bill_sheehan (bill_sheehan) wrote,

Sunday Sermonette: Take Pride

On a June night forty-two years ago, police raided a notorious gay bar (all gay bars were notorious by definition) in New York. They’d done it many times before. Everyone knew the drill. When the lights come on, stay still, move away from the person you were dancing with, and be ready to show ID.

This time, something snapped. This time, the queers fought back. This time, there were riots in the streets. This three-night period, call the Stonewall Riots, marked the beginning of a new phase of the struggle for LGBT liberation and civil rights.

The next year, there was a protest march to mark the event. It spread to other cities and became parades. The parades grew and became grander and more festive. Politicians and public figures began marching. The event grew from Gay Pride Day to Gay Pride Week and is now Gay Pride Month, by proclamation of President Obama.

One group of marchers that has grown over the years has been the churches. In 1978, in response to a planned visit by Anita Bryant, an Interfaith Coalition was formed in Boston to organize a protest. I’m proud to have been one of the protesters in Copley Square that night. Ms. Bryant ultimately decided not to appear.

That year was the tipping point for religion in the Boston gay liberation movement. The leaders were the Unitarian/Universalists (of course). My church, an urban liberal Episcopal church, hauled out its banners and sent a delegation. (High Church Episcopalians do love a procession.) The Metropolitan Community Church, an LGBT denomination, was there. Dignity (gay Catholics), Integrity (gay Episcopalians), Affirmation (gay Mormons), Am Tikva (gay Jews), and many others came out of their closets and joined the parade.

There were those who disagreed. Many left their churches in search of more “Biblical” congregations. My former denomination has experienced a schism over homosexuality. At the heart of the disagreement were and are two things: Scripture and Tradition.

Homosexuality is expressly against the Word of God, argue the conservatives. “I have nothing against homosexuals personally, but the Bible says their love is an abomination.”

But does it? The Bible is not a list of clear and well-defined instructions. It’s a collection of different stories from different places recorded over centuries for different purposes. In its 31,102 verses (more if you’re Catholic), we find seven verses that are viewed as denouncing homosexuality: three in the Hebrew Scriptures and four in the Epistles.

I’ve written before about each of these, and would be happy do a Gay Bible Study on request, but for the purposes of this sermonette, let’s ignore all the evidence and assume the worst. Let’s assume that the verses in Leviticus and the Epistles are clear, unambiguous prohibitions of homosexuality.

So what?

Even if you didn’t know that Leviticus is a three thousand year old holiness code with one overriding concern: don’t be like those other tribes, even if you didn’t know about the centrality of sex in the “pagan” religions of the time, even if you didn’t know that “abomination” in this context meant “those things the foreigners do that are offensive to God”, you might at least read the rest of the book. Leviticus is full of prohibitions for which the penalty is often death. Touching the skin of a pig, eating pork, cutting the hair on the side of your head or clipping the edges of your beard, adultery, wearing mixed fabrics, getting tattoos, blasphemy, consulting or being a fortune-teller, cursing your parents, engaging in ritual animal sacrifice in any place other than the temple, eating blood or fat, having sex with your wife while she is menstruating, eating a sacrificial offering more than three days old, planting more than one kind of seed in a field, eating shellfish, having sex with your father’s wife, eating the meat of a strangled animal...

What about the story of Sodom in Genesis? Again, even if you ignore the fact that everyone from the Prophet Ezekiel to Jesus himself saying that the sin of Sodom was failing to help the poor and needy, not sex, you might at least read the book. Even if it were about sex, is it about the loving interaction of two people, or are we talking about the gang-rape of strangers?

Well, what about the New Testament? Didn’t Saint Paul inveigh against homosexuality? The answer is again ambiguous. And again, even if you’re not an historian and have no knowledge about the Greek temple worship to which Paul appears to have been referring, you might at least read the Epistles from which you’re grabbing condemnatory verses. Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things. (Romans 2:1)

Paul also writes approvingly of chattel slavery as the natural and normal state of affairs. He thinks it unnatural for women to have short hair. Women are supposed to stay silent in church and keep their heads covered. Men should refrain from marriage and be celibate.

The fact is that the Bible is the Big Book of Multiple Choice, a moral Rorschach test. In its pages almost anything may be justified or attacked. So churches looked to their history, and found evidence that they have condemned homosexuality for hundreds of years. Gay-bashing is sacred tradition!

So was slavery. So was the subjugation of women. So was opposition to universal suffrage. So was opposition to miscegenation. So is opposition to birth control and family planning.

Yesterday’s sacred and immutable truths are today’s quaint cultural misunderstandings. The same churches that yesterday opposed abolition are today boasting that they led the fight against slavery. The same churches that condemned race-mixing are today welcoming multi-ethnic families. The same is happening today concerning LGBT people. My former church down the street has had a transitional priest for the past three years, and they’ve just made him a permanent offer. I believe only one person left the church over the fact that he’s married to a man, and I know of at least one person who returned to the church just because of that reason. It’s not that she herself is gay, but her son is.

America is the most religious of the developed countries, which is often to our detriment. Yet even in the places where the Bible Belt cinches tightest, things are changing. We’ve a long way to go, but consider how far we’ve come, and take Pride.

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