Thursday, September 16, 2010

It's a test

I’ve been watching again (a borrowed copy of) the 2007 documentary, “for the Bible tells me so,” one of the better presentations from a liberal Christian perspective of the six or seven Biblical passages that refer to same-sex carryings on. I saw it soon after release, but had forgotten some of the details and because we’re talking about screening it during a church gathering later this fall, thought it would be useful to refamiliarize myself with it.

It’s of special interest to Episcopalians because a good deal of attention is devoted to V. Gene Robinson and his delightful parents, Charles and Imogene Robinson, retired Kentucky tenant farmers. Robinson, elected during 2003 as bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire, became the first honest gay man ordained a bishop in any of those denominations that affirm the historic episcopate.

Also featured are Chrissy Gephardt and her parents, former Speaker of the House and presidential candidate Dick Gephardt and wife, Jane; the Lutheran Reitan family from Minnesota; the black evangelical Christian Poteat family from North Carolina; and Mary Lou Wallner, who launched TEACH (To Educate about the Consequences of Homophobia) Ministries after the lesbian daughter she had rejected committed suicide.

Others heard from extensively include gay-friendly clergy and theologians Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Soulforce Founder the Rev. Mel White, Harvard’s Peter Gomes, Orthodox Rabbi Steve Greenberg and the Rev. Jimmy Creech, a United Methodist minister.

It’s a film I’d recommend to anyone, although it is unlikely to change hearts, minds and convictions at the conservative end of the Christian spectrum. But the surprising thing about Christians and the Bible, including some who reference it to support a particular belief , is that many do not bother to read it. So it never hurts to become familiar with the sources of various perspectives, even without agreement.

The film also has been and continues to be a useful and comforting resource for LGBT people who are working for change within their faith communities, struggling openly or quietly within a non-sympathetic community or thinking of just walking away from the church entirely and declaring the Bible irrelevant, always an option although a heart-breaking one.

And those, including many “liberals,” who find themselves uncomfortable with the fact a child, sibling, other relative or friend is gay and struggle with their own reactions to that fact have benefitted and continue to benefit from it.


On a related topic, I’ve been watching with some interest the unrest in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) that followed a Churchwide Assembly vote a year ago in August that removed barriers that heretofore had forbidden congregations that so wished to call gay clergy in committed same-sex relationships.

Of special interest has been Zion Lutheran Church at Clear Lake, with some 1,400 souls on its rolls (and perhaps 350-450 active members willing to participate in a good old fashioned church fight), which Pastor Dean Hess now has managed, sort of, to lead out of the ELCA. When a vote to leave the ELCA because of the lifting of the gay ban failed by a narrow margin, Hess and the part of the congregation he controlled simply enacted a series of resolutions that set the congregation up to be disfellowshipped. Interesting strategy and an interesting form of spectator sport --- so long as you’re on the outside looking in.

A year ago in July, the General Convention of The Episcopal Church lifted a three-year self-imposed moratorium on elevation of non-celibate gay clergy (like Gene Robinson) to the episcopate and also authorized bishops to allow the blessing of same-sex unions or, as in Iowa where it’s legal, same-sex marriages.

That didn’t have too much effect because most of those Episcopalians who would have gotten their knickers in a serious twist already had departed after Robinson’s ordination, having decided the rest of us were hell-bound sinners and it was time to abandon ship.

Similar fights continue and most likely will come to a head in other major denominations --- the United Methodist Church, Presbyterian Church USA, Disciples of Christ, etc., etc. --- where gay people are welcomed officially --- but conditionally. If you give us queer folk an inch, we’ll try to take a mile.

Actually, I’d take a Southern Baptist preacher in full cry any day. At least they’re consistent. It’s the sharp tongues of the Lutherans, Episcopalians and others whose oxen have been gored that you’ve got to watch out for.

Now I actually don’t mind all of these divisions. It’s probably healthier in the long run to have the fight, then split, just because Christians who disagree and try to co-exist in the same building (or denomination or synod) have a long history of savaging each other pretty good before marching off to regroup. I do think all Christians should be able to work together on some simple, basic tasks like feeding the hungry, but even here and probably beyond we’re just hopeless.

Being a part of the LGBT tribe portrayed as representatives of the Devil himself in many of these church squabbles also is an interesting experience, but if you’re sturdy, not usually a fatal one (watch out for the kids, though; the relationship between a self-identifying or closeted gay youngster and a non-supportive family is fraught with peril). It does make you think.

And I think much of this latest round of holy war within the Christian church is a test --- having little to do with gay ordination, gay marriage or any other gay-related issue. It’s mostly about how we treat each other when we disagree.

That’s really scary. Lord have mercy.

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