It's not about sex


"I increasingly began to feel like I was living behind an invisible wall. The inner secrecy of holding that inside was divorcing me from reality–I was living in my own head. Anybody I was in a friendship with, or anything I was doing in the church, was accompanied by an internal mantra: 'What if they knew?' It felt like all of my relationships were built on this ice that would break if I stepped out on to it.

"I felt like it was ripping me in half. I knew I couldn't carry on. I was trying to align the loving God I knew and believed in with this horrendous reality of what was going on inside me. I remember kneeling down and absolutely sobbing into the carpet. I said to God, 'You have to either take my life or take this attraction away because I cannot do both.'"*

These words described Vicky Beeching's life at age 13. She carried the secret of her lesbianism for several more years before confessing it before a religious gathering of 4,000 people, Her fellow Christians gathered around her and prayed that God would cast out her "demon of homosexuality." She soon lost her career as a Christian singer and song writer, and the hate mail and death threats started rolling in. What she experienced was reminiscent of what I went through on the road to atheism. First I prayed for faith. When my prayers failed, I railed against God. When I finally expressed my doubts to my fellow Christians, they ostracized me. Religion is a system by which people feel justified in treating others hatefully in the name of a God of Love; and it is the only means by which they can legally violate the rights of others despite the fact that their institutions are taxpayer supported. Yet the Bible can be understood in various ways. 

The faith tradition that Vicky Beeching and I grew up in believed the Bible to be the literal word of God as dictated to men. The Episcopal Church that I gravitated to in my upper teens, regarded it as a fallible collection of documents that contain the Word of God as understood by primitive men over a 1,500 year period, hence what the Bible held to be true changed even during its writing. I have also seen most Christians' interpretation of it change during my lifetime. For instance, the Southern Baptist denomination that dominated the Mississippi of my childhood held that drinking, gambling, gluttony, and divorce were sins, and my own prominent denomination made Southern Baptists seem almost liberal. While the hold of evangelical Christianity is no less in Mississippi now as it was then, Mississippi has long since legalized gambling and ended prohibition. Because it's the most obese state in the Union, preachers are unlikely to rail against gluttony, and because its divorce rate has increased dramatically, churches no longer deny communion to divorced people who remarry (they were formerly regarded as adulterers). Although the values of religion are everchanging, yet it's a rare day when religious people institute those changes or even admit to them.

I struggled for years with my own thoughts about homosexuality, my primary objection being that since sex is nature's way of reproduction, sex in which reproduction is a physical impossibility is unnatural and therefore aberrant. The fact that Peggy and I did our best to thwart our own reproduction or that she eventually had a hysterectomy seemed irrelevant because our desires were at least natural. I later learned that homosexual sex is found in other species, and I became increasingly struck by the irony of heterosexual teenagers being able to marry while the same right was denied to homosexuals who had lived together for decades. I concluded that it doesn't matter what causes homosexuality, because it's just how some people are and there is no way they can change it, so to deny them the right to marry is wrong, wrong, and wrong.

It is one of the few political positions about which Peggy and I differ, her argument being that since marriage has always been exclusively for heterosexuals it would be wrong to change it now (she favors "civil contracts" that would give gay people the same right as married people without calling it marriage). My response is so what if marriage has been for heterosexuals only? Instead of seeing this as reason to continue the tradition, I see it as high time that society corrects a longstanding error. I also believe that civil contracts would further institutionalize the notion that homosexuals are unworthy of the same legal protections as straight people. As with school integration, separate but equal never was and never could be anything but separate in fact and equal in fantasy. 

Another difference between Peggy and me is that I am greatly interested in the experiences of homosexuals within the context of the larger society (I learned of Vicky Beeching from a radio interview), while Peggy is so averse to wanting to know that it seems to bother her than I do. She is very much of the Don't ask, Don't tell philosophy that became the Law of the Land in 1994 under Bill Clinton (it was overturned in 2011). What Don't ask, Don't tell meant was that, unlike straights, gays in the military had to hide their sexual orientation, which continued the tradition of keeping gays in the closet by telling them that their "dirty little secret" was shameful. Under Don't ask, Don't tell it was considered so shameful that it represented a threat to military cohesiveness and hence to national security.

I cried while reading the interview I quoted from, and if I hadn't been running power tools and ten feet up a ladder when I heard the radio interview, I would have cried then too, possibly because I know so well what it feels like to be hated by people who claim to guided by love for something that I deplored within myself and did everything I could to rid myself of, only to conclude that being a nonbeliever was just the way I am. I also related to Vicky Beeching in that the things we're hated for are not things that harm others.

Vicky Beeching's own childhood church at least recognized that homosexuality wasn't something that people simply pray their way out of, although it continued to regard homosexual sex as sinful. Where is the humility, the willingness to say, Our understanding of God is limited, so maybe the parts of the Bible that condone hatred for homosexuals is simply a tragic legacy from an ancient culture. Nearly all Christians finally came around to admitting that slavery was wrong, so doesn't it make sense to at least remain open to the idea that the condemnation of homosexuals might be wrong too? As the Apostle Paul wrote, "...the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life."

I am sometimes tempted to say to Peggy, "Consider Raymond Burr, this actor who you so respect and enjoy, the one who loved and shared a home with the same man from 1960 until Burr's death in 1993, how can you deny people like that the same right that another actor, Elizabeth Taylor, exercised on the eight occasions that she stood before a minister and said, "I take you to be my lawfully wedded husband...from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part'?"

As with heterosexual marriage, if homosexual marriage is to mean anything, it is about love and commitment rather than sex and frivolity, about a man being able to pull out his wallet and pass around a photo of his husband to his friends at work without the fear of being fired, ridiculed, ostracized, beaten, or even killed. It's about a teenage girl being able to introduce her female date to her parents without fearing that she will be driven from her home or shamed in church. It's about compassion, about equality, about society saying to its citizens that it only asks that they live honorably. There is no half way, no room for civil contracts, no way to hate the sin but love the sinner because homosexuality isn't what people do, it's who they are.

As with much that I write about, I very much doubt that I can reach those who disagree with me. Perhaps this is somewhat due to my inadequacy, but I'm going to share something that I think also plays a part. The numbers differ a little from year to year and from poll to poll, but for several years now the one group in America that is primarily responsible for persecuting all the others, by which I refer to theologically conservative Christians, identify themselves as America's most persecuted group. But consider this: 70% of Americans claim to be Christians along with 100% of America's presidents and nearly 100% of its Congressman, Senators, and other elected officials. Even so, America's Christians say that it's not gays, Jews, blacks, Moslems, Hispanics, atheists, refugees, or women, who constitute this country's most persecuted group; it's themselves. Does this not suggest an almost pathological absence of compassion and empathy? 

I think the source for their imagined persecution rests in theologically conservative Christianity's black-versus-white worldview according to which they believe it is God's will that those who are lost in sin deserve to suffer, but that their own suffering is due to the machinations of Satan. In other words, if others are persecuted, it's because they are evil, but when Christians are persecuted, it's because they are good. But in what ways do people who control the legislative and executive branches of government regard themselves as oppressed? As a group, all it takes for theologically conservative Christians to feel oppressed is for them not to get their way. 

For example, they feel oppressed because the Supreme Court upheld the legality of gay marriage. They feel oppressed every time they pass a Planned Parenthood clinic; every time their children learn about evolution in a science class; and every time a gay couple adopts a child or a gay person gets a teaching job. Christian teachers, coaches, and school administrators feel oppressed when they're sued for trying to force their religion upon public school children. Christian pastry chefs and florists feel oppressed by having to provide equal services to Muslims, atheists, and gay people; Christian government officials feel oppressed by their inability to deny the right of other religions to erect displays in public parks alongside manger scenes. Christians who are prevented from forcing the values, ceremonies, and representations of their religion onto others always conclude that it is they who are being oppressed. Small wonder, then, that they are devoid of compassion for others.

*https://www.google.com/search?q=don%27t+ask%2C+don%27t+tell&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&client=firefox-b-1

19 comments:

Christine Adler said...

YES! So much wisdom here, Snowbrush. Loved many of your lines, including: "...the things we're hated for are not things that harm others." and "There is...no way to hate the sin but love the sinner because homosexuality isn't what people do, it's who they are."

Thank you for thinking deeply and writing authentically about this topic. It is disappointing and baffling to me that people can be hated for who they are and who they love. Worse, that others in society are *not* condemned for their deliberate infliction of pain, shame and scorn on people who have done nothing to harm them.

Humans may like to think they are the most evolved species, but there is plenty of proof that we are still animals, and that we have a long way to go.

Marion said...

I feel the same way (in reverse, I guess) as a Southern, pro-life, patriotic, gun-carrying, heterosexual Christian & Republican when left wingers, Democrats or gay people stereotype/pigeonhole me. xo

Emma Springfield said...

I was raised in a Christian society. The basic rules I try to live by are those that we were taught then are the rules I follow. Simply put I never intentionally hurt someone either physically or emotionally. I try to do right in all things I do.

I realize these are not strictly Christian values. Many religions hold the same views. And I have acquainted myself with several other religions purely as an academic experience.

I am not a believer in any god nor am I a believer that there is no god. Truthfully I don't care.

I guess what I feel for all people is if you are not harming someone or your self it is none of my business.

Elephant's Child said...

Sadly this is another area where segments of our population are joining segments of yours. A number of prominent Christians are flagging that they are being oppressed and discriminated against and demanding that laws be enshrined (mostly so they can continue to discriminate against others just as they always have).

kylie said...

I was horrified to learn recently that a young gay man who attended a church youth group with my children a few years ago was made to feel unwelcome. I had thought that a younger generation might be more open to difference. I have also noticed that older people in church are more accepting than one might expect.
I have come to the conclusion that older people have probably met and liked or loved some gay people through the course of their life and developed some perspective around the issue but the young ones have been brain washed and not yet had their ideas challenged. In my church sexuality is never addressed in a sermon so the message is not coming from a recognised leader and is not consistent, rather we have people teaching their children at home and there is a variety of approaches.
I wish the Salvation Army would make a decision to be consistently affirmative

Snowbrush said...

"It is disappointing and baffling to me that people can be hated for who they are... Worse, that others in society are *not* condemned for their deliberate infliction of pain, shame and scorn."

We're herd animals, and I suppose all herd animals feel safest when surrounded by people who are more like themselves than not. I know I do, so (since you're new here), please don't mistake me for the poster boy for tolerance.

"I feel the same way (in reverse, I guess) as a Southern, pro-life, patriotic, gun-carrying, heterosexual Christian & Republican when left wingers, Democrats or gay people stereotype/pigeonhole me. xo"

You feel "pigeon-holed" by gay people for being anti-gay because they don't think you support their demand for equality, but DO YOU support their demand for equality? Probably not given the demographic groups you're in (and the answers given to pollsters by people in those groups). Tell me this, please, where, do you think, do reasonable generalizations (about a group of people) leave off and bigotry begins? It is not a question that I have a satisfying answer to. BTW, I was shopping at St. Vinnie's yesterday when I saw something that I thought you would like, so I got it for you. I don't get to the post office much, so don't start checking your mail right away, but I would enjoy sending it to you if you will permit me.

"I realize these are not strictly Christian values. Many religions hold the same views."

I think our values came to us through our evolution as an interdependent social species, and that they were appropriated by religion, which forever after pretended to have gotten them from God. Not only do I NOT think that the values of religious people, as a group, are better than those of nonreligious people, as a group, I really don't think they're as good. I say this because religion undeniably does enormous harm, and what little good it does do is primarily for its own members. Now that religious conservatives in this country elected (and still stand behind) Donald Trump, I have even more reason to look askance at the claim of those who frame themselves as the defenders of all that is pure, good, right, loving, and holy.

"Sadly this is another area where segments of our population are joining segments of yours."

I know. I also suspect that Australians would tend to know more about America than Americans do about Australians. Because of my ignorance, perhaps, I rather assume that
Australia might be to the right of America on many things. For instance, gay marriage is legal here (although it took a court decision to make it legal). The fact is that how most Americans feel about any issue is obscured by the fact that Donald Trump and his political party hold power. For instance, most Americans favor gun control, yet we have mass shooting after mass shooting because "most Americans" don't run the country; hardline Republican do, and they wouldn't vote for Jesus Christ himself if he supported gun control. Because of the way the American Senate is apportioned, the way America's voting districts are aligned, and the existence of something called the Electoral College (which is more important than the people in electing politicians) it's very hard for things to be otherwise.

"In my church sexuality is never addressed in a sermon"

It seems to me that positive outreach is necessary if a widely hated group is to feel welcome among the very people who are infamous for hating them (I refer to religious people). A lot of churches here have a written statement about welcoming gay people. I feel as you do about the Salvation Army. It appears to stand out (among churches) for the good it does, so I find it sad that it isn't running with the ball in regard to gays, but of course I also know how divisive the issue can be, and hence out hard it can be for churches to take a stand without ripping apart.

Sue in Italia/In the Land Of Cancer said...

I read recently of a ten year old boy who confessed to being attracted by other boys. He was killed by his parents. Did this happen in some other part of the world? No, here.

I recently was a house guest of a great married couple who happen to be men. They seem to be more devoted to each other than many heterosexual couples. Both of them were brought up as Catholics so they had a hard time coming to terms with their beliefs and their identities. They left the church.


Judge lest ye be judged...why isn't this tenet of Christianity practiced more?

I have gay family members. I fear for their safety especially now that Trump has made it acceptable to be a violent bigot.

kylie said...

You can decide for yourself how much validity this has but as an international organisation, the Salvation Army works in some places where homosexuality is prosecuted and persecuted and the powers that make the decisions feel that being openly affirmative may endanger people associated with the organisation in those parts of the world.
As I write this I realise we discussed this by email.. I think we should be looking for other solutions but the reality is that TSA is run by straight men who have little vested interest in a changed policy.

bluzdude said...

My simple way of putting it: It is wrong and completely immoral to deny rights that everyone else has, to one group of people on the basis of traits with which they were born.

Persecuting gay people is no different from persecuting those with brown eyes. It's wrong, every time.

Snowbrush said...

"I have gay family members. I fear for their safety especially now that Trump has made it acceptable to be a violent bigot."

I have but one reader who supports Trump, and I am grateful for her presence. I can't imagine that the divide between us could be greater, yet she keeps coming here, and I would feel an enormous loss if she stopped because, aside from my father-in-law with whom I really can't talk , Marion is my only up-close window into the world of those who support Trump. I want to know so much from her. For instance, does she--you, Marion--believe that Trump is a well-meaning, compassionate, honest, and otherwise honorable man; and to what to you attribute the fact that he has not only split this country into mutually hostile camps, he has also turned our allies against us? Do you see it as a strength that even his closest advisors often seem clueless regarding what he is about to do, and that he commonly acts against the advice of those advisors, only to change his mind a day later and do something else that is against the advice of his advisors? What I see in Trump is chaos, bad faith, and uncertainty, and to be blunt, illness and depravity, and so I am wondering what, if any, problems you have with Trump? So far as I'm aware, you're behind him 100%, but I don't know if that's accurate.

Snowbrush said...

"the Salvation Army works in some places where homosexuality is prosecuted and persecuted and the powers that make the decisions feel that being openly affirmative may endanger people associated with the organisation in those parts of the world."

Yes, I remember you mentioning this. I wonder how the Quakers handle it, or if they even exist in the places in which it is physically dangerous to support homosexuals. I can not condemn the Salvation Army for wanting to protect its workers, but neither can I applaud it for, in effect, supporting persecution through silence. You mentioned how upset you were to learn that a homosexual didn't feel welcome in your congregation, yet was it realistic to expect that he would? I must acknowledge that it's not my life that's on the line, so I can't very well step astride some high-horse of self-righteousness, yet if the Salvation really and truly believes that homosexuals are being wronged, I don't see how it can not speak out against that wrong. The fact that it doesn't suggests to me that the Salvation Army is probably divided within itself about what to do, and the result is that it does nothing. Rhymes is a Methodist, and it too is a denomination that is divided on the issue. Here in Eugene, Oregon, USA, the First Methodist Church goes to lengths to welcome pretty much any and everyone into membership, but in much of the country, including where Rhymes lives, the denomination is, as I understand it, trying to keep its head in the sand in the name of harmony, so how is a homosexual to feel welcome in such an atmosphere? No one wants to see the denomination split, and I can understand that. I suppose a lot of denominations are in a similar bind. One can hardly change a denomination by pushing so fast for change that it shatters into two or more separate denominations, this at a time when mainstream Christianity is already showing signs that it is approaching its death throes, yet where is the line between speaking out against a perceived wrong and exercising prudence within a divided denomination? Well-meaning people on both sides of the issue struggle to maintain moderation and to exhibit compassion for those who disagree with them, and as one who has trouble being a loved, respected, and constructive member of any group, I'm hardly in a position to advise them, yet it is something about which my feelings are strong. Life is so short, and I am drawing toward the end of it, and this makes me impatient with moderation. I want change now, but I have so little power, so little influence. I really don't know if any one even cares what I think, so I feel a little like I'm yelling out my truths to a nearly empty auditorium, but that is the most that is left to me to do. I am doing the best I can Kylie, and I have complete faith that you are too. I thank you for your willingness to dialogue with me about this.

Snowbrush said...

"My simple way of putting it: It is wrong and completely immoral to deny rights that everyone else has, to one group of people on the basis of traits with which they were born"

I agree, but the answer does not seem so obvious to those Christians who are trying to support homosexuals while at the same time keeping their denominations from falling apart. Along this vein, you might want to read Kylie's comment and my response to it.

kj said...

Marion, being pigeonholed doesn’t abdicate your equal rights . It may offend your values and opinions and freedom of speech, but it’s not an apt comparison to compare your reactions to ‘labels’ to actual discrimination.

kj said...

I’ll weigh in as a lesbian in a 33 year relationship, parent of an adult heterosexual daughter, professional business owner and counselor, and having little to do with my sexual orientation, force opponent of donal trump and his racist beliefs and policies.

It was a big deal with my state of Massachusetts passed the right for gay folks to marry. It was a big deal when my daughter stopped feeling shame or concern about our family. I was a big deal when I stopped stuttering to avoid using a pronoun when talking about my partner. These steps have all mattered.

These days, I don’t think so much about being different than the heterosexual people who are in my life—my family, friends, colleagues, neighbors—because i’m not. Safety is still an issue in many places, so it’s not a level playing field, but I think you’d find that most gay and lesbian people are comfortable in their own skin, will actively defend their rights, and have no need or interest to process homophobic views.

Marriage equality was long in coming. I didn’t care about the legality with my partner until we did marry, and in that instance I realized the act itself was and is significant.

I read marion’s Comment with a shake of my head. From my perspective, and I think from the perspective of my heterosexual friends and family, believing in civil unions instead of equal marriage, and equating the labels we throw at one another to civil and constitutional rights, is a core root of homophobia. And yes, snow, the conservative religious right feeds that root.

I take solace in believing that once trump’s permission to attack and vilify is no longer in the forefront of American Christian society—he won’t have his microphone forever—we’ll resume our march toward equality and respect for everyone, Christians included.

And lest I be minimized , i’m a Christian who is also appalled by trump taking children from their parents for the misdemeanor crime of seeking asylum. Disgusting and immoral. That any Christian, any parent, any grandparent could support is shameful.
Love
kj

kj said...

ps sorry about the many typos as I reread my comment. 💜

Anonymous said...

People who are gay have suffered enough. They want what the rest of the world can have, marriage, family, etc.
I am glad that life is changing for the better for homosexuals.
President Trump has the first openly gay Ambassador-Richard Grenell. (At least I think he is the first?)
Kris

Snowbrush said...

Hey, Kris, I miss you when you don't come around for awhile (I THINK this is only your second comment in a few months now). I wish I had contact information for you because if you were to fall out of sight, I wouldn't know if you were okay. To this end, you might consider setting up a Blogger account with an email link.

"Marion, being pigeonholed doesn’t abdicate your equal rights. It may offend your values and opinions and freedom of speech, but it’s not an apt comparison to compare your reactions to ‘labels’ to actual discrimination."

I wondered who Marion was even being pigeoholed by since her values, as I understand them, are demographically consistent with the values of her local central Louisiana populace, and I wondered to what extent the ways Marion is pigeonholed differ from her actual values. Finally, Marion dismissed my values as those of a "Left Coast liberal," which is the kind of pigeonholing that Fox News does with every breath, there being a blindness here that went along with the points I made in this post.

"These days, I don’t think so much about being different than the heterosexual people who are in my life—my family, friends, colleagues, neighbors—because i’m not."

I'm very happy to know this.

"Safety is still an issue in many places"

Gay people can be murdered at the drop of a hat in much of the world, and it's dangerous for them in much of this country too. Our lives are so short, yet we treat one another so badly, and for what--to make society "pure in the eyes of God"?

"i’m a Christian who is also appalled by trump taking children from their parents...That any Christian, any parent, any grandparent could support is shameful."

Not only to do it but to blame the parents who are in many cases fleeing violence in order to save their children's lives! When Sessions quoted the Bible to justify the policy, I, as someone who opposes the power of religion gave a silent cheer that he had discarded every last pretense of loving his neighbor, and what Sessions believes, millions of other Christians also believe. America's evangelicals will rue the day that they so combined religion and politics that the two of them rise and fall in lockstep. The combined efforts of all of the nation's most militant atheists put together couldn't hurt religion more in the minds of those who previously took a "live and let live" approach to religion than what many Christians themselves are doing.

Joared said...

I’m disgusted with the fact some social issues, of which heterosexual vs homosexuality is one, have been politicized beginning some years ago primarily for political reasons. Never mind it plays into creating the divisions that may result in destroying the very freedoms our constitution was written to guarantee each of us. This is done under the guise of being a religious issue knowing there are a lot of voters who will accept it as such.

All Consuming said...

I found KJ's comments moving; she paints a clear picture of her experiences and it lightens my heart that her personal world and the world itself is changing for what can only be the better.

You are phenomenally tolerant in your quest for answers dear, I've said that before and I'll say it again I'm sure. Countless discussions I've read and observed online that include this subject and many more, atheism, religion, race, seem to spin in a never-ending loop, a run down a mobius strip with folks never changing their stance when they despise people for something that can never be changed, like homosexuality - they truly stick to it like glue, but I do think its worth it if one has the energy as it may help bring people together, some people, and perhaps reduce the hate that they don't even realise is just that emanating from them. x