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A call for a nuanced view of religious leaders

This commentary is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect that of other authors at Box Turtle Bulletin.

Timothy Kincaid

January 4th, 2010

osteenMost of us are capable of seeing our coworkers, family, and neighbors as possessing varying degrees of rejection or support.

We know that Aunt Gladys will ask when you’re going to go to Vermont to marry your young man and we appreciate her. But we also know that Uncle Fred will keep his mouth shut but, if asked, will say, “well, any of your special friends are always welcome in my home, but I’m just old fashioned and think a marriage is between a man and a woman”. And Cousin Susan loves you and supports you but really wishes that you were straight because, “the gay life is so much more difficult”.

Somehow we are able to accept Uncle Fred and Cousin Susan and their limitations without denouncing them as vile people. But too often our community views religious leaders through a dichotomous lens; either the minister is a fully supportive political ally, or a hate-filled anti-gay bigot.

But truthfully, most are neither.

Some ministers are fully supportive of political equality, but believe sexual engagement between anyone other that a heterosexually married couple is sinful. Other may be less quick to assign the “sinner” label, but are not comfortable with treating same-sex couples equally in society. Some accept same-sex attraction in their parishioners in the same way they might accept a physical impairment, not necessarily the ideal but also not soul-threatening. Many have never given it much thought at all, believing that homosexuals are like alcoholics or gamblers or those folk who stay home on Sunday so they have no relevance to the church.

Sadly, our community too often has only one description for any of the above: anti-gay.

But this is unfair to them and foolish of us. We can be, at times, too quick to denounce and drive away some who could in the future – or currently on some issues – be incredibly valuable allies if we only would let them.

One such example is in the news today. Joel Osteen, pastor of Houston’s Lakewood Church, gave an opening prayer at the inauguration Annise Parker, the newly elected lesbian mayor of Houston. To some in our community, this seemed unfathomable.

The Advocate opened their article with:

Megachurch pastor Joel Osteen, who ignited a firestorm in November with his comment to The View that gay people were not among “God’s best,” thanked the heavens on Monday for Annise Parker, the newly inaugurated lesbian mayor of Houston.

Queerty (who calls Osteen a “smiling bigot”) chose:

Unlike Barack Obama’s presidential inauguration, the mayoral inauguration of Houston’s Annise Parker did not include any flubbed lines. Except for for anti-gay ridiculous person Pastor Joel Osteen, at an opening prayer, praising god for “lifting up our new mayor, Annise Parker.”

It seems difficult to find in these paragraphs anything about Osteen that would suggest he’s not a raging homophobe. But whether or not it was intentional, it was definitely sloppy and lacking in thought.

Actually Osteen did not say that gay people were not among God’s best. In response to a question on The View from Whoopie Goldberg about whether gay people were welcome at his church, he responded,

We have ‘Everybody’s Welcome’. Gays and straights and all different religions and they’re all welcome. But, Whoopie, I come back to the, ya know, what I believe the Scripture teaches is that homosexuality is not God’s best. So I come from that value system of the Scripture, I can’t pick and choose. I love everybody, I can’t say that I don’t have friends who are not gay, they’re some of the nicest people in the world.

These are not the words of a hater or a homophobe. And they do seem consistent with Osteen’s past comments. In a 2005 interview with Larry King:

KING: Do you ever involve politics in the sermons?

OSTEEN: Never do. My father never …

KING: Never mention President Bush?

OSTEEN: Well, only to pray. Only to pray. We prayed for President Bush, Clinton, all of them. But I’ve never been political. My father hasn’t. I just, I have no …

KING: How about issues that the church has feelings about? Abortion? Same-sex marriages?

OSTEEN: Yeah. You know what, Larry? I don’t go there. I just …

KING: You have thoughts, though.

OSTEEN: I have thoughts. I just, you know, I don’t think that a same-sex marriage is the way God intended it to be. I don’t think abortion is the best. I think there are other, you know, a better way to live your life. But I’m not going to condemn those people. I tell them all the time our church is open for everybody.

KING: You don’t call them sinners?

OSTEEN: I don’t.

KING: Is that a word you don’t use?

OSTEEN: I don’t use it. I never thought about it. But I probably don’t. But most people already know what they’re doing wrong. When I get them to church I want to tell them that you can change. There can be a difference in your life. So I don’t go down the road of condemning.

I also note that Osteen welcomed Jay Bakker and Soulforce when they came to visit Lakewood Church and was not part of the recent Manhattan Declaration. Yet some in our community seem incapable of distinguishing Osteen’s religious interpretation of Scripture from, say, Ken Hutcherson’s crusade of hatred and bigotry.

I think it would be useful for our community to adopt a more nuanced view of religious leaders. By doing so, we might find ourselves with unexpected allies.

Joel Osteen does not agree with my understanding of Scripture; but his disagreement does not make him a hater or a bigot. And I recognize the value in having a lesbian politician – elected despite her opponent’s religion-based homophobic campaign – being given blessing by the pastor of the largest congregation in the nation.

Comments

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Burr
January 4th, 2010 | LINK

All I care about is their political stance, not their religious one. If they are supportive, great. If they don’t get involved, okay. As soon as they become active participants against equal rights however, they become the enemy.

Call me a sinner all you want, just get out of my way.

Ray
January 4th, 2010 | LINK

You sound very much like Andrew Sullivan on this topic, Timothy. Andrew might throw in some objection to Osteen’s Prosperity Gospel philosophy just to level the playing field, but I like his and your tone.

Leonardo Ricardo
January 4th, 2010 | LINK

ALERT:

We have been sitting next to fellow Christians for lifetimes in the various pews of the various Churches…we are listening, we hardly need a interpreter for decades worth of keeping our mouths shut and often listening to words that mean nothing positive about people like us, LGBT Christians/others. It is no great breakthrough in understanding that
most of our parents, brothers and sisters (quite often), friends and coworkers (quite often) love us as much as we love them…the point remains that we ALL need be accountable and responsible, yes that would include Heterosexuals especially who seem to have cornered the market on divorce and few other unfortunate catagories of being such as pedophilia…we, who have, listened and listened and silently watched and watched (mostly) realize who means to ¨do us harm¨ and who doesn´t…we can easily discern a bigot/extremist from a less than progressive religious person…we weren´t, in fact, born yesterday. In Uganda we all know that Pastor Ssempa wishes many of our brothers and sisters DEATH! That is a rather dramatic point of view and ought not be ignored…GENOCIDE for LGBT exists both in the hearts and actions of religious people…PRETENDING anything else is TRUE is simply, and remains, irresponsible. God created me to ¨be¨ the authentic Gay person that I was meant to be…I´m certainly not going to DENY there are those who preach from pulpits and thrones who demean, demoralize, demonize and marginalize people like me. Thanks for the ¨heads up¨ on the ¨good folks¨ but I think I know, and love, them already.

AdrianT
January 4th, 2010 | LINK

Reading the backgrounder on Osteen, I notice he quit his studies Oral Roberts “University” prematurely – automatically sending him up in my estimation.

I’m sure Osteen is a genuinely nice, well-meaning guy. But the key point is that those people in holy orders respect the First Amendment and don’t impose the beliefs of their church on society, or tell people what to vote, or have weekly conference calls with the President, or try to get junk science taught in schools… then it’s fine.

wackadoodle
January 4th, 2010 | LINK

I have this thing called a ‘backbone’ it allows me to tell my family members to shut the hell up and go screw themselves if they want to say bigoted crap or argue I don’t deserve equal rights. I don’t ‘accept’ them being pathetic bigots just because I’m related to them. So no I don’t treat religious leaders any differently. If they talk about how gay people are inferior and don’t deserve equal rights they’re pathetic bigots. I don’t care if they try to claim they have nothing against gays, that they’re just paraphrasing Zeus or Lord Xenu, doesn’t change the facts of what they say.

Sparky
January 4th, 2010 | LINK

But if someone is saying I am worthy of less rights or am generally as lesser than a heterosexual then, YES, they are anti-gay

And that includes the family I have to tolerate. I tolerate them because I have a good reason to do so – because they are my family. But if they ever decide I am worth less, worth less rights or worth less love and respect than my heterosexual brother, then yes, they’re anti-gay

And the same definitely applies to preachers and religious leaders (especially since religion is the main force of homophobia in the world today)

Why do we even have to say this is anti-gay?

If someone said they disagreed with interracial marriage, or believed that black people were worse than white or that latinos were just “not the best” would we be making excuses for them, no matter how polite they were?

Would we be pretending they weren’t racist? Would we be saying it’s unfair to call them racist?

Sure we can tactically try to engage such people and not scare them off with out (justified) anger – but tactically deciding to tolerate prejudice isn’t the same as declaring they’re not anti-gay

BobbiCW
January 4th, 2010 | LINK

Let’s try the ultimate test. If this doesn’t sound bigoted then he’s not a bigot.

“We have ‘Everybody’s Welcome’. Blacks and whites and all different religions and they’re all welcome. But, Whoopie, I come back to the, ya know, what I believe the Scripture teaches is that being black is not God’s best. So I come from that value system of the Scripture, I can’t pick and choose. I love everybody, I can’t say that I don’t have friends who are not black, they’re some of the nicest people in the world.”

Nope…doesn’t pass the bigot test does it?

Dan
January 4th, 2010 | LINK

You make some very good points. While Joel Osteen isn’t a whole-hearted pro-LGBT activist by any means, he also isn’t a card-carrying bigot – assuming he’s telling the truth that he doesn’t say homosexuality is a sin from the pulpit and doesn’t mention gay political issues.

I do want to know what he means by “When I get them to church I want to tell them that you can change. There can be a difference in your life.” If he tells gay people that they should try to become ex-gays, then I’d have to regard him as an enemy of gay people’s well-being. Those attempts to change, especially ex-gay “therapies,” cause great harm. At the very least, this would mean he’s seriously misled. I don’t think he’s necessarily supporting the ex-gay approach, but I’d really like to know.

MJC
January 4th, 2010 | LINK

Well, Tim, I liked your thoughtful column…but then, I try to take a more nuanced, considered view of most utterances by people, although like anyone else, I have occasional lapses. And there is much wisdom in the postings…especially the idea that if someone claims gay people are ‘choosing’ to be gay, others are also ‘choosing’ to be pathetic, hateful, and uninformed. Let’s hear it for backbones. It’s a phylum thing.
Happy New Year.

Timothy Kincaid
January 4th, 2010 | LINK

Dan,

Good question. As best I can interpret his public comments, Osteen has never been linked to any ex-gay ministries or endorsed reorientation therapy.

His offers of “help” and “encouragement” do not, as far as I can tell, include an ex-gay focus.

Evan
January 4th, 2010 | LINK

I do take issue with your contention, Timothy that he didn’t say gay people weren’t God’s best.

That’s actually what he said when he said that “homosexuality” isn’t God’s best, unless we’re going to buy into the Religious Right fairytale that sexuality is something to be chosen or discarded at will.

But if we accept that sexuality is an integral part of who we are, and that it’s not a chosen thing, then saying “homosexuality” isn’t God’s best is the exact same thing as saying gay people aren’t God’s best.

BobbiCW, you hit the nail on the head.

Priya Lynn
January 4th, 2010 | LINK

Like with many things this lies on a continuum. A child who steals a chocolate bar isn’t as bad a person as someone who robs an armoured car, however they are both thieves. Its the same with Osteen. He is not as bad as Scott Lively, but he’s still anti-gay and a bigot.

In fact in some ways Osteen is worse than raging homophobes like Lively. Lively is blatant and you can see he’s a person to avoid from square one. People like Osteen are insidious. They pretend to be friendly and loving towards gay people and they get gay people to drop their guard and consider them friends. Then at some point when the gay person is thinking Osteen isn’t so bad out will come the “you’re going to burn in hell” euphemisms. This can be more devastating to a vulnerable youngster than the overt bigotry of a Scott Lively. Bigots like Osteen weasle their way into vulnerable people’s hearts and then break them and fill such people with terror and self-loathing. I’ll take the overt bigots like Lively over the soft bigotry of people like Osteen anyday.

And as far as Uncle Fred and Cousin Susan go, no I don’t accept them and their limitations without denouncing them as vile people – they’re not getting any breaks I don’t give religious leaders.

You want us to give Osteen a break because he didn’t say gays “weren’t god’s best” but rather “homosexuality isn’t god’s best” – he attacked the characteristic of gay people rather than gays themselves. How about rather than saying Osteen is a hater and a homophobe I just say his personality is hateful and homophobic – is that better?

cbjames
January 4th, 2010 | LINK

Some bigots are worse than others. Some bigots are just a little bit bigoted. I’ll agree to that.

But as long as we let any level of bigotry slide, as long as we accept it, any of it, it will be there.

If you let a small fire burn, it will grow.

Mel
January 4th, 2010 | LINK

Mr. Kinkaid makes an excellent point that the African-American community took to heart decades ago. While David Duke made his runs for both Congress and Senate, most whites stereotyped him as a ‘racist’. Yet most in the African-American community knew better and judged him in the context of the values he was brought up in.

Black ministers knew that Mr. Duke both loved and praised God as much as they did and were willing to set aside the politically correct labels used to stereotype white men of the South. It is high time for the glbt community to practice this same tolerance and respect the sincere beliefs of others.

A point in case involves the Prop 8 supporters in California. Their main concern was protection of vulnerable children and not at all homophobia. By instituting forcible divorce the dissolving of gay marriage, they sincerely felt they were shielding youth from our risky and predatory(?) lifestyle. Who are we to judge that as hateful? We in the glbt community think of ourselves as non-judgmental and accepting – yet we are frequently the first to harshly condemn the sacred values and family-friendly beliefs of others.

a. mcewen
January 4th, 2010 | LINK

Tim, i totally agree with what you said ;p

Rob
January 4th, 2010 | LINK

David Duke and “from our risky and predatory(?) lifestyle.”???

Mel is obviously a troll.

wackadoodle
January 4th, 2010 | LINK

“Mel is obviously a troll.”

I knew the moment I read his post that someone wasn’t gonna catch the sarcasm.

Evan
January 4th, 2010 | LINK

Mel…

Well played.

*bows*

Christopher™
January 4th, 2010 | LINK

I think one can take a nuanced position while at the same time not excusing anti-gay bigotry.

Because we in the GLBT community have been so attacked, we’re quick to shoot back and ask questions later whenever we hear language that we immediately perceive as offensive.

Sometimes, it’s better to step back, take a breath, see the statements in the larger context of who the person is and where they could possibly go if they were open to hearing our side of the story. And surprise, surprise… some are.

Those of us who are GLBT have had to take a journey of self-acceptance that, in some cases, took years. Yet, we refuse to give others the same courtesy to take that journey, with all its confusion, self-inflicted obstacles and wrong turns. We want immediate results, and if we don’t see them, we castigate the person as a bigot and toss them aside as worthless to our cause.

Sure, it makes us feel better–or more superior, ake your pick)–but it doesn’t accomplish much.

Joel Osteen is not a James Dobson. Dobson knows he’s lying about the GLBT community. Osteen is likely a well-meaning guy who has bought into the standard, traditionalist views of Scripture because he’s not had anyone in his circle present him with a compelling alternative. And, it’s easier to not rock the boat. But he was open to meeting with Jay Bakker and Soulforce, which shows he’s not completely unapproachable. One must kindly but firmly bring someone to a place where they can see the damage they’re doing. The key is to identify the ones who really want to learn more about us from those who have no interest. (Some feign it but don’t mean it.)

It took about 10 years for my mother to come to a place of 100% acceptance of me as a gay man. I could have yelled at her and called her a bigot because of her initially wrong-headed views of GLBT people, but I decided that her education was more important that me being offended, so I presented her with lots of pro-gay books and reading material, especially those from a Christian perspective. Then, I let her walk through the process at her own pace. Sometimes we’d have discussions… sometimes, they might lead to an argument or two. But I never made her feel like she couldn’t ask a question, because she was genuinely trying to understand me, even if her thinking was still unclear or the question was based on false assumptions. (False assumptions are desperately hard things to eliminate.)

But now, she’s completely supportive, and would vote for gay marriage in a heartbeat. And if other older women at her Bible study make ignorant remarks about gay people, she is quick to speak up in support of me and other GLBT people.

That is why nuance is important. We need allies, and sometimes, it takes people a while to get to that place. We need to give them the grace to do so.

anteros
January 4th, 2010 | LINK

I remember when I was a confused, scared teenager… the weeks before my sister was getting married, I was helping out with preparations and practice runs at church. One day the priest started poking fun at same sex marriage. It was relatively mild, idle talk… the kind of thing I’d learned to ignore, “water off a duck’s back!”. Then it progressed to the adam and eve not adam and steve sermon. In fear and respect, I let it go… I thought it unlikely that he truly meant harm, and that he was probably just mindlessly repeating common commentaries based on a fairly standard but unfortunate interpretation of certain scriptures. He didnt stop. He got louder each time and more bold and hateful. I’ll never forget the dizziness and the echoes in my head when he crunched up his face and yelled, “homosexuals are an abomination in the eyes of god”. He really stunk up that church and caused untold anguish that lasted months. Things were never the same for me since that incident. I gradually changed over the years… from altarboy to atheist. With regard to nuance… it’s a two way street. Unlike LGBT people, religious leaders are rarely on the defensive side… they are, at least many of them, constantly attacking LGBT people with different degrees of hate… from love the sinner hate the sin to homosexuals are an abomination in the eyes of god. We deserve none of it, no matter how smartly their hate is packaged. I’m sorry but I cant blame LGBT people who, in self-defense, take offensive measures against those who spread religious bigotry.

Amicus
January 4th, 2010 | LINK

“drive away some who could in the future – or currently on some issues – be incredibly valuable allies if we only would let them”

I’d be more convinced if I could figure out how “neutrals” or “never thought about it”‘s are “valuable allies”.

Cole
January 4th, 2010 | LINK

So what, he showed up at an event for the lesbian mayor of Houston. He’s still an anti-gay bigot. He still believes gay people are less than haterosexuals and that is one of the pillars of anti-gay bigotry. Read “The Gender Belief System, Authoritarianism, Social Dominance Orientation, and Heterosexuals’ Attitudes Toward Lesbians and Gay Men” to learn about anti-gay bigotry.

anteros
January 4th, 2010 | LINK

…for the sake of valuable alliances…

LGBT activists will need more patience than a dog trainers.

And no, I’m not drawing any comparisons between dogs and homophobic religious leaders. All human beings are capable of intelligent reasoning and independent thought… right? Except when some claim god interferes with their god-given mental abilities, and charges them with the task of spreading their religious hatred into politics and turning sins into crimes.

~goose-fraba~

Evan
January 4th, 2010 | LINK

“And no, I’m not drawing any comparisons between dogs and homophobic religious leaders. All human beings are capable of intelligent reasoning and independent thought… right?”

I certainly hope you weren’t drawing that comparison, because my dog, who is curled up next to me, would totally bark at you through the computer screen if I let her read that.

Cassandra
January 5th, 2010 | LINK

But, Whoopie, I come back to the, ya know, what I believe the Scripture teaches is that homosexuality is not God’s best. So I come from that value system of the Scripture, I can’t pick and choose. I love everybody, I can’t say that I don’t have friends who are not gay, they’re some of the nicest people in the world. – Joel Osteen

“They all complained, saying, ‘[Jesus] has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.’” (Luke 19:7)

I’m relieved to know that neither God nor Joel Osteen seem to require me to be “God’s best” before my queer self is able to have a relationship with either one of them, but I feel that Joel might be more shocked at the fact that God knows I’m not perfect and loves me anyway–and that my queerness has nothing to do with that–than God himself seems to be.

I’m Christian. When earnest religious people such as Joel publicly denounce “homosexuality” as “not God’s best,” I feel as if I ought to say this:

It’s mostly other Christians, like Joel, who keep trying to use the “you are ‘not God’s best’” line on me and others as if to shock us–as if your words will be the magic ones to make us queers begin hating our love enough to create a good relationship with God!

When fellow Christians use that line on me, I’m ashamed: Christians shouldn’t be shocked by the fact that no one is perfect, but yet Christians are the one who go on believing–insisting–that there is something suprising about the fact we aren’t all perfect yet, and pointing out everyone else’s supposed flaws (hardly ever our own) until we get the moral vapors. On the contrary, I understand acknowledgements of imperfection to be one of the most mundane, healing, and central Christian truths: “I’m not ‘God’s best’–and that’s ok by God.” There’s no shock in that for me, other than the daily shock I get at the amazing amount of love I have in my life despite that.

Every single time someone else points specifically to *my love* as the broken place that makes me less fit for God–or tries to shock me by saying I’m not perfect yet, or brings up the existence of their beloved yet flawed friends to exemplify the depths of their tolerance–the more I see that it is the places specifically deemed broken by people that make me more, not less, fit to be loved by God.

Every time someone like Joel says I am ‘not God’s best’ because of my ‘homosexuality,’ I say, “God, ‘your works are wonderful, I know that full well.’ Don’t let anybody trick me into thinking I’m less than you already said I am–especially when it’s easy enough already for me to do that to myself.”

My acceptance of and delight in my queerness has been the thing that led me to give enough grace and mercy to others that I finally started giving it to myself as well. As my partner said, “I don’t love you despite your flaws, I love you because of them.” My queerness isn’t one of my flaws.

It was, instead, a miracle when I realized I didn’t need to be perfect or even accepted in the eyes of society to love or be loved–I just needed to love.
The only thing I find shocking about any of it is that other Christians keep reacting as if that couldn’t possibly be true, when I view it as the basis for the whole religion.

TampaZeke
January 5th, 2010 | LINK

The comments one finds at BTB are just leaps and bounds ahead of ANY other site.

Such PROFOUND and thoughtful comments in this discussion.

Special props go out to Evan, Priya, MEL (BRILLIANT!), Christopher (AWESOME), anteros and CASSANDRA (AMAZING).

Alex
January 5th, 2010 | LINK

Cole,

It’s sort of amusing how you talk about bigotry and yet use the word “haterosexuals” in the same sentence.

Ephilei
January 5th, 2010 | LINK

I heartily agree with Timothy.

I think the disagreement among commenters comes down to what is correct and what is helpful. It is correct to call Osteen anti-gay and a bigot. But it is not helpful. Calling him Bigot, like Uncle Fred or Cousin Susan, we push him away from ourselves and our ideas and the human response is for Osteen to be insulted and upset. That in turn causes him to stop listening to us, to become less inclined to view our ideas favorably, cements his anti-gay views, and pushes him towards the more extreme anti-gay side of the spectrum. Those more extreme than Osteen complain “Gays label anyone who disagrees with them bigots” and we play right into their hands. That’s what happens when you’re hung on being correct.

Here’s what happens when you prioritize being helpful: Take small, realistic steps to bring the person to a pro-gay stance. Eg, first make sure they don’t believe in Iranian style executions. Dismantle the pedophilia link, etc. If they change their mind on just one issue, consider that a success. Continue conversations and have conversations that make the person want to continue talking with you. If someone calls me a bigot, I’ll stop talking to them, even if they’re starting to convince me. And realize that people minds don’t change on important subjects because of one blog entry or news piece. It’s a long process.

Lurleen
January 5th, 2010 | LINK

Comparing Aunt Susan to Joel Osteen is like comparing apples to an orchard. Osteen has a great position of prominence and respect in the larger world, so his backhanded sort of bigorty is far more egregious than Aunt Susan’s. Aunt Susan only affects those immediately around her. Joel Osteen sways huge pools of voters. This about this next time you let velvet-gloved bigots who are public personas off the hook. If someone has to sign the Manhattan Declaration for you to consider them a hard core bigot, you have a very high threshold of tolerance for bigotry indeed.

Chitown Kev
January 5th, 2010 | LINK

I have a few very minor quibbles here and there with you on this, Timothy (Osteen may be a “bigot” with a small “b”) but generally, we cannot continue to demonize all religious people or even ALL that are opposed to marriage equality as bigots. It does nothing to further the discussion.

Priya Lynn
January 5th, 2010 | LINK

Ephelei said “Those more extreme than Osteen complain “Gays label anyone who disagrees with them bigots” and we play right into their hands.”

The answer to that is:

Nonsense. If I say blue is the nicest colour and someone says “No, red is.” I don’t label them a bigot. It is not the mere act of disagreeing with gays that makes people bigots, its the condemnation of those who harm no one that makes people bigots.

People like Osteen think they’re being generous and nice when they say they have gay friends and that gayness isn’t any worse a sin than anything else. Sometimes they need to be brought to reality by the blunt statment that they are in fact bigots. Playing nice allows them to continue in the delusion that they’re being nice and generous towards gay people and that they aren’t really offending anyone.

Pender
January 5th, 2010 | LINK

I think it’s a fair point that Osteen is not as bad as the Maggie Gallaghers and Pope Benedicts of the world, but that doesn’t mean he’s not in the anti-gay category.

I guess I don’t agree that we employ a strict dichotomy. We’re fully capable of recognizing Mel Gibson as an anti-semite while simultaneously recognizing that he is not an Adolf Hitler.

Priya Lynn
January 5th, 2010 | LINK

Nicely summed up Pender.

Christopher™
January 5th, 2010 | LINK

“I guess I don’t agree that we employ a strict dichotomy. We’re fully capable of recognizing Mel Gibson as an anti-semite while simultaneously recognizing that he is not an Adolf Hitler.”

True, but we’re not trying to make Gibson understand the plight of Jews. We’ve long since given up on him and tossed him aside. That’s the difference.

Rich
January 5th, 2010 | LINK

I understand the writer’s point of view, but I still wretch every time I see Olsteen and others of his ilk. I have absolutely no time or patience for Christianist bigots. I don’t respect their so-called morals (which allow them to lie, cheat, steal and murder with a promise of ‘forgiveness’) and their ‘scripture’ is a lot hokey fairy tales designed to frighten children into conforming with the church power structure and a lifetime of giving their money. A pox on them all.

Box Turtle Bulletin on Religious Leaders. « Queering the Church (towards a reality-based theology)
January 5th, 2010 | LINK

[...] Read More [...]

Brian
January 5th, 2010 | LINK

Timothy, your article really needed to be said. Debate on issues like homosexuality and abortion seems to always occur at the extremes. You either are a homophobe or a godless hedonist. You either support the murder of children or believe that women should have no choices at all with regard to whether to start a family.

The fact is that the Bible contains a few verses that appear on their face to call homosexuality, along with many other characteristics and conduct, a “sin.” I don’t happen to believe (any more) in that interpretation of Scripture, but there’s nothing inherently homophobic in believing that’s what Scripture says. If Osteen wants to believe I am a sinner or not “God’s best,” that’s his right to believe. The problem comes in when people like Rick Warren do what Osteen seems to be trying to avoid, and that’s to enter the secular realm with theological ideas and engage in political arguments based on Biblical interpretations. And using religious beliefs and a particular Biblical interpretation to take rights away from any group is to me not just bigotry, but the most insidious type of bigotry.

AJD
January 5th, 2010 | LINK

I can’t agree with this…

Many people with anti-gay views — whether moral condemnation of homosexuality or opposition to same-sex marriage — have them because they’ve just blindly followed the dictates of their churches, political parties, etc. I think those people are misled, not deliberately hateful individuals.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t call their attitudes bigotry. I’m rather dismayed by the tendency of a lot of people, however well-meaning, to make excuses for anti-gay opinions when those same people would be quick to denounce as racist any similarly “polite” opinions about people of a different skin color.

I subscribe to the notion that each brick supports the one above it. Many Germans in the 1930s had Jewish neighbors, coworkers and classmates. But even though they themselves would probably never have thought to kill a Jew, every level of anti-Semitism helped make way for the more extreme form above it, from the “polite” anti-Semitism of the shopkeeper who greeted his Jewish customers every morning while secretly believing them to be predisposed to dishonesty to the SS thug who eagerly went to work in the death camps.

Homophobia works the same way. As long as we’re willing to look the other way when people like Joel Osteen demeans us on national TV, we help to make room for Maggie Gallagher, who in turn props up Tony Perkins, and all the way up to the people like Scott Lively, Fred Phelps and the people behind the bill in Uganda.

Evan
January 5th, 2010 | LINK

Why is one of my comments under moderation?

Huh? Huh?

;)

Andrew
January 5th, 2010 | LINK

Tim, I appreciate your desire to bridge the cultural chasm, and I’m glad that there’s someone in our community holding that idealistic torch. Seriously. We need that voice. Because when I call you a naive apologist for folks who disrespect both you and me, it allows us to come back somewhere in the middle. I hope.

My words are a little stronger than yours, because I’m not calling for concordance as you are. But that’s important. We need that back and forth. And we need the straight community to hear us having it, too.

Osteen and his ilk are among the vast majority who don’t hate gays, but they also don’t respect us, and they don’t treat us as equals — even as fellow citizens outside the church.

We can’t let our relief at only be slapped lightly instead of being punched in the face – blind us to the fact that we’re still being assaulted. Hurting me less isn’t good enough.

Tim, I don’t have to forgive someone who fails to treat me with the respect I deserve, and who condescends to me and mine, and who thinks they just know better how to live and who to love — even if the ONLY difference between us were the gender of our partners.

I believe gay characteristics are not a choice but are intrinsic, and that’s the beginning and end of the discussion. Because for me, that means you can play the substition game “chinese” or “black” or “lithuanian” in place of “gay” to truly illustrate the thinking at work. In the house I was raised in, talk like that (including the word “gay”) would get you a quick boot out the door (thanks Mom & Dad!)

For the record, I have no problem lovingly setting clear and fair boundaries for my family — and if someone wants my respect, they need to pay me respect. I have no problem calmly explaining to them the issues with their thinking. And, frankly, I have absolutely no problem cutting loose anyone — family or not — who can’t seem to grasp it. I’m not the special needs child of the family; Uncle Fred and Cousin Susan can be welcome in my house the day that they can treat me with the same respect they pay the rest of the family.

Thanks for continuing to challenge your readers, for standing in the middle of the firefight, for saying sometimes unpopular things, for stirring the pot. I often disagree with you, but that inspires me to ask myself what it is that bothers me. And that is an incredibly valuable service.

CPT_Doom
January 5th, 2010 | LINK

AJD has a really good point, and I would describe it as the Gentlemen’s Agreement problem with any form of bigotry. Gentlemen’s Agreement, for those who have not seen the movie, concerns itself with Anti-Semitism, and there is a key scene at the end when Dorothy McGuire is confronted by John Garfield about not speaking up when in the presence of an overt Anti-Semite. She comes to understand that silence allows the bigotry to continue, as does her own refusal to confront that bigotry on a larger scale – by breaking the “Gentlemen’s Agreement” in her town that prevents renting or selling property to Jews.

We cannot let the Osteen’s of the world get away with their bigotry, which is different from their theology. It is one thing to consider people immoral, but by declaring that we are not “God’s Best,” Osteen is going further and making a value judgement about our worth as individuals. The parable of the Good Samaritan is the best analogy – the Samaritan may well have been immoral, an infidel in today’s language, but he was still a good and valuable person.

I also agree with Ephilei that simply calling Osteen a bigot and moving on is not a recipe for progress. I, instead, would call Osteen what he is – a heretic. Certainly the Roman Catholic church, and many other mainstream Protestant denominations, have major theological issues with the “Prosperity Gospel” preached by Osteen and would go so far as to deny him as a Christian. So Osteen is leading a sinful lifestyle – actually he’s both a heretic and a blasphemer – but he demands not only tolerance, but acceptance and approval for his sinful lifestyle choice. And, Osteen would rightly be outraged if the Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church advocated for limitations on his freedom of religion based on his refusal to follow their theology – to live openly as a sinner.

I think that analogy is one that should wake up the Osteen’s of the world and could move them from being politically neutral on LGBT issues to being politically supportive.

Andrew
January 5th, 2010 | LINK

Ephilei — great posting. My belief is that we need to have THIS VERY conversation where we can be heard.

So that our insistence on being respected is heard, but our willingness to reach out is felt. So that the Osteens of the world understand that when we reach out to them, it’s in our spirit of tolerance and good faith, not because they are the gravitational center and we are acceeding to their worldview. We have backbone, but we will work with you on finding a common path — but it has to involve *mutual* respect.

Priya Lynn
January 5th, 2010 | LINK

Bill, my husband says its clear none of the people who claim to believe in the Christian god really do. Jesus says to give all you own to the poor. If anyone was a true believer that’s what they’d do, but you never hear of any christian doing that.

Christopher™
January 5th, 2010 | LINK

The real problem with Joel Osteen is not that he holds a traditional, anti-gay position. It’s that he’s desperate to be liked by everyone.

Bill
January 5th, 2010 | LINK

I totally agree, Priya. My point above was that if there were ZERO dollars involved in ‘evangelicalism’ and ‘Christianity’ they would cease to exist, except on a personal level. These ‘men of god’ like Osteen truly only want our $$$. Seriously, if you took away their multi-million dollar salaries, paid them 32K a year, do you think they would be so fired up for Jesus?

They are money making scams. Selling people eternal life and salvation in exchange for their hard earned cash, when those actually SEEKING god need only look to god for those things.

NO MAN cometh to the father but by ME. Didn’t Jesus say that???

Osteen and his cronies have nothing to do with that. But they are more than happy to take the $$$ of people who are searching.

And this is why I have zero respect for Osteen and his cronies. Because they have absolutely no hesitation in sacrificing a segment of the human population, LGTB citizens, in order to advance their cause, which is, to say, their own wallets. In fact, Jesus Christ himself would reject Osteen, and hang out with the gays. If Osteen ever read the bible, he would know that.

Ultimately this is not about god or Jesus or the bible or any of that. It is truly about using the bible to justify unjustifiable actions against law-abiding citizens. And, I am sorry, but if you do fall into that category, you ARE a bigot. Even if you smile and twirl your hair coyly while participating in it.

And certainly the vile abuse that heterosexuals have put their gay children through for CENTURIES is not now nor has it ever been OK.

No matter what god or Joel Osteen tells you.

wackadoodle
January 5th, 2010 | LINK

I find it weird how people are claiming him supporting the new mayor proves he’s not a bigot. Osteen is a business man, a good business man doesn’t do anything to piss off the most powerful person in the city. If a raging bigot had been elected instead you can bet he’d be supporting them to.

Désirée
January 5th, 2010 | LINK

Thanks Tim,
While I don’t agree 100% with you, I also disagree with many of the commenter here. I don’t see such a stand as being an apologist for bigots but more a “honey attracts more flies than vinegar” approach. Confronting someone like Osteen with angry accusations of bigotry and homophobia are just as likely to create an even stronger enemy. People don’t like being opposed and will often harden there position just because.

Taking a softer stand doesn’t mean accepting their bigotry, but it means accepting that bigotry doesn’t go away overnight. We forget this. It took me 10 years to come to terms with my own transsexuality. How could I expect my parents to accept it on the day I told them? It took 4 years but they finally came around. That’s 4 years for fairly non-religious non-ultra-conservative PARENTS. Now imagine what we are asking people farther removed than parents to accept. We need to allow people time to grow into a new understanding.

I suspect much of the animus also comes from many of us simply being anti-religious. We don’t want to “win over” the religious folk, we just want them to go away/give up, and that’s an unrealistic goal, they aren’t going away and they aren’t going to suddenly accept us because we demand it of them. Too many of us have conflated “accepting gays” with “abandoning religion.” The first can be achieved without the second and is the path we should be taking with the mildly anti-gay crowd, rather than calling them raving bigots causing many to retreat from any chance of coming to place of acceptance.

Christianity has had 2000 years of anti-gay bigotry, it’s gonna take more than a few years to make that go away. We need more MLK and less Malcolm X in our approach.

Priya Lynn
January 5th, 2010 | LINK

Desiree said “Confronting someone like Osteen with angry accusations of bigotry and homophobia are just as likely to create an even stronger enemy.”.

No one said you should do it angrily, its more of a matter of fact type of thing, just as you would explain to a child whose stolen a chocolate bar that he/she is a theif and so is Bernie Madoff even though the two crimes aren’t equivalent.

If someone comes up to me and tells me all about how they have this great black friend and they love black people, but that they think a whiter person would be a better choice for a managment job I’m going to bring them back to reality by telling them calmly they are a racist.

Désirée
January 5th, 2010 | LINK

it’s all about the right response for the person and the situation. I remember my roommate in college (back when I was a good little churchgoer) telling me about this new guy who came to bible study. He quite offhandedly remarked “yeah, we had a new black guy show up today…” not thinking anything of it. I didn’t say (calmly or otherwise) “you’re a racist” but I pointed out to him that he would never say “we had a new white guy come today” and we were then able to discuss the reason he used the terminology he did, so the point was made without labeling him in a way that makes him defensive. That’s all I’m saying.

Priya Lynn
January 5th, 2010 | LINK

See, now I wouldn’t have found anything particularly racist about such a comment so I wouldn’t have said anything. If however he had said “blacks aren’t god’s best” I would have called him a racist just as I’d call Osteen a bigot.

John
January 5th, 2010 | LINK

I find his “not God’s best” insulting. I wonder if he would have said something like that to my face?

While I suppose their could be exceptions, I personally find these megachurch/TV pastors to be so consumed with their own image, popularity and their own personal success that it is hard to imagine them as God’s best.

lurker
January 5th, 2010 | LINK

Of course, another Christian said it best:

“The Negro’s great stumbling block in the drive toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice.”
(MLK)

UK Chris
January 6th, 2010 | LINK

Désirée and Ephilei, 100% agree with you. Above, Bobby CW proposed an interesting test about how you detemine if something is bigotted.

Let’s create a hypothetical (leaving the possible truth of it aside). Most blacks dislike LBGT people and are vocal about this in meetings they have with their black friends.

Now, let’s revise all the above set of negative comments about the Church/Osteen and insert “the blacks”/[a known black leader]. I think it’s a fair statement that if some third party were reading this, they’d call us a pack of bigots.

Yes, we “don’t harm anyone” as Priya said, but that’s only in the basic nature of our homosexuality. Once you get to forms of activism…well I think we’ve clothed ourselves in a victim’s suit based on the above, and now feel like no matter what we say, we are entitled to be as self-righteous as we want.

I think Tim is trying to underscore the need for a dialogue, of making fine distinctions, of understanding those who don’t agree with us. He’s not saying we should shut the hell up when someone says something only mildy bigotted about gays.

As a community, we get so pissed off at the drop of a hat that when we have something to really say, everyone thinks we’re crying wolf again. Let’s get reasonable about the most likely way this plays out. Those that are open to dialogue can be moved a bit closer to our beliefs, and future generations will be even closer. Those we have no dialogue with, who just knee-jerk hate us will eventually get old and die. It’s like Avenue Q says — everyone’s a little bit racist/[bigotted], but hopefully my bigotry is smaller than my parents’, and my children’s will be smaller than mine.

customartist
January 6th, 2010 | LINK

The bigger point, and while his (Olsteen’s) appearance and comments at the Mayor’s innauguration were/are appreciated, the situation remains that his overall, if not specific, message to his mega-congregation, and to the public at large is still one that condemns us (gays) as bad, wrong, condemnable, etc. such that he substantively leads masses to perpetuate hate (or degrees of dislike if you like), which firthermore allows them (gives them free-license), if not directcs them to act accordingly. Saying you are not political while directing citizens toward condemnation of others is at odds. Leading others/masses to social action is political, period.

Too, while I am delighted to have others believe whatever persuasion of religious particulars, I will be satisfied in this or any religious “leader” when and only when their messages of right-and-wrong (and in relation to any category of behavior, not only gaiety) is swiftly, boldly, and without exception followed up by “but it is wrong of you(congregations) to hate, to condemn, to ostracize, to withhold benefits, accomodations, to treat lesser, and to vote against those who may not believe in or adhere to/tow the line of our(their, one’s, etc) religious views”.

So far I have heard none of this from not only Olsteen, but any other “Religious Leader”. This is MISSING-in-the MESSAGE.

It is indeed the religious that need to hear from us, who are encourageable, who are the greatest obstacle, and who (in part) can be reached. A Portion of them will always be a problem. My takeaway from the BTB article is to Encourage Progress. I do this now, and I think all gays appreciate kindness, as we receive so very little of it.

Andrew’s(above) Family issues are ones I share. ‘Snot okay for them’uns to have theirs but for us’uns to have none, speaking specifically of governmental benefits. I find that my family wants my emotional support but have little support to offer. Our Federal Government wants our tax money, but returns no benefits.

Between After-Tax health premiums, no access to my partner’s Social Security Benefits, and Higher Federal Probate Taxes, my husband and I will be hundreds of thousands of dollars poorer than my married hetero brother or sister over the remainder of our lifetimes. This issue is always a surprise when told to heterosexuals. This is the issue I always drive home. People understand money.

While I am certainly understanding and empathetic to all of the religious, social, etc. conversations here, it is not at all superficial to need financial secutity. Financials are a matter of practicality and a part of the “conversation” often overlooked, IMHO.

Love to all, Sincerely

Paul N
January 7th, 2010 | LINK

Customartist, I agree with the church should nevet teach hate but also must never with hold truth.

john M.
January 7th, 2010 | LINK

All I can say is “AMEN!” Sometimes the lack of nuance is politically useful, but usually it’s just a sign of immaturity and insecurity. I know who I am, I do not need approval from religious leaders, therefore, I can see them as human beings with views different from my own. Perhaps they can learn something from me, and I from them. This is not for the Fred Phelps’ of the world, but for the Osteens, Warrens, Wallis’.

Box Turtle Bulletin on Religious Leaders. | Queering the Church
April 2nd, 2010 | LINK

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