Episcopal Bishop and well-known theologian John Shelby Spong issued a "Manifesto" last week, in which he said, "I have made a decision. I will no longer debate the issue of homosexuality in the church with anyone. I will no longer engage the biblical ignorance that emanates from so many right-wing Christians about how the Bible condemns homosexuality, as if that point of view still has any credibility."

I admire this stance, and am very glad he has taken it. However, I disagree very much with his reasoning: "I make these statements because it is time to move on. The battle is over. The victory has been won. There is no reasonable doubt as to what the final outcome of this struggle will be."

I very much believe that the arc of the universe bends towards justice, and that this is what the final outcome will be. However, I don't think that victory has already been won. That may sound a little like predestination for some, that the victory will ultimately be for good, but that the battle isn't won. Perhaps there is a little predestination in my faith, in the belief that good will ultimately triumph, even when we're in the midst of the darkest night.

And I think that we're not exactly in the darkest night on this issue any more, it's true. There is a way in which we can see victory more clearly now. But we haven't come so far, in my opinion, that there's only one possible end to all of this.

And while I don't believe most hearts are turned by argument and debate, and a lot of people are so entrenched in their positions that they may never be changed, I do still think there are a lot of individuals out there who can be swayed by a clear understanding of how the scriptures have been used and misused on this issue, what the science is, and a message about "Standing on the Side of Love."

But I suspect there is a difference between what I am called to do, which is to argue with individuals, and what Spong is talking about, where he has been called to be on panels where his view and those of hate are paired as if they are "equal." Does having balanced, unbiased approaches to things mean, for example, that we must balance all good with evil, in order to not be biased?

For example, our Community Forum is done in partnership with the library. The library has to, as part of their mission, present both sides of issues. I have said that while I believe all attendees should be free to express their opinions, I don't believe that all issues have two sides, and I'm not willing for us to give all sides of all issues equal weight, when we, as Unitarian Universalists, have a clear moral stance on an issue. My two main examples of this are that I'm not going to do a forum on the Holocaust and give any weight or any space on the panel to Holocaust deniers. As Spong says, "I do not debate any longer with members of the 'Flat Earth Society' either." And I don't debate with Holocaust deniers, because there is a clear truth that they stand in opposition to for reasons of hate, and to give them equal voice is destructive and harmful. (Just to be clear, no one on our committee has ever suggested that we do a panel discussion with Holocaust deniers--this is just an example.) The other example, however, that I have used in terms of talking about what I am unwilling for us, as a religious body, to do, is hold a forum in which we put gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer or questioning (LGBTIQ) people on a panel with those who are going to use words which are insulting, derogatory, or otherwise painful in their descriptions or labeling of LGBTIQ people. We've come close, and I've come close, with talking about panels on same-sex marriage which might include people from both sides of the marriage debate, but so far we haven't done such a panel. And, as I reflect on it, it may be wrong to consider doing a panel. It's one thing to allow everyone in the audience to have their questions and their doubts and their prejudices, and to try to educate, inform, and challenge those assumptions. It's quite another to risk our religious authority by giving a platform for hate.

It is so clear to me that I will not engage in a debate about whether or not the Holocaust exists. It's ridiculous to believe it doesn't, and to even suggest it might be debatable is profoundly wrong. Do I then need to say, along with Spong, "It is time for the media to announce that there are no longer two sides to the issue of full humanity for gay and lesbian people. There is no way that justice for homosexual people can be compromised any longer." I believe the answer is yes, that it is wrong to suggest lend any credence to a perspective that disregards the full humanity of LGBTIQ people by agreeing to debate that question in public forums. And, on the other hand, I think that having such a debate can still open some people's minds. Whereas the population is largely united on belief in the Holocaust, we haven't come that far on issues of LGBTIQ justice yet.

So, I'm torn. I'm thinking about it. Spong says, "I invite others to join me in this public declaration."

Maybe I will soon. Help push me there.


Jess said…
I think the main point of Spong's manifesto is that there are truths, rather than "opinions," over this issue that deserve to be treated as such: that being LGBTQ is not a "lifestyle choice," homosexuality is not a "deviance," and that LGBTQ people are just as human as the rest of us.

As religious people living in the world, we have come to know these things as truth, backed up by experience and, albeit slowly, by science as well.

So, to put the "opinions" of those who seek to demean LGBTQ people on the same level as these truths is just so much running to stand still.

I don't know that Spong is asking anyone to abandon the debate entirely, but rather to live and speak and teach truth rather than spending so much time refuting absurdities, like the scary "homosexual agenda," as if they have any weight at all. To give the arguments of hatred any kind of platform, even in rebuttal, can be seen as assigning worth to them, which they have never deserved.

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