry, and misinformation, that church teaching has blinded them to.

Above all, be kind and be honest. There is no need to intentionally offend, no need to call people names, no need to be uncivil. We are victims of exclusion and hate, and they are victims of false teaching. I get very angry at times, as is natural when you deal with these issues daily, but I recognize the importance of introspection. I have to keep myself in check, constantly think about what I write, and about the arguments I present. Everything is carefully considered, and although I say things that are intended to stir emotion, there are some lines I just won’t cross. Understanding these three things helps me stay within those boundaries. Most evangelical Christians mean well, but they don’t understand the Bible, what homosexuality IS, or both, and they will be quick to defend what they see as an attack on their faith.

Now, this call for civility may bother some in my own camp. I get that. I certainly don’t mean to say that everything we’re doing is wrong. Culture and law are moving toward equality because of our efforts, and that’s no small feat. I chose to write this because Christian news anchors, interviewers, radio hosts, and other influencers are very adamantly talking about how we are militant, angry, vicious, and insulting. They make up lies and present them as truth, and their work leads ultimately to suicides, beatings, and murders. We have every right to be pissed off, but when we stoop to their level, it gives them more to talk about. The legal issues and overall cultural discussion are being dealt with effectively, but those of us on the ground, so to speak, have a voice also. It’s very important that we use that voice as effectively as possible.

Matthew 19:3-6

Listening to sermons is a valuable research tool for anybody who wants to stay current on what various evangelical churches are teaching. I listen to sermons on homosexuality at almost every opportunity, and recently I’ve noticed a shift in many of the arguments. While the traditional approach has been to use Leviticus, Romans, and a few other scattered references to say everything from “it’s an abomination” to “we’re all sinners,” more and more preachers are opting to use Matthew 19. It makes sense for a Christian to look at what Christ said on any given topic, they are after all ‘Christ-ians.’ In the case of marriage, though, the idea that Jesus had anything at all to say about homosexuality is quite frankly offensive. Not to political sensitivities, but offensive to our human proclivity for honesty. To read into the text what isn’t there, and to use that to manipulate a congregation of believers, is dishonest at best.

Matthew 19:3-6 (NIV) ~ Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator made them ‘male and female,’ and said, ‘for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh?’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Let’s unpack this. The Pharisees asked Jesus a very specific question. “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife …?” The question was specific to heterosexual marriage. Jesus’ answer was specific to the question. This was a moment in which Jesus was being tested by his detractors to see if he knew the law regarding man, wife, and divorce. To hijack the passage and hold it up as an example of Christ’s condemnation of homosexuality is absurd.

It is argued that by referencing Genesis, Jesus was re-enforcing man-woman relations as the God ordained purpose for human sexuality. What this argument fails to realize is that the whole man-woman thing is strictly for procreation, the perpetuation of our species. Physically, the male and female sexes together are capable of reproduction, and for the majority of humans, sexual orientation facilitates that. Genesis is not insistent, however, that everyone be heterosexual. The existence of a natural way to reproduce has nothing to do with natural ways of showing affection or natural ways of enjoying intimate pleasure. These are often interconnected, but quite different things. Genesis is silent on this, it speaks only to relationships allowing for procreation and says nothing about relationships in which procreation isn’t possible. Otherwise we would have to consider relationships in which the couple is beyond their child-bearing years, not to mention young couples who cannot bear children. Going with the logic of the “God created them man and woman to multiply” argument, these too would be abominations.

Now, whenever it’s said that Genesis does not speak of homosexuality, somebody will inevitably bring up Genesis 19 (the story of Sodom and Gomorrah). That’s a topic for a different post, but there’s a discussion about it on our “Think” page. Regardless of what people think the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is about, a careful examination of ancient Middle East culture and scripture debunks the idea that the cities were destroyed because of homosexuality. There were a multitude of legal violations going on, to use the story as a scapegoat to justify anti-gay bias is too simplistic a reading.

Sermonizing on Matthew 19 is a desperate attempt to justify exclusionary bias. One by one, the evangelical and apologetic arguments have failed, and now we have preachers twisting and spinning the supposed words of Jesus of Nazareth into something that isn’t even there. To a faithful congregation, the idea that Jesus had a deeper meaning to his response is easy to believe, but such meaning would have been unnecessary and lost on the Israelites of 2,000 years ago. It must be said that Jesus was silent on the topic of same-sex relationships, and those who say otherwise must be corrected. There is simply no Christ-based argument to be made.

To our evangelical friends – use your best arguments against us, but avoid Matthew 19. When all of your arguments fail, which they have and will continue to do, join us in accepting and welcoming people for who they are; and not who you perceive them to be. I promise you will find a much happier life in embracing one another.

The Myth Of The Progressive Christian

For decades, the line of evangelicals regarding homosexuality has been pretty hard and fast. “It’s wrong, God says it’s wrong, that’s all there is to it.” This is still a common view, but there are some Christians who are starting to change their tune in favour of something that, at first glance, appears to be more progressive. Lately I’ve been hearing a new explanation – “I suppose people may be born with a predisposed attraction to the same-sex. Sin, however, is sin. Being gay may not be wrong, but God says acting on it is. I love homosexual people, I have friends that are gay, and I want them to know the love of Christ. We’re all sinners, their sin is no worse than mine.” I listen to sermons with this message all the time, and every time I can hear the approving “amen” of a congregation who fancies their preacher a progressive guy.

First of all, let me just say that their ARE progressive Christians. There are those who don’t just tolerate, or “love the sinner hate the sin,” but actually accept. Those Christians are not the subject of this piece. Second, for the Christians at issue here: I know you think you have gay friends, but those who are kind to you despite your disapproval of who they are, are being nice. Nobody likes to feel that they must hide or minimize who they are in front of those who claim to enjoy their company, and shame on you for having the audacity to call them “friend.” Human beings deserve better than that.

I call this the ‘Myth of the Progressive Christian’ because that’s exactly what it is. The preachers proclaiming this new homophobic explanation are proud of themselves for taking what they think is a more socially progressive stance. It’s nothing new, though. This is the same damn thing, it’s ‘love the sinner hate the sin 2.0.’ Accepting the fact that some people are born gay is designed to make the idea that they shouldn’t have a relationship seem less dastardly. How loving, to say that these people are born gay but that Jesus both loves and condemns them. What a bastion of acceptance where you are told that you were born broken, but God can change you.

Now, to be fair, we’re all told that we were born broken. Born worthy of hell thanks to original sin, deserving of eternal torment for the indiscretion of our ancestors, yet given the gift of salvation by our loving God. That we are all sinners is part of this ‘progressive’ message, and it’s completely misleading. The ‘sins’ of the majority are not put on equal footing with the ‘sins’ of the minority. If they were viewed as equal, those who make placards and protest on the street corner would have to also march back and forth in front of their own homes.

There is nothing progressive about passing condemnation off as love. It is altogether dishonest, hypocritical, and yes, hateful. A progressive stance, or better yet a correct stance, would be to accept that the Bible is NOT a textbook, that the church no longer follows any of the 613 scriptural laws save for 10 (11 if you count “thou shalt not be gay”), and to accept that diversity is, if you are so inclined, God-given. THAT is progressive, THAT is correct. You may accept this, or you may reject it and choose to be in this world but not of it. Choosing the latter is a shame, considering the fact that humanity has a lot of love to give. It pains me to see people marginalizing themselves over a rejection of others. What misery, what sadness. 

Be mindful of what you hear on Sunday mornings. Ask yourself if it’s right, if it’s just, if it’s loving. Choose love. Do not believe the myth of the progressive Christian.            

    

If You Think It’s A Choice, I Feel Sorry For You

I thought we were finally past this, but it seems that the idea that LGBTQ people are LGBTQ by choice is still alive and well. I must admit, I am astonished at the level of ignorance it takes to believe that, with everything we now know about the natural world. In the year 2015, you have to deliberately deny truth in order to believe that people choose to be ridiculed, disowned, and marginalized. After all, that’s what LGBTQ people go through daily, and I would question the mental health of anybody who would choose to be treated in such a way. No, my fundamentalist friends, LGBTQ people have not chosen their orientations or identities, nor are they disordered or broken, nor are they spiritually corrupt. They were born, and they are just fine the way they are. Your cries to the contrary do nothing but cause hurt, suffering, and death.

We see same-sex pairings in virtually every mammalian species, and many non-mammalian species on this planet. The population numbers generally stay under 10%, and they carry characteristics of sexual attraction, romantic attachment, and monogamous commitment, depending on the social structure of the species. To say that homosexuality is unnatural, or not biological – what you must say, if you believe it’s a choice – is just factually incorrect. As for gender identity, the same applies. Sex is biological, gender is cultural. They don’t always match up, and that’s not at all surprising. People are just too varied to fit into boxes. You can’t say “boys must be this way, girls must be that way, and we are all unique,” and then be surprised when a person comes along who is physically male but identifies as female. This idea of choice is just a non-starter, and those who believe it have bought into the weakest argument, against anything, I have ever heard.

Enter religion. I have said before that every argument against LGBTQ people can be traced back to a religious origin, and the more research I do, the more I find that to be true. In the Western world, that origin is Christianity. The problem with Christian opposition is that it falls flat before it even begins. You see, to use the Bible as an authority, you must first accept the presupposition that it’s true. That’s asking a lot for many of us, and it’s troubling that most people who quote the Bible as the reason for their opposition, don’t know the first thing about biblical times, what the book actually says and why, or where it goes wrong. They just believe because they were told to, and you know what? That belief has made a lot of good people do a lot of terrible things. If you think “it’s a choice” is a benign belief, perhaps even insignificant, perhaps an opinion, you are sadly mistaken. That’s where it starts. From “it’s a choice,” to “look at them flaunting themselves,” to “they’re destroying society,” to “they’re oppressing us,” to “we have to take action” … to DEATH … this is how it happens, and this is why it matters.

No, LGBTQ people are not LGBTQ by choice. Yes, they have every right to live openly, as themselves, with the same rights and privileges as the rest of us; and NO, your religious belief does NOT entitle you to persecute them. If you think that an LGBTQ life is less valuable than a non-LGBTQ one, and particularly if you think that an LGBTQ person can be “converted” back to your version of normalcy, I hope you someday open your eyes. In my 26 years as a fundamentalist evangelical, I did a lot of damage to some wonderful people, and I did it because I believed what I was told in church. Years later, when I found out how much death and sorrow those views have caused, I felt sick to my stomach. I was lied to (as were my parents, and their parents, and so on), and if you still think it’s a choice, the difference between you and I is that I no longer believe that lie. I choose love. I choose truth. I choose honesty. I choose equality. I stand for humanity because it’s the right thing to do. If you stand against people who are different from you, and if you you believe you will get an eternal reward for doing so … if you “love the sinner, hate the sin” … if you think it’s a choice … I feel sorry for you.

A Shameful Display Of Cowardice From The Archbishop Of Canterbury

On April 9, 2014, the news broke. In one foul swoop, the head of the worldwide Anglican Church has come up with the most cowardly excuse for maintaining the status quo of bigotry and exclusion that I have ever encountered. While members of the Anglican Communion the world over begin to embrace their fellow humans regardless of difference, Archbishop Justin Welby feels it best to remain anti-gay in order to avoid violent confrontation with those who feel compelled to attack perceived homosexuals. I won’t go into details, you can read the article here ( http://americablog.com/2014/04/anglican-church-archbishop-must-discriminate-against-gays-lest-someone-think-were-gay-and-bash-us.html ), but the beef I have is with how un-Christian this actually is.

The article points out that the cowardice of Welby’s stance is contrary to the teachings of Jesus, and indeed the author is correct. Inherent within the character of Jesus was love, compassion, and respect for all people. He didn’t hang out with the rich and powerful, but with the poor and destitute. If walking the world today, Jesus would not be keeping company with the Archbishop of Canterbury. He would have the courage to keep company with those who the Archbishop is afraid to help. When you claim to walk with righteousness, when you say you stand for “what is right,” when you preach about laying down your life for your faith … you had better be prepared to back it up. Justin Welby has shown himself a coward, happy to proclaim his undying faith in an ever-loving God, but not willing to act on that faith by defending the downtrodden. Acting upon nothing short of an ill-conceived bias, he has seized upon the fear of physical confrontation with those who seek to do harm, and in so doing has taken a path of shameful cowardice; completely abandoning the action that his faith requires him to take.

Now, to be fair, Archbishop Welby has since stated that we must treat all human beings with equal dignity and love. In the same interview, however, he re-iterated that the church cannot support same-sex marriage because there are people in Africa who would never accept it. In short, he is worried about two things. (1) Physical confrontation with violent homophobes, and (2) Division of the Anglican communion. What this says to me is that this top cleric of the Church of England would prefer to avoid confrontation AND protect the unity of his precious church before acting as Jesus commanded all of his followers to act.

There are people who feel that I am being unjust, that Welby has taken a perfectly acceptable stance in order to protect the well-being of his fellow Anglicans, and that the tenet of treating all people with dignity and love has not been violated in the least. Those people are gravely mistaken. Many non-believers are willing to lay down their lives to protect the dignity of ALL people … it’s sad that a denomination of Christ-ians are not willing to do the same. To all of those in the Anglican communion who still have the courage to stand for social equality and human dignity, I applaud you. To all others, particularly Archbishop Welby, I am disappointed in your readiness to turn from opportunities to act ‘Christ-like.’