Saturday, January 21, 2006

Archie James Knight was hardly ever Outwitted

Today I honor my paternal grandfather, Archie James Knight, born January 21, 1885, in Buford, Arkansas. I bear two-thirds of his name, humbly and gratefully. He was a man of large spirit, deep faith, and much kindness. He knew the value of hard work; he loved his family; and he sang and laughed with friends and family in this life as he does now for eternity. His fourth-grade education instilled in him a love of reading and a determination that his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren would know the joy of learning and would share the wonder he felt for God's creation, redeemed by the one he was never ashamed to call Lord.

The World Shall not Outwit the First Epistle of John

Remember the good old days when clergy-types in the news were the likes of William Sloane Coffin, Daniel and Philip Berrigan, and Robert J. Drinan instead of Jerry Falwell, Richard John Neuhaus, and Ted Haggard? The days when feeding the hungry, ministering to the sick, and seeking to “love justice, do mercy, and walk humbly with [our] God” seemed to be the church's mission rather than ending abortion, keeping gays and lesbians subjugated to Gothic laws, and supporting Publican wars at any price?

There seems to be no stopping the inexorable march of the anti-abortionists (now that the confirmation of Scalito is all but insured). And the pseudo-evangelicals will, I suppose, go on supporting Publican wars and night-terrors as long as they can gain temporal power by doing so. But I have some real hope that the Medieval (literally) laws criminalizing and otherwise interfering with the lives of lesbians and gays will some day be changed (probably not in my lifetime, but soon).

The reason is that there are (almost) enough people of good will and intelligence who understand two things that are necessary for change: 1) I did not choose to be gay—I was born this way; and 2) it’s none of anyone else’s business (especially the government's) with whom I sleep, whether it’s by choice or by nature.

A third reality necessary for people to change their minds is the understanding that there is no “Christian” reason to abhor homosexual living—regardless of what evangelical christians say. Homophobia is a worldly, not a theological construct. Anyone in the world can be a homophobe (and most people are), even people that evangelical christians openly despise.

Former Russian communists, for example:

“In May, 2002, a group of deputies in the lower house of [the Russian] parliament, the State Duma, tabled an amendment reintroducing prison sentences for homosexuals as part of what they said was a campaign to restore traditional moral values in Russia…. ‘Personally I can’t stand gays, because I don’t love men. I don’t mind lesbians that much,’ said Vladimir Ugryumov, the president of St Petersburg’s Union of Journalists, and editor-in-chief of the daily newspaper Vecherny Peterburg, [said]… ‘I don’t think the intimate life of certain people has anything to do with human rights….’”


Surely evangelical christians do not want to be allied with the law in countries where an extreme fundamentalist Muslim interpretation of law is used:

“Men suspected of engaging in ‘debauchery’ (homosexual activity) in Egypt are breaking the law. As part of a crackdown, suspects are being subjected to anal examinations which purportedly confirm homosexual activity…. These examinations are being carried out forcibly in what amounts to rape... This routine humiliation and torture by physicians is being used as a political weapon in Egypt…. Lesbian women are also subjected to violence because of their sexual orientation, both in countries where lesbianism is illegal and those where it is not. The torture can take a number of forms: repeated rape at the instigation of a family to ‘cure’ a woman or get her pregnant; classifying lesbianism as a mental disease to be treated; imprisoning women ‘out of control;’ and beatings and rape by police, prison guards or male co-prisoners…”

Reproductive Health Matters 13.25 (May 2005): 204(1).


I propose a reading of Biblical passages such as First John 4.4-8 that is probably exactly opposite of what you were taught in Sunday School. You were taught, of course, that people such as gays and lesbians are the ones who are “from the world.”

“Little children, you are from God, and have conquered them; for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore what they say is from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us, and whoever is not from God does not listen to us. From this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. God Is Love. Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

Gay and lesbian people are not the “antichrist” or the “false prophets” spoken of earlier in the epistle. The ones “from the world” are homophobes, people of any and all faiths who do not understand LOVE as described in the First Epistle of John. They are the ones who do not “listen to us.” If the most common reaction to homosexuality in the world is homophobia, then, no matter how it gets dressed up as "Biblical," it is not. It is OF THE WORLD. John says so quite clearly in verse 20: “Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.”

I am in the process of working this out as a logical argument. So far I am thinking out loud. However, I am encouraged by reading a paragraph by one of those old-time clergy-types I mentioned above. In his book, Credo, William Sloane Coffin says:

“It is not Scripture that creates hostility to homosexuality, but rather hostility to homosexuals that prompts some Christians to recite a few sentences from Paul and retain passages from an otherwise discarded Old Testament law code. In abolishing slavery and in ordaining women we’ve gone beyond biblical literalism. It’s time we did the same with gays and lesbians. The problem is not how to reconcile homosexuality with scriptural passages that condemn it, but rather how to reconcile the rejection and punishment of homosexuals with the love of Christ. It can’t be done. So instead of harping on what’s ‘natural,’ let’s talk of what’s ‘normal,’ what operates according to the norm. For Christians the norm is Christ’s love. If people can show the tenderness and constancy in caring that honors Christ’s love, what matters their sexual orientation? Shouldn’t a relationship be judged by its inner worth rather by its outer appearance? When has a monopoly on durable life-warming love been held by legally wed heterosexuals?”

(Coffin, William Sloane. Credo. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004, p. 39)