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May 13, 2005

Dominionists and gays

Chris Hedges in his essay on the Dominionist movement in the May 2005 issue of Harper's Magazine recalls something his ethics professor at Harvard Divinity School, Dr. James Luther Adams, told him twenty five years ago. Dr. Adams, who was eighty years old at that time, told Hedges that eventually he (Hedges) would be fighting "Christian fascists" who, he said "would not return wearing swastikas and brown shirts. Its ideological inheritors would cloak themselves in the language of the Bible; they would come carrying crosses and chanting the Pledge of Allegiance."

Hedges continues: "Adams told us to watch closely the Christian right's persecution of homosexuals and lesbians. Hitler, he reminded us, promised to restore moral values not long after he took power in 1933, then imposed a ban on all homosexual and lesbian organizations and publications…Homosexuals and lesbians, Adams said, would be the first "deviants" singled out by the Christian right. We would be the next."

Was Adams being too gloomy? Was his comparison to Hitler overblown? Or was he remarkably prescient? It is hard to say. What is true is that homosexuality, like evolution, is high on the list of those things that are anathema to many religious believers, not just Christians. I have never been able to quite understand why it arouses such strong antipathy.

Take for example, all the referenda that were passed recently opposing same sex marriages. Much of the rhetoric warned that allowing gays to marry would take away from the sanctity of this institution. But we allow practically anyone to marry: murderers, rapists, pedophiles, criminals of any stripe, drug dealers, almost anybody with a pulse can marry with no restrictions whatsoever, and no one argues that this destroys the sanctity of marriage. Divorce is rampant, and yet no one is campaigning to have divorce outlawed in order to save the institution of marriage.

It is true that the Bible speaks out against homosexual behavior, but it also speaks out about a lot of things that do not get anywhere near the attention that homosexuality does. For example, homosexuality is not even one of the prohibitions cited in the Ten Commandments but adultery is. So, if someone is using the Bible as their main argument, surely for them adultery should rank worse than homosexuality and such people should also be campaigning for constitutional amendments against it?

Or is it that uniting against homosexuals is convenient because they are a minority and fairly defenseless politically? Historically, authoritarian movements have been able to unite the majority behind them by exploiting sentiment against small and powerless groups, by defining them as the "evil other." But for this strategy to work, this "other" has to be fairly small numerically and "different." It would be hard to mount a winning political campaign based on being against, for example, adultery. But by branding homosexuality as one of the worst forms of sexual "deviancy" it enables those who are not gay to feel very moral and superior, even though they themselves may be guilty of things that are actually harmful to others.

This is why I think that we should defend the right of gays to be treated the same way as anyone else, whether we ourselves are gay or not, or whether we even personally approve of the gay lifestyle or not. Gays are a powerless minority and the rights of powerless political minorities must be defended by all of us if we believe in a pluralistic society. Because in the end, each one of us can all be categorized as a minority is some way, and standing by while the equal rights of others are denied puts us all at risk.

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Excerpt: The previous post that dealt with Dominionist's negative views towards gays generated an interesting set of comments that frame nicely...
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Tracked: May 16, 2005 08:22 AM

Comments

This whole issue reminds me of Pastor Niemoller's poem that lists all the minorities that "they came for" and he didn't speak out because he wasn't one of them, until finally there was no-one left to speak out when they came for him.

Posted by Eldan Goldenberg on May 13, 2005 09:55 AM

Who is the "we" that Dr Adams referred to when he said "We would be the next"?

Posted by Tom Trelvik on May 13, 2005 04:02 PM

That is a good question and the article does not make this explicit. That sentence is the last of the article and it makes for a dramatic conclusion but is vague.

The paragraph prior to the one I quoted expands on the rise of facism in the 1930s and ends: "Then as now, Adams said, too many liberals failed to understand the power and allure of evil, and when the radical Christians came, these people would undoubtedly play by the old, polite rules of democracy long after those in power had begun to dismantle the democratic state. Adams had watched German academics fall silent or conform. He knew how desperately people want to believe the comfortable lies told by totalitarian movements, how easily those lies lull moderates into passivity."

So the inference could be that the "we" refers to liberals, and/or academics and/or moderates, all of which groupings are mentioned. But since Hedges himself is not an academic, his use of "we" probably refers to the grups he labels liberals or moderates.

Posted by Mano Singham on May 13, 2005 04:32 PM

Growing up, I hated gays. I think this was taught to me in my family and church, although never quite explicitly. It is yet another reason I am glad that I left christianity.

I agree with your post in its entirety. I agree we need to defend gays against people like my former self because I understand how my former self thought. I now have several gay and lesbian friends and I sympathize with them.

Unlearning has proven much more difficult for me than learning. Ha, just a thought... would it be uncouth to call Case "the most powerful unlearning environment in the world"?

Posted by aaron on May 13, 2005 05:35 PM

I feel I must do a little defending of Christianity in response to Aaron's comment. While the most public face of Christianity may be characterized as anti-gay, I would by no means generalize this for everyone. My church, the Episcopal church, has been working over the last few years on expanding gay rights. The approval of an openly gay bishop last year drew loads of public attention. Growing up, there was a gay couple in my congregation. Many Christians take seriously the idea of loving our neighbors as ourselves. I for one call myself Christian and passionately support gay rights.

Posted by Katie on May 14, 2005 12:41 AM

That's a good clarification Katie. My personal experience with Christianity in a particular location can not be considered representative of the whole.

Posted by aaron on May 14, 2005 08:28 AM

Mano is quite correct when he states that there are many other sinful behaviors which are just as sinful as homosexuality. I agree these behaviors should be reviled and attacked as much as homosexuality. I do have two points which are commonly overlooked in this argument.
First, Christians should love gay people but they should hate homosexuality. This is not as odd a statement as it first sounds. Many people would agree that hating an alcoholic does not help them overcome alcoholism. But people hate alcholism because they can see the damage it does to a person and their friends and family. So I say that gays aren't evil people but they do have a sinful behavior which is just as bad as the list that Mano mentioned.
Second, the difference between homosexuality and those other behaviors is that most people believe "murderers, rapists, pedophiles, criminals of any stripe, drug dealers" are wrong while they believe homosexuality is a normal behavior. It's one thing for people to make a mistake. I make many mistakes everyday. What really bothers me is when people make a mistake and then claim what they did is not wrong at all. Katie's comment about the Episcopal church is not a defense of Christianity but a statement of everything that is wrong with Christianity today. Consider what the Bible says in Romans chapter 1. Not only does this chapter speak explicitly about the immorality of homoosexuality the last verse is even more shocking. Verse 32 says "Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them." The list of "things" mentioned comes from the prior verses and is similar to Mano's list of evil behaviors.
I believe the actions of the Episcopal church should be raising more alarm for Christians than those of the gay rights movement. Imagine the outrage there would have been among Catholics if the Catholic church decided that the sexual abuse of some priest was a perfectly normal behavior. This is essentially what the Episcopal church is doing with homosexuality.

Posted by Joe Felix on May 14, 2005 12:56 PM

To Joe: I definitely understand where you're coming from, but sinfulness cannot be the basis of law in a pluralistic democracy. According to the Bible, it's a sin to eat shellfish; should that be outlawed? For that matter, the first and second of the Ten Commandments are "I am the Lord your G-d. You shall have no other gods before Me." Should the law be enforcing that one?

Homosexuality is not destructive to a family or to society, except when it clashes with homophobia (and when that's the case, I'd blame the homophobia, not the homosexuality), and it's only destructive to an individual insofar as we accept the view of some Christians that it's destructive to the soul.

I'm sorry, but that's not something to base our laws upon.

Posted by Ran on May 14, 2005 10:09 PM

Ran's reply to Joe is much more calm and rational than mine would have been had I replied first.

But Ran is right, Joe, don't try to impose your views on the rest of us. There are plenty of Biblical passages telling of right and wrong, how to live, and how not to live. And you can argue until you're blue in the face that we should follow them all, but unless you're actually doing that, you don't have any place to tell us to (and I doubt you are, as that would include stoning people to death for things that our modern society usually considers pretty minor, though we don't condone the stoning).

You may hate homosexuality, but I say it's far too easy for you to pick and choose what you hate. Your persecution of homosexuality on those grounds is hypocritical. It's fair to love the alcoholic and hate the alcoholism becuase that causes real world physical and social problems for the alcoholic and all who're close to them. To argue the same is true of homosexuals because of damage to their soul is a matter of opinion on which many of us differ.

But in our government, especially when led by the traditional "less government" focusing Republicans, it pains me to see them going out of their way to add regulation specifically designed to restrict people's (*and* states') rights when not doing so creates no adverse affects on the rest of our society. It's not like saying "you can't steal because that infringes other people's rights", they're saying "we don't want you to care about the kind of people you care about, so we're going to make every effort to impede your life in any way we can."

I consider the religious right's attack on tolerance and acceptance an attack on *true* family values, and am offended at their arrogance to think we should consider this a fight *for* morality.

I don't mean to offend your religious beliefs, I just disagree vehemently with them. I *do* believe that you should practice what you preach, and if you believe that way, then you should live that way. But I don't believe you "loving the homosexual and hating homosexuality" should extend to imposing said belief on the rest of us.

Posted by Tom Trelvik on May 16, 2005 01:14 PM

Because of the lag factor in discussions such as this one, it is often difficult to have much of a discussion. So, while this post is still recent, I will add a few points:

1) Just because there is no mention of homosexual acts in the "Ten Commandments" does not make the prohibition in Leviticus 18 and Leviticus 20 any less important. There are not ten commandments: there are 613 Commandments, and each is just as important as any of the others (at least, to Jews).

2) The prohibition on homosexual acts as written in Leviticus is just that: a prohibition of acts. Feelings, desires, emotions, etc., are not mentioned and, therefore, not prohibited. Furthermore, unless the persons engaging in said acts are warned by two witnesses first and then engage in said acts, the conduct of those people is between themselves and G-d, and no one else. It is for this reason that, though I oppose homosexual acts, I also oppose anti-sodomy laws.

Finally, I have a question that has been puzzling me for quite some time. I do not intend to inflame emotions; I simply seek information. If anyone is offended by the wording of this question, I apologize in advance. Christians often cite portions of Jewish Law (e.g. the prohibition against murder, idolatry, adultery) as being laws; however, others (e.g. the Sabbath - "4th Commandment", dietary laws) are viewed as being obsolete. How does Christian Law/Teaching determine which of the 613 Commandments are kept as written, modified, or made unnecessary?

Posted by William Sherwin on May 16, 2005 06:30 PM

To answer William's question:

A disclaimer first - I am not a Christian theologian (or even Christian), so if I'm wrong on this feel free to correct me.

My understanding is that this is twofold. First, laws that are restated in the New Testament are not obsolete, and laws that are ignored or actively rejected in the New Testament are (or can be).

Second, Jesus sort of took emphasis away from following the letter of the law. The idea was that faith, devotion, etc. are more important than rituals and rules. Someone who has studied the New Testament more recently than me can probably cite actual examples.

The rules for Christians and the Sabbath are a bit weird to me. The government closes everything on Sundays and we can't buy wine in Ohio on Sundays. So clearly at some point a lot of people thought Sunday was an important day to not do things. I have a feeling that since the rules are vague and open to interpretation, people interpret them to their convenience.

Posted by Shruti on May 16, 2005 07:29 PM

I think Ran and Tom read things in my post that weren't there. I never mentioned anything about basing our laws on what is in the Bible and I never tried to tell you how to live your life. Mano's post was about why Christians were so outraged by homosexuals as opposed to other sins. I simply wanted to point out what that was. This isn't really the posting to comment on morality in laws and government.

Posted by Joe Felix on May 16, 2005 08:29 PM

Fair enough, Joe, I guess our replies to you did combine your views on homosexuality with Mano's post on Dominionists and their views on gays & government. But even setting that aside, you're still picking and choosing what to practice from the Bible, and choosing in such a way as to justify the persecution of a large group of people who are just trying to live their lives like anyone else would, without interfering in anybody else's lives. And I still have trouble seeing that as anything other than hypocritical (at best).

Posted by Tom Trelvik on May 17, 2005 02:39 PM

actually, Tom, it doesn't really seem that hypocritical. assuming
homosexual acts are a sin (i'm interpreting "homosexuality" in his comment to refer to homosexual acts, and not homosexual identity or thoughts for the sake of this discussion, since as Wiliam mentioned, the bible prohibits homosexual acts, not thoughts), and
one should hate the sin, but not hate the sinner,
what Joe said makes logical sense. i don't interpret Joe's words to say that he wishes to persecute homosexuals; just that he feels that they should not engage in homosexual acts, and that christians should for the same reasons discourage homosexual acts. of course, i don't think Katie actually specified if the openly gay bishop or the gay couple in her church actually engage in homosexual acts, but Joe may have assumed that. also, people who feel that point #1 is false may interpret discouraging homosexual acts as persecuting homosexuals by not letting them be who they feel they are or do what they feel is perfectly acceptable and allowable and non-sin-like.

William, what would constitute being "warned by two witnesses"?

Posted by gina hoang on May 17, 2005 04:10 PM

While I am neither a Torah scholar nor a Talmudic scholar (the Talmud is the codification of Jewish Law beyond that contained in the Torah - at least up to about 700 CE), to the best of my knowledge, a person (or in this case, multiple persons) would have to be warned by two uninvolved persons and then commit the acts in plain view of said persons so that they would actually be witnesses. The reasoning for this, to my knowledge, is to prevent the execution of someone who is not guilty of a crime by requiring proof of action and intent beyond a shadow of a doubt. This is one reason why I often disagree with persons of Dominionist-type thought: they don't know how to read their own Bible...
Interesting note/thought: has anyone noticed that this group uses the same name for itself as was used in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine for the Evil Empire (The Dominion) on the far side of the Wormhole, in the Gamma Quadrant?

Posted by William Sherwin on May 17, 2005 06:38 PM

I know the Bible speaks out against homosexuality, but I call it hypocrisy unless, as William points out, he follows the other 612 commandments in the Bible too. And I call it persecution, because he condemns their way of life even though it has no direct or indirect effect on him. He goes out of his way to preach about how wrong what they do is, when his argument is based on only one of a long list of decrees, most of which he almost certainly ignores. It's the act of picking that one out, and using against others, that makes it persecution. He's picking parts of the Bible at his discretion to use against others as a weapon of attack (and make no mistake, they are being politically and morally attacked), whereas the scriptures should be used (in their entirety or not at all) for *self* betterment.

I stand by my statements of hypocritical persecution.

Posted by Tom Trelvik on May 18, 2005 10:55 AM

There are many different kinds of Christians. I don't want to play the blame game, but the "evangelical" Christians are the ones who seem to use the Bible as a weapon. Their unjustified hatred blinds them to their own wrongdoings. From my personal interpretation of the Bible, I don't think it's my place to judge others and I don't think that God would make a person gay if he wanted use to live differently. I'm Black and a woman. Certainly, some will judge me based on this, but I am who I am and I wouldn't want it any other way. The same goes for sexual orientation.
As a Presbyterian (PC USA), people are often shocked when they realize that I'm Christian especially after a round of Christian-bashing. People need to remember that most Christians are not anti-gay, anti-choice, close-minded GW supporters. Many religious people struggle to better understand their gut feelings or personal ethics and somehow compromise this with their faith. Gay rights activists can make even more political advances and increase society’s compassion (and inevitably, it’s acceptance) by targeting this group.

Posted by Audrey on May 25, 2005 01:05 AM

I am aware this argument ended ages ago, but I'm doing a report in my religion class, and as I am in year 10 at current, I get very annoyed with certain things people say. The report has to be on a moral issue, and I have chosen homosexuality. I myself am heterosexual and have no doubts about it, but I tend to get fired up about gays because it confounds me to no end why people are so against that type of relationship.

When I told my religion teacher my chosen moral issue, he told me, "Now make sure that you use the bible as your influence, and try to get it across the class that homosexual relationships are a sin." All I remember is getting up and leaving the room.

I have no homosexual friends, but I get defensive and annoyed when people try to enforce their opinion on me. And about the homosexual disscussion, I have come up with a conclusion.

1. Everyone has the right to express their sexuality, whether it be gay or straight. NO ONE has the right or the privelige to criticise another's sexuality, and that INCLUDES the bible.
2. People who have homophobia are wrong. Most of the time the gay people they target are not affecting them or their community; they have a personal problem with it, and should be ashamed.
3. The bible believes homosexuality is wrong. The wrong thing is that the bible has put this idea in everyone's head that gays are sinning because they are different.

Be free to critise my opinion. Be that as it may, I will not alter my thoughts. However, if anyone would like to lend my assignment a helping hand [and I would love one] e-mail me at codfish_86@hotmail.com.

I won't stand for people critising the gay community. Even if I'm their only speaker, at least the homosexuals of my school will be represented. And I will never bow down to the likes of my homophobic religion teacher, if you can even call him that.

Posted by Mika on August 22, 2005 03:34 AM