Thursday, August 27, 2009

Christian Support for Gay Rights

I used to wonder why Buddhism and Hinduism and Islam were attractive to many people in the US and why people in China and Korea were attracted to Christianity. My hypothesis is that when we grow up in a particular religion we see how many of the people profess their faith at the place of worship, but don't live it in their lives. We see people using religious functions to show off their new clothes and use religious rites of passage as a way to compete to see who can throw the most extravagant party. We also learn that some of the religious leaders aren't as perfect as we thought and we learn about cases of financial frauds and sexual abuse among clergy and many people are turned off by that.

But when we get to know an 'exotic' religion, we tend to learn about it more abstractly. We learn about the ideals, the principles, the definitions of good behavior, etc. Long distance, we see other religions in their best light, we don't see the actual practice of it by imperfect human beings.

In any case, yesterday, I read an opinion piece in the Anchorage Daily News entitled, "Prevo is wasting resources fighting gays". Geneva Walters wrote:

I am a heterosexual, conservative, Christian woman and am not threatened by two men or women who love each other and wish to live together and live an openly gay lifestyle. Furthermore, I am horrified at the thought that they would be denied fundamental civil rights based on their sexuality. . .
Then she lists her Christian bona fides
I believe in a triune God, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. I believe that God created the earth and man in 6 days and rested on the 7th. (However, I do believe that dinosaurs did, in fact, roam the earth, a very long, long, time ago.) I believe in the deity of Christ Jesus, that He was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified on a cross, died, and rose again on the third day. I believe that He ascended into heaven and now sits at the right hand of God the Father, Almighty.
Then her conservative bona fides:
As far as the term "Conservative" goes, I wait patiently each week for Ann Coulter's column, I am a staunch defender of the rights of the unborn, and the only problem I have with the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan is that we didn't go in sooner.
When I first read it, I was quite surprised, but pleased. But the more I thought about it, the more puzzled I became. The letter was written in a very reasonable and rational tone. How could someone like that be an Ann Coulter fan? Was this really some liberal posing as a conservative?

I could just post my suspicions, but I really didn't have enough to go on and I could be totally wrong. And I wouldn't want to raise doubts about what, on the surface, was the kind of conservative we need more of.

I would also note that sometimes people write of an opposing political persuasion, "Why do you only concentrate on issues on our side? You never talk about problems that you guys have." On the one hand that's a valid point. But on the other hand, why should conservatives give liberals free fodder and vice versa? Each side should get the dirt on the other side and they have no obligation to serve up juicy stories about their own heroes. But on the other hand, a balanced source of information ought to give praise when it is due and criticism when it is due. If this article in the Daily News is a fake, wouldn't it be better if a progressive blog said so first?

I don't think there are any easy answers to those questions. If my side is wrong, I should acknowledge that. If I find a story about people I support which may tarnish them, but ultimately isn't a big deal, why should I post it? And I might not post something about people I don't support if it's only outcome would be to hurt them personally. It's not easy to figure this all out, and I reserve the right to make mistakes.

In this case, I emailed my questions to the author of the piece. And she responded in a way that put my questions to rest. (I did tell her I was a blogger and that I wouldn't put up anything from her if she didn't want me to, but that if she said OK, she didn't have approval rights. She had no problem with that and said ok.)

Essentially she said, "Hey look, people aren't black or white. Just cause someone has certain characteristics doesn't mean she's a certain 'type' and that you can predict everything else about her."

It's so easy to place someone in a box because they hold a certain viewpoint and not allow them to express their opinion on an issue by issue basis. As long as America is content with a two party political system, we will continue to place people on one side or the other. We don't bother to try and understand them, it's just easier to dismiss them as Liberal or Conservative. It's silly to me, it's like we're all lining up for a game of Red Rover. While I may be pro-life, I'm quite liberal when it comes to environmental issues. Believe it or not, I have a few gay friends that are pro-life and a bit "Hawkish" when it comes to national defense.
I believe it. She goes on:

There were really two issues that were weighing heavy on my conscience. One of course was the issue of gay rights. I have several gay friends and colleagues and have been given an opportunity to interact with them and seek to understand what they are really fighting for. I don't pretend to understand all of the aspects to the gay rights movement, after all, I'm not gay. I just refuse to deny them their basic rights or allow other Christians to speak for me on this issue. The response I have received has been overwhelmingly positive and much of that response has been from Christians who have basically said "thank you for saying what I've been feeling for a long time." It's also worth pointing out that not all Christians are from the "main-stream evangelical" or "fundamentalist" background which is pervasive with legalistic rule following. I am a product of the Christian Reformed faith and differ on many points with fundamentalists (Baptists).
There's lots in that paragraph.

  1. She has gay friends and so she's had a source of information on this topic that is different from the church. Besides some Christian churches are taking stances in favor of gay rights.

  2. She's trying to take back the label Christian, or at least not let one group claim to be the only true Christians and the only people who can speak as Christians. I had to go look up Christian Reformed and I'm still not sure I got it right. I did find this on Religionfacts:
    Presbyterian and Reformed churches share a common origin in the 16th-century Swiss Reformation and the teachings of John Calvin."
    They aren't listed in many comparisons of Protestant groups such as this page at ReligiousTolerance, on Divisions within Protestant Christianity. (Beware, I found one point that seemed to be in serious error. Their chart says that Conservative Christians favor "Special rights for heterosexuals; e.g. marriage" which would seem a rather major error.)

    My point here was to try to figure out whether her religious background would have any credibility at all with Fundamentalists. I have no idea.

I'm also glad to hear about the positive response she got to the piece. But all groups can be nasty when one of their own speaks out like this publicly. So day two might not be as positive. But I guess it depends on where, actually, the Reformed Christians fit in the liberal - conservative continuum. Finally, she wrote:

The second issue was the homeless. It breaks my heart to see these folks on street corners and living in our parks. We could do so much more for them. It wasn't until a few weeks ago that I saw the correlation between these two issues.

Steven, I grew up in a Christian home and can honestly never remember discussing the "gay" issue. I never saw my parents attempt to address this issue on behalf of the church. Instead, I remember my parents, and the other members of the church, taking over our kitchen on Sunday afternoons to make sandwiches for the Brother Francis Shelter. This was the image of the Christian faith that I grew up with, not the finger wagging and shallow platitudes that are handed down from the pulpit in many modern churches
So, from what I can tell, she's a genuine Christian and she's conservative on the issue that Christian conservatives made pivotal - abortion. And conservative Christians are getting more concerned about the environment.

So, it appears that this was the real thing. A believing Christian who doesn't want the Jerry Prevos speaking on behalf of all Christians. She sounds a lot more like my vision of what a Christian sounds like.

I've been trying to tell some of my progressive buddies that we shouldn't look at all the 'conservative Christians' as a monolith. Just as we aren't all the same. And if we talk to each other with respect and decency, they are more likely to approach us when the time is right. Geneva, thanks for standing up for your convictions - both the ones I agree with and the ones I question. You still need to explain Ann Coulter to me, but it sounds like we can have that discussion.

1 comment:

  1. Well, I am a Roman Catholic and I was baptised but I am not really religious. I used to attend church and religious classes when I was little but that's all. My knowledge on religions is quite small despite it is part of history but it is not interesting to me and I am not really believing in this. However I understand people's belief because there have been many cases (surviving a huge accident or a lethal disease) for which you may not be able to give rational answer.

    I think it is simply curiosity when people in the US are attracted to Buddhism etc... On the other hand I also think that the opened world (internet, many TV channels) took part in that process.


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