lgbt

Here’s the Story of Gay Rights and a Brady: Why the Definition of Religion Matters

“…we toss the word ‘Christian’ around and write it into our bylaws like it means the same thing to everyone… It doesn’t– and we know it. So why aren’t we talking about this issue?”

I posted this quote from the article Theological Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell written by Danny Spears last week.  Some time back I also posted an article of my own called What is a Christian and Who Gets to Decide?  Yesterday, in fact, I posted thoughts that came to me on reading a book review.  The reviewer felt as though the depiction in my novel Angel of a Christian church did not fully reflect the reality of the many different types of Christianity that exist.

Today as I was reading an article on the actress who played Cindy Brady in The Brady Bunch, it became clear to me why the answer to this question matters.

Susan Olsen decided to express her feelings on the marriage equality momentum this week via Facebook,  She posted an emotional tribute to Robert Reed, the actor who played her father on the series.

“Bob was a family man. Had he been allowed to form a relationship with another man, he would have been the best husband ever and might still be alive,” she wrote.

She went on to say that because she realized that the treatment of her important father figure by religion was wrong, she could never be religious.

“I could never worship, let alone LOVE, a God who would put my beloved father into the fires of Hell because he loved men. THAT is a God who deserves disdain. THAT is a God who must be ignored. THAT is a concept of God that must go away just as surely s humans have shed their prehensile tails.”

In this, I would agree as would many people who consider themselves to be “religious.”  It is frustrating that one form of Christianity has managed to become synonymous with the word “religion” in the minds of many people.  “Is religion good or bad” is a nonsense question.  (I have written on this subject before.  See for example “Is Religion Good for You?“)  No one practices a generic thing called “religion.”

What is more, a minority of Christians have come to create the picture of that religion for everyone.  Almost every book that I read on the Bible or Jesus scholarship spends a great deal of time arguing against the proposition that the Bible should be approached as the literal, inerrant word of God (God’s instruction manual, if you will) even though, as I have mentioned here before, a poll done by a Christian organization of Christians showed that only 30% of self-identified Christians approach the Bible in that way. Why is it that almost every discussion of Christianity addresses a minority view as though it is the default assumption?

Drama sells, and it serves the purpose of entertainment driven news media to show religion and the gay community as polar opposites, to juxtapose a guy in drag at the Pride parade with a spokesperson for the most conservative Christian group.

Religious people should object whenever such spokespeople claim to speak for “Christians.”

It probably doesn’t matter in the greater scheme of things if “Cindy Brady” has shunned religion.

But I do think that there is value in people coming together in community to celebrate their sense of being a “family,” and at least in theory, to put the needs of the group above their own.  There is value in sharing a sense of wonder at this marvelous thing called life, to talk about transcendence and mystery with other people instead of contemplating it alone.

Susan Olsen, I was moved by your love for Robert Reed, and by your heartfelt tribute to him.  A lot of religious people will be too.

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A “Destructive” Love Affair: Empathy for Lord Alfred Douglas

ImageLately I find I am  fascinated by Lord Alfred Douglas.  (This may be the only thing I will ever have in common with Oscar Wilde.)

It began when I read his correspondence with George Bernard Shaw.  Douglas was in his 60s at the time, his beauty faded, his infamous temper cooled a bit.  Yet I have rarely encountered a personality that asserts itself with such force from beyond the grave.

Bosie (as he was called) has a Peter Pan quality which Shaw dubs his “infantile complex,” a term that Bosie embraced.

He has tantrums, he flatters, he is vain and easily hurt, he begs to be loved and appreciated as much as he appreciates his own worth.  Although he is self-aggrandizing, he is also witty and self-aware.  He has a sense of humor about his prodigious character flaws.

What I loved most about the correspondence between the far right Douglas and the far left Shaw is that it is a story you don’t hear much these days, the story of two people who disagree on everything and who continue to hold great affection for one another.  I found the correspondence to be uplifting for this reason.

Recently I was driving, and in front of me was an SUV covered in bumper stickers espousing the opposite of everything I believe to be moral and good.  My first thought was “I hate that person.”  After a moment’s reflection I realized that I probably would really like the person if I met him.  There are a lot of people who I love who have views that oppose my own.

Arlo Guthrie put it this way: “I came out of that whole time (the 1960s) thinking I’d only met two kinds of people, that’s people who give a damn and people that don’t.  And the truth is you could find both of those kinds of people on every side of every issue, and in the long run I thought you might even have more in common with people who care about stuff than you have with people who side with you on an issue or two as they’re going through time.”

Douglas and Shaw were two people who were bonded in affection as a pair of souls who gave a damn about stuff.

Without falling into complete fuzzy moral relativism, the triumph of love over ideology is an important and compelling story, as compelling as the triumph of the right over the wrong.  If we were reminded of this more often, maybe the world would be a better place.

After I wolfed down the Shaw/Douglas book like a bag of cookies, I wanted to know more about Bosie.  As I read more I found myself in a love/hate relationship with him.  There are sides of him that are distasteful and sides that are noble, romantic and beautiful.  He seems to be everything at once and all of it in the extreme.

He had a fierce judgmental streak which is easier to recognize when he is arguing from the conservative side, but it was always there even in his youth when he was proclaiming, to the extent that Victorian society allowed, the beauty of same sex love and carnal pleasure.

His most notable flaws are his vanity and arrogance.  It was easy to get on his good side, just complement his poetry and he would be impressed by your wisdom.  I can’t tell you why, but I find his arrogance amusing and charming.

In his day, there were those who detested Oscar Wilde for his pretension, vanity and arrogance.  We love him for saying “I have nothing to declare but my genius.”

Bosie does not get off so easy.

Wilde must have had a certain wink, a certain tone, that made these boasts seem charming.  Contemporary accounts before the trial that brought Wilde down seem to suggest that Bosie had a similar vain charm.  Many people describe them as being mirror images of each other.

This is from The Green Carnation, a novel that satirized Bosie as Lord Reggie and Wilde as Mr. Amarinth:

“I want you to tell me which is original, Mr. Amarinth or Lord Reggie?” “Oh! they both are.” “No, they are too much alike. When we meet with the Tweedledum and Tweedledee in mind, one of them is always a copy, an echo of the other.” “Do you think so? Well, of course Mr. Amarinth has been original longer than Lord Reggie, because he is nearly twenty years older.”

Together the two men partook of the illicit pleasures of London’s seamy underworld of male prostitutes. If it was Douglas who introduced Wilde to this risky pass time, there is no reason to suppose Wilde went kicking and screaming.

Wilde often wrote about how he wanted to experience everything in life, that all experiences were material for his art.  If Bosie was more reckless and bold (all evidence suggests he was, as he was protected by his social class) that had to be a big part of the attraction.

I have to admit that the more I read, the more of a love/hate relationship I have with Oscar Wilde as well.  His character flaws are dismissed much more easily because of his literary ability.  Every artist may be driven, on some level, to become appreciated enough for his art that his sins are forgiven in time.

In case you are not familiar with what happened to Oscar Wilde, here is a quick summation.  Lord Alfred Douglas’s father was known for his violent temper and his vindictiveness.  He was so incensed at the relationship between his son and Oscar Wilde, who had long been whispered to be a sodomite, that he made it his mission to keep Bosie away from the playwright.  He basically stalked Wilde and his son until Wilde made the disastrous decision to sue him for libel for calling him a sodomite, something that in this time was considered a horrible crime punishable by a long prison term.  It seems obvious in retrospect that it was insane to sue him for libel over something that was true.  But this was the only thing they thought would get him to leave them alone, and they seem to have believed that Wilde’s wit and charm could win over any jury and that social class would protect them.  Nothing could be proven about Douglas and Wilde’s relationship and the prostitutes were without power and status and speaking about what they did would implicate themselves.  They counted on a code of silence, and underestimated Bosie’s father’s determination to turn up evidence.  The Douglas family squabble set this all in motion, but Wilde was not imprisoned for his relationship with Bosie but for his activities with prostitutes.

People always describe the relationship between Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas as a “destructive love affair.”  The implication is that the love affair itself was at fault.  That it was Wilde’s weakness for his young lover, an obsession, that led him into this snare.  I don’t believe this is a fair way of looking at things.

It is certainly possible to believe that Bosie was not a good match for Wilde and that he could have done much better for himself.  They fought and broke up and came back together time and time again, but many couples relate this way.

It would have been the easiest thing in the world for Wilde to say, “Your father is making my life hell and this relationship is not worth it.”  He wasn’t willing to do that.  Through all sorts of external pressure and private conflicts of their own, they were determined to stick together.  With Oscar Wilde and Bosie Douglas we call this destructive obsession.  Yet in a straight couple wouldn’t we call it something else?  Wouldn’t we call that commitment?

“The Angels Look Too Gay”

Because it involves keywords “angel” and “gay,” (As does my novel Angel) I stumbled across this story from 2010 about a priest in Santo Domingo who wanted to destroy a mural in his parish because the angels look “too gay.”  This happened in 2010, and I did some basic searching to try to figure out what ever happened, but I didn’t find any follow up stories.  Anyone know if the priest got his way?

“The Angels Look Too Gay”

“It’s Not Me, It’s the Bible.”

An article from the Huffington Post came through my Twitter feed this evening that compels me to get theological again. The article is sadly typical and tells the story of a man who was told he could not play music in his church any more because he was gay.

The minister was quick to say they are not a “church of hate” and that the musician, Chad, is still welcome to come to services.  Do the people who make these kind of statements really believe that the person will take them up on the offer?  “Sorry about the whole being damned to hell thing, but if you want to come worship with us, it’s fine.  Just want to make it clear we disapprove of you.  See you on Sunday!”  They can’t really imagine such a thing, can they?

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been delving deeply into the letters of Paul lately.  It is Paul who provides the New Testament ammunition for people who feel strongly that homosexuality is a sin.  (By any way you count references to homosexuality are few in the Bible.  None attributed to Jesus. Our emphasis on it is of an entirely different proportion than it is in the Bible.)

Some will point to Leviticus and Deuteronomy for support, but because Christians have not found it necessary to abide by all of the other Jewish laws included there: dietary laws, temple ritual and circumcision, the argument that we should be bound by only the laws from these Old Testament books that happen to deal with homosexuality is not particularly strong.

Most Christians who feel that homosexuality is a sin try to make a distinction between the desire and the act.  It is not the person, it is the activity.  If they would only stop doing those dirty deeds there would be no problem with them being gay.  The pastor in the Huffington Post article takes this position:

“We love our neighbors as ourselves. No matter what you hear or read, that’s what we practice here.” he said.  “…The difference with Chad is that he switched from struggling with his sin to embracing it.”

Here is the problem:  Paul specifically condemns homosexual desire.  In Romans Paul says that as a punishment for idol worship: “God gave them (the Greeks) over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.”  (Romans 1:27-28)

It is shameful lust not only shameful action.

But don’t get too comfortable.  It is not only homosexual desire that is a sin for Paul, it is any desire, the desire for status, the desire for wealth, and good old fashioned heterosexual desire.

When it comes to the last on that list, Paul believes that the ideal is for all people to remain celibate as he is.  “It is good for a man not to touch a woman.”

The best thing he has to say about marriage is that it is a lesser evil than promiscuity.  It is better not to be married, he says, but “as a concession” if men are not able to control their desires, they should marry and render to their spouses the affection due them. Marriage, in Paul’s mind, is a way to contain desire. “If they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” Being married puts the fire out.  (1 Corinthians 7:1-9)

In Paul’s view humans should not desire anything carnal and of this world, their desire should only be for God.

Straight members of Cross Point Church, do you ever burn with desire for things other than God?  I bet you do.  Do you even try to “struggle with” your desire for your husbands and wives or have you crossed over to embracing your sin?  Do you “struggle with” your desire for more money and status such as better job titles or have you actually started embracing that sin?  Shouldn’t you all be fired from the church?  Be thankful for God’s mercy.

If having no worldly desire except for God seems far too high a burden for human beings, you’re right.  We are not perfect.  We are human beings not angels.

Paul describes the human predicament in Romans: “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”

Paul and Jesus both say, in too many places to cite chapters and verses, that God knows we fall short and he loves us anyway.  We are brothers and sisters and our duty is to love one another.

In Paul’s theology Christ’s sacrifice is the answer to the problem of our complete inability to live up to our highest expectations of ourselves.

Remember that Paul immediately follows Romans 1 with its condemnation of homosexual desire (and lots of other stuff) with Romans 2.

“You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment?”

It is not your place to pass judgment on man, that right belongs to God.

I, personally, do not feel that a Christian has to embrace every part of Paul’s world view.   I happen not to think that desire is sinful, whether homosexual or heterosexual.  The question is whether sexuality is expressed in a spirit of love or exploitation.

But even if you affirm that you must agree with every one of Paul’s beliefs, there is no basis in scripture for defining sin as “pointing out other people’s shortcomings while overlooking your own.”

The main test for how to behave towards others is whether or not you are acting with love.

“For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” (Galatians 5:14)

“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)

So to the people at the church who were involved in the decision detailed in the Huffington Post I would ask: How did Chad Graber feel when you, the members of his community, told him you did not think he was moral enough to share his music with you any more?  Do you think he felt bathed in your love?

200 Years from Now It Will Still Say…

(Joel) Osteen has repeatedly tried to tip toe around his stance on homosexuality, telling Piers Morgan in October of 2011 that he’s not “mad at anybody” and doesn’t “dislike anybody,” while reiterating his belief that the scripture says homosexuality is a sin,” and “two hundred years from now, the Scripture is still going to say that.”

This is a quote from an article on Huffington Post which quotes Osteen as saying that he doesn’t believe heterosexuality is a choice, but he still thinks homosexuality is a sin.

What he says about the text of the Bible being unchanging is true.  We have locked in what we consider to be scripture at this point, and even as society changes the words will not.  So what do you do with texts that are talking about an ancient way of life, about slaves and eunuchs and the demon possessed? Aren’t we fairly happy that we don’t have people performing animal sacrifices in our churches?

Two hundred years from now the Bible will still say: “If any man takes a wife … and evidences of virginity are not found for the young woman, then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones …”

I’m hoping we won’t follow that rule 200 years from now either.

How to Write Dirty Books Without Even Trying

“By taking communion, he was acknowledging the divine nature of his immortal soul. His inner and outer beauty merged and became one, inviolate, complete. Of course, a person’s soul can never truly be possessed either. But unlike physical beauty, it can be shared: a pair of souls in holy, holy communion.”

Is this erotica? Amazon believes it is. So does Google Books. So do a lot of book selling sites.

My novel, Angel, is the story of a Christian minister whose assumptions are challenged when he finds himself falling in love with another man. Not only does Amazon categorize it under “gay erotica” it sometimes comes up with the tag “gay sex” even though the only sexual activity described on the page is kissing.

It never occurred to me that this was what constituted “erotica.” I admit that I don’t have first hand experience of gay male sex, which explains my confusion. In the straight world, for a book to be considered erotic, it has to contain descriptions of actual sex. I had assumed that the same principle would apply when the protagonists were two men. I didn’t know that it was considered explicit sexual content when two men’s lips touch.

Every time I turn around I find another site calling Angel “erotica,” so it must be true. Book sellers are in the book categorizing business, after all. They must know what they are doing.

“Paul leaned in again, and this time their lips touched, tentatively at first. Ian responded, gently teasing Paul’s lips with his own. An invitation and an answer.”  

Erotica.

I have not yet figured out how to capitalize on my salacious infamy. Some friends have suggested that now that it has been explained to me that I am a writer of erotica, I should embrace it—- go all “Fifty Shades of Gay” and make a million dollars. I should build up a following of avid erotica fans and churn out volumes of hot man-on-man action like:

“So they unfolded the futon, pulled out the afghan, and curled up to watch whatever was on TV. Ian rested his head on Paul’s right shoulder with his arm draped across Paul’s chest. Paul lazily ran the fingers of his right hand through Ian’s hair.”

I have been trying to decide what my porn name should be. My name is already Laura Lee. What can I come up with that is better than that? The thing is, I’m just not sure I can handle a gay porn writing career. Why?

Because frankly, gay men, I’m disappointed. All my life I’ve heard so much about your promiscuous sex lives, your freaky three-ways, your glory holes, bondage dens and anonymous encounters in the baths. Who knew that all it takes to get you off is resting your head on another man’s shoulder while you flip through the channels on TV?

You guys are boring! The straights get steamier in the Biblical epics on the Family Channel.

So a career writing gay erotica is not for me.  So let me take one more stab at getting your juices flowing before I retire from my pornography career:

“My personal feeling about why the church tries to promote sex
only within marriage is that ideally it preserves the real life-affirming
kind of sexuality. It’s not just about sensation and your own pleasure, it’s
about connecting to someone else on a deep and serious level. Maybe
churches are clumsy in how they express that sometimes.”
“Clumsy, like saying only straight people can have that.”
“Yeah, clumsy like that.”
“You think two men can have ‘life-affirming’ sex?”
“Yeah, I do. Of course they can.”

Are you breathing heavy?

Now it occurs to me that maybe I am not being fair.  It is possible that it’s not you, gay men, it’s me.

I read an article today on Indie Reader in which author Pavarti K. Tyler discusses the steamy texts of Anais Nin and Henry Miller.

“It isn’t surprising that Nin found it necessary to self publish. Art which challenges peoples’ notions of sexuality is always difficult to find funding for, especially the type which deals with women’s sexuality,” Tyler writes. “Historically in the US, erotica has had tremendous difficulty finding an audience… When she moved to America with her second husband, she found her titles had almost no market and were unavailable to the general public. Meanwhile, Henry Miller’s infamous works ‘Tropic of Cancer’ and ‘Tropic of Capricorn’ (also initially self-published) were achieving critical and financial success. What is interesting is that as crass as Miller’s prose can be, it was always considered ‘literature’, while Nin’s much more poetic style carried the less commercial label: ‘erotica’.”

A couple of years ago I read a novel by a male author.  It was the story of a gay male divinity student.  I can’t recall the author’s name or the title any longer, but what I do remember is that the book opened with the protagonist waking up in the morning after a particularly successful night cruising, and unable to remove his cock ring, still on from the previous night, he wears it to devotion under his robe.  I learned about that book through a review in the gay press.  It was reviewed there, in exactly the way “erotica” is generally not.  It was labeled as LGBT fiction.

So maybe it all comes down to that porn name of mine.  Angel by someone named Laura Lee just sounds like erotica.  So it must be.