A few thoughts on the close of “Pride Month”

I realized sometime this month that I wasn’t sure when Pride Month became “a thing.”

I did know, vaguely, that the first gay pride march had something to do with “Stonewall.” That’s something I read about in a book, though, not something I lived through. “The 70s” were more about “women’s liberation” for me than “gay liberation.”

So, I looked it up on the internet. Evidently, in 2000 then-President Bill Clinton designated the month of June as Gay Pride month. What I remember best from around that time is how thoroughly by then we – my partner and I – already related to the jaded cartoon New Yorkers: “We’re not doing anything for Gay Pride this year. We’re here, we’re queer, we’re used to it.”

The same way we could relate to someone’s comment about “the gay lifestyle.” “Which part of my gay lifestyle is the problem exactly? Going to work every morning? Paying my taxes? Mowing my lawn?” Yeah – what she said.

Granted, we ourselves might have added: “Raising our toddler?” And that probably would have been exactly the problem for some people, to be honest.

Now, twenty years further on, as another Gay Pride month that my household didn’t celebrate in any spectacular way draws to a close, but in which there were a few more references to LGBTQ identity in the air than usual, I realized that I did have a few thoughts along these lines. So I made an effort to collect them before it was altogether too late.red line embellishedWe don’t have lots of gay friends. We are probably more other people’s “gay friends.” I think this has something to do with the fact that gay people have about as much in common with one another as white people do. Not exactly nothing. But not that good a reason to invite people over. It’s more important to play bridge.

LGBTQ people as a group obviously have some common political concerns, however. I would like not to be defined as a criminal, for instance, for living the way I’ve been living for the past forty years or so. I’m confident I share this preference with other members of “the LGBTQ community.”

This desire seems entirely reasonable to me, honestly. As it seems entirely unreasonable to me that anyone would want to do that.

I do not understand what harm we are supposed to have done to anyone. And I have yet to hear anyone make a really convincing case for adult consensual same-sex relationships being intrinsically harmful, especially to people outside of them. I’m not talking about promiscuity, which carries a set of harms intrinsic to promiscuity; or about coercive or abusive relationships, which carry a set of harms intrinsic to coercion and abuse. I’m talking specifically and narrowly about the same-sex piece of the puzzle, the “I kissed a girl, and I liked it” piece.

I’m not holding my breath waiting for this.

So, it takes a long stretch of my imagination to see how the state (of Texas, or the United States, or anywhere) could have any legitimate interest in criminalizing us. And yet, this seems to be back on someone’s political agenda. “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”red line embellishedSimilarly, it seems entirely unreasonable to me that anyone would say “homosexuality is the WORST sin.” [A quote from a film about LGBT students at Christian colleges like Wheaton.] I think to myself, “Really? Worse than shooting kindergartners??” I feel the people who say that haven’t thought things all the way through.

As if there is something about the way I live that is AT LEAST as dangerous as hauling an AR-14 around in the back of a pickup. AT LEAST. More, really.

I don’t know what it is supposed to be.

I would like to think that other people would stand up for me on this, even if they aren’t themselves LGBTQ etc. That people would agree that the principle “whoever’s not against you is for you” actually applies here.

Unless the problem for some people lies in the very existence of LGBTQ people?

Maybe just being here constitutes a visible assertion that the world is more open to being otherwise than people have been convinced to agree that it is. A visible denial that the world is less “that’s just the way it is” than we think. Less “this is just how things are, and how things have to be.” Less “Why? Because why.”

In Reality, perhaps possibly, “things could be different.”

We could be happy.red line embellishedI used to be involved with the Emmaus community here in our area. The Walk to Emmaus is a Christian spiritual formation program that, among other things, specifically teaches and celebrates the incredible individuality of the members of Christ’s vibrant Church. I believe they do very good work.

Unfortunately, I created a problem for the local organization by turning out to be L, in the LGBTQ sense. I wasn’t hiding it. I suppose it just never occurred to the relevant people to imagine it, until I actually announced it to someone in a conversation. [Because, reasons. Another story for another time.]

Anyway, after that, the local group stopped inviting my pastor to participate in Emmaus walks. Too unreliable, maybe. And they published an instruction in their newsletter to the effect that “Just because someone asks you to work on a walk, and you feel called to do that, don’t assume that means you ARE called to do that. If you think we wouldn’t really want you to participate in that way, because we would think your manner of life would disqualify you for some reason, you should say no.”

The kind and sincere woman who had asked me to work on her walk had a long heart-to-heart with me, too, at our local Mexican restaurant. She was a very compassionate person. The way she read Scripture, she could see that I was going to suffer eternal conscious torment in the future, and she didn’t want that to happen. I thought she was mistaken about that. The eternal conscious torment, that is, not the compassion. So she quoted 1 Timothy 1:10 to me, and I quoted Matthew 7:16 back to her, and in the end we agreed that we were unlikely to change each other’s minds, and would just have to hold one another in prayer, and leave it up to God.red line embellishedI read Scripture differently.

It has taken me a long time to be able to explain that. I’m not sure I do a good job of it, even now. But if we were to have that conversation again, today, I would probably say something like this:

I tend to side with the people who read Scripture as not prohibiting every single form of same-sex relationship we can imagine.

I don’t think this qualifies as “self-interested” reading, exactly. Clearly, a person’s self-interest lies in knowing the truth, whatever it actually is. I think it qualifies as something more like “anthropological and macroscopic” reading, if that can be a name. That is, reading with an awareness that humans often get things wrong, and humans are reading a Bible that humans wrote. So, when it comes to understanding exactly how the Bible speaks for God, we are more likely to be right about the big ideas than we are about the fine print.

We do seem inclined to think that God is at God’s most restrictive and punitive when it comes to things that don’t cause us any personal pain. We get to “kill two birds with one stone” that way: we get to sanctify our own cultural intuitions, and to feel Godly doing it.

So I’m suspicious of the fact that, as a rule, “we” – that is, a majority of Bible-reading people – find it so much easier to condemn, as immoral, behaviors “we” think of as other people’s, and that don’t cost us much to condemn. While making exceptions for the behaviors it would take everything we’ve got for us to give up. Killing people in wars springs to mind, something that has been acceptable to most Christians at least since the Constantinian compromise, despite the prohibition on killing in the Torah, and in spite of Jesus’s instruction to love our enemies.

The real point isn’t, however, that there are all kinds of other sins that people take less seriously than same-sex-uality. Even though that’s true. Even though it’s a fact that people don’t organize demonstrations at funerals with signs that read “God Hates Gossips,” or pass overtures seeking to keep Liars from being ordained to church office. [I’d actually go along with that last one, I think.] Hypocrisy is always with us; here, it’s merely a distraction.

The real point is that I think people ought not to read the Bible as saying “homosexuality is a crime against God, period.” Just as I think people ought not to read 1 Timothy 2:12 as meaning “letting women teach men is rebellion against God.” Or to read the Bible’s statements about slavery as evidence that “God is OK with slavery as long as you follow the rules.” Or to read the absence of any mention of house cats in the Bible as proof that God Hates Cats. Or even to read the end of Genesis 2 as a statement that “God Intends ‘marriage’ to be a relationship between one man and one woman for life.”

Because not every sentence of the Bible expresses “God’s Intention.” Most sentences in the Bible, as far as the Bible seems to be concerned, express human understandings. The Biblical authors were doing their level best to record their experience of and relationship with God, and their experience of life in God’s world, and to discern God’s will for their lives and for their people. God seems to give a thumbs up to some of these efforts, more enthusiastically in some places than in others.

In a few cases, as with the prophets, the authors do share direct words from God – God’s direct discourse. But that’s rare. Most of the time – even in Paul’s letters – the Biblical authors are sharing their human-all-too-human minds and hearts. These people were, we believe, close to God. We benefit from that closeness of theirs. And, we also believe, God uses these texts of theirs to speak to us, in the same way as God spoke to the authors of Scripture in the first place, using all the channels of communication available: text, mind, heart, experience, and the way they work together to create meaning.red line embellishedSome people make a lot out of a very specific reading of the claim that “all Scripture is ‘God-breathed,’” but I think those people are mistaken. An honest reading of that text makes clear that the author was probably talking about the Septuagint, for one thing. Our entire Scriptural warrant for accepting the letters of Paul as scripture consists of 2 Peter 3:16, as we learned in seminary. Well, that, and the church’s traditional standard of apostolic witness. And that last is all that gets the book of Revelation into the frame. The Bible does not make the same hifalutin claims about itself as the Qur’an or the Lotus Sutra do. It just doesn’t.

Then, even if we thought the author of 2 Timothy 3:16-17 thought God had dictated the text of that Scripture, those exact Scriptural words aren’t the ones we use these days. And it’s not even clear “God-breathed” ever meant that God dictated the words of Scripture; more likely, it means something closer to a more common human experience, of feeling moved to compose text, and then feeling like “there, that’s good.”

Finally, even if “God-breathed” DID mean “And God said: Paul, take a letter,” that would still not mean that every statement in Scripture somehow expresses God’s Eternal Truth, as if we had God’s Understanding of Reality neatly captured between the covers of our Authorized Versions. First, there is the fact that any author’s work, demonstrably even God’s, often incorporates multiple voices – like, others’ voices quoted, or included as dialogue, for instance. [College freshmen, I’ve noticed, have a terrible time with this feature of text. They frequently will tell you an author “thinks” or “says” something the author has quoted someone else as having said, for the express purpose of disagreeing with it in the next sentence or paragraph.]

More importantly, at best, we have God’s Understanding of Reality in the Mother Goose Version. [Not original with me, just following Calvin here.]

I do think God wants us to learn something from the Bible over time. To get closer to “love your neighbor as yourself,” and to “love one another as I have loved you.” Learning something will presumably also affect the way we read Scripture. If it doesn’t, we should probably ask ourselves whether we are reading it wrong.

That, maybe more than anything else, probably explains why I don’t think Deuteronomy 22:5 means I can’t wear jeans. And why I don’t think 1 Corinthians 11:15 means I should never get a haircut. And why I am less and less comfortable with the idea that Jesus didn’t really mean that we should sell everything we own and give the money to the poor [although I haven’t done that yet]. And why I don’t think Romans 1:26 and 1 Corinthians 6:9 and so on mean God Hates Me for living with my partner – now, thankfully, legally, my spouse – for the past 40-odd years. red line embellishedAnd on that contentious topic of marriage: I have no wish, or need, to challenge anyone else’s sacramental view of Christian marriage.

But: the effort to insist that “marriage” “can only be” “between one man and one woman for life” seems to spring from the same logic as trademark protection litigation. That is, the people fighting that fight seem to be saying “we want to be able to use this word to mean one thing, and one thing only, and if you use it to mean something different from that, it will infringe our monopoly on this word.”

Even though not too many straight people are going to opt for a same-sex marriage the way people buy “facial tissue” instead of Kleenex. I don’t think.

No one actually has a monopoly on the word “marriage,” anyway.

Language changes all the time, because it lives in relationship to the lives people live, and want and need to communicate about. Neither bumper stickers, nor laws, will stop that.

Laws matter, though, as do the legal definitions of words that are part of those laws. We live in a world where, until quite recently, LGBTQetc. people living together as couples could only do so “without benefit of [legally defined as such] marriage.” According to the laws of our secular society, that benefit involves things like employer-provided insurance, the provisions of the tax code, Social Security benefits, and, in the kinds of circumstances that no one would wish on anyone else, things like next-of-kin status for the purpose of making decisions about health care, and the guardianship and custody of minor children.

That is what people who say “marriage is only between one man and one woman for life” are working so hard to deny to the people living in the relationships that don’t pass their test.

I admit, I can take that a little personally.

Then I think of 1 Corinthians 7:39, have a laugh, and let it go.red line embellishedI let things go, most of the time. This month, for some reason, it occurred to me that I ought to use my words for a change.red line embellished

Images: “Rainbow flag and blue skies,” Ludovic Bertron from New York City, Usa, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Illustration of Christ and the Canaanite woman, in Hurlbut’s Life of Christ for Young and Old (1915) Internet Archive Book Images, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons

5 responses to “A few thoughts on the close of “Pride Month””

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