Friday, November 4, 2011

Ending the Culture War

I think I might be changing how I look at some things.  Scares me.  I'm afraid I'm wrong.  It's not easy when you realize that you might be putting yourself right smack dab in the middle of a very heated and difficult conversation, if it is a conversation.
I was just listening to Martin Luther King's "I have a dream speech."  It made me cry as it did when I last listened to it.  Then I was in my early twenties and living in a L'Arche community.  Now I am in my late thirties with a family of my own.  It must have taken so much courage for him to stand up and say those words in the middle of a very hostile time.  What I remember hearing about Martin Luther King from people who worked with him is that he was actually a very quiet person," not at all at ease with people, but when he stood up to speak... for all men are created equal!" I remember a blogger commenting that their visit to a museum dedicated to Dr. King, that the thing that they had left thinking was that he had just been living out his beliefs as a Christian.  Baptist minister, son and grandson of  Baptist ministers, he had a Biblical understanding and hope and yearning for Biblical justice.  He understood that his nation's history and western history had been founded and shaped by Biblical concepts. And so he was able to draw from that well to speak to a larger Christian society who would have also understood, at least more than most would today, the references to scripture that he was quoting.

I left a church when I was 15 because it supported segregation. I was never really a member anyway I suppose, after all I was Catholic and they were Baptist. They were from the southern United States, I was Canadian.  It's funny to me now, when I look back at some of the experiences that shaped me from those years.  How painful it was, to be told as a Catholic kid at a Bible camp, that all Catholics were going to hell, that I was going to hell for wearing jeans and listening to rawk music (with a self assured southern drawl).  Only to go home to be screamed at by your unstable controlling Catholic mother, that you are being brainwashed by Baptists, who the bishop no less, has just confirmed to her, "can be a cult."  How painfully difficult, and yet it was during those years that I really found my faith, and years later I realized that I knew how to talk to protestants and I knew how to talk to Catholics as well. Now I find myself in a similar situation, where I understand social conservatives, because I am one in many respects, and I'm beginning to understand where the gay community is coming from too.

My understanding of how human rights developed in the western world is that the key concept is Judeo-Christian, that human beings are equal because they are created in the image of God.  If you stop to think about it, this is certainly not an evolutionary idea, or an enlightenment idea, because from an evolutionary worldview people (or members of a species) are not equal because some members are stronger, brighter, faster than others.  The enlightenment focused on humanity's potential for and through, reason.  Some people have more reasoning ability than others.  No, it is neither.  It is a distinctly Judeo-Christian concept.  That all people are equal, black or white, Jew or Gentile, homosexual or straight, male or female, rich or poor, disabled or abled, street person or Queen of England, because they are created in the image of God. Because God desires to know each of them, loves each of them, counts the hairs on the head of each of them. It is this foundation that forms the basis for western egalitarianism. That concept began to shape western society, and governance (as it was Christianized after Constantine), and as a consequence of the religious wars that followed the Protestant Reformation between Catholics and Protestants, both began to realize that the cost was too great, and so began the concept of religious freedom and rights.  Understandably, with the United States with a more Protestant heritage, wanted to enshrine those religious rights with the separation of church and state.  My understanding is that it was not intended to mean what it has come to mean, almost exclusively freedom from religion.  It was intended to keep one denomination from gaining control and persecuting other denominations.  This certainly makes sense when viewed through an historical context.

As a social conservative I understand where social conservatives are coming from regarding traditional marriage.  They're not crazy, for the record, there is actually a lot of research to back up much of what they are saying.  Societies need traditional marriage.  It is a built-in organic social safety net, it was the social safety net before there were social safety nets. It makes sense that religion, being a stabilizer in societies would want to promote traditional marriage with an understanding for example, that the child born out of wedlock, or growing up in poverty without a father, would be at a disadvantage.  I understood this as a young person because I was that kid from the wrong side of the tracks who knew all too well how difficult it was to struggle against a broken background.  That, and probably my fear of hell from the Baptists (LOL) kept me on the straight and narrow and I became a true conservative.  I worked hard, pulled myself up by my bootstraps, worked to put myself through university, left home and kept working, all this to be told when I was finally getting somewhere, newly married with my own new place, that I was now a bigot and a hatemonger.  Congratulations!  And I was mad as hell, to be quite frank.  I stood on the lawn of the Canadian Parliament buildings with my arms crossed demanding the preservation of the traditional definition of marriage-for the next kid I figured....until I began to realize that this culture war just isn't working.

Just like the Catholics and the Protestants began to realize that killing each other in the name of a swordless Jesus, for a Jesus that said that his kingdom was not of this world, I'm beginning to think that forcing people to share your values, who frankly don't share your values and who probably never will share your values is rather counter-productive. Especially when those people are telling you they want nothing to do with Christianity because of the religious right.  As an evangelical Christian who's heart's desire is to reach out to hurting people and see lives transformed by the Gospel, yeah that seems rather counter-productive.

What if the sign outside the abortion clinic said " Let us serve you, " or "How can we help you?" What if the church got behind gay rights as a way of saying that God loves homosexuals. What if the overwhelming majority of signs at a gay pride parade said " We're here to support the person." What if we focused less on the sin and began to focus more on loving the sinner, less on preserving traditional marriage, less on legislation, and more on supporting the people in our neighborhoods who's paradigms may not fit our own?  I was thinking the other day, if I was someone who was struggling with same sex attraction, who'd never set foot in a church, how would I know that Jesus loved me?  How would I know that I was welcome in a church, in any church?  I wasn't thinking that when I was standing on Parliament hill defending the traditional definition of marriage, but I'm beginning to look at the church from the outside looking in, and I'm remembering how that lonely fifteen year old kid, myself, stood on the doorstep of that Baptist church for a very long time in the cold, hearing the Christmas Party with the sweets and the lovely sweaters and the skirts and the lovely southern manners, only to finally walk away, alone. They didn't really want to know me, I knew it. They didn't believe I was really a Christian, how could I be, after all, I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt.  

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