This post is one in a continuing series for the month of March that aims to examine the American Church’s response to homosexuals in their midst, whether they be believers, agnostics, or atheists. This month’s series was spawned by the Harding University Queer Press publishing a zine on March 2 featuring the voices and stories of past and present LGBTQ students at Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas, my alma mater. The zine can be downloaded in its digital entirety at http://www.huqueerpress.com.
We could convince ourselves this zine issue at Harding University is the focus, but it’s not. It is, but it isn’t, and it isn’t because it’s really just a microcosm of something bigger. Yes, change will begin on the intimate level, but there’s still a global picture to take into consideration, one requiring us to step further back from Searcy, Arkansas and look at our entire nation. This goes beyond Harding, the zine, the angry bloggers. It has to do with asking the question, “How did the Church get such a bad reputation?”
If there’s one thing the healthcare reform of President Barack Obama’s administration taught us, it’s that we still don’t get it, and when I say that, I’m not taking a swipe at the healthcare bill, but instead referring to what the world saw it bring out of us: physiological manifestations of pent-up anger released and unleashed upon other human beings in the form of physical contact—these pushes and shoves intent on sending a message of disdain and disgust to the person opposite us on the demarcating line of the political issue.
Basically, we became immature children; we traded in level heads for tilted minds. As healthcare rallies across the nation were being held during the summer of 2009, broadcasts blatantly displayed individuals—anonymous to one another—expressing their fed-up attitudes. As televisions aired this over and over, it became clear, yet again, that progress is a myth, for there on the tube was plain evidence of how we had lost our ability to be humane once more—horrifically ironic since healthcare was the very topic of intense debate.
But this is not an article about healthcare, so why reference it? Because the same irony easily identifiable in that situation is also heavily present behind the stained-glass windows of the Church, and the gravity of the healthcare bill’s paradox issues a needed parallel reminder of how the Church often fails to be compassionate, level-headed, and a patient listener all while preaching a religion of love.
With healthcare, video footage unveiled the true character of people, and it did so without needing to put their actions under the microscope; rather, it placed them on the big screen of broadcast news for all to see thanks to globalization. The reason that specific facet of healthcare pertains to the Church is because it, too, can serve as a reminder of how—and this is the first part of our cycle—our actions are no longer what you could call anonymous. Instead, they very much contain a sort of indicting stigma we can not easily shake off of ourselves because everything we do will be attached to the label “Christian.”
The reason the impact of our actions fuse to that label comes from the second stop on this endless cycle: the prolonged effect. If that follows the removal of anonymity, the cycle then moves on to a new result—that of an altered identity, our third station. Again, healthcare exemplifies this. You don’t commence with people pushing and shoving on the newscast. That’s something at which you eventually arrive after enough time. It first starts with petitions, debates, motions before Congress, et cetera—pretty reserved stuff. Imagine if that sort of cool collectedness continues past the initial proceedings. Little acts of girl-fight violence probably wouldn’t rise up, and thus, the identity of healthcare reform would be different than how we know it today. It’d probably have a more positive association due to its peaceful quality.
But instead of that happening, the emotions rose and were allowed to run rampant, and before long people were throwing little hissy fits at one another on the news. When that happens, it shows the world that, through the prolonged effect of being unable to keep our cool, the identity of healthcare reform was altered to the point that the term “healthcare rallies” conjured up in peoples’ minds the faces of maniacs lacking self-control, rather than calm discussions. And what it basically showed the world was our political process is really no better than anyone else’s due to the human knack for easily losing one’s temper. “Now, wait a minute. We weren’t shooting each other in the streets.” True, but even that has to start somewhere. A little shove here and there can grow into a bigger animal given the right amount of time and conditions.
Healthcare is a perfect side anecdote for how the perpetual cycle of non-anonymity, the prolonged effect, and an altered identity amount to the concept of nonexistent stagnation. Situations like these—which are better known as “hot topics”—never stay in one place. They are either growing or shrinking in their size and intensity, whatever adjective that may be (angry, heated, peaceful, successful, waning, et cetera), and each of us contributes to the way in which they progress or regress. This is a concept the Church does not seem to understand but desperately needs to. Take the first part of the cycle: her actions can no longer be classified as what you would call anonymous, and they haven’t been for some time.
Two examples support this cultural awareness of the Church’s character. First, her unbridled inner-sectarianism attracts the attention of not just the religious wallowing in the throes of denominationalism, but it also catches the eyes of those from the secular sphere to the point they are well aware there is a difference between a Presbyterian and an Episcopalian. In totality, they could not care less what that actual difference is, and truthfully they may not even really know what the difference between those two denominations is; what matters is the fact they can easily see a wide schism of division does, in fact, exist. Or second, take how the outside world is well aware the Church ravenously makes love to American politics any chance it can get, opening its bed to Lady Liberty on a nightly basis.
Why are such facets of the Church so readily apparent? Again, it’s the idea that there’s really no such thing as an anonymous action anymore in the globalized information age, especially when it’s an entity as large as the American Church. Few people will react when a little guy moves about, but when the seven-foot behemoth walks in the room with the ground shaking underneath his feet, a few heads will undoubtedly turn and people will take note of what he does—good or bad—and begin to dissect it. And when we as Christians continue to do the same things over and over again, they only add to the growth of a certain perception of the way things are in the American Church. One such view that has been all too easily locatable in the pews has been the aversion and altogether hatred towards homosexuality and those who possess such a sexual identity.
And the Church sometimes wonders, “Why do people hate Christians?” Maybe because the Church has done her fair share of hating people. Cultural and religious scholars could very well come in and use highfalutin language to tackle this issue, but in reality this is so simplistic an episode of Sesame Street could be devoted to its discussion, and the audience of children would be fully capable of coming away from the television with a solid understanding of it. This “puzzling dilemma” the Church finds herself in is not hard to figure out. Some will respond, “Well, I don’t hate homosexuals.” Okay, perhaps not, but if a Christian really doesn’t, then what is he doing to change the way in which Christians treat the LGBTQ crowd? Here’s a starter: does he even know what LGBTQ stands for?
American Christians stand on a dangerous precipice as the second decade of the twenty-first century commences, and it is hazardous in the sense that this generally accurate perception of Christians’ intolerant behavior towards homosexuals has been alive and growing—remember, nonexistent stagnation—ever since the 1960s (some would say longer). That’s an implausibly long amount of time. Consider how much has happened since then—how many wars, causes, movements, and such have come, grown, sputtered, and died in that span. Now consider how this perceived Christian aversion to the homosexual community has outlasted them all. Does the Church pat herself on the back or crawl into a hole and die? Much of America can answer that one for Christians, and rarely is it the former.
But surely drawing a correlation to healthcare scuffles is not meant to insinuate violence will begin to enter the picture? No connecting line is needed, for violence already is part of this fiasco. Hate crimes against homosexuals are numerous and easy to come by, and what’s frightening is the possibility of how many have probably gone completely unnoticed and remain hidden beneath the surface of a young gay’s or lesbian’s emotions. That’s not to say Christians are solely to blame for those violent attacks, but it’s also highly unlikely Christians haven’t been willing participants in such atrocities, either.
As a whole, the Church plays a significant part in the American cultural stance towards homosexuality because she still holds a lot of sway in the society of the United States today. And within the walls of these churches if those who are made uncomfortable by homosexuality do nothing to change their attitude, their stance will only grow stronger, and their repugnance will only steepen as well. Before long, it will come to blows, and it has. Those in the Church may say, “Not me. I believe in God, and God wouldn’t want me to do that,” but such social consciousness is never measured by what a person doesn’t do. The negative example is never indicative of one’s true character; rather, what one spends his or her time actively doing speaks to their real beliefs.
If a Christian never invites the neighborhood’s lesbian couple into his home for dinner, his apathy is just as heinous a crime. Or take it up a notch more: people can easily convince themselves there remains a wide gulf between holding a picket sign that says, “Fags die, God laughs,” and actually physically attacking somebody, but the separation between the two actions is paper-thin. So, no, a person—whether Christian or not—is never too good to stoop to that level of lowness. And a white posterboard angrily paint-splashed with black lettering confirms as much.
Until people make purposeful efforts to reach out and love the gays and lesbians in their lives, the situation only gets worse. And it doesn’t have to be some overtly challenging attempt. It’s as simple as having someone over for dinner. Something transcendent occurs when you invite strangers into your home and break bread with them. It is miraculously disarming. Maybe it’s just the very sight of them putting food in their mouth; you realize they’re human.
People like this—these kind souls who would do something so practical as have people over for a meal—are the ones whose voices need to be heard. The part of the Christian sector whose voice is heard loudest usually comes from the Bible-beaters who possess little sensitivity, selflessness, or compassion, and so other people need to start speaking truth because the hypocrisy and hate coming out of the stereotypical Church have to be shown for what they are and begin to stop. Such Christians averse to the Church’s prejudice against homosexuals are always in the minority sector of the religious, but that does not mean they are wrong in speaking up and pursuing the peace for which they earnestly long.
Hopefully this is not the end but the start or continuation of something that needed to be happening decades ago. To quote a bumper sticker outside the office door of one of my past English professors, “Compassion is revolution.” The question is whether or not individuals buy into that principle and believe it with how they live their lives, especially if said persons claim Christ as their buddy. Because, O Church, people are watching, and well they should be.