October 27, 2007

Introducting a New Contributor

Hi there. My name is Sharone Belt. Some of you have read comments that I've written on this blog in the past few years.

I am writing today to introduce myself as a new contributor to this blog. Thank you, Jim, for inviting me to be more involved in the blog. I appreciate the opportunity to share my thoughts and ideas with your readers.

I am 41 years old and live with my partner of 14 years, Erica. We have been living in Texas, but will be moving back to the Washington, DC area in the next few months and are happy to be "coming home". We are renewing our membership at Believers Covenant Fellowship when we return. We were members of the church for about 7 years before leaving almost 2 years ago to move out of the area.

Jim and I became fast friends when his then girlfriend, Brenda, introduced us at church. He has a big heart and a quick wit, so we had a lot in common. Our shared vision for sharing God's love to GLBT people in particular was something that helped us bond early on. We both have a passion for writing our thoughts when we have strong emotions about a news story, personal situation, etc.

While Jim is an awesome advocate for us, I think that I can bring a different sensibility to this blog since I am gay myself. I also have some beliefs and convictions that are unique. For one thing, I was a Republican most of my life. I only became an Independent last year out of disgust for the Republican Party's constant problem with integrity as well as it's catering to the religious right. I am also a person who believes abortion on demand to be detrimental to the women, men, and children involved. It's not a real popular view, especially with my GLBT friends!

Well, that's about it for now. I just wanted to share a little bit about me. I'll write more as time goes on. I hope that you enjoy my take on things.

God bless.


Sharone has spent time working with Equality Virginia and was a GLBT activist well before I even addressed those issues. I'm happy to have her as part of this blog and looking forward to her contributions.

Gays in Singapore Can't Be In the "Mainstream Way of Life"

That appears to be the official position of the Singapore government, which according to this article from PinkNews is just now getting around to legalizing oral and anal sex between two consenting opposite-sex adults in private. Needless to say, any sexual activity among homosexuals is against the law in that nation.

At the forefront of keeping the status quo in that area is Ho Peng Kee, a Law and Home Affairs Minister:

Mr Ho said yesterday that the ban on "gross indecency" will remain in place and male homosexuals still face up to two years in prison for gay sex.

"Repealing section 377A will be contentious and may send a wrong signal that the government is encouraging and endorsing the homosexual lifestyle as part of our mainstream way of life," he said, according to AFP.

He added that the push for decriminalisation of homosexual acts in the city state of nearly five million people had been contentious and that the majority find them "offensive and distasteful."

The authorities have not brought anyone up on charges of gross indecency for several years and the country has an active gay scene.

Based on that last statement, the Singapore government's actions appear to be mainly symbolic, but it is some really nasty symbolism.

Mr. Ho is probably right saying that the majority of resident of his nation find homsexual acts offensive and distasteful. I believe that is true in the United States--I find the mental image of two men having sex very distateful. That being said, however, I will fight for their right to do so, and the fact that they can has ABSOLUTELY NO IMPACT ON MY LIFE.

The PinkNews article shows that scare tactics predicting the end of civilization as it is currently known if GLBT people are granted more legal rights is not restricted to the U. S. I am sure it is as big a load of crap over there as it is here, and I suspect more of the citizens of Singapore know it just as most Americans do.

Nations like Singapore will continue to stick to their rigid restrictions of GLBT people's legal rights, but they won't be able to control their behavior. Laws like that are just about as effective as prohabition was in American back in the 1920's. Fortunately, our leaders knew enough to repeal those laws, and eventually wiser, more accepting people will abolish these types of laws in other nations too.

October 24, 2007

Most Christians Left of Right-Wing

Despite their best efforts to marginalize people not like them, the religious right is slipping toward becoming marginalized itself. This column from the Washington Post's "On Faith" series expresses the view that most Christians, not to mention the general population, have political views well to the left of the religious right.

It should come as no surprise that a recent opinion poll among younger people shows great skepticism if not outright resistance to Christianity. Given the preponderance of mainstream media reporting on a minority of U.S. Christians such attitudes make sense.

I suspect these young opinion poll takers are responding to what I call a political philosophy masquerading as gospel that is wrapped in religious rhetoric and painted red, white and blue.

One of its chief cheerleaders is Ann Coulter. She has dismissed most of the Bible and the words of Jesus defending the poor, the widow, the prisoner—the least among us—and spewed her venom that has little or nothing to do with orthodox Christianity. But Ms. Coulter and her ilk are the ones to whom the media gives most of its attention.

The majority of faithful Christians in the U.S. have nothing to do with James Dobson and his Focus on the Family, Tony Perkins and his Family Research Council or John Hagee and his Christians United for Israel.

Most American Christians struggle each week to apply Biblical truths in their daily lives. They seek to follow the words and actions of Jesus reminding his followers about taking care of the widow and the orphan, the hungry, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked and visiting the prisoner.

What really threatens the extreme right is our member churches' ability to disagree on many issues yet come together on such matters as living wage, racism, health care, justice for women, and an unjust war in Iraq. It is a multi-partisan organization that threatens those who are “triumphal dominationalists” such as Ms. Coulter. Those who are convinced they’re right and everyone else is wrong feel undermined when people who differ are able to cooperate and collaborate.

But isn’t that what America was supposed to be about? Weren’t we founded to offer freedom of religion and not be dominated by one particular group? There are some signs that the toxic message of the extreme right of American Christians may be faltering. I hope so.

So do I. No religion and no individual has all the answers. It's only by listening and sharing with others that we learn. Education, however, is the enemy of the black and white world religious right zealots live in. It's a very small world, much smaller than the one me and most people I know live in.

"For The Bible Tells Me So"

I have not seen this movie, but I've heard many wonderful things about it. Here is information from the official website.

Can the love between two people ever be an abomination? Is the chasm separating gays and lesbians and Christianity too wide to cross? Is the Bible an excuse to hate?

Winner of the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the Seattle International Film Festival, Dan Karslake's provocative, entertaining documentary brilliantly reconciles homosexuality and Biblical scripture, and in the process reveals that Church-sanctioned anti-gay bias is based almost solely upon a significant (and often malicious) misinterpretation of the Bible. As the film notes, most Christians live their lives today without feeling obliged to kill anyone who works on the Sabbath or eats shrimp (as a literal reading of scripture dictates).

Through the experiences of five very normal, very Christian, very American families -- including those of former House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt and Episcopalian Bishop Gene Robinson -- we discover how insightful people of faith handle the realization of having a gay child. Informed by such respected voices as Bishop Desmond Tutu, Harvard's Peter Gomes, Orthodox Rabbi Steve Greenberg and Reverend Jimmy Creech, FOR THE BIBLE TELLS ME SO offers healing, clarity and understanding to anyone caught in the crosshairs of scripture and sexual identity.

From PageOneQ, here is the video and a transcript of former Congressman Dick Gephardt and his daughter Chrissy who both appear in the movie.

I don't know when I will get a chance to see this movie myself and offer a review, but I would encourage any of my readers who do get a chance to view it to share their opinions in the comments section of this post.

October 23, 2007

Thoughts on the "Values Voters" Concept

Last weekend, an all-star team of right-wing bigots gathered in Washington DC at the "Value Voters Summit" to swap stories and plan strategy on how to gain more political power, or at least avoid losing more than they have the last couple of years. It was ironic that this event was held concurrently to the incredible worship and celebration weekend we had at my church with GLBT ministers from around the nation and Canada.

Anyway, I saw a couple of essays about the whole "Values Voter" concept that I thought were worth sharing. The first one is from the Chicago Tribune:

The right's hold on "values" is now so strong that most news coverage I saw and heard about last weekend's second annual "Values Voter Summit" of Christian conservatives didn't even bother to nestle the word dubiously inside real or implied quotation marks. Fewer than 1 in 10 recent accounts of the summit I found in a national news database bothered to put "so-called" in front of the first reference to "values voters."

It's galling. I mean, sure, the activists who assembled in Washington vote in accordance to their values. So do I. So do you, reader, no matter where you fall on the political spectrum.

Anyone who casts a ballot is a "values voter." And to allow one group to squat on that title is to concede without a fight that their values are, if not superior to others' values, then at least stronger and more important to them than the flimsy ethical whims of their ideological foes.

There is clearly an air of superiority and arrogance when folks like James Dobson, Tony Perkins, and Gary Bauer get together to chew the fat. Love and compassion for people not cut out of the same mold as them, however, is scarcer than a liberal gay person.

I also ran across this piece from the Roanoke Times:

As Bishop T.D. Jakes has observed, good political leaders don't have to be Christians, and good Christians don't always make good leaders. But if someone campaigns under "Christian values," I'm looking for kindness, respect (even for the opponent) and faith -- not fear.

Maybe these values are difficult to maintain in the heat of politics today. Chuck Colson, on a recent "Focus on the Family" radio broadcast, noted that values voters "have lost respect for the people in politics -- and rightly so."

But that disrespect can begin long before an election, when glossy campaign ads hit our mailboxes attacking the opponent as a contemptible villain and featuring the most demeaning photo obtainable -- usually from video footage and blurred, like a bank-robber caught on somebody's security camera.

But there are hidden costs in yoking this kind of derision to the term "Christian values."

First, it denigrates not just the opponent, but the voter, who is assumed to be unintelligent, ignorant of the actual Christian message and as mean-spirited as the ad's creators. Hence, I've heard many people, disgusted by a season's attack ads, declare they would not vote. Others, like me, are pleased to go vote for the candidate who ran a respectful campaign.

As for "Christian," the cost of hinging that word to derisive personal attacks doesn't enhance Christian values, but in fact devalues the Christian message.

If Jesus was running a political campaign, He wouldn't be tearing anyone down. He wouldn't be lecturing on restricting people's rights. He wants people's live to have more, be fuller, not to limit them or take things away. He came to Earth to give people hope.

How many politicians, especially ones wearing the "Christian Values" mantle, do that for you these days?

October 22, 2007

Religious Leader With a Big Mouth

As I train for the pastorate, I am reminded that one of the important things that a pastor, a leader of the faithful, needs to know is when to keep his mouth shut.

According to this article from Ethics Today, that is a fundamental lesson that Frank Page, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention, either forgot or never learned:
Unless presidential candidates want a spiritual smack down, they should avoid talking to Southern Baptist Convention president Frank Page, who failed to retain the pastoral confidentiality of two conversations and then boasted to other pastors about his soul-winning ways. In both cases, Page elevated his own evangelistic credentials and degraded the spiritual character of candidates.

The SBC leader bragged to a gathering of Southern Baptist fundamentalist pastors in Oklahoma that in a private, two-hour meeting with Rudy Giuliani, a Roman Catholic, that he "shared Christ with him."

Page's perception about Giuliani's lack of Christian faith was so strong that at the end of the meeting he recounted: "Rudy, I'm not going to leave this place unless I give you an opportunity to pray with me to receive Jesus as your savior. Would you do that with me Rudy?"

Page said Giuliani rejected his invitation to salvation: "He said, 'No, Frank, I'm not ready to do that. My daddy knows Jesus like that, but I'm not ready for that.'"

Undeterred, Page, the pastor of First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C., said he gave Giuliani his cell phone number and encouraged him to call when he was ready to talk about Jesus.

Baptist theological exclusivity also found expression in Page's recollection to the Oklahoma preachers of his face-to-face question to Sen. John McCain, a professing Episcopalian who attends a Southern Baptist church that leans towards moderation. Page claimed he asked, "Who owns your soul, John McCain?

Folks, this is not about sincerely seeking a spiritual breakthrough for these candidates. This is a leader of a large Christian denomination going out of his way to show everyone how important he is. "Look at me, look at me," his actions and words shout. How would you like to be a member of his church and need pastoral counseling, where confidentiality is at least as strong a requirement as psychological counseling, if not more so?

A person would probably be safe going to Page if they weren't famous, but it is very disturbing to see a leader violate pastoral ethics, not to mention failing miserably to display the humility of Christ.

More from the article:

As the Christian Right leaders haggle over whether the Republican presidential nominee needs to be a real Christian, Christian pastors should prioritize the confidentiality of private spiritual discussions over the potential for political gain.

Power does corrupt, and political power is one of the most tempting mistresses. For what a person gains from power in the world, that and more is usually lost in spiritual power and the ability to be a true, effective, servant for Christ.

Especially when you can't keep your mouth shut.

October 21, 2007

Christians Need to Think Like a Gay Fish

I saw an essay from Rick Warren, the Purpose Driven Life author, that really resonated with me:

If you’re going to be good at fishing, you’ve got to learn to think like a fish. If you’re going to be an effective fisher of men, you’ve got to think like a lost person. Here’s the problem. Unfortunately, the longer you are a Christian, the less you think like an unbeliever. I don’t think like a non-Christian; I think like a Christian. In fact, I think like a pastor. That’s even worse! It’s two generations removed from the people I want to reach.

You can tell just how differently pastors think than lost people when you look at church advertisements in the newspaper. You’ll see advertisements like, “Preaching the inspired, inerrant Word of God.” Who will that appeal to? I know what the inspired, inerrant Word of God is. In fact I believe in it. I’d die for the inspired, inerrant Word. But non-Christians don’t care about your view of inspiration.

Or you’ll see a church advertise “Holy Spirit services.” That’s going to scare people away! Non-Christians don’t know what you mean by the Holy Spirit. Is that Casper the Friendly Ghost? You must learn to think – and communicate – like a non-believer if you are going to communicate the Gospel to them.

In their attempts to reach unchurched homosexuals, most mainline churches not only refuse to even attempt to think like the fish they're catching, they insist the fish (lost GLBT people) think like a fisherman, jump up into the boat, and open wide so they can get a hook slipped into their mouths. Now what fish with any sense would do that? Only one with a death wish.

So often the few gays who do submit to the teachings of fundamentalist churches want to die, or at least the gay part of them. If they don't want it to die, they feel the need to hide who they really are to gain at least a superficial level of acceptance.

So why is it that these churches can't reach more gay people?

Because they don't try. They expect gay people to reach for them. Given the terms that are usually set, it is irrational to think many of them would. Of course, that assumes churches are sincerely open to homosexual members, even ones who are closeted or trying to "change". I don't think that is a safe assumption--some do, many don't.

It's churches like mine who think like a (sometimes gay) fish that catch some. I have already run across a lot of GLBT people who were astonished that there are actually open and affirming churches available to them.

There are lots of gay fish out there to catch for Christ, lost lives to save. As Rick Warren wrote, we just need to remember what our lives were like before we knew Him and meet people where they are. The power of the Gospel will do the rest.