Sunday, October 12, 2008

Honesty & Respect in Gay-Religious Discourse

This morning's Inky had an editorial from David Benkof, the frum Yid cursed with a Gay disposition, who writes the Fabulously Observant column for the Jerusalem Post. In his article, Benkof laments the lack of acceptance of a Fundamentalist/Orthodox perspective in organizations trying to bridge the gap between religion and homosexuality. In particular, he thinks an organization called Soulforce needs to be more open-minded about allowing "traditionalists" to challenge the notion that it's OK to be gay on it's annual Equality Ride

Now in its fourth year, the Equality Ride is currently traveling across the American South on a six-week bus trip with nearly 20 youthful gays and lesbians of faith. They are visiting seminaries, Bible schools, and historically black colleges to engage in dialogue with (and, where necessary, nonviolent protest against) traditionally religious institutions, in an attempt to make them more gay-friendly.


Unfortunately, Soulforce appears to be much more interested in echoing gay ideology than in exploring the diversity of ways religious people have legitimately approached questions of spirituality and sin, goodness and God.

Benkof's chief example is the group's slogan of "the debate is over" and their attitude that the sinful nature of "gay relations" is irrelevant. As far as he is concerned, Benkof thinks a debate hasn't even really begun or that it needs to start as it is abundantly clear to those who take the bible seriously that G-d may love 'teh gayz' but He is completely skeeved by their "relations". For having (and vocalizing) this view, Benkof and those like him are most certainly not welcome on the Soulforce ride.

If I want to engage in dialogue with pro-gay religious forces, I'm hardly going to start by declaring that the debate is over! I'm willing to listen respectfully if the other side is similarly willing.

But the Equality Riders do not appear to be similarly willing. A co-director of this year's Equality Ride, Katie Higgins, said in a news release that "we can't heal . . . until everyone has a place at the table."

Yet Higgins told me a traditionally religious gay or lesbian person like me who thinks gay relations are inherently sinful wouldn't be welcome on the Equality Ride, because such views are "contrary to the mission."

Benkof says this reeks of hypocrisy and that, if the organization is really trying to heal the rift between the gods and teh gayz, the orthodox "I'm sorry but you're a sinner" must not only have a seat at the table but must be allowed to make this clear before breaking bread.

To be honest, I'm a complete outsider to this debate. I am neither gay nor do I subscribe to an orthodox/fundamentalist view of religion. While I do know the despondence of a major depressive episode and suicidal ideation that I had to deal with as an adoloscence, I honestly don't think I can even begin to understand the emotional torture of what it is to be gay and subscribe to a religion that demonizes your very nature. I do not envy the position Benkof and those like him are in - I would not wish that on my worst enemy - but I feel a need to point out, with all due respect, just because people differ in how they interpret the bible from "a traditionalist" interpretation doesn't mean they take the bible or their religion less seriously than those who do.

I think this is a critical disconnect between the religious orthodox/fundamentalists and other denominations. Benkof addresses this to extent in his suggestion that these organizations be limited to conservative gay-religious communities, but his manner in doing so does come off a bit "elitist" & condescending - as if the conservative movements (in this he's specifically referring to Judaism but the intent is to apply to equivalent denominations of other religions). This is the exact reason people like him aren't welcome at Soulforce's table. Any discussion on whether gay relations is a sin in the bible is actually counter-productive to healing in that it insists on reinforcing the otherization of the gay and stands in judgment (and, by default, rejection) of those who disagree. To continue the debate in this context would be nothing more than an act of self-flagellation. Soulforce neutralizes this by stating up front, let's agree to disagree and move on to the healing from this point forward. There is no healing when you unnecessarily keep opening the wound & rubbing salt on it, there is only an increased chance for infection and pain.

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David Benkof said...


If Soulforce said "Let's agree to disagree" and work on those areas where we can find common ground, I'd be a bigger fan of them then I already am. If you check out the video "The debate is over" at their Web site you'll see they don't mean "The debate is over, we aren't going to change each other's minds so let's move on to more promising topics." They mean "The debate is over and you guys lost. You haven't even got a case." That's not a productive way to start a dialogue.

Ol Cranky said...

dang, that thing was almost an hour! I didn't take it the same way that you did. The guy that spoke during the "deliberation" period did include the caveat "or we sin just like heterosexuals sin" as well a statement of "let them debate it, we've settled it" In that they do basically acknowledge that others will continue to debate but as far as they're concerned the debate is over and they just want to skip that part an move on.

Honestly, both sides of the debate thinks the other doesn't have a real case, so it's no surprise that they would make the same there is no debate statement that the orthodoxy does.

On another note, I was pleasantly surprised at the report of their visit to Liberty.