Thursday, March 8, 2012

Captain Kirk & The Final Frontier


Marriage is almost as old as dirt, and it was defined in the garden between Adam and Eve. One man, one woman for life till death do you part. So I would never attempt to try to redefine marriage. And I don't think anyone else should either. So do I support the idea of gay marriage? No, I don't...

I think that it's - it's - it's unnatural. I think that it's - it's detrimental, and ultimately destructive to so many of the foundations of civilization.

Kirk Cameron, March 5, 2012, during a CNN interview

I'm a bit uncomfortable with making much out of a CNN interview with an actor talking about politics, but Kirk Cameron's comments last Friday are important because they mirror much of the understanding of "marriage" and "homosexuality" coming from the uber-powerful, privileged and wealthy Evangelical community in the United States (he may be coming to a venue near you). Cameron's statements have been critiqued and lambasted by plenty so, predictably, he issued a statement to ABC News, explaining his position:

I spoke as honestly as I could, but some people believe my responses were not loving toward those in the gay community. That is not true. I can assuredly say that it’s my life’s mission to love all people. I should be able to express moral views on social issues especially those that have been the underpinning of Western civilization for 2,000 years — without being slandered, accused of hate speech, and told from those who preach ‘tolerance’ that I need to either bend my beliefs to their moral standards or be silent when I’m in the public square.

Here's what's problematic with both what he said and how he responded:

1. First of all, using language like "unnatural," "detrimental," and "ultimately destructive" to describe a commitment (under oath!) of covenantal love and forgiveness between two people is awfully tough to defend in 2012. If he was referring to the consequences of high rates of heterosexual marital divorce in Western civilization that would be one thing. But he wasn't.

2. As far as redefining old concepts and institutions, isn't this precisely what we ought to strive to do when events on the ground call for our society to rethink them (think Galileo, Martin Luther, the Framers of the American Constitution, Frederick Douglass, Lucretia Mott & Martin Luther King)? We know far more about sexual orientation and the lives of gays and lesbians than we did even a generation ago. As more and more of our gay brothers and lesbian sisters courageously "come out" we are observing that their lives aren't much different than the rest of us. Some are adept at loving and learning and parenting. Some aren't. Just like heteros. Tradition can certainly be important. But not always.

3. During the "controversial" debate over slavery in the 19th century, there came a point in time when those in the West who supported slavery stopped using arguments like "the curse of Ham" or that it was the necessary "white man's burden" (etc). Those arguments went from (A) being accepted by most to (B) questionable to most to (
C) straight-up laughable to most. What we are observing right now in 21st century America is the first-fruits of a societal shift from B to C. Even some conservative Evangelicals (and a lot of younger Evangelicals) who think homosexuality in all forms is "sin" are no longer validating these types of comments. This, I believe, is evidenced by many conservative Christians who have a history of passion on this issue, but are now giving up. This was Michelle Bachmann's strategy on Piers Morgan this week when he asked her about gay marriage. First she gave a very un-Bachmann-like response: "I’m here as a member of Congress; I’m not here as anybody’s judge." Then, after being prodded: "I think I’ve had enough of this conversation. We’ve beaten this horse to death.” Look for this strategy to become more and more popular among conservative Evangelicals and Catholics in the years to come. They will stop the rhetoric, not because people are questioning, but because so many are laughing.

4. Cameron is adamant that calling the gay community unnatural, detrimental and destructive is not unloving. He defends his words with a shallow (albeit sincere) plea that it is his "life’s mission to love all people." I do not doubt that Cameron attempts to love all people. But even Cameron falls short of this mission from time to time. Of course, Cameron surely claims that he's just "speaking the truth in love," just like the Bible tells him to. But the truth in love ought to be spoken to those we know intimately, not generalized groups of people, especially those who have been overwhelmingly bullied and scapegoated throughout history. Love compels us to tell our alcoholic husband/father that his lifestyle is "destructive" and "detrimental," but real love keeps us from proclaiming generalized groups of people (Nazis and child molesters are exceptions) enemies of civilization.

5. And this leads to my last concern. When we analyze the future of our civilization (and certainly we must), we ought to prioritize our issues: what are those problems that the American community--the entire human community--must come together and address? As a Christian, committed to performing the biblical Script, shouldn't Cameron commit himself, as Jesus did, to energizing the poor & oppressed while criticizing those whose wealth, power & privilege were "earned" on the backs of the poor & oppressed (and this is precisely the significance of what Jesus taught and lived, leading to his arrest, torture & execution).

What is as old as dirt, since the beginning of "civilization," is, in fact, the constant oppression of "the least of these." This is what Jesus came to put an end to, rooting himself in the prophetic strand of the Hebrew Bible (the call for God's People to strive for peace and justice as a conscience & model to the world). Followers of Jesus are called to do likewise. Indeed, this task is "the gospel of the kingdom," the great commission proclaimed to the world.

And so, the Final Frontier of Western Christianity is a choice between two roads that diverge in a yellow wood: Will Christians take the road of giving voice and privilege to women, the poor, ethnic & sexual minorities, "unskilled" workers, the Global South, the physically and mentally handicapped and the undocumented? Or will Christians, as the past 30 years attests, go the route of Cameron (and a large chunk of the conservative Evangelical church he represents) and fight for policies that demonize and demoralize the least of these? If we have the courage to take the one less traveled by, it will make all the difference.

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