Sunday, June 11, 2006

In support of Kittredge Cherry

Ha! A dear friend and colleague, Kittredge Cherry, made the Outrageous Quotes of the Week on a conservative think tank's website, the Institute on Religion and Democracy, for June 4–10. Kitt's quote:

"Who was Jesus' mystery lover? Maybe it was Mary Magdalene, like the [The DaVinci Code] movie says. But pioneering scholars say that Jesus had a male lover. . . .

"Let's take back Jesus. The success of The Da Vinci Code shows that Jesus belongs to the people, not just to sex-negative churches. In particular, the gay Jesus empowers gays and lesbians who turned away from spirituality because of the Religious Right."

- Kittredge Cherry, lesbian author and founder of, "the first website to focus on the queer Christ."

Why, Ms. Cherry... to take back Jesus? How so democratic and Jeffersonian of you to exercise freedom of religion in America! Now why would the Institute on Religion and Democracy find Kitt's quote outrageous? Democracy is in the organization's name and the First Amendment hasn't been rescinded, so why? One clue: IRD opposed the consecration of gay Bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire so I'm unsurprised by the org's characterization of Kitt's words. James Tonkowich heads IRD and was ordained in the Presbyterian Church in America, a right-wing religious splinter group that "broke with mainstream Presbyterianism in 1973 over the ordination of women and membership in the National Council of Churches," and described at Daily Kos as the new head of "a small, schismatic evangelical denomination whose best-known figures [D. James Kennedy, Lou Sheldon, et al] epitomize the Christian Right." If Kitt will forgive my indulgence in embellishing on her quote, I'd like to examine the gay marriage issue that's tied to the Religious Right's anti-gay political rhetoric.

When I read the IRD's mission statement, I realize its social conservative agenda and its implicit persecution complex isn't all that truthful:

Never has there been a greater need for strong churches, as a crucial component of civil society. America and the world require a fresh impetus of Christian evangelization, transforming both individuals and cultures. Yet tragically, important segments of the American church are spiraling into deep decline as they retreat from this task. Particularly in the historic “mainline” Protestant denominations, but also in other churches, many leaders and institutions have lost their focus on the Gospel, the basis of their existence.

Anybody heard of a Christian denomination kicking the Gospels to the curb? Nah, me neither. IRD must desire their interpretation of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John to act as the "basis" for the existence of "mainline" churches. And, yes, there has been a decline in traditional Christian churches but maybe their failure is more about touting fear than love, too much hell and not enough heaven, more divisiveness than the all-loving inclusive power of Jesus' teaching. Thank, God, there is a rejection underway in some quarters of the fundamentalist's viewpoint of the Gospels. Transforming into a religion of love and standing for inspired thought, instead of investing so much energy on opponents, IMO, would help attract a congregation interested in healing their lot in life, their families, and their communities--a subject worthy of a book so I won't digress further.

But here's the crux of what I'd like to challenge primarily. Tonkowich writes in his President's Greeting an often-hyped anti-gay canard (with emphasis):

Because marriage between a man and a woman is God's plan for the human family and the breakdown of the family is a major threat to sustaining our own democracy, we believe that defending marriage is a social justice issue. The IRD will be working to see that the churches fulfill their proper role in defending marriage and the family.

Picking up from the IRD's mission statement (with emphasis):

They have turned toward political agendas mandated neither by Scripture nor by Christian tradition. They have thrown themselves into multiple, often leftist crusades – radical forms of feminism, environmentalism, pacifism, multi-culturalism, revolutionary socialism, sexual liberation and so forth.

Ha! Liberals are destroying the fabric of society, aren't we? Such silliness and specious claims of Godless as evidenced with Ann Coulter's new ad hominem screed pervades American discourse. For now (in a subsequent post I'll address), I'll put aside the blind thinking that Scripture is inerrant because the Bible isn't. Some 100s of 1,000s of errors remain in the New Testament that a learned scholar of the Bible and textual criticism, Bart Ehrman, documented in his Misquoting Jesus book. And trust me. I want to point out some of the errant texts, such as the erroneous ones on women's roles in the church (pages 178-186 of Bart's book) that subvert feminism, revised by scribes in order to advance a particular theological anti-female viewpoint. I wonder if IRD found an ally in those scribes.

Between the President's Greeting and mission statement, and anti-liberal sentiment on its website, I find no argument with IRD's freedom of expression in a democracy that values its First Amendment. But, "God's plan for the human marriage," is a debatable and contentious religious topic--not one for government to undertake. Freedom of religion and free speech entitles all of us, including Kitt, to believe as we do or don't, according to the First Amendment. One can read Kevin Phillips to realize the right-wing theocon agenda underpinning some of IRD's pet peeves and its audacity to scorn leftists promoting "radical forms" on important issues we face as a nation. Projection entails the action of blaming the other for one's faults in disowning a trait that's feared--in IRD's case, a radical bent--rich with a language of victimhood and Orwellian doublespeak. What could be more brazen than trotting out a gay, feminist, liberal boogeyman to deflect the facts about what's actually destroying families and marriage. To be true to its name, IRD needs to remove "Democracy." Let me suggest substitutes. Republicanism. Radicalism. Anti-freedom. Propaganda. Or perhaps... Outrageous.

Specifically, to support Kitt Cherry's queer Christ belief, and the idea that gay lesbian relationships deserve legal recognition and protection as does hetero marriage, let me focus on what is the effective political role of Christians in defense of marriage. If IRD wants to support marriage, then address the major stressors that significantly impact the reasons marriages fall apart.

First, what doesn't hurt marriage. Its downfall isn't about gay American citizens legalizing their unions if they so commit. Hetero marriages won't end. And the hysteria over polygamists rushing to the altar if gay marriage passes ignores that being gay, brown-skinned, or left-handed is a birthright--polygamy is a choice. At the same time, the right to religious freedom, a democratic ideal--for Kitt or like-minded types--to embrace a queer Christ or the philosophy of church-affirming queer relationships won't hurt marriage either. Ah, but isn't it touching that Washington politicians and right-wing social conservatives have placed saving marriage from home-wrecking, family-destroying gays and lesbians at the top of an advocacy agenda?

Funny thing. Together, both of my evangelical parents--who grew up in Christian fundamentalist two-parent families--racked up six divorces. Not one of their break-ups transpired because of gays. To be sure, there are rare cases where divorce occurs because a wife or husband determined she or he were gay and couldn't suffer in the closet any longer, for example, Gov. McGreevey of New Jersey. But the facts don't support the argument that the traditional marriage of a man and a woman defense will save the institution from further decay with or without gay marriage.

I can't find any statistical data to support the flimsy strawman that same-sex unons will bring about the demise of hetero marriage. Anywhere. Silly me, I always thought financial problems were the leading contender for busting up marriages. So does CNN (with emphasis):

BILL TUCKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Ask any divorce lawyer and they will say there are many reasons marriages fail. At the top of that list, financial problems and a lack of communication about those problems.

JARED BERNSTEIN, ECONOMIC POLICY INST.: If you look at divorce rates, they are highly associated with bankruptcies, with loss of job, with some kind of negative shock to the income. So it seems to me that if we want to strengthen families, we ought to be looking at a whole set of policies that this administration has been more undermining than strengthening.

TUCKER: Millions of jobs sent by corporations to lower-cost labor markets, real wages depressed, the costs of education soaring, energy costs climbing. But neither Congress nor the administration is taking up those issues, nor the rising cost of health care insurance.

NANCY ZIRKIN, LEADERSHIP CONF. ON CIVIL RIGHTS: They are spending a lot of time on the House and Senate floor debating this very divisive amendment when we have 43 million uninsured Americans, and they are one serious illness away from poverty.

According to the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics (PDF), significant factors that disrupt a first marriage are age, education, family income, religion, and a host of other reasons that women cite and they don't include gays or lesbians. So why don't politicians, the IRD, and social conservatives just ban divorce or make it harder to get married if they want to save the sanctity of marriage? Too simple? Nah, more like too unconstitutional and non-effective in attacking the real killer that's financial. However, that didn't stop our current Republican-dominated Congress from attempting to pass (and a huge majority of red states from enacting) a bad law that codifies discrimination aimed at gay and lesbian relationships. Heck, if not for the third branch of the government, the judiciary (thank God!), a few southern states might still have an interracial marriage ban along with their Confederate "Stars and Bars" flags. How many non-interracial marriages were dissolved when the interracial marriage ban was struck down by the Supreme Court? The 1967 Loving v. Virginia decision didn't change the divorce rate, did it?

C'mon, we all know that the gay marriage ban entails pure political chicanery, pandering to the darkest of human nature, its phobia, its irrational tongue-flicking reptilian brain. Banning gays from marrying won't save one hetero marriage. Not one. Furthermore, the Federal Marriage Amendment didn't have the slenderest chance of passing in Congress because most Americans resist codifying discrimination into the U.S. Constitution. The gay thang is a stunt, a political pepper-upper, a fund-raising ploy for theocons who exploit the strawman that gay marriage will undermine traditional marriage.

The problem is, eating away subconsciously particularly in the "you reap what you sow" anti-gay crowd, the anti-same-sex marriage phalanx lead by Dobson, the American Taliban, and IRD/PCA types harms the marriages they espouse to protect. Yup, you read me right. What you beget, you get. The great equalizing force of Karma, Cause and Effect, or in Biblical jargon, "do unto others as you would have them do unto you," comes around with what the giver dispenses. Thou canst not avoid the cosmic boomerang. Proof? May have no direct corollary to my constitutionally-protected spiritual beliefs but I'm fascinated that the highest divorce rates at 50% above the national average are in the conservative Bible Belt. And what states tally the lowest divorce rates? Yup, the blue states of the Northeast, including pro-gay marriage Massachusetts, a state that has the lowest divorce rate in America. Ah, those good ol' liberal family values--keeping marriages together. Too bad social conservatives aren't so liberal. Some of us gay folks aren't the only people who have noticed the peculiar irony of states that have chosen the extreme measure to ban same-sex marriage. Again, from CNN:

TUCKER: ...Only one state currently allows same-sex marriage, Massachusetts, while Vermont and Connecticut allow civil unions. Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, New Mexico, and the District of Columbia have no laws explicitly banning members of the same sex from marrying.

None of those states appear in the top 10 states with the highest percentage of failed marriages. They are all at the bottom of the list. Currently, 40 states have legally restricted marriage to being between a man and a woman.

(END VIDEOTAPE) TUCKER: Which begs the question, what does the president mean when he says an amendment to the Constitution is necessary because the states are having trouble defining marriage in a way that's acceptable to him -- Lou.

DOBBS: ...The idea that the states that are permitting gay unions or gay marriage have the lowest divorce rates, or among those with the lowest divorce rates, and those traditional states are among those with the highest, median family income declining in this country, real wages declining, finances and communication about those finances the principal reason for divorce in this country, half the people in this country, half the families with two income earners in them, those who are lucky enough to have both parents in the same household, single family, single- parent families, on the rise, and we're talking about an amendment to the Constitution to ban gay marriage.

Yeah, Lou. Wrong direction. Wrong track. Wrong issue.

People like Tonkowich and the American Taliban don't have reality-based solutions for saving marriage. If they did, they would focus on what matters--poverty, raising the minimum wage, health care for families, a fair tax system--to itemize a few policy issues that would significantly impact finances and the longevity of marriage. You'll find more effective plans emanating from the left side of religion and politics.

Now I'm going to have a jolly good belly laugh at the anti-gay marriage freak show and the trumped-up danger of pink mushroom clouds billowing up from exploded marriages across red-state America. And toast the democratic right of an American such as Kitt Cherry to believe in a gay Jesus. Later, I'll post the uncropped painting from the above picture that accompanied Ms. Cherry's words, my Last Supper, and further commentary to celebrate my freedom of religion. Cheers and happy Sunday!

UPDATE: You can read the narrative behind The Last Supper painting at the aforementioned link and the uncropped version of the acrylic is available at my artist website here.