SP18. Duck Hunting, Defrocking a Minister, and Other Gay Tidings

All in the same day, New Mexico became the 17th state to legalize gay marriage, Olympic figure skating gold medalist Brian Boitano came out as gay, the United Methodist Church defrocked the Rev. Frank Schaefer for refusing to denounce gay marriage, and, receiving by far the most social network attention, the A&E Network has suspended Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson indefinitely for his published comments against homosexuality (in GQ Magazine, Jan. 2014).

Let’s address the public outcry of the latter first Many are claiming that their favorite duck hunter lost his job for sharing his faith.  You know, the war against Christians thing.  If this were the case, I would be among the loudest to protest, but this was not the case.  Others are claiming that his first amendment rights were abused Again, a great cause to be upset, but this was also not the case.  Phil Robertson and all of us have the right to say whatever we like without being arrested for it.  Phil was “indefinitely suspended” from his high paying high profile tv job, not prosecuted.

Faith in America said it well. “The Phil Robertson/Duck Dynasty/A&E issue is not a question of Phil Robertson not being able to express religion-based bigotry towards gay and lesbian people. It’s a matter of his employer choosing not to allow Robertson to espouse and promote this uniquely harmful form of bigotry under the A&E brand.”

Not only do we have a right to choose our own public image, our employers have that same right, and those who work in the entertainment industry making millions of dollars, like many of our actors and athletes including Robertson, have the opportunity to use their positions to influence the world for good, or the danger of putting forth an image that their networks, teams, etc. do not want attached to their name.  A&E had every right to suspend their star’s employment in the name of protecting their own reputation.

It was not Robertson’s statements of religious faith that brought his suspension.  It was his ignorant and offensive declarations about homosexuality (and maybe his race rantings or his ridiculous musings about vaginas and anuses).  While indeed certain extremist Christian groups have embraced such ignorance into their teachings, there is no legitimate connection between anti-gay sentiment and the Christ of Christianity.

The Duck Dynasty stars have always been outspoken about their Christian faith, becoming iconic figures to many of their viewers, and the show itself ends each episode with a prayer.  Politically, while the Robertsons have independently campaigned for Republicans, the show itself has drawn a following in both red and blue states and has managed to remain largely nonpolitical and to avoid issues like race and gay rights, according to the Chicago Tribune.

We all have our favorite public figures, and especially if we have just purchased Duck Dynasty t-shirts for everyone on our Christmas list, and have embraced them as Christian icons, we are hurt by this suspension.  My prediction is that he will be back after the dust has settled.  That’s my personal interpretation of the “indefinite” suspension.  If not, he will surely surface soon somewhere else.  We have not heard the last of Phil Robertson.  Besides, next season is almost all taped, so it’s pretty likely he’ll be there.

Perhaps those who are most enraged by Robertson’s suspension would most applaud the United Methodist Church for the second piece of news today, the defrocking of the Rev. Frank Schaefer Rev. Schaefer brushed against the Methodist powers for conducting a wedding ceremony for his gay son in a state where gay marriage is legal.  One month ago he was given a choice of abiding by the denomination’s entire Book of Discipline which would mean committing to never conducting another such service, or of being defrocked, and he was given one month to think about it.  That month ended today.  He chose to be defrocked.  

A courageous move on his part, challenging the status quo, the way it’s always been, forcing the establishment and the public to face the issue again.  Schaefer is not the first and surely won’t be the last, but he has lost his job for standing firm for his beliefs.  Again, just as with Robertson and A&E, the United Methodist Church has every right to choose their positions and to employ only those who comply.  Schaefer will have to find a way to minister outside the UMC. Rev. Jimmy Creech has written an excellent memoir of his similar defrocking, and his ministry has broadened tremendously.

I am not Methodist, I do not live in New Mexico, I was not familiar with Brian Boitano, and I have never watched Duck Dynasty, so I am not personally tied to any of these four stories.  Yet, I am very tied to all of them for two reasons.  One, I live and interact in a world of people on all sides of these stories, and two, I am a Christian.

As  citizens of the world, living and working together, we can be assured we encounter gay people every day.  The American Psychological Association has estimated that 1 in 10 males is gay and 1 in 20 females.  Many are choosing to live openly, but many more are just living their lives among us without our knowledge.  Maybe we could just be kind.  To everyone.  Without trying to figure them out or judge them.  Just plain “be ye kind one to another.”

As Christians, we do not know and understand all things.  There is much we have yet to learn, and there is much we, like everyone else, have been incorrectly taught.  Unlearning is far more difficult than learning, because, studies have shown, once we hear something seven times it often has become a part of who we are.  In many religious circles we have heard that homosexuality is a sin, not seven times, but seventy times seven. 

Today’s news shows a changing world with the wheels of justice ever spinning, sometimes forward, sometimes back.  Sexual orientation, the social justice issue of this generation, is widely misunderstood, especially in certain religious circles.  

My challenge to us as Christians is that we educate ourselves by listening to voices outside our own constructed boxes.  Use the news stories not just to seek argument, but to seek growth and understanding.  The media storms that follow news like today’s are a good place to find all kinds of voices, or the gay person in the next cubicle might be an excellent and enlightening voice. 

At the very least, as Christians and as human beings, let’s admit to ourselves that we really don’t fully get the orientation thing, and leave open the possibility that our understanding might, maybe, just could possibly be not entirely correct.

 

photo credit: Assignment Editor

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SP14. Ex-Gay’s Exodus

The ex-gay myth has crashed.  Fallen.  Shattered.  Exodus International president Alan Chambers announced last night that Exodus is shutting down.  Tonight in a televised interview with Lisa Ling (OWN 10pmET), he will publicly apologize to all who have been harmed by the organization.  (See apology here)

The ex-gay house of cards has been falling for some time.  Over a decade ago, Focus on the Family’s Dr. Dobson was advocating the use of so-called ex-gay ministries.  Prior to 2000 Focus on the Family broadcasts featured their own John Paulk, “the story of how one man overcame homosexuality.”  In 2000, however, when Paulk was spotted in a gay bar, he quickly disappeared from the organization family.

A most interesting Focus on the Family story you may have missed was in 1997, when Focus on the Family co-founder Gil Alexander-Moegerle, having left the organization, wrote a letter of apology for the organization’s stands on homosexuality and women’s issues. (This story of course was not broadcast, and Dr. Dobson certainly did not endorse it.) He could no longer keep silent. In his words: “I apologize to lesbian and gay Americans who are demeaned and dehumanized on a regular basis by the false, irresponsible, and inflammatory rhetoric of James Dobson’s anti-gay radio and print materials.”

Likewise, leaders and founders of Exodus international have been leaving and apologizing for several years. (You can view many of these on YouTube.)

The message that must get to our churches: There’s no such thing as ex-gay.  Anyone can “change” and believe himself changed for a period of time, even a few years, especially when he wants so badly to please his church and his family, and when he has been convinced that being gay is a sin before God.  Ultimately though, despite marrying, having children, becoming a perfect church-going family man, no one can escape his orientation.  It will always resurface.  And before you argue with me, show me someone who has been “ex-gay” for 10 years or more and who claims he is “cured,” and ask yourself as a straight person if you could pray away your attraction to the opposite sex.

Many wounded Christians have been hurt by so-called ex-gay ministries.  Their churches have for many years sent them to organizations like Exodus to be “cured,” only to be confused and harmed emotionally.  Some tell stories of electric shock, others of being forced to masturbate while looking at opposite-sex pornography, others of being taught to play “manly” games like football, all being told over and over that they are a disappointment to God.  If you pray hard enough and have enough faith in God, God will heal you, cleanse you, make you heterosexual, many churches likewise have preached to those who are gay.  It has been in error all along, and now the Exodus ministry itself is humbly saying, “We are sorry.”

Those churches that will be bewildered by the closing of Exodus are those who have embraced the misguided belief that a person’s sexual orientation is a choice and that being gay is a sin.  All of us have believed wrong teachings, especially when we have heard them over and over by religious leaders in whom we place so much trust, who likewise were taught repeatedly by their leaders, who likewise were taught by their leaders . . ., but there comes a time when we all need to question and re-examine our teachings, measuring them against the example and the teachings of Jesus himself.

And if we open ourselves up to really listen to the hurting people, we will hear through their tears the same stories over and over – stories of believing the church’s preaching of condemnation, and praying for years to change, stories of wondering why God doesn’t change them, why God doesn’t love them, stories of leaving church in sadness, and feeling like a broken human being, not worthy of God’s love.

The American Psychological Association has estimated that one in ten males is gay and one in twenty females, and this percentage is consistent across lines of time, race, culture, and even religion.  The reason we don’t see this percentage in many of our churches is because they leave before adulthood, having suffered in silent pain throughout their childhood and youth, listening to the condemnation.  Fortunately most just leave the church (as if that’s not sad enough), but many choose in hopeless desperation to leave the world.  We cannot wash our hands of these lives, churches.  We probably will never hear the reasons, because their families have been taught to be ashamed.  Parents are taught to believe their gay children are “lost.”  Thus, not only are the church’s misguided teachings on homosexuality hurting those who are gay, but also all those who love them.  Entire families are grieving and hiding in shame that their children are gay.

Without this “stop-being-gay” ministry to send them to, what now can a church do to help those who are gay?  Exodus’ closing is actually a blessing, because it gives churches a great opportunity to seek meaningful understanding and response.  It gives us an opportunity for real dialogue, for listening to gay people’s stories, for examining Christian organizations that are ministering to gay people in helpful ways. Gay Christian NetworkSoulforceEvangelicals ConcernedMore Light PresbyteriansPink Menno, the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, The UCC Church, The EpiscopalChurch . . . the list of Christians reaching out with Jesus’ love and compassion is growing every day, and these are excellent sources for churches to begin to honestly seek direction.

Now is the time, churches, to ask ourselves if we indeed have failed in this area.  Now is the time to hear the very real cries of those we have personally hurt despite truly meaning to help.  Now is the time to make a choice.  We can continue to quote the Leviticus abomination passage and pretend we already know all there is to know, or we can humble ourselves before those we have hurt and before God, and say “we are sorry, deeply sorry.”

 

Recommended for prayer and meditation: Acts 10:9-19

 

photo credit: blog.mysanantonio

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