Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Ministers Have a Right to Denounce Same-Sex Marriage

Sometimes people crave a challenge...this is a very difficult blog post to write, because it started out with a conversation on Google +, and so far I've not discovered any way to link to one specific conversation on Google +. Which means that by tomorrow the original conversation will be buried. I wish Google + had a neat, indexed format instead of that photo-album-spilled-on-the-floor look.

Anyway. Lowley, an e-friend at Bubblews, posted a short statement:  http://www.bubblews.com/news/9097671-we-need-to-take-a-stand-for-us-ministerspersecution-of-religious-beliefs .

I plussed it because I agree with her.

In the United States, not only Christian ministers, but all religious teachers, have the right to preach anything they believe (as long as it's not physical violence).

Nobody has a moral or legal right to preach, "Jesus told us to throw rocks at the heads of people who remarry after divorce." (For starters, according to the Bible, Jesus told us something close to the opposite of that.) But people do have a moral and legal right to preach, "Members of this church in good standing may not remarry after divorce. Ministers in this church may not perform weddings for divorcees with living ex-wives or ex-husbands."

I grew up among Christians who preached exactly that. Most of the time I believe they're accurately teaching what the Bible teaches. I came to believe that my husband's inability to be reconciled to his ex-wife was a special case because, if the civil law set forth in the Old Testament had been followed, she would not have been living anyway. I didn't pound on the walls and scream that any church had to host our wedding party, although I'd been waiting for a big white wedding in a church for thirty years. Nor did I join any of the super-liberal churches that will marry anybody to anybody as long as one of them is able to count out the money. I just accepted that, if we wanted to formalize the marriage into which we'd backed by way of D.C. law in Maryland, we'd have to do that at the courthouse...and it would be none of the business of anybody who didn't know us personally.

Nobody has a moral or legal right to preach, "We should hate people who look different from us, chase them out of our neighborhoods, shoot them in the back...or even pay them less than we pay people who look like us for doing the same job." But people do have a moral and legal right to preach, "People should socialize with their own ethnic group; if any people whose ancestors came from a different place than ours did want to join our denomination, they should form a 'sister church' and meet in a different building," if that is what they believe.

I would not agree with them. There are those who've claimed that my husband and I didn't choose to turn our marriage into some sort of publicity event because, although both of us were multiethnic, our ancestors didn't come from the same countries, and it showed. They were wrong. The Bible has a lot to say about entanglements with unbelievers, but it affirms, "Moses married an Ethiopian," and it affirms that the Ethiopians had a different skin color than the Hebrews. But if some people feel queasy when they think about interracial sex, that's their problem, and they have a right to deal with it in any peaceful and honest way they can.

Nobody has a moral or legal right to preach, "We should hate women who wear trousers, or do any of the evil and violent things previously mentioned to them," either. But people do have a moral and legal right to preach, "Members of our church should adopt whatever dress code has become our identifying mark in our community. Women who wear trousers, or adults who wear bright colors, or people who wear buttons on their clothes, may not attend our meetings," if they believe that that kind of teaching honors God or does any good for any person in any way.

I happen to live in a town where one of the dominant churches has preached that a Christian woman should never be seen in trousers, or that "If you had a real spiritual experience, you wouldn't want to wear pants." I respect those of my relatives who believe that; I've never even given in to the temptation to go British on them and say "I certainly don't want people to see my pants, and that's why, when I work outdoors and climb up ladders and crawl under sinks, I wear jeans." (That does happen to be the usual reason why I wear jeans; sometimes it's also because I'm running out of clean, suitable dresses to wear, and this summer it's been because I worked with a lady who belonged to that church and didn't want people to think I'd converted.) I don't believe that a real spiritual experience would cause a woman to feel unable to dress decently while doing honest work, and never will. I do feel more comfortable wearing skirts when I sit at a computer all day--cooler, less sweaty--but I think a real spiritual experience would be more likely to cause people to stop judging others by their appearance, or even noticing what they wear. Nevertheless, if some people want to adopt a special dress code to show that they belong to a certain church, they have a right to do that, and they have a right to make it clear that people not dressing by the code are outsiders.

Why do I uphold these churches' right to preach things that I don't believe? Because I'm American. I believe in freedom of speech and freedom of association. If a minority of Christians want to adopt a rule against something that the majority of Christians believe is acceptable, that's their right, and it's my American duty to defend it.

So, what about the (majority of) American churches that don't support the idea of same-sex marriage? That is most definitely their right. Any church has a right to adopt any rule the members accept about who can and cannot be married in that church. Americans are free to choose not to be members of that church; therefore, the church is free to tell people they don't qualify to become members if they choose not to follow whatever rules the members adopt.

When a church's rules genuinely are petty, silly, and stuck in the private neuroses of some hypersensitive U.S. equivalent of Mullah Omar, people can usually recognize that church by its smallness, poverty, and obscurity. It'll be one pathetic old geezer standing up, probably in a failed store that belongs to one of his in-laws, shaking his trembly hand at an audience of ten or fifteen poor souls as he rants, "Playing pinochle is wrong, it's the first step down a slippery slope that leads to the eternal fires, etc. etc. etc.," until he feels faint. There are a few people like that alive in this country today. Some of them have most definitely denounced things every single person who reads this post has done, because a lot of them denounce the Internet. Has this done any of us any harm? I doubt it.

I say, let them denounce me and my web site and my jeans and my trench coat and my dark-skinned immigrant husband (God rest him) and my Nephews' going to Halloween parties and whatever else they can think of, if it makes them feel better. Even when my faith wavers and I think seriously about things that really are un-Christian, my personal habits and temperament are what most people would agree border on being monastic, but let those who like denouncing people denounce my wicked worldly ways as much as they like. That's the American way.

So, whatever else we may conclude, we must conclude that those who demand that churches be forced to sanction same-sex marriages are un-American. Not only should the churches reject them as members; the United States should call them to account for their residence within our borders.

But must we also conclude that efforts to ram same-sex marriage through the churches that oppose it proves that all homosexuals really are more mentally disturbed than the rest of us? Not necessarily; we must at least allow that there are a lot more churches that take "Ye shall not lie with mankind as with womankind: it is abomination" seriously than there are churches that demand strict obedience to "Neither shalt thou wear a garment of linen and woolen mixed."

We can even allow that many Christians have confused their personal squeamishness about various sexual acts with some sort of moral judgment about the relative badness of those acts. Too many people do tend to think, "Well, any married man would have at least been tempted to cheat on his wife with Marilyn Monroe, but when it came to Monica Lewinsky, that was bad, and if it were a man, now that would be disgusting." People may feel that way but the Bible offers nothing in the way of evidence that God agrees with them. Actually, the Bible advises people not to try to judge this kind of thing. All of us live with temptation to indulge in sexual behavior that is not part of a Christian marriage. All Christians should help each other deal with this temptation, and no Christian needs to indulge any unhealthy curiosity about the sexual behavior of people who aren't asking for Christian guidance and moral support.

The challenge to my Google + post came from someone I don't know in real life whose screen name is Christopher Li-Reid. It's hard to imagine the name "Li-Reid" as not making a statement about someone from China being married to someone from Scotland. I hope Christopher Li-Reid is not using his (I'm guessing) real name in cyberspace. It's possible that he (?) even chose "Reid" because he's a lurker who knows that my great-grandmother belonged to the branch of the Reid clan who spell it "Reed" as a deliberate mistranslation of Ani Godagewi. (Long ago, our Scottish ancestor married our Cherokee ancestor.) It's possible that "Reid" is the name of one of his ancestors; it's possible that if you go back ten or fifteen generations he's related to me. And if he thinks I'd have any problem with the "Li" part of it, he's wrong.

I don't even give a flip whether he's trying to tell us that he's Mr. Li who considers himself married to Mr. Reid, or Mr. Reid who considers himself married to Mr. Li. At least I don't give a flip what he or any other readers do in their own homes, or, for that matter, how accurately they discuss what they do in their own homes when they're on the Internet.

I would like him to account for this comment: "...but as long as you have to make up lies about how christians dont persecute non christians im pretty sure that'll get you into heaven right?"

My response to that is: " If you have any factual evidence of Christians persecuting non-Christians, in anything comparable to the way Boko Haram have been persecuting Christians lately, please feel free to share it so we can denounce those so-called Christians too."

"Persecute" does not mean "don't liiiike me." I hope everyone who's allowed to use a computer understands that nobody has to like anybody.

Many people, Christians and otherwise, don't like me either. Some Christians don't like my understanding of Christianity. Some people don't like women. Some people don't like introverts. Some people don't like that I'm biracial and my husband was triracial. A lot of people just don't know anything about me and don't want to bother making a new acquaintance, so although they don't dislike me they don't like me, either, and wouldn't like it if anyone demanded that they take the time to get to know anything about me. These are facts of life.

There are also people who resent the few privileges that have been handed to me in life to offset all the bad things in my life. When my husband died his ex-wife became my all-but-mortal enemy because I was his rightful heir, and now that she's been deported there are people in my home town who are acting as enemies (less desperate but still hostile) because I'm my father's rightful heir. And I don't know anything about Christopher Li-Reid's situation, but I'm sure he's aware that the majority of homosexuals are and have always been rich White men. As such, they are resented because of their privileges, whether anybody knows or cares anything about their sex lives. They generate even more resentment when they try to present themselves as victims of oppression, when, by any objective measure, they've been the ones doing most of the oppressing in human history. Failure to acknowledge this as a fact of life is evidence of something gone wrong with a thought process. I'm not sure what.

But I would like to see more acknowledgment that the whole foofarah about same-sex marriage has been a smokescreen for efforts to trample on the rights of individuals. What's this talk about "the legal benefits of marriage," the "human rights" of individuals to name each other as next of kin or heirs or legal guardians or whatever? When, how, and why have single people been denied those rights?

I remember reading, in the 1990s, an argument by left-winger Cornel West to the effect that "creating legal incentives to reward marriage" would encourage young men to be better fathers. Rewarding fathers for marrying the mothers of their children, in custody cases and suchlike, is all very well, but when did it turn into a legal penalty on anyone who happens not to be married at the other end of life, when the person becomes disabled?

Anyone with enough intelligence to deserve listening to, regardless of their sexual preference, has to admit that half of all people who've been married are going to become widows--if they don't become divorcees first.

Therefore, if homosexuals are being denied "the legal benefits of marriage," their focus should be on joining with the rest of humankind to uphold the legal rights of widows, as well as those of people who've been divorced or who've never been married. Why not skip the step that annoys the majority of Americans, and focus directly on the human rights issue here?

Why do homosexual activists hate widows? That's the question all of us need to ask when we talk about same-sex marriage. It's not the same question as "How is it possible for anyone in these United States to propose anything as blatantly unconstitutional as dictating to religious people what they should believe and teach about their religion?" but it's almost equally important.