Banner for Bruce Bawer 3/19/96 article

Bruce Bawer 3/19/96 article

Bruce Bawer's "Last Word" column in the March 19, 1996, Advocate:

The Fundamentals of Faith

You donít have to be a gay Christian to be appalled by this yearís Republican presidential hopefuls, but it sure doesn't hurt. At the Louisiana GOP convention, shown on C-SPAN in late January, Phil Gramm, Alan Keyes, and Pat Buchanan alternated between self-righteous Bible-thumping and vicious jabs at gay men and lesbians, among others. You'd have thought they were running for ayatollah. Even more grotesque than their ritual juxtaposition of pietism and thuggery was the audience's enthusiastic response: The nastier the digs, the wilder the applause.

Experiencing such spectacles as a gay Christian, I find myself doubly pained. It hurts to see self-styled Christians preaching antigay hate in God's name; it also hurts to know that such high-profile rhetoric has made Christian, in the standard gay lexicon, a synonym for bigot. Yet while 700 Club types have done a zealous job of making Christians look like creeps, I think it would serve our movement well for us to recognize that, as a human institution, the church has never been any less diverse than, say, the lesbian and gay community.

At one extreme are Christians in whose minds the church stands, above all, for eternal law, institutional order, and final judgment. Such folks staged the Inquisition and cited biblical "proof texts" to support slavery ("Slaves, obey your masters") and the subjugation of women ("Let your women be silent in the churches"). Barely a century ago in the American hinterlands, they retreated from modem scientific advances into a bizarre new set of apocalyptic doctrines and a severe biblical literalism that in 1920 won them the label "fundamentalist." Today those backwoods doctrines, slickly repackaged for the TV age by Pat Robertson and his ilk, draw millions to churches that claim to preserve "old-time religion" in the face of threatening social change. Yet what they're really doing is deep-sixing the ancient gospel message of nonjudgmental love and highlighting, in its place, a disagreeable habit of attaching God's name to their basest prejudices.

Then there are other Christians-people for whom the church serves as a vehicle through which to emulate the ministry of Jesus, a revolutionary for whom love always transcended law. Such Christians spearheaded abolitionism, marched for civil rights in the 1950s, and now labor for such causes as Ė yes -- gay equality. Itís unfair to them, and strategically counterproductive, to glibly scorn their faith. A far more fair and fruitful approach it seems to me, would begin with the recognition that the Christian Coalition's take on gay issues (among others) is not, in any legitimate sense, Christian at all. Indeed, I think it's about time that, instead of bashing religion, we started vigorously pointing out to the large nonfundamentalist Christian mainstream just how outrageously the religious right has perverted the Christian message.

First, since Christianity is, above all, about love, it's unchristian to disdain any kind of love. Fundamentalists often deem gay sex the most heinous of sins, while rarely acknowledging (and never honoring) gay love; by contrast, the gospels make it clear that Jesus didn't identify sin with sex, gay or otherwise, and that what mattered to him was not what people did in bed but how they treated one another.

Second, it's unchristian to demonize anybody. Many fundamentalists, along with fellow-traveling Catholics such as Buchanan, unctuously identify themselves with God and equate gays with the devil. This is not Christian thinking: Christianity demands that you regard yourself in the same way you do others. "Judge not, lest ye be judged," said Jesus, who fraternized with lepers, whores, and sundry outcasts.

Third, it's unchristian to fetishize the so-called traditional family. The religious right consistently yokes God and family, depicts the family as endangered by gay rights, and denies that a family can consist of, say, a gay or lesbian couple. This attitude would certainly not have been shared by Jesus, who told his followers, "You must hate your parents." Jesus! This in-your-face activism was shocking. But in a clannish society where blood ties were all, he wished to emphasize that the keys of the kingdom lie not in glorifying those ties but in expanding one's understanding of the word family. If Jesus were walking our streets today, what would the TV preachers make of his "family" of 12 men? John's gospel has the crucified Jesus saying to Mary, apropos of his beloved disciple: "Mother, behold your son." His point: Love alone makes a family.

When it comes to Christianity and homosexuality, a few things seem clear. If more self-styled Christians truly were Christian, then Christianity would be the chief bulwark of gay men and lesbians in the face of societal anathematization, rather than the bigots' principal tool. Further, we do have allies in all but the most far-out churches, and we should strive to work with them, not against them. Finally, if we respond to religious-right attacks with a conspicuous respect for the real meaning of Christianity, we can go a long way toward helping the majority of Christians, who are neither antigay fundamentalists nor pro-gay activists, to see us, the religious right, and the likes of Gramm and Buchanan for what we all really are-and toward reminding them what are, and arenít, the proper fundamentals of their faith.

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