Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Fires have been contained to the west (Malibu) and north (Stevenson Ranch) of us, but are still burning at a distant east (Lake Arrowhead) and southeast (Orange County) from where we live. Fortunately we are located in Van Nuys, a central urban area away from the dry brush and forest areas, so we are safe. But the air is extremely unhealthful. The sunlight filtering through the atmosphere casts a strange, orange-gray light upon us.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

What we talked about

Our discussion last night went better than I expected.

In my last two posts I called it a "community discussion" and apparently left the impression that this was a discussion open to the community. My bad. What I meant (and expected) was that community representatives who were concerned about reaching conservative religious communities with gay and lesbian issues were invited to share experiences and discuss strategies. So I was basically invited to a brainstorming committee.

I expected to come and find that I was the most conservative person there. That turned out to be true. (The moderator of the meeting jotted down "ultra-conservative" on the white board when it came to representing my concerns.) I was afraid I might come and find that I was the only conservative there. That turned out not to be true. There was one other person, an American Baptist minister, who thankfully said most of the things I wanted to say. All I had to do was agree with him and share some supporting anecdotes from my personal experience. We didn't talk about celibacy, but it was just as well since that idea would have been too advanced for this group.

Two people from CA Faith Equality moderated the meeting, my friend Kerry who is lesbian and Jewish, and her colleague who (I think) is transgendered and was raised Hindu. The pastor of the UCC church that hosted the meeting attended along with a number of Japanese American congregation members who were parents or friends of someone gay. There was also a long time gay activist from the Chinese community, a representative from a GLBT legal organization, a Buddhist parent of a gay child, and a Washington D.C. activist who had recently relocated to L.A.

As I said, I was on board with just about everything the American Baptist minister shared. He emphasized that in order to talk to conservatives about gay or gay-related issues, it doesn't work to set up panel discussions and bring in outsiders who have credentials that people would consider questionable. A graduate of "So-and-So School of Religion" isn't going to cut it. It had better be Dallas Theological Seminary or some place people have heard of and respect. He joked that had enough trouble getting respect for being a graduate of Fuller Seminary, and I was the only one in the room who laughed. That in itself said something about where the divide in the group lay.

He talked about the importance of understanding people's fears, being able to name them and openly discuss them. Are these fears rational? If our country is in moral decline, would supporting gay civil marriage hurt or help the situation? Are homosexuals dragging marriage down the tubes . . . or have heterosexuals been doing that on their own? He also talked about how these discussions often don't mean much to people until they are facing a crisis moment, such as when a son or daughter comes out as gay. That's when people come back ready to revisit the issues with you, now that they themselves are feeling like outsiders in the church.

Somehow we got onto the topic of theology. One of the UCC members asked me why I couldn't just tell the members of my church that God created people to be gay. I had to explain that our denomination held to a theological tradition that included an Augustinian view of original sin and the fall. Since the fall affected all of humanity, the burden of proof would lie with whoever wanted to demonstrate that homosexuality is not a part of that fallen condition. I also explained that according to this view, unchosen conditions such as sickness or suffering (such as the pains of childbirth) are manifestations of our fallen condition. It seemed to me homosexuality could be presented as falling into a related category.

The UCC people responded as if they had never before heard of the doctrine of the fall. That puzzled me, because I wouldn't know how to understand the joy and wonder of the gospel without it. But of course I didn't pursue it with them. This meeting was on their turf, not mine.

The group concluded--perhaps after hearing enough of the bizarre, conservative, insider lingo from the American Baptist minister and me--that it was probably best to allow the people who are already within conservative circles to carry on these discussions with their own. I couldn't agree more. Still, they want to meet again to talk about actions we could take. I'm not sure what actions those would be, except for me to sit around waiting for the people who already know me to approach me in their own time with their own questions about these things. But sure, I'll go to the next meeting if I can.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Thoughts on reaching conservatives

With Ann Coulter going around saying offensive things like "America would be better off if everyone were Christian," I wonder whether anyone in the gay community would care to "reach conservatives" at all about a better understanding gay issues. The tension (and discouragement) mounts as I look forward to attending the community discussion this Wednesday, co-sponsered by API (Asian/Pacific Islander) Equality and CA Faith for Equality.

I have no idea what strategies we're going to talk about. But one thought I'd like to bring to the table is this: as with liberals, conservatives tend to trust only their own. Particularly conservatives in the Christian community. Unless you're willing to open up your Bible and cite chapter and verse, and are willing to work with a theological framework built upon the key points of creation, fall, redemption and consummation, you are not speaking their language. Your arguments simply won't make sense to them. If you start talking about "inclusion" or "love" apart from the ideas of divine mercy, forgiveness and atonement, then as far as they are concerned you are just babbling some liberal, idealistic, world-peace, hippie language that is out of touch with reality as they understand it.

I know. Jesus loved people. Jesus included people. But if you read the Gospel accounts, his love and inclusiveness embraced those people who looked to him in faith for the forgiveness of their sins. You simply can't get around that, especially if you read the account of Jesus' last supper with his disciples, where he plainly says that his imminent death is to be accomplished "for the many for forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26:26-28). He laid down his life not merely because he loves us--though that is true--and not merely because he wants to include people of every tongue, tribe and nation in his kingdom--though that is also true. But the basis for his love and inclusiveness is his own atoning sacrifice on behalf of sinners. It is not merely that we must believe ourselves to be sinners. It is that we must believe that Jesus views us as sinners, and that he came to us for no other reason than to save us from the condemnation we have brought upon ourselves.

That is the conservative Christian view of things. Which means that when it comes to discussing homosexuality with them, there is little value in taking them to task on their position that homosexuality is a part of humanity's fallen and sinful condition. At best, you might try to convince people that while humanity certainly is corrupted by sin, homosexuality is not one of those sins for which Jesus died. But even I have not been convinced by such arguments.

Instead, I would suggest approaching conservative Christian leaders with a challenge to be open to the policy of celibacy for their homosexual church members. While that may seem like a big concession for more liberal-minded gays and lesbians to make, it is a much bigger concession for church leaders to accept, because it would be admitting that homosexuality might be a permanent condition that ex-gay ministries can't fix. And yet if leaders put up resistance to a celibacy policy, this is where we can challenge them: How can the church not tolerate celibate gay members? If people aren't acting upon their orientation, what sin have they committed in the church's eyes that would justify putting them out of the fold?

If celibate homosexuals are allowed to exist and be supported within the church, a natural education process would take place as people get to know what a gay or lesbian person is really like, apart from the media stereotypes and right-wing propaganda. Caring personal relationships are what change people's minds, not outreach programs or advertisement campaigns.

In my opinion, this is the blueprint for reaching conservatives within the faith community. But will I have the guts to share it?

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Reaching conservatives

I've been invited by CA Faith for Equality to join a discussion this month on how to open up dialogue within Asian/Pacific Islander religious communities about gay and lesbian issues. In other words, they are looking for input on how to reach the most conservative communities among us with the message of tolerance for gay and lesbian people.

I'm encouraged that some people are concerned about this. I'm still not sure how much of my opinion I'll feel comfortable sharing, but I can say here that the outreach strategies that most pro-gay groups normally employ wouldn't make the slightest dent in conservative circles. My conservative friends wouldn't be interested in attending a candlelight vigil, a gay and lesbian film festival, or any event that involves meditating while holding hands in a circle. They generally distrust the media, which in their eyes has discredited itself by failing to represent their views even-handedly. Case in point is today's headline in the news section of my NetZero page:

"Anti-gay 'quacks' to descend on Dallas"

It turns out this story is about a NARTH conference to be held in
Dallas-Fort Worth for reparative therapists the weekend of October 26-28. The headline does not call them "reparative therapists" but "'quacks'" which is a quote from the mouth of Wayne Bessen, founder of Truth Wins Out, whose group plans to protest the event. Why put his words in the headline of the article? Is this objective reporting? And why use the word "descend"? All they are doing is meeting for their own conference. They are not planning to march, harass the gay community of Dallas, or hold a public protest against gay marriage while they are there.

If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you know how I feel about reparative therapy, what a lot of hogwash I think it is. But how does a story like this, which reports on a NARTH conference for what appears to be no good reason except to stir up bile against NARTH members, do any good for the gay and lesbian cause? Those who already agree that reparative therapy is quack science get to jeer, and those who have more conservative leanings on social issues will view this as more evidence that the news media has been hijacked by liberals. As a result, I fear that many of the informative human interest stories that the media sometimes runs on the lives of gay and lesbian people are dismissed by conservatives as more liberal propaganda. It is all of a piece with: "Anti-gay 'quacks' to descend on Dallas."

How honest can I be about my concerns at this upcoming community discussion? Realistically, I doubt I'll feel free to be entirely frank about what I think needs to be done to "reach conservatives." It's next Wednesday, the 17th. I'll let you know how it goes.