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Saturday, June 27, 2015

Some Americans Need a Civics Lesson

By Steve Kindle, CEO Clergy United

A system of government that makes the People subordinate to a committee of nine unelected lawyers does not deserve to be called a democracy.                 ~ Justice Antonin Scalia
 Justice Scalia, in his overwrought dissent to the SCOTUS decision to legalize same-sex marriage, provided the opposition with an increasingly used talking point: "five unelected lawyers."

Contrary to the wishes of those who were disappointed with SOCTUS's decision to make same-sex marriage the law of the land, and feel abused, the people DO NOT get to decide what’s constitutional and what’s not. Fortunately, we live in a constitutional republic, not a pure democracy.  For in a pure democracy, if 51% of the people want to lop off the heads of the other 49%, for whatever reason, it would happen.  Our Constitution forbids majority coercion of the minority and in fact was created, in no small part, to protect the rights of the minority.

Ironically (for Scalia, et al), if we were to let the people decide, the tide has turned and the majority of  Americans are now in favor of same-sex marriage.  Most polls show about 60% approval. Given their favorable attitude toward LGBTs, when the Millennial generation assumes power, this will be a long forgotten era of American history.  Just as today when young people are told of Jim Crow and the struggle for Civil Rights, and they are mystified as how this could ever have been, so too will generations from now find it hard to believe that gay people couldn’t get married.

Today, Sen. Cruz showed his hand. As one of the most insistent that the Constitution should be the law of the land and interpreted according to literal and original meaning, he, nevertheless, said this:
"The only way I think to do so is to insist upon nominees who will follow the law, who don’t view being on the federal bench as an invitation to be a platonic philosopher-king, to have nine unelected lawyers decreeing what our answer should be, what our policy position should be on every hot button issue of the day. I think it is a much sounder approach to say let the people decide, let’s vote on it...."
He was one of the first to echo Scalia's "unelected lawyers" verbage, but he was followed by many others. What are we to make of this, except that opponents either don't understand our system, which I rather doubt, or that they are willing to jettison their own first principles when their backs are up against the wall. In this case, the wall being a SCOTUS decision that will be virtually impossible to overturn. So does our Constitutional system of Court oversight only have meaning when we agree with it? God help America if that is the case.

I will just say it as openly and unreservedly as I can.  Homophobia makes people crazy.

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Work for Full LGBT Equality Is Far from Over

The history of the United States can be summarized quite accurately as the slow but sure realization of the vision of its founding document, the Declaration of Independence, that "all men are created equal."  The history of the Christian Church in America can be summarized as the gradual and grudging accommodation of that realized vision.

The same Constitution that said “all men are created equal” also said, “Slaves shall represent 3/5 of a human being.”  It also denied women the right to vote, gave states the freedom to establish a religion, and upheld “separate but equal” Jim Crow laws, making interracial marriages illegal and restricting immigration to maintain white supremacy. 

The founders had something in mind when they wrote the Constitution, but it’s not the Republic in which we now live. In fact, their prejudices went so deep that they didn’t even feel the need to write “all white, landed, protestant, heterosexual, free men are created equal.” Forget about their slaves, forget about people with other creeds who would later emigrate, forget about women, forget about those without land, forget about gay people—the only ones who had the right to vote, and thus the right to participate in the building of this new republic, were people exactly like them.

In the intervening years, slavery has been abolished, women have been fully emancipated and nonwhites have been given the full dignity of the law.  With today's announcement from the Supreme Court of the United States that same-sex marriage is now legal in all 50 states, the unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all Americans is finally the realized dream of that distant day in 1776. 

At least in theory.  Racial prejudice remains today, as does the inequality of women in the workplace. Today's SCOTUS ruling elevated LGBTs, yet they still have to face workplace discrimination in the majority of states where they can be fired for being gay.  Personal prejudices continue, as do religious sanctions barring them from membership in many churches.  Gay bashing endangering the lives of LGBTs is still a reality. So, as much as I celebrate today's Court victory, I realize there is much work left to do. There will be, at least among the allies of the gay community, a feeling that we have reached the pinnacle of equality. Gays know better. Let's rejoice in the momentous decision, yes.  But let us not retire to the comfort of the sidelines, because the work for full equality is far from over. 

Monday, June 01, 2015

Gays and The Problem of a Flat Bible

One saying that circulates among the more conservative biblical interpreters is "Let Scripture interpret Scripture." This is codified in such statements as "verses must be in harmony with other verses on the same subject." It's based on certain assumptions that prove false, such as the notion that all the biblical writers mean the same thing when using the same terms. So that once a particular understanding is made, it is transported, intact, across the entire Bible. This has led some to describe this method as reading a flat Bible.

The reality is that there is much argument going on in the Bible. Job argues with Deuteronomy. 1 and 2 Chronicles argues with 1 and 2 Kings.  James argues with Paul. One topic that appears throughout the Bible is the nature of God. Is God a God of mercy or of vengeance? Many would say both, because the Bible depicts God as both. Yet it is clear that Jesus, by his life and death, rejected a God of vengeance. Yet the notion of a God of vengeance persists and is the staple of conservative Christianity. It's their basis for a fiery hell, legalistic judgment, and retributive justice.

This is not a new issue for Christians. The first attempt to deal with it was the radical proposal of Marcion (2nd century CE) who claimed that the father of Jesus Christ was not the God of the Old Testament, and excised it from his Bible. He was (of course) declared a heretic. Yet the notion of a god wholly other than that described in Jesus persists.

A new book from John Dominic Crossan, How to Read the Bible and Still Be a Christian, offers a fresh answer. Briefly summarized, it is that God is a God of distributive justice whose egalitarian dream for the world gets co-opted by human greed, which turns the biblical story (often) into a god who justifies vengence in its name. Crossan's challenge is to help us distinguish how the story gets corrupted in human hands.

Here’s a quote from the book that puts much into perspective for me:
If the Bible were all good-cop enthusiasm from God, we would have to treat it like textual unreality or utopian fantasy. If it were all about bad-cop vengeance from God, we would not need to justify, say, our last century. But it contains both the assertion of God’s radical dream for our world and our world’s very successful attempt to replace the divine dream with a human nightmare.
What Crossan attempts is to separate out the dream from the nightmare, even though both are couched in the name of God. How successful he is awaits a critical assessment.

So, why is a blog dedicated to LGBT themes and issues dealing with this? Simply because (whether Crossan's approach is right or wrong) the reading of a "flat Bible" has proved harmful, over and over again, to LGBTs. So when certain texts that purport to condemn homosexuality are used to justify vengeful behavior, some believe they are acting with the approval of a vengeful god.

Once, Mel White, author of Stranger at the Gate, was being interviewed on the radio. A caller quoted Lev. 20 to him and stated that, since Mel is gay, he should be executed. Annie Dillard's quote is particularly apt: "You know you have created God in your own image when it turns out he hates the same people you do."

Although I am happy Crossan has tackled this subject with his usual scholarly detail, there is a simple way to cut to the chase. In my book, I'm Right and You're Wrong:Why we disagree about the Bible and what to do about it, I propose using a "canon within the Canon." Jesus basically reduced all of the Old Testament to two useful propositions we term the two Great Commandments. Love God with all your heart, mind and soul, and your neighbor as yourself. If we use this to judge the value of any biblical statement, story, or conclusion, we will never be wrong.

Jesus used it himself on several occasions. When a dispute arose over whether his disciples violated the Sabbath by working (harvesting corn for a meal), Jesus simply said, "The sabbath was made for humanity, not humanity for the sabbath." In other words, when a law, even as sacrosanct as the Sabbath, conflicted with human need or dignity, it need not be observed. Human rights trump any law that would subvert human need, whether it's in the Bible or not.

Today we are beginning to understand that same-sex love is no different in quality from opposite-sex love. And that those who are attracted to those of their own sex are incapable (for the most part) of any meaningful relationship with one from the opposite sex. To deny them the right to love the one of their own choosing is to deny them of their human dignity and need. It is to deny them of their humanity. I don't think Jesus would approve, nor would his Father, regardless of how much you may want the god of vengeance to prevail.