Wednesday, February 11, 2009

What's In a Name?

Apparently my little skit hit a nerve with some people.  As a preacher friend of mine from Louisiana once said, "Did I step on your toes?  Good!"  Sometimes folks just don't get it, so I want to focus on a word that's been batted about quite a bit... bigot.

Merriam-Webster defines the word bigot as, : a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices ; especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance." The Online Dictionary takes it further as, "A person who regards his own faith and views in matters of religion as unquestionably right, and any belief or opinion opposed to or differing from them as unreasonable or wicked. In an extended sense, a person who is intolerant of opinions which conflict with his own, as in politics or morals; one obstinately and blindly devoted to his own church, party, belief, or opinion."  

Now I know quite a few people become offended when the word bigot is brought out.  However, let's face facts here.  The opinions of the "orthodoxy" on same sex relations and women's ordination come from a fundamentalist reading of the Bible.  The mantra I remember growing up was, "The Bible says it. I believe it and that's that."  There is no room for discussion on this, because they feel they are right beyond a shadow of a doubt and that's all there is to it.

Now I can already hear folks like Phil ( I don't mean to pick on you, Brother, but you are the best example I have at the moment) who would say that my own views would also make me a bigot as well.  And he may have a point.  I am unwilling to waiver in my views too.  But how we came to our conclusions are probably very different.  While I can't speak for Phil's faith journey, I can talk some about mine.  Let's just say that I believed as Phil does at one time.  But then some revelations happened that made me reconsider what I believed and finally brought me to where I am today.  

It started with a roommate of mine my second semester at a fundangelical college called Hannibal-LaGrange.  He was a man in his mid thirties who had the "salvation experience" and was now an ex-homosexual.  He was even engaged to one of the women in our "Star Trek Club".  One night I came home from being out with my then girlfriend to find him sitting in the dark crying.   Somehow, he had developed a crush on another friend of ours, who was a straight male.  I talked with him at length to try to comfort him.  He told me how even though he had accepted Christ as his personal Lord and Savior, he still had these feelings that he hated but could not get rid of.  He knew how he "should be", and could not reconcile it with what he still felt.  Every day and every night he prayed to be delivered from this sin.  He was full of guilt, shame and self loathing.  All I could do was cry with him, pray with him and wonder.  One barrier shattered.

Next was when I found out one of my cousins was gay.  But watching my family's reaction was almost comical if it had not been so sad.  Many of them said they always knew he was "a little funny".   But in the very next breath they could talk about how he was living a life of sin and that he chose to be that way.  He died in a car wreck a few years ago; never fully accepted by my family.  Another barrier shattered.

Months later, I joined the Navy.  I made quite a few friends, and, as it turned out, some were gay.  These men and women were some of the best Corpsmen and Marines I have ever seen.  Another barrier shattered.

The final barrier gave way when I joined All Saint's Episcopal Church in Bentonville.  Here I met gay and lesbian friends, all in committed monogamous relationships, some even caring for children.  Seeing them and getting to really know them as people opened my eyes to what God had been trying to tell me in that dorm room so long ago:  that I was wrong.  What I had been taught as a child was wrong, and that I could never shut people out again.  It also spurred within me a desire to act on that epiphany.  If I could come to this realization, why couldn't others?  

I was once a bigot.  Now I am not.  My views are held not out of blind obedience to an institution or to a sacred text.  They come from years of conversation, what this listening process should be.  They come from hours of prayer, questioning God, studying not just what our Bible says, but what was underneath: the things that we don't see in the text.  And finally, they come from the transformative process that allowing the love of Christ to work through brings.  

I pray for Phil and many like him.  I pray that one day God will open their hearts and allow them to for one moment feel the pain that they have inflicted.  I pray that some day they will have the epiphany I had.  I also pray for the men and women like my former roommate James and my cousin Jeremy.  Men and women who we have cast aside or attempted to fit them into a mould that never will.   I close with these words from Paul. 

Galatians 5:1 and 3-4
For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery...4You who want to be justified by the law have cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.

Thanks be to God.


Lauralew said...

It is amazing how lessons learned while living life can change a person--if the person is open enough to allow it. There are those who would have gone through the same things you have and still be totally entrenched in anti gay bigotry. They are not open to other views.

Thanks for sharing this.

Phil said...

Arkansas Hillbilly,

Thanks for your response. I’ve been meaning to address your comments in the last post, but I see you’ve extended the topic here. I hope it’s OK if I use this spot to address some issues from both posts.

To round out the last post, I do use the word “mainstream” to characterize my position, but you misread what I used it to modify: not “Episcopalian,” but “Anglican.” You’re absolutely right that they aren’t the same. For purposes of this discussion, it could equally well be used in conjunction with “Christian,” since, like it or not, your views are in the distinct minority, and always have been.

You recycled the idea that science somehow trumps the moral teaching of the Church: “We are slowly realizing that the old ideas about LGBT's is wrong, just as we were wrong in believing the earth was the center of the universe, a band of water separates Heaven from Earth…” But this is a category error, since, in the case of the former, we are discussing the moral status of a behavior, while in the latter, we are discussing the truth or falsity of an observable physical condition. In order for the analogy to apply, the Church would had to have taught that, for example, it is sinful for the Earth to choose to orbit the Sun.

Leaving that aside, science is amoral. It doesn’t teach us how we should behave; it only characterizes how we do, and sometimes tells us why. You should consider what “science” would tell you about the relative propensity, and “normalness” thereof, of men to stay faithful to one woman versus pursuing as many hot partners as are willing. More fundamentally, what do you think “science” has concluded about the possibility that a Man dead in the tomb for three days suddenly rose fully to life? What does your “faith journey” tell you about this Christ, Who we confess conquered death and redeemed all of creation, when any one day’s news will show you plenty of death, evil and ugliness? Wouldn’t the rational person conclude it’s all a lie? High school biology and physics alone could function, quite reasonably, as “revelations” that would make the Christian “reconsider what [he] believed.”

So, let’s face another fact: as someone with an Anglo-Catholic background, I most certainly do not take my cues from a “fundamentalist reading of the Bible.” (Maybe you have another set of people you need to understand, rather than relying on stereotypes?) I do think that the collective, undivided discernment of both Scripture and the consensus of the Catholic Tradition counts for something. I also think, as much as I also grapple with the kind of witness that you’re giving us with your personal stories, that we all struggle with urges (sometimes very powerful ones) and that it isn’t up to us to decide for ourselves what’s right and wrong from a divine perspective. You will not find a hint in the Gospel that our Faith is about self-gratification, being fulfilled or even being happy as the world would understand it. Metropolitan Philaret (Orthodox) put it this way:

“People forget that the path of Christianity is indeed an ascetical labour. Last Sunday, we heard how the Lord said: ‘He that would come after Me, let him take up his cross, deny himself, and follow Me.’ The Lord said this with the greatest emphasis. Therefore the Christian must be one who takes up his cross, and his life, likewise, must be an ascetic labour of bearing that cross.”

I assure you I don’t regard any of your friends as evil or reprehensible, or “bad people” in some way, and I think you will struggle to find me ever saying as such.

By the way, you have a great looking family. We also have a baby boy (one who, I’m sorry to say, is in the process of un-learning how to sleep through the night). They are a joy.

I appreciate your prayers.