Category Archives: Religious Wrong

Calvin College’s new president speaks out

Over the weekend, someone who is a member of the Calvin College Support and Celebration group shared an interview of Calvin College’s new president, Michael Le Roy.

Don’t let the article’s subtitle mislead you when it promises that we’re going to talk about something besides homosexuality.

At the bottom of page three he starts talking about the “biggest theological challenge” facing Calvin College in general terms of how do we call others to follow Christ? How do we gracefully ask people to carry their cross without watering down our message and yet communicate compassion and sympathy when the message seems hard?

By the top of page four, Dr. Le Roy is directly applying these questions to the college’s gay student population and that’s how the article ends with the president reflecting on Calvin College’s continued desire to avoid “political” issues.

Go ahead and read the article for yourself. I myself am very disappointed in Dr. Le Roy’s seeming commitment to keep on keepin’ on with regards to the LGBT community on campus. But I’m disappointed not simply because Calvin College and its new president are keeping to the same path they’ve been on for years – that’s no real surprise. What’s more surprising is that Dr. Le Roy, unprompted, decided to make the connection between the call to carry one’s cross and Calvin’s LGBT community – as if they needed any reminding of the cross they have to carry!

To a certain point I appreciate the humility that comes through when Dr. Le Roy says, “Anybody who speaks in platitudes or thinks it’s simple to be a faithful and wise Christian in these issues [regarding homosexuality] is overlooking something.” When you consider that the group he’s speaking to is primarily hostile to the LGBT crowd, this kind of aside matters.

Dr. Le Roy and many others at Calvin College don’t want to be “political”, which I interpret as meaning controversial – which you may also interpret, if you wish, as meaning that they don’t want to upset donors.

By my definition of what it means to be “political” in this context, Calvin College is ignoring the Gospels. Jesus was never one to avoid controversy. During his ministry, Jesus associated with tax collectors and Samaritans – two groups of people who were viewed in many ways as the LGBT community is viewed by many in the Church today.

Jesus called on the Samaritan woman and the tax collector both to go and lead good and honest lives – which he calls each of us to. He didn’t tell the Samaritan woman to be Samaritan no more or the tax collector to change professions.

This comparison, of course, is far from perfect so I don’t want to push it too far.

When Jesus went to oppressed groups of people or when he spoke to those who were looked down upon by the who’s who of religious society, he never went to them with a message of, “Here. Take this cross and follow me.” He went to them with a message of liberation and freedom that he had to offer. He went to them with hope.

The most difficult message that Jesus had to give was to the wealthy man, the individual of privilege, who was respected and virtuous. When he asked what else he must do to enter God’s kingdom, Jesus said that he must adhere to the law – which he already did, the man said. What else? Go, Jesus told him, sell all you have and follow me. The message was difficult for him since he was so well off.

That’s quite the burden! And Jesus didn’t go giving this burden to the downtrodden. He gave this message to the well-off and powerful.

A little bit of humility from those who carry on Jesus’ message today would be a good starting point. Simply saying, “I’m sorry you feel bad about our message to you” is hardly an embodiment of humility or grace.

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Eye-opener

This past weekend in Paris was an eye-opener.

When foreigners think of Paris, we of course imagine the Eiffel Tour, the Triumphal Arc and the Mona Lisa hanging in the Louvre.

But beyond the museums and tourist attractions, we also think of Paris as being a center of intellectual liberalism. The home of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. The city of American expatriates like Hemmingway and Langston Hughes. The sight of the sexual revolution protests in 1968 that witnessed a seemingly out-of-touch Charles de Gaulle resign from office.

On Sunday, Paris was the sight of a very different sort of protest from those of ‘68. Rather than students descending on the streets of Paris to protest for reproductive rights, thousands of bourgeois Parisians swarmed such iconic sights of past protests as the Bastille all in the name of opposing France’s new gay marriage law.

My boyfriend and I unwittingly picked a horrible time to visit the city. A friend of ours was on a whirlwind, 8-day tour of Europe and happened to be stopping through Paris the same weekend as the protest – something we only realized once we arrived and saw hundreds of posters across the city inviting “Tous à Paris” (Everyone to Paris) on May 26.

On the day of the protest, we did our best to avoid the crowds of homophobic, Right-wing protestors but it was inevitable that we came across more than our fair share. When we woke up on Sunday morning, several dozen had gathered at the Gare de Lyon near our hotel and our friend’s hostel.

My boyfriend made the observation that all of the protestors exuded an image of wealth and class.

And it’s true. While it’s true that there was nothing classy about their hoodies adorned with stick-figure heteronormative families, they all seemed like they hailed from the same white, bourgeois neighborhoods. While some protestors made their way towards La Place de la Bastille, a number of others sat down to expensive sidewalk cafés for Sunday lunch.

A nice Bordeaux, perhaps, to go with your protest, Monsieur?

We spent the afternoon in Montmartre away from the protestors. There were still signs pasted on notice boards and street lamps, of course, but we could happily forget that the city streets below were swollen with well-to-do Catholics, many of whom decided this would be an appropriate occasion to trot out their own young children as if this was an appropriate occasion for showing off to gay couples what they were missing out on.

A train ride north and we were in Saint-Denis to visit the first gothic-style basilica in Europe and the final resting place of France’s royalty. Saint-Denis is outside Paris and as you ride the metro you notice a significant shift in the demographics from what you see in the city’s core.

In the two or three hours we were in Saint-Denis, I saw a total of one sticker near the metro entrance announcing the protest. Mind you, we didn’t simply walk to the basilica, turn around and leave; we went to a café afterwards and then walked down the main street to a McDonalds for internet access. We saw a lot of kids with their families playing out on the street, riding their bikes and playing soccer. But no hoodies or flags with stick figures of mom, dad and the kids.

The complete lack of interest in this working class, heavily Muslim neighborhood synthesized for me what a divided city Paris is. Where before I’d only seen the classic 19th century architecture and wide boulevards along the Seine River, I could now see the conservative ruling class that was still in place 150 years after Paris’ reconstruction largely rid the inner parts of the city of its poor and working classes.

My hunch is that many in this diverse community don’t have favorable feelings towards gay marriage or gay adoption. I don’t want to suppose a percentage or a proportion, but I’m sure that if you conducted a poll, you would find plenty who oppose the new law. The protests in Paris, however, don’t reflect the values of the suburbs since many of the same wealthy few in the city’s core are the very same ones who support anti-immigration and Islamophobic measures.

Here I will make one concession to Americans who oppose gay marriage: they are generally very fervently convicted of their beliefs. It’s not a question of propriety or preserving the status quo, but rather a question of moral rightness. Yes, of course it is wrong to impose a religious system of beliefs on what should be a free and open democracy, but at least there is some misguided conviction present which drives such actions, some idea that what is at stake is the very heart and soul of our country.

Meanwhile in Paris, the haves hold the have-nots at arm’s length in the suburbs as a tribute to the 19th century reconstruction of the city, just as they tried to keep immigrants out in the 20th century and just as they are trying to keep non-traditional families from enjoying the same rights today in the 21st century.

A symbol of intellectual liberalism and progress? Perhaps yes, but only as spurned on by the overbearing conservative bourgeois who dominate still today.

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God doesn’t love you that much, Simba

Four or five years can do a lot to remove you from where you were. I forget, sometimes, that this is not such a long time. It wasn’t so long ago that I bought into the idea that being gay and being Christian meant being celibate – if you want to please God. And I did.

I still want to please God.

Having individuals run around promulgating this BS isn’t helping. It’s like white people telling black people that they’re OK with them – as long as they straighten their hair (pun not intentional) and use products to lighten their skin.

The fact that some members of our community have bought into this BS breaks my heart – and so we need to call it for what it is. Too many people are being left irrevocably, deeply damaged by these sorts of lies.

Qualifying God’s love means besmirching God’s goodness and grace. I’m excited by a new group I’ve just seen in the last few days on Facebook called On God’s Campus: Voices from the Queer Underground. They posted this little gem the other day. Everyone, I highly recommend checking them out. They have a lot of thought-provoking stuff that I’m looking forward to digging into once my schedule slows down at the end of the semester.

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Assumptions

I’d like to thank MLive’s Brian McVicar for a very good article that was published today.

I’m also pleased by Shirley Hoogstra’s comments in McVicar’s article where she is quoted as saying, “I think the petition is very worthy and gives us a lot to focus on and it’s a great gut check.” It’s definitely an improvement over comments that were made back when the annual list was announced back in September.

The only thing I find disheartening : a couple of comments on the news story – but even that wasn’t as harrowing as I expected.

In response to the question Why would LGBT students even want to go there? one reader suggested that the petition is “just to promote an agenda”.

First of all, I would like to thank Mr. McVicar for doing a great job moderating the comments. I really appreciate that. Second of all, I would simply like to add that this is exactly the thinking that we’re trying to combat. This reader couldn’t be bothered to read the petition to see what we’re about; she/he simply reacted with a set of assumptions. The Christian/gay question isn’t an either/or proposition.

As for the rest of the comment, I’m only dignifying it with a response because I saw this same line of thinking before while I was working at Calvin Chimes from some of our readers.

“I’ve always been perplexed when people don’t like an organization (religious or otherwise), but insist on joining it and later gripe about it and look for things to change within it. ”

There is no perfect organization. Just as an example: I go to a state school now where I have support and protection if anyone were to discriminate against me for being gay – and I love it. I get to spend more time doing my job as a TA/grad student, I no longer feel defined by my sexual orientation or reduced to a label; I am no longer asked to represent the LGBT community or educate others.

On the other hand, there are a lot of people who don’t understand why I identify as a religious person. (Which brings us back to the initial comment.) Is it perfect? No. Like I said, no organization is. We have three choices: A) Remain silent, B) Complain or C) Try to do something about it.

I choose C.

Our society’s common wisdom remains stuck in this dichotomous thinking: Gay or Christian. This is exactly what we’re trying to change and we think that Calvin College has a great potential to be the start of something remarkable.

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No more excuses

Calvin College was recently ranked in the Princeton Review’s top schools in the United States. Among other distinctions, Calvin has been (once again) recognized as one of the most unwelcoming schools for LGBT students in the country.

As I’ve already said (and I’ll probably say again next year and the year after): This is nothing new.

Neither is Calvin’s response.

According to VP Shirley Hoogstra, we can’t put too much confidence in this category. According to an interview with the Calvin Chimes, Hoogstra is quoted as saying, “I don’t like the category label… I am not a fan of dividing students over a particular quality.”

This is what we hear every single year from Hoogstra. In fact, I’m scrounging around the internet to see if these quotes were actually pulled from last year. Or maybe there’s a robot Shirley Hoogstra programmed to say the same things every year when the survey is released.

The bottom line from the administration is always: We love all of our students, whether they’re gay, straight, lesbian, bi or trans. But we don’t like this poll.

And in fact there seems to be no consistent mobility: This year Calvin was no. 11. Last year, we were no. 16. In 2010, we were no. 14. So maybe we’re actually getting worse since we’re moving closer to the top 10? Or maybe there is simply greater consciousness of the need to improve and the issues that face our LGBTQ brothers and sisters.

Regardless, the appropriate response should be alarm, not shrugging your shoulders with a smile and saying “Well, we’re not perfect. But then again, who is?”

It’s telling that the school tries to distance itself from this list on the one hand, but at the same time is jubilant at being placed on the “stone-cold sober” list. Hoogstra said, “I can say I really like it that students have smart fun and they don’t have to be intoxicated to have fun, but it’s students who are saying that.” Hoogstra is particularly pleased by this bit since it’s voted on by students themselves – so it must be accurate.

Then why aren’t you worried about your own students telling you that the school isn’t welcoming towards LGBT students?

Oh yeah, because we’re all one in Christ and we don’t really see inconvenient, messy, problematic things like gender presentation or the person you’re holding hands with… Unless they happen to be another Calvin student and the same sex. Then we’ll have to ask you to leave.

Saying that you can’t see distinctions between people is a classic move for majority groups who don’t want to be accused of racism or sexism or homophobia or any other like prejudices. The only person who can really pull this off is Stephen Colbert, but at least when he does it, you know that you’re supposed to laugh. When Calvin College keeps saying that they can’t tell the difference and that they love all of us, you don’t know if it’s a joke gone wrong or some sort of theatre of the absurd.

Maybe it’s both.

This is consistent with interaction between all sorts of minority/majority groups. The majority group is often OK with the minority group until members of said group start acting in ways that aren’t in keeping with the majority group’s expectations or desires. So, in this instance, it means that as long as members of the community who identify as LGBTQ are silent and willing to constrain or gender expression to some semblance of hetero-normativity and as long as they suppress their desires for meaningful relationships, we’re cool. As long as we pretend that we’re just like everyone else, there’s no problem.

It’s that moment when you clear your throat to speak that the perma-grin starts looking a little strained.

If Calvin College really strove to care for and love all of its students, the response would not be “We don’t like this category.” It’s time for the administration to wake up and own their responsibility in this. It’s not time to sit on your hands and wait for the story to pass. We’re talking about students who come to Calvin because they want to be fully authentic. The overwhelming majority of students, gay, straight or otherwise, come to Calvin because they believe it to be an institution that promotes thoughtful engagement with the world from a discerning, Christian point of view.

By ignoring the plight of LGBT students, Calvin is only perpetuating the cycle of violence done by religious institutions against LGBT people. Sure, we can congratulate ourselves on being better than Brigham Young and Wheaton, but Spiritual Violence Lite is still Spiritual Violence.

Calvin has the opportunity to be a really unique, exciting place. In some ways, it already is and I know that that’s what draws a lot of students to it (myself included back in 2006). We could do so much better. We could be leaders that people across the country look to. And until we look ourselves in the mirror and face up to that, we’re no better than Brigham Young, Bob Jones, Cornerstone University or any other school in the country.

For once, I would love to hear the administration start a sentence with an apology rather than an excuse. Then we can finally get to the heart of the problem instead of pretending like there isn’t one.

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Freedom of speech or hate speech?

In trying to write about anti-bullying legislation a few years ago, I came across the difficulty of trying to determine what constitutes freedom of speech – respect for religious liberty included therein. This seemed pretty obvious to me: Don’t use your religion to make other people feel like shit about themselves.

But apparently this idea is a little too evolved for some.

All that some straight Christians really want is to be able to tell the gays how much they love them – even if they’re going to hell.

I follow NOM on Facebook, and I’ll be upfront with you: Sometimes when I read through the comments that people leave, it takes me back to a dangerous place. While a lot of people are happy to ignore NOM, and probably with good reason, I have a hard time doing so. Not because I think that NOM is a reputable organization that should be listened to and respected or that I think that our country is headed down that road. I think NOM is becoming an increasingly fringe organization, and though they try their best to make the general population fear the gays, truth is outing.

I don’t follow NOM because I need their approval or because I want to win arguments in the comments section of news stories.

I follow NOM because I care about all sorts of different people and perspectives. When we write people off, I think we lose something of our humanity. When we talk in terms of “us” and “them”, when we make people who look, act or think differently “the other”, we head in a dangerous direction.

Of course that doesn’t mean that it’s easy. Of course that doesn’t mean I always like what I read. My heart breaks on a daily basis when I see some of the things that people write on NOM’s Facebook page, counseling homosexuals to seek “therapy”, reducing homosexuality to a cesspool of STIs, hookups and debauchery and then mocking LGB people for making things “always about them” when we’re not the ones who have founded a national organization to deny someone else the right to marry the person their heart desires.

Before I get too far off track here, let me try to bring it back.

Freedom of speech is a sacred right. Simple as that.

Just as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are also innate, human rights. If your “freedom of speech” is coming at the expense of others’ misery, then there’s something amiss here. I happen to feel very strongly about this because I both care passionately about religious liberty and the right of every single human being to live in a respectful society where we can treat one another with civility and decency even if we’re very different people.

What does that mean? That means that no one should go to a school where administrators and teachers get to propagate lies about your identity. No one should have to worry about whether or not they can mention their significant other in the workplace for fear of getting fired.

Freedom of speech is your right. Making people miserable to the point of wanting to kill themselves, however, is not. Firing someone because of their significant other is discrimination.

I don’t go around every day demanding other people’s validation. I don’t have a questionnaire for people to fill out before I consider them my friends with a list of questions about their thoughts on my orientation and gender presentation. It doesn’t affect me. I’ve had people anger, even just recently when someone I work with refused to acknowledge that I even have a boyfriend, instead referring to him as “your friend”. But guess what? It doesn’t matter. They were only words, words to which you are perfectly entitled. No one can make a law to stop you from being an ass-hole. (How about a USA cheer for that one?)

You know, as a Christian, as someone who has read the Bible cover-to-cover more than once in his life, who knows that the Bible talks a fair bit about love and the downtrodden and the outcast and oppressed, I’m always astonished that there are so many people in the world who think that this love has something to do with making people who are already marginalized feel even more oppressed.

If you don’t approve of my life, that’s fine. But why do you feel the need to have some sort of special privilege to let me know that by discriminating against my relationship? By discriminating against my gender presentation?

Of course, there is some folly involved in trying to deal with discriminatory beliefs. Can you imagine if MLK had gone around the South back in the 60s telling the KKK that he thought it was cool that they didn’t like black people, just please would you mind not bombing our churches?

I make no apologies for myself or my gender or the guy I’m so lucky to have in my life. And there’s no ambiguity about my goals: A society in which everyone is free to comport themselves in such a way that they don’t need to fear attacks for the people they love or for the way they choose to present their gender identity. And more than simple “tolerance” but instead a broader celebration of all of our sexuality. A friend of mine who runs an awesome blog that I helped name sent me a video this week of a sermon by Gene Robinson, who really hit the nail on the head, I think, when he talked about there being as many sexualities in the world as there are people. Freeing transgender, lesbian, bi, and gay people to express themselves and live their lives without reproach frees straight people to express their own sexuality and gender without fear of the labels that might be thrown at them.

I’d simply like to end by saying that as easy as it is to get discouraged by the number of hateful people who wish to force their views on the rest of us and create their own sort of Middle Ages theocracy, I am equally encouraged by others who make me believe in a brighter future and help me to believe I see the face of God sometimes in their words, their actions, their conviction.

As a friend told me recently, the fact that I come from such a conservative background and that in my coming out process and that in the last 5 years since then I’ve had such a normal life in relation to my family speaks to hope for us, not just as LGBT people, but as people period. Any time we can look beyond the superficial differences and notice that we’re really still not so different, we’re winning a victory for ourselves and for our future.

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Ayn Rand endorses Paul Ryan for the next President of the United States

I was watching Democracy Now! tonight and found out that Paul Ryan, the next president of the United States, is a huge Ayn Rand fan. Huge. To the point that he can quote “any verse of Ayn Rand”.

This definitely helps explain his budget proposals.

Before going on, I just found this great quote from Flannery O’Connor about Ayn Rand:

“The fiction of Ayn Rand is as low as you can get re fiction. I hope you picked it up off the floor of the subway and threw it in the nearest garbage pail. She makes Mickey Spillane look like Dostoevsky.”

(Full disclosure: I have not read any Ayn Rand, so I can’t attest to the sentiments personally. However, I unequivocally refute her worldview so it makes me smile.)

I was going to leave this post right there and get back to my Montaigne reading – maybe dig out a quote or two more from Mr. Montaigne to share – but it’s really struck me how ideologically opposed Romney and Obama are, especially given Mr. Ryan’s appointment to the VP position.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to make this face all night long. I guess this is what happens to your smile after you read Ayn Rand.
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

I would just like to say, it’s a sad commentary on American Christianity if this is what it takes to get the evangelical, Right-wing base of the party fired up: A man who rejects the need for social assistance programs that help millions of Americans every day. A man who wants to kick 10 million people off of food stamps. A man who prioritizes corporations and Wall Street over the people living and working on Main Street.

Debates about who Jesus would vote for are stupid and petty so I’m not going there. And we don’t know how big of an effect this will have on evangelical Christians… yet. But if you’re a Christian planning on voting for Romney – Ryan for their fiscal responsibility, then consider that this is a congressman who supported wasteful government spending when it came to phony wars overseas but when it comes to a question of whether or not we will support our seniors on Medicare, he says no. When it comes to people on foodstamps, he says no.

Me? I’m a communitarian. I believe that we only flourish individually when we flourish as a community. I don’t buy that religious Right-wing argument that it should be left to individuals and religious organizations to take care of “charity”. I’ve worked firsthand with these sorts of organizations and I love the work that they do. But there are certain things private individuals and churches and mosques can’t do. They can’t pay all the medical bills of their seniors. They can’t cut healthcare costs. Sure, they can run food pantries, but I’ve seen firsthand how hard it is to keep those shelves stocked – and guess what? A lot of their support comes… from the government! Surprise!

If supporting social safety nets means makes me a socialist or a collectivist, then so be it! I take it as a judgment on where our society is today more than a judgment on my political beliefs. I take it as a judgment on the state of American Christianity when 9 times out of 10 we are more concerned about preventing gays from marrying than making sure that every child in this country gets a good education. I take it as a judgment on American Christianity when we march against abortion, but we can’t march against the poverty that far too many already-born children live in. What does it say when the “godless” left in this country does a better job following Jesus’ precepts than those filling the pews every Sunday?

If all it takes to rally America’s conservative Christians – the base that Romney’s been missing – is a pseudo fiscal conservative who doesn’t like gays or abortion, then it’s time for this country to do a little soul-searching.

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