Sunday, March 15, 2015

Things are changing, in more ways than you might expect.

Gay marriage is a huge topic in America these days. In the past few months the number of states recognizing gay marriage has increased dramatically and currently more than 70% of Americans live in states where gay and lesbian couples can get married. Soon the US Supreme Court will hear a case from my home state of Tennessee along with cases from Ohio, Kentucky, and Michigan that should determine the fate of same sex marriage in all 50 states. These seem like pretty good times, but along with the good news there are stories about new laws being passed to allow businesses to discriminate against gay and lesbian couples based on the religious beliefs of the business owners. The chief justice of the Alabama supreme court is ordering probate judges in his state to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples in defiance of a federal judges ruling. While some local governments are passing non-discrimination ordinances for their cities that include LGBT persons, states are passing laws to invalidate those protections. Obviously not everything is good, but it seems like everything is changing.

One of the main reasons for the changes we are seeing is the growing acceptance of gays and lesbians by the people of the United States. Poll after pool show majority support for gay marriage across the country, but in some places it seems like this support is progressing at a much slower pace than in others.

Christian churches are some of the places where the wave of tolerance and acceptance we see sweeping the rest of the country still seems more like a small ripple. Churches are becoming more accepting or are at least discussing the issue. I am a member of the United Methodist Church which has been having a rancorous discussion about gays and lesbians in the church for years. It seems that lately it has been making some small but positive moves. Several other denominations have moved towards full acceptance and there is even signs of change in a few evangelical churches.

Why are we seeing so much change so quickly when it comes to marriage equality and LGBT rights? Part of it is simple, the Supreme Court ruling overthrowing the Defense of Marriage Act (which didn't defend any marriages, it just hurt some of them) has allowed a group of law suits to move forward and advance through the court system. Greater awareness of LGBT issues in the general public has increased the knowledge that anyone can have gay friends and gay co-workers and gay family members and we don't want to see people we love mistreated or denied their rights. People are changing their minds about what being gay means, even in churches and this is leading to a lot of positive change. These positive changes have been met with varying levels of backlash leading to a few negative changes. But we can't ignore the fact that gay marriage and growing acceptance of gays and lesbians isn't just changing the world for gays and lesbians. Straight folk and straight institutions are changing as well.

Think back to those churches that have started to change their minds about this issue. This is a difficult thing for them to do, faith and belief are strong things and they do not tend to move quickly. The Bible does have a very few statements about homosexuality that can and normally are taken to mean that homosexuality or homosexual acts are sinful. It is true that the Bible also condemns a lot of other things that most churches seem to be OK with but when you look back it took time for the different denominations to become accepting of these things as well. To further complicate matters today there is a relatively new group within Christianity, fundamentalists.

Fundamentalist Christianity is a fairly new trend when compared to the length of time Christianity has been around. The belief that every word of the Bible is 100% factual has not always been common and the people promoting this idea tend to have a serious problem with homosexuality because it is mentioned in a less than glowing way a few times in the Bible. They are basing their ideas 100% off the text in the Bible and this strikes me as a bit strange. As a Christian I believe that the Bible contains invaluable information on how to live your life and on salvation and forgiveness. So do I follow every word in the Bible? No, I do not, furthermore I don't know of anyone who does. I believe that most Christians understand that the Bible represents a narrative about God. It relays to us the teaching of Jesus Christ. It also talks about a man willing to give his two daughters up to an angry mob so that they will rape them instead of his house guests and that slavery can be acceptable. Most Christians when they read this type of thing realize that it does not follow the narrative about God's love and forgiveness and so they rightly choose to not own slaves or hand their daughters over to people who would harm them. I believe that most Christians realize that a single verse that may have been mistranslated hundreds of years ago or misinterpreted by someone reading it through modern eyes is not as important as understanding the over all story being conveyed to us. Some others don't seem to see it this way. In my opinion they seem to equate the Bible, God's word, with God himself. They forget to worship and praise God and instead spend their time worshiping and praising the Bible. The Bible is a wonderful thing but it should not be seen as God incarnate. To do so would be a form of idolatry which is specifically forbidden in the Bible. We can't turn the Bible into a god made out of paper. It exists to teach us about God, not to replace him. I noticed this in a Time Magazine article linked to earlier in this post;
"The Family Research Council’s vice president Rob Schwarzwalder wrote, 'Those professed Evangelicals who are willing to jettison the Bible’s teaching regarding homosexuality can no longer claim to be persons of the Gospel–Evangelicals.”
Mr. Schwarzwalder doesn't seem to worry about God's teaching of love and forgiveness and acceptance and welcoming, he only seems concerned with "the Bible's teaching" and I have to wonder if those might not be two different things some times?

I give churches some credit though, this is a very hard change for them, this is a subject that has and still is tearing some churches apart. I am more than willing to give them the time that they need to adjust and to reflect and to hear God's answers to the questions they are asking. I just won't let them stand between me and the rights that I and every other American deserve. They need to take their time for thought and prayer and not waste it on hate and supporting ridiculous and discriminatory laws. God loves us all, we should follow his guide and try to love each other, every last one of us. Together we can and will find our way through this, hopefully we won't lose anyone along the way.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

A note on political discourse in America and how to make it better...

In America we say that you should never discuss religion or politics, I think the reason why this is said is because no one in America seems to know how to discuss religion and politics. Our ideas about American exceptionalism don't just apply to our nation, we apply them to ourselves as individuals and assume that what we believe is 100% correct and anyone who disagrees is either stupid, crazy, or in need of an education. I am fully guilty of this myself but I know my own faults and I want to improve myself and maybe help you improve yourself as well.

1. If you say you love the Constitution make sure you mean the entire Constitution. If you only love you right to free speech or your right to own a gun don't say that you love the US Constitution as there is a lot more to it than just the 1st and 2nd amendments. Not only is there a lot more text in the Constitution itself but there is also a ton of case law that is used to interpret the Constitution. There is probably no one in America who can claim to have read the entire Constitution because that would involve reading the Constitution itself and every decision handed down by the US Supreme Court which can be used to aid in making rulings in future court cases. Unless you are a recognized and respected Constitutional scholar it is probably best to preface your comments about the Constitution with a phrase like "I believe" or "as I understand it". Having an opinion is fine, trying to equate your opinion with facts is pretty darn dumb 99% of the time.

2. Do not think any person can be defined with a single word like "liberal" or "conservative". I have friends who support legalizing marijuana, gay marriage, and legalizing prostitution. Before you decide you know their political ideology you should also know that they think that medicare and medicaid should be abolished, that no one should get unemployment benefits, and that public school systems across the country should be shut down. There are republicans who support gay marriage and democrats who want to lower taxes on the wealthy. Forcing everyone in America to conform to the platform of one out of two political parties has seriously degraded the state of political discourse in America and we should stop letting ourselves fall victim to it. Stand up for a candidate, lend your support on an issue, avoid supporting a political party whenever possible.

3. Don't use the same defense a five year old would use. Say you saw a five year old named Billy doing something wrong and you decide to confront him about it. There is a good chance that his response will be something to the effect of "Bobby was doing it too!" Of course this is a terrible defense because it in no way makes either child less guilty. Adults do this as well, if you dislike a politician and that politician does something wrong you may find yourself saying something like "I can't believe he/she took this totally unprecedented action!" which of course implies that you think if someone else had done the same thing before it would make the act that you disagree with perfectly O.K. You should also be aware that if you make the above statement to someone who holds a higher view of the politician in question they will likely respond to your claim with a list of politicians who they suspect you will admire, who have taken the same or very similar actions. Again this proves nothing but that you both think the action was bad and that you think the action suddenly gets worse if it is committed by someone on the other side of the political aisle. Oh yeah, it may not be as bad if someone had done the same thing before. In other words none of these arguments are logical and they should be avoided.

And finally, 4. Do not claim you want law makers to work together unless you really mean it. Everyday people say this, politicians say this, everybody seems to think it is a great idea. A lot of people, however, seem to have no understanding of what they are claiming to support. All too often someone in one of the two parties will say that both sides should work together when what they actually mean is that the other side should simply bow down and accept whatever their side is promoting. This isn't how compromise works. In real compromise each side brings their ideas to the table and they see what they can agree on and what they can't agree on. They then work to come u with legislation that is acceptable to both sides, sure, neither side gets everything they want, but legislation gets written and passed that holds the possibility of helping Americans. As it stands now the two sides don't talk to each other, they just scream at each other on the cable TV networks that favor them the most, and legislation doesn't get passed. Working together doesn't mean one side gives up, that would be very bad for America. Working together means having real conversations, forgetting about party affiliation for a little while, turning off the rhetoric and spin machines, and working for what is best for America instead of what is best for your party or your own campaign. America needs legislators who will do this and our greatest hope for getting legislators who will do this is for us non-politicians to set an example for them. If you are a democrat you need to stop hating every piece of legislation brought to the floor by someone with an "R" in front of their names. If you are a republican you need to do the exact same thing. Look for something in the legislation you can support and tell your representatives that you support that part of it. If nothing else this will break your habit of only looking for the things you hate. There will be some legislation, no matter which side you are on, that you can't find anything likable and that is understandable. But until you start actively searching for things that you like, or at least can live with, all you are going to do is promote the "us against them" way of doing things that is keeping anything from getting done. Do you want our elected officials to really work together? Then prove it.

These are just a few ideas on how to avoid the traps so common in political discourse in America today. Traps that keep us from hearing good ideas, traps that keep us promoting bad ideas, and traps that keep anything from getting better. So get out there and discuss politics, just do so in a reasonable and logical way because while people will disagree with you, they can't dislike you for being reasonable, well informed, logical, and willing to listen.