Shuck and Jive

Thursday, April 24, 2008

More Reflections on the Film and Discussion

I thought I would share a few more reflections about the film and discussion last night at Milligan College. I need to be careful not to speak out of school as this was a discussion for the students and faculty of the campus. They were gracious to allow visitors to attend. I was impressed by the way the conversation was moderated and by the number of students who attended. Including the film and discussion, we were there from seven to about ten-thirty.

I am incredibly grateful to Andy Olivo and the other students who organized this as well as the faculty who participated on the panel, and the administration for allowing this discussion to be held. Andy did a super job showing the purpose of the gathering, leading us in prayer, and telling us what the gathering would not do--lead us all into agreement.

The film itself was very well done. I plan to host a screening at some point for our congregation and the larger community. It told the stories of five families and put a face or a number of faces on the "issue." The film showed that the "issue" is not sexual orientation but prejudice fueled by the church and how that prejudice is destructive. I cannot imagine that anyone watching this film would not be moved by the stories of these folks.

At the panel discussion questions were raised on how fair the film treated various interpretations of the Bible. I found myself agreeing with the critique to a certain point. This film did not provide an in-depth study of the Bible itself (although it did open eyes for those who have never started to see the Bible critically). That wasn't the point of the film.

The film did make the point of how the Bible has been misused. For example, when someone is so clear that the Bible condemns gays while never reading the Bible, certainly not reading it critically, that is a misuse. The film pointed out that it is a misuse to isolate a couple of verses out of context and apply them to the present. It is also a misuse of the Bible to make it be authoritative for someone else without knowing the other person. I have been through all of this Bible study for forever it seems. There are very few arguments I have not heard.

I am not a fundamentalist, so I usually don't use the Bible in this way. In fact, I am only using it here rhetorically. But it seems to me that if the Bible clearly teaches anything it teaches that we are not to bear false witness against our neighbor. The false witness that has been perpetrated against lgbt people is that they are somehow "less than" straight people.

Because of that "less than" status, the church has sanctioned prejudice and destroyed families. That is what the film showed clearly.

An odd thing about the discussion that followed the film (and I am not picking on this particular discussion at Milligan--this happens all of the time), is that the film which was a powerful telling of the stories of human beings, led to an abstract discussion of Bible interpretation.

That to me is a sin. It is as if we have to wait on the edge of our seats before the Bible experts give us the answers. We have to figure out all of these mysteries of scripture before we can decide whether or not it is OK to treat others with simple human decency. As if we have to wait around for some Ph. D. to parse out a Greek word or figure out the contextual status of ancient Roman sexual practices before we can decide whether or not a son or a daughter, mother or father, neighbor or church member is OK.
That is a stalling tactic.

The reason the right wing writes me off as a heretic is because I will not play their Bible game. I don't go to the Bible to learn about human sexuality anymore than I go to it to learn about fossil fuels. The Bible is simply not an authority on either issue. Who cares whether Paul was homophobic or not? He probably was. And you know something? He isn't here. But you are, and I am, and so is your gay son or daughter whom you may have rejected because of some theological abstraction.

Nevertheless, the Bible won't go away. And because people use it as a weapon against themselves and others, and because people have been so beaten by it, I as a minister, provide them with whatever resources they need to get over the pain it has caused. In some cases, people have been able to move beyond seeing the Bible (and the Church) as dangerous to one's health, and to find spiritual resources in the Bible (and yes, even the church) itself.

I have no desire to debate fundamentalists about the Bible. I have a great desire to help people, gay, straight and all, connect spiritually, and the Bible when rescued from fundamentalism and seen from a liberating lens has been helpful to many lgbts and their families.

If you need books from a liberating lgbt perspective on the Bible or Christian Spirituality, baby, I got 'em.

Peter Gomes was interviewed in the film. He has written a couple of good books.

Mel White was featured as well. He is a gem.

There are many others. I have listed but a few here to get those who are interested started.

It will be some time before society and the churches move beyond this particular prejudice. These discussions can be incredibly painful for those who really get tired of being labeled as a "sinner." I am sorry for that. Be of good courage, beloveds. You know you. God (however God is understood by you) knows you. And you are loved.

And, little by little, eyes and hearts can be opened.

Toward that effort, the Milligan College discussion was a great success.


  1. As someone who has not grown up in the church, I was fascinated by this movie. It is alien to me - or at least requires abstract thinking on my part - to see how so many of these people were devastated when their loved one came out to them. I've been devastated by news myself - "your father's been in a car accident", "your friend hung himself", "I don't love you anymore", "the cancer's back and I'm not going to chemo anymore", but "I'm gay" doesn't fall into that category. I don't know if it is because of the lack of Christian upbringing or what, but that kind of crushing, life-changing sense of panic has never been a reaction for me. So, with that in mind, this movie was a great opportunity for me to gain som einsight, to learn how to empathize with people who DO find it devastating, and to offer comfort in the right way.
    And it doesn't hurt to be able to ask the right kind of challenging questions to people who unthinkingly thrust the nebulous "It's in Scripture" argument at me.

    I'm not a Bible scholar and have no inclination to become one, but this film does provide some ammunition to admonish others to at least look for themselves before they attempt to ruin someone's life.

    It was also my first experience watching Jimmy Swaggart. Every time he came on the screen I felt like something was stomping on my chest; they weight of his hatred and anger staggered me. How anyone can look at him as a Christian completely escapes me. But they do. Those are the people we will never reach, and I don't want to waste any time trying. I would much rather spend time with good folks like those at Milligan who have opened their hearts in an attempt to open their minds about others.

  2. We had a showing and a discussion at my small Cathlic college as well. While we liked the perspective from the familes a lot, some of us wanted a deper discussion of the biblical warrants for anti-lgbt sentiment as well as a more nuanced presentation of the position that holds that the Bible says nothing about properly ordered homosexual relationships.

    Finally, one piece that bothers me from the Biblical standpoint is that there is a relative silence on the matter regarding lgbt affirmation in properly ordered relationships and its relationship to practices such as brother/ sister incest and polygamy. For instance, I think William Stacy Johnson's rather standard argument for affirmation opens that door wide open, but then he does nothing to shut it.

    Do you know of anyone who argues for welcoming and affirming lgbt relationships in the church that also places it a wider context of other sexual practices? I ask this not just for tightening an argument for affirmation (which I am) but also I think it is important to be clar about this especially in the mission field where homosexuality might be condemned in many cultures, but forms of incest and polygamy are clearly justified on biblical grounds.

  3. Thanks Snad, very well put.


    "Finally, one piece that bothers me from the Biblical standpoint is that there is a relative silence on the matter regarding lgbt affirmation in properly ordered relationships and its relationship to practices such as brother/ sister incest and polygamy."

    I am sure that figuring out appropriate sexual mores is a fine thing to do. I don't, however, think it is the responsibility of gay people to provide all the answers for us, nor should their treatment as equal citizens have to wait until we figure out all of this, if we ever will.

    The focus of this film, and frankly, one particular focus of my ministry, is to uncover the prejudice that is fueled by church and bible, to support lgbts and their families, and to advocate for equal rights.

    This doesn't mean that your questions are not important, it is just that there is often the slippery slope paranoia that stalls justice until everything is supposedly solved.

    You aren't making that argument, Drew, but I think we can be immobilized by it.

    I say that if people are really concerned about polygamy or incest, and refuse to grant lgbts freedom from violence, loss of employment, benefits of marriage, etc., then everyone should have no sex or marriage until we solve it.

    Finally, I see no benefit going to the Bible for answers on how we are to structure our relationships in any specific way. Who is a good model, Jacob (with a pair of wives and their slaves) or celibate, homophobic Paul?

    It will take all of us to figure out how to treat one another with justice and care.

  4. Drew,

    I think I may have overshot on your question. I said I have plenty of resources, and you asked for one in particular.


    My hunch is that you know resources regarding sexual ethics more than I do.

    But for others here are some that I have found helpful, whether they deal or not with your question, I don't know:

    Marie Fortune: Love Does No Harm

    Kathy Rudy, Sex and the Church

    Marvin Ellison: Same-sex Marriage? A Christian Ethical Analysis

    Ellison: Body and Soul: Rethinking Sexuality as Justice-Love

    Let me look further...

    It appears that I may need to list a bibliography somewhere.

  5. "I am sure that figuring out appropriate sexual mores is a fine thing to do. I don't, however, think it is the responsibility of gay people to provide all the answers for us, nor should their treatment as equal citizens have to wait until we figure out all of this, if we ever will."


  6. Thanks John.

    I do agree that any slippery slope should not limit the need for justice now.

    But when I do engage in arguments with non-affirming types (I do so intentionally like moth to flame) I would like to be able to hit that nail squarely on the head a little better. It's really an effort to stop the slippery slope position before it gets rolling down the hill in order to legitimate discrimination.


  7. Thanks Drew,

    I gotcha. Moth to flame. For some reason I understand that : )

  8. Drew, I think the most obvious answer to your question is the fairly recent case of both divorcees and women (and divorced women).

    There's a scriptural basis for the exclusion of divorced people from ministry (1 Tim 3, etc.) and certainly to exclude women (1 Cor 14, 1 Tim 2-3, Tit 1, etc.). I won't rehash all the arguments, but needless to say, the mainline church overcame its squeamishness and slippery slope naysayery to the point that the Westminster Confession had to be amended.

    Look at it this way: the Bible does not speak clearly of particular women in the ministry (other than passing references in Paul, though I would argue--and for my LCMS grandmother, unsuccessfully--that Mary Magdalene and crew were just as much ministers as any of the apostles), but when it does speak about the topic, appears to condemn it. Similarly with divorcees: we have no examples in the Bible of a divorced person in the ministry. When it does talk about the idea of divorcees as ministers, it condemns it.

    I don't buy the "well, the Bible doesn't talk about same-sex relationships, therefore they cannot be acceptable to God" argument. There's a LOT not mentioned in the Bible, por ejemplo human flight. The church condemned da Vinci for his aeronautical work, because of this Biblical silence issue and also a good old Natural Law argument ("if God had meant for man to fly, He would have given him wings").

    I realize that these examples won't be convincing to a Catholic, members of Protestant conservative splinters (PCA, OPC, LCMS, WELS etc.), the Southern Baptists, Mormons, and most Pentecostals. Yes, we ordain women (horrors!), allow those in the ministry to marry (atrocities!), and even to divorce (AAAAAAAAAA!).

    But they will likely be convincing to a mainline Protestant (particularly PC(USA), Episcopal, ELCA, UMC, UCC, AME, etc.).

  9. "I would like to be able to hit that nail squarely on the head a little better."

    Heterosexual marriage has been around a lot longer than gay marriage. During that time, we've seen unfortunately all sorts of examples of polygamy, incest, etc. The best explanation I can come up with is that heterosexual marriage causes polygamy and incest. I mean, if we're just going to make a silly correlational argument, which is what that is, why not make the right silly correlational argument? :)

    Seriously though, I agree with John that it isn't my "job" to make an argument against polygamy just so that I can get gay-married. I'm not interested in polygamy (I already do too much ironing.) At the same time I'm pretty sure that the folks in the FLDS "church" weren't waiting for Massachusetts to allow gay marriage so they could have their little polygamy cult: "Ah, finally! the gays can get married, so now we can marry as many 14 year olds as we please! Woo hoo!"

    There have always been, and will always be people who engage in various things like polygamy, etc. Having no legalized gay marriage has never stopped that. Legalizing gay marriage isn't going to change it either.

  10. I'm am proud of Andy Oliva and the faculty of Milligan for supporting the presentation of "the bible tells me so." It is the first time in my memory where Milligan and any organization associated with the independent Christian church took a proactive position in support of a philosophy of openness regarding LGBT issues.
    I am a minister and a counselor. I am straight and I have two gay brothers in my family. I love the gospel of Christ and I hate fundamentalism. I am glad that the students at Milligan had an open educational opportunity to learn a new perspective on LGBT issues. The grace of God is big enough to accept all people. I embrace open theism, a theological belief that says that God has not predestined the future. Instead God invites us to author the future with good choices. Choices taht are pleasing to Him. Choices that accept and acknowledge who we are, whether we are gay & lesbian or straight.

    The research on heredity and sexual orientation in identical twin studies indicate that heredity accounts for more than 50% of sexual/affectionate orientation; the rest is experiential and social learning. I respect the fact that heredity significantly influences sexual/affectional orientation I also believe that choice if a factor; a difficult choice. I appauld those who are brave enough to accept their sexual/affectionate orientation in the face of persecution and homophobia. I pray that we can learn to love each other as Christ loved us... Sacrificially and without conditions.