anti-gay biblical interpretation is a choice, too

Good morning. Oh how nice it is to get a full night’s sleep. I feel so much better and even kind of looking forward to the day’s work — grading the first 23 or 24 of my students’ research papers.

But first my mind’s been spinning a bit about homosexuality and Christianity. My friend Chanel asked me to help her out with a paper she’s thinking of writing, more specifically with help arguing that Christianity is simply wrong when it condemns homosexual relationships. (Side note: her request was also kind of cool because her ideas for her paper actually coincide with some inchoate new ideas for my Charlotte Gilman paper. (I was writing on Gilman’s Herland. Now I’m probably going to move over to The Crux.)

Anyway! I made a list of the best books by biblical scholars and theologians supporting full inclusion and equality for gay Christians (I have only two books from a Jewish point of view and none yet from a Moslem view) to give to her.  I’ll probably post it later. It’s long.

I also looked for videos that could give Chanel a quick overview of the issues and the “clobber passages.”  Came across this one from a West Wing episode. I remember this.

I can’t help but love that. It’s a powerful scene. But I also can’t help but sigh and think… “Well, that’s good, but it ain’t gonna convince many anti-gay Christians.” It’s rather a straw-man argument. It just focuses on Leviticus. By leaving off the other “clobber” passages — in Genesis, Romans, Corinthians, Timothy, etc — at the most it would only put a dent in one-seventh or so of the argument that the bible condemns homosexual relationships.  It’s really Paul’s epistle to the Romans that’s the harder one to deal with. I think all of the other passages — they can be pretty easily interpreted as talking about non-consensual relationships or about something other than same-sex relations altogether. But Paul is a little harder to deal with.

I actually think that, in Romans 1 and 2, Paul is trying to get his (mainly Jewish) readers to realize their own arrogance and sin when they condemn “those pagans” and their horrible practices. (Here is theologian James Alison’s version of this argument.) But Paul’s thinking is just in general harder to deal with — if you are someone who values Paul’s views, of course. (If not, like the creator of this excellent video called “Homosexuality and Christianity,” you can just say “Paul is wrong,” and that solves the problem.)

Anyway! Where was I? Oh, just that I love this West Wing clip, but it’s kind of a straw-man argument. Or, it only address one facet of anti-gay biblical interpretation.

And finally, since I really gotta get to my day’s worth of grading, I just wanted to post this one quick thought, and make myself wait until tonight to say anymore.

It just occurred to me that we could see biblical interpretation the same way many religionists see homosexuality.

The anti-gay interpretation of scripture is the default interpretation, really. It’s the non-thinking interpretation. It is what has become the automatic assumption of centuries (though many passages that are used now to condemn homosexuality, for centuries were used to condemn other practice).  In other words, relatively few people come to the conclusion, after studying a pericope or book of scripture that homosexual relationships are abominations. Instead they start out with that assumption. Not that anti-gay or even semi-objective interpreters (though who really is objective?) don’t study the scripture and still come to the same conclusion. They do. NT Wright is a theologian whom I greatly admire,and who has studied the New Testament in the kind of depth that few on the planet over the centuries ever has or ever will, but who still thinks we are called to be at least highly skeptical of homosexual relationships. Wright is a notable exception to my rule. But the default interpretation of the “clobber” passages is that “homosexuality is a sin.”

So, it occurred to me to say to those who still interpret the scriptures the default way need to be reminded — maybe even preached to? — that interpretation is a choice.

The anti-gay religionists’ logic is this: “Homosexuality is a choice. Just because it’s automatic for you doesn’t mean it’s not a sin, and doesn’t mean you didn’t sin by choosing it.” Assumption / warrant: homosexuality is a sin.

But the same logic could be applied to back to those anti-gay religionists: “Anti-gay interpretation of the Bible is a choice. Just because it’s automatic for you doesn’t mean it’s not a sin, and doesn’t mean you didn’t sin by choosing it.” Assumption / warrant: homophobia is a sin.

Heheh, I like that. It works. It’s kind of an example of “reverse rhetoric.”

And now,  to grading…


70% of African-Americans voted to “eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry” (Prop 8)

After the elation of Tuesday night, the depression of this statistic I read last night:

As reported by the LA Times, exit polls find that seventy percent of African-American voters in California voted to “eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry.”

A lot of Obama/Yes-on-8 voters? The Associated Press exit polls show that African Americans and Latinos backed Proposition 8 in good numbers. Details here from AP:

California’s black and Latino voters, who turned out in droves for Barack Obama, also provided key support in favor of the state’s same-sex marriage ban. Seven in 10 black voters backed a successful ballot measure to overturn the California Supreme Court’s May decision allowing same-sex marriage, according to exit polls for The Associated Press.

More than half of Latino voters supported Proposition 8, while whites were split. Religious groups led the tightly organized campaign for the measure, and religious voters were decisive in getting it passed. Of the seven in 10 voters who described themselves as Christian, two-thirds backed the initiative. Married voters and voters with children strongly supported Proposition 8. Unmarried voters were heavily opposed.

— Shelby Grad

One commenter to the LA Times story said:

As a Canadian I am blown away that your neighbour can decide your human rights for you. That just would not fly here at all. An inclusive and human-rights based society is the only one that will survive. How oppressive is your nation!! I am so sad for you.

Yes, we’re sad for ourselves, too. But, of course, for anti-gay voters, Jax’s statement would simply beg the question as to whether marriage is a human right (for anyone and everyone, in other words).

But, yes… very sad. So when I read this post by Thomas on Feministe, entitled “No, We Can’t,” I had to say I felt the same pessimism:

We always know it’s wrong, and we always do it again. From the Trail of Tears to Korematsu to Gitmo, from the sellout of Reconstruction to the about-face on marriage equality, we so often do the wrong thing. We’re always sorry … after the fact. But so often when we’re at the point of doing the right thing, we turn our backs and do the wrong thing.

I keep writing “we.” I have to tell my children that we fail, that we do the wrong thing. This is a representative government; a whole polity. We is not the United States of Blue States. We rejected secession, and buried 660,000 people to make all of us live under the same Constitution. We are Massachusetts, but We are Mississippi. We are Washington, but We are Missouri. And today We are all California. And We failed.

No We can’t.

But, again, I’m that pessimistic not so so much because Prop 8 passed. I think I’m KIND OF used to the back and forth of these decisions / propositions related to gay issues, over the last ten years. But I’m pessimistic because a majority of African-American and Latino voters voted to “eliminate” some other group’s rights.  That is deeply depressing.

But then it all just reminds me how much persuasion on this issue will have to be based on ethical and/or religious grounds, not on civic or democratic grounds. Too many people simply do not respond to the “civil rights” argument. For them homosexuality, as one commenter to this LA Times story said, “is just not right.”  And another commentor said that analogies to the civil rights movement were “disingenuous.”

So obviously any attempt to sway voters will have to argue on the level of morality and religion. Swaying judges and legislators, I would hope, I would think, is another matter. But for voters, American voters — gotta argue that homosexuality “is right,” not “it is a right.”  Sounds a harder argument, but it’ll work much better in the end.

Religion is not inherently homophobic. Religion is a rich mix of conservative and liberal tendencies, of institutional and prophetic voices. Right now really only the former of those sides is mobilized and vocal. There is another side. Another voice. And it’s just as spiritually and theologically powerful. More so, I’d say.

pathos and perspective on prop 8

Okay, just a couple more Prop 8 things. This one is another example, maybe, of “reverse rhetoric” — in the sense of re-casting a proposition from another (in this case, historical) perspective. Maybe I need a new term: perspective rhetoric? Hmm, anyway… I wonder if this one would/could be more effective (and affective) than the one in my previous post (the one imagining a commercial against inter-racial marriage in 2008). This one got to me more. What does anyone else think?

And this one is pretty good, a combination of pathos, logos, and historical perspective. And ethos.

And this one strikes me as an even better example of pathos as well as logos.

Jon Stewart, Sonja Eddings Brown, Chuck and Larry

I caught this Jon Stewart segment on TV this morning, about California’s Prop 8. (Sorry, can’t figure out how to embed it — don’t think wordpress allows it :( )

November 3, 2008: I Now Denounce You Chuck & Larry


Pretty funny, though I wish Jon Stewart hadn’t ended it the way he did (using the stereotype of homosexuals as predatory), but…

Two things, though. First, this Sonja Eddings Brown statement that

We do know that since the dawn of time, and through current studies, children do best when they come from a low conflict home with a mother and a father

— yikes, that is one of the most pernicious myths out there. Or one of the most perniciously mis-used ideas out there. I have looked at a few of these studies (when I was working at the YVCC writing center, tutoring students who were writing arguments about gay marriage), and none of these studies came to any other conclusion but that emotional and economic stability were the key to the welfare of children. Not the genitals, or even gender, of the parents. And so the reason “a low conflict home with a mother and a father” works well for children is because 1) it’s low conflict (by which I assume Brown means “emotionally stable”), and 2) there’s a father, and because men tend to be more economically stable, a father in the household tends to create more economic stability, and 3) having two parents means more economic and emotional stability (two wager earners and/or two nurturers and supporters).  In other words, if these researchers surveyed a statistically significant sampling of all make-ups of couples, they would find that it is the economic and emotional stability of the family which nurtures children, and nothing else. Or, to put it yet another way, these researchers might then conclude that father-father families tend to be the ones most advantageous to children — because there’s emotional stability (two parents) and because there’s economic stability (two male parents, two male incomes = much higher chance of economic stability). But then we’d have to ban mother-father marriages and mother-mother marriages. But if that’s the logic…

Also, even IF the “mother and father” hypothesis were true (i.e., if it were somehow proven that mother-father parents tend to do better than father-father parents or mother-mother parents)… even then, the reasoning there is still basically, “We should only allow people to marry who have the best chance of nurturing children.” Then a whole hec of a lot of people should be banned. We’d have to start restricting marriage licenses to those who don’t make enough money, who are not emotionally stable enough. Hmmm, gets pretty messy! But we wouldn’t do that. We’d realize we had no right to do that. But why are a majority of California voters doing it now? Because in this case, it’s a scapegoating mechanism. It’s “society is having trouble with our families. Hmmm, must be SOME body’s fault. Let’s blame the homosexuals.” In other words, when it’s one class of people, another class of people can somehow delude themselves into thinking taking-away-rights is okay. But when it’s not a class of people, we have harder time doing it (fortunately), and we’re more likely to wake up and realize we don’t have the right to restrict others’ rights.

So, it’s just sad. It’s sad that more people don’t realize that our work ought to be toward creating emotional and economic stability for our children, not scapegoating a certain class of people (a class which includes me) for our failure to create that stability.

Okay! So anyway, the other thing is that I think the end of Jon Stewart’s segment is a great segue into this next video. The last two speakers, two black men, who want to keep homosexuals from having rights… But maybe a video like this one MIGHT help them wake up a bit. Maybe?

I am so interested in this whole rhetorical move of “reverse rhetoric.” That’s the loose term I using to describe it — i.e., any way in which an proposition is cast from a new perspective — either from an opposite side’s view or from another time period’s view (like this one) — in order to help hearers / readers to realize their own previous blindness.

prop-8-free-speechOkay, finally, don’t get me on this whole “Prop 8 = free speech” thing. That is one of the clearest examples I know of people using one argument to whitewash their real argument. In other words, it’s really, “I don’t like gay people. I’m afraid of them. But I know I can’t say that outright. So I’ll just put the focus on my free speech and not on what I’m actually saying.”

20-year-old Sean Kennedy: another young gay man beaten to death

Matthew Shepherd isn’t the only victim. Laramie isn’t the only killing field.

Pray hard. Educate well. Wish I had more to say.

A Message
From the Moderator’s Office
of Metropolitan Community Churches


June 1, 2007

Dear Friend:

I’m writing today to invite you to reach out with a word of love and encouragement.

Let me explain…

Just two weeks ago, 20-year old Sean Kennedy of Greenville, South Carolina was enjoying an evening out with friends. His friends and family describe him as happy, loving, energetic, personable, friendly, and caring.

As Sean left a “teen night” event at a local gay bar, a car pulled up, a young man hopped out, and Sean was beaten by an 18-year old in yet another senseless anti-gay hate crime.

Sean died the next day from injuries he received in that attack.

I was deeply saddened by Sean’s tragic death, and I was also deeply touched by the words of Sean’s mother, Elke Kennedy.

Listen to what she told a local TV station:

“When Sean told me he was gay, he said, ‘Mom, I understand if you don’t want to love me any more.’ And I told him there is nothing, ever, that you can do to make me stop loving him.” Then she added, “If your son or daughter is different, you need to support them for who they really need to be.”

So today, I’m simply writing to invite you to share your love and condolences with this mother, who loved her gay son so beautifully and unconditionally. Will you send her a word of encouragement and let her know she is in our prayers during her time of sadness and loss?

Notes and cards may be sent to her by postal mail at: Elke Kennedy, 7 Brandywine Court, Greenville, SC 29615. You may send e-mails to Elke at

One more note:

On Sunday evening, June 3, a public vigil will take place in Greenville to honor Sean’s life. This vigil is being organized by Rev. Donna Stroud, pastor of MCC of the Upstate, along with other religious leaders and political groups, and Sean’s family will be present.

Below, I am including a copy of a public statement by Rev. Elder Arlene Ackerman and myself which will be read at the vigil.

Won’t you join me in prayers that this vigil, along with the public attention it will receive, will help to motivate the state legislature to adopt a hate crimes bill? South Carolina is one of only four U.S. states that has never adopted any type of hate crimes law.

Thank you for taking a moment to respond to this request, and thank you for the many ways you share God’s unconditional love every day. “By your love for one another, everyone will know you are my disciples.” (The words of Jesus, from the Gospel of John 13:35)

Grace and peace,


Rev. Nancy L. Wilson
Metropolitan Community Churches

creating a world of complexities and continuums

Spring break week, so I’m off work (though no pay :-() and I get some juicy reading and writing time. I should be doing some laundry or picking up this cluttered office, but it’s almost noon and I’m still sitting, reading blogs and articles and “playing with” my own blog.

I just came across Michael Faris giving his response to Nancy Sommer’s “Between the Drafts” (“Response to Sommers” Oct 30, 2005). It reminded me of the two articles (by Elbow and by Bartholomae — see citations below) that I read yesterday. This is the part of Michael’s response-to-Sommers that caught me:

…I propose that students write themselves into papers by using their authority over the ambiguity of issues and the uncertainty they feel. Researchers struggle through issues, and I think that perhaps when that researcher’s struggle shows through, that the paper is best. Who wants to read hard-lined black and white arguments? If we’re seriously trying to get students to think critically and create a world of complexities and continuums instead of binary relationships, then perhaps it’s best to dip ourselves in uncertainty, to find our authority in this messy goo.

Two things. One is that the part about a researcher’s struggle showing through reminded me of Bartholomae’s article. At the end of his essay, Bartholomae says something like, “I should have a conclusion but I’m not sure what it is yet.” He finishes his ending by re-clarifying his questions and setting forth his main point, but — I don’t know — he does it in a way that makes me feel as if, yes, he’s convinced of it, he feels strongly about it, but he’s still asking questions, and he’s still very open to Elbow’s (and others’) views. I thought, “Hmmmm! I like this!” I liked the open-ness, the recognition of the complexity. (Maybe that’s because neither article brought me at all close to a conclusion, either.)

I used to like “hard-lined black and white arguments,” to be honest (maybe I still do in certain contexts, on certain subjects). I’ll have to think about how much of that comes from my background in writing theology papers. I don’t think they were particularly more “black and white” than, say, philosophy papers. But they were the traditional argument where sounding confident was expected.

The other thing was that I liked Michael’s further comment about trying to create “a world of complexities and continuums instead of binary relationships” too. Reminded me of homophobic theology and biblical interpretation. (I recently lead a Bible study on “The Bible and Homosexuality” and so these issues are on my mind a lot lately.) Homophobia strikes me as such a good example of binary thinking, or, more particularly of “us and them” thinking — the binary of “us and them,” “gay and straight,” “righteousness and sin,” “pure and impure,” etc. We just LIKE to think binarily. It’s easier. We want to protect ourselves and our resources from those “others.” And the best, simplest, easiest way to do that is just to name them as “others,” as “them,” etc. I don’t think anti-gay thinkers think their thinking is necessarily binary. It probably appears quite complex and well-grounded to them. But I still think what appears to be complexity and sound thinking is really symptoms of binary fear, for lack of a better phrase. Again — “us and them.”

Reminds me of what could be called binary Bible interpretation, especially of biblical notions of “sin” and “impurity.” The Greeks had two words (at least): “evil” and “unclean” (both translated “evil” in most English New Testaments (though I haven’t done a systematic check)). The Hebrews also had two concepts: the sinful and the unclean/impure. These are complexities within the 21st century use of the word “sin” but they almost always get simplified into the one concept of “sin.” So, yeah – another example of binary thinking gone amuck, binary thinking damaging our relationships with each other.

I was going to say I don’t have Sommer’s article, but I just found it amongst the CCC journals I picked up a couple weeks ago (yay!). So maybe I’ll get it read today.

Sommers, Nancy. “Between the Drafts.” College Composition and Communication 43 (1992): 23-31.

Yesterday’s articles:

Bartholomae, David. “Writing With Teachers: A Conversation With Peter Elbow.” College Composition and Communication 46 (1995): 62-71.

Elbow, Peter. “Being a Writer vs. Being an Academic: A Conflict in Goals.” College Composition and Communication 46 (1995): 72-83.

the way to insult a man? treat him like a woman!

Deb and I watched Kevin Kline in In and Out this weekend. I know stereotypes are the unfortunate source of a lot of humor, but I liked the way this film used stereotypes to make fun of stereotypes. And to still be just a funny movie.

The “teapot” scene — where Kevin Kline’s character is listening to a “how to be a macho man” tape series (I call it the “teapot scene” because he unconsciously stands with his hand on his hip like a teapot which is, of course, oh-so non-masculine!) — has a couple typical examples of insulting a man by calling him a woman. In this case, it was something like, “What are you, a sissy?” and “you pussy!”

And, of course, that phenomenon simply reflects the larger treatment of women as second, as less-than. I don’t think there’s anything particularly interesting about that linguistic/speech phenomenon, except the need to get more people to be conscious of what’s going on, of how women are demeaned when men are insulted this way. I know I hadn’t thought about it, hadn’t noticed it, until the last ten years or so.

Anyway, I want to make a note to myself to watch (or at least read the study guide for) The Smell of Burning Ants, a film by Jay Rosenblatt. Chanel mentioned it last Thursday afternoon, after our staff meeting, when she, Dodie, Jeremy and I were staying after, chatting (about the Vagina Monologues, etc). (Thanks, Chanel!)

The Smell of Burning Ants is a haunting documentary on the pains of growing up male. It explores the inner and outer cruelties that boys perpetrate and endure. The film raises gender issues and provokes the viewer to reflect on how our society can deprive boys of wholeness.

Through formative events of a boy’s life, we come to understand the ways in which men can become emotionally disconnected and alienated from their feminine side. The common dismissal that “boys will be boys” evolves into the chilling realization that boys frequently become angry, destructive and emotionally disabled men. The Smell of Burning Ants illustrates how boys are socialized by fear, power and shame.

The burning of ants is one of the metaphors for the impact that boyhood violence has on us all. Though the film focuses on the painful aspects of male socialization, it also incorporates subtle humor and moments of boyhood celebration. The Smell of Burning Ants is entertaining as well as educational and provides a unique opportunity to begin the process of healing the wounds of childhood.

Finally, it also fits with the discussion we’ve been having in our Bible Study group on Thursday nights (The Bible and Homosexuality) — about Genesis 19, 2 Samuel 10, and Judges 19-21, about women treated as much more expendable than men, about the way to dominate a man being treating him like a woman (e.g., penetrating him), etc.

Come to think of it, it is interesting (for lack of a word that has more sadness in it) how our language hides — hides in place sight, that is — probably all of our society’s cruelty, fear, and hate. Of course good writing comes from learning how to pay attention to words. But so does all clear and healthy thinking. So does all our attempts to rise above ingrained and insidious and invisible sin.