Tuesday, April 23, 2019

“Moral Compass”

“Moral Compass”
About two weeks ago a meme crossed my path on Facebook that I felt was virulently hateful towards LGBT people. I (thankfully) cannot remember all the particulars except it had to do with refusing to bake wedding cakes for gay couples. It described such refusal, along with any other refusals, including refusing medical care for LGBT individuals as being “god-honoring.” (the choice of the lower case “g” is my choice, not the memes.)  I find this attitude to be disgusting and reprehensible, and consider it hateful and distinctly not “god-honoring” in any way shape or form.

While wedding cakes may not seem to be all that important, this denial of services sets a dangerous precedent. If you are conducting business in a public marketplace then you have no right to refuse service for these reasons. And not only that, but it is a slippery slope: the denial of medical care is not only being talked about but is actually occurring in some places. Any medical professional who refuses to care for someone of the basis of sexual orientation, race or religion should have their license revoked. For a professional to refuse services – whether they be medical services or baking a cake – is simply despicable. I stated this in my response to that meme.

My comment on this homophobic meme quickly garnered some responses. Most were kind of ridiculous, to tell the truth, and made little to no sense. I won’t waste time with them here. But I want to reflect on just a couple of particular responses and the overall flow of the thread:

The first comment that appeared asked a simple question: “Would you be willing to allow those people to babysit your children?” The answer to the question is absolutely! No problem! In fact, I would much prefer a responsible LGBT adult as a babysitter than any of these hateful and judgmental religious types (like the commenter), but this question is beside the point. The issue at hand is not my parenting, or my choice of a babysitter. The issue at hand is hateful behavior towards another human being.

This response is a typical gas-lighting response. A gas-lighting response is a response that doesn’t address the issue at hand, deflecting you away from the main issue in order to try to distract you into questioning yourself, your priorities and your experience of reality. It is a favorite approach for radical right-wing haters and for sexist men. Often a gas-lighting response will take the form of a “yeah, but…” response. For example: “Yeah, but what about Hillary’s emails!” “Yeah, but if those immigrants had just stayed home they wouldn’t have their children taken away!” or “Yeah, but would you really allow someone like that to babysit your children?” And the next thing you know, the gas-lighters have succeeded in redefining the discussion and you are now on the defensive. I do not respond to comments that are trying to gaslight me. In fact, I block gas-lighters, no matter who they are. And I blocked this commenter, too.

As you might imagine, that Facebook comment thread went downhill from there. Soon, the discussion had turned away from hate towards LGBT people and onto the historical reliability of the Bible. So, you see, exactly as the homophobic commenters intended the gas-lighting worked as the focus of the thread slowly turned away from the rights and well-being of LGBT people and soon, after only a few comments, we were well into a discussion of Biblical literalism. Comments were posted both rejecting and defending Biblical literalism. Some of the commenters who took (supposedly) “my side” of the debate started posting some comments, which I also found thoroughly unhelpful and useless. One of these went on at length about how the story of Noah and the Flood was nonsense and ahistorical. This pushed the thread off the rails. The historical veracity of the Bible is not the point. And more importantly, the central problem with this line of response is that it concedes the point to the hateful crowd that, “yes, the bible says that,” and then has to go to great and at times absurd lengths to prove that the Bible is not reliable so it doesn’t matter.

But here is the thing - I am not willing to concede this 2nd point. The Bible does not condemn homosexuality, and to suggest it does is to misrepresent and misinterpret the text. What is clearer still is that the Gospels, which supposedly are the foundation of faith and moral behavior for Christians, clearly do not allow the exclusion, violence or any hateful behavior against Gay, Lesbian, Bi or Trans or Queer or any “alternative” sexualities and genders. There are plenty of in depth discussions that are much more thoughtful and brilliant than anything I might write which discuss the few (and I mean few) passages that could even be construed to condemn homosexuality. But in a nutshell, an understanding of sexual orientation was unknown to the ancient world and the world of the Bible. What is condemned is any and all (both homosexual and heterosexual) sexual behavior that is exploitative, abusive, coercive and violent.
For example, the story of the destruction of Sodom (Genesis 18:16-19:1ff) is not about homosexuality no matter how badly folks want it to be. It is about sexual violence. And it is certainly the height of ignorance and idiocy that “evangelical” protesters have been chanting “remember Sodom” at Pete Buttigieg rallies. Because if you get below the surface of the story, it directly condemns any number of republicans (including the one in the white house, a certain supreme court justice and a number of others) who seem to think they can engage in exploitative, abusive, coercive and violent sexual behavior with impunity (or so they believe – history has a long memory!). Turning to the New Testament, the favorite “clobber passage” is in St. Paul’s letter to the Romans 1:26-27. This passage is similarly about sexual violence, coercion, abuse and exploitation. Paul is addressing a dark dimension of Roman culture that allowed those who owned slaves to use their slaves however they wanted – including sexually. To interpret these verses as a condemnation of homosexuality is to read into it 21st century American cultural biases.

The final comment on the meme in the comment thread was the one that provided me with the title of this essay. “It is obvious you have no moral compass,” wrote the commenter. If you define “moral compass” as being hateful to others, whether they are gay, or of a different race and gender, or a different religion or are immigrants or refugees; if it is ok for you to lock up children in cages underneath a highway; if it is ok for you to support supreme court judges and others who feel that they have a right to be abusive, exploitative and sexually violent towards women (“boys will be boys” after all); if it is ok with you that gay folks are treated contemptuously and possibly refused medical care and other services – if this is your definition of “moral compass” then, you are right, I do not share your moral compass.

My moral compass is rooted the Gospels where Jesus is rather unequivocal in his words and actions: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” “Love one another as I have loved you.” “Love your enemy.” “Do good to those who hate you.” “Turn the other cheek.” The Gospels are full of these words of Jesus. And not only that, the Gospel is full of Jesus’ acting out this radical love and acceptance as well.

Finally, I would turn back to the Apostle Paul. He had founded the church in the great city of Corinth, but he quickly had his hands full with conflicts and difficulties with the members of these new church communities. They were exclusive, petty, unwelcoming and selfish. Paul takes the time to address each and every one of their issues in turn, including issues of sexual responsibility. But finally, after reworking the popular rhetorical device of using the metaphor of the body to reflect the community (chapter 12), Paul says in no uncertain terms that all of this stuff, all of these issues you think are so important are nothing but a “sounding gong” or a “clanging cymbal” in comparison to love (chapter 13). Love is first and most essential. We do not judge, we do not reject, we open our arms in love.

And that is the bottom line.

That is our moral compass!