Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Seek Toleration or Pick Up a 2 x 4?

The Revealer offers some thoughts by Bob Smietana of god-of-small-things. The piece is entitled "Tolerating James Dobson." It concerns the current flap over the accusation that Dobson suggested watching SpongeBob will make you gay. Here's a brief excerpt;

...It's easy to dismiss James Dobson as a crackpot. It's a little harder, as Barbara McGraw, an associate professor at Saint Mary's College of California told Eric Deggans of The St. Petersburg Times, to dismiss all of his listeners in the same way. "You're not going to have millions of people following something that is completely stupid," she said.

Barbara McGraw hit the nail on the head. Millions of people believe James Dobson is right. And millions of people believe he's wrong. Exploring why they think this way and explaining that in clear and compelling ways may help people on both sides understand each other a little more. Leading to a little more tolerance, and less name calling, something I think, that they -- and SpongeBob -- would appreciate...
I agree with Bob, to a point. More tolerance and less name calling would be the ideal. The only problem with this approach is that it requires both sides of an issue to be willing to listen to one another. In the last twenty years, I've seen little, if any, evidence that Dobson and his crowd have any intention of ever listening to anyone other than those who agree with their perspective, which is that gays and lesbians are sinners, and allowing such perversions to become accepted as "normal" is a threat to the sanctity of marriage. How long do we wait for the dialogue to begin?

There's a story about a man named Joe who bought a mule from his neighbor Charlie. After a few days, Joe brought the mule back to Charlie and demanded his money back. The mule was worthless. He refused to move. Charley picked up a two by four and whacked the mule alongside the head.

"Why in the world did you do that?" cried Joe.

"With this mule," Charlie said, "the first thing you have to do is get his attention!"

When Jesus took up a whip and cleared the temple floor of the moneychangers, I don't think he was engaged in constructive dialogue. I think he was getting the religious authorities' attention. His act of civil disobedience was effective. He not only got their attention; he also signed his own death warrant. What the religious authorities didn't anticipate was that Jesus' execution would draw even more attention to this wandering rabbi from Nazareth.

Millions of people believed at one time that civil rights for people of color was wrong. Millions of people at one time believed that it was acceptable Christian behavior to own slaves. Millions of people once believed that women did not have the intelligence or the emotional stability necessary to vote. Those millions were wrong. Dialogue did not convince them of this. Strong words and strong actions, including a civil war, were required. Sometimes we need to get hit with a two by four alongside the head just to get our attention.

We are confronted with a segment of Christianity that use seven verses from the bible to deny the right for some people to enter a committed relationship with the person of their choice. They don't want to talk about it. The bible said it, they believe it, that ends it. Never mind that the bible also says that we cannot charge interest, we can execute disobedient children, and we must never eat shrimp. For some reason, the exclusion or inclusion of gay and lesbian Christians has become the line in the sand. "Real" Christians would never tolerate committed relationships between same sex couples.

As a straight, middle aged priest, why do I even care about this debate? First of all, because I am a Christian who is sometimes placed in a leadership role within the household of God. As I understand the message of Jesus Christ, the Church is called to reveal God's grace to the poor in spirit and those who hunger for righteousness. We are to heal the sick and set the captives free. This has become a major justice issue. If I am silent, I would be rejecting the vocation to which I believe God has called me.

There is another reason. I know rejection quite well. I know what it is like to be excluded, to be told I'm damaged goods. I simply cannot ignore those who, from a position of power, attempt to exclude members of the household of God because they don't easily fit into their image of who can belong to that household. Most especially, I cannot ignore such hurtful exclusionary tactics when they are done in the name of Jesus Christ!

James Dobson is wrong. Call me intolerant for saying that if you will. We offered opportunities for dialogue for decades within the Episcopal Church and elsewhere. Those dialogues strived to teach toleration. Obviously, they were not very effective. Sorry Bob, although I agree with your ideal, from my perspective, I think it is time to pick up a two by four.


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