Saturday, August 15, 2015

A Problem-Solving Exercise for the Weekend: The Gospel and the Gays — When Churches Decide to Define Members of the Human Community As the Enemy

Here's a little exercise in problem-solving for you on an August weekend that will be, for many readers as for me, lazy and warm:

If the very center of the Christian message is the good news (the gospel) that God enfolds the entire cosmos in the embrace of love through Jesus Christ, then how is it possible to sustain the proclamation of that message and to make this proclamation credible — since the entire raison d'être of the Christian church is to proclaim this good news — if the church decides to treat a segment of the human community as the enemy? 

Evidence of the decision of many sectors of the Christian churches today to treat a selected group of human beings as the enemy:

Exhibit A: "Pope Francis Urged to Condemn Gay Unions as Unnatural" (this article focuses on a petition of about half a million Catholics to the pope to condemn gay unions as unnatural)

Exhibit B: "Catholic Conference To Consider 'Welcoming LGBT Catholics' Turns into Anti-Gay Hate Rally" (the message of the conference: the only option for LGBT Catholics who want to be in communion with the church is lifelong celibacy)

Exhibit C: "Kentucky Clerk Defies Federal Judge's Order, Refuses To Issue Marriage License To Gay Couple: She Says Gay Marriage Violates Her Christian Beliefs" 

Exhibit D: "Gay Couples Still Facing Many Challenges Despite Supreme Court Ruling" (a video report focusing on the claims of various folks that they must have the right to refuse goods and services to gay people on grounds of Christian faith)

Exhibit E: "A Clash of Cake and Faith" (a video report focusing on Colorado baker Jack Phillips and his claim that his Christian faith should permit him to ignore anti-discrimination laws in the case of gay customers)

Exhibit F: "Bismarck Bishop Tells Catholic Groups with Troops to Sever Ties with Boy Scouts" (though the recent decision of Boy Scouts of America to permit openly gay Scout leaders gives perfect freedom to religious groups to refuse such leaders, the Catholic bishop of Bismarck, North Dakota, has now taken all Catholic troops in his diocese out of BSA)

The bottom line in these stories — the bottom-line message that many Christians want to communicate today (as good news?) to their fellow human beings who are LGBT:

• Gay people seeking to live in loving committed unions are seeking what is unnatural, a loaded term which implies that the human beings seeking to live in loving committed unions are themselves unnatural (and may therefore be treated as less than human).

• "Welcome" means something entirely different for those who are gay, in the Catholic context; heterosexual Catholics are never told that remaining celibate all their lives is a precondition for being welcomed in the Catholic church; conferences are never organized to "welcome" heterosexually married Catholic couples using contraceptives, and to inform them that the precondition for their being in communion with the church is to stop contracepting. 

• Even county clerks who have been divorced three times and married four times assert their right to inform same-sex couples seeking loving, committed unions with the legal rights of straight couples that Christianity denies them any such rights, because the bible is clear about this matter (but apparently not about divorce and remarriage?).

• Those who are gay should expect at any moment, when they buy goods or seek services available to all other members of the public, to be informed that the Christian faith of the provider or seller prohibits his/her serving or selling to gay people. 

• Some Catholic pastoral leaders want it made unambiguously clear that young gay teens interested in the Boy Scouts may not have healthy openly gay role models as they mature.

The headlines I've highlighted above are just from the last several days. Imagine being a young gay or gender-questioning person in the U.S. today and being bombarded by such headlines on a daily basis. Imagine what this does to the psyche of a young LGBT human being, particularly one with ties to a Christian church, to read such headlines day after day after day.

The message of these headlines is consistent: Christianity stands against you as an LGBT human being. It stands against your human rights. It stands against your humanity.

And yet the reason the Christian church exists is to proclaim good news to you and other human beings: God loves you!

To return to the problem I posed at the beginning of this posting: can you see it? The problem, in a nutshell: how is it possible to proclaim the good news that God embraces the world through Jesus Christ, when the Christian churches decide to treat a targeted minority group, a segment of the human community, those who happen to have been born gay, as the enemy?

Of course I know that the church has done this to other targeted groups in the past, and has continued about its business of proclaiming the good news of God's love for the world even as it has demonized and attacked other groups, including:

• Heretics

• Jews

• Muslims

• Witches (and women in general)

• Colonized people, many of them of darker pigmentation than European and North American Christians

Nor are such demonization and attacking of stigmatized minority groups a thing of the past: they have gone on in the lifetimes of many of us, resulting in one of the most horrific events in world history in the last century — the mass murder of millions of Jewish people, which was organized and carried out by Christian nations. 

Several recent popes, notably Pope John Paul II, have apologized profusely for the sins of the church as it has treated heretics, Jews, and others as enemies to be conquered, abused, even wiped from the face of the earth. But these apologies don't appear to have produced a strong awareness among many Catholics, among many Christians, that it's possible for the church of today to engage in precisely the same behavior towards another minority group — to which, down the road, it will again have to apologize for its cruel inhumanity.

We appear not inclined to learn from our history.

And we appear oblivious to the fact that our abusive, inhumane treatment of LGBT human beings at this point in history undermines our credibility as we proclaim the gospel — not in an incidental way, but in the most radical way possible.

The graphic is a screenshot from this March 2000 article in The Guardian by Rory Carroll.

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