Dan Savage, the Seattle sex columnist and gay advocate who’s probably most famous for Rick Santorum’s google problem and the “It Gets Better” campaign, came out with an interesting video yesterday. I heard about it through the Patheos blog slacktivist, and highly recommend that religious people think about what he has to say. The video itself is actually pretty PG, particularly by Dan Savage’s standards, but do consider the source. This is a man who is gloriously honest and up front about what he believes, and he doesn’t hold back.
If you’re in a situation where you’d rather not play a Savage video, let me summarize. (Slacktivist also has several of the most important quotes at his blog.) Occasionally, Savage says, he’ll go off on some of the crazy things Christians do and say and “I forget to qualify ‘Christian’ with ‘fundamentalist evangelical right-wing bats*** Christian’.” He then gets email from liberal Christians reminding him that they’re “not all like that.” Ergo the label: Not-All-Like-That Christians. Dan knows the NALTs exist. He seems to think this is great but he wishes we’d let Pat Robertson and Jim Daly and the rest of the aforementioned group in on our existence. As he says,
But the reason so many of us have the impression that you are all indeed like that, and why Christian has become synonymous with anti-gay, is because of these loud voices on the Christian right. And they’ve hijacked Christianity, with your complicit silence enabling their hijacking of it.
And you know what? Liberal Christians, you need to do something about it. You need to tell them you’re not all like that. We know — liberals, lefties, progressives, queers — we know that not all Christians are like that. The religious right: They don’t know. Tell them.
There’s a couple of problems here. First, the religious right does know that the religious left exists. They’ve heard of Jim Wallis and Gene Robinson and a slew of others, both activists and clergymen. It’s more that they reject the Christian left’s legitimacy. To hear the CHristian right tell it, the Christian left aren’t orthodox Christians. Obviously I disagree with that assessment, but that’s not really the point. The quickest way to lose your membership in the “good, safe Christians” club is to come out in favor of gay marriage or some similar LGBT issue, at least in some circles.
I can think of several reasons why the Christian right gets away with this, including a strategic decision by many Christians to concede this issue. It’s a strategic choice to not give up your witness on things the Bible actually said quite a bit about, like economic justice, ecological stewardship, and the drive for peace. They also probably don’t want to set up tension points with their non-religious allies who can help them accomplish goals they believe in, by framing things in an explicitly religious language some might find offensive. I also blame the US media, which treats the most extreme versions of religion as if they are the most valid. (They aren’t.) The US education on religious issues is also pretty shoddy, which gives the Christian right a vacuum to work within. And Mr. Savage is right: the religious right is the most vocal parts of Christianity. You can read this as saying the liberal wing of Christianity has enabled the fundamentalist wing, but there’s another way of looking at that. Evangelicals are great at messaging because this is what they do. They want you to change your identity. More politically liberal Christians are less interested in playing the message war and, at their best, are actually focused on affecting real change in peoples’ lives.
I don’t like the Christian Right. It’s not just their politics, which I find reprehensible on most points, and it’s not just their truly superficial (IMO) theology, though there’s that as well. In my experience they are more interested in power and influence than a Christian should be. I see a little too much of the Saducees in them. (Those are the other major group of Jews you see in the Bible: the priestly class who collaborated with the Romans.) I choose to practice my faith and my ethics in an entirely different way. Sometimes I will talk about ideas and beliefs here because as a philosopher I am genuinely interested in them. Sometimes I’ll talk about politics because it’s important at a practical level to have that conversation. But for the most part I’m interested in living my life and helping other people live theirs. Given the choice between organizing a coat drive for street kids (many of whom are gay because they’ve been kicked out of their families, even here in NYC) and writing a blog post challenging the Christian Right’s assumptions, it’s really no big question which path I should choose. Sometimes I fail on that front because I like words, but in many ways blogging about ideas can seem like an indulgence. So while I do blog, lately I’ve tried to aim for less talking and more doing.
I like to think it’s the more Christian path, certainly the one more in line with the Biblical account of Christ’s actions. It’s also, I believe, the more effective approach both toward changing opinions within Christianity and in helping to make the world a better place. In the long run. But in the short-run, particularly if you judge things at a culture-wide level, it does mean the Christian Right isn’t as challenged as I’d like.
I guess I’m less interested in what some generic public thinks and more interested in what the people in my life know, because they know me. It’s the Aristotelian in me: virtue and the good life plays out in a polis, a community of people who actually know each other. (I really should write more about that one of these days.) It’s also why national non-religious politics tends to leave me cold these days unless I can see how it affects actual people and communities. So I care about the Fiscal Cliff but because slashing the social safety net hurts poor people and raising taxes suddenly hurts middle class folks, not because it would be a win for the GOP. And I tend to care about gay marriage not because it’s a victory in the culture wars but because it gives legal protection to vulnerable people who need it.
That means I’ve going to react to the Christian Right in a very different way. In my less gracious days I’m a Proverbs 25 girl: If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; For so you will heap coals of fire on his head, And the Lord will reward you. On my better days it actually does come down to love. I hope. And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, as the song says.
P.S. Gene Robinson gave a very interesting interview on homosexuality and religion on the Daily Show earlier this week. I highly recommend it.
|The Daily Show with Jon Stewart||Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c|