Monday, May 12, 2014

Love Your Gay Neighbor Night At East High - Minnery Tries Out A New Approach

Jim Minnery of the Alaska Family Action which includes the Alaska Family Council was holding a Love Your Gay Neighbor Q&A Friday night at East High and although I was tired, it seemed like something I should attend.  I've already posted a short video of the question and answer to: What should I do if my son says he's gay and wants to bring his partner to a family function?

In 2012 Minnery led a successful campaign to stop GLBT folks from being added to the Anchorage Anti-Discrimination ordinance.

There were two couches, for panelists, and narrator Jim Minnery.

Click to Enlarge A Lot
Panelists (left to right)

Peter Hubbard - pastor and author of Love Into Light:  The Gospel, the Homosexual, and the Church.  (I looked for a different link from the previous post, but couldn't find a better one.)  The book argues for the church to find better ways to deal with GLBT parishioners.

Andrew Walker - Is a policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation and the director of policy studies at the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.  (Yes, the Heritage Foundation is the place that former Jim DeMint left the US Senate for.  And some think destroyed its credibility.)

Minnery is in the middle.  It gets more interesting though.

Jeff Johnston - who works at Focus on the Family.  He talked about his former gay life and how he got back to the church.  He now is married to a woman, though he doesn't deny he still has same-sex attractions.  The link is a radio interview that - in the beginning - covers much of how he introduced himself last night.  He said he was not ex-gay or gay. 

Melinda Selmys-   She described herself as a lesbian who broke up with her long time girlfriend when she converted to Catholicism.  She is now married to a man, though she still calls herself a lesbian.

Hubbard and Walker both sounded genuinely committed to love and being welcoming to LGBT folks, but also strongly committed to church doctrine.  Johnston seemed like he was still figuring out who he was and I found his generalizing from his personal experience to all gay men problematic, even though he did recognize everyone is not the same.  Selmys sounded the most grounded in a reality that I could recognize.  

Here's my short take on what I heard

Overall, it sounded like a genuine search for a way to change the church's approach to LGBT issues while staying true to 'biblical truth' (a term I heard a lot that night.) 

1.    Homosexuality has been treated as a special class of irredeemable sin by evangelical churches.  While we helped all other sinners struggle to overcome their issues, we assumed that LGBT folks were beyond God's grace and treated them differently.

2.   But homosexuality is no different from other sins.  From the link to a review of Hubbard's book by Tim Challies:
The gospel makes all the difference and the gospel is exactly what Fred Phelps and so many others have thrown away in their misguided, hate-filled attempts to address homosexuality. “If our attitude toward a gay or lesbian person is disgust, we have forgotten the gospel. We need to remember the goodness and lovingkindness that God poured out on us. God should have looked at us and been disgusted. Instead, without condoning our sin, He loved us and saved us. And I want everyone to know that kind of love!”
3.   We must love our kids, yet also tell them the biblical truth.  Hubbard distinguished between family relationships and church discipline.

4.  Homosexuality is still a sin and having gay sex is not condoned.

What Does This All Mean?

I couldn't help wondering what Minnery's motivation was for bringing these people here.  I also was wondering if this meant that he was having second thoughts on his fight against  Proposition 5 [to add LGBT to the Anchorage Anti-Discrimination ordinance] in 2012.

Prop 5
This question came up in the discussion.  My notes are pretty rough, but this is what I have down for Minnery's comments:
Prop 5 was a hornets' nest; it's the reason I'm having this conference.  We hurt a lot of people.
If there was any business that would deny service to LGBT person, I'd be the first to [defend the LGBT right to service] 
I'd note how easily people can use phrases like "I'd be the first . . . "  There are a lot of people who have already been doing that for years and years.  It's a little presumptuous for Minnery to claim he'd be the first here.  Especially since he led to the fight to keep LGBT people off anti-discrimination ordinance.  Though I'd guess that this phrase just popped into Minnery's head and if he had time to think about it, he would agree with me and say he didn't mean it literally. 

There's a little more, he clarified a little.
But it's different for some issues - marriage, adoption - where the law requires [businesses]  to [serve someone in a situation that violates their religious beliefs].  That crosses the line.
He also made some comments - to explain what Prop 5 was - including a description of the tv commercials they made that suggested day care centers and schools would be required to hire transgender people with the implication transgender people were a reater danger to your children than other people.   As he talked about it, I couldn't be certain, but it seemed more like he was talking about something he was proud of than sorry about.

Minnery's Motivation

A little background first:   The advantage of being some place a long time is that you know a lot of people. I talked to Rick Benjamin, the former pastor at Abbot Loop Community Church, at the break.  I'd gotten to know him when I was helping the Anchorage Ethics Board rewrite the Ethics Code.  (Much of the work was undone later by Muni attorneys.)  I had grown to like and respect Rick and met with him after that work was done so I could ask questions I had about evangelicalism.  One of the things he told me was that issues like abortion and gay rights were not big issues in the church when he was growing up and he thought they became big issues because pastors found that when they talked about them, people gave the church a lot of money.  Friday night Rick offered to introduce me to Jim Minnery.  But we couldn't find him.

After the discussion, Minnery was walking up the aisle and so I went up to him and waited for him to finish talking to someone.  Rich Mauer of the Anchorage Daily News came over introduced me to Minnery and we talked for a few minutes.  I asked about his motivation to host this event.  Our culture is changing, he said.  I asked if he meant church culture or overall culture.  Overall.  And he repeated what he'd said about Prop. 5.  It released a hornets' nest and he realized that a lot of people got hurt.   He said, We won, but we didn't really win.  I asked if he was a competitive person.  I was reminded of a dean who told me his son complained that he was too competitive.  The dean then told me that he did see everything as a contest and he played to win.  It explained a lot of things that I hadn't understood before.  I'm not that kind of person.  I care about ideas and issues, but not about winning personally.  I asked Minnery if he was a competitive person and he said, something like, well, sure.  What I meant, I continued, winning was an important part of defeating Prop 5 and his eyes seemed to light up a bit and he said, of course.  I don't want to project anything onto him that isn't there, but I wonder how many people (probably more men than women) fight hard to win, even if the issue isn't that important.  Or if when they get into a contest, even if they realize a victory will do harm, winning is still more important.

I told him I'd felt a little reluctant to talk to him, but I knew I should, and he invited me to contact him to follow up.  So I will put that on my list of things to do.  Because I still have a lot of questions, which I try to describe now.

Why this change?

Let's look at Minnery's comment that culture is changing.  Peter Hubbard's Love Into Light website has a page on how to respond to last year's  same-sex marriage Supreme Court decision.  Hubbard is strongly opposed to same sex marriage:
Every serious sociological study has concluded that a child does best with his natural father and mother. Of course, the presence of a natural father and mother is not always possible, but a society that legalizes same-sex marriage is codifying dysfunction and intentionally dismantling the family. This dismantling paves the way for every kind of sociological malady. As the meaning of marriage is stretched to near meaninglessness, polygamy and incest will eventually be recognized as “marriage.” If marriage is the government’s way of recognizing love, then on what basis can any government declare two or more sincere people unmarriageable? Marriage, friendship and “shacking up” have all been convoluted. No one can explain the legal difference. And children will pay the price for our country’s moral suicide. This makes us sad.
There's a lot to quibble with.  I'd agree that in the ideal world being raised with one's natural parents would be best.  But
  • not all natural parents are good parents.  
  • people other than birth parents can be better sometimes
  • not all birth parents stick around and there are lots of single mom's and a growing number of single dad's who have no choice
  • there are often lots of male or female friends and relatives who can be role models for kids being raised by same-sex couples if that's as big an issue as Peter (and Jeff in the discussion) think it is.  I think it's worth talking about, but don't see it as crucial.
  • allowing same-sex marriage doesn't automatically open marriage to other configurations - it's still just two people
  • while he cites reputable sociological studies on marriage, he ignores reputable psychological and biological studies of homosexuality.  We can cite, he seems to say, science when it supports the bible, but when it doesn't support the bible we reject it.
  • same-sex marriage opponents have said they were fine with marriage equivalent arrangements that weren't called marriage.  In that case the quibble is only about the word marriage.  Not about 'codifying dysfunction.' 
  • Religions are free to marry or not marry whomever they choose, but I don't see why they should be able to dictate what people not part of their religion can do
  • Actually, other religions cannot marry whomever they choose because even though Islam allows for more than one wife, that is illegal in the United States. 
Basically, to deny same-sex marriage on the grounds that kids should be in a perfect natural parent family is to ignore that a lot of families already don't work that way.

But Peter, at least, doesn't ignore that entirely.  In the talk and on his website, he says that the church had already trashed heterosexual marriage.
"We paved the way for gay marriage by watering down the meaning of marriage through our immorality, selfishness and the culture of divorce in our churches."
So Evangelical Christians seem to be facing a dilemma.   Tim Challies, the book reviewer I cited above, is a pastor in Ontario, Canada.  He writes in the review of Hubbard's book:
It seems inevitable that same-sex marriage will soon be legalized across America; it has been the law in Canada for several years now. Meanwhile the acceptance and celebration of homosexuality is becoming a cultural shibboleth, a means of determining who has a voice worth hearing and who does not.
What I hear in this, and other things I read online, is that now that homosexuality is becoming culturally and legally accepted, the evangelical church has to figure out a way to get rid of its gay bashing past. 

Option one is to reinterpret the scriptures and find a way to 'discover' that homosexuality is not a sin.  Perhaps science has supplanted what was known at the time the bible was written down.  They discussed Matthew Vine's book, God and the Gay Christian, which apparently does find ways to make the bible and homosexuality compatible.  Walker pretty much trashed Vine's thinking in the discussion.  (I found a review of Vine's book by Walker here.)

Option two is to treat LGBT folks with love, but not compromise biblical truths.  I understand that approach, because it's like the one I tried to take as a teacher - treat my students with warmth and respect, but still hold them to high academic standards.  But in the church, it still means labeling them as sinners.  We still love you and will help you find God's grace.

They even had one now married (to a woman) formerly gay man and one Lesbian who is now married to a man.   What was that all about?  It seems it was to show that you can stop acting on your same-sex attraction when you have something more meaningful.  I'd note I can believe both their stories - they didn't deny they still had same-sex attractions -  but their path wouldn't work for everyone.  And the panelists acknowledged this.  Some LGBT folks would have to stay single and celibate. 

So, is this because they are remembering their Christian principles of love?  Or simply a way to keep the church relevant in modern America?   I suspect that it's both.  For some people more of one than the other.

Angels Dancing On The Head Of A Pin

I'm amazed as I watch the dedication of people living in 2014 to this book that was written over a span of more than a thousand years starting over 3000 years ago by people who lived in worlds so totally different from our world today.  I also wonder at what it takes to believe in such a book as the literal and absolute moral truth.  I can easily read it as metaphorically telling us morals through stories - like Aesop's Fables or how some Alaska Native cultures use stories to teach proper behavior.

The idea that the literal word of the bible is the ultimate test of right and wrong just doesn't work for me.  With so many different bibles written in so many different languages, how does one even know the literal bible?  Do we take a Hebrew bible?  One written in Aramaic?  Greek?  Latin?  English?  And of these, which translation?  And which interpretation?

And I'm constantly struck by what seem to me to be inconsistencies.  Something like homosexuality is blown up for a time as a particularly egregious sin.  Yet other biblical 'abominations' such as eating shellfish are ignored.  And I don't hear US evangelicals calling for the stoning of adulterers.   Nor do I hear much complaint about violations of the Fourth Commandment.  (Aren't the Ten Commandments the most important laws?)  Do you see any evangelicals railing against businesses that are open on Sunday?

Science seems to be brought in when it supports biblical truth.  Hubbard, in the quote above, cites sociology to support the notion "that a child does best with his natural father and mother."  But what do they do with psychological and biological science on homosexuality that doesn't support their biblical truth? 

I guess for me, it boils down to letting everyone follow their own religious beliefs.  The problem arises when they want to impose those beliefs on others.  Evangelicals shouldn't practice homosexuality or have same-sex marriages.  But they also should NOT impose their beliefs on others.  And when we have conflicts between the religious (or non-religious) beliefs of people, we have to sift through the issues to determine which person is most harmed.  So, if a wedding photographer who doesn't believe in same-sex marriage is asked to photograph a same sex marriage - we have to parse whose rights are more violated.

I didn't have an official photographer at my wedding so I don't personally feel a wedding photographer is critical to getting married.  But for people who believe in the whole big wedding package - including wedding photographers - a wedding without a photographer isn't a wedding.  Such a photographer isn't being asked to perform a wedding or even worse, get married to a same-sex partner.  But I can understand a photographer believing that her photos of a same-sex wedding would be a form of supporting, even promoting, an act she felt was wrong.  But I can also see a same-sex couple - especially one living in a small town where there is only one photographer - feeling they are being discriminated against because of their sexual orientation, no differently than if a restaurant refused service based on that.

Life is full of conflicts and reasonable people can work them out.    In this situation, a photographer ought to be able to suggest other professional photographers who would do the job.  A gay couple would probably not want someone who wasn't supportive to take the photos of their wedding. 

You can see the issues raised Friday night can lead one down countless paths and we could go on and on exploring them.  But I did think it significant that evangelicals now see their harsh treatment of LGBT folks as a liability and are now trying to figure out how to jettison that approach yet stay consistent with their version of biblical truth.

When I talked to Minnery, he'd said that Ethan Berkowitz, on his talk show, asked Minnery if this was "A Gentler, Kinder Bigotry."  I had been thinking, as I sat in the audience, if this was a "gentler, kinder evangelicalism."  If one is committed to the literal word of the bible as one's moral truth, and your reading of that bible leads to an understanding that homosexuality is a sin, then you are stuck with that conclusion.  I respect that, up to the point that your chosen path to the truth begins to harm the lives of other people.  I think that the defeat of Prop 5 caused harm to LGBT people in Anchorage.  Fortunately, most people don't believe that truth should cause them to treat GLBT folks differently than other folks.  But enough do to make LGBT people fearful that they could lose their jobs or find a suitable place to live if they disclose their sexual orientation.  That's a heavy burden to live with every day. 

[UPDATE 10:40pm:  Here's a view of the Saturday meeting in the Valley from Alaska Commons by Julien Jolivette who writes:
". . . I am a baptized Catholic, and made a fervent foray into conservative evangelicalism as a teenager. But I felt that my past did not prepare me for the experience of being a queer agnostic walking into an event titled “Loving My Gay Neighbor' . . .”]


  1. A lot happening in Alaska right now. Exciting times on this issue at last.

    I wish Out North's 'Understanding Neighbors' could have launched at this moment (with a court challenge to the marriage amendment filed). Evaglelicals we invited back in 2003 largely turned us down for lack of interest, really. It was our side's effort to talk across the aisle. Rick participated and saw how difficult it was, if for the same reasons Minnery has his problem -- few are willing to dialog -- not debate -- with anyone who is the opposition.

    Finding a way toward making a peace when there is real difference between people, is tough work. It has to happen, though. LGBT folk are breaking out of the place made for them and building their lives in new ways for many cultures across the world.

    Conservative-culture Christians may see this as signs of the end times; I and so many free of their fears see it as what should always have been.

    1. Darn it; spelling errors that I didn't catch. I'll let it be with apologies to the readers. But I must say, it's Evangelicals in the second paragraph.

  2. One inescapable misnomer needs be addressed. DeMint didn't destroy the Heritage Foundation's credibility.

    The Heritage Foundation never did have any actual credibility, except what passes for credibility among those who have long operated in an alternate and false reality.

    Most of the failed Republican policy ideas of the last 4 decades were spawned by those same reality challenged buffoons who generated or lapped up the Heritage Foundation's ideological agitprop.

    Among the reality based community, no one would have ever said either the Heritage Foundation, it's many assorted members, or it's tenets and doctrines were at all credible.

    True, the Heritage Foundation was, and still is to some degree persuasive in it's way, but it has never been known to be promoting what's plausibly true to reality.

    The Heritage Foundation's legacy of multitudinous failed public policies exist as testament to it's utter lack of credibility.

    1. JB, the link takes you to Republicans complaining about what happened to the H. Foundation.
      And people really should go to the shellfish abomination link, it's far better than what I expected to find.

  3. Republicans complaining about what happened to the Heritage Foundation?

    Like I said, only the people who subscribe to alternate and false realities.

    Self-styled 'Christians' have always tailored both their beliefs and their actions to match their own limited agendas, actual Christian tenets fall by the wayside if they interfere with the personal desires of those self-styled 'Christians'.


Comments will be reviewed, not for content (except ads), but for style. Comments with personal insults, rambling tirades, and significant repetition will be deleted. Ads disguised as comments, unless closely related to the post and of value to readers (my call) will be deleted. Click here to learn to put links in your comment.