May 11, 2012

On gay marriage

This has been an interesting week, that is for sure.  Watching the train wreck in North Carolina was painful.  But then, the next day, President Obama became the first sitting President to affirm gay marriage.  The response has been interesting.  Conservatives said that Obama had declared war on traditional marriage, and some on both sides accused the President of acting out of pure political expediency.

That may be true.  I would be naive to suggest that the Obama camp didn't have extensive meetings on this subject.  But I am also willing to give him the benefit of the doubt--that the story he told of his "evolution" is true.  Because that is my journey too.

I don't think I knew any openly gay people until my 30s.  SOF and I have been trying to recount the first time we met someone out of the closet.  Certainly in my high school there were people we suspected as gay, but none were open.  Like Fallows, I wonder how many times I used anti-gay slurs around gay people without knowing?  I hope I didn't.

In that context, gays were always illicit and perverse.  And, of course, it ran right into the complex sexual awakening of teen years, so any challenge to that was always difficult.  But, as Obama notes, times have changed.  I have had several gay colleagues, and we have neighbors who have been together longer than our nearly 24 years.  It becomes increasingly hard to dismiss that kind of relationship.

Obama noted that his daughters had friends with same-sex parents, and it was inconceivable to Sasha and Malia that those parents were somehow less than their own.  That is the generational gap that so many evangelicals and conservatives don't see.  The younger kids are around openly gay people--in their family or circle of friends.  They see them as humans, not as deviants.  And, as Rachel Held Evans notes, that is also true in conservative evangelical circles.  Watching her social media feeds Tuesday evening, she saw the divide.
Christians over 40 were celebrating. Christians under 40 were mourning.  Reading through the comments, the same thought kept returning to my mind as occurred to me when I first saw that Billy Graham ad: You’re losing us
I don't think they can change, however.  The entire conservative movement right now is consumed with trying to stop the country from changing into a world where white and straight privilege don't dominate.

They won't win this war, I don't think.  But the casualties will be many.


Anonymous said...

I live in NC. I eagerly voted FOR the NC Marriage Protection Amendment. Thank God it passed. Times may change, people's opinions may change, but God ordained marriage to be the union of one man and one woman, and that has not changed.

Most of mankind is in rebellion against God. Always have been. The attempts to change marriage is one more evidence of that.


Streak said...

You and the other proud bigots.

Smitty said...

I sometimes feel like responding, but it's not like I'm gonna change the minds of guys like Gary. It's not like I am gonna come up with some brilliant sentence that causes him to smack his forehead and say "ZOMG, I never thought of it that way! I relent!"

Now, if Gary had displayed an eagerness to learn or even to debate a point but an openness to change, it'd be worth it. But we're not budging. He's not budging. He's just gonna wave his very special "proud heritage" flag and thank God he can still be a bigot.

This Barna study needs to be stated over and over:

The vast majority of non-Christians — 91% — said Christianity had an anti-gay image, followed by 87% who said it was judgmental and 85% who said it was hypocritical.

Such views were held by smaller percentages of the active churchgoers, but the faith still did not fare well: 80% agreed with the anti-gay label, 52% said Christianity is judgmental, and 47% declared it hypocritical.

How does the non-Christian world view Christians? How do Christians view Christianity?


That's it. Not "helps people" or "finds truth" or "feeds the hungry" or "establishes a community." Anti-gay.

leighton said...

Smitty, that's basically my view too. Part of the reason I left the faith is that too many people who claim to be in a close relationship with God/Jesus act like that. Which means God is either among the universe's worst communicators, or there are other mitigating circumstances such as nonexistence to explain this.

Smitty said...

or there are other mitigating circumstances such as nonexistence to explain this

Not to be glib, but Amen, leighton.

I cannot get over this "logic:"
1) We can never know God's true meaning or thoughts.
2) God hates that thing you're doing and he wants us to do this thing instead.

Wait. Wait. We can't know his thoughts or motivations...but we CAN tell that he hates this thing? Based on what again? Oh, this book written by people who got it from some other dudes?

Oh...AND we can have multiple translations? The Living Word bible? The New Modern bible? The Revised Western Standard? King James?

Oh, but *each* of those bibles is somehow, though vastly different...blessed and sanctioned as the truth?'re making it up.

leighton said...

It's the reversal of premise 1 that gets me. "We can definitely know God's meaning or thoughts" - maybe perfectly a la fundamentalism, maybe imperfectly and at most as much as we know though the thoughts of a person who isn't ourselves, but probably only through a glass darkly, a la the versions of Christianity that lead to treating others well.

But if it's possible to know what God wants (however imprecisely), how come people disagree so much about it? Fundamentalists think it's because people rebel against God's clear will. Well, if I thought there were such a thing as Gary's God, I would certainly rebel, as would anyone else with the thinnest, most fragile ethical fiber in their being. Simple assertion, simple response. But what puzzles me is, if God is actually like people like, say, Fred Clark at Slacktivist claim he is (and bear in mind, I agree with almost all of their social views), why all the disagreement?

Either God isn't capable of communicating clearly; or he doesn't care that people misunderstand him (i.e. he is grieved that people use his name to spread hatred, but somehow just doesn't care that ordinary people often see their deepest loyalty toward their parents, spouses and children as being contingent on their trampling the ability of gay people to love similarly); or there is something else going on entirely.

"Ask and ye shall receive" is a false promise (how many children starve to death every day?), "Seek and ye shall find" is a false promise (how many are driven to despair and suicide by not being able to find the love they need?), "Knock and the door will be opened" is a false promise (how many seek shelter from violence and abuse only to be cut down?). Open theism explains a lot of these issues for believers who want to engage the full spectrum of issues here, though to my mind it doesn't explain why it wouldn't occur to God incarnate to say "Hey, don't make up this crap about me - it's going to seriously interfere with the ability of your descendants to love each other."

Anyway, enough on that tangent. I think if the Religious Right actually cared about God informing their politics, this would be a useful discussion topic. But as Streak points out, this is really about preserving white, straight privilege, and it's most useful to keep the discussion there.

Smitty said...

this is really about preserving white, straight privilege, and it's most useful to keep the discussion there

Another "amen." The tangent was fun, and as always your insight and the way you talk about things adds so much to this blog.

On topic: every talking point can really come down to that point of view. Gay marriage and gay relationships don't *actually* harm marriage. Nobody gets divorced because gays can love. What it does is acknowledge "other-ness." Nothing threatens one's Important Place In History more than having to acknowledge "others" are actually equal. If they are, then by gosh, one actually has to *compete* rather than just having to assume the top of the privilege pyramid!

Thus, every issue that acknowledges the equal status of "others" becomes a battleground: civil rights of the 60s era; civil rights of our modern era/gay marriage; anti-bullying; access to education; the list goes on.

leighton said...

Thanks, Smitty.

I have no doubt that a lot of it is about prestige, but I think even among less ambitious, more individually secure types, it can be just a simple reluctance to learn to communicate in different ways. Homophobic people (usually) know how to behave appropriately around heterosexual parents, but not a pair of fathers. Why should life force them to learn something they don't want to learn?

Things like this are why I tend to see more value in being a sort of evangelist for clear communication than in poking at faith. Sure, if God saved us from his followers, we'd have a lot to talk about. But we have so much to talk about as it is, right now.

steves said...

Of course there is this whole free will thing. From what I understand, things aren't always supposed to be nice and rosy. Better people have tackled this question and answered it. Religious institutions, like any other institutions run by people, have the potential to fall short. Not a day goes by that one doesn't show some kind of failure or harm. I hear the same argument by ultraconservatives when they look at government. They point out some fraud or waste and call for entire agencies and departments to be scrapped.

I know that faiths are different from governments and I am certainly not trying to change anyone's mind, but I would say that if you put your faith entirely in the "church", then you will be let down eventually. That being said, there will always be people that claim to act in accordance with their faith that are just trying to justify some bad action.

So why doesn't God come down and correct people? I don't know. Would it make a difference? Look at the Constitution. People have always been disagreeing with what it says. There were even bitter disagreements and court cases in the years immediately following it's adoption. You would think the authors would have been able to explain, "hey, this is what we meant." They did and people still disagreed.

As for the OT, I am disappointed that states (even my own) are doing this stuff. Normally, I would say it is a state issue, but now I think that the federal courts are going to have to step in to correct this.

While I don't agree, I can understand that there is a religious objection (in several faiths) to gay marriage. From what I can tell from the polling data, there are also some people that aren't all that religious that are just as opposed. Fine, but we live in a secular society and there is no justifiable reason to prohibit gay marriage. The latest scare I have been hearing is that churches will somehow be forced to perform gay marriages. I honestly don't know if there has been a push for this (I somehow doubt it), but it would not pass constitutional muster.

The reality is that, for the purposes of the state, the religious component of the marriage doesn't matter. A marriage done by a minister is no more valid than one done by a sea captain, justice of the peace, or a person that ordered a certificate over the internet.

Streak said...

There has always been an argument that the state should only be involved in civil unions for all of us, and let the individual churches decide what constitutes "marriage." Times like this, I think that would be a decent idea.

I spent yesterday grading, so was unable to join in. Love the points both Smitty and Leighton made about understanding and communicating with God. I have made this point to a good friend of mine, that evangelicals who talk about communicating with God have demonstrated almost without doubt that that communication is, at best, completely unreliable. Unless we accept that God is some kind of racist and sexist who hates his own creation.

Of course, there is, as Steve points out, still room for belief. I wish that people would at least question that relationship model where they claim to know the mind of God. But it gives them something. Which, I wouldn't mind, except then we get it pushed as a reason to back x public policy initiative.

leighton said...

Steve, off-topic, but I've never been impressed by the traditional responses to the problem of evil. Pretty sure the existence of polio and typhoid don't have a lot to do with the choices humans have made.

If God doesn't have the ability or interest to communicate in real time, I can certainly work with that; that seems functionally equivalent to atheism in that it puts humans in the position of having to collaborate to resolve our own issues because there's nobody else who can show us how. Which is essentially how I tend to view our situation anyway. So let's get to work, etc.

My point was that it seems fair to say that even if a person believes in God, it does not seem reasonable or appropriate for them to talk about a relationship with God that involves clear communication. Nor does it seem reasonable or appropriate to talk about God being upset with people who (mis)represent him - were the writers of the Constitution alive, I have no doubt that some of them would relish the chance to publish snarky editorials refuting some of the sillier interpretations people have come up with over the centuries. I don't see any realm in which God's hypothetical wishes are appropriate to use coercively, for any purpose. Like you, I'd rather just stick to arguing things on a secular level.

I also doubt there's anything to the urban legend that churches will be forced to perform gay marriages. It's awfully suspicious that groups that shout the loudest about truth have so little regard for it.

steves said...

I wouldn't say that all of our problems are our fault, though I am sure that many are. The response to that, I suppose, would be that we live in a "fallen world" and that bad things happen and will continue to happen.

I agree that it doesn't seem possible for God to speak clearly with people. I certainly can't claim and clear and obvious communication. I would also agree that it is dangerous/stupid for people to claim and speak on God's behalf.

I think there are some places where it may be possible to use God's wishes or rules, such as within a church or family, but I don't think it works on a societal or governmental level.

leighton said...

I do think there's a practical difference between speaking normatively or persuasively, versus speaking coercively. I think it would be abusive for me to tell you that God wants you to do/say/think anything that (s)he hasn't personally told you. That's essentially what imposing doctrine on the public sphere entails.

This isn't an easy position for me to take, atheism notwithstanding. Even as a nonbeliever, I have appreciated the depth and fervor of the prophetic tradition, wherein believers have taken it upon themselves to declare woe unto the oppressive powers who trample the poor to enrich themselves. Some of Fred Clark's posts to this effect have been masterful. But when the oppressors simply respond, "No, I'm following God's commands myself," there isn't any effective rebuttal to that, since both claims are made in the absence of evidence.

It's true that prophetic diatribes are done less to persuade the oppressors to change their ways, and more to unite the oppressed. But these days, at least in Christendom in the U.S., there is a critical mass of...well, "agnostic" is the wrong word, and "unprincipled" has connotations I don't intend, but believers who just want to get along, for whom unity in the church is their first priority. They will tend to try to bridge the gap between the oppressors and the oppressed by not actually condemning the abusive actions of the oppressors. So these diatribes aren't as effective as they used to be. Better to stick to secular means if you hope to reform a society. (Reforming a church, though? All bets are off.)

Streak said...

That has always been my frustration with the relationship model. It internalizes everything, and creates a situation where the only person who knows what God thinks is the individual. The community doesn't get to say.

Good example is greed. My conservative friends say that they too think greed is bad, but define it as someone loving money more than God. But guess who gets to decide that? The person.

Of course, that is often dismissed when the prophetic word is somehow opposite political considerations. A woman who says that God called her to preach is often not taken seriously. And certainly gay people who say that God made them gay, or brought them together with their gay soulmate--can't believe that.

steves said...

Leighton, I agree that it is problematic to speak for God and it certainly better, IMO, if church doctrine was not mixed with public policy.

Streak, I do think the community should get a say. Personally, I feel I better understand religion when I discuss it with others. Unfortunately, people often just try and associate with like-minded people. The greedy will find other greedy believers and ignore the ones who are more generous. I think it was CS Lewis (paraphrasing here) that pointed out people tend to gravitate towards the parts of the Bible that reinforce their belief system and avoid the parts that challenge them.

That being said, I think there are people that are anti-gay for whatever the reason and they associate and gravitate towards a belief system that supports this. I don't think religion is the only factor. I didn't really know any gay people until my late teens. Almost all of them I met while working at various church camps. These people were, for the most part, out in the open.

Bob said...

Coming late to the party:

Steve said:

"...but we live in a secular society and there is no justifiable reason to prohibit gay marriage. The latest scare I have been hearing is that churches will somehow be forced to perform gay marriages. I honestly don't know if there has been a push for this (I somehow doubt it), but it would not pass constitutional muster.

The reality is that, for the purposes of the state, the religious component of the marriage doesn't matter. A marriage done by a minister is no more valid than one done by a sea captain, justice of the peace, or a person that ordered a certificate over the internet."

I just have to say: BAM! That pretty much sums up the stupidity of this battle.