As we all know, the topic of gay marriage has been all the rage for quite some time now, not just in Australia but around the world. On 18 June 2012, I was called by ABC radio 720 Perth to do an interview with their Drive time presenter Russell Woolf about this topic. Russell and I had talked extensively earlier in the year about the book and I had found him interested, interesting, well-informed and very willing to discuss the myriad issues brought up by a book like Being Gay Being Christian. Of course, I jumped at the chance of a second interview and was very happy to discuss the topic of gay marriage with him even though I had not very much time to collect my thoughts or to prepare.
At the conclusion of the interview, Russell's producer came back on the line and told me that the phones had lit up and that texts were coming in thick and fast in support of what I was saying. She told me that it was one of the best responses to a story they had had. Isn't it great to know you're not alone! :)
Below is the audio of the interview. I hope you enjoy it.
Drive Presenter ABC Radio 720 Perth
Deal With it Bishops
On the weekend of 17 June, the hierarchies of the church in Sydney, namely the Catholic, Anglican and Greek Orthodox bishops, decided to have read a 'pastoral' letter in their respective churches about the vexed topic of gay marriage. This was obviously done in response to the strong support for marriage equality that the people of Australia have offered, despite the recalcitrance of our political leaders. However, congregants were trapped as they had to sit there and listen to clerics denigrating the lives and relationships of gay people with out-dated theology, poor science and a naivete around LGBT people and issues. People had no right of reply or any chance to offer an alternate view in the church-service scenario. It was a top-down, heavy-handed approach by the conservative church telling people how to think and how to behave, encouraging them to lobby politicians to oppose marriage equality should a bill come before the Parliament.
I was not a happy camper with this state of affairs as these same clerics took to the airwaves and to the print media over the following days to sell their dinosaur position.
That weekend, I decided to write a reply to my local newspaper, the Newcastle Herald. I wrote it quickly and sent it in under the title, 'A Response To The Bishops.' The opinion piece was duly accepted and they published it on the following Wednesday under the title, 'I am gay and Christian: deal with it, bishops,' which made me sound like a petulant child or an outraged adolescent. Even though the title is nothing like the tenor of the piece itself, I am glad they published it and I understand that many people read it.
Calling all Clergymen and Clergywomen the World Over
In 1967, English band The Tremeloes covered the song Silence is Golden. It became a huge hit for them and stayed at the top of the charts for three weeks; the incredible falsetto voices and close harmonies soaring the words of the chorus into history. "Silence is golden, but my eyes still see. Silence is golden, golden, but my eyes still see".
In this post, I want to challenge the church and especially its leaders that silence regarding the vilification and denigration of gay people by the Christian clergy, is not only NOT golden, it is also an act of collusion in oppression. The silence over this issue by clergy leaders is one of the great sins of the Christian church (see BGBC Blog post J'accuse).
A New Presence
Over the last two years or so the world has been discovering the presence of gay people in a new and, for us us gay people, exciting way. It has taken almost everyone, gay people included, by surprise. There is the very obvious gay marriage debate which is found in every quarter of the Western world and in some developing countries too. Gay marriage is everywhere - on our screens, in the papers, on the Net, on Facebook and Tumblr and internet mags and journals. I have written a post on gay marriage on the BGBC BLog myself.
But the gay marriage thing is not the only LGBT issue presently around. Other gay issues are being discussed now, regularly, openly, daily: adoption, aged-care facilities, political equality, discrimination, church teachings on the nature of gay sexuality, gay ordination and gays in the military. All these issues are upon us and around us everywhere and the conversatons about gay people are now being had in the wider community. But it is not always with grace that people are entering into these conversations.
Because there is still a vast amount of cultural homophobia and heterosexism inherent in our society, there is the inevitable kickback. And we are feeling it now. It is coming from a number of quarters, but probably most vociferously from certain elements in the Christian church.
Many times, I have read the commnents section to a gay-focused article like: "these bloody gays are everywhere. We're getting swamped with gays". Or, "these gays have no right to foist their lifestyles on us - if they choose to be gay, then that's their choice, just let them stay out of our lives". Or "God will not bless these unions because He condemns homosexuality outright in His word and God never changes". Such sentiments are not uncommon at the end of opinion pieces.
Of course, there is no 'swamping' and there are no more gays now than before; it's just that we're a lot more open and less shamed about who we are these days. However, as an example of the kickback, allow me to share my own experience.
On 11 May, I wrote an article for the online political paper The Punch who were interested in the author of Being Gay Being Christian doing an opinion piece on gay sexuality and the church. I was happy to oblige and duly wrote the piece and sent it in to them. No doubt with a gleam in their eye for sensationalism, The Punch provocatively entitled the piece: Modern Christians Can Trump Bible Thumping Fundies.
If anything was going to bring the haters and the homophones, the aggressive atheists and, excuse the plain speaking, the nutters out of the woodwork (and no I'm not talking abut the mentally ill), that title was going to do it. And it did. The majority of them were Christians or purportedly Christian by their rhetoric.
Of 273 comments posted on the page at the completion of my text, only one was unequivocally positive about the piece itself or the issues I raised. 1 out of 273. All the rest were highly critical of me, telling me in no uncertain terms that among other things:
I will burn in hell
I am not a Christian
I am a fool
I am rewriting everything to suit myself
I need to repent
I should do some research on the Bible
I am a nasty and vicious person
I am confused
I am a poor scholar
I am a fundamentalist
I am deluded
And one I do love in particular was being described as "an avowed homosexual"; presumably by someone who is an 'avowed' heterosexual. Come to think of it, I don't recall making a vow when I accepted my sexuality.
Anyway, one of my Facebook friends suggested that given the number and negative nature of the comments, it "suggests an organized alert went out to a certain cohort of people". Wow! They really do get themselves organised! It felt like a shark-feeding frenzy as the comments came up relentlessly, one after another, all two hundred and seventy three of them.
Difficult for Gay People of Faith
Now we gay people have been forced to live with this stuff; not easily or comfortably mind you, but nonetheless, we've managed. It's nasty. It's frustrating too, because almost all of this kickback is premised on erroneous thinking, ignorance of science and anthropology, and a blind obedience to a 'conscious literalist' approach to the Bible where solid and sound scholarship about these matters can easily be found. But it can be hurtful too. Although I am a big boy now and can look after myself, having the emotional maturity to be able to manage such emotional abuse, I do fear for younger more tender-yeared gay people who do not have the emotional maturity or the life experience to be able to healthily bat this stuff away for the embarrassing ignorance that it is.
And of course, I'm not the only one. I have a pastor friend, straight and married, who stood up for the LGBT community and declared his support for marriage equality and duly lost his parish ministry. He has said that he has been called names and that he has been accused of being deceived "by those promoting the gay agenda". I have another young gay friend who came out of a pentecostal church, went through an 'ex-gay' ministry and was nearly driven to suicide by engrained church teaching that tortured him much the same way that it tortured me when I was his age. After finally finding freedom as a gay man of faith, he told me that he has been called "a demon, sexual deviant, stupid, deceived and numerous other insults more times than I care to remember".
Ramping Up the Rhetoric
Now of late, the trend of such kickback has become worrying. The rhetoric has been ramped up and has become much more aggressive and there have been instances of violence or abuse that have been incited. And this, by clergymen.
The trend toward hostility toward gay people is becoming very noticeable and is an entirely unwelcome phenomenon in the discourse of the Christian church, being so antithetical to the Gospel.
What is it about the opponents of gay people in the church that makes them so strident and so unloving? There's that incredible comment by a gay person who in answer to a Christian said, "if you people are supposed to love the sinner but hate the sin, then why am I feeling so unloved when you speak to me?" It's an important point.
I am profoundly worried that the rhetoric coming out of America, especially evengelical/pentecostal churches is becoming more and more violent. Over the last few weeks we have had various pastors lining up to offer their take on gay people.
Pator Sean Harris
We start with Pastor Sean Harris of Berean Baptist Church North Carolina. He encourages his fathers to punch their sons if they exhibit any gender non-conforming play or to use his words are "a little girlish".
Here is an excerpt of his sermon. “So your little son starts to act a little girlish when he is four years old and instead of squashing that like a cockroach and saying, ‘Man up, son, get that dress off you and get outside and dig a ditch, because that is what boys do,’ you get out the camera and you start taking pictures of Johnny acting like a female and then you upload it to YouTube and everybody laughs about it and the next thing you know, this dude, this kid is acting out childhood fantasies that should have been squashed. Dads, the second you see your son dropping the limp wrist, you walk over there and crack that wrist. Man up. Give him a good punch. Ok? You are not going to act like that. You were made by God to be a male and you are going to be a male. And when your daughter starts acting too butch, you reign her in. And you say, ‘Oh, no, sweetheart. You can play sports. Play them to the glory of God. But sometimes you are going to act like a girl and walk like a girl and talk like a girl and smell like a girl and that means you are going to be beautiful. You are going to be attractive. You are going to dress yourself up.’”
So, here you have a Christian minister, a so-called leader in the faith suggesting violence to kids. This is the 'beat the gay out them' Gospel.
Then we move on to Rev Charles Worley. I have already written a post on this man after he told his congregation to many 'amens' and 'preach it brothers' that the solution - final solution? - to the "queer" problem is to build a giant enclosure surrounded by an electric fence where all the "queers and the lesbians" can be penned up for the rest of their lives until they die out. Charming huh. I'm not the first one to recall Nazi allusions. He told his people that "the Bible's agin it, God's agin it, I'm agin it and if you got any sense, you're agin it". That's what they call 'down-home preaching' - 'no fancy theology here brother'. Is this man actually suggesting the deprivation of liberty, summary imprisonment with no offence committed, and ultimately, mass man slaughter? Is this what passes for theology in the Baptist Church in the State of North Carolina?
Over this last week, we have had the unedifying video clip of a small toddler in Pastor Jeff Sangl's Apostolic Truth Tabernacle in Indiana singing to the church congregation, "I know the Bible’s right, somebody’s wrong...ain't no homos gonna make it to heaven."
Apparently in Indiana, it's okay to teach very small children to hate, to normalise discrimination and to be homophobic to the rapturous applause of the colluding adults. As a Psychologist, I consider this child abuse. As a human being, I find this heart-breaking. It is as aggressive and immoral as a parent teaching their small child to bully other kids when they're at school.
I don't know if this is only America. I have not heard yet of any other similar things happening in Europe or other Western countries to the same degree. But here's the thing and this is the crux of my post.
WHERE are the church authorities?
Where are the clergy councils, or the state or national assemblies that are running these denominations?
Why is there deafening silence over these travesties of 'men of God' who are out there week after week spouting this vile filth?
Why are they not defrocked?
Why are they not laicised?
Why are they not disendorsed?
Why are they not rebuked with the utmost vigour?
Why are the churches so silent?
What these men are doing is such a complete disgrace that the ramifications of their actions and words are barely describable. The harm to people is incalculable and the reputation of the Gospel is trashed.
A few years ago at the height of the fear over the so-called war on terror, the world asked the same question of the imams and leaders of the Islamic faith. Where is your voice? Why don't you denounce the violence and murder done in God's name? And the imams and Islamic leaders to their eternal credit did just that. There has been widespread condemnation of religious terrorism by Moslem leaders in mosques the world over. Public denunciations of the incitement of religious-based violence. We Christians can take a leaf out of their book.
Silence is not golden and unfortunately our eyes still see. We continue to see these ignorant men declaring in God's name that we gay people are less than people. They dehumanise us from their pulpits and call that Christianity. I want no part of that god or that faith. And neither should anyone else who understands even a mere scintilla of the Jesus message.
Christian brothers and sisters in the pews - when you hear this kind of thing, you need to denounce it as pernicious wickedness. Don't just sit there and take it. To speak such violence and using God's name no less to do it, is beyond the pale. This would be utterly rejected if secular leaders got up and said this stuff. Church hierarchs - you need to speak up. There should be no room in the brotherhood and sisterhood of the clergy for such men and women. If they want to remain in the denomination, then let them recant. Let them go back to school and do some theology, learn some modern Biblical studies, some hermeneutics and Biblical exegesis and some humility lessons wouldn't go astray either. Denominational hierarchies, you need to take this seriously. We should all have zero tolerance in the Christian church, no matter what denomination, for its pastors and priests to be speaking such calumny against any group of people, including gay people.
The Catholics are no better. There are so many bishops and priests across the globe who do not agree with official Roman teaching about gay people, that is, that we are 'objectively disordered' and 'inclined to moral evil'. It's time for bishops and priests to speak up. It's time that you spoke out. Be part of what the Spirit is doing in the world today regarding LGBT people. The Bishops' Conference is the place to do it. Stand up and speak out. Get your brother bishops to listen to what you have to say. Call for others to stand with you. You know that science and anthropology and sound Biblical studies and theology are all on your side.
Melbourne writer, Will Day's essay Don't Tell the Cathedral is powerful reading. Bishops and priests - read it. I include an excerpt here.
“. . . there is a long-standing Catholic tradition of exercising a grumbling patience in relation to injustices within the church itself. This stands in stark contrast to the vigorous response of Catholic workers and activists to injustices in the wider community. Within the church there is a tendency to trust that the Spirit will work at its own pace and in its own time – usually slowly. It is an unusual and courageous priest or nun who stands up to address church authorities, crying; ‘Hey, you can’t do that!’ in public. I imagine the reasons for this are complex: religious, ideological, political and probably often very personal.
“Certainly to speak out may draw onerous sanctions, may threaten one’s job security, housing security, financial security and social standing. One might be sacked and ousted, or shunted off to a disheartening gig in the middle of nowhere.
“Imagine if every priest and bishop in Australia who believed that official church teaching on homosexuality was wrong stood at the pulpit one Sunday and said as much. The landscape would powerfully change for the adolescent boys and girls in the congregation to whom the official church was teaching that their emerging sexual orientation was a ‘disorder’. The landscape would also change for the countless older queer folk in the congregation and within the priesthood.”
I am not the only commentator to have observed this development. Others have written about it too. For example, see Michelangelo Signorile's article in the HuffPost Gay Voices where he names names in the United States.
I say again to the ecclesiastical authorties in the Christian Church the world over - every denomination - from the mainstream well-known ones to the little ones that hardly anyone has heard of:
SILENCE IS NOT GOLDEN.
Silence is immoral.
Please speak up. Denounce hatred for hatred. Denounce violence for violence. Denounce bigotry for bigotry. Say what needs to be said. If you are true to your vocation, then you MUST speak up. Let there be a resounding chorus of church authorities and church figures throughout the world who will stand up for the oppressed. Don't let ignoramuses trash the Gospel, ruin the reputation of the Church, hurt gay people and push people away from Christian spirituality because they figure that if that's what it's like, then they want nothing of it. When you have the power and opportunity to speak up and you remain silent, you collude in their ignorant and evil behaviour.