Michael Hamar

Harvard Theologian Attacks Gay Activists Rather than Christian Hate Merchants

Filed By Michael Hamar | March 27, 2011 5:30 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: Harvard University, homophobic behavior, ivory tower theologians, John Aravosis, Leviticus, religion as an evil, religious based hate

Last week on my personal blog I wrote a post addressing the failure of "good" Christians to speak up and combat the hate and lies issuing daily from far right Christians against LGBT individuals. Indeed, I likened them in some ways to the "Good Germans" during the Nazi regime who chose to close their eyes to what they either knew or suspected was being done to eradicate Jews in Europe. The cross posting of that post on here on The Bilerico Project generated dozens of comments.

Like it or not, religion - and in the USA that principally means Christianity - is the underlying source for homophobia, anti-gay laws, and on occasion deadly violence against LGBT people. Many do not want to accept this hard truth.

Refusing to accept that reality doesn't somehow magically make it not true. And failing to speak out loudly against the hate filled "Christians" and failing to demand equal media time to counter the hate, doesn't solve the problem. Neither does attacking LGBT activists who call out the source of the hate - namely the Bible. Bible apologists are, in my view, disingenuous and, in truth, aiding the cause of people like Fred Phelps, Bryan Fischer, Tony Perkins and Maggie Gallagher who wave about the Bible during their hate filled rants. Yet this is precisely what Mark D. Jordan of Harvard Divinity School (pictured above) does in a piece at Religion Dispatches. His particular target is John Aravosis, but his whining is broad enough to include myself and many other activists.

Jordan prefers those who have quietly "labored strenuously over recent decades to change received readings of the Bible," forgetting the fact that most in the general public have never heard of him or other academic types or their "labors." Quiet labors such as those Jordan lauds are fine and good, but LGBT people are still being regularly murdered, fired from their jobs (I have first hand knowledge myself) and undergoing daily discrimination because of the Bible. And this sad truth dictates that at times those willing to use brickbats and loudly condemn the haters and the fount of such hate are a necessity. I would argue that the younger generations - who seem increasingly inclined to walk away from religious affiliation and hold a negative view of "Christians" - are hearing the message of those like Aravosis far more than that of ivory tower academics like Jordan.

Yes, we need the academics, but we need the street fighters of the Internet as well. who daily set out to expose the viciousness and hate that are too often synonymous with Christian belief. Jordan has directed his criticism in the wrong directions. I would also suggest that Jordan spend more time tracking what those who I call Christianists are saying and doing. If he did, he'd know that there are those in the Southern Baptist Convention and elsewhere who really would like to see gays criminalized and imprisoned if not executed. He'd also realize that patience is in short supply when one lives in a homophobic state like Virginia, has been fired for being gay or has experienced a police harassment simply for being gay. Here's a sampling of Jordan's snarky whining:

The news item is both grisly and depressingly familiar: a young man is accused of killing an older man for making sexual advances. The weapon was a sock filled with stones; the young man told police that he had been instructed in prayer to apply the Old Testament punishment of stoning.

Unfortunately the story didn't stop there. John Aravosis, political blogger and publicist for gay causes, is perhaps best known for leading a boycott against Dr. Laura; or else for outing a conservative "journalist" as a gay porn star. In a recent post, Aravosis says first that "the Bible does say to kill gays," then quotes a string of alternate (and admittedly "wrong") biblical translations before reiterating that they are "quite clear about the need to murder gay people," only to conclude that "Christians do nothing about it, other than quote it against us in order to take away our civil rights."

But then let me ask the obvious question: Who gains when a gay activist endorses the most homophobic of marginal interpretations of the Bible> after half a century of gay or gay-friendly efforts to establish better readings? . . . . The horrifying prescription of Leviticus 20:13 (and its correlate, 18:22) are not directed against classes of persons, but against acts committed by Israelite males (and males only). Moreover, it's a matter of lively dispute even among fierce textual literalists exactly which acts are intended.

Does Aravosis really want to persuade members of the Southern Baptist Convention, say, that a strict interpretation of Leviticus requires them to advocate the death penalty for same-sex acts? It's more likely that Aravosis is preaching to his own choir; that is, to political liberals who identify as LGBTQ, or their staunch allies. What effect will this post have on them? It can only confirm the view that queer political progress depends on a strict secularism--after all, Christians only quote their violent Bible "to take away our civil rights." We politically awake queers would be so much better off, the post implies, if only we could get rid of that hateful book and those who still read it.

I am tempted to ask Aravosis whether what he counts as progress in gay politics (say, around Don't Ask Don't Tell) owes more to the liberationists or to their homophile predecessors. . . . . I recall the long line of Christian writers, pastors, and congregants who have labored strenuously over recent decades to change received readings of the Bible, to enlist the churches in support of legal reforms, to open church hierarchies and church rituals to LGBT people. They understood, as Aravosis may not, that no effort at public persuasion could forestall every violent misuse of the Bible or any other sacred text.

While it cannot issue guarantees, the patient work of undoing Christian homophobia is still worthwhile bloggers like Aravosis, then for the sake of public debate in a country where Christianity still wields considerable power. And not least for the sake of queer believers who still find themselves caught between the dogma of homophobic churches and the dogma of versions of gay politics.

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Being a lesbian, Leviticus 18:22 ('Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination') always makes me snicker... It means the bible forbids me to have sex with men : )

It would be funny if it weren't so sad.

And your response to Jordan's argument is...? Saying he's with us or against us?

He says that the two options to solve homophobic violence being spread with the Bible are:

1. Convince people the Bible isn't violently homophobic
2. Convince people that the Bible is violently homophobic, but that that's a reason to reject it.

Jordan opts for #1, Aravosis for #2. Jordan, I take it, assumes that most Christians aren't going to give up the Bible any time soon so maybe it would be helpful if polemicists like Aravosis took up #1.

Personally, I think the situation is more complicated than what Jordan lets on and I think he's not taking into account the difference in political power between gay-friendly Christians and homophobic Christians and their allies. I think that's going to happen (if homophobic violence is to stop) is:

3. People will reject the violently homophobic parts of the Bible with a soft "meh," ignoring those parts of the Bible until they quietly forget they're there, like the pro-slavery or misogynist parts (maybe a few decades from now people will be shocked that the Bible was once used to justify homophobia in the same way they pretend the Bible was never used to justify racism today).

The bigger issue that I wish someone here would have addressed is that Aravosis's post is wildly inaccurate, both based on what we know now about that murder case and what we knew in the beginning. In the beginning we knew:

1. The killer met the victim in the psychiatric ward of a hospital and became very, very close friends with him, sharing his money and home.
2. The killer was the sole beneficiary to the victim's estate.
3. The killer was arrested before he was charged with the murder for charges that seem like (though we don't know) he was arrested for cruising for gay sex.

The fact that Aravosis left those relevant details out of his post, instead writing a conclusion he knew the evidence didn't support but that he thought would attract readers/get people riled up/support his worldview is part-n-parcel with the bullshit artistry he regularly practices. What Aravosis says should not be taken at face value and should be verified through an independent source.

Jordan did not do that. Instead, he says "a young man is accused of killing an older man for making sexual advances," which is not true. A young man is accused of killing an older man, and the young man claims it was because of the older man's sexual advances.

We also know now:

4. The victim's brother says the victim wasn't gay at all and that the entire Bible thing was made up in the police interview to make for some sort of gay panic defense.

Whether the brother knows the truth about his brother's sexuality or not, it complicates the story even further and is consistent with a narrative that has the killer murdering the victim for his money and then trying to get out of jail time (anyone remember that woman who carved "BO" backwards on her face?).

And, yes, these details are important. If we're going to make sweeping claims from one murder case, we might as well get the facts in that one case correct.

Stephen McLeod | March 27, 2011 6:43 PM

I so agree with him and not with you. Sorry. You're so exactly wrong in a way that suggests your mind is fully locked on this subject - *your* dogma. You and Aravosis are acting as though you were incapable of making distinctions that you would gladly make elsewhere. As though there is a little region of impenetrable fog in your minds, wherein you would categorically exclude supportive Christians, especially gay Christians, by implicitly assuming that the word "Christian" describes that that word applies to the only to the most mindless readings of ancient texts, and proponents of such readings, and that Christians who don't subscribe to those beliefs are somehow unwilling fellow-travelors with these ignorant few. To say that is oversimplified is like saying the earth is merely a water planet. Humans are reducible to a few categories, categories created by the most emotional, least supple-minded readers and writers. But when such readers are writers are reading and writing about when it comes to being similarly reduced, when "gay" could me neatly described, and "freedom" could never be imagined, by the enlightened to apply to "them." That's what he's talking about. Shooting ourselves in the foot by being willfully stupid.

actually a nation's income inequality correlates more closely with homophobia than does religiosity.

Paige Listerud | March 27, 2011 9:00 PM

In the end, Michael, you misread and overdo it by

1) painting all Christians with the same, broad, homophobic brush
2) making fear of the queer all about the Bible, not Biblical interpretation and knowledge of the history when these texts were created
3) failing to acknowledge that the social construction of gender plays a huge role in promoting homophobia in our culture among the religious and non-religious alike. Straight guys who never read the Bible, never went to church and certainly wouldn't accept religious restrictions on their sexuality are often still homophobic.

In the end, your arguments become tired and unconvincing because they lack the necessary nuance.

Brad Bailey | March 27, 2011 9:40 PM

Alex, that's an interesting concept: "the difference in political power between gay-friendly Christians and homophobic Christians and their allies." Is there any doubt that the latter are by far the more powerful?

Apparently, what with all the people who say if we "call out" the Bible as homophobic people will just reject it. Forget the fact that most people will never hear us calling anything out....

beergoggles | March 27, 2011 10:19 PM

Until xtians decide to re-edit the bible and redact all the evil parts in it, I think using the words of the bible to turn people away from xtianity is a great strategy; one which seems to be working with a lot of the younger generation.

Ridicule and exposure of the absurdities of homophobia and the bible should go hand in hand.

I agree with beergoggles 100%!!!

Wolfgang E. B. Wolfgang E. B. | March 28, 2011 7:03 AM

I agree too. There's nothing holy about a book that contains such evil, or that has caused as much violence over the centuries as the Bible has.

Also, one thing that Bible apologists seem to fail to consider is that their reinterpretations sound an awful lot like spin. The truth is, in the culture that produced Lev. 18:22, it was illegal for a man to have sexual relations with another man, and men caught doing so were stoned to death.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | March 27, 2011 11:04 PM

All over the world cultists - christers, judaists, islamists - want to kill us. In Iran the ayatollahs are the enemy. In Iraq the jihadists in the US supported puppet government, whose police and militias arrest and murder GLBT folks in large numbers are the enemy. In Uganda and much of Africa US evangelicals and anglicans openly advocate state murder of GLBT - they are the enemy. In Africa and elsewhere the roman catholic cult opposes medical care for HIV/AIDS patients and proper prophylactic measures to help slow the spread of the virus - they are the enemy.

In the US christians, no matter how they howl, bang their heads on the wall and deny it, are the enemy. "John Joe Thomas beat 70-year-old Murray Seidman to death with a sock filled with rocks... Thomas told authorities that he read in the Old Testament that homosexuals should be stoned to death."

A christian, Obama, torpedoed the chance to retain same sex marriage with his repeated rants of 'gawd's in the mix' in 2008. Another christian, Clinton promoted and signed DOMA and DADT. Still other christers, Bush and Rove campaigned to get DOMAs passed in most states. Until we see christian 'allies' refusing to vote for them in droves we'll know they aren't serious.

Until we see 'friendly' christers occupying St. Patrick's in New York until Obama tells the truth about christian murders and hate speech and permanently breaks relations with the vatican and orders the arrest of der Papenfuehrer we'll consider them false friends. (He doesn't even have to order air strikes, in fact he shouldn't - American 'precision' air strikes have murdered thousands of civiliians in Korea, Vietnam Panama, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Lybia.)

Until we see christers demanding that their cult and all cults be taxed so we don't have to pay for their anti-LGBT hate speech we'll consider them summer soldiers. "The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink... " Thomas Paine, Valley Forge, Winter of 1776

The following came across my desk last week. Maybe it is appropriate here.

?"RELIGION IS LIKE A PENIS... It's fine to have one... It's fine to be proud of it... But please don't whip it out in public and start waving it around, And PLEASE don't try to shove it down everybody else's throat!" Gregg Ryan

Alex is right. You can't wish Christianity away, and you cannot argue it away. It's going to be here, no matter how hard to try to drive the world away from it. So, while it might feel emotionally triumphant to simply dismiss it and try to drive people away from it, what they'll see is you trying to win them over to a new religion.

And if they're not going to stop being Christian, then teaching heterosexual parents who sincerely Christian how they can accept and love their gay kids, and their gay kids' same sex spouses WHILE STILL BEING TRUE TO THEIR FAITH is very necessary part of creating healing within our community.

Gay kids needs their parents' support now. Not in some imagined religion-free future. That's not taking the issue seriously, IMO, with all due respect to the writer here.

As a out gay songwriter who has included spiritual material in the shows I've written with my husband, I am approached by parents and either gay or gay-supporting kids, asking for advice about how to deal with a particular conservative Christian relative. I guarantee you that going to the relative in question and telling them that their holy book is a piece of shit is not an effective action to take. :)

john demilio | March 28, 2011 9:38 AM

Jordan isn't criticizing protest. he's criticizing a gay activist who says the bible says that gays should be killed. in other words, he's criticizing stupidity and counterproductiveness. why would any gay activist in effect endorse the view that the bible says to kill gays, when the thrust of GLBT Christian/Jewish religious ACTIVISM has been to argue that the Bible does not say that?

Mark D. Jordon's book "The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology" is a seminal work on the doctrines of homophobia within the Western church. Christian Theologians did not begin polemicizing in earnest in favor of stoning sodomites in the Middles Ages. And we all now live with the consequences of their actions.
I consider myself left, not liberal and I cringe when I see LGBT folks presumably on my side reacting with the very close-minded intolerance that is the source of so much physical and psychological and spiritual violence against us. I have been guilty of the same thing. And I still have no adequate response to being called out when it becomes a case of the kettle calling the pot black.

Rick Sutton | March 28, 2011 1:21 PM

When will we learn this truth, that needs repeated often:

The word "Harvard" on your resume, in your title, do not grant you divine (or otherwise) logic.

All educational vitals should be considered along with the speakers'/writers' thoughts.

No more, no less.

I agree. Mark Jordan walked away from a tenured position at the University of Notre Dame to protest an appalling case of GLBT discrimination ten years before he joined Harvard. He has been making a case for Christian GLBT inclusion for many years now. I've read his work and spoken with him. His own activism in the GLBT community extends beyond his academic work. The article title reducing him to a Harvard theologian who "attacks" gay activists is over-simplified and underinformed.