Friday, May 31, 2013

Lay it down

That title must be the musician in me, which is more than a bit out of practice, but for a while now I've been thinking that I need to say plainly what I've been gradually moving toward and saying in the abstract for some time. Lay it down, like a drum beat or a chord progression or a melody...or a burden.

Last night I came in to work. That's what I do on weekends, I work overnights in a group home with mentally disabled adults. I have a night sleep position, where I'm basically paid a lesser rate to be present in case I'm needed. When I came in the television was on, which I next to never watch, especially at work, but I flipped around for a moment and came across the movie "Brokeback Mountain." Oh my goodness, what a gorgeous part of the world. The mountains roped me in, possibly Canadian Rocky mountains at that, did you know? But truthfully, often I avoid watching (what should I call it) stuff that gives me this ticked off frustrated feeling that someone somewhere is trying to reach inside and rip and twist at my perceptions. I don't like that, needless to say, and it is the reason why I keenly recall being turned off numerous programs that I had been following with some enjoyment previously, but no longer do. So often I avoid watching movies, television, etc., where I fear I'm going to feel attacked, in short. But I didn't get that sense with "Brokeback Mountain," a story of the frustrated lives and relationship of two gay cowboys. Maybe it was because I was half watching it while I was working on another blog with my back turned (lol). I had the volume turned down so I didn't hear a lot of the dialogue, but my sense was that it was a very honest portrayal of two people who struggled with same sex attraction.

Having said that, I expect that I will always question homosexuality, in much the same way that I expect that many people will always question what I believe. I'm a Christian, for anyone who doesn't know me, but just hear me out here. By the end of the movie, which I stayed up to watch, I wondered if the lives of the main characters might have been different if they had not chosen to cross a boundary. But that's not the point I want to make here, because the movie also affirmed something I've been thinking about for some time. We can argue, but at the end of the day it's freedom of conscience. My right to disagree and you're right to disagree with me. One person or group of people's right to say this is who I am, regardless of what I think or someone else thinks.

And to me that's the great irony in all of this, while people argue about the most recent study or what the Bible says, and people tell me stuff like "I was born this way but you weren't born religious so my right trumps yours." Well now (lol). Do we really know that? Pardon me, but does Lady Gaga really remember being born? I do, but I think I'm in the minority on that one. In other words, is religion some kind of evolutionary misgiving as some have claimed, or is same sex attraction genetic or not? I expect we shall have to wait a few decades to hear that it's complicated, but I have a hard time seeing how either could be proven for all people at all times unequivocally. Talk about your causal determinism. It makes a lot more sense to me to say that there are different communities of people who choose to self-identify in different ways.

On that note, regardless of what can be proven, or what is material or immaterial, it just seems very ironic to me that despite the current culture war that pits freedom of religion against gay rights without seeing the connection...and without realizing that religious people have fought for freedom of conscience for hundreds if not thousands of years. Haven't we? Jews would understand freedom of conscience, certainly they would, what it is to die for who you are or what you believe, and I know that I know that I know that many, many Christians would understand that historic struggle. More to the point, I'm guessing that often the more religious a person is, the more they would identify with freedom of conscience, precisely because we've had to fight for it. So what are we arguing about here?  It's not about what you're born or not born or made or choose to believe. It's about your right to say who you are, and my right to do the same. It's what a very polarized culture fails to recognize in the other, while they're blowing up the ground they're standing on, namely freedom of conscience. Ultimately, what is the difference between a person saying that I believe I'm gay, this is who I am, and my saying as a Christian, this is what I believe, this is who I am.

I remember having this heated discussion a while back with a gentleman who self-identified as gay. It's funny to me looking back on that discussion, all the little side paths we argued about. I'm not even going to bother getting into them. The thing that is important, the defining moment of a discussion where this gentleman said to me, the religious conservative, you're not going to change me. And I said right back, yeah, and you're not going to change me either. And we both saw it, and continued the discussion respectfully. He later said to me, your rights end where mine begin, and I  responded simply, yes, and your rights end where mine begin, and I think we both understood. It's about boundaries, and respecting other people enough to know that tolerance isn't rooted in similarity; tolerance is rooted in difference.

That's my hope for where we're going. I can't say it any more plainly than that. That gay rights be seen alongside religious rights, rather than against them. Where liberal churches and conservative churches are understood to offer different options to the gay community. Where Christian counselors are understood to offer a different option to gay individuals who choose to make a faith-based decision but who are respected as individuals while doing so. Where civil rights are equally respected in public institutions but where rights of conscience are also valued as people and communities choose not to force our/their values or beliefs on each other. Where we can remember painful histories while knowing that we have something in common despite our differences. Namely, a shared memory of what it is to be persecuted for who we are, whether distant or present. My hope is that it will be that understanding that guides us in beginning to respect our differences. And so this is my suggestion to the gay community and to religious communities as well, rather than attacking freedom of conscience, begin to understand that the gay person, the Jewish person, and the Christian person, have all been victimized historically. Many Muslims around the world as well are being victimized, as have eastern faiths, aboriginal people, non-theists and so forth...there's no monopoly on oppression in a grand sense, many of us have collectively done it, and many of us have also known collective victimization.

In conclusion, as I'm writing this I'm thinking about the holocaust. I'm thinking of the 6 million Jews whose lives were stolen from them while an anti-Semitic culture and church largely stood by and did nothing. I'm thinking as well of the Christians who did act, who did try try to stand up to Hitler, many of them also suffering and dying as a consequence, Dietrich Bonhoeffer being an honorable mention. The Slavic peoples who also died in concentration camps, along with Jehovah's witnesses, Gypsies, Poles, clergy, people with disabilities, political dissidents and conscientious objectors. What if rather than saying to religious minorities, religion is backward and oppressive! Try saying to religious minorities, you know what it is to be persecuted for who you are, as do we, because we were there with you! An estimated 5-15 thousand homosexuals were sent to concentration camps, many of whom were tortured and died. I think we can all agree that we never want to see a group of people singled out and victimized in that way again. I think we can also agree that we never never want to go back. Maybe it's time to lay aside the clanging cymbals and the resounding gong, and learn to play a new song, with low keyed voices and harmony.

thanks for listening,

M.A. Harvey


“We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.” 
― Dietrich BonhoefferLetters and Papers from Prison

Holocaust Victims:

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