Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Dialogue with an LGBT Christian

'Everybody's' preferred weapon: OUTRAGE!

I came across a discussion of an article posted on a  friend's Facebook page, a Conservative Christian’s plea to proponents of liberal identity politics to show the same tolerance to those with whom they disagree (conservative Christians) that they demand others give to them.  I then added my bit and that led to the following discussion with  ‘JK’.  I get annoyed with Fb discussions like this because they never seem to progress to anything beyond declaring one’s own position as stridently as one can whilst assuming (and projecting) the worst about the person with whom one is debating.  What is often useful is the window into the world-views represented in the debate and the assumptions and presuppositions that are informing each side of the discussion, whether or not the participants acknowledge them or are even aware of them.  And that's why I am posting what follows.
In this discussion, I tried in several ways to explain that there isn’t just one perspective (my right one - with the rest all on a sliding scale of wrongness) but that there are a number of valid ways of construing one’s reality (i.e., one’s world view), valid in the sense that they work, that is, they help the one who sees things from that perspective make sense of the world as they experience it.  This is not a new or novel way of understanding the realities of different cultures.  However as you will see, JK never could admit that there were other valid ways of construing reality, because to do so might mean her own way was wrong or her black and white representation of the LGBT cause might be mistaken.  Ironically, she painted herself into the same corner as the Christian fundamentalists she rather despises, only she has replaced a narrow fundamentalist Christian orthodoxy with a narrow fundamentalist liberal one.  
Anyway, here is how the discussion unfolded.  At times we were both arguing past each other, not listening as well as we could have.  But I would ask you the reader to suspend judgment as to who is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, and instead have a look into the very different world views informing JK and me.  And notice, we have different world views in spite of the fact that we both would call ourselves ‘Christian.’

JK The troubling thing about her complaining that liberal people aren't tolerant of her is the false equivalence she puts forth.  It's fine to think something is wrong. It is not fine to deny me my civil rights because you don't like my sexual orientation. This author also assumes no one is really actively engaging with people completely different than them.  I am a teacher. I work everyday to teach all my students- Muslim, Hindu, Catholic, Protestant, Atheist, black, white, Asian, Hispanic, LGBT families, migrant worker families- to create a safe environment so they can learn.  I have worked and am working, for 23 years in children's hospitals and interfaith children's programs to built relationship between communities and families who appear to have nothing in common.  The writer seems to be only interested in her own comfort, which isn't a crime until she starts to deny the civil rights of others in order to accommodate her own comfort.

BB  The reason there is such a gulf between the two sides is that members of the LGBT etc community unilaterally redefined what had been for thousands of years something considered by the majority culture as a moral issue, and made it instead a 'civil rights' issue. In doing so, they claimed to be following the example of the African American community in pushing the majority culture into redressing the wrongs of racism. But Dr. King used the prevailing moral consensus of the Christian community as the foundation of his critique of those who claimed to be Christians but who were hypocritically racist in their words and deeds. What is interesting to me at least is that, whilst claiming the African American civil rights struggle as a model, the LGBT community chose not to use Christian morality as the basis for their struggle, but rather replaced a Christian world view with an ideology that is foreign to Christian morality. In other words the LGBT community has rejected traditional Christian morality (for rather obvious reasons) and replaced it with a morality based on secular values. Christians have assumed that everybody has been reading from the same page and have been very slow to realize that the rapid changes in our culture in the past three decades have been motivated not from Christian morality but from a different morality informed by a rejection of Christian moral and theological absolutes. So you can reject traditional Christian theology and morality as being relevant to you, your values and agenda. But don't presume to judge another person for being homophobic just because they disagree with your morality (just as Christians should not presume to judge you as damned and going to hell just because you disagree with their morality). In a pluralistic society, which ours now is, the only way it can actually work is if the tolerance for different views is an actual tolerance. But tolerance does not mean that we actually agree with each other or must affirm each other - it means we tolerate each other and respect your right to believe something different from me. This was the perspective of the Gay community when it was marginalized. Now that this community has achieved cultural and political ascendancy, one gets the impression that the same tolerance they desired for themselves is not what they are interested in showing to any other differing morality. It often feels, from the Christian perspective, that those aspects of Western society that are driving the LGBT agenda are simply trying to replace what they feel has been the tyranny of Christian morality with the tyranny of their own.

JK I am a Christian. There are many LGBT who are Christian. There are many Christian communities who love and accept their LGBT brothers and sisters.  As far as the Bible is concerned, the word "Homosexual" wasn't coined until in 1800's.  There is not a biblical understanding of homosexual orientation rather the ancient view was that all humanity was heterosexual. There are mentions of same sex acts but those are in reference to rape and temple prostitution.
There is no mention or knowledge of what we understand today as a same sex orientation.
Through the centuries the church has evolved and changed in many ways and on every front.
Once the church ( and culture) regarded women - and children- as property of the father/husband.
Once a man could have as many wives as he could provide for and concubines.  Paul had a very low regard for marriage saying it would be better if a man be single but if he can not control himself he could marry - better to marry than burn.  If you are going to require biblical marriage to be followed you will be enslaving women and children, not allowing divorce, and stoning for adulterous behavior ( women only, of course.).  The traditional morals found in the Bible were always being challenged by Jesus and his teachings.  His mandate was to love. Love the stranger, love your enemy, love the children, love the lost, love the seeker ( Mary who wanted to sit at the feet of Jesus and learn like the men were doing.).  The Bible is a collection of books all, each one written to move a people out of their traditional morals and into a wider acceptance and love of each other.  Fundamentalist Christians do not contain by any measure the final word on what is Christian Morality.

Now if you are saying LGBT folk are oppressing and dogmatic like the fundamentalist have been to them I would refer you to the, again , false equivalence in your argument which is: Fundamentalist Christians and those who would use this theology to bolster their argument requiring the LGBT person NOT to have any rights as a citizen of the US ( or anywhere else in the world.) They are taking away, or wish to, our right to exist and pursue fulfillment and happiness.  LGBT are not requiring heterosexuals to give up their rights to happiness and fulfillment. The LGBT community is not calling to end heterosexual marriage as they are doing to the LGBT community. Your false equivalence argument was seen through by the Supreme Court as well. You have the right to practice your religion however you see fit, you do not, however, have the right to deny another segment of society their right to exist and to pursue their happiness like any other citizens of the US- Christian or not.

BB  I think you are too easily dismissing significant points by labelling them 'false equivalence'. Whether you personally agree or not, there are a number of people who feel persecuted by members of the LGBT community because of their traditional Christian beliefs. I respect and accept your personal testimony that you are a Christian. However, when a significant minority of Christians, for the sake of 'updating' or 'modernizing' or getting rid of what we feel is offensive about the Christian faith that has come to us, make changes in both the beliefs and morality of that faith, is it still Christianity, or what would have been recognized as Christianity for 19 centuries of it's history? By what authority does one make changes in a religion the way these Christians have done? Thomas Jefferson did similar things when he took a pair of scissors and physically cut out everything from the New Testament that he found offensive or non-sensical (particularly having to do with the supernatural and miracles, to which Enlightenment people like himself were allergic). Are not the current batch of progressive Christians doing the same thing? And what does one have left when you are finished removing everything that you find offensive from your version of Christianity? And who is to say that you are right? What about another person who excises something different than you because they are triggered or offended by what Paul or Jesus says? I'm not asking to go after you, it's just as a historian, there is lots of precedent for the kind of reconstruction we see happening in the LGBT community among those who are trying to preserve what they like about Jesus and all that. In the past, at least, almost every similar attempt ends up with something that is no longer Christian, by historical or theological measures, at least. So I'm curious, after you get rid of all the (many, by your account) offensive bits), what have you got to replace the traditional gospel and traditional theology of Christianity?

JK  The Gospel of Jesus resurrection was first preached to a sexual minority - a eunuch. This is saying something very specific. Christ welcomes all and sexual minorities have always been with us.
If you are saying Christians are being persecuted I think you need to look to ISIS not the LGBT community as your example of persecution of Christians in the 21 st century.  And when LBGT achieve anything chose to a majority rule than you can claim persecution. LGBT folk will always be about 10% of the population - we will always be a sexual minority.  If the social attitude is changing toward American Christianity I think we Christians have only ourselves to blame with the alignment of fundamentalist literal interpretation of scripture ( read "An Angry God") with conservative politics beginning in the late 60's.  Christians in America have a PR problem as the only face of Christ most people are seeing and hearing about is hate speech from: Jerry Falwell Ministries/ Liberty University/Liberty Counsel, Focus on the Family, Pat Robertson Empire, Alliance Defending Freedom (formerly Alliance Defense Fund), Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America, Faith & Freedom Coalition, Council for National Policy, and the sad Westboro Baptist Church.  The backlash Christians are feeling is because these organizations drape themselves in the flag and couch their bigotry in Fundamentalist Theology- nothing could be further from Jesus mission and message on earth. 

You are not being persecuted. You are being protested against.

The church burned us ( LGBT) at the stake ( hence the name "Fag") the church sanctioned imprisonment, humiliation, when the US military liberated the concentration camps of WW2 they left the LGBT folks in prison. We were not liberated. They agreed with the Nazis that we should be exterminated, we lost of our children, jobs, housing, and basic human and civil rights for centuries. And the church has been the keeps of the keys of our imprisonment.  This is persecution.

Now the church is full of white people suffering from white fragility meaning the white community ( including white churches) are not used to being disagreed with, debated, and protested. In essence, whites are sore losers and cry wolf at the slightest sign of having to share the rights, privileges and responsibilities of full citizenship.  If the church fears losing influence in their culture they should evangelize - win people to Christ- instead of engaging in the politics of hatred.
John Boswell, Yale historian, found in the Vatican the rights of marriage between male priests. (John Boswell, The Church and the Homosexual: An Historical Perspective, 1979)
So at least for a while the early 9th century church was more accepting especially in the eras of fear and hatred of women.  You seem to think that how the church is now is how it has always been. There have been 19 centuries of changing theology and changing society.  If you want to know how a church can be Christian AND accepting/full inclusion of LGBT folks go to any of the 10, 000 +churches and and ask 4,000,000 plus individuals who are welcoming and affirming of LGBT folks. I'm sure the ministers would be happy to speak with you.  We are everywhere, in every state, in every country. Perhaps this is why the majority of white evangelicals are feeling uncomfortable ( and interpreting this as a threat.)

BB  First,when you frame a class of Christians as an existential threat to your person (or to the movement to which you belong), you justify not listening to them and dismissing them as legitimate people with a legitimate perspective. In doing so, you now are treating these people the way you claim they treated you (I am using generalizations). Because members of the LGBT community know how it feels to be unfairly marginalized, it is ironic to say the least that they would then turn around and use the very same arguments and tactics back at members of the Christian community (or in your case, members of the Christian community with whom you disagree, which would be most of them), though they/you themselves/yourselves know that such arguments and tactics are prejudicial and motivated no by a concern to do the right thing but by a concern for what appears to be revenge. Secondly, you seem to be taking the classic post-modern position that there is no such thing as absolute truth, therefore how dare you (in this case conservative Christians) impose your demonstrably flawed and dangerous morality (that makes me feel threatened) on everybody else (i.e. me). The problem is, in this view, all moral and religious claims are subjective, EXCEPT the post-modern claim that there are no absolutes, which is itself an absolute claim. Members of the LGBT community get outraged at the absolute claims of the Christian community on the principle that there are no absolutes, moral or otherwise. But then they (and seemingly you) turn around and impose your own set of moral absolutes on everybody else (especially conservative Christians) and demand that they conform or we'll sue/boycott/call you names/blacklist you. I can understand why you say you feel threatened by them or even me. Can you understand why conservative Christians feel threatened by you? Thirdly, Boswell, as a Yale historian, should have known, or at least acknowledged that he was not reporting evidence but rather interpreting evidence, and that his interpretation was not the only or even the best for the evidence that he was citing. Boswell was very much driven by an agenda. I have no problem with historians (or any other scholars) who have agendas, because all of us do (speaking as a Cambridge-trained historian). I do, however, have problems with scholars who refuse to acknowledge their agendas and how those agendas might influence the conclusions they come to. Because that leaves people like you thinking that these historians have 'proved' something when sometimes they have merely provided evidence for their own prejudice. Fourthly, you cite many, many people, churches and denominations that support the view you take. But obviously you would agree with me that large numbers of people supporting something don't necessarily mean that they are right. Truth is not a democracy. Besides, even more people, churches and denominations would disagree with you on this issue. Does that mean they are right and the rest of you are sadly wrong? It all comes back to how one decides what is true or right. Traditional Christianity has, since the earliest days, understood truth to be intimately related to the person and teaching of Christ and his apostles. Contemporary LGBT activists construe truth differently and have a different ultimate authority governing what they think and do. What about you? I think I'm finished taking up [my friend’s] Fb space here, as these sorts of discussions are rarely profitable. If you want to pursue this further with me, I'll be glad to have a more private discussion via email. You can reach me at ---------. Even though we obviously disagree, I do wish you well.

Civil Society?

So there you have it.  My Fb sparring partner has given a rather fulsome and impassioned justification for LGBT rights and lifestyles from a Gay Christian perspective.  Her reconstruction of Christian history and theology is not new, but standard practice, at least in my experience of discussions with my LGBT friends.  I was not concerned to respond to her arguments that an LGBT lifestyle is consistent with Christian discipleship.  Nor did I want to give a point by point rebuttal of historical or theological perspectives.  Such a debate has never been a winning strategy, at least in my experience.  Rather I was concerned with the dismissal of traditional Christianity as a valid expression of Christianity simply because of its rejection of homosexual practice as not in line with God’s best for humanity.  I welcome your interaction.  I only ask that you be respectful.  Follow the Golden Rule in your comments - Do to others as you would have them do to you.  This post is not about passing judgment on anybody (as if that was in any of our job descriptions).  Rather I am interested in the world-view issues that are raised, and in the implications for conservative Christian interaction with our present and evolving context.

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