For the last couple of days, the blogosphere, Twitter, and Facebook have been buzzing with opinions regarding the comments made by “Duck Dynasty” patriarch, Phil Robertson. I have engaged in debate to the point of feeling sick with frustration, only to realize that neither I nor the person I am talking to on the other side of the issue is going to budge an inch and the debate is essentially pointless. What was an opportunity for discussion and understanding had devolved into an “us versus them” volley of memes and bumper sticker logic, and there was no understanding to be had at that point.
Yet, even as the debate has cooled, the questions raised by both Robertson’s comments and the debate which followed seems to have left a good many of us feeling bruised and beaten. In the limited time I spent on Twitter yesterday, I saw several people state that they felt profound grief over what happened in the wake of the GQ interview with Robertson.
Why so much sadness over this? Why has it effected people so deeply? It would be easy to spout off some snarky comment regarding the people who have taken this to heart. It would be easy to say that the people who have absorbed all of this and made it, for a time, a part of themselves are being too sensitive, getting too worked up over what a reality tv star said, and dismiss all of this out of hand as little more than just another buzz-creating PR ploy by A&E or overblown tabloid fodder.
I think it is much more than that, though, and it goes far deeper than being a trending topic on Twitter and Facebook. I think this has resonated so profoundly with people because it brings into focus deep wounds from which the church, and society at large, have not healed. The church has a history of supporting ideologies which disenfranchise people based on their sexual orientation and their race. The church has not been a friend, by and large, to people who are not white heterosexual males. While progress has been made, I think the discussion over the last couple of days shows that there is still a long, long way to go toward reconciliation between the gospel and its practical application in the world outside the church’s doors.
The Bible has been used to bludgeon those who are disenfranchised by the society the church has helped create. Gays, people of color, and those in poverty still regularly feel the brunt of ideologies, espoused as ultimate truth, which do not afford them the same dignity as white heterosexuals. I realize that’s a polarizing position to take, but an honest look at the culture which spawned the overwhelming support of Robertson’s comments would indicate that there is at least a measure of truth in what I’ve said. You’re free to disagree.
I have been grieved to see the unrelenting passion with which people defend the comments made by Robertson, essentially boiling their arguments down to, “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.” Aside from the fact that there is a tremendous amount of scholarly debate regarding what the Bible really has to say about homosexuality, it’s worth noting that the Bible has been used to support everything from slavery to the subjugation of women, and scripture can be easily found to lend credibility to these positions. Using unexamined scripture to support bigotry is still supporting bigotry.
The rhetoric adopted by the Christian right in support of laws which deny equality to homosexuals has real world consequences. People have been deeply wounded by the dogma which tells them, in essence, that they are deeply flawed because of their sexual orientation, and that even though it was not something they chose for themselves, God finds them so vile that he would rather send them to an eternity of conscious torment than allow them to set foot in heaven. It is disturbing to me that so many people are okay with this idea. These ideas are not at all far removed from the same rhetoric which justified slavery and the Jim Crow era Phil so fondly spoke of, in which people were told that they are less than human and are therefore not deserving of the same considerations as the white, fully human citizens of the United States.
Once upon a time, preachers spoke from the pulpit about the virtues of slavery, using myriad scripture regarding the humane treatment of slaves as a means to bolster their opinions. As the Bible has so much to say about slavery, it would be easy to make the case that it was okay for one human being to own another, to be master over that person. Yet, somehow, we found a way to form a new understanding of the Bible and concluded that there is “neither Jew nor Gentile, male nor female, slave nor free,” and we are all God’s beloved. We are all deserving of dignity and equality. How did we get to that place? We got there because we used the Bible in total to inform our position on the issue, rather than cherry picking verses which support bigotry and hate. We reached a place of understanding the context in which passages regarding slavery were written, understanding the cultural and political context surrounding the instructions to masters regarding slaves. People came to understand that owning another human being was so egregious a crime against that human being, it was worth altering America’s trajectory in order to bring it to an end. Laws which allowed for the marginalization and disenfranchising of a human being based on the color of their skin have met the same fate, and the remnants of the Jim Crow era which stubbornly hang on in the law books are called out for what they are: unjust laws based on antiquated stereotypes which have no place in our modern world.
If we were to hear a preacher today praise slavery as being a state of existence intended by God, bolstered by scripture, the outrage would be great and the backlash would be swift. We understand that there is no place for it in our modern era, and we are so firm in this conviction that we root out pockets of slavery which still exist in the world and do our best to liberate the captives. Yet, in the same breath, the church-at-large says it’s okay to withhold equal rights from a person based on their sexual orientation, and scripture is used to bolster that position. Is it possible that the church is just as wrong about homosexuality as it was about slavery? Is it possible that the scripture used to support the anti-gay rhetoric is being cherry picked, the cultural and political context in which it was written being wholly ignored?
This question is one that needs to be talked about in setting where discussion is open and safe, where people will come to the table with a desire for understanding and commit to avoid falling into the trap of sound bites, memes, and bumper sticker logic. For many people, myself included, the passages of scripture regarding homosexuality have never made sense because it seems that it is calling for the condemnation of a person based on something that was not their choice. For many people, these passages have been such a point of contention that it has been enough to make them walk away from church altogether after witnessing the way the church is so loudly and proudly against not only homosexual behavior, but against homosexuals as people. The church has been a major factor behind the laws which keep gay people living without the same protections and benefits afforded to heterosexuals, and the pride the church-at-large seems to take in this is something which only serves to further alienate people from the love of Jesus.
I realize that people are going to believe what they want to believe. I realize that people are going to read scripture with their own prejudices at work, and the way we interpret the Bible is largely influenced by factors outside of our control, such as what type of upbringing we had, what church we went to most of our lives, and so on. I am challenging people, though, to at least consider with an open mind that the church may be wrong about homosexuality, and acknowledge that we have collectively caused untold damage to the individuals who have had to live the reality of the rhetoric the church has so long stood behind.
I am grieved by the commentary in support of Robertson because it represents ideas which have hurt people I love. It hasn’t merely made them uncomfortable, as some Christians are want to say, because they are feeling “convicted about their sin.” It has wounded them deeply, destroying their relationships with family who could not accept them once they came out, destroying their reputation because of the rhetoric’s tangential link often made between homosexuality and bestiality and/or pedophilia, destroyed their sense of who they are because they were raised in a culture which told them that people who are like them are vile, disgusting, an affront to all that is good and pure in the world, and will destroy marriage and family for the heterosexuals. It’s easy to dismiss dogma out of hand, calling it what it is. However, in truth, dogma has real world victims who face serious, real world consequences, and, sadly, some of those victims find the wounds so painful that it is easier to end their suffering through suicide than it is to continue living in world in which they are considered less than fully human and fully deserving of the dignities readily given to heterosexuals.
If we want to find scripture to wound each other, we can do that. If we want to find scripture to heal each other, we can do that, too. It’s easy to find scripture to validate just about any cause or whim we have. I choose to believe that Jesus, who has nothing to say about homosexuality and chose to focus his words on love for all people, would prefer we use scripture to heal the world, not hurt the world. Our faith shouldn’t be a weapon to be wielded against those who do not agree with us.
I am not going to pretend that this blog post is going to change the world one iota. However, if it makes even one reader give some consideration to the issues raised here, if even one person chooses understanding over rhetoric, I have accomplished something.
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