Monday, October 06, 2008


Back in July I discussed the schism in the Episcopal Church of the United States over the ordination of openly gay men (and eventually, women) as reverends and bishops of the church. The conflict is back in the news, as the Pittsburgh diocese has become the second diocese to break away from the national church to ally itself with a more conservative form of the Anglican church in Latin America. I had a chance to listen to Terri Gross interview Katharine Jefferts Schori, the first female bishop to preside over the church, regarding this development. Naturally she discussed the repercussions of the split on the church, both legally and spiritually, but what I found most intriguing was a tidibt of an interview Terri Gross conducted back in 2004 with Bishop Robert W. Duncan, who led the secession by the Pittsburgh diocese. Terri Gross was direct with Rev. Duncan, asking him what it meant to his opposition to homosexuality, recent studies which seemed to indicate that one could be genetically predisposed towards homosexuality. In response, Rev. Duncan characterized homosexuality as a "disorder" that those who are afflicted with it must seek to overcome so that they may live according to the word of God (I quote his exact word.) Naturally, I thought back to a couple of blog posts that Nat-Wu and I wrote last year on the subject of homosexuality and whether or not it would make a difference to those who are opposed to homosexuality, that homosexuality might be biologically ingrained. Here's what I had to say at the time:

...religious conservatives will not recognize that homosexuals deserve equality based on some inherency of their sexual identity; they will expect them to battle their homosexuality to lead a "moral" life. And homophobes, with or without religious justification, see homosexuals as morally inferior despite the fact that homosexuals may have no choice in who they are. It simply doesn't matter that they were made that way.

Here's Nat-Wu, discussing a question that was asked during one of the primary debates:

...does it matter whether or not it's a choice? I suppose there might be some folks who would agree that if homosexuality is not a choice, homosexuals shouldn't be penalized for being themselves. But for the most part, it won't matter to those who are either just plain homophobes or those who back their position with the Bible. And of course, those of us who are willing to give gays equal rights and treatment under the law don't care why people are gay. So who does it matter to? Gays themselves? Is that why Melissa Etheridge asked the question? If so, I'm not going to fault her for it, but if the point is to gain wider acceptance among the straight people, well, it just doesn't matter.

In other words, both of us acknowledge that there are strong arguments to be made for homosexuality (or a tendency towards) being a biologically inherited trait, but when it comes to assuring equal rights for gays in our country, it doesn't matter. As I've analogized in the past, the situation is similar to the way our white ancestors felt about blacks; they were inherently inferior by virtue of their skin color, but that hardly absolved them of their own moral blame for failing to rise above their (supposedly) inferior character traits and intelligence. And for some people, that skin color was merely an excuse to hate them regardless of the fact that blacks had had no choice in the matter of what skin they were born with. Such hatred was also Biblically justified

It's unfortunate to recognize such a view in the likes of Rev. Duncan, a man clothed in the vestments of one of the most progressive church traditions in America. Rev. Duncan and his allies argue that the word of God is law, and that each person is born with limitations that they must somehow rise above to live up God's teaching. This is true yes, but homosexuality is not like a foul temper, or a tendency to lie. Nor is it a "disorder" like schizophrenia, for which the victim is essentially innocent of the acts he commits. Sexuality is a fundamental element of the make up of a human being, and it is a cruel God indeed who would permit people to be born to desire that which He himself has forbidden as a mortal sin. Fortunately many other Americans seem to feel the same way, as both homosexuality, equal rights for gays and gay marriage are becoming more acceptable and commonplace. Unfortunately there will remain those like Rev. Duncan and his supporters who cling to the Bible against all reason as a justification for discrimination. 

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