Dion's random ramblings

Sunday, November 04, 2007

A poignant review - Gay and Lesbian film on the interpretation of Scripture.

I thought this was quite an interesting review of the film "For the Bible tells me so".

Thanks for posting the link John (see a link to John's blog on the right hand side of this post).

For the Bible Tells Me So - A Review
By Pastor Bob Cornwall

Who would have thought that the consecration of a bishop in New Hampshire of all places would send a fissure though the global church - not just the Anglican Church, but the church as a whole. But the consecration of an openly gay man has done just that, laying bare the divisions over sexuality that permeates the Christian Community. The Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson, Bishop of New Hampshire has become the symbol of our unease with our sexuality and its place in the church.

I just finished viewing a screener copy of Daniel Karslake's important and surely controversial documentary, For the Bible Tells Me So. I watched it in preparation for my participation in a panel discussion after a screening of the film at the Santa Barbara LGBTQ Film Festival. I've known about the film since before its creation, for my friend Rev. Steve Kindle, who is featured in the film, was part of the origins of the idea. I've waited some time to see it and it was worth the wait.

The film begins with Anita Bryant, back in the 1970s denouncing the "gay agenda." Interspersed through the film are angry denouncements of homosexuality on the part of Christians, like Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Dobson, and the ubiquitous folk from Topeka's Westborough Baptist Church.

But that is not the essence of the film. Instead it is the stories of real families who struggle with their children's sexual identity and their own religious formation. Five families are interviewed - including the family of Bishop Robinson, whose own spiritual foundations are not Episcopal, but Disciples of Christ. His parents still members of the same Kentucky Disciple church that he grew up in share their pride in their son and the journey they took to embrace him as he is, despite their earlier formation. Another famous family is that of former Congressman Richard Gephardt, whose daughter Chrissie is a lesbian. Some of the stories, like those of the Gephardts and the Robinsons are happy, but not all are. Mary Lou Wallner tells the story of her estrangement from her lesbian daughter Anna, largely on the basis of her faith formation and understanding of the Bible - an understanding she got largely from Focus on the Family. That story ends tragically in the suicide death of her daughter. But out of that tragedy came hope, for Mary Lou began to study and found that her previous understandings had been wrong. Now she speaks out on behalf of the gay and lesbian community. There is another family that is conflicted - they love their daughter and welcome her, but they can't accept who she is. That's a work in progress. Finally there's the story of Jake Reitan, a young gay man who grew up in a solid - Lutheran - Christian family. It took time for his family to embrace him as he is, but in the long run they became advocates, standing with him as Soul Force demonstrated at the Focus on the Family headquarters.

The powerful statement these stories make is that this is a personal issue. Whatever your views of homosexuality or of the Bible, things change when it affects your family. How you read the Bible is influenced by your own experiences. That is true of me ? I'm a graduate of a leading evangelical seminary, whose president is featured in the film (unfortunately affirming traditional interpretations of these texts that excluded), but when my brother came out, things changed. Our hang up is with sex, but when we realize that this is my brother, or my sister, or my son or my daughter, what do we do? Dick Gephardt says it well - when Chrissie came out, fearing that she might be disowned, he declared a parent?s unconditional love. Love won out. As Mel White put it: "Once they realize who we are up close and personal that fear goes away."

The film deals with the families, but it also deals with the texts. A series of speakers, ranging from Mel White, Peter Gomes, Desmond Tutu to Rabbi Stephen Greenberg, Disciples pastors Larry Keene and Steve Kindle, and an American Baptist woman pastor Sandra Sparks. Each of these speakers takes on our cultural presuppositions, formed by our faith traditions, and the Biblical texts - of which there are only about six, few of which even apply today in any real way. We hear that Leviticus declares a man lying with a man to be an abomination, but then it also says the same about eating shrimp. As Larry Keene, a Disciple pastor and former Pepperdine professor points out, the question isn?t so much what the Bible seems to say, but how we read it and use it today.

At the heart of the debate is the question of choice - is it a choice or not? The film takes on this question creatively, through the use of a brief, at times humorous, but pointed cartoon. This piece sits in the middle of the film, providing both comic relief and movement forward on the discussion. And as most reputable science states, this isn't a choice, it is one?s identity. If so, then we must ask: what next for our society?

We live at a time when the vast numbers of people are biblically illiterate and read the Bible in bits and pieces, influenced largely by their own upbringing. This reading is combined with great amounts of fear. It is true that our society's greatest fear is of male homosexuals ? a fear of a feminization of a man. To be gay is to be - in the eyes of many - feminine. Gay men, such as White and Robinson, make it clear that this isn't true. But the fear is still there, and it's a fear we must address. Our fear leads us to plead with gays and lesbians to stay in the closet, but as Mel White points out, the "closet is a place of death." Young gays, feeling suppressed and forced into a closet, with no one to talk with, too often and very tragically, take their own lives. And why? Because our society is permeated by fear of the other and formed by outmoded interpretations of the Bible.

Is this film biased? Of course it is. It is a strongly stated, but not in your face, statement of the dignity and equality and the humanity of our gay and lesbian friends, neighbors, and family members. It is a film that must be seen. At this point it is in fairly restricted distribution, but hopefully this will change - for the church must change so that the world might change.

If the film begins (with the exception of the Anita Bryant outburst) with an introduction of the Robinson family, it appropriately ends with his joyous and yes controversial consecration as Bishop of New Hampshire. The world will never be the same - and that's a good thing.

An interesting review. I can't wait to see this movie.

Sadly though, I fear that we have been so polarised in this discussion that we tend to approach the issue, rather than each other, from our points of conviction.

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Christians - your help is needed, we need to hear your voices!

This evening I responded to the call for papers for the Theological Society of South Africa meetings. The Theological Society of South Africa, as I have mentioned elsewhere on this blog, is the professional body for Academic Christian theologians.

Next year the TSSA will be meeting in my old stomping ground, Grahamstown (18-20 June 2008)! I can't wait! The theme for next year will be:

Grace, space and race: Towards a theology of place in (South) Africa today.

You can download a more detailed copy of the call for papers here.

I have decided to prepare a paper for this conference entitled:

What place, and how much space? Or, is it merely an empty hospitality - A theological critique of the place, and space, given to persons of a same-sex orientation in selected mainline Southern African Christian Churches.

(or something like this... I know, it still needs a lot of work).

Here is a rough abstract of what I intend to research:

This paper will investigate the theological principles that have informed the stance of the mainline Christian Churches in South Africa in relation to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) persons. It will present and consider the the dominant theological themes that have informed this debate in Southern African Christianity. Having done so, the research will ask some critical questions about the 'space' afforded to GLBT persons within Southern African Churches (i.e., are such persons welcomed, do they have full, or limited, access to the Church and the privileges of the Church? etc.) The paper will also evaluate the Churches that consider themselves to be a 'place of welcome', by being inclusive, affirming, and hospitable to GLBT persons. The nature of this 'place of welcome and hospitality' will be considered by drawing upon the experiences of a number of GLBT clergy and Christian laity. It is hoped that this paper will offer some valuable insight into two aspects of this current debate: First, it will offer a useful guide to 'place' the theology that informs the stances of various mainline denominations in Southern Africa. Second, it will give 'space' for the voice of GLBT Christians to be heard within the academy, allowing Southern African theologians to hear the struggles, concerns, and viewpoints of our sisters and brothers who are gay.

What do I hope to achieve?

I would like to weave three things together in my research 1) Southern African theology (and a critique of our content and approach to theology), 2) An honest consideration of the place and space that we allow to gay persons in our Churches, and 3) to have a platform on which gay persons can give their input and critique of the theology of the mainline Churches on this issue!

So, now the work needs to begin. Naturally I have done quite a bit of reading and research on this topic over the years, and written a few papers, however I would truly like this to be a significant piece of research that will be able to offer some insight, stimulating discussion, and provocative thought, for some of our country's top theologians.

Here's the help I need!

Here's where I need your help - I know that there are a few gay and lesbian Christians that read the blog - if you're willing to help me by answering a questionnaire, and sending in some form of testimony, that would be extremely helpful! I would also like to hear from gay and lesbian clergy and laity who have been afraid to come out for fear of rejection. Please send me an email and I'll keep in contact with you: email Dion.

Lastly, anyone is welcome to participate, present a paper, or attend the meetings. However, only persons with a Masters degree in Theology (or higher) may be nominated as members of the society.

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Friday, October 05, 2007

It disturbs me... Another instance of visionary leadership

I subscribe to a number of email list groups (google groups and yahoo groups). Perhaps one of the most active groups is that for gay, and gay friendly (affirming), Methodists in Southern Africa. It is an open group, you can read our discussions and posts here.

Since our conference the list has been abuzz with discussion. The one thing we have in common is our passion for the Gospel of Christ, and a desire to see the values of Christ's Gospel fairly, courageously, and lovingly reflected in our Church's ministry. However, along with that common passion comes many different perspectives on how this should take place.

For those who have been following my posts on this discussion (and the comments that others have made in response to those posts) you will know that there has been some concern that we have placed the unity of the Church before our calling to be a prophetic institution of justice and grace. I have prayed, and thought, and journaled, and read, and engaged with these two positions (unity in the Church vs. prophetic and Christ honoring ministry in spite of disagreement). I am struggling to know which way to go...

Today I came across this quote (actually part of a poem) by Martin Niemoller (a German theologian who became one of the founders of the Confessing Church, and was imprisoned between 1937 and 1945 in both the Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps)

"First they came for Socialists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out - because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me - and there was no one left to speak for me."
Rev Martin Niemoeller (1892-1984)
Here is the post from my friend Peter Grassow, one of the most prophetic and Christ like ministers I know: (this post is taken from an open forum - you can read the original here)

I belong to a divided church.
And some of you who read this will understand how Sundays sees our nation divide - with black people going to black church services, "coloured" people attending "coloured" services, and some white people going to church (most do not go to church at all).

But this is not the division I think of - I am referring to the division between straight and gay people. The Methodist Church of SA has chosen to maintain a distance from gay people. No - this is not overt: as my Bishop' pastoral letter says : " We must, and I do, care for them pastorally and with sensitivity." But this is exactly the divide: "we care for them".....us and them. "They" are not understood as being "us". In fact, after the humiliating treatment dished up by straight Christians, I am surprised that there are any gay people left in church.

And to add insult to injury, the MCSA has affirmed that we must be "one and undivided". But this is not about being in unity with gay people. No, this is about maintaining our unity with those who are anti-gay. Our desire to remain united with the anti-gay lobby outweighs our desire to be one with the gay members of our church. And so we have compromised truth in the name of unity. And we have not
even questioned the ethical correctness of this unity.

Here is my pain: the statement that "we are one and undivided" was a statement of courage in the face of the 1958 Apartheid Government's desire to divide our church on racial lines. We had moral courage - then. We adopted this statement, in the face of a threat by white members to leave our church. We understood that this was a particular kind of unity. It risked division in the name of a greater unity - a
unity with the truth of the Gospel of Jesus.

We have lost this. I am convinced that the mantra "one and undivided" has become our excuse to do nothing. We are so afraid of losing members that we would rather forfeit Gospel truth.
Once again, I am challenged by visionary leadership... Gospel truth must come before ecclesiological unity. If only I had the courage...

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A Church that displays the hospitality, warmth, and welcome of Christ's Gospel.

Last week a number of Christian lay people and ministers met in Cape Town informed by the 115th Conference of the MCSA (PE-2001) that resolved that we (Methodists) would be "a community of love rather than rejection", and the practical enactment of this value that was resolved by the 117th Conference (Johannesburg-2005) which decided that safe places be formed "...for people of a same sex orientation to tell their stories. [where there can be]... healing and forgiveness for both the church and these members".

The purpose of this meeting in Cape Town was to consider how we could increase the witness, welcome, warmth and, hospitality of Christ's gospel for all persons (much like Jesus himself speaks of in John 3:16). The purpose was to seek to break down the 'dividing wall of hostility' between persons of different positions on the same sex matter in the Church (Ephesians 2.14), and that Jesus? love is equally given for all people (John 3.16, Romans 3.23-24; Romans 6.23). A number of testimonies were shared by people of a same sex orientation, who love Christ, and yet have felt excluded from, and unwelcome in, Christ's Church. It was a challenging, and moving, meeting.

I recorded a number of these testimonies, devotions, and Bible studies. We have decided to make the report of the listening committee available (this report sums up the feelings, ideas, and experiences of the members of the meeting).

The report is in MP3 format, it is about 6MB in size, and is presetned by the Reverend Alan Storey.

You can download the report HERE (simply click on the link).

DISCLAIMER: Please note that this report does not represent the official views of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, or any of the local societies of this Christian denomination. Rather, it is a process report that resulted form the resolutions of Conference 2005. As a process report it is likely to change, adapt, and grow as it encounters persons and positions that represent different perspectives on this issue.

For an alternative perspective from within the Methodist Church of Southern Africa please download and read the following document:

An alternative position on persons with a same sex relationship. (Adobe PDF document).

So, please do pray that we will find a way forward that:

a. Is true to God's will and desire for God's Church and God's mission in the world.

b. The moral, ethical, justice, mercy, and grace filled principles of the Gospel are upheld for persons who hold very different, and often conflicting views, without denying each other's dignity, commitment to Christ, and without harming the mission and evangelical purpose of Christ's Church.

c. No person should ever feel that Christ does not love or accept them.

d. Our Churches would love the people that Jesus loves, and love doing the things that Jesus does, even if it is difficult and challenging to do so.

Please feel free to engage me on this issue!

With much love in Christ! Dion

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