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queer religion wars

Argument Number Four:

The perceived attack on “Family Values,” specifically, “Biblical Family Values” that homosexuality represents.

June 10 2006

I remember receiving an e-mail at work from a friend. It seemed a certain domestic brewery was planning to use a homosexual couple in one of their beer advertisements. In my friend’s “concern,” she sent around e-mail to everyone on her e-mail list asking them to write to the company and protest the advertisement and to threaten to ban the company all together. Of course at the time I was still hiding out in the closet and pretending to be straight, so she sent it to me thinking that I felt the same way she did. So in jest, I sent back an e-mail asking her if she knew the number to support the ad. She responded by sending back another e-mail reminding me, “I couldn’t be serious,” among other things, and that upset me. So I sent back another e-mail to this effect.

First of all, I asked, are Christians really supposed to be frequenting establishments like this? Her response to that was that she had a problem with the ad. She didn’t want her children growing up under the influence of “this abomination.” Now I was really upset. Friend or not, I was not going to be silent about that.

What I’ve noticed about fundamentalism in general, is that they’re looking for some kind of utopia. Some place where they can live in peace and harmony. Some place where everyone thinks and acts as they do. Some place where there’s no freedom of choice, no freedom of expression. Everybody’s doing the same thing all the time, and nobody’s offending them. It sounds like a nice world, but it isn’t the world that I live in. And the last time we tried to create it, we had a little thing called the Salem Witch Trials or the Inquisition.

I remember watching the news one day, just after the Monica Lewinsky story broke. They were interviewing protesters who were angry with Bill Clinton, and I saw one self-righteous man reach into his wallet and pull out a picture of his kids and show it to the reporter. “What am I going to tell my kids?” he asked. My thought at the time was, “Tell them the truth” as carefully as you can to a child, and then help them understand how much trouble the president is in, and why.” To me, this was the perfect opportunity to teach the children about actions and consequences.

As a gay man, it’s frustrating being responsible for everybody else’s kids. They don’t want me being gay because they don’t want their kids growing up in an environment where gay people are given voice. They don’t want me speaking my mind because their kids might hear me and soften their views toward me, and that would bring them mental distress, and challenge their perfect utopian beliefs.

I agree that children are impressionable and that they should be offered as much protection as we can healthily give them, but to shelter them from the world around them does them a great disservice, since sooner or later they’re going to have to grow up and live in this big bad world. And any person bringing children into the world does so at their own risk and shouldn’t expect society to change the rules because of their choice to have a child.

They’re using homosexuals in beer commercials (which I think is odd, because most of us drink Cosmopolitans). I think that if you want to make the world a better place, teach the children about the world—it’s got its ups and its downs, and there are a whole plethora of people living in it. I wonder if we try and shelter children from the world, they may become like us: unable to deal with diversity, and striving desperately to make everyone else around them conform rather than learning how to live with their neighbors. Isn’t this what causes wars? Six billion people are a lot of people to try and change, but one person, the person you see when you look into the mirror every morning, that’s much easier.

And let’s talk about this whole Biblical Family Values issue. Let’s look at the greatest men of the Bible, and their families, starting with Adam and Eve, and their sons Cain and Abel. It’s a fairly common story, but again, for those of you unfamiliar with it, here’s the basic storyline from Genesis 4.

Cain, the older brother was a farmer, or as the Bible says “tilled the soil,” and Abel, the younger brother was a shepherd. He “kept the flocks.” Both of them appeared before God to offer up a sacrifice. “Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord.” And Abel brought “fat portions from some of the firstborn of his livestock.” The Lord looked favorably on Abel’s offering but for some reason he didn’t look so favorably on Cain’s. We aren’t ever told why, but it made Cain somewhat jealous. There is a conversation where God tells Cain that if he will do what is right, then God will look favorably on his sacrifice, but again, we’re never told specifically what it is God is looking for (isn’t that always the way with parents).

So Cain set up a meeting with his brother somewhere in the field, and when they were there, “Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.”

Then God asked Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”

Cain replied “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”

God knew where Abel was and of course he was angry with Cain, and cursed him so that when he worked the ground it would no longer yield its crops to him. He also told Cain he would be a restless wanderer on the earth. So the first thing Cain did was get a wife of his own (presumably one of his sisters), and have kids and build a city in the land of Nod (I guess he could have been restless: what with traffic and the noisy neighbors upstairs, and those damn kids and their music blaring all day).

The great patriarch and founder of Israel, Abraham, always wanted a son. God, on many occasions promised Abraham that his children would be like the ‘sands of the sea,’ or like ‘the stars in the sky.’ But by eighty-six Abraham was still childless. So Abraham’s wife Sarah had a wild idea. She had an Egyptian servant named Hagar, and she told Abraham to take Hagar as his wife and marry her.

As luck would have it, Hagar “conceived” as the Bible puts it. But things didn’t go well between her and Sarah. Apparently she “began to despise her mistress.” So Sarah went back to Abraham, and while this whole affair was her idea, she blamed him.

“You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering” she told Abraham.

Abraham responded by saying “Your servant is in your hands. Do with her whatever you think best.”

So Sarah mistreated Hagar, and Hagar fled. The Angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert and told her to go back and submit to her mistress. So Hagar returned and bore Abraham’s first son, Ishmael. However, it was Isaac, Abraham’s second son, the only son of Sarah, that got all of the press and Abraham’s blessings; not Ishmael.

We like to think of Jacob, younger twin of Esau, son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham as one of the great patriarchs of the Bible. But Jacob was a cheat, a liar, and a thief. First he used extortion to get his brother’s birthright. His brother Esau, who was a hunter, came to him hungry. Jacob would only feed him in return for Esau’s birthright as the older brother.

Then when it came time for Isaac to give his sons the final blessing before he died (which included the inheritance of all his possessions), his mother concocted a scheme. “When Isaac was old and his eyes were so weak that he could no longer see, he called for Esau his older son.” Sensing that Isaac was about to give Esau the blessing, Rebekah, Jacob’s mom, dressed her younger son to look and smell and feel like Esau. Thus Jacob again got the blessing that was supposed to go to Esau.

But his deception doesn’t end there. The list of Jacob’s deceptions covers several chapters of the book of Genesis.

Aaron, the brother of Moses, also the first high priest of Israel in the Sinai desert, had two sons, Nadab and Abihu. They also were ordained as priests by God and by Moses. Then for some reason they decided to disrespect the temple and “they took their censers, put fire in them and added incense, and they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, contrary to his command.”

If there’s one thing you’ll learn quickly as you read through the Bible, “Don’t piss God off.” And apparently he’s pretty particular about his fire. Well Nadab and Abihu did just that. So fire came from the presence of the Lord and consumed them. And Aaron was told that he wasn’t even to morn his two sons.

In the book of Judges, there’s another fine example of Biblical Family Values. In Judges 11, a man named Jephthah was locked in a battle with the Ammonites. In hopes to win the battle against the Ammonites, Jephthah promised God that “If you give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the Lord’s and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.” Well shucks, wouldn’t you know it, the first person out the door was his daughter and only child, dancing to the sound of tambourines.

When Jephthah saw his daughter, he tore his clothes and told her of his vow to the Lord. All in all she was very understanding. “My father,” she replied. “You have given your word to the Lord. Do to me just as you promised.” But then she makes one more request. Kind of an odd request, but given her position it makes sense. “Give me two months to roam the hills and weep with my friends, because I will never marry.”

So she went away and wept over her virginity for two months, and then returned. Personally, I would have gotten the hell out of there, but she didn’t. Or at least I would have given up on that virginity thing. Instead she returned home a virgin and her father “did to her as he vowed.”

The stories of David and his family are great stories of family dysfunction.

David takes a walk one night and sees a woman on the roof taking a bath. So he has her brought over to his castle where learns that her husband is away at war. So he sleeps with Bathsheba. Soon she reveals to him that she’s pregnant, so David has her husband, Uriah the Hittite return home from battle in the hope that he will sleep with his wife and David will be off the hook. But Uriah is loyal to his king (David), and he does not sleep with his wife. Instead, he sleeps at the entrance of the palace with all David’s servants. So David tries another approach. This time he sends Uriah to the battlefront with a letter to his general, Joab. Uriah isn’t privy to the information in this letter (although he delivered it), or he may have been more reluctant to pass it on. In this letter David told Joab to put Uriah on the front lines of battle, and as soon as it got heated, Joab and his men were to pull back, and Uriah would be left alone. And that’s exactly what happened. Uriah was dead, and now David was free of a scandal.

Later in the story, David’s son Amnon falls in love with his sister Tamar. “He became frustrated to the point of illness” because it was impossible for him to do anything to her. So he set up a little scheme. He had his friend Jonadab tell Tamar that Amnon was ill so that she should minister to him. It worked. Amnon pretended to be sick and David sent Tamar to take care of him. When she arrived, Amnon raped her, but once he had his jollies, “he hated her.” “He hated her with intense hatred. In fact, he hated her more than he had loved her.”

He sent her out of his room.

She told him that making her leave would be an even greater crime than the rape itself, but they threw her out and bolted the door behind her. She could no longer wear the robes of a virgin because of her attack and she could no longer marry either because of the customs in Israel.

Tamar was Absalom’s favorite sister. He loved her deeply, and when he heard this he became very angry, setting the scene for his attempted coup d'état several years later.

Absalom did have his revenge. He took his brother to a celebration at Baal Hazor. When his brother was in high spirits from excess wine, then Absalom’s servants slew him as they were instructed by Absalom. And yet Absalom is portrayed as the bad guy.

Ironically, the one king who had a good child was Saul, the father of Jonathan—of David and Jonathan. Jonathan was true to David, true to God and true to Israel, and yet God took away the kingdom from Jonathan and handed it over to David who wasn’t really true to anyone but himself.

Go figure.

I would also like to point out that David never met a woman he didn’t marry. Between him and his son Solomon, they probably married half the known female population of the Middle-Eastern world. It was common back then for men to have many wives, and women were just property.

These are just some of the “family” stories in the Bible. These are the family values fundamentalists are afraid that homosexuality is somehow threatening. To be completely honest, I don’t care how great the Bible says these men were; I do not share their family values. Christianity talks at great lengths about love, but this is not love. And Jesus didn’t change that. He was very clear that he “came to turn mother against daughter and father against son.” When approached by his own family he publicly disowned them claiming that only those who listened to him were his family.

The family values of the Bible do not constitute family, or even value. As I’ve read through these stories, the one thing I’ve noticed missing throughout all of them is just that—“values.” These are highly dysfunctional people who should not be emulated, but should instead serve as a stark reminder of how important it is that we as humans develop spiritually so that we no longer propagate these kinds of reprehensible behaviors.

What threatens Biblical Family Values is not homosexuality, not television, not rock and roll, not Democrats, not even pornography, or a United States President getting a hummer in the Oval Office by an intern. What threatens Biblical Family Values is the Bible itself. As we humans become more “enlightened,” these behaviors are no longer acceptable to us. We are learning that we should no longer tolerate violence of any form against children. We are learning that it is deplorable to tolerate the subjugation of women or the proliferation of slavery. We are learning that families must act responsibly toward one another and the communities around them if the human race has any chance at all. And even in the name of God we are learning to find these things appalling and unacceptable. These Biblical events may have been acceptable in a time where survival was much more difficult, and our understanding of God and superstition was much simpler, but it is no longer acceptable, and that’s why Biblical Family Values are under attack. What society as a whole is now looking for is a place where children are loved and cherished, a place where all children are taken care of, fed and nurtured, and we’re less concerned about what that family has to look like.

I knew a lot of Christians growing up, and there’s one thing I can tell you. Their upbringing wasn’t good. If you look at the basic structure of most churches, you will see that they’re set up to keep children down, to suppress women, and to control their members. This is where today’s society is finally starting to break free. I believe that if every child on this planet were to know they were loved and cherished (not that homosexuality was wrong), then we would have heaven on earth.

I once saw a television talk show where they discussed gay adoptions. All throughout the show one man in particular kept protesting that if they allowed gay adoptions then the kids would turn out gay. My first thought to this argument was that every gay and lesbian person I had ever met was the product of “straight” parents, not gay parents. My parents were both straight.

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