Thursday, June 15, 2006

Large Crowd Gathers For Jesus MCC Town Hall Meeting

More than 500 people packed the Jesus Metropolitan Community Church on Indianapolis' northside tonight to hear a discussion on Christianity and what it really teaches us about gay, lesbian and transgender persons. Tonight's Town Hall Meeting is part of a national discussion an organization called Faith In America has launched in an effort to rid the country of religion-based bigotry against persons because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The subject "Would Jesus Discriminate?", a message popping up in newspapers ads, yard signs and billboards in central Indiana as part of the campaign, was the topic of conversation for tonight's event.

Rev. Nancy Wilson, a church elder for Metropolitan Community Churches Worldwide, reminded attendees just how far the Jesus MCC has progressed over the past 30 years. The founding members of the church met for the first time in a member's home in Indianapolis back in 1974. Wilson said it was hard to forget. Indianapolis police raided the church meeting because it represented an "unlawful gathering of homosexuals." The Christian fundamentalist movement, which has stirred up anti-gay sentiment, is but a mere two centuries old Wilson reminds us. The true Christian God is a God of love and grace, not the warrior so often depicted by the religious right. The Bible is full of metaphors and hyperbole, which are not intended to be read literally as is so often done by fundamentalists. If every sinner plucked their eye out as Jesus instructs in the Bible, Wilson deadpans that there would be a lot of fundamentalists walking around eyeless. Wilson reminds us that the Bible itself hasn't changed, but our understanding of it has. Interpreting the Bible in a way never intended is to bear false witness against thy neighbor Wilson explains.

Mitchell Gold, the founder of Faith In America, delivered an inspiring message. Gold, who is Jewish, traced the roots of religion-based bigotry, in part by retracing his own life experiences. His first experience with religion-based bigotry came as a 5th grader living in Trenton, New Jersey in a predominantly Christian neighborhood. When he rode his bicycle over to the person he considered his best friend one day and discovered a birthday party taking place in his honor, he asked of his friend why he had not been invited. His friend explained to him that he couldn't invite him because he was Jewish. He recounted his second childhood experience when a neighborhood kid he considered a friend ordered him off his property. When he asked why, the boy told him that the nuns at the Catholic Church he had attended told him bad things about Jews that day in school.

If facing bigotry because of his religion wasn't bad enough, Gold would discover as teen-ager that he was gay. He promised himself that he would kill himself by the time he reached 21 if he hadn't figured out how to change his sexual orientation. Fortunately, he moved to New York City, where a whole different perspective on life emerged for him in the comfort of meeting others just like him. Gold and his partner later moved to North Carolina of all places where he worked in the furniture industry. Eventually, Gold acquired his own furniture company in Hickory, North Carolina, which has grown into a successful company employing more than 800 workers.

Through his interaction with the workers at his factory, he learned that people's prejudices were often based upon a lack of understanding and exposure to people of a different religion and sexual orientation. He learned that people could be taught in a way that would disabuse them of wrong-headed notions they learned growing up in fundamentalist Christian families and communities. Gold pointed to the civil rights struggles of the 1960s and his recollection of George Wallace standing with a Bible in his hand, citing chapter and verse why black people were not entitled to equality with white people, and how 36 states at one point had laws banning interracial marriages. Would true Christian believers today argue that the Bible condones the enslavement of black people or the treatment of women as second-class citizens as was once argued in the not-so-distant past Gold asks? So too will it pass and people will come to accept equality for gays and lesbians just like they did blacks and women Gold believes.

Rev. Jeff Miner of Jesus MCC explained to attendees how fundamentalists have twisted certain passages in the Bible to promote an anti-gay agenda. Miner, an unlikely person to minister a GLBT church, was raised as a fundamentalist. He is a graduate of Bob Jones University and attended Harvard University Law School. As he struggled with his own sexual orientation, Miner was challenged as a young man to dig deeper for answers to what the Bible instructs on homosexuality. He prayed for many years for God to change his sexual orientation until he learned his prayers were unanswered because he was praying for the wrong thing.

Miner insists that Jesus himself affirms love and respect for gay people as when he healed a Roman centurian's same-sex lover in Matthew 8:5-13 who reached out to Jesus for help in saving his dying partner. Jesus praised the Roman, an unlikely person to seek the aid of a Jewish rabbi, for his faith. Jesus told him that he had more faith than anyone he had met and assured him a seat in the Kingdom of God.

As for the famous verse in Genesis when all the men of Sodom gather outside Lot's house demanding that he give up the two male angels in his home to them so they could have sex with them, Miner insists it says nothing about God's view of homosexuality as fundamentalists insist. The room erupted in laughter when Rev. Miner displayed a message posted outside the Colonial Hills Baptist Church this past week in reaction to the "Would Jesus Discriminate?" campaign. The Indianapolis church's message read, "God discriminated at Sodom." Not exactly Miner says. What it teaches us he explains is how God hated the violence and aggression the men of Sodom showed to people who were strangers to them. The men outside Lot's house were not seeking to engage in homosexual sex with the strangers for pleasure; they were seeking to carry out the ancient battle tradition of "warrior rape." Miner notes that in the 22 subsequent Bible verses which reference this particular passage in the Bible, none of them say anything about homosexuality. Instead, they mention the oppression of the poor, the sick and those who are strangers to us. If you want to learn what else the Bible has to say, and Miner assures us it has plenty to say, you'll have to attend his Sunday services at Jesus MCC.

Tonight's event, billed as a town hall meeting, was open to people of all faiths and beliefs. Judging by the friendliness of the crowd, there didn't appear to be any "non-believers" in the audience. At least one television station, WISH-TV, covered tonight's event. You can read their take on tonight's event by clicking here. The event was also webcasted. If anyone has information on where to find the webcast, feel free to share with us.

Last year, we reported on the work of Earlham student Justin Cannon in helping explain the true meaning behind Bible verses which have been used by fundamentalists to discriminate against gays and lesbians. Click here to review that post.


Anonymous said...

You can find the webcast of Jesus MCC's Town Hall Meeting here:

Anonymous said...

The Bible has been used throughout its history to promote evil by taking scriptures out of context and using an obscure interpretation of them. In America it is very unfortunate how the Bible was used in this way to justify slavery and racism. However, by that same token, fundamental Christian beliefs were also part of the driving forces behind the movements to correct these social ills.

Mitchell Gold wants to suggest that the civil rights struggle for blacks is comparable to the situation gays and lesbians face for acceptance today. It is true that very few Bible scholars would argue today that the Bible condones racism, because it doesn’t. If you want to say that it does, as mentioned, you have to take verses out of context and use an obscure interpretation of them. On the contrary, in order to justify homosexuality with the Bible, you have to take very clear passages (like Romans ch. 1) and use an obscure interpretation of them. For this reason I predict that there will never be a mass repentance among political leaders or Bible scholars of today about their stance on homosexuality as there has been, George Wallace included, by past leaders for their previous stances on racism and segregation.

I am not promoting a hatred for gays and lesbians. I don’t believe the Bible justifies hate for anyone, and it does not justify treating anyone as less than human, but it is debatable whether a person chooses to be gay or not. Whether a person chooses what race they are obviously is not debatable. For these reasons, I don’t feel the two issues should be compared to one another.

Anonymous said...

be the not decieved God is noy mocked!