07 November 2009

You Can't Go Halfway (Part One)

John Shelby Spong

My dearest friend, Dr. Lester Earl Blue, Jr, recently emailed me an essay he came across while Web surfing. It was penned by noted theologian John Shelby Spong, no doubt in response to the ongoing turmoil over Gay issues in his Episcopal denomination. Reading it, I got the impression that a volcano of emotion has long been stirring inside Dr. Spong. I think he let it simmer below the surface for years, but the time came when only expressing a portion of that rage wasn't enough! Now he's finally let the top blow off, and the lava that's gushing out has taken the form of searing, incisive words. Blazing hot words, hot enough to burn away ambiguity and confusion!

That's the kind of natural phenomenon I both love to see and love to share with my blog patrons! Have you ever seen an exploding Christian? Are you ready to witness an eruption to rival Mount Saint-Helens? Then dare to approach the smoke-filled crater of a soul aflame with fury! Peer over the edge, and train your eyes on these key excerpts from Dr. Spong's Manifesto: The Time Has Come! It was originally posted to the Web on 15 October 2009, and the entire document can be viewed here.

I have made a decision. I will no longer debate the issue of homosexuality in the church with anyone. I will no longer engage the Biblical ignorance that emanates from so many Right Wing Christians about how the Bible condemns homosexuality, as if that point of view still has any credibility. I will no longer discuss with them or listen to them tell me how homosexuality is "an abomination to God," about how homosexuality is a "chosen lifestyle," or about how, through prayer and "spiritual counseling", homosexual persons can be "cured." Those arguments are no longer worthy of my time or energy.

I stopped spending time and energy on them many years ago! During the height of Anita Bryant-fueled anti-Gay hysteria, I quit my church in protest of the heterosexist sermons my pastor had begun preaching. Believe me, I've never regretted that decision!

I will no longer (listen) to the thoughts of those who advocate "reparative therapy," as if homosexual persons are somehow broken and need to be repaired. I will no longer talk to those who believe that the unity of the Church can or should be achieved . . . at the expense of Gay and Lesbian people. I will no longer take the time to refute the unlearned and undocumentable claims of certain world religious leaders who call homosexuality "deviant."

I wonder if the reparative therapy-tolerant staff of exgaywatch.com will take these words to heart? They should.

I will no longer listen to that pious sentimentality that certain Christian leaders continue to employ, which suggests some version of that strange and overtly dishonest phrase . . . "We love the sinner but hate the sin." That statement is . . . nothing more than a self-serving lie designed to cover the fact that these people hate homosexual persons . . . but (they) know that hatred is incompatible with the Christ they claim to profess, so they adopt this face-saving and absolutely false statement.

How long I've waited for someone of Dr. Spong's stature to make this all-too-true observation! He phrased it just right, too.

I will no longer temper my understanding of truth in order to pretend that I have even a tiny smidgen of respect for the appalling negativity that continues to emanate from religious circles . . . the Church has for centuries conveniently perfumed its ongoing prejudices against Blacks (sic), Jews, women and homosexual persons with what it assumes is "high-sounding, pious rhetoric." The day for that mentality has quite simply come to an end for me. I will personally neither tolerate it nor listen to it any longer.

The stench of perfumed prejudice and pious rhetoric is truly revolting! Millions of people refuse to tolerate it anymore, and it's obvious from the way many if not most LGBT folk view the mainstream Church as anathema!

I will particularly ignore those members of my own Episcopal Church who seek to break away from this body to form a "new church," claiming that this new and bigoted instrument alone now represents the Anglican Communion. Such a new ecclesiastical body is designed to allow these pathetic human beings . . . to form a community in which they can continue to hate Gay people, distort Gay people with their hopeless rhetoric, and to be part of a religious fellowship in which they can continue to feel justified in their homophobic prejudices for the rest of their tortured lives. Church unity can never be a virtue that is preserved by allowing injustice, oppression and psychological tyranny to go unchallenged.

It is, in fact, a false virtue! Jesus Christ said: Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the Earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law (Luke 12: 51-53). It was always inevitable that the Church would be divided against itself!

In my personal life, I will no longer listen to televised debates conducted by "fair-minded" channels that seek to give "both sides" of this issue "equal time." I am aware that these (TV) stations no longer give equal time to the advocates of treating women as if they are the property of men, or to the advocates of reinstating either segregation or slavery, despite the fact that when these evil institutions were coming to an end, the Bible was still being quoted frequently on each of these subjects. It is time for the media to announce that there are no longer two sides to the issue of full humanity for Gay and Lesbian people.

Are you listening, network and cable network news producers? Stop "balancing" LGBT issues with on-air rebuttal from the likes of James Dobson, Tony Perkins and Maggie Gallagher! What you're creating isn't balance, it's distortion!

I will no longer act as if the Papal office is to be respected if the present occupant of that office is either not willing or not able to inform and educate himself on public issues on which he dares to speak with embarrassing ineptitude.

"Embarrassing ineptitude" is too mild a description for Pope Ratzinger's hateful broadsides against LGBT humanity! I prefer to call what comes out of his wicked mouth "verbal genocide"! When he claimed that Transgender life threatens the Earth's ecology, that's when I knew he hadn't truly renounced his Hitler Youth past!

I will no longer be respectful of the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who seems to believe that rude behavior, intolerance, and even killing prejudice is somehow acceptable, so long as it comes from Third World religious leaders, who . . . reveal in themselves the price that colonial oppression has required of the minds and hearts of so many of our world's population.

Now, this is what I call bonafide fire-and-brimstone preaching . . . Dr. Spong is truly kickin' ass and takin' names!

"You Can't Go Halfway" concludes with Part Two.

06 November 2009

You Can't Go Halfway (Part Two)

John Shelby Spong

I see no way that ignorance and truth can be placed side by side, nor do I believe that evil is somehow less evil if the Bible is quoted to justify it.

Whoa, now! There's a sentence worth repeating.

I see no way that ignorance and truth can be placed side by side, nor do I believe that evil is somehow less evil if the Bible is quoted to justify it. I will dismiss as unworthy of any more of my attention the wild, false and uninformed opinions of such would-be religious leaders as Pat Robertson, James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, Jimmy Swaggart, Albert Mohler, and Robert Duncan. My country and my Church have both already spent too much time, energy and money trying to accommodate these backward points of view when they are no longer even tolerable.

Say amen, somebody!

I make these statements because it is time to move on. The battle is over. The victory has been won.

Ah, if only that were true! I fear that the battle has only begun to engage. LGBT folk are vilified from the pulpit, banned from public and private institutions, cut off from constitutional protections, harassed at school and in the workplace, and randomly beaten and murdered, but there are worse things that could happen to us! I don’t accept the general consensus that a Nazi Germany could never rise again. The intensity of hatred for human beings who don't fit binary gender standards is plenty strong enough to trigger a new Holocaust somewhere in the world! I find the degree of LGBT persecution in Africa and the Caribbean particularly alarming; just look at the unrestrained transphobia recently directed at South African athlete Caster Semenya (see my essays titled "I Am Caster Semenya", Parts One and Two)!

There is no reasonable doubt as to what the final outcome of this struggle will be. Homosexual people will be accepted as equal, full human beings, who have a legitimate claim on every right that both church and society have to offer any of us. Homosexual marriages will become legal, recognized by the state and pronounced Holy by the Church. "Don't ask/Don't tell" will be dismantled as the policy of our Armed Forces.

God willing, these predictions will come to pass, and during my lifetime! Pardon me, though, if I don't hold my breath waiting for these happy events to occur under Barack Obama’s administration! We’ll need a chief executive with the moral clarity of a Harry Truman or Lyndon Johnson, and sadly, those qualities do not appear to exist within our current President.

We will and we must learn that equality of citizenship is not something that should (ever) be submitted to a referendum. Equality under and before the law is a solemn promise conveyed to all our citizens in the Constitution itself. Can any of us imagine having a public referendum on whether slavery should continue, whether segregation should be dismantled, whether voting privileges should be offered to women? The time has come for politicians to . . . abandon that convenient shield of demanding a vote on the rights of full citizenship . . . they do not understand the difference between a constitutional democracy, which this nation has, and a "mobocracy," which this nation rejected when it adopted its Constitution. We do not put the Civil Rights of a minority to the vote of a plebiscite.

Will someone please tell me how to get otherwise intelligent Gay activists like John Aravosis, Joe Sudbay and Evan Wolfson to grasp this basic truth? Why do so many of us rush to take part in our own constitutional disenfranchisement? Like lemmings, we compulsively leap upstream each time our enemies on the religious Right Wing set the anti-Gay ballot measure current flowing. We've been trounced at the polls 31 times to date, yet we persist in believing that a just little more fundraising, just a little more TV time, just a little more door-to-door campaigning can win voters over to marriage equality.  Maybe so, probably not, but that's hardly the point. Earth to space cadets, can you hear me? We're citizens, not candidates for public office! How is it that we no longer understand the difference? For more on this topic, read my essay titled “Save The Country”, Parts One and Two:

I will also no longer act as if I need a majority vote of some ecclesiastical body in order to bless, ordain, recognize and celebrate the lives and gifts of Gay and Lesbian people in the life of the Church. No one should ever again be forced to submit the privilege of citizenship in this nation or membership in the Christian Church to the will of a majority vote.

Clergy who share Dr. Spong’s conviction must be ready to put their jobs on the line! They must be prepared to sacrifice their leadership positions, to quit their denominations, to declare exclusive allegiance to the supremacy of God in Christ at risk of excommunication. They must be willing to forfeit their churches, as did the Reverend Jimmy Creech when he decided to treat his Gay and Straight parishioners equally. Do Progressive preachers really have the courage to follow through?

Inequality for Gay and Lesbian people is no longer a debatable issue in either Church or State. Therefore, I will from this moment on, refuse to dignify the continued public expression of ignorant prejudice by engaging it. I do not tolerate racism or sexism any longer. From this moment on, I will no longer tolerate our culture's various forms of homophobia. I do not care who it is who articulates these attitudes, or who tries to make them sound Holy with religious jargon.

I trust Dr. Spong will be 100% true to this statement! I hope he realizes that some of those forms of homophobia he mentions are articulated by Gay clergy. I hope he's prepared to chastise colleagues like the Metropolitan Community Church's Nancy Wilson, Soulforce's Mel White, and minister/pundit Irene Monroe for their endorsement of the word "queer" to describe LGBT folk. As '70s Pop star Johnny Nash sings in one of my favorite Reggae songs: You can't go halfway/You've got to go all the way!* Ignorance from within is just as corrosive as ignorance from without, and may be more so!

I have been part of this debate for years, but things do get settled, and this issue is now settled for me. I do not debate any longer with members of the "Flat Earth Society", either. I do not debate with people who think we should treat epilepsy by casting demons out of the epileptic person; I do not waste time engaging those medical opinions that suggest that bleeding the patient might release the infection. I do not converse with people who think that Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans as punishment for the sin of being the birthplace of Ellen DeGeneres, or that the terrorists hit the United States on 9/11 because we tolerated homosexual people, abortions, feminism or the American Civil Liberties Union.

This is nothing if not a commentary on how far American pundits have veered outside the realm of credibility! Thirty years ago, we would never have heard such outrageous theories presented in major media outlets. Today, though, it's a matter of routine, and punditry on LGBT topics tends to be the most outrageous of all!

I am tired of being embarrassed by so much of my church's participation in causes that are quite unworthy of the Christ I serve, or the God whose mystery and wonder I appreciate more each day. Indeed, I feel the Christian Church should not only apologize, but do public penance for the way we have treated people of color, women, adherents of other religions, and those we designated heretics, as well as Gay and Lesbian people.

I think the word Dr. Spong is grasping for here is "repentance". It’s a word that should be used forcefully and often whenever we talk about the disgraceful activities of Fundamentalist hatemongers!

This is my manifesto and my creed. I proclaim it today. I invite others to join me in this public declaration. I believe that such a public outpouring will help cleanse both the Church and this nation of its own distorting past. It will restore integrity and honor to both Church and State. It will signal that a new day has dawned, and (that) we are ready not just to embrace it, but also to rejoice in it and to celebrate it.

The state of Maine has just disenfranchised its Lesbian and Gay residents; the viciously bigoted Rev. Bernice King just got elected to head the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC); a long-distance friend of mine (famous '60s songwriter Ellie Greenwich) recently died; and I lost my job last month, so a new day sounds awfully good to me right now. Bring it on!

Dr. Spong has discovered what every committed Christian must learn sooner or later: When it comes to loving your neighbor as you love yourself (Mark 12:28-31), you can't go halfway! You've got to go all the way. You've got to affirm both the letter and the spirit of the Savior's teachings, and you can't accommodate anything or anyone that impedes your journey to full salvation!

MARK 9:43-48:
(Jesus Christ said) "If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off! It is better for you to enter life maimed than to have hands and to go to Hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off! It is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into Hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out! It is better for you to enter the Kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into Hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

I fully support Dr. Spong's Manifesto, and I think every decent person should do so as well, regardless of faith tradition. My own Manifesto complements it nicely, if I do say so myself: you can read it by scrolling to the bottom of my blog. If that steamed-up statement still doesn't quench your appetite for flaming lava in word form, then check out Rev. Jerry Maneker's new essay on self-hating Gay Christians.  It's so high-voltage, you dare not read it without a surge protector on your computer!

*excerpt from "You Can't Go Halfway" 
by Margaret Nash and Jimmy Norman,
copyright 1974 Cissi Music, Incorporated (BMI)