Saturday, August 4, 2012

Musings on Chik-fil-a (again)

Why are we so adamant regarding Dan Cathy of Chik-fil-a? Is it merely that we are “Christophobes” (the “it” word for Christians who have a persecution complex the size of Texas), is it that we hate free speech? It’s actually none of the above, which may come as a complete surprise to some (those who pay absolutely no attention to what we’re saying because they’re too busy telling us what bigots they aren’t and how we’re so intolerant). But there’s a backstory to the Chik-fil-a drama. It’s all about the disconnect between what Christians say – and what Christians do – like funneling millions of dollars to organizations like Exodus International and the Family Research Council.

There is room for  differing opinions on the issue of gay marriage. For years Tony Campolo has been opposed to same-sex marriage, while his wife, Peggy has been a vocal proponent of gay marriage. They manage to live together and stayed married . . . so I suppose it shows us that there’s hope.

But in order to find civility and reasonableness, there has to be a common understanding and acceptance of the other person’s humanity and dignity . . . and that is the crux of the problem. You see, treating people with dignity is the key. If you were to read the articles on the Family Research Council website, soak in the tone, read the language - you get a sense that gay people are less than human, less than citizens, less than what we really are --created in God's image. But, the FRC is only the tip of the iceberg, other groups like the American Family Association, and the National Organization for Marriage also use the same language and rhetoric to turn glbt people into the "other" -- something different, scary, dangerous.

Take that language and match it up with the NT teachings of Jesus . . . "do unto other as you would have them do unto you" or in the words of Rabbi Hillel (who was born 100 years before Jesus), "What is hateful to you, do not do to others." I am particularly struck by Christians who are so vociferous in their opposition to gay marriage that the humanity of the people who are gay becomes subsumed under frightening terms like "gay agenda" -- or "homosexual lobby". Most of these groups are largely funded by and operated by Christians -- who are supposed to be following the teachings of someone named Jesus, not Tony Perkins, Peter Sprigg, Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson.
So -- if one were to truly live out the mandates of their faith - as a follower of Jesus (and Paul, John, James, et. al) - then you really have to treat people humanely, decently, the way you'd want them to treat you . . . and, in wondering whether you should boycott groups, or support them . . . follow the money . . . where did Chik-fil-a put it's money? In the coffers of the FRC . . . and how does their language and posturing measure up to mandates given by Jesus to "love your enemies", or Paul's admonition to "live peaceably with all men . . . I say any group that dehumanizes another person by their words is not worth supporting.

 Many of us in the glbt community know more about the Bible than the religious right would like to admit . . . because many of us grew up in your churches, schools and colleges. We have grown up reading the Bible – and we have the expectation that people will be held accountable to the working out of their faith in all the ways that Bible mandates. But what we find is that fundamentalist interpretations of scripture are carefully crafted to allow the fundamentalists themselves off the hook – they don’t have to treat us humanely, or with dignity – because we are going to hell. It excuses them from having to “love their neighbor” or act as a good Samaritan.

One of my favorite quotes is one by Rabbi Abraham Heschel, who barely escaped Poland before the Nazis came – but who lost his entire family to the holocaust . . . he said that “the holocaust did not begin with the building of crematoria, and Hitler did not come to power with tanks and guns; it all began with uttering evil words, with defamation, with language and propaganda.” Am I saying that these guys are Nazis? No. I am, however, making a point regarding the painfulness of words, something that James was keenly aware of when he penned James 3 – as is any Jewish person who studies the ancient Jewish sages. Words have the power to heal, and the power to kill. In Jewish thinking, to degrade someone, to shame them or embarrass them is equal to killing them . . . and in killing one person, you kill an entire world.

When I consider that Heschel quote I think of young men like Matthew Shepard, Tyler Clementi, and Jamey Rodemeyer. If we didn't have such heated and hateful language, such vociferous condemnations from spiritual leaders, and such a hostile debate on same sex marriage, gay rights, and equal protection in the civic sphere, would these young men still be with us? Two of them took their own lives – the result of spiritual and verbal bullying – they are  the victims of living in a country where certain segments of society love to portray gay people as “sick”, “diseased”, “perverted” and “going to hell”. If it weren’t tough enough for gay kids  to face  abuse and torment in this world, they’re warned that after a life of bullying here, they’re going to hell to suffer forever – for simply being who they are.

Fred Phelps, who is now famous for picketing military funerals, cut his teeth in the funeral picket business with Matthew Shepard’s funeral. For many years he kept a ticker on his website that said “Matt in hell” for however long it’s been since his death, now they have the Perpetual gospel memorial to Matthew Shepard. Matt in Hell is even a YouTube video now put out by Phelps’ group. I mention him because this is where it gets very tricky for Christians . . . and I admit to being very – passionate about the topic. If you take Phelps's message “God hates fags” – it’s jolting and shocking and immediately people are repulsed by it. But if you stop for a moment and consider his other message, that of “Matt is in hell” . . . how is it very different from anything that so many of us have been taught in church our entire lives? What separates the “good” Christians from Phelps? It’s semantics . . . Phelps uses inflammatory language, but sometimes even the self-styled “good guys” will say the exact same thing - with nicer words. We aren’t so foolish as to not be able to see that the message is the same, whether it’s sugar coated or laced with with fire and brimstone. This is the baggage that Christians of all stripes must bear as they wade into the culture wars. Whether it’s fair or not is something I can’t answer – but that’s the reality for Christians – they have baggage they must carry—and the stickers on that luggage says, “God hates fags.”

I said all of that to “set the table” so to speak. This is what glbt people have rattling around in their brains, day in and day out, reinforced with appearances by Tony Perkins from FRC, or Pat Robertson, and the rest. This is our back story – many of us spent our lives in churches and youth groups and internalized the things we were taught – those things are with us forever. Thus, when we hear Cathy’s glib “traditional values” – we know the dog whistle code, and we know the players . . . and we get angry. We’ve already heard about the Kill the Gays legislation in Uganda and then find out those behind it were some of the groups financed by Dave Cathy and Chik-fil-a, and we’re indignant and amazed that people think it’s all about someone’s freedom to speak their minds – when our life experience tells us these people are out to hurt us - sometimes physically, sometimes by inciting hate, and sometimes by exclaiming, like the pastor in North Carolina, that we need to be rounded up and put behind barbed wire fences.

There’s a saying in retail: “Perception is reality.” And whether Christians like it or not, the perception that most of us in the gay community have is that Christians are narrow-minded bigots, who condemn us to hell, who seek to deprive us not only of our civil rights but of our humanity. Is that true? I often feel that it is. But it isn’t my job to change the paradigm – it’s the job of Christians to change the paradigm.

The most Jewish of the NT books is the book of James – it’s good stuff, and James had quite a bit to say that many Evangelicals find hard to swallow . . . things like: “let everyone be slow to speak, slow to anger: for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.” (1.19,20) and “So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.: (2.12,13). But the most important thing James said was “Faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.  . .Someone will say you have faith and I have works. Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by works will show you my faith.” (2. 17-18). James is talking about performing mitzvot, or tzedakah (righteous deeds), literally fulfilling the commandments – not just giving them lip service. We don’t want to hear your words – we want to see your deeds.

The story of Rabbi Hillel is an interesting one, it is the story of a young man who sought out several great teachers and asked them to teach him the entire Torah – but they must be able to do it standing on one foot. Several teachers refused – who could teach the entire Torah on one foot? Then he came to Rabbi Hillel, who replied, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor - that is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary; go and learn it!"