Sunday, May 23, 2010

Something to Ponder for Pentecost Sunday

I will not be going to church this morning. I have to finish grading student papers today.

As Pentecost arrives, here is an editorial from The Observer (UK) to ponder:

Homosexuality is not a sin or a crime. There is no caveat or quibble that should be added. The repression of gay men and women by legal means and public intimidation is an offence against the basic principles of a free and just society. Where it exists, which it does to varying degrees in many countries around the world, it must be confronted and defeated.

The case last week of two gay men sentenced to 14 years' hard labour in Malawi is a stark reminder of how urgent the task is. The judge said it was a "scaring sentence, so that the public will be protected". The country's president has described homosexuality as "evil and bad before the eyes of God".

In five countries around the world – Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen – the death penalty can be applied to gays and lesbians. They can be prosecuted for the fact of their sexual orientation in 76 countries, 38 of them in Africa.

There are also countless jurisdictions where homophobic attacks are tolerated by police. Britain hardly has an impeccable record on that front. But the UK has undergone a cultural revolution with regard to gay rights in the last decade: the repeal of Section 28, which banned teaching about homosexuality in schools; an equalised age of consent; civil partnerships and the prohibition of discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation.

Britain is also not without influence in countries where persecution is institutionalised. A particular obligation falls on the Anglican church, which counts in its communion clergymen who preach venom and hatred. The Anglican bishop of Uyo in Nigeria, Isaac Orama, has described homosexuals as "inhuman, insane, satanic and not fit to live".

The Anglican hierarchy in Britain has avoided speaking out too frankly on this matter to avoid a schism, but the church's quiet diplomacy has done nothing to help the victims of homophobic repression. Increasingly, it looks like complicity.

Is homosexuality the issue that we really want to define the Christian faith? Already, when people are asked what the Christian faith is all about, opposition to abortion and homosexuality immediately comes to their minds, not the Incarnation or the Resurrection, or salvation, still less anything that could be called "Love." Are those who are breaking up the Anglican Communion solely over this issue prepared to shoe-horn opposition to homosexuality into the Nicene and Apostle's Creeds? Do they really see it up there with belief in the Resurrection and the Trinity?

The State Departments of 2 different American presidents have spoken out more readily, clearly, and forcefully on these persecutions in Africa than any Christian bishop anywhere. I agree with the Observer editorial, this looks like complicity.

This is a matter where Christian bishops should be leading the opposition, not aiding and abetting the crime or bringing up the rear.

I would argue that what's really in peril are not gays and lesbians. We'll always be around no matter how many of us get killed.
What's really in danger is the Christian religion. If it wants to be taken seriously by the rest of the world as anything other than institutionalized bigotry and superstition, then it must take the lead on a major human rights issue. As I've argued repeatedly before, what the institutionalized homophobia of the churches offends is not people's sense of permission (as the right argues), but their moral sense, their deepest sense of what is right and fair. That's why there are so many heteros out there willing to go to bat over this issue on behalf of gays and lesbians.

The moral authority that Christianity used to enjoy with non-Christians is in the toilet these days over this and related issues. The almost monthly drum beat of scandal and hypocrisy over this issue, and other sexual issues, is making Christianity look ridiculous as well as churlish.

If Christians are not willing to stand up for the rights and dignity of gays and lesbians, then are they willing to stand up for the rights and dignity of anyone? Is our concern for human dignity and welfare limited to embryos and fetuses, and ends with birth? How authentic is the universal call of Pentecost with its babel of languages coming together if we must add an asterisk with a footnote listing exceptions and preconditions? Does the Great Commission mean anything other than a license for imperial conquest without the Great Commandment? Did the Savior who forgave His murderers from the Cross without their asking limit His Love and Mercy to those who meet membership requirements, or to those who could pass a catechism exam? Did God put another asterisk beside His pronouncement that His creation is good? Did God make anything that was not good? In a world full of tests and ordeals, is the Gospel really Good News or one more ordeal? In the words of William Blake, "To God, if you would make a circle to go into, then go into it yourself and see how you would do."

The Gospel is supposed to be Good News. Its hearers are supposed to recognize it as Good News, not as an arrest warrant from a bailiff, or instructions from a proctor.

I believe that in some form (perhaps that we cannot anticipate and might not recognize) the Christian faith will survive. I'm not so sure about the Christian religion.

Hat tip to Thinking Anglicans.


June Butler said...

Doug, your commentary is more excellent than the quote that inspired your words. The Gospel is either the Gospel (Good News), or it's not. If the Gospel is not Good News for all, then Christianity has little to offer.

Counterlight said...

You are too kind, Grandmere.

June Butler said...

Doug, I'm not kind at all. I'm not given to bullshit, my friend. Christianity is quite simple to understand. The difficulty comes in following Jesus. Unfortunately, so-called Christians tend to make the Gospel message complicated. And I point the finger at myself first.

Counterlight said...

Well, I certainly do my share of obscuring the message, mostly by failing so conspicuously to live it out.

JCF said...

Right the f@ck on!

IT said...

Hghlighted at Friends of Jake. Well done.

Counterlight said...

Just in case anyone's wondering, I finished reading the student papers. All that's left is recording the grades for one class.

Walter Zimmerman said...

You know, I think this is the first time it's been pointed out, in such simple terms, that there are no asterisks or entrance requirements to the essential center of Christianity. For me, the Good News has always been for someone else.

Counterlight said...

"For me, the Good News has always been for someone else."

Indeed, the Good News for me frequently has a sign on it that says "members only."

JimB said...

VERY well said. You nailed the center of the faith so often missed by the self-proclaimed orthodox.


Göran Koch-Swahne said...

What Grand'mère and the others said, dearest Brother!

Jarred said...

The Gospel is supposed to be Good News. Its hearers are supposed to recognize it as Good News, not as an arrest warrant from a bailiff, or instructions from a proctor.

Thank you for saying this. I often feel like asking some Christians I've me, "Where is this good news you keep speaking of? Because so far, I haven't heard you say anything that even comes close to resembling good news."

john iliff said...


Thanks for stating so cogently what we are all thinking!

blessings your direction, my brother!


Paul said...

No asterisks. Exactly.