19 December 2013

Ducking Out.



I had a friend back east, a pastor in a "mainline" denomination who had engaged me to talk about Orthodox spirituality in an Adult Sunday School class. Now, I'll be honest, my friend whom I love and pray for always is an Alpha Male who does not gracefully yield his teaching space. So, while I was there to talk about Orthodoxy, I spent some good part of the class responding to his comments which were, I will be honest, probably what most of his liberal mainline congregants were thinking. Yet they were coming as more interruptions rather than discussion... I blew most of them off. One, however sticks with me.

In discussing the Jesus Prayer, my friend commented "I never say that prayer because I don't want to internalize all that." My initial reply was "that's the point". But I had missed his point. "No I mean that stuff about being a sinner begging for mercy." Now, to be fair, the Jesus Prayer comes in several edits - long and short. The Greek text in the image above (and on the ring I wear on my hand) does not have the "Sinner" bit. The longer one I favor is, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy and, through the prayer of thy most pure mother of (your patron saint) and of all the saints, save me, a sinner." "Jesu-Mercy" is the shorted one I know.  But variations on the theme were not the point.

It is such a Christian common-place: we are all sinners.  What was he even talking about? How can you conceive of a Christianity where we are not sinners? What is even the point? I smiled. Did this mean that everything I was saying - predicated on the most basic of Christian doctrines - was being missed?  The answer is yes, I fear so. If we're not sinners, God doesn't need to incarnate, Jesus isn't God, the Church is a social justice movement and Orthodox Spirituality (western or eastern) is totally meaningless or, else, just "spiritual but not religious" tools that can be picked up by anyone to any purpose (other than the intended one - to save sinners, of whom I am first). What might the Alpha Male Pastor have thought of Orthodox Communion prayers!

This even came to mind yesterday when my Twitter Feed and Google Plus light up with comments about Phil Robertson, the Patriarch of TV's Duck Dynasty who, it seems, actually reads the Bible and can quote it. I am more than certain that he and I would disagree on a whole host of theological points so much that we might both ask if the other is even Christian at all. I am also rather certain that, when it comes to sex, Mr Robertson fails - as do most straight folks I know - to have enough imagination to include all the possibilities of same-sex expression. But on one thing he and I agree. The Christian teachings (scripture and tradition) is quite clear about this: sex outside of the bonds of Holy Matrimony is a sin.  We will agree, perhaps, in a second and third place: all sins are equal, being sins that all divide us from God; and all of us are sinners. Some version of the word "Sin" was used 4 times there and liberal mainliners might stress out a bit much reading it.

"I don't want to internalize all that."

That line came up so many times yesterday, couched in terms such as "homophobia", "hatred" and "bigotry". The modern world has no defense against the term "sin" other than rejection of the category. You can't say someone is a sinner without hating them, right? Certainly enough hatred has been spouted by christian leaders at various categories of person, but Phil Robertson hasn't done so, as far as I can see.  What he also didn't do is the blasted thing that many members of the BLT/GQ community do: the assumption that action equals identity. For most members of the Queer Community, Action-as-Identity is expressed this way: "I feel this and so I act on it, if you say I can't act on it, you are denying my very person." Phil, however, never said word one about gay people: he was clear "homosexual behavior" iis the problem.
We never, ever judge someone on who’s going to heaven, hell. That’s the Almighty’s job. We just love ’em, give ’em the good news about Jesus—whether they’re homosexuals, drunks, terrorists. We let God sort ’em out later, you see what I’m saying?
He does seem to fall into the error of equating it all with a choice - just make a choice for something else and it will all go away. Now, I don't believe homosexuality is a choice. Actions however, are a choice. I don't believe in Ex-gays, nor do I believe in sticking some unfortunate woman with my sexual misfirings in the name of "passing". But we can bicker about reactions later.  Here, I want to ask, did anyone writing comments actually read the damn article? It's rather mild and enjoyable compared to the way everyone's been making it out.  Even the writer - who starts out with that urban elite attitude that makes me want to punch him - seems sympathetic at the end. And he can shoot.

So what's the problem with sin? Well... the reactions of sexual active Queer folks to being called sinners by Robertson is exactly the reaction of Capitalists to being called sinners by the Pope.  It's the same whinge Satan made first, "Yer not the boss of me!"  Each of us - Capitalist, Queer, whatever - is stuck insisting I'm the boss of me and no one else. Referring to the Owner's manual only makes it worse, so we rewite the manual and leave out the rough parts. In the end it's a matter of faith - not fact - because if there is no judgement, it's all good and if there is... well... we'll all know too late. The writer admits: what's surprising about this? We put self-described Bible-thumpers on TV. Who should be shocked when they thump?
“Hollywood has run upon the kingdom of God, and there’s a rub there,” said the Duck Commander, a tenacious personal evangelist who has brought hundreds of souls to new life in the Ouachita River. “Well, we have to be as harmless as a dove and as shrewd as a snake in the way we deal with them.” - 
See more of this interview here
The reaction of various members of the queer community to religious types shouldn't be news. They don't like being called sinners.  Quelle Supris. What's infuriating about this is the story Phil tells, of A&E editing out religious references (yes: not all). It's not reality tv, it's virtual reality TV that lets everyone watch and see what they want.  It's not surprising either, mind you: We don't want white trash on TV we want well-trained respectable Uncle white trash. We don't want Christians, we want House-Christians.