United, We Divide

I was a teenage Methodist.  Or, I should say, a teenage United Methodist.  My family had moved to a town where there were no Fundamentalist churches.  Indeed, the only Protestant church was the UMC.  Although very aware of religion, I hadn’t studied it deeply at that point—I’ve come to understand a bit better the marketplace of Christianties and how it works in a capitalist society.  The thing is, the more I learned about John Wesley and the Methodist movement, the more I saw how well it aligned with my own thinking and experience.  I became an Episcopalian largely because John Wesley never left that tradition and urged his followers in the same direction.  Of course, the “United” in United Methodism was due to mergers during the ecumenical period when Christians were learning to overlook differences and a strong base remained from which to draw.

The news has come out that the United Methodist Church has decided to split over the issue of homosexuality.  Most major Protestant denominations have made their peace, albeit uneasily, with the issue.  They recognized that while a source of guidance in spiritual matters the Bible’s a little outdated on its scientific understanding.  If God had revealed evolution to good old Moses things might’ve been a bit different.  We now know that homosexuality isn’t a “choice”—it is found in nature, and not rarely.  Homo sapiens (if I’m allowed to use that phrase) have developed in such a way that sexuality is a main preoccupation of religions.  Some animal species are monogamous and in our case many cultures adopted this as conducive to an ordered society.  Then it became codified in some sacred writings.

While homosexuality is mentioned in the Bible, every book of that Bible has a context.  Like it or not, close, serious study of Scripture raises questions you just don’t get if you read only authors who think the same way you do.  It is far easier to do that—who doesn’t like being right?—but thinking seldom gains credibility by never being challenged.  Iron sharpens iron, someone once said.  The emotion behind the issue, I suspect, is driven by a couple of things: fear of that which is different, and the inability to see the Bible as anything but “da rules.”  In those cases where the rules contradict one another you just have to choose.  At least in Christianity.  In Judaism they ended up with the Talmud.  In any case, we’re now seeing the fracturing of society based on party lines.  We could always use a few more choices, I guess, for competition is what spiritual capitalism is all about.

You Call That Working?

A recent post of mine on the United Methodist Church got a lot of response (for me, anyway) on other social media.  As I pondered this—I’ve written about the topic many times before—it occurred to me that most people probably have no idea what biblical scholars do all day.  (That is, besides write books that only other biblical scholars read, and teach their classes, or, very occasionally, edit books.)  Biblical studies is arguably one of the oldest academic pursuits in the world and what it boils down to in a word is “contexts.”  We try to understand the multiple contexts of the biblical texts.  Think about this a second: when you pick up a book, newspaper, magazine, or their electronic equivalents, what is the first, if often unconscious, thought you have?  Isn’t it something like “what kind of book, newspaper, etc., is this?”  Is it fiction or non?  Is it reputable or not?  Who wrote it and when?  These are all contexts.

The Bible was written about two millennia ago.  Very little of that original context still remains.  In fact, none of the original manuscripts even still exist.  It was a book written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.  The vast majority of people in the western world do not read these languages, and so the Bible comes to us in mediated form—translation.  Translation, as any writer knows, is a form of interpretation.  It is not, and can never be, the original.  To figure out what the Bible “means” it has to be interpreted—even just reading it is a form of interpretation.  Biblical scholars want to be able to interpret it in informed ways.  We learn about its various contexts and use them to help us understand.

What did people think like thousands of years ago?  Can you even remember what it was like to look up a distant location without the internet?  Writing letters or dialing a rotary phone to get information on it?  Going to triple A to get maps?  And all of that was only two decades ago.  Life in biblical times was very different than life today.  The people then didn’t understand science the way that we do.  The writers of the Good Book didn’t have any idea that what they were scribbling would one day be considered holy scripture.  They had completely different contexts.  Whether the contexts are historical, literary, or social scientific (we still haven’t figured out an elegant way of saying the latter) biblical scholars use a variety of methods to get to those contexts.  We can’t go in with the answers already in our heads—if we did we’d only find what we were looking for.  At the end we have an answer, not “the” answer.  And so biblical studies continues.

Christianity sans Christ

Pieter Breughel the elder

“He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”  (Please pardon the sexist translation, but the King James is in the public domain.)  That verse, and many others, have been going through my head since my former United Methodist Church decided to close its doors to those who are different.  The reason this verse sticks out is pretty obvious—according to the Good Book we’re all sinners.  The “Christianity” that the UMC has embraced is that of Paul, not that of Jesus.  In fact, Jesus seems to have exited, stage left.  You see, only with a great deal of casuistry of exegetical caliber can anyone claim that Jesus (aka God) said anything about homosexuality.  Not a single word.  His response in the famous story of an adulteress (what of the adulterer who partnered in her crime?) caught in flagrante delicto, he gave our opening quote.

At one point Peter, exasperated with his master’s kindness, sputtered how many times did he have to forgive—seven times?  More like seven times seventy.  The one without sin has itchy fingers where stones are abundant.  Once at Nashotah House we had a student from Kenya.  He was already a priest, and he had a family back home.  At one point I asked him about his wife.  He informed me that his brother now had her as wife while he was gone.  It was the way of their culture.  This same student—for we are all students all the time—had harsh words for American sexual practices.  He later tried to find a way to stay in the United States, leaving family behind.  The Bible may turn a blind eye to polygamy, but polyandry is definitely stone-worthy.  Who is without sin?

Ironically the UMC has lined up against the Gospels.  Christianity’s sexual hangups began with the apostle from Tarsus, not the carpenter from Nazareth.  We have been forced to see, time and again, what comes of making priests remain celibate.  It’s against nature, and none of us has a free hand to grope for a stone.  Instead, we queue up ready to judge.  Love, the church says, is wrong.  God, says the Gospel, is love.  There’s a mansion with many rooms above our heads.  We’re not told if the doors come with locks or not.  Unless this seem unnaturally profane, anyone who has truly loved another knows it is more than just a physical act.  Such spiritual intimacy is difficult to spread too thinly without cheapening it to the point of a tawdry sit-com.  Even then, however, we shouldn’t judge.  There aren’t stones enough in the world for that.

Weaponized Scripture

One of the many questions that haunt evangelical Christians is whether it is okay to watch horror films or not.  The same applies to whether it’s okay to listen to rock-n-roll (even as it’s reaching its senior years).  Cultural accommodation is often seen as evil and evangelicalism, as a movement, is frequently offered as a culture all its own.  I recently rewatched Brian Dannelly’s Saved!, a coming-of-age comedy about a group of teenagers at American Eagle Christian High School.  Gently satirical, it portrays well how evangelicals try to redefine “cool” in a Christian mode.  Taking tropes from pop culture and “baptizing” them, Pastor Skip—the principal—assures the young people that they’re every bit as cool as secular culture icons, only the Christians are going to heaven.

The film came out when I was teaching at Nashotah House.  That seminary also had problems with secular culture, but in a completely different way.  Its method was basically to ignore that culture.  Isolated, Anglo-Catholic, one might even say “Medieval” but for the sanitation, it was likely not a safe place for a professor to be watching such films.  Evangelicalism and right-wing Catholicism were beginning to find each other.  Once the cats and dogs of the theological world, they were becoming more like goldfish in their bowl, watching a strange and unnerving world just outside the glass.  A world in which they couldn’t survive.  Now, Saved! is only a cinematic version of this, but it has a few profound moments.  Mary, the protagonist, comes to see the hypocrisy of both the school and her former friends when she supports a boyfriend who is gay.

At one point her friends attempt an intervention.  They try to exorcize Mary, and when that fails one of them throws a Bible at her.  Picking it up, Mary says “This is not a weapon.”  Since this movie isn’t by any stretch of the imagination horror, I didn’t address it in Holy Horror.  As I rewatched it in the light of that book, however, I recognized a motif I did discuss in it.  The use of the Bible in movies is extremely common.  That applies to films that don’t have an overt Christian setting such as this one does.  The iconic Bible is a protean book.  Despite what Mary says it can indeed be a weapon.  It often is.  Many of us have been harmed by it.  Christian separatist culture has its own dark side, even if it’s carefully hidden, its adherents think, from the secular world outside the fishbowl.

Political Games

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The enigma machine held an almost impossible complexity for generating codes. It gave the Nazis a great advantage during World War II since it was beyond the ability of cryptographers to decipher it. It was against this background that Alan Turing developed what would come to be recognized today as the computer. A brilliant mathematician, Turing himself was an enigma, in part because he was a homosexual—and in Britain at the time acting on this was a crime. Turing famously committed suicide just at the start of a brilliant career, probably because of his conviction of this “crime.” Those of you who’ve seen The Imitation Game will recognize the plot of the movie, and most people who read about technology will recognize that the story is largely factual. We like to think we’ve progressed since the days when one’s sexual orientation was considered a crime, but the enigma of the election has proven indecipherable once again.

As we begin to realize just what the price will be to have an avowed bigot in the highest office in the land, it may be helpful to decode things a bit. I, for one, have to admit that having a few days off from work and avoiding the news as much as possible, has been restorative. Watching movies, spending hours at a time writing, and actually seeing family when we’re all awake have been wonderful. Now it’s time to face the cold realities of 2017 with early morning bus rides and a looming intolerance on the horizon.

I have to admit that my mind doesn’t work like that of a code-breaker. Some of the ancient languages I studied were originally decoded by cryptographers who turned their attention to trying to understand people whose only means of communication were forms of writing long forgotten. For me, as a student, it was more a matter of trying to understand what it meant to think like someone else. This may be what is most distressing about the fascist outlook brewing in Washington—there is no desire to even attempt to look at things from the other point of view. It’s a raw celebration of power granted in a moment of weakness. We have tomes and tomes of history to demonstrate just what’s wrong with all of this, but the enigma is that those who have no interest in learning will ever read them. We continue to play a silly political game without counting what we have lost. This may be a zero-sum game after all.

Anabaptist Higher Education

There’s strength in numbers. This is a biblical concept as well as a folk saying (although it is worded differently in the Good Book). The power of conviction grows in a group, and that’s a reason that governments fear mobs, particularly angry ones. As biblical fundamentalism began to develop at the turn of the last century, those who opposed modernity found like-minded believers and gathered themselves together to stand on the same side of multiple causes. Not only fundamentalists, but all different religious outlooks—evangelical groups especially. The more “mainstream” and liberal groups, lacking the conviction of feeling like they’ve been left behind as society moves ahead, have felt less need to organize together. This is something the Democratic Party has felt ever since the Religious Right wed the Republican Party. It is an interesting dynamic. Banding together makes you feel like you’re not alone. So it was that the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities was founded. Higher education, which began in the church, had gone directions that made evangelical groups uncomfortable, so their institutions formed a coalition.

A story in the current Christian Century two Anabaptist member schools have caused waves of protest because they have decided that it is permissible to hire same-sex married faculty. Eastern Mennonite University and Goshen College, sponsored by groups known for their primitivism, have surprised the CCCU with their surprisingly open stance. When is the last time the Mennonites made the news? In response, according to the Century, Union University, an evangelical school in Tennessee, has threatened to withdraw from the Council if this infringement is permitted. This is a perfect example of the dilemma faced by those who support higher education, but hold it to evangelical standards.

Homosexuality, over the past few decades, has become recognized as a basic form of human sexuality. As the stigma has begun to evaporate in the light of scientific, psychological, and sociological studies, the consensus has begun to shift in the wider world. With the Supreme Court decision in June (the first decision autosuggested as one Googles “supreme court”) rightfully following the evidence, any government barriers to same-sex marriages was pulled out from under the evangelical camp, and thus the CCCU. Eastern Mennonite University and Goshen College have decided this presents no problem to their educational mission. Some members of the CCCU, it seems, disagree. The Century blurb asks if this is the beginning of the end of the Council. Probably not. Prejudice finds any hidden corner or recess that it can in which to hide and grow, like any fungus. Groups that identify by what they hate are loath to change, no matter how bright the sunshine. Rain encourages the mushrooms into the open, but the sunlight afterwards creates rainbows.

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Credo

One of my seminary professors, who shall remain nameless, averred in class that Christianity in the first centuries was popular because it was exclusive. Like a country club. If just anybody can get in, why would you want to join? I’ve come to disagree with said professor’s analysis, but I have to admit there are cases where the idea does apply. Country clubs, for example. Organizations that intend to improve society, however, have it in their best interest to have doors as wide open as possible. Otherwise it’s a kind of hypocrisy. If Christianity wanted to make a better world, it soon realized, all takers should be welcome. That paradigm broke down fairly quickly, but at the beginning, I have the sense that all were welcome. So I was pleased to hear that the Boy Scouts have dropped their ban on gay troop leaders. Making a group that sets out to do a good deed a day exclusive heterosexual seems awfully backward. After all, gay leaders are nothing new. Why try to be exclusive?

Of course, the Scouts continue to disallow atheists. This is a fairly common, if medieval, marker of personal integrity. The Elks, last I heard, had few entrance requirements. One of the few stipulations, however, is that you have to believe in God. I don’t know how that plays out for Hindu Elks. Perhaps the more the merrier. Somehow, I doubt it. Exclusive belief entry requirements are a way of weeding out questions before they’re raised. Sheltering those inside from baleful influence among hoi polloi. We are better because we are different. Granted, these organizations go back to a time when theism, of sorts, was virtually a given in American society. Times have changed. Boy Scouts, it seems, are dragged into the future kicking and screaming.

I’ve always been impressed, by contrast, with the Girl Scouts’ openness. No creedal requirements are in place. Atheist girls, Buddhist girls, girls who climb on rocks, any girls are allowed to join. The last three presidents (including Obama) have been Boy Scouts. Two prior presidents have been as well. You might think the organization could meet its pedigree requirements with ease. In my view, they might look to the girls to take a cue on how to make the world a better place. When I was growing up, I knew no atheists. I remember attending a funeral of a family friend who hadn’t been a church goer, and that was pretty traumatic. As an adult I know many atheists and I trust them as much, if not more than, some of the religious I know. Would they be able to lead Boy Scout troops well? I have a suggestion—why not ask the Girl Scouts and find out?

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Two Outlooks

SexInTheBibleThe word polymath used to be applied more easily. In these days of highly specialized training, it is difficult to have expert knowledge in more than a couple of areas. The two areas, sexuality and scripture, dealt with in J. Harold Ellens’s Sex in the Bible: A New Consideration, are such zones of specialization. Students of the Bible have recently begun an intensive exploration of how sex fit into the ancient worldview. Ellens’s book surveys all of the biblical legislation about sexual matters and a fair number of the stories involving the same, with the sensitivity of a professional counselor. Indeed, his practical knowledge of human sexual development and psychological needs based on it should inform society’s understanding of scripture. The Bible is no pristine book. Neither is it a romance novel. Still, ancient people were not as shy about sex as post-Victorians tend to be. The Bible is often frank on the subject.

The main danger of a project like this is trying to decide where to take the Bible literally and where not. Ellens, while he has some training as a biblical scholar, falls into a familiar trap. He assumes, as parts of the Bible do, that Israel’s neighbors were sexually depraved. Not only did they condone things like bestiality, according to Ellens, but they incorporated sexual deviancy into their worship. Ancient records, readily available for decades, give the lie to that outlook. Ellens makes the case that biblical writers had no way of knowing, however, that homosexuality, for example, is a biological predisposition that can’t be changed at will. Other sexual practices that are now considered normal and healthy were perversions in the biblical period. Medical science should inform our understanding of Holy Writ.

This is an argument Ellens can’t win. Passionate though he may be about how all of this just makes sense from a scientifically informed point of view, the fact can’t be changed that the Bible does condemn some sex acts outright. Even more damaging, in my opinion, is that the Bible clearly views women as the sexual property of men, and men regulate the sexuality of their females. Anyone arguing that the Bible is a moral guidebook in regard to sexual mores must face this issue head on. There’s no tip-toeing around it, even with verified psychological pedigree. The Bible is the product of a patriarchal structure that did not tolerate sexual practice outside prescribed limits. We now understand the same behaviors from a scientific point of view, but the written text doesn’t change. It is just that dilemma that makes it very difficult to be an expert on two fields so diverse as sexuality and biblical studies.

Com-Passion

I suppose it is always premature to hope that ancient institutions are likely to improve. Like many other followers of developments in religion, I was pleasantly amazed to read reports of Pope Francis declaring that, in my vernacular, that the church should not be so stuck in the rut of doctrinal abstemiousness that it forget mercy and charity. How sad to see that hours later he was forced, Galileo-like, to recant somewhat. The forces at work are far more powerful than the vicar of Christ. In some minds religion is doctrine. I know whereof I speak. For several years of my professional life I worked for a doctrinaire institution where any hint of mercy was considered a kind of Protestant mewling before a God who would’ve made even Jonathan Edwards tremble. Although officially released “without cause,” I can’t help but think that my own pastoral sensitivities were at fault. I don’t believe that religions thriving on condemnation deserve the title.

Ironically, I was at Notre Dame University when headlines about the Pope’s declaration that the church should not obsess about homosexuality and abortion appeared in the papers. It was with a kind of wonder that I heard an academic say, “the Pope is sounding more Lutheran all the time.” I’m not naive enough to suppose that the pontiff is suggesting a change in doctrine—there are rocks so heavy that the Almighty himself can’t lift them—but that the leader of the world’s largest church was suggesting mercy and compassion outweigh legality felt as if Amos or Micah had just walked into the Vatican. The next day the Pope had to come out and strongly condemn abortion. Politics, it seems, will always trump human understanding.

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We live in an era of iron-willed religions. The human element often vanishes beneath a frowning providence that wishes for clocks to be turned back decades, if not centuries. These religions have no place for improving the human lot in this sinful world—it is much easier to condemn than to contemplate compassion. Religion is hard, for people find forgiveness a difficult doctrine to accept. Jonathan Edwards dangled his spider over the eternal fires of hell, but ecclesiastics today suggest that swift shears taken to that silken web would solve all the problems. Time for change? Not in this century. Religions, too, evolve. But evolution doesn’t equal improvement. Many an agnostic has become so because of the reality of “nature red in tooth and claw.”

Down the Garden Trail

According to NBC, a new “Christian” alternative to Boy Scouts USA is being launched in (over)reaction to the vote to allow gay teens to “join” the organization. Calling themselves “Trail Life USA,” this redeemed-only organization is supposed to be “safer” than other scouting options. This issue, of course, is all about perception. There have been gay Boy Scouts from the beginning and there will be gay Trail Life members. People are people, and just by saying that a sexual orientation is excluded does not mean that it will be, or ever can be (nor should be). “This is not another church program,” John Stemberger, one of the founders, is quoted as saying. “This is going to be a masculine outdoor program to raise young men.” The subtext is sluggish with irony. I am reminded of the scene in Disney’s Mulan where Yao, Ling, and Chien-Po are about to climb the pillars to the emperor’s palace in drag and the song “Be a man,” starts its reprise. Masculine outdoor program indeed.

Photo by Bruce Anderson, Wikipedia Commons

Photo by Bruce Anderson, Wikipedia Commons

The idea of separating youth from the realities of the world to keep them safe is like taking them into the woods without telling them there may be bears. Those of us who’ve spent nights in the woods know that hating bears is a ridiculous posture to take. Bears, even when gnawing on your arm, don’t hate you. They simply exist. It is the balance of nature. Studies of nature have time and again revealed that homosexuality is far from unnatural. Several species practice various homosexual behaviors and I am certain that the more we observe nature the more we will find ourselves mirrored in it. Nature can be quite encompassing in that way.

Christianity also has a long history of being at a kind of equilibrium with homosexuality. The all-male priesthood of the Middle Ages could hardly be classified as all self-denying heterosexuals. Even some televangelists of the most Protestant stripe have confessed to gay encounters and episodes. New uniforms and solemn promises will not change the way a person is born. Of course, if the child is Jewish or Hindu or Muslim, he will need to abide by a statement of Christian belief. What of Mormons or Seventh Day Adventists? Thankfully lines drawn in the sand are easily washed away. Exclusion may have been the trope of the Christian past, but as Boy Scouts boldly go where every man should’ve gone before, Trail Life, it seems, may have been appropriately named. It’s life John, but not as we know it.

Liberty and Justice for

Looks like America will be divorcing the self-proclaimed “Defense” of Marriage Act. It’s a small step, but a small step in the right direction. Religious dogma has too long held sway over politics in this land of religious freedom. It must seem astonishing to rational people the world over how a country founded for the very purposes of religious liberty has homed in on a very narrow sect of one religious tradition and used that as the basis for discriminatory laws. After all, even the Bible says very little about marriage—something about taking your main squeeze into the tent with you and voila, you’re married. The Bible never asks what they’re doing in the privacy of their own tabernacle. Now we have a political system that legislates what can legitimately turn you on. Finally we see some light beginning to dawn in the judiciary system.

I don’t take marriage lightly; those of us who are married seldom do. I also don’t take my status as being the only possible way of finding love in a world that sorely needs more of it. Every day I witness acts of uncaring and sometimes outright cruelty, often in the name of the progress of business. And until yesterday I had to live with the knowledge that it was perfectly legal to discriminate against committed couples just because their gender’s don’t fit a preconceived mold. The land of the free? Maybe, just a little bit yes, now.

Our legal system, which pours out its love on corporate culture, protecting business owners more readily than employees, shielding the wealthy whose lifestyles are beyond scrutiny, ends up telling citizens whom they may love and whom they may not. And we complain against countries with arranged marriages. Freedom for some is not freedom for all. Until we as a nation recommit ourselves to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, we’ll have to take the small steps towards freedom when they come. Yesterday, for at least a little while, I was glad to see that the system can work for the good of all, when it puts its mind to it. America, you can be proud. Say it loud!

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Going In, Coming Out

Being primates, perhaps it is no surprise that we are fascinated by who is doing whom. We, literally, by nature, find sexual alliances fascinating. Despite the fact that close observation of nature has indicated that homosexuality is indeed natural—it has been observed in many species, and isn’t even limited to mammals—we can’t help but make it a deciding factor in what an individual is. Two unrelated news stories over the past week have focused on homosexuality as the overwhelmingly defining trait of a person. In the first story, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) has elected its first openly gay bishop. (Gay bishops, even in the pre-Reformation church, have not been exactly an endangered species.) The Rev. Dr. Guy Erwin, however, is so much more than a partnered gay man. He is a highly educated person who had held that most rare of positions—a bona fide academic position in higher education. He is also a member of the Osage Nation. His election as a Native American or as an academic would not be newsworthy. His orientation, well, that’s a whole different story.

Meanwhile, across the planet, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is cutting its ties with the Boys Scouts of America because the BSA has decided to make honest men of its boys. BSA has recently voted to allow gay boys to remain in the Scouts, something that the Mormons had no problem accepting. Quite apart from the misguided SBC move, I was saddened to see CNN’s inaccurate headline, “Baptists plan exodus from Boy Scouts.” The story does not indicate that the Baptist brand of Christianity has withdrawn, so to speak, from BSA, but the Southern Baptist Convention. Baptists are much more broad-minded than the SBC brotherhood (I use the phallocentric collective intentionally) would indicate. All Baptists, it seems, are guilty by association.

SBC in the White House

SBC in the White House

People are complex. Putting them into neat categories is unfair to who a person really is. The category “gay” is notorious for subverting all other qualifiers for decent human beings. As the National Socialist Party recognized, the easiest way to build a case against a people is to put them together in a class that “deserves” our fear, mistrust, and hatred. Don’t look at the individual beneath the label. You might be forced to change your mind. Did that individual overcome the difficulties of being a “minority” in his or her own native land? Did that individual work hard to climb through the educational system to attain an advanced degree? Did that individual commit his or her life to another person, no matter what the social stigma? None of that matters, as long as we can talk about his or her “orientation.” It is society itself that requires reorientation.

To Obey the Scout Law

Society’s prurient interests have been on display again with the intense media blitz concerning Boy Scouts of America and the fraught issue of sexual orientation. As is to be expected, certain religious bodies have sounded the final trump once again as they frenetically posture against equality. The story is so old it is difficult to see how it counts as news. When I saw that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the oldest sponsor of Boy Scouts and the denomination with the highest numbers) had made a statement about the issue, I almost didn’t even click on the link. We already know the official stance of such conservative groups, right? So I was genuinely surprised when I saw the note. This Mormon Church has no problem with the admission of homosexual boys since, and rightly so for a youth organization, the members are expected to behave according to the code of conduct. That code forbids sexual relationships, no matter a boy’s orientation, no matter with whom.

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We all know that ideals are seldom observed. We should lead by example. I spent my high school years deeply involved in the feeder program for future clergy in a major Christian denomination (the one with the second highest number of Scouts). The youth programs frequently involved having hundreds of youths together for multi-day events. Chaperoned, of course. But kids with active hormones are about the most clever creatures on the planet. I frequently heard that opportunities to find some time alone with your favorite “spiritual advisor” were not difficult to arrange. And when I enrolled in a program to study for the ministry officially, I learned that the name seminary was somehow overly appropriate. Codes of conduct exist for a reason, and those who hold to them reward the trust of adults who institute them. Society can’t operate without such rules. What happens in reality, however, is a different matter. Anyone who reads the headlines can see that.

I applaud the Mormon Church’s stance on this issue. The Boy Scouts is a social organization with nary a merit badge for sexual knowledge or experience (at least not in the Handbooks I’ve seen). Those matters, as with adults, are private. Religious groups often act as if admitting admitted homosexuals somehow changes the Jamboree into a Woodstock. The problem is with the imagination of puritan adults. The solution to the anxiety is rather simple. For those concerned, volunteer to lead a troop. Attend a meeting. See what actually goes on. The fact is, kids will be kids, and making rules to satisfy uptight adults will not change that. Many groups could learn from the Mormons here: Scouting is not about sex. It takes the imagination of adults to make it so. Boys, as the saying goes, will be boys.

HRH vs C of E

An article from the Sunday Daily Mail, the UK newspaper, opens with the headline “Queen fights for gay rights.” I was pleased, as most even-minded individuals would be, that discrimination is being addressed by Her Royal Highness. Then the implications began to kick in. Having domiciled many years among the Episcopalians, I couldn’t help but smile knowing that the monarch is the head of the Church of England. Figurehead maybe, but on the books, the buck stops in Buckingham, not Lambeth. For decades I’ve seen the Anglican communion fracturing over what is a non-starter, theologically speaking. The only reason to protest homosexuality is the loss of potential life. For anyone who believes that sex is for procreation only, I would advise trying to counsel all the spermatozoa who just didn’t make it to the egg in time. Procreation is filled with an extravagant exuberance of over-production. Walk under any oak tree or stand among the wondrous helicopters of a maple tree in early summer and ponder what’s falling at your feet.

It seems to me that what’s lacking in the religious world is love. Loving, committed couples are ostracized for being just what God made them, while self-righteous critics wag their parsimonious fingers. And this is done in the name of God. I have friends of all gender orientations, and never have they given me cause for moral concern. In fact, I have trouble categorizing them together as a group; they are individuals to me, not pigeonholes. Some churches have trouble because prejudice has become dogma. Even the Roman Catholic Church allows for sex between couples when conception is virtually impossible, as when a woman is pregnant yet doesn’t yet know it. Just try not to enjoy it too much. The life potential ends the same way. Millions must lose for every winner. Consider the ethical implications of a deity who didn’t design a one-shot, sure-fire sperm for each act. Surely it would’ve been possible to engineer for an omnipotent divinity.

Instead many mainstream churches are assiduously drawing lines in the sand, claiming that one gender, one orientation, one race, only is welcome on the side of the 144,000. The rest can, quite literally, go to Hell. Is this what religion has become? Imagine what good might be done if all that energy were poured into addressing poverty, starvation, or inadequate water supplies. Imagine those who represent the winners in the reproductive race receiving care and attention rather than those who will, by a massive margin, stand no chance of survival whatsoever. We could make this a better world instead of prolonging the suffering of those who’ve done no wrong. Those holding the balls are trying to make up the rules of the game. The Queen of the Realm seems to be saying it’s time to start playing fair. Long live the Queen!

The first queen of the Church (of England)

The first queen of the Church (of England)

Scouting for Boys

I guess losing a bid for a presidential nomination sanctions a guy to speak for God. Of course, that goes for just about any Republican these days. I’m frankly amazed that Moses managed to write the Ten Commandments without them. So Rick aptly-named Santorum has gone after the Boy Scouts. To remove the duplicitous ban on gay scouts, according to Santorum, is to remove God. Obviously Mr. Santorum was paid no attention in Boy Scouts himself. I spent many hours at Scout camp and I can attest that God was already the last thing on most boys’ minds. Maybe our former presidential hopeful ought to look back a little further, for Webelos and Cub Scouts may imply the love that dare not mewl its name. I predict this: if the ban is lifted, as it should be, no one will notice the difference. Santorum will continue beating his dead horse and the rest of America may achieve just a hint of maturity.

“Scouting may not survive this transformation of American society, but for the sake of the average boy in America, I hope the board of the Scouts doesn’t have its fingerprints on the murder weapon,” Santorum declared, according to CNN. I have to wonder what he knows about the average boy in America. Or the average girl. Santorum would have a difficult time finding the word “gay” in his Bible, for it is not there. But apparently God is not God without someone to hate, without the “Right” to show him the way. And God favors straight, white men, as the last presidential election clearly shows.

Any religion that makes someone feel better by repressing others is not worthy of propagation or emulation. Look at any oppressed group. What’s the backing always cited by the oppressor? Is it not narrow religious belief? Anyone can say “God says.” There—I just wrote it. And I could distort the Bible to make God dance to my prejudices as well. The problem is that I recognize how cheap and tawdry such eisegesis is. Of course, hot air expands. The Texas governor that God told to run for president, but then changed his divine, omniscient mind, and who never thought closely about the implications of that—aka Rick Perry—also had to weigh in on the issue. CNN quotes him as stating, “Scouting is about teaching a substantial amount of life lessons… Sexuality is not one of them. It never has been; it doesn’t need to be.” Mr. Perry needs to spend a weekend at camp with his eyes and ears open and his mouth shut. In the best of all possible political worlds, his bosom buddy Rick Santorum will be right there beside him. Maybe it will take a little child to lead them after all. And that actually is biblical.

From WikiCommons, AgnosticPreachersKid--worth a thousand words

From WikiCommons, AgnosticPreachersKid–worth a thousand words