Tuesday, May 26, 2009

WWJD? Surely Not Discriminate Or Hate

It’s tempting to dismiss Shelby County Commissioner Wyatt Bunker and his fundamentalist preacher friends as merely the latest incarnation of the flat earth society.

Surely, it’s hard to identify a group in recent memory that has so cavalierly dismissed scientific evidence, that has so conveniently picked and chosen selective Bible verses, that has calculatedly misstated our national history and that has so graphically missed the lessons of the civil rights movement.

What would Jesus do?

What would Dr. King do?

Standing Up For Prejudice

We imagine that they both would have stayed as far away from today’s pro-discrimination demonstration by Mr. Bunker and his colleagues outside the Shelby County Administration Building, where our community’s first anti-discrimination resolution protecting gays, lesbians and transgendered persons will be voted on in coming days.

In fact, if an unmarried man in his early 30’s who spent most of his time living and traveling with 12 other men talking about love had shown up outside the county building, he probably would have been condemned rather than worshiped by the gaggle of religious demagogues purporting to represent the essence of his gospel.

Here, we believe that when these anti-gay people arrive at the Pearly Gates, God will be there with two questions: “What were you thinking? How in my name did you get what you thought out of anything I said?”

Of course, Commissioner Bunker and the others would immediately say that we have no idea what God is thinking and that we are misrepresenting His teachings. That too is our response to them.

No Joking Matter

There’s nothing quite as disconcerting as the spectacle of Christians when they are so defiantly and proudly unChristlike. If those without sin should cast the first stone, we seem blessed in Memphis with an awful lot of people with a firm sense of their own perfection.

In Shelby County Government, there’s a popular joke punctuated with a punch line featuring a closet, Commissioner Bunker and former evangelical leader Ted Haggard. But in truth, this isn’t funny. It isn’t entertaining. It’s simply appalling, especially when members of the majority race of the majority religion should have so little regard for the foundational principles of our society – fair play, equality, brotherhood and tolerance.

In a way, however, we owe these misguided African-American ministers our thanks for their honesty about their gay bigotry (which isn't unlike the anti-Semitic bigotry shown to Congressman Steve Cohen), because for just a few minutes listening to them all of us got a sense of why most African-American gays and lesbians live their lives deeply in the recesses of the closet.

It’s absolutely impossible to imagine a scenario where Dr. King would have stood with his fellow Baptists on this issue. We can only imagine that he would have updated one of his many statements about the cancer of prejudice to include gays, lesbians and transgendered people. “Discrimination is a hellhound that gnaws at (gays) in every waking moment of their lives to remind them that the lie of their inferiority is accepted as truth in the society dominating them. Almost always, the creative dedicated minority has made the world better.”

God Told Us Something Totally Different

Just as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson mistakenly believed that God takes sides in presidential elections, many fundamentalist ministers of both races mistakenly believe that He takes sides in the political wars. To most of us who become spectators to these kinds of events and the regular pronouncements about “family values,” we end up feeling like our faith is being stolen and it’s time to reclaim it.

As a result of the kind of behavior that took place outside the county building downtown and the anti-gay vitriol spewed by these Christian leaders, there is a misperception by the news media that somehow these views represent Christianity and that these people are typical of our faith. The truth is they are uniformly 180 degrees from what our faith means to us.

That’s the striking irony of this discussion. Commissioner Bunker says he opposes the anti-discrimination ordinance because of his religious beliefs, because of his sense of morality and because of his commitment to a life of faith.

Funny, those are the same reasons that lead us to support the ordinance.

What Gives Him The Right?

That in a nutshell sums up the danger of injecting private religious viewpoints into public policies that govern all of us. After all, why should Commissioner Bunker’s definition of sin trump ours? To him, homosexuality is a sin. To us, intolerance and sanctimony are. Why does he think his version of Christianity trumps those of us whose Christianity leads us to a totally different destination in our lives, most notably away from those who see their religion as a hammer to bludgeon anyone who is different?

As a school board member, Mr. Bunker thought that stickers should be put on biology books saying that evolution is only a theory and creationism deserves equal stature. That lack of respect for science and lack of basic understanding of scientific theory surfaces yet again in the midst of this debate as he picks up the fundamentalist refrain that homosexuality is a choice.

We won’t even dignify it with the obvious answer, but here’s the question: even if it is a choice, why does Commissioner Bunker believe that it gives him the right to discriminate against other Americans?

We’d like to think that the essence of Christianity (not to mention our common humanity) calls on us to support equal treatment and love for all of God’s children, regardless of their private lives and the legal options they choose for themselves.

Power Politics And Rules As Religion

As George Lakoff points out in his book, Moral Politics, the Religious Right is based on a “strict father” metaphor of morality, in which a wise father (whether church or political leader) sets the rules and the children (the people) do what they are told. These black-and-white moral values exist, in the father’s view, not just to help people behave morally but to maintain social order and discipline.

Adherence to these rules implies the legitimacy of the “father,” who often is treated or sees himself as speaking for God. As a result, the people who move away from that established order are doing much more than misbehaving or acting immorally. More to the point, they are threatening the rules by showing that other paths are possible and calling into question the “father’s” authority.

We don’t do the theory justice here, but clearly, Commissioner Bunker and his preacher supporters are so invested in this father-child view of the world that even an ordinance outlawing discrimination becomes a threat. It’s too bad, because in the end, anytime we strengthen the rights of every one in society, we strengthen our own. In fact, there’s no greater lesson from the civil rights movement than that.


Anonymous said...

Sorry, Tom, try as you might, you're not going to cut off debate by throwing out words like hate and bigotry. You can't simply ignore 3,000 years of universal experience because it's now become fashionable in your political party.

Gay (by the way, why the slang? Why was it necessary to create a new word to avoid the perfectly apt "homosexual"?) and lesbian activity is manifestly a choice. The urge may not be, but the activity itself certainly is. Well fine, whatever floats your boat. But don't insult reason by comparing those who choose to engage in objectively unnatural sex (no procreative possibility, which is indisputably nature's purpose for sex) to groups who have been discriminated against because of an intrinsic distinction over which they had no control.

And for that matter, don't compare them with any group that has been discriminated against. As this blog has repeatedly emphasized, homosexuals have among the highest disposable income of any identifiable group. Is there a discrete unemployment problem among homosexuals? Are they being fired right and left in Memphis once it's found out what they're doing after hours? Are homosexuals being denied entry into their careers of choice? Hardly.

Like gay marriage, this ordinance is about forcing acceptance of a lifestyle. Tolerance alone just isn't good enough, apparently. You're going to accept it, by damn, and now we've got the numbers to make you. And if you challenge our plan to change by force of law 3,000 years of universal experience, you're a bigot and a hater.

It rings hollow this time, Tom.

theogeo said...

"Unnatural sex" is equal to sex with no procreative possibility — that's a good one, Anon. Tell that to the many, many man/woman couples on the planet who cannot have children.

Anyway, I'm not here to quibble with the silliness inherent in anti-gay bigotry. I'm here to say this is a great post and I've linked it over at The Memphis Blog.

Save This MG said...

I will never claim to be an expert on the bible or Jesus or God but I can claim some expertise on what I was taught about all three in Sunday School. The teachings of Jesus boil down to love thy neighbor. God is a kind, loving God with big arms and the bible is a love story.

What was spewed by those few yesterday was an affront to those of us who learned the lessons above. The Jesus that I know would never have had anything to do with those preachers frothing at the mouth about singling out a group of people for discrimination and unequal treatment. Jesus would probably have chased them off the city hall steps.

What I find more disturbing is that such a small group of people can command so much attention.

Just wait, the second wave is coming.

Shane said...

Great post.

Anonymous said...

Actually Anon is somewhat incorrect here. Homosexual sex is natural sex. Of course so is bestiality, pedoplilia, necrophilia, etc. Admittedly, homosexual sex isn't usually victimization of another but then again it isn't illegal to engage in it. However, does that mean we are obligated to place it as a reason to give special treatment as a protected class?

packrat said...

HEY ANON 1, it is an observed and documented biological fact that homosexual behavior is commonplace mammalian behavior. So if animals are doing it, are they "sinning" against God as well? Or could it be, just possibly, one of a range of sexual behaviors that occurs in nature, including humans? You religionists are so obsessed with everyone else's sexuality, saying it's a sin, yet you eat shellfish and wear clothing with blended fibers, which are also sins in Leviticus. Hyp-o-crits. Get over it; you're going to lose this culture war, it's pre-destined. I've been married 18 years, have three kids, and gay people are no threat to our marriage, the only people who can destroy the sanctity of our marriage are me and my wife. Oh yeah, preach it smart city!

Andromeda said...

I logged in to compliment the post and to say thanks for directly and eloquently writing what I felt after that farce of a "Christian" demonstration. Excellent post! I have been distracted, however by the comments of Anon 1. Reminder: Christianity is about acceptance, love, and forgiveness - and America was founded upon principles of acceptance, freedom and and justice FOR ALL. Perish the thought that we would also forget the word 'liberty' in there.

Even if these ministers believe that gays are sinners, does it follow that sinners shouldn't get hired? Don't think so - or there would be very few employees out there. NO ONE should be discriminated against when it comes to employment. This IS a matter of civil rights on one side and bigotry on the other. We already protect the rights of the disabled nationwide, regardless of how they became disabled...they might have been sinners. We even protect the employment rights of those who are 'perceived' to be disabled, whether they are or not. Is it so offensive to Anons that a gay person should be treated as others are for purposes of employment?

As to 'acceptance of a lifestyle', gays were here before Anon and will be here after - get past it. Homosexuality is not a lifestyle or a choice, nor apparently is the close-mindedness of some people on the simple issue of employment discrimination. I could have sworn we fought this battle with the others in the 60s...too bad it still rages on.

Anonymous said...

".....it is an observed and documented biological fact that homosexual behavior is commonplace mammalian behavior."

Lapping up one's vomit and having sex with one's mother, siblings and children is also commonplace mammalian behavior. Should that be both protected and deemed socially acceptable by ordinances such as the one under consideration here?

Smart City Consulting said...

Anonymous 12:25 a.m.:

I think you have strung together a disconnected set of near-facts in your comment.

First of all, we don't have any problem with the word, homosexual, but it's like what to call black folks. We're perfectly prepared to use whatever term they like since it is the one being used to refer to them. (Same goes for Irish-Americans.)

Others have answered the fallacy of your reliance on the alleged definition of unnatural sex. Are you also saying that we should return to the days when married couples engaging in anal sex could be arrested (you should get those percentages, by the way)? Are you saying that you would quit having sex if there was not the potential of procreation? What about all the women of the baby boomer generation who can't have children any more? Do we reduce their rights and prosecute them for having non-procreative sex?

Finally, how does a person's income relate to whether they are discriminated against? Are you saying that if you make enough money, you should accept discrimination as part of your life? And as we've said, the reasons that gay households generally have more income is because they are composed of two men.

So many of the protestations by opponents are so strikingly similar to complaints heard during the civil rights movement. And yes, ministers in their pulpits pulled verses our of the Bible to oppose black people getting equal rights and opposing their right to vote. Now, it's easy to see who simply looks foolish.

How does any ordinance force acceptance of a "lifestyle?" By the way, there's nothing illegal about the "lifestyle," so it seems a logical progression to us that there's nothing legal about discriminating against them. We guess it goes without saying that we believe it's absurd to say this is about lifestyle choices.

But as we wrote, even if you oppose the lifestyle, how is it possible that your distaste or opposition to it justifies discrimination?

By the way, 3,000 of universal experience does not paint homosexuality as abherrant. There are countless examples where gays were considered touched by god, given special status and were thought to have special powers. And any way, this isn't about 3,000 years. After all, through much of that time, women were considered property. This is about now and doing what's right.

We vote on the side of anti-discrimination.

Smart City Consulting said...

Anonyous 10:16:

The American Psychological Associates years ago removed homosexuality from its lists of unnatural behaviors. Pedophilia and bestiality still remain.

We've heard the specious arguments linking homosexuality to these perversions. Homosexuality is not illegal, so it's just hard to figure out how a person's genetic predisposition should open them up to discrimination. It's even harder to understand why we are supposed to stand idly by while it happens.

We lived through the Civil Rights days. We know about people standing idly by while other people fought for their rights. We also know that it's not about special privileges.

It's giving gays and lesbians the same protections that others have, we prove that the promise of democracy is real in every person's life.

In recent years, we have given special protections to big business, to gun owners, to bankers, to defense contractors and to phone companies. We dole out special protections every day, and we don't see why one of those days shouldn't focus on our friends and family members who just happen to be gay.

Ironically, they are also some of the most committed Christians we know.

Smart City Consulting said...


Back to our fundamental question, why does your definition of sin trump our definition of sin? We would never advocate denying full rights and privileges to Commissioner Bunker and his supporters even though we think they are sinful in their warped view of our faith.

None of us who have deep and profound convictions about what's right and what's wrong - and just as deeply disagree with each other - should have the right for our definition to be the operable one. Every one of us as our birthright should have the same rights, and when we find that a group, whether they are black, handicapped or gay, deserve the legal umbrealla to make the American promise real in their lives.

packrat said...

12:12, it's comical how you pull out all the ridiculous assertions that if we as a society "allow" gays to live their "lifestyle" it means we have to "allow" any number of other activities that don't have anything to do with the subject at hand. I'll say again, you authoritarians have LOST the war. You may continue to win some battles and skirmishes, but the tide of freedom, liberty, and equality cannot ultimately be stopped. This great 200+ years national experiment in democracy and freedom that is America cannot be stopped by authoritarian daddy-worshippers like you. In 50 years, this won't even be a debate among 90% of the country, and you can't do ANYTHING to stop it. I'm sure this is all a huge sign of the "end times" to you religious nuts (not including rational religious people) so go pray for Jesus' return.

Anonymous said...

I am a church going Christian. I do not necessarily agree with Wyatt Bunker and do not develop my opinions based upon his views or anyone else's. Also, I don't think your portrayal of Christianity is exactly accurate either.

First of all, being any of the current affected classes, whether it be a certain race, being male or female, old or young, or disabled is not condemned anywhere in the Bible. Homosexuality is condemned in both the old and new Testaments. The current affected classes are physical conditions. The proposed one is based on behavior.

We are taught love and forgiveness of sinners but not acceptance of a sinful lifestyle. Therefore, tolerance, as defined in your article, sounds nice but has its limits in Christian thinking.

Finally, the Bible does not teach a specific political ideology. However, whether you or anyone else says so, prevailing religious beliefs do strongly influence our legal system and always have. Our societal mores directly determine how much of our legal system works.

So what would Jesus do? Probably condemn homosexual activists for their works on earth. What would MLK do? I don't know, his children are divided on gay Rights but King was a man who did a courageous things but had his shortcomings as well.

While Christians often go too far in hateful rhetoric against homosexuals, they are perfectly justified by their faith in resisting societal initiatives like this ordinance that inject acceptance of a sinful lifestyle. and yes, as a law it would have an influence on society's thinking.

So you can call it intolerance, prejudice, discrimination, etc. (and it may be all of those things) but it is not anti-Christian.

I don't expect to change any minds here but maybe clear up some thoughts. You can keep advocating your opinions but I will continue to press my commissioners to vote against this ordinance.

Smart City Consulting said...


If you go back to the original translation of the Bible instead of the subsequent ones which added and interpreted points of view and agendas, I think you might be surprised at how these alleged verses condemning homosexuality could be read in light of the historical context.

But if you are hasty to grab onto these verses as life rafts, why are you not as anxious - as well as Christians like Bunker et al - not as willing to adhere to ones that apply to your lifestyles - to marriage, to usury, to stoning teenage boys who disagree with their parents, etc.

If you're going to use the Bible as the book of laws, let's apply them all. In that regard, every one of us is guilty.

I'm reminded of a professor in my logic class who had the rule for our debates. A founding rule was never quote the Bible, because you can find something a verse to support anything you want, and believe me, it's been done for centuries.

Finally, we'd actually say that the Bible does teach a political agenda, and it sure sounds like socialism or communism. What's happened is that its core message of selflessness, concern for the poor, unconditional love, etc. has been appropriated by a narrow fringe who uses it as comfort against changing times that they cannot comprehend.

It also appeals to the strong current of anti-intellectualism that lies at the heart of so much American political and fundamentalist religious thought.

But again, we really don't give a damn about the religious debate because it is specious on its face. What matters to us that if there is a uniquely distinctive group who is subjected to discrimination, we need to welcome them into the tent of true American rights.

Smart City Consulting said...


What we heard yesterday was in fact anti-Christian.

Here's the thing. Jesus associated freely with the people who were held as pariahs of his time - lepers (AIDS equivalents of his day), money lenders, taxmen, women of questionable backgrounds, etc.

It seems to us that the message we get from this is that all of us are no better than anyone else, and in fact, we have an obligation to speak for the helpless and voiceless and powerless.

Anonymous said...

Anon No. 1 up top here. A few points:

1. The point is that homosexuals are not helpless and powerless. They're a major demographic and contributor to the Democratic party, among other things.

2. Theo, medical conditions are another story. Besides which, I personally know of two couples who adopted because they couldn't have children and then later conceived. The question was whether the sex act is open to procreation, which is sex's objective purpose.

3. I'm aware of ONE species of monkey that performs oral sex as a kind of grooming. I don't know any other mammal that engages in anal sex.

4. Packrat, neither I nor Anon 10:16 said anything about sin, not that it's irrelevant. Who's the "religionist" here?

5. To all you good Democrats: Go back and read your comments. Those conservative Evangelicals and their smug certainty of moral superiority sure are obnoxious. Aren't they?

6. "the Bible ... sure sounds like socialism or communism."

Ay, ay, ay. Just like communism --except for the Siberian gulag, deliberate famine, Cultural Revolution, Pol Pot, and that whole 120 million or so pistol shots to the back of the neck, bloodiest century in all human history, thing.

Zippy the giver said...

Hey anonymous, you wrote that homosexual activity is un-natural, well, that supposes that it doesn't occur in nature. Obviously, that's 100% wrong, it occurs in every species of multicellular vertebrate in nature, it's natural alright and suppressing it is not.
God made all those homosexual animals and homosexual people and you have no right to twist the word of the lord to satisfy your urges nor do you or anyone have the right to judge his creation as right or wrong.
Jesus was about egalitarianism as were his people, Jews, not Christians because they didn't come abut till 300 years after his death. Jesus wasn't manufacturing Christians no matter what you may believe, but, Jews which is what he died as.
Jesus would have cared more if you were a thief or a huckster than a homosexual, unless you were a man trying to actually pass your self off as an authentic woman as a farce.
Time is what you should be more concerned with, time to forgive and get acceptance for good people in your heart and stop selfish judgements made in ignorance base on lies.
Your time is running out BTW.

"Of course so is bestiality, pedoplilia, necrophilia, etc."
Nope those come about by unnatural causes. So, wrong again.

"having sex with one's mother, siblings and children is also commonplace mammalian behavior."
And it's in the bible too, can't believe you're not doing it. I guess things change, eh?

"Homosexuality is condemned in both the old and new Testaments. "
No it doesn't, not one place. It does condemn trying to defraud someone who isn't be pretending to be a hetero of the opposite sex, an vice versa pretending to be gay.

"3. I'm aware of ONE species of monkey that performs oral sex as a kind of grooming. I don't know any other mammal that engages in anal sex.
I do, all of them including reptiles. Dig that.
God made them all.
Not you.
Try to remember that.
Jesus died on a cross, maybe, but what do easter eggs have to do with gnosticism? What were the Nycean chronicles? What was decided there?

Beware the man of only one book.

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