Exodus, Concerned Women for America, the Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, and Pat Robertson were essentially silent — near as I can tell — on the meaning of Labor Day this year.
But the Bible isn’t silent, says Joel Sax:
The Christian Right, which has been the biggest sell out when it comes to Labor Unions by its glorification of wealth and virulent attacks against workingmen’s organizations should recall the words of James to the rich:
Labourers mowed your fields, and you cheated them — listen to the wages that you kept back calling out; realise that the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. On earth you have had a life of comfort and luxury; in the time of slaughter, you went on eating to your heart’s content. It was you who condemned the innocent and killed them; they offered you no resistance. — James 5:4-6
God is clearly a Union Deity.
I’m not a big fan of labor unions. But I’m even less a fan of a corporate compensation environment that pays executives tens of millions of dollars to ruin companies — or that pays the hardest workers a wage that can’t possibly support a family.
James 5 is, of course, just one pro-labor Biblical passage among hundreds in the Bible. More than 30 Christian leaders, including many evangelicals, acknowledged the Biblical mandate for pro-employee social policy in their open letter to President Bush in June.
This summer, the Southern Baptist governor of Alabama came under attack over his faith-based plan to raise taxes on businesses and farmers in order to ease the disproportionate tax burden on Alabama’s working poor and lower middle class. Oldspeak questions the Christian priorities of activist groups that spent millions of dollars to defend and pray over a stone idol with a fundamentalist Supreme Court justice’s name engraved on it, while opposing a faith-based plan to lessen the tax burden on Alabama’s working poor.
The Christian blogger at Gutless Pacifist correctly identified the Christian Coalition of Alabama’s position on tax reform as social Darwinism.
Such perspectives on Christian morality are absent from the ex-gay websites that I’ve seen thus far. Exodus and other ex-gay activist organizations seem to speak of President Bush in a tone of voice that has never been extended to former Presidents Carter or Clinton. I see moral and political tunnelvision here; it’s both unnecessary and potentially damaging to ex-gays.
Jim Wallis gives us a way to discern the difference between Dr. King and George W. Bush:
In our own American history, religion has been lifted up for public life in two very different ways. One invokes the name of God and faith in order to hold us accountable to God’s intentions—to call us to justice, compassion, humility, repentance, and reconciliation. Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and Martin King perhaps best exemplify that way. Lincoln regularly used the language of scripture, but in a way that called both sides in the Civil War to contrition and repentance. Jefferson said famously, “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just.
The other way invokes God’s blessing on our activities, agendas, and purposes. Many presidents and political leaders have used the language of religion like this, and George W. Bush is falling prey to that same temptation.
For many, the symbols, images and words of ancient religious texts are among the most powerful ways to communicate about the deepest of longings and the loftiest of aspirations. Martin Luther King, Jr. was as unafraid to use “religious talk” as he was fearless in the face of the dogs and fire hoses and jail cells of the segregationists. He recognized its power to encourage self-examination, expose hypocrisy and nurture hope. Progressive leaders of today would do well to study this speech and its sources to learn how they might speak using these and other deeply meaningful texts from outside the Jewish and Christian traditions to call America back to her true nature and purposes.
(Full disclosure: I am a former employee of Sojourners.)
Unlike the vague religious statements — with token mention of “Jesus” — that I see issued by ex-gay activists, Rev. Brill’s commentary on Martin Luther King Jr. is thoroughly linked to relevant, substantive Biblical references and historical works.
Brill’s message reminds me (again) that, so long as the Exodus national office maintains an unapologetic nostalgia for a conservative white Protestant America frozen in 1953, and so long as top staff work hand-in-glove with Focus on the Family and Concerned Women for America, I am likely to consider Exodus national leadership spiritually immature, morally myopic, and gratuitously disrespectful toward Biblical social-justice concerns.
To oversimplify: Sprinkling the words “Jesus,” “Bible,” “sex,” and “family” across one’s press releases does not make an organization’s conduct Christian.
What can a Christian ex-gay or celibate same-sex-attracted person do in response?
For starters, I don’t believe it is necessary to complicate one’s journey away from homosexual behavior with entanglement in the agenda of any partisan political outfit. Partisans serve their own interests, not necessarily those of the person struggling with sexuality.
When I found that conservative fundamentalism was not reducing sin in my own life (in fact, it was fueling it), I sought to improve my understanding of Christian morality beyond the very small scope of far-right political groups. For example, I discovered the scriptural underpinnings and social policies of Christian organizations such as Bread for the World, Evangelicals for Social Action, the Mennonite Central Committee, and the Roman Catholic Church. The social policies of all these Christian organizations, I found, were in frequent and direct opposition to those of the “pro-family” organizations operating under the influence or control of James Dobson and Pat Robertson.
As I studied Christian morality, I found that some “pro-family” groups and churches were promoting poor communication, hasty marriage, an unfair division of labor between spouses, and poor financial practices that, all together, seemed to be causing divorce — including, to some extent, my parents’ divorce.
As I learned about foreign Christians and cultures, and traveled abroad, I was dismayed to discover that some of the “pro-family” groups — Beverly and Tim LaHaye of Concerned Women for America, in particular — were, in the 1980s, promoting bigotry and warfare against Latin American Christians who were at odds with U.S. foreign policy at the time.
As I got a little older and gradually developed a more mature sense of good manners (something I’m still working on), I gradually realized that labels such as “homosexual agenda” or “gay elite” were not only insulting and vague, but also a poor reflection on the intelligence of the speaker. In response, I studied the competing agendas of gay activists ranging from the NGLTF on the left, to Log Cabin Republicans on the right, to the many people somewhere in between.
I learned what homosexuals were actually saying, and how they were actually living — not merely what conservative activists wanted me to believe they were saying and doing. I found a mix of good and bad among gays, a mix of good and bad among mainstream Christians — and sadly, much more bad than good among the far-right activists and their churches.
Over the first 17 years of my adulthood, I found little difficulty being celibate while affirming fairness and equality for opposing interests. Labor Day — and the frequent rallies of not-so-far-rightist Christians and like-minded people of faith in my home of Washington, D.C. — acted as an ongoing reminder that the Bible, morality, Christianity and God are all much bigger than the sex-centered ideologies of Concerned Women, Exodus, James Dobson, Michael Johnston, PFOX, or Pat Robertson.
Unlike the staff of Exodus, I came to believe it’s inappropriate to say, “Just because I can live a certain way, everyone should.”
Rather, if a reader of this blog says, “I want to be celibate but I refuse to hate myself or mischaracterize and discriminate against others,” then I salute them.