This week’s show on the future of marriage is one of those conversations that we believe adds to our collective imagination and understanding of how to work through the difficult issue of same-sex marriage. Jonathan Rauch and David Blankenhorn came to the “gay marriage debate” from two, predictable opposing sides — but with an equal desire to strengthen marriage. They’re pursuing another way to talk about this difficult issue, and others, with civility and honesty.
Please listen in and share with your friends. We’d love to hear your feedback and wonder if the way these two men engage each other might possibly be a model for the rest of us to talk about other difficult issues with sincerity and openness.
“Lonely Old Widow” Eloquently Argues on Behalf of Same-Sex Marriage
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
In the state of Washington, a vigorous debate is taking place on the issue of same-sex marriage. A Republican state lawmaker, Rep. Maureen Walsh, offered this humble, passionate speech defending marriage equality on February 8, 2012.
Where she starts begins with the most human of stories: the death and loss of her husband of 23 years: “I’m a lonely old widow right now, looking for a boyfriend. Not having much luck with that. … And I think of all the wonderful years we had and the wonderful fringe benefit of having three children. I don’t miss the sex. You know. And to me that’s what this kind of boils down to.”
She proceeds to tell the story of a proud mother who thought she’d agonize over her daughter being gay, and was surprised she didn’t. She continues, “How could I deny anyone the right to have that incredible bond with another individual in life? To me it seems almost cruel.”
Her speech and her story showcases the best of political discussion and civil debate, no matter what side of the issue you support. If we could all model that civility in our public and private lives.
Proposition 8 encapsulates so many elements that intrigued me: a story of love, of struggle, loss, and redemption. It just so happens that the main antagonist to those seeking equal rights in California was the Mormon church. And, well, I grew up Mormon myself. I served a Mormon mission to Venezuela and my entire immediate family are Mormons. So, not only was I going up against very powerful political powers, but I was literally critiquing the very culture that I grew up in. So it was a unique experience for me. On one hand, I offered a ‘insiders’ knowledge into the workings of the church’s political dealings, and on the other, it was a cathartic examination of my own past. The church itself was very dismissive of us and refused an interview. We tried for months to offer them a chance to tell their side of the story. They told us, ‘We just want to ignore this and hope it all dies down.’
—Steven Greenstreet, from his interview with ReadysetDC
With all the discussion swirling about the filmmaker’s controversially titled Hot Chicks of Occupy Wall Street, it’s intriguing to learn that he’s also the director and producer of 8: The Mormon Proposition, a very good documentary that was selected for last year’s Sundance Film Festival.
How Do We Live and Honor Each Other Despite Our Differences?
by Krista Tippett, host
This show with Richard Mouw was as hard as any in my memory to produce, edit, script — and even to justify, as news unfolded while we were creating it.
I have known Richard Mouw for 15 years and interviewed him on this program in its early days. Other Evangelical Christian leaders have been more visible in American political and media life: Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Ted Haggard, James Dobson, Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, and on the more progressive side Jim Wallis and Richard Cizik. I have followed them, but I have also always kept my ear and eye on quieter figures like Richard Mouw. As president of Fuller Theological Seminary, with more than 4,000 students from 70 countries and over 100 denominations, he is training generations of Evangelical and Pentecostal pastors and global leaders.
A book he first wrote in 1992, Uncommon Decency, has recently been released in a revised version with the subtitle, “Christian Civility in an Uncivil World.” Mouw has long been a kind of bridge person — theologically conservative on some issues and more progressive on others — but he most fervently insists that the way people are treated is a greater measure of Christian virtue than the positions one takes. I’ve wondered rhetorically how our political life would have evolved differently if the Christian re-emergence into politics in the late 20th century had modeled a practical love of enemies.
My own deepest despair at present is not about the vitriol and division per se — as alarming as they are. It is about the fact that we seem to be losing any connective tissue for engaging at all, on a human level, across ruptures of disagreement. Across the political spectrum, many increasingly turn to journalism not for knowledge but to confirm individual pre-existing points of view. What we once called the red state, blue state divide is now more like two parallel universes where understandings of plain fact are no longer remotely aligned. This leads to a diminishing sense of the humanity of those who think and live differently than we do. And that is the ultimate moral slippery slope, for everyone on it and for the fabric of our civic life.
Richard Mouw lays out the imperative to all kinds of Christians for gentleness, reverence, humanity, and “honor” of the different other at the heart of the Bible and the life of Jesus. But this is not a feel-good plea for harmony. Even as he calls for civility and gentleness, Mouw reasserts his public and private opposition to gay marriage and civil unions. The civility he calls for would not minimize difference, at least at the outset, but would create a different space for discussing and navigating it — indeed for bringing differences into public life with virtue and vitality of expression. Picking up on a phrase coined by Christian historian Martin Marty, Richard Mouw builds upon this idea of “convicted civility.”
We had impassioned and difficult discussions on our production team about his ideas, and the complications and contradictions they present. When he says that, as a Christian, he sees other human beings as “works of divine art,” can that genuinely apply to a person whose sexual identity he defines as fundamentally wrong?
This all drives towards a question I pursue in so many of my conversations: How does social change happen? We will not all be “on the same page,” as Americans like to be, on sexuality or many other issues for generations to come. The 21st century has opened up questions Western civilization thought it had put to rest. Some of them are intimate and raw, terrifying in every life at some point and therefore all the more unsettling when we are forced to ponder them out in the open together. Same-sex marriage is but the tip of an iceberg of human redefinition: What is relationship? What is marriage? What is friendship? What constitutes a family? In this messy moment, we retain our rights and responsibilities as human beings and citizens to discern our truths and live by them. But we have no choice, at the same time, if we want this to end well, to search for new ways to discern our multiple truths while living together.
Richard Mouw suggests that we need to start some of our conversations again from the beginning, certainly the conversation about sexuality. He believes that only by naming our hopes and our fears, articulating them among ourselves, revealing them to each other, can we begin to recreate something called a common life, which can contain, and not be destroyed by, our differences. I want to believe him, to believe that this is one answer to the question of how social change happens. If I didn’t believe that a new kind of conversation can also be a starting point for walking forwards together — living together, differently — I would not do what I do.
And yet, maybe another reality we have to live with is that these critical new conversations will start small, in many places, compelling us to connect dots for awhile in lieu of convening the sweeping dialogue we might hope for. We’ve posted a piece we admire by fellow journalist Sasha Aslanian titled “Sex, Death, and Secrets” — featuring an interview with two lesbian pastors who’ve experienced a roller coaster ride of discernment within their own denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Please add your thoughts, stories, and pictures — your dots, if you will — to this difficult, dispersed, essential conversation.
Are Theological Conversations on Homosexuality Really Pointless?
by Jared Vázquez, guest contributor
At Wallingford United Methodist Church in Seattle, Washington, the pastor invites everyone to the communion table on Easter Sunday. (photo: © Michael Spencer/Flickr)
I admit that I was taken by surprise when I saw this tweet summarizing theologian and biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann as saying that theological conversations about homosexuality are futile. As I have read some of Mr. Brueggemann’s writing and have a great deal of respect for him and his prophetic calls to justice, I promptly went about listening to the interview in question:
“I’ve asked myself, ‘Why in the church does the question of gays and lesbians have such adrenaline.’ And I’ve decided, for myself, that that means most of what we’re arguing about with gays and lesbians has nothing to do with gays and lesbians. It is, rather, that the world is not the way we thought it was going to be. There have always been gays and lesbians; we’d have to acknowledge them.
It’s not fashionable any more to protest pushy blacks. It’s not fashionable to protest pushy women. Those battles are lost, or won. But you can still have great moral indignation around gays and lesbians.
And so I think what has happened is that we’ve taken all of our anxiety about the old world disappearing and we’ve dumped it all on that issue. So, I have concluded that it’s almost futile to have the theological argument about gays and lesbians any more because that’s not what the argument is about.”
You see, I’m a seminary student, and I’m gay. This, for me, has meant that all of my academic work has surrounded the need for dialogue regarding this very issue. In most denominations there remain deep divisions on issues about whether or not gays should be ordained, whether they should be allowed to marry, or whether they are even welcome in churches.
I took Mr. Brueggemann to mean that such conversations are futile in that issues like homosexuality should be a non-issue — that churches should be able to move past this issue. However, this position ignores the cry of gay people for justice that remains unrealized in many places. As long as theology and biblical scripture are used to marginalize gay people (or anyone for that matter), the conversation is anything but futile! Churches can’t move past this issue because it is still an issue.
Walter Brueggemann has an advantage that I as a gay man do not have; he does not live with the very real threat of homophobia. Enjoying one of the highest places of privilege in our society (straight, white, and male), he has the luxury of being unaffected. He will likely never be hollered at from across the way with insults about whom he shares his bed with. To not have a conversation about the theological basis for the hate that many Christians direct at gay persons ignores our oppression at the hands of those Christians.
But why take the time to dialogue with those who believe my lifestyle is wrong? Because I believe that conversation matters. It is true that there may always be those who are uninterested in conversation. They desire shouting matches that rarely prove anything aside from who can shout the loudest. Still, I believe that most everyone can be drawn into dialogue that does not aim to convert, but rather to foster understanding of one another.
In Truth and Method, German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer wrote that the most important thing in human relationships is to experience the other in a way that allows them to really speak to us. In this kind of communication, says Gadamer, we do not merely listen and then leave unaffected. Rather, we are changed by way of this experience with another individual.
For this kind of change to occur, for us to be affected by another, we must be open to accepting something from them. I believe that the simple act of pausing in order to have such a dialogue demonstrates an openness to this relational experience that is already present; though it may be deeply hidden.
For those who stand with the oppressed, who seek to bring about justice, taking advantage of that pause, and engaging in dialogue, is essential if justice is to be realized. The challenge is that we must also be willing to be affected by that other individual. For those of us who have experienced blatant hate, this is a scary thought because it asks us to remain vulnerable in front of those we may perceive as enemies. Yet, that openness is what I find so valuable in dialogue. It teaches us to coexist, hopefully in peace.
Let me use metaphor familiar to Christians. The communion table is a place where the church gathers and there represents the community of Christ. Though Christians hold differing ideas about what happens at communion, a common understanding is that in that sacrament there is a deep — even mystical — connection to each other and the divine. It represents the highest form of community for Christians.
Can that image not translate to dialogue, even a theological one, whose aim is to bring about understanding of the marginalized and thus promote justice? Can churches create spaces of communion in which theological conversations about homosexuality are not futile, but are instead catalysts for social justice? Can these conversations lead us to a deep connection to one another and even to the sacred?
I think so. More than that, I think that is precisely what we are called to do.
Jared Vázquez is a third-year Masters of Divinity student at Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Jared’s research interests lie in embodiment, identity, and intersectionality. He plans to pursue a Ph.D. in social ethics with focus on latina/o queer experience. Most recently Jared has been accepted to the 2011 class of the HRC’s Summer Institute for Religion and Theology.
We welcome your original reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.
Walter Brueggemann on the Futility of the Theological Argument over Gays and Lesbians
by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer
Protestant theologian Walter Brueggemann once compared LGBTQ people to canaries in a coal mine, likening these proverbial birds to society’s most vulnerable members. Determining how the canaries are treated, says Brueggemann in an interview with The Witness, “is always the test case about whether we are following Jesus.”
Earlier this spring, Krista sat down with Brueggemann in our studios. In the audio clip excerpted here, he explains why he thinks gay and lesbian sexuality “has such adrenaline” in and beyond church communities. For Brueggemann, there’s no point in having a theological discussion about homosexuality. He thinks homophobia is a proxy for people’s ill-defined fears about an old world order that’s rapidly disappearing:
“It is an amorphous anxiety that we’re in a free fall as a society. And I think we kind of are in free fall as a society, but I don’t think it has anything to do with gays and lesbians particularly.”
Last week in New York, that collective “amorphous anxiety” got trumped by Governor Andrew Cuomo’s dogged push for social change with the passage of the Marriage Equality Act by the state legislature.
According to The New York Times, Governor Cuomo gathered all of the state’s Republican senators at his home to plead his case for the bill’s passage. “Their love is worth the same as your love,” he reportedly told the senators. “Their partnership is worth the same as your partnership. And they are equal in your eyes to you. That is the driving issue.”
Some people I can sign a license for and some I can’t. But it’s exactly the same covenant commitment.
—Katherine Hawker, minister of Webster Groves Evangelical United Church of Christ in Missouri, who, along with six other same-sex couples, will be crossing the state line into Iowa this weekend to be legally married.
Katherine Hawker, right, with her partner, Darlene Self. (photo: Lori Rose)
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor
You get to the point where you evolve in your life where everything isn’t black and white, good and bad, and you try to do the right thing. You might not like that. You might be very cynical about that. Well, f*** it, I don’t care what you think. I’m trying to do the right thing. I’m tired of Republican-Democrat politics. They can take the job and shove it. I come from a blue-collar background. I’m trying to do the right thing, and that’s where I’m going with this.
The Republican politician said this statement to reporters about his decision to support same-sex marriage legislation. McDonald was the 31st senator to support the Marriage Equality Act. McDonald is a Vietnam veteran and former steelworker. As a politician, he’s put his energy behind autism awareness and property tax cuts. Now he’s being heralded as a champion for civil rights.
About the image: Roger Minch Jr. of Troy, New York, the district that Roy McDonald represents, demonstrates his support of same sex marriage outside the New York Senate Chamber on June 17, 2011 in Albany, New York. Photo by Matthew Cavanaugh/Getty Images)
~Nancy Rosenbaum, producer
Listener Demands Apology and a Civil Exchange Results
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
(photo: Metal Chris/Flickr, reprinted with Creative Commons license)
Chad Smyser, a listener from New York City, took us to task for our editorial decision to broadcast and podcast a recent show featuring Evangelical leader Richard Mouw. He wrote:
I am so disappointed in last week’s episode.
This broadcast was ill-timed in the wake of the hate crimes in New York and the suicide at Rutgers. In addition, at a time when SOF is transitioning its brand identity, one would think the choice of material would be less divisive.
I have listened to your show for years. It has brought great comfort and understanding into my life. I will continue to listen, even in the wake of what I consider to be a giant gaffe from a show that I deeply respect. Would the show have given voice to someone who supported Virginia’s anti-interracial marriage laws in 1967, no matter how civil the voice? In my mind, this is what “On Being” did, translating it to 2010.
But civility in the political and religious arena is such an important topic! I wish it had been explored in a way that didn’t highlight one man’s disapproval of gay marriage. I long to be respectful of other folks’ beliefs, struggles and communal aspirations. Regrettably, it is impossible for anyone who believes in equality to reconcile Mr. Mouw’s beliefs on gay marriage. How is it civil to deny someone his or her right to marry the one he or she loves? An on-air apology to your gay and lesbian listeners would be most welcome.
The language used on one of the Facebook posts (“No matter what your opinion on gay rights”) was appalling. While I’m sure it was unintentional, I feel that the show really needs to clear the air.
All the best,
This critique echoed many other listeners’ reactions to the show. And, we answered as many as we could. But, it was the following exchange between Kate Moos, our executive producer, and Chad that offers an example of what quality conversation can be when we are honest, open, and vulnerable with one another:
Thanks for taking the time to write. I’m sorry the show disappointed you. There has been some follow up on our blog, and there will likely be more. Our internal editorial process was quite fraught along some the same lines of question and concern you describe. The program itself was not designed to be—and wasn’t—a show about the gay marriage and gay civil rights issues. It was aimed at the broader topic of civility. But Mouw’s position on gay marriage colors his authority—in many peoples’ view—for other topics of moral weight.
We argued about this and wrestled with it. Ultimately, we felt it was important to factor in the people with whom Mouw is in a distinct position to have high authority: other conservative Christians, whom he is taking to task and challenging to greater compassion, humility and civility. In fact, we received an email yesterday from one of those conservative Christians who has been paralyzed in her relationships with 2 close family members who are gay. She wrote to thank us because she was heart-broken and felt Mouw gave her a way to be in relationship with them, and in some sense, gave her permission to love them. So that is another impact of this program.
We would not have a guest on our show who would defend inter-racial marriage laws. And yet your point is taken—theological thinkers and religious people have erred badly in the past, and continue to err on matters of central moral gravity, things like slavery, voting rights, and marriage. Some people clearly put Mouw in that category.
The idea was to challenge all of us to keep listening through our most profound disagreements.
Chad, I am a lesbian who is long partnered, and who went to Canada to be married a few years ago—believe me I was challenged in producing this show, to keep listening to a point of view that I find in its essence a condemnation of my life. I am also related to people who share Mouw’s view of gay-lesbian marriage, and of the essential sinfulness of homosexuality. I struggle mightily to keep an open heart for them. This is where we are living, all of us, in this kind of contention.
I am not writing back to you to counter what you say but perhaps to amplify it. We will be posting reflections on this show in the coming days that might help “clear the air.” If you have other thoughts on how we can do that I’d love to hear them.
Thanks for writing, and peace.
And Chad’s reply:
I am deeply touched and grateful for your thoughtful, heartfelt reply. Perhaps this episode struck such a dissonant chord with me because, like you, I struggle with the issue of civility and open mindedness in dealing with folks in my own family and circle of acquaintances. It was Mr. Mouw’s views on homosexuality in the context of creating an open dialogue amongst people of vastly varying viewpoints that really caused my disappointment.
Also, I look to SOF/Being as one of my touchstones to a spiritual life. I was raised evangelical and threw out all things spiritual when I came out. I thought that the two were mutually exclusive. It was really your show that allowed me to find a way back to belief in something bigger than myself. Through SOF I discovered the quiet revolution of Thich Nhat Hahn. I started uncovering the secular movement toward well-being via Jon Kabat-Zinn’s mindfulness and Andrew Freear’s architecture. I even felt a deep kinship with Shane Claiborne, although his views on homosexuality certainly aren’t akin to mine. Nevertheless, his spirit of subversive inclusiveness and social justice really appeals to me.
I am moved by the response of one of your conservative Christian listeners who struggles to find a way to have a relationship with her gay relatives. Perhaps this one outcome is worth all the confusion and anger gays and lesbians may have felt. Furthermore, I suppose this episode has truly challenged my views on civility and dealing with those whose views I know are empirically wrong when it comes to homosexuality, yet with whom I must find a way to reconcile. There is nothing more human than failure. I would be well advised to accept others’ failure as well as my own.
I continue to look forward to the journey from “Faith” to “Being.” Airing your and the staff’s own struggles with this episode would be a great help to your gay and lesbian listeners. Understanding your journey has profoundly affected mine.
Of course we are sensitive to these types of personal conversations, so I requested Chad’s permission to publish the exchange, to which he replied with a graceful note:
Yes, you may publish our correspondence. I am very grateful for Kate’s response, and I imagine that it will speak to others. It really helped me to understand the spirit behind Krista’s conversation with Mr. Mouw, along with the editorial struggles that went into its production.
All the best,