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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Invitation Declined

It's probably an occupational hazard.

I get invitations all the time to engage in intimate conversations with complete strangers or to appear on talk shows of one sort or another.

You know, it's an amazing phenomenon: an entire industry has been made out of the expression of opinions.

Opinions, as my grandmother always said, are like the orifice at the posterior end of the human body: everyone has one, but it doesn't mean what comes out of them has any value.

I've come to be quite expert at detecting what I call "Daniel Invitations." These are the very politely worded invitations that lead directly into the lion's den.

When promises are made to be "loving and respectful," or the writer or caller expresses sentiments such as, "I really just want to understand your position," you ought to hear that robot from that old TV Program, "Lost in Space" yelling, "Danger! Danger, Will Robinson!"

I've had two such invitations within the past three weeks: one from an affable enough fella named Andy from a University in Pennsylvania and the other from Jacob, this 30 something guy from the Church of God in Christ in Columbia, Tennessee, who hosts, "The Virtual Bible Study," a live, phone-in, email, webcast program.

You can find archives of his show, or listen in live on Thursday nights at 8 PM CDT, by going here.

My grandmother also used to say, "If you lie down with dogs, you may get up with fleas." Still hearing that warning clearly, I declined the invitation.

Here's my note to him. Hey, you think I'm going to miss a chance to express an opinion? I've got one too, you know. An opinion, that is. A few, actually. You may have noticed.

Well, Jacob,

Your invitation to me to appear on your show included the "promise that we would conduct the interview in a loving and respectful manner."

As I responded to you, I was very skeptical of that promise.

The first clue was that you wanted to interview me on the "Three-legged stool of Anglicanism" but you wanted specifically to discuss how I interpret what scripture says about "homosexuality and women clergy," placing them in the same category.

That spoke volumes about your theology and biblical perspective. I know when I am being invited into the Lion's Den, and I could hear them roaring in the background.

I listened to the session entitled "What does the Bible really say about homosexuality?" which I found on your website and it did absolutely nothing to change my mind. Indeed, it simply confirmed some beliefs and assumptions I had from your first note to me.

At the beginning of the broadcast session your father says, "We never express personal opinions but seek to know what the Bible says."

Later, someone else (Chris?) says, "What's important is not what I think but to seek the Truth (you can actually hear him capitalize the 'T' in Truth). We are not trying to bash anyone but to seek the Truth."

You say, "This topic has been in the media a great deal and we need to know how to respond to it because we see people - even religious people - trying to defend it and even promote it."

You and your guests also refer to homosexuality in no uncertain terms as "SIN" (no question in my mind that all letters are upper case). Those who would, in your words "defend and even promote" homosexuality, you describe as teaching a "false way," comparing homosexuality to "adultery and other sinful vices."

I suppose I should not have been surprised but I was when you even raised the old, sad red herring argument about NAMBLA - which has not only been "hammered" in your words by conservative organizations, but by every reputable LGBT organization, religious or not, with which I have ever been associated.

Let's get very, very clear, once and for all: NAMBLA does not represent homosexuality. It is pedophilia, flat out, which happens to be of the same-sex origin. Every reputable shred of scientific data indicates that pedophilia is a disease predominantly seen among heterosexuals - not homosexuals; and men, predominantly, not women.

Pedophiles are also not as interested in gender as they are age and dominance and power and violence - so they will seduce little boys and girls into their evil deeds with impunity - no matter their own gender.

Pedophilia is NOT a sexual orientation. It is a disease. Likewise rape is NOT "having sex." It is an act of violence. Homosexuality, in and of itself, is neither a disease nor an act of violence. It is a sexual orientation, like heterosexuality or bisexuality, given by God before birth.

Which is why pedophilia and rape are crimes and homosexuality is not. Got it?

Well, Jacob, so much for your "promise that we would conduct the interview in a loving and respectful manner."

You know, every single abusive parent I have ever met or counseled always argues that they are not being abusive but providing "loving discipline" - often quoting scripture to defend their violence. Indeed, I have sat with violent spousal abusers who defend themselves by quoting scripture concerning the subservient nature of women "as ordained by God from the beginning of creation."

I am of the opinion that the actions of evangelical Christians like you and your guests, in your "alarm" about thwarting the "temptations of a corrupt society that are threats to the people of God," are tantamount to the arguments which try to justify domestic violence and other acts of abuse. It is patently, painfully obvious that you use scripture as both your "sword and your shield."

Despite your warm words of invitation and protests to the contrary, your views on homosexuality are set, your mind is made up, and my words will be empty and meaningless to you. You can't understand my position because, if, in fact, you told the truth or at least were honest with yourself the Truth is this: You really don't want to understand my position. Your mind is already made up. You know "The Truth."

To be perfectly blunt, the REAL truth about this, at least from my perspective, is that you want me on your show to boost your ratings. After twenty years of ordained service in the public practice of ministry, I know media titillation when I see it. You may dress it up in Sunday best and put a Prayer Book in its hands, but it remains as cheap and as vile as when carried by the Tabloids. Shame on you.

You are correct about one thing: Jesus did say, "If you love me, keep my commandments." So, let me ask you this: What commandment did Jesus - or for that matter, that other great biblical prophet and leader, Moses - ever make about homosexuality? Indeed, if homosexuality is so all-fired important to God, why isn't it clearly spelled out as being contrary to God's will and law in the Ten Commandments?

Oh, I know what you are going to say: "It's right there in the Seventh Commandment: "Thou shalt not commit adultery." This all becomes so pathetically predictable, doesn't it? I mean, we could probably write each other's script.

I recently had a phone conversation with a man from Pennsylvania who "just wanted to understand," who, blithely and breezily compared my more than thirty year faithful, monogamous, loving relationship with my beloved, and the family of six (heterosexual, by the way, because I know you're dying to know) children we have raised to healthy adulthood, to incest and greed.

He was quite pious and very earnest in saying that people who commit incest do it "out of love" and that he, himself, needed the discipline of tithing in order to deal with his fallen, wretched human nature as made manifest in his personal sin of greed. Mind you, he prefaced all of this by saying, "I do not mean to be offensive, but let me say this to make my point."

As we say in the NY Metropolitan area, "Yada, yada, yada," which, in fact, is Yiddish for "Nothing, nothing, nothing."

Despite your father's claim that you "never express personal opinions" and your claim that you do not seek to "bash" anyone, you are judging and condemning me and my people on an uneven claim.

Adultery is defined as sexual relations outside of bonds of marriage, right? If LGBT people are denied their basic CIVIL RIGHT (not to mention the liturgical rites) of marriage, how can we be adulterous? You have set up an impossible situation and then judged and condemned an entire group of God's children who are gloriously made - male and female, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender - by this man-made impossibility.

I know. I know. You are only interested in "what the Bible teaches" and with "the rules set forth in scripture." Oh, and of course, THE TRUTH.

Here's the fundamental difference between you and me, Jacob, and the way our individual faith systems work: I believe that the Bible is neither a Book of Instruction nor a Rule Book; rather, I believe that the Bible is a GUIDE book.

You believe that the Bible is inerrant. I believe the Bible has been - is - wrong on many, many things: the shape of the world, the sinfulness of left handed people, the inferiority of women, that illness is a curse from God for a specific sin (or the sins of the father), that epilepsy is evidence of demon possession - just to name a few.

You believe that the Bible begins with the Fall of humankind in the Garden. I believe the Bible begins with God's blessing that all of creation and creatures are "good". You don't believe this, I know, but I believe that the Bible is absolutely correct in having at its core the love of God for all of creation, including the human condition and the human enterprise.

The truth, Jacob? I'll leave you with this piece of biblical truth.

In the farewell discourse in John's gospel, Jesus says, "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, s/he will guide you into all truth; for s/he will not speak on her/his own, but will speak whatever s/he hears, and s/he will declare to you the things that are to come." (John 16:12)

Unlike you, I take no delight in the ability to quote scripture, chapter and verse, from memory. Unlike you, I do not claim ownership of The Truth. I do believe that scripture is an unfinished book, the fullness of its truths are yet to be revealed "because we cannot bear them now."

My prayer for you, Jacob, is one of the ones I say daily to myself. I give it now to you. It is this: That you will one day gain the true, authentic humility which is necessary to prepare the fertile ground in your heart and soul into which the seed of truth may be implanted and, ultimately, revealed in your life, that all who see and know of your good works will give glory to God.


Caminante said...

Yeah, someone wrote me the other day about a note I sent to the HOBD list, wanting me to defend my statement about the catch-22 situation LGBT people are put in: they can't have their relationships blessed by the church because it's not biblically sanctioned so they are living in sin because theyir relationship hasn't been blessed because there's no justification for their existence in the bible. I tried (spent a fair amount of time in my answer, providing books and all) and got the response that my moral theology was so insufficient that there was no point in conversation because the person's mind wasn't going to be changed anyway.

Mike in Texas said...

I have watched a few fundie heads explode after pointing out to them that since marriage does not exist for gay people, neither does adultery.

Adultery is a special right straight people selfishly keep for themselves.

emmy said...

“… the reason that his [God’s] words are impossible to capture in human language is of course that they are ultimately always incarnate words… God speaks to us in such a way, presumably, not because he chooses to be obscure, but because, unlike a dictionary word whose meaning is fixed, the meaning of an incarnate word is the meaning it has for the one it is spoken to, the meaning that becomes clear and affective in our lives only when we ferret it out for ourselves.” Frederick Buechner, "Simpler Living Compassionate Life" page 21.

Bill said...

Elizabeth, You’re just too kind. I would not have wasted that much time and effort in responding to those folks. I would simple have said, “You’re history is online, you’re motives are suspect, thank you but no thank you.”

It’s both, the curse and blessing of the internet. Every thought, word, and deed they have ever had is online and available for study. Did they really think that they could “blind side” you with an invitation like that.

Jane R said...

Elizabeth, this is a superb open letter. Thanks.

And thanks for your many ministries -- and for modeling healthy approaches to them!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

You know, Bill, I go through this more often than I'd like to admit. I keep thinking that one day - one day - some one of those who believe as Jacob does will REALLY be willing to listen and learn. Not convert to MY way of thinking, but perhaps just to let me and other LGBT people live our lives in Christian love and peace.

I know. Silly me.