Friday, June 27, 2008

The Ditch the Church is Hell-Bent on Dying In

My nephew has just returned to California from a two week visit home with my partner and I here in Orlando. During his time here he came out to his parents who live just across town. Actually, he just confirmed their worst fears as fundamentalists since they had gotten into his facebook and read some of the posts which leave no doubt about his sexuality. It was a very tense Father’s Day dinner this year with my brother livid over his child’s Pride bracelet (frankly, all those rubber bands look interchangeable to me – I didn’t even know it was a Pride bracelet until I asked my nephew). Later my sister-in-law told my nephew that he had ruined his father’s Fathers Day by wearing that "detestable thing" (his father’s words, albeit borrowed uncritically from scripture).

When I read this news about the evangelicals in California mobilizing for their homophobic campaign disguised as religion to write discrimination in marriage into the state constitution, I found myself worrying about my nephew. Having survived a lifetime of overt and subtle homophobia as the context of my own life, I know how much energy it requires to simply cope with that context. But to have a whole segment of society mobilize to actively discriminate against you and carve their judgmental fears and loathing into a state constitution is demoralizing and intimidating. I pray for his safety. According to a wealth of studies, hate crimes based in sexual orientation increase during times of moral panic crusades like this. If it’s all right to bash gays collectively at the societal level, it’s certainly all right to act out such bashing on individuals who happen to be convenient.

While my nephew was here, we talked about religion. His general response to Christianity was simply “There’s nothing there for me.” Sadly, his experience of his own family, of organized religion and the presentation of religion in our media consistently equates the Christian faith with homophobia. He is hardly alone in that perception. And while he has a particular interest in avoiding homophobia based religion as a young gay man, his generational cohort feels much the same about organized religion for much the same reasons. When homophobia becomes the litmus test for religious faith, people of good conscience often find themselves unable to continue taking that religion seriously. This is hardly to say that people will not have spiritual needs which must be met in some manner. It’s just that increasingly it means they won’t be met in the institutional churches. As the church grays and dies and the Millenials vote with their feet, homophobia will become the ditch the church will die in.

My liturgics professor at seminary in California was prone to remark about ordination and marriage of gays and lesbians “If you don’t think you could ever ordain them or marry them, why baptize them in the first place?” My Roman Catholic seminarian buddies often said that the answer to how many sacraments there were was seven – if you were a straight unmarried male, six if you are straight and female and five if you were gay or lesbian. Perhaps churches that preach love of neighbor as oneself but practice discrimination – much less campaigning to make it state law – ought to die.

The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.

Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes.

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