Jesus: Man of Steel?

I consider myself an orthodox progressive Christian. The first part of that definition refers to my beliefs about doctrine, the second to how I believe I should live my life. Though the two terms pertain to different things, I see no logical conflict between them. People keep telling me that “America” disagrees, but can offer me no intelligent reason why.

Now, I used to work with a woman named America, and she was beautiful. I sort of had a crush on her. I don’t think they’re talking about her, because for all I know, she might agree with me. I don’t work with her anymore, so I can’t ask her.

I suspect “America” is being used as a synonym for “everyone in the universe,” though I don’t think that’s correct, either. Nor do I see any reason why my views must magically be invalidated because a majority of people — however huge — disagrees with me. I hear this nonsense most often concerning lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and the Christian faith.

Those who oppose full LGBT inclusion in the Church have largely given up appealing to “everyone in the universe,” or even “America,” when citing the multitudes who supposedly agree with them, because as poll after poll now shows, that just isn’t true. The one cardboard-cutout majority they still claim to have on their side is “orthodox Christianity.” We kept hearing appeals to this during the recent Duck Dynasty publicity stunt — excuse me, controversy. “Orthodox Christianity” disapproves of “homosexuality,” we were told, again and again and again and again.

When the delegation from our local chapter of Dignity, the LGBT Catholic organization, was disinvited from a workshop on pastoral care, the excuse given was that our theology did not meet the standard of “orthodox Christianity.” People always say this with a slightly-hysterical edge to their voices, as if they’re afraid we’re going to argue.

And we should. Because — contrary to what they imply — there simply is, no longer, any consensus against “homosexuality” even in orthodox Christianity. An increasing number of quite conservative Christians are actually reading what the Bible has to say that (supposedly) deals with the subject, and discovering that about committed relationships between same-sex couples, it says exactly nothing. That’s right — nothing at all.

I doubt we can convince every conservative Christian of that, because the way many of them interpret the Bible makes reasoning with them next to impossible. Though I’m doctrinally orthodox, and believe every word of the traditional creeds, I’m an Episcopalian who was raised Lutheran, so I don’t interpret Scripture the same way they do. At the risk of sounding intolerant, my way makes sense to me, while theirs strikes me as, well, wacky.

They seem to see the Bible as sort of an epic comic book. The major characters had superhero powers. Jesus was sort of like Clark Kent: God hiding inside a man-suit. Even though twenty-one centuries ago, when He walked the earth, human civilization handled relationships very differently than they do today, and not only gay marriage but anything remotely approaching the modern conception of heterosexual marriage was unheard of, they’re sure Jesus disapproved of “homosexuality.” That He peered ahead into the future — with His Superman sight — foretold what society would be like in the Twenty-first Century, and definitively pronounced all same-sex unions anathema.

Now, if the orthodox theology in which they claim to believe is correct, then Jesus was both God and Man. That means He was not only totally God, but one hundred percent human. Though God knows everything there is to know and ever will be, Jesus — while He walked this earth — did not. Not if he was, indeed, fully human, and not just God in costume, because an essential aspect of our humanity is that we don’t know everything. Which means that He had nothing to say about committed relationships between people of the same sex, lived out in the open, because in His days as an earthly Man, they did not exist.

Jesus spoke, in the Gospels, about things with which He was familiar, and that His hearers would understand. We don’t know if He would have been a Republican, or a Democrat, or a capitalist, or a socialist, because none of those existed at the time He lived among humankind. To put words into His mouth about all sorts of Twenty-first Century stuff — no matter who does it, or in service to which cause — is idiotic. It is, moreover, unorthodox.

What Jesus did do ┬ľand at this, He was indisputably a genius — was teach His hearers everything they would need to know, in a way that they could transmit to future generations. He did this in such a manner that nothing essential would ever be lost in translation. Thus did He teach that we should do unto others as we would have them do unto us. That should be easy enough for everybody to understand — even the most hardcore fundamentalists. If it isn’t, that says a lot more about them than it does about Jesus.

God meets human beings wherever they are. He doesn’t reveal more to them than they, in their particular time and place, can handle. There is no sensible reason to think “He” would have revealed anything to people two thousand years ago about committed same-sex love, because at the time such a thing, though it surely did exist, was millennia away from being understood even by the people who took part in it. In my opinion, anyone who attempts to tell me that Jesus, First Century Man of Steel, spoke through the wall of temporal Kryptonite to warn us about the evils of “homosexuality” cannot be taken seriously. It is impossible even to have an adult conversation with people who think like that, much less an intelligent one.

The entire universe may not be coming around to accepting us as human beings yet, but America definitely is. As more and more people recognize that taking the Christian creeds seriously actually requires that all people — including LGBT’s — be treated with equal respect, the term “orthodox progressive” will no longer be seen as disagreeable.

Fantasize with Me: Men Comfortable in Their Skin

This past month an All-American defensive lineman named by the Associated Press as the South East Athletic Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year told an interviewer from ESPN that he’s gay. Michael Sam from the University of Missouri announced to the world what teammates and coaches already knew: “I am an openly, proud gay man.”

Media speculation began as to how this would affect his chances in the upcoming National Football League draft. But his University of Missouri coach expressed unambiguous pride.

“We’re really happy for Michael that he’s made the decision to announce this, and we’re proud of him and how he represents Mizzou,” Gary Pinkel said. “Michael is a great example of just how important it is to be respectful of others, he’s taught a lot of people here first-hand that it doesn’t matter what your background is, or your personal orientation, we’re all on the same team and we all support each other.”

The NFL also released a statement of support:

“We admire Michael Sam’s honesty and courage,” NFL senior vice president of communications Greg Aiello said. “Michael is a football player. Any player with ability and determination can succeed in the NFL. We look forward to welcoming and supporting Michael Sam in 2014.”

There were critical responses, some laughable if they weren’t coming out of still deeply entrenched homophobia and anti-gay bias. Most repeated was the anonymous comment of an NFL player personnel assistant worried about chemistry: “It’d chemically imbalance an NFL locker room and meeting room.”

The majority echoed the positive support of Missouri’s coach. Some went so far as to challenge any of Sam’s critics to see if they’d be willing to denigrate the 6’2″, 260 pound defensive end to his face.

The assumption must be that this big, strong, manly, man’s presence would scare his critics into fear that they’d get their comeuppance in some manly violent sort of way. Don’t mess with a real man.

On the one hand we have another example of someone coming out who “does not fit the stereotypes of gay men.” That’s still a lesson society hasn’t learned — there’s no “the gay lifestyle” any more than there’s the heterosexual lifestyle.

Men who fit our culture’s masculine role can walk past someone, work with them, play along side them, and even be members of their families, without someone assuming they’re gay. “Straight-acting” men and women are less suspicious to most of us.

But though someone like Michael Sam might challenge our gay stereotypes, they do not challenge our straight masculine ones. They do not allow any man to take off his “straight-acting” mask, no matter what his sexual orientation might be without assumptions about his manhood and, therefore still, his queerness.

Even parents who advocate for their gay children can buy into the belief that if a little boy is somehow super-sensitive, creative, nurturing, caring, and gentle, he must be gay. It’s as if we are to write off heterosexuality as somehow hopelessly gendered, and heterosexual men as naturally the opposite sex of the (also stereotypical) feminine one.

Grown heterosexual males know they’re assumed to actually be gay and closeted if they don’t live the manly role because they’re too neat, nice, gentle, kind, and culture-oriented. One would hope that these men have gotten to the place where the assumption that they’re really gay doesn’t matter and won’t force them to “prove” that they’re actually real men.

We already have too many men who in fear of being thought of as gay respond by showing violently or otherwise in their treatment of women and gay men that they’re on the straight team. Insecurity in one’s sexual orientation, but even more so in one’s manhood, breeds hyper-masculinity in its stereotypical forms.

To assume that boys who don’t fit the “boys will be boys” stereotype must be gay is to somehow lose hope in heterosexual men. It’s to stop expecting heterosexual men to also be kind, nurturing, sensitive, and creative. It’s to give up on males.

And the result is the societal encouragement of boys to be, well, boys. It’s then to criticize them later for being out of touch with all that gets labeled their “feminine side” as if these suspect characteristics aren’t masculine.

And the ultimate giving up is to treat the male role as innate. All that’s left to do with men when they act too manly is to send them to anger management, drug them, or throw them in prison.

Football is a dangerous sport neatly fitting male stereotypes. Meanwhile, the news reports that chronic and traumatic brain injuries and resulting mental disease, concussion syndromes, and even suicide are the price paid by athletes so that money can be made and people can enjoy an “All American” sport.

And gay people have as much a right to all of the healthy and sick institutions a society gives to straight people, with all their consequences. That includes football, marriage, and the military.

But somewhere, somehow I’d like to fantasize that maybe even Michael Sam isn’t buying into the stereotype of masculinity that lingers behind so many discussions of his coming out. I’d like to think that unlike many gay men, he’s secure enough to let manhood be even more diverse than sexual orientations. And in an even wilder fantasy, I’d like to believe we’d celebrate masculine diversity without any limits.

I’m hoping that after breaking gay male stereotypes, Michael Sam and his generation can also reject masculine ones. I’m cheering for the day when no one assumes anything about what it is to be a real man, and that men can be comfortable embracing the whole range of human experience, especially the parts they’ve been told aren’t manly.

“I’m not afraid to tell the world who I am,” Michael Sam told ESPN. “I’m Michael Sam: I’m a college graduate. I’m African American, and I’m gay. I’m comfortable in my skin.”

Men are supposed to get real, not fantasize. But I’m still envisioning all humans someday soon as comfortable in the skin we’re in.

Robert N. Minor, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas, is author of When Religion Is an Addiction; Scared Straight: Why It’s So Hard to Accept Gay People and Why It’s So Hard to Be Human and Gay & Healthy in a Sick Society. Contact him at www.FairnessProject.org.

Gays Force Religious Right to Lose All Sense of Morality

My goodness, how the impending threat of “gay tyranny” in God’s country, the United States of ‘Murica, has gotten Peter LaBarbera hot under the collar.

The founder of the laughably named Americans For Truth About Homosexuality, has penned a screed worthy of the Bigot Hall of Fame, located somewhere in the South, I’m sure (hey, now, I’m a born and bred Southerner, so I can say these things).

The “gay hysteria”-fueled rhetoric begins in the first couple of sentences as LaBarbera bemoans “how decades of court-imposed favored legal status for homosexuality have already stolen away our ‘freedom to be moral.'”

Really, Peter? The fact that gays and lesbians can get married in 17 states and judges are falling over each other to strike down state constitutional bans on gay marriage has left you bereft of a moral compass? So, I expect we can read the news reports of how you’re now knocking off banks, snatching purses and cheating on your spouse? Please, your “freedom to be moral” is a personal choice. Courts, and their decisions, have nothing to do with it.

Ah, but the right-wing blah-blah “criminalization of Christianity” rhetoric train wreck has just begun. He, of course, drags out a couple of tired examples of why gays and lesbians have no right – NO RIGHT, YOU HEAR ME? – to compare their “sin” with the “skin” of black people.

Do the media know or care that Blacks who believe Scripture that homosexuality is wrong repeatedly have been victimized by “gay” activism — which posits that approval of “gayness” and same-sex relationships trumps one’s personal religious and moral beliefs about sexual morality and marriage?

Does Peter care that there are black people who believe Scripture and don’t believe homosexuality is wrong and see, quite clearly, thank you very much, that discrimination against LGBT people, simply because of who they are or who they love is very much akin to the struggle for black civil rights?

Also, does Peter even realize that what LGBT people are fighting for is not the right to have a sexual relationship (Lawrence v. Texas already solved that problem), but to attain the same right to form life-long relationships that are legally recognized by state and federal governments and have nothing to do with “one’s personal religious and moral beliefs about sexual morality and marriage?”

I personally know married heterosexual couples who participate in a “swingers” lifestyle. I personally disapprove on a moral basis, because I believe in monogamy. But, they’re lovely people and their sexual proclivities have nothing to do with me so I live and let live because, hey, my “freedom to be moral” remains intact no matter what they do.

But, he buries the lead deep in his screed. What Peter is really, really afraid of is that if LGBT people are recognized as “normal” and given “special rights” as, y’know, equal, American, tax-paying citizens, then we’ll no longer be one nation “under God,” never mind that many LGBT people are also people of faith, who understand that religion is a personal thing and have no desire to, um, lord it over others, or cry “discrimination” when someone doesn’t believe like they do.

But, anyway, here’s the money shot:

[I]f true liberty is to survive in this Republic that professes to be “under God,” a boldly conservative state like Oklahoma or Texas will need to stand up to the judicial elitists and pronounce that it will not follow tyrannical SCOTUS or federal mandates imposing legal “equality” for manifestly unequal homosexual behaviors. Such a state would assert that our First Amendment freedom as Americans is sacrosanct — and superior to unnatural, man-made “gay rights” — because “inalienable” rights means not having the dictates of one’s faith and conscience squashed by the secular, soulless State.

Which, honestly, when you get right down to it, sounds an awful lot like a man named Theodore Bilbo, a Mississippi segregationist who wrote a book in 1947 called Take Your Choice: Separation or Mongrelization. I invite you to replace words like “racial integrity,” and “race,” and “racial purity,” with phrases like “traditional marriage,” and phrases like “the social equality of the races and to sanction intermarriage,” with “LGBT equality and ‘gay marriage'” (in scare quotes).

Nothing is more sacred than racial integrity. Purity of race is a gift of God, but it is a gift which man can destroy. And God, in his infinite wisdom, has so ordained it that when man destroys his racial purity, it can never be redeemed. This should be sufficient to show that any statement which says our Christian religion forces us to accept the social equality of the races and to sanction intermarriage as the private affair of the two individuals concerned is utterly and absolutely fallacious. If God gave the Negro the inalienable right to social equality and intermarriage with whites, then we must go further and say that He gave to the black man the right to destroy the white race. –Theodore Bilbo in Take Your Choice: Separation or Mongrelization, 1947

Which is to say that right-wing homophobia is simply the red-headed stepchild of right-wing racism. What Peter and his ilk really fear is the end of the divine right of white, straight men to make all the decisions in this country. White men who happen to be gay are seen as the worst traitors to their race, I mean, sexual orientation, which is why the right wing is so obsessed with not just their marginalization, but their utter and ultimate destruction. Do not be fooled, the opposition to LGBT equality is exactly the same as opposition to black civil rights all those years ago, a dying majority’s last ditch effort to retain its power and influence.

But, perhaps Peter is right all along. I fear that the re-emergence of the thoroughly immoral Jim Crow-type laws popping in state legislatures around the country, without any sense by their sponsors of the historic irony or stench of desperation they emit, really does prove that the right-wing has finally succumbed to its own madness and no longer has the freedom to be moral.

Candace Chellew-Hodge is a recovering Southern Baptist and founder/editor of Whosoever: An Online Magazine for GLBT Christians, and author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians, published by Jossey-Bass. She currently serves as the pastor of Jubilee! Circle, a progressive, inclusive community in Columbia, South Carolina. She is also a spiritual director and is currently taking on new directees. She blogs regularly at Religion Dispatches.