Sunday, May 06, 2012

Dispatches from the holy war: 5/6

"Dads, the second you see your son dropping the limp wrist, you go over there and crack that wrist. Man up. Give him a good punch. OK?" --- Sean Harris, senior pastor, Berean Baptist Church, Fayetteville, N.C.

Lord knows, I've tried to keep the old wrists stiff this week, figuring a guy just never knows what might happen if one of them goes limp about the time you run into a Baptist. Even took the precaution of sticking my hands in my pockets and high-tailing it across the street fast as I could Thursday after inadvertenly parking near the praise-God-and-pass-the-theocracy crowd gathered round the courthouse flagpole for National Day of Prayer.

Pretty spooky stuff going on down there in North Carolina, where Christians are pulling out all the stops to pass an amendment to the state constitution Tuesday that would limit serial adultery rights to gender-mixed heterosexual couples.

Sean Harris, senior pastor of Berean Baptist Church, Faytetteville, kicked off the week when, well into an hour-long sermon urging the faithful to vote for the amendment (and you thought Baptists preached the Gospel, didn't ya?), he got around to the kids. Little boys behaving effeminately? Girls, masculinely? Beat it out of the little bastards. Pound 'em straight.

"Aw shucks, ma'am, I didn't mean that," Harris said Monday. Then he said he was just channeling Jesus because he used hyperbole, too --- "If your eye causes you sin, pluck it out," Harris quoted.

But effeminate behavior remains an "abomination of God," Harris added, failing to clarify how little girls are expected to behave. I'm not sure which chapter and verse he was referring to about this effeminancy business, but then I'm not a Bible scholar like Harris.

Then somebody went and tipped North Carolinian Billy Graham, now 93, out of his wheelchair and into full-page ads this weekend in several North Carolina newspapers declaring, "The Bible is clear -- God's definition of marriage is between a man and a woman" --- despite the fact Old Testament definitions of marriage included one man and several women and it's not at all clear who issued Adam's and Eve's license.

Graham's less appealing children, Franklin ("President Obama may or may not be a son of Islam") and Anne Graham Lotz ("9/11 was God's way of getting back into the government and our school"), already had proclaimed their support for Amendment 1.

The most entertaining alliance in the pro-Amendment 1 brigade involves the legions of the Antichrist (or have conservative Christians given up those peculiar theories about the pope?) reflected in $100,000 in donations to the cause by two Roman Catholic diiocese in North Carolina as well as mailings and other lobbying efforts.

Amendment 1 is bound to pass --- this is Dixie after all --- old times not forgotten and all that. But it's been reassuring to witness the ability of LGBTQ people to reunite the bickering and tattered remnant of the church for another march off in the wrong direction.

Funny thing, that. You'd think they'd follow Jesus. Instead, they just can't quit us.


On the other side of the great divide, gay activist Dan Savage, founder of the "It Gets Better" project, continued to take heat for suggesting, during a national gathering of high school journalists some weeks ago, that "we can learn to ignore the bullshit in the Bible about gay people." Savage based that proposal on the thought that Christans have somehow managed to ignore Biblical "bullshit" in regard to slavery and other issues.

Savage, as many LGBTQ people do, considers the institutional church to be largely a work of the devil. And many Christians return the favor, in large part because of his radical proposition that gay kids shouldn't be bullied straight or, if that fails, kill themselves. So they're natural adversaries.

Some would argue Savage shouldn't have used the term "bullshit" before a crowd of high school students, sheltered as they are from the harsh realities of adult life. Maybe "nonsense" would have been more appropriate for the audience.

And even "nonsense" is a little shaky from a theological perspective. The Bible, principally a cultural document, really doesn't contain bullshit, or nonsense --- its oddities for the most part reflect prevailing views and practices of a small percentage of humanity at the time its various cobbled-together books were written, some would argue, all of historical interest when trying to understand the past but of decreasing relevance as time moves along.

"Bullshit" develops when various bits and pieces of it are lifted out of context and used to justify this or that, something I expect many of us are tempted to do, especially in a time when many view the Bible as God rather than human words about God --- some perhaps inspired, others obviously not.

Now comes word that Savage and Brian Brown, arch-conservative president of the National Organization for Marriage, are trying to schedule a debate about the Bible. Yikes.


Finally, although largely overlooked because of excitement elsewhere, this was the week United Methodist delegates, meeting in General Conference in Tampa, declined 61-39 percent to modify language in the denomination's Book of Discipline that declares homosexuality "incompatable with Christian teaching." Other efforts to make the denomination a bit more inclusive officially also failed by similar margins.

None of this is surprising. With roughly 7.8 million members in the United States and 4.4 million elsewhere, Methodists remain the largest mainline Protestant denomination, firmly in the muddled middle on many issues and increasingly influenced by delegates from harshly conservative places, including Africa and the Philippines.

Practical United Methodist outllook tends to be governed by location and situation, which leads to the oddity that develops when some of the most inclusive congregations in the country and many of the more conservative are yoked denominationally.

It sure would be nice if United Methodists could hang together --- they've got some of the most architecturally significant buildings around scattered across the countryside and I'd hate to see issues interrupt the flow from checkbook to collection plate.

But it does seem like time to modify the old Methodist rallying cry, "open hearts, open minds, open doors." Perhaps "open hearts frequently, open minds occasionally and open doors --- don't let 'em hit you on the way out" might work.

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