Terrance Heath

Apology Accepted?

Filed By Terrance Heath | March 16, 2008 3:58 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Living, Marriage Equality, Media, Politics
Tags: Australia, lutherans, morality, sexuality

I don't know if this counts as a trend or not, but I didn't expect to see something like this so soon after the previous post. This time is the Lutheran Church, which still opposes marriage equality but expresses regret that "church teachings have been used to hurt gays and lesbians."

A task force drafting a statement on sexuality for the nation's largest Lutheran group said Thursday that the church should continue defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

However, the panel did not condemn same-gender relationships. The committee expressed regret that historic Lutheran teachings have been used to hurt gays and lesbians, and acknowledged that some congregations already accept same-sex couples.

From there, it actually gets more interesting.

First, I don't disagree that church teachings (pick a church, any church) have been "used to hurt gays and lesbians." But I'd like to invite them to consider that perhaps the teachings themselves are hurtful, or at the very least lend themselves to easily to harmful use. So, perhaps the teachings themselves need to be re-examined and re-interpreted.

And what makes me feel that way is this next bit.

The document released Thursday repeatedly states that sexual intimacy should be reserved for married couples, and condemns sex for personal gratification alone.

''The church recognizes the historic origin of the term `marriage' as a lifelong and committed relationship between a woman and a man, and does not wish to alter this understanding,'' the report says.

The task force goes on to describe different responses to gays and lesbians in congregations, noting that some churches require celibacy for them, while others urge gay couples to ''establish relationships that are chaste, mutual, monogamous and lifelong.''

''These relationships are to be held to the same rigorous standards and sexual ethics as all others,'' the document says. ''This suggests that dissolution of a committed same-gender relationship be treated with the same gravity as the dissolution of a marriage.''

The document expressed regret that Lutheran teachings have been used ''to tear apart families with gay or lesbian members,'' and asks all Lutherans to welcome gays and advocate for legal protection for them.

I'm nitpicking, I know. There's much to like here. It would be great if more churches urged their members to "welcome gays and lesbians and advocate for legal protection for them." For that, I commend the Lutheran Church. No, really, I do. They're light years ahead of churches like D.C.'s Greater Mount Calvary — which I mentioned earlier — and its recent outing scandal.

The outings added to the inner turmoil experienced by a large number of gays who attend services at the 7,000-member Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church, located on Rhode Island Ave., N.E., according to a gay former member who provided copies of the e-mails to the Blade.

“I will be leaving the choir at the top of the year because 80 percent of the tenors are homosexuals and act more like a female in choir rehearsal than I do,” the church choir member said in one of her e-mails to Bishop Alfred Owens Jr., the church pastor.

The e-mail, sent in December, identifies about 45 fellow church members as gay. She sent a second e-mail to Owens on Jan. 2 identifying another 62 church members as gay.

“The following people I am asking you to monitor very closely and my prayer is that you will sit them down from their ministries,” she told Owens in the December e-mail. “Because they are ushering in the presence of sin, lies, a spirit of homosexuality and sexual spirits.”

She sent a copy of her e-mails to a Yahoo list group that goes to more than 300 church members, the gay former church member said.

...The church’s web site includes a listing of twice-monthly sessions of a ministry called “Breaking the Chains of Homosexuality,” which it says helps gays change their sexual orientation through counseling and prayer. Minister Dennis Sawyers, an expert in “ex-gay” ministries, is listed as the leader of the church’s efforts to counsel gays.

The former gay member of Greater Mount Calvary who provided copies of the outing e-mails to the Blade, has withheld his own name. He used the pen name “Jeff Hammer” in his own e-mail correspondence with the Blade.

He said Owens responded to the first e-mail by calling a meeting of all members of the church’s numerous singing groups. The groups include the Alfred Owens Chorale, the Sanctuary Choir, the Celebration Choir, Voices of Calvary and the Male Chorus, among other groups.

“He said he only wanted to help people who wanted help to not be gay and that he was willing to help anybody change from being gay,” the former church member said.

No surprise from a minister who previously called all the heterosexual men in his congregation to the altar to thank God they're not "faggots." So, yeah, I'll take the Lutherans' approach over Owens' any day.

But there's something that bugs me about this.

The task force goes on to describe different responses to gays and lesbians in congregations, noting that some churches require celibacy for them, while others urge gay couples to ''establish relationships that are chaste, mutual, monogamous and lifelong.''

First, after looking up several definitions, I'm assuming that "chaste" in "relationships that are chaste, mutual, monogamous, and lifelong," means the same thing as "celibacy."

1.    refraining from sexual intercourse that is regarded as contrary to morality or religion; virtuous.
2.    virgin.
3.    not engaging in sexual relations; celibate.

It's one of many different responses, true, but it does set same-sex relationships, and same-sex oriented persons apart as something less than. Like I noted in a post about living your "second-best life," it's all about being told you must accept less from life.

What’s always struck me about the whole “ex-gay” thing is that even at their most benevolent, the best they can offer me is this: being gay means that I have to expect less and accept less from life. Being gay means I deserve less from life. I don’t deserve love, I don’t deserve family. It doesn’t even elevate celibacy or “living a chaste life” to the status of a calling, as it might for the priesthood or monastic life. Indeed, a gay man — “chaste” or not — would be barred from both, based on history. At best, it’s a lifelong burden that you didn’t ask for or do anything to acquire. (That’s pretty much led me to believe that any “god” who’d create such a set-up — on the one hand saying that we shouldn’t exist, and continuing to churn us out on the other — would have to be one sick, sadistic son of a bitch.)

What's just below the surface is the message that you must accept less from life because you are less than.

So long as we remember our place — no sex, no marriage or marriage-like relationship, no family — we’re fine with them. Of course that means understanding that as queers we must accept less and expect less from life than our heterosexual brothers and sisters, because we are less than our heterosexual brothers and sisters. That, in a nutshell is “love the sin, hater the sinner,” which is still pretty much a license to make our lives as close as possible to the hell they say we’re going to, in an attempt to save us from it. Makes sense, no?

It becomes especially true when you consider this bit of cognitive dissonance.

The document released Thursday repeatedly states that sexual intimacy should be reserved for married couples, and condemns sex for personal gratification alone.

Again, it's a rule not evenly applied.

Most heterosexuals aren’t expected to live by that ideal. Procreation isn’t a prerequisite for getting married if you’re heterosexual. An infertile couple can marry and have as much sex as they want. An elderly couple can marry and have as much sex as they’re physically capable of having. And on and on. It doesn’t matter if they can’t reproduce. That would seem to suggest that sex must also serve some other purpose in marriage, and one that doesn’t necessarily exclude same-sex couples, and doesn’t require some mystical union of the sexes, magical thinking along those lines notwithstanding.

In response, I can only offer what I've learned after being with the hubby for almost eight years. Even when there's no possibility of procreation, sex in the context of a committed monogamous relationship has benefits far beyond "personal gratification." (I'm not suggesting that other types of relationships are less than, however. I'm speaking about my experience, because that's what I know, and I would love to hear and learn from other people about theirs. )

In that context, my experience is that it deepens intimacy and trust, and strengthens commitment. (And it's more than "personal gratification" because, if it's done right, you're also gratifying each other.) My guess is that the same is true for heterosexual couples who, for various reasons, cannot reproduce with one another. Again, I invite people to share their experiences in that regard.

And I'm willing to bet the Lutherans wouldn't deny non-reproducing heterosexual couples the benefits I described above. Because it's part of the human experience; a good, healthy, rewarding part of the human experience.

If I am fully human, and fully equal in my humanity, why must I be denied or deny myself, that experience — which, judging from how important it is to everyone else around me, is so central to being human, and that has the potential to lead to so much that makes being alive here and now a happy, joyful, blessed experience.

If I am as human as you are, why must part of my humanity be suppressed? What price will I pay for that? And who else will have to pay it as well?


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Wow. What an amazing post, Terrance.

perhaps the teachings themselves need to be re-examined and re-interpreted

I completely agree. The teaching lend themselves to be abused too easily.

FatherFaggot | March 16, 2008 5:09 PM

It seems to me that you are addressing some points above with a bit of misunderstanding. However, there are so many of them that I won't try to address them here.
Let me say that it's encouraging to see you and the Lutherans both trying to address a very complex situation and doing it with deliberate honesty. It's the only way we'll ever resolve these divergent views and it will take time.
If only there were more who would be able to discuss opposing views with the mutual respect I see above, we'd make much more progress.
And, I'm sure you'll agree, I hope it doesn't take too long. Enough is enough! And people are being hurt.

At best, it’s a lifelong burden that you didn’t ask for or do anything to acquire. (That’s pretty much led me to believe that any “god” who’d create such a set-up — on the one hand saying that we shouldn’t exist, and continuing to churn us out on the other — would have to be one sick, sadistic son of a bitch.)

Many christian churches take the stance that homosexuality is a choice made by the person, and not an inate characteristic. That being the case their god gets a pass for "making" something as imperfect as a homosexual, or a transexual even.

That is why a friend of mine was asked " how could you do this to us?", just before her southern baptist preacher father kicked her out of the house for being a lesbian at the age of 15.

A nice example of fine christian behavior in action.

She did kind of egg him on, by pointing out that, while he was quoting Leviticus at her, he was just as guilty of misdeeds if you went strictly "by the book" on other things, like not sending away his wife when she was menustrating, dietary lapses, wearing of mixed fibres, and other things.

That is what he got for teaching his children so much about the bible.

Sportin' Life | March 16, 2008 6:58 PM

...a very complex situation...

I'm afraid I don't see the complexity, Father F.

Superstitious people are using an old book to aggrandize themselves at the expense of others. They are attempting to rationalize a morally superior status that they have arbitrarily and presumptuously claimed.

The problem is that, people want to try and get their faith to reflect their own prejudices, so they will interpret things in any way that best suits their ideas.

The bible was used by the early puritans and southerners to uphold their desire to enslave blacks. They used it to support their contention that they were an inferior race and that whites were doing them a favor by bringing them to the "civilised" world and teaching them good christian values.

Salvation through slavery, yeah that is a slogan with a real ring to it.

Rather than gay marriage, maybe it is time to outlaw the bible instead.

My God, I have too many problems to stop having sex. Seriously, I don't know if I could deal with interminable horniness and distance on top of my daily angsts and anxieties. People who know me personally understand what I'm talking about.

Yeah, Lutherans are definitely better than a lot of other protestant sects, but the sex negative tradition's still there, obviously.

Note this post is about "the nation's largest Lutheran group" --- that probably means ELCA, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The Missouri Synod and Wisconsin Synod Lutherans hold views almost identical to the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church. In fact, I have seen more attempts at understanding from the Roman Catholics than I have from the Missouri Synod. (I was raised Missouri Synod Lutheran.) The RC's at least make the distinction between being homosexually oriented (not sinful) and engaging in homosexual acts (sinful) --- I've never seen even this piece of nascent intelligence come out of the Missouri Synod, whose leaders tend to involuntarily foam at the mouth whenever the matter of homosexuality is even allowed to be discussed.

The recent ELCA statement doesn't mention (apparently, based on this post) the difference between church-recognized marriage and marriage under civil law. What is so obvious is that the marriage equality movement seeks marriage equality under civil law --- and many of us don't give a hoot about what church blesses this or what church condemns that.

But, getting back to the God-talk ... as I have said before, a major character in the Bible said, "Love God, and love thy neighbor as thyself --- within these two commandments lie the fulfillment of all of the law and the prophets." This is very close to the Golden Rule, present in all major world religions, "Treat others as you would wish for them to treat you" --- and it is the key to cutting through all the "very complex situation" hand-wringing.

But this is too simple! Churches must aggrandize the role they play in society by painstakingly and voluminously pontificating on how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. They extract power out of the situation when they take a simple matter and inflate it into a form of theological rocket science.

Finally, a footnote: This whole thing about "sex must be more than just 'personal gratification'" is the same reason why the Bible says that masturbation is sinful. ... I mean, it does say somewhere that masturbation is sinful, doesn't it?

yes, it is known as Onanism, named because Onan, some guy in the bible, was told to go lie with his mother or sister, or someone like that, and instead, he "spilled his seed" on the ground, thus making all mastrubation into a sin.

Or something like that, it was a long time ago when I first read the story.

On a personal note, after having GRS, I had the fun of learning how to mastrubate all over again. The christian god must be spinning on his throne over that!

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | March 17, 2008 4:22 AM

I think Sportin' Life has the right take on all this.

Except for a few quakers and untitarians who pray “to whom it may concern” most people who take this stuff seriously are seriously wacko. The christians bible is a smattering of tortured history and a rehash of ancient fantasies cobbled together in the degenerate period of Roman Empire when the cults were competing for the Emperors favor. The christians got the imperial nod and we got the shaft.

The bible is on a par with the revelations of charlatans like Muhammad, Joseph Smith and L. Ron Hubbard, which is to say that at best it’s a tragic waste of paper and for those who take it seriously, a tragic waste of minds.

Terrance, I agree with so much of what you say wholeheartedly.

one thing that struck me was the woman intent on " outing" the members of her choir. what motivated her anger and apparent hatred? it brought to mind the members of our own community, who for different reasons also support the concept of "outing". humanity has a habit of pointing their fingers at those who are "sinners"; those who fail to live up to our own ideals of perfection. it occurs to me that we are all imperfect, all human. And all too willing to point our fingers.

Fabulous post, Terrance. At least they apologized for the hurt some of their previous teachings have caused.