Purity culture

Rod Dreher sticks his foot in it

Let’s think about Section 8 housing. If word got out that the government was planning to build a housing project for the poor in your neighborhood, how would you feel about it? Be honest with yourself. Nobody would consider this good news. You wouldn’t consider it good news because you don’t want the destructive culture of the poor imported into your neighborhood. Drive over to the poor part of town, and see what a shithole it is. Do you want the people who turned their neighborhood a shithole to bring the shithole to your street?

No, you don’t. Be honest, you don’t.

I don’t recognize these places, existing as they do in Dreher’s mind. The reality? the poor neighborhoods of our city are filled with families working hard to get by.

What is perhaps most irritating about the entire comment is the notion of separation, that of course, we don’t want these folks with their “destructive culture” living next door to us. We are offered a NIMBY response, a repetition of red-lining only with slightly better tools. The consequences are not simply for the poor, but for us as well. Separation, distance makes it possible to tacitly allow injustice to grow in our society, and hardness of heart in ourselves.

At another level, when the talk turns to “shithole” countries or places we are in the realm of a purity culture, a topic that Jonathan Haidt has explored. We must separate from “dirt”, “dirt is to be rejected. It is easy in all this to move from the physical descriptions which Dreher provides, to its metaphorical or political dimension: those from shithole neighborhoods don’t deserve the same respect, protection etc. The American language of race lurks just below the surface, as do any number of anti-homosexual screeds.

And spiritually, what is this concern about purity, but a crossing on the other side of the road? The Kingdom, the good city, this place will be built by mercy, by seeing the neighbor even in the shithole, by recognizing  that what is proclaimed in Word, what is seen at the Table, can be shown working together.

Of Sh*tholes And Second Thoughts

 

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Complicating the narrative

Sunday’s New York Times brought one of the more interesting pieces on same-sex marriage. In the Misnomer of Motherless Parenting, stay at home dad Frank Ligtvoet begins

SOMETIMES when my daughter, who is 7, is nicely cuddled up in her bed and I snuggle her, she calls me Mommy. I am a stay-at-home dad. My male partner and I adopted both of our children at birth in open domestic adoptions. We could fill our home with nannies, sisters, grandmothers, female friends, but no mothers.
My daughter says “Mommy” in a funny way, in a high-pitched voice. Although I refer the honors immediately to her birth mom, I am flattered. But saddened as well, because she expresses herself in a voice that is not her own. It is her stuffed-animal voice. She expresses not only love; she also expresses alienation. She can role-play the mother-daughter relationship, but she cannot use her real voice, nor have the real thing.

This complicates the conventional narratives, and well it should. Ligtvoet brings an  honesty and humanity. That is not only refreshing but instructive, for  it is always useful to see our relationships as full and as rich as possible. Such complications are not to be rejected but embraced. When we see relationships fully we move away from theevery  easy political or cultural narratives. All marriages are more complicated than the easy narratives would have them.

On a political note, it is easy to see how opponents of marriage may and likely will seize on this (as they already have). Their’s has been a struggle to find some harm in the same-sex marriage sufficient to warrant its prohibition, and this would seem to fit that talking point. Still the question is not finally the politics but the humanity.

And complications are here to stay. As our families and relationships (and technology) grow more complicated,  discussions of this sort can only increase.

Homeless.

Suicide can carry a dreadful impact on the surviviors, all the more when the loss is so high profile. That truth was on display, painfully on display in last week’s article  in The New York Times, about how the Clementi family has adjusted to the loss of their son Tyler.  But is that all?  Bobby Ross Jr. wonders if there is also a hidden agenda

What prompted a promising college freshman to kill himself? The story turns on that key question.
The obvious answer from the Times’ perspective: the young man’s evil, gay-bashing church:

With Ross, I also thought it curious the church wasn’t identified, and  there’s no mention of exactly where they have gone (if anywhere). Or for that matter, even the fact that the Clementis were faithful members of an evangelical church — there really is something sad to see a young man contributing to his congregation knowing how things will turn. That’s an ache.

Nonetheless, the article did not seem to be on the evangelical-bashing mode that Ross hears. Rather, it is more about  the family dynamics, the recovery, and the flavor of “where are they now?” In that light, I read the anonymity of the congregation as a sort of respect, the point wasn’t the church’s teachings per se, but a painful sad, mistaken relationship; this line in particular stood out:

” What has troubled her most is the thought that Tyler believed she had rejected him. ”

Tyler was the eldest, the “good” son, even religious, yet he thought of himself as pushed from home, and from his church home; he jumped because he was homeless.

Where there is a condemnation of the Evangelical church (and thus might have benefited from another perspective) it is here: The Evangelical church (or at least the churches I am familiar with) has too often used exile as the way of dealing with its gay youth. That’s a story yet to be told, one larger than that of the Clementis, and certainly it would be more polemical in nature. For now, I’m simply glad that I got to meet the parents.

Who’s Telling the Story?

Patrol asks,

Are gay parents worse for kids than straight parents, or is Mark Regnerus, as some LGBT groups claim, a “right-wing ideologue”? David Sessions on the controversy over his explosive new study.

Sessions does a good job summarizing the controversy (who knew that Regnerus was an old Calvin prof?), its limits and the attendant controversy.

As the report notes, the data is old. As Regnerus admits, he didn’t have enough to look at intact same sex households, and that would be crucial. As a matter of public policy, the establishment of legal status of same-sex relationships would seem to support the maintenance of intact households. This conservative view has been well-known for years, and is attested to elsewhere in surveys of gay attitudes to marriage generally.

So oddly, our friend Rod Dreher is not that far off the mark, traditional is best. (And same-sex households can be very traditional.)

Mollie Hemingway raises some useful questions about the political handicapping of the President’s change of view on same sex marriage, highlighting a useful comments and commentary from Sarah Pulliam Bailey at Christianity Today, and Mickey Kaus.

Or as Kaus put it:
But 39% said it would–and they split two-to-one against Obama and gay marriage. Since the election is currently not two-to-one against Obama, that’s a net loss right there.
Worse, among independents, 23% said it would make them less likely to vote for Obama while only 11% said it made them more likely–a net negative for 12% in this group. Obviously, “less likely” doesn’t mean it’s going to be the deciding factor for that 12%–there are bigger issues, and gay marriage seems likely to fade in salience. But even if it’s the deciding factor for a tenth of that 12%, it’s a blow to Obama’s chances.
It goes without saying that one should correctly interpret the polls before explaining why voters are responding as they are, an area where religious views surely play a significant role.

As a practical difference, the question is whether those who say they are more (or less) likely to vote for the President in fact already have some disposition to vote for or against. It may be this is a tie-break sort of issue, but if tonite’s NYT/CBS poll is any indication, probably not the deal-breaker for most voters. At this stage, the issue seems more to be the economy. This morning’s Times, Peter Baker also got in a nice story on the damage control the White House is doing — so the concerns of Kaus et al. are at the least being heard.

As a matter of practical politics, we might want to think of it in terms of the 25 percent of Evangelicals who voted for Obama in 2008 — will the president’s decision erode that share? Perhaps, though the CT article Mollie noted picks up on the age split even among Evangelicals, so one may not be sure. And given the emergence of a Christian alternate to the standard Evangelical lines, this question is likely to remain muddied at least for now.

Hospitality and Grace

In the  third of a series Glenn Goodfellow considers the cost of exclusion when it comes to gays in the church. The article then asks

If someone in your family was gay, how would you want your church to nurture their faith?

Were some one in my family gay? I would start with hospitality. I would want to set the table and make sure that he or she is always welcome. Always.

At church, I would make sure there is always a place at the potluck. I would sing together. Pray together. And because I’m not ordained, I would break off the bread and give it and say, “this is Christ’s body broken for you.”

A model that shuts people out or hardens hearts is not the stuff of Grace. Rather, we need the wisdom to let tares and wheat grow; to nurture the wheat, in full confidence that at the Last Day, goodness and delight win, and the weeds fall away.

Listening to the Day of Silence

In Why Christians should support the Day of Silence, Neil de Koning starts the conversation

How should Christians respond to April 20’s Day of Silence, a student-led national event that brings attention to the bullying and harassment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students in schools?

The focus on bullying is something of a distraction, at least in the high school where I coach. The kids who will participate will be the gays and kids from same-sex households, but also their straight friends. Day of Silence is less about bullying than about solidarity and standing with your friends. And that, I would think,  is where Christian reflection might best begin.

It starts with presence. After all, you really cannot do anything until you’re there with them, alongside them and in the halls. And if we aren’t already in the school (and many Reformed Christians are not) then any response on Day of Silence will be at arm’s length. It will seem contrived. Or worse there will be some sort of counter narrative, one that creates gaps rather than bridge them (e.g. Day of Dialogue from Focus on the Family)

And then there is hospitality. Day of Silence is an invitation to create a welcoming space. The t-shirt and duct tape will be an act of identity, a force of our gaze. As such it is clearly political (i.e. “some folks don’t like us; tough”), and also has that edge of dare: do you, will you accept me? For me, the question will be how do I accept this gift of self-identification?

I think what I will reflect on most will be how these are kids who are deeply, deeply loved.