Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Scope of Our Diversity: An Example from a Recent Gay Pride Sermon

One of the prevailing mythologies controlling ABC life has to do with the belief, firmly entrenched, that we are truly a rather middle-of-the-road denomination. Surely only about 10% can be counted on the lunatic left fringe with another 10% inhabiting the reactionary right fringe we are told. The majority of us are happy to be in the middle of the muddle. I have argued against this thesis for years, utilizing both anecdotal observations and quantitative data from scientific surveys of ABC leadership.

The uniquely bold defense of abotion, posted earlier this week, was intended to demonstrate that our diversity was more significant than some will allow. The example taken was of a pastor in an historically favored and denominationally exalted congregation. That they live on the left side of the street cannot be denied; that national leadership has been quite attentive to this congregation similarly cannot be refuted. Membership on important boards, invitations to speak to the entire denomination, and participation, both regular and occasional, by national leaders betrays any attempt to relegate this church to the fringes.

Granted the pastor is new and has not had an opportunity to be invited to participate in the fuller life of the denomination . . . yet. However, the history of the congregation's relationship with officialdom, her own record of 28 published books, and her self-identification as one of the most renowned communicators of her generation of Protestant clergy militate in favor of her future acclaim in ABC circles.

Some have argued that my illustration was flawed in that the newly installed pastor holds credentials in the UCC and that the church remains aligned with both the ABC and the UCC. However, the flashpoint a few years back over a senator in the Ministers Council involved a UCC ordained clergyperson serving a federated ABC/UCC congregation. Then, that minister had risen to become the chair of the ABC regional ministers council.

Now, my example shifts to the issue so often dividing American Baptists, human sexuality. While I maintain that the deeper cause of our conflict relates to divergent visions for Christianity, not merely on the hot button of homosexuality, the words of this same pastor will prove illuminating. Honestly, folks, even after including the excerpts from the unusually candid defense of abortion at the beginning of my last posting, I was unprepared for the statements made by the same preacher in the Gay Pride Sunday Sermon on June 25, 2006, "Love and Marriage Go Together Like a Horse and Carriage"


I would encourage EVERY His Barking Dog reader to study the entire text. A more revealing statement of what "diversity" really means in the ABC could not be found. In order not to take the preacher out of context, PLEASE read the entire piece and evaluate for yourself.

When interviewing a possible candidate for a church office position, the pastor ended the interview when the gentleman said that he "had no problem" working with gays because his son was gay. The reason?

. . . We are not people who "have no trouble with that." We are people who REJOICE in "that." We are not open and accepting. Or open and tolerant. We are open and affirming. Open and rejoicing. We like GAY and queer and all the initials that describe all "that." There is a big difference in these attitudes.

How does a truly Welcoming AND Affirming congregation differ from one merely tolerating diversity? By the way, who do you think she means when she speaks of "punishmentalists"??? And, exactly how does she propose to get them out of the way?

. . . On this Gay Pride Sunday, it is important to say out loud what that difference is. We rejoice in each other. We rejoice in human sexuality that is many faceted, beyond old male and old female and old ways. We are alive in the century that is going to break open all the old stuff about sex and marriage and horse and carriage. It is going to be mostly fun - especially when we get the punishmentalists out of our way. Right now we are in a nearly ridiculous struggle as the President pushes an amendment to the US constitution to prohibit gay people from being married.

At the root of it, the issue deals with structural evil and the stupidity of the American public:

. . . While the rich get richer, the very people whose pensions are being taken away to help the rich get richer are out in the street yelling ridiculous things about one man and one woman. The success of this substitution of cultural issues for political and economic issues is frightening. It says some very disturbing things about the American people. We prefer the false issues to the real issues. We are easily duped. We do bread and circus and watch our civil liberties go down the drain and our economic security follow it - and then we rant about so-called morality.

In fact, our pastor (new to the ABC after a long ministry in the UCC), sees the deeper issue as one of misunderstood "hyper=masculinity."

. . . What is the real issue, the issue behind the screen and the feints and the fakes and the spins? I believe the sexual issues matter because we are seeing the last gasps of hyper-masculinity. We are seeing the last hacking coughs of excessive masculinity, the kind that can't be penetrated. It can only penetrate. Only be on top. The kind that needs to be in charge. The kind that needs to control. The kind that is afraid of the power of its own strength. What we are seeing is the end of an old absurd kind of masculinity - and a new one breaking in. We see the new in lesbian couples who enjoy all kinds of gender roles from tender to tough. We see the new in men who are as female as they are male, as male as they are female, in outdated terms that can only be said in the past tense.

The comparisons between power politics and sexual behavior give rise to some interesting observations on things like capitalism and racism and human sexuality.

. . . Imagine what capitalism would be without its armies and its violence. It would be like racism without the KKK. Imagine if we begin in our own bedrooms with an exchange of penetrations. You do me, I'll do you. Imagine gender equality. Imagine just how far that would take us. We go straight to Romans: the whole creation has been groaning in travail, waiting for the day when nothing can separate us from the love of God or the love we have for each other.

The pastor's position on gay relationships leads her to shock at the behavior of the conservatives:

. . . The Bible loves good sex and good love. It has absolutely no stake in hyper-masculinity . . . The Bible is a book about love and it is simply astonishing that people would DARE to use it in such balderdash, bigotry, and bamboozlement as opposing marriage because it was not between one man and one woman.

But, like any good theologian, the pastor grounds her theology of sexuality in even more basic constructs like Christology:

. . . The second you really look at Jesus you see that he is gay, at least at the level of gender roles, if not behavior. No, I am not saying Jesus is Gay. But today, if he walked our streets, you bet we would wonder. He had no interest in masculine violence or aggressiveness. He is downright "girly." He used non-violence in a non-masculine way. He was beyond open to affirming of another way of being a man.

Taking a radical "Jesus view" will allow us to avoid the pitfall of making more of marriage than we ought to do:

. . . Let us please not make marriage more than it needs to be. Remember just how ridiculous an institution it has almost always been, what Amelia Earhart called an attractive cage, what Charlotte Perkins Gilman called a high priced insurance policy for women.

The trajectory of our reformation in social views will move to a whole new image of human sexuality.

. . . What this whole gay thing is about is, finally, gayness. The old kind. It is about restoring joy to love. It is about restoring marriage to love. It is also about an end to violence and its props and the beginning of an interpenetration and communion of men and men, women and women, women and men. It is about truly understanding the scriptures when they say, "the whole creation has been groaning until now." Waiting for the time when NOTHING can separate us from the love of God or from each other. Instead of responding, "I have no trouble with that, " the proper response is WOW.

For years the badge of identity in the ABC has been "diversity." Worn proudly in the biennials where one could always find those with rainbow colored ribbons and a few with American Baptist Evangelicals shirts, we have exalted in our commonality as the people who were proud that they could believe just about anything and still call themselves "Baptist."

But does this kind of "diversity" speak well of the organization? When the Apostle Paul rebuked the Corinthian church, you can be sure that party spirit and divisiveness was at the top of his list. And, those of us on the right must read carefully the Pauline dicta regarding destroying God's temple, the Church.

But, we must also remember his stinging condemnation of the spirit of those, so proud of their open-mindedness that they could not see moral issues clearly enough to speak definitively about them. Against those proud of themselves for tolerating an immoral sexual lifestyle, he railed: "And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you" (1 Cor 5:2).

When we ask churches for money for our national and international ministries, we sound like the denomination of "We Are American Baptists," a rather Christ-centered, Bible-centered denomination. That is the denomination Dr. Medley proclaims us to be. However, when we assemble in committees, boards, and upper echelon gatherings at the national level, sometimes we more resemble some of the more extreme views of the preacher cited in this post.

[His Barking Dog should not be confused with an official voice, person, or organization. My barks are strictly personal, in between gnawing at my own fleas.]


Amill-Presup said...

Yes, she's off the deep end.
Yes, it makes me want to cry to think that someone might decide to look into that "Jesus stuff" only to walk into the "sanctuary" of that place and have their ear bent by that Nicolaitan anti-Gospel.

But, I still say we coup, not quit.

Dennis E. McFadden said...


A bloodless coup would be OK by me. I NEVER wanted to leave the ABC. However, based on my knowledge of some of the principals involved (sincere, determined, believing in their cause, and tenacious), it would be an ugly blood letting. Personally, I would much rather slink away (OK, a little bit nosily) rather than engage in internecine warfare with people I love on the left and those in leadership.