Monday, November 14, 2011

A Multiplatform Evangelism Moment

It started with a blog I called "A Thank-you Note to Kim Kardashian"... in which I thanked the reality show star for her high-profile illustration that "respect for marriage" had nothing to do with the gender of the couple making the vows. (The very week the Respect for Marriage Act debate was happening on Capitol Hill -- how timely was that?)

The piece was posted on The Huffington Post on November 3 ... and when I last checked it had 7,225 "shares," 318 "tweets" and 32,729 "likes."

From there it caught the attention of someone named Joseph Backholm who is the Executive Director of something called "The Family Policy Institute." He posted a slam that started with:
Over at Huffington Post, a pastor at the First Universalist Church of We Believe in Nothing (I actually made up that name) wrote a thank-you letter to Ms. Kardashian for making it obvious that extending marriage recognition to two people of the same gender does not diminish the institution of marriage in the least ... The argument that "marriage is meaningless now anyway, so you might as well let us get married too" is both bizarre, and, I would think, insulting to those in same-sex relationships.
It was also nothing LIKE the argument I was actually making, which the good folks over at Pam's House Blend picked up:
Apparently unable to think of a logical way to refute Rev. Russell’s thesis, Backholm slipped into schoolyard bully mode and simply impugned the religious convictions of Episcopalians. Rev. Russell never made statements like “marriage doesn’t matter” or “marriage is meaningless now anyway”, nor would any marriage equality advocate. Quite the opposite. Marriage equality advocates find great value in civil marriage. That is why they fight to have discriminatory marriage laws repealed.
Let's hear an "AMEN" for blogger Laurel Ramseyer. (But wait ... there's more!)

Then yesterday Daily Kos picked up the story in a piece entitled:Episcopal Church: “First Universalist Church of We Believe in Nothing” which reads (in part:)
Happy Sunday, day of the Lord, people of the Episcopal Church, did you know you believe in nothing? This was news to me. Not my words. The words of Joseph Backholm, Executive Director of the Family Policy Institute. In a posting at the Family Policy Institute website, Joseph Backholm refers to the Episcopal Church as:"the First Universalist Church of We Believe in Nothing."

The Reverand uses the media maelstrom surrounding Kardashian's 72-day marriage to frame a tongue-in-cheek essay on the absurdity of the current state of marital law. Miss Kardashian, by virtue of her heterosexual lifestyle choice currently enjoys unlimited access to the "sacred union" that is marriage, and she can also abandon that covenant on a whim. By contrast, LGBT Americans, some of whom have sustained decades of mutual love and support and inter-dependency find themselves denied simple legal protections of their families.

Russell's point is not that "marriage doesn't matter," but rather, Alec and Jamie's marriage does matter. They are a part of her family of faith, they are a member of her community and she respects them, and their family. And it is her wish that someday United States government will respect Alec and Jamie's marriage as well.
If there is anyone here who thinks "marriage doesn't matter" it is clearly Backholm.

MEANWHILE ... back over the Family Institute webpage, I took the opportunity to clarify for Mr. Backholm the argument I was actually making in the comment section of the blog:
In point of fact, the argument being made in the Huffington Post piece (which I wrote) is not that "marriage doesn't matter because Kim Kardashian can't keep hers together" ... it is marriage DOES matter -- and what matters are the values that make up a marriage; not the gender of the couple who pledge to love, honor and cherish each other until death do they part.

The Reverend Canon Susan Russell
All Saints Episcopal Church, Pasadena ... where we believe in the Good News of God's love, justice and compassion made known to us in our Lord Jesus Christ. (Just for the record.)
Mr. Backholm posted the following comment "clarifying" his position about the Episcopal Church. (Yes, it gets better.)
Since I have obviously offended some Episcopalians with my tongue-in-cheek comment about a possible name of a church, I should clarify. Once an individual or an organization puts themselves in the position of deciding that the the unambiguous words of the Bible are wrong, they have decided that they, not God, are the final arbiter of what is right and wrong.

In my opinion, that position is antithetical to Christianity, particularly of the protestant variety which was founded on the concept of Sola Scriptura (by scripture alone). It also puts such a person in a position of having them appoint themselves to effectively be God, since they consider themselves free to ignore what they claim to believe God said in scripture.

Ergo, they don't believe in anything more than their own opinion. Or one might say, they believe in nothing.

At this point, scripture just has nice suggestions and stories that make them happy or hopeful. But it is no longer authoritative. While I enthusiastically defend someones right to hold that position, I do not consider it to be on the reservation of Christian orthodoxy. I also do not understand why people would bother to concern themselves at all with what the Bible says about anything if they are just going to selectively edit it according to their own preferences. If you value what it says that little, why bother? I don't expect this to make anyone feel better about the comment, but I thought a more thorough explanation was in order given the attention that comment received. Thank you all for the respectful feedback. I appreciate the conversation.
And yes, of COURSE I chose to post again ... deciding this was a teachable moment to let anybody who MIGHT be wandering by know just a little bit about what Episcopalians (or at least THIS Episcopalian) believes:
Mr. Backholm,

Just to make sure I'm clear here, your strategy to "clarify" having offended Episcopalians by suggesting we "believe nothing" is to dismiss hundreds of years of Anglican ethos grounded in scripture, tradition and reason because it fails your "sola scriptura" litmus test?

As a cradle Episcopalian I was raised in a church that taught that we take the Bible too seriously to take it literally. Reading the Bible as the Living Word of God -- not to be confused with the "literal words" of God -- is the foundational principle for living a life of faith committed to aligning our lives with God's love, justice and compassion.

It is the context that allowed us to hold in tension our identity as both catholic and protestant during the 16th century and continues to call us into the challenges of the 21st.

Thank God we live in a country where the First Amendment protects your right to believe "the Bible said it, I believe it, that settles it." But that same First Amendment also protects us from you writing your theology into our Constitution. That's what the marriage equality struggle is about -- whether narrow ideologues have the right to take away fundamental rights from American citizens because they do not believe God blesses same-sex marriages.

The issue isn't whether God blesses them. The issue is whether the Constitution protects them.

So, Mr. Backholm, if you really want "clarify" what Episcopalians believe then ask us. Or visit our websites. (My church is Engage in some dialogue. We may not believe what you believe. But I respectfully suggest that our beliefs deserve more respect than to be dismissed as "believing nothing" -- particularly by someone who purports to stand for Traditional Values. Or perhaps respect isn't on that list.

The Reverend Canon Susan Russell,
All Saints Church, Pasadena CA
So we'll see where this goes. That may be the end of it and it may be the beginning of something more. I don't know.

But what I do know is every opportunity to witness to God's inclusive love in public platforms of communication are opportunities for evangelism. Opportunities to tell the Good News of the God of Justice to many who have only heard about the God of Judgement. Opportunties to counter the voices of those who have God confused with their own homophobia. Opportunities to take the ancient call to "preach the good news, in season and out of season" to a multiplatform 21st century world ... and preach the good news: online and offline; by blog, tweet, comment, "forward" and "share."

So thanks, Ms. Kardashian and Mr. Backholm for some fertile soil for Multiplatform Evangelism. and to HuffPost, Pam's Blend and Daily Kos for helping spread the good news. Feel free to keep it coming!


dr.primrose said...

Christianity has been around for 2000 years. The "Sola Scriptura" doctrine for only 500. So who are the traditional Christians and who are the radical revisers here?

Peggy Blanchard + said...

Thank you so much, Susan, for reasonably and respectfully putting for the Episcopal Church's tradition, which has room for so very many differing people. I wish I could respond as thoughtfully as you do--this kind of literalist mud-slinging gives me mental white noise. I appreciate your efforts very much.

Jim said...

I spent a few moments on the "institute's" web site. Guess what, they are affiliated with James (beat the kids) Dobson.

The idea that their highly incorrect interpretation of the Bible, (generally only the Authorized Version) is the touchstone of Christian belief is amazingly arrogant.


Caminante said...

How many kevlar outfits do you own? Bravo for engaging with the institute.

classact said...

You Rock, like a Hurricane!!

RevMama said...

Preach it, sister! And remind them that our church (the Anglican Church) produced the KJV that they hold so dear.

mimi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mimi said...

Write on, Susan!

Eric Funston said...

Susan - thanks for pursuing this - your well-written and reasonable comments are going to benefit all of us!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

You are such a rock star, Susan. Thanks so much for your continued witness to what it means to be Christian who is Episcopalian who is Anglican.


Aww, shucks! I'm not a "rock star" ... I'm just a woman with no unexpressed thoughts and a blog to put 'em on! But thank you.

Curt Naeve said...

Thank you Susan for such a thoughtful and well crafted response. You make the rest of us in the acceptance community look good.

LGMarshall said...

What does Church Leadership have to do with base Reality TV?

Babylon's Cultures, Sodom & Gomorrah come and go.... but the Truth of God's Word, The Bible, always was, is, and always will be, the same. Un Changing.

God's definition of Marriage is: 1 Man, 1 Woman, faithfully joining together in [authentic], let me spell it out... female parts & male parts merge naturally -- sexual union, for offspring, for a Life-long Covenant. [there is no sexual union/Marriage in heaven].

How Unbelievers, and Sinful Man carry that out is ....'nothing new under the sun.' Let's keep our eyes on higher things... Jesus, Saviour, Son of God.

IT said...

Thanks for calling them out on their hypocrisy,Susan. I bet this is going to be a great evangelism, not of those who are opposed who will never change their mind, but for those who are seeking good news and hope...

My reflections on being a legally married gay Californian, are expressed in this recent FoJ post.

Despite DOMA, the wild eyed opposition from sex-obsessed procreationists, and the increasingly hysterical lies and panic from the right wing, my marriage cannot be nullified, and remains THE point of great beauty in my life.

dr.primrose said...

"God's definition of Marriage is: 1 Man, 1 Woman."

I am strongly in favor of monogamy. But, for good or for ill, that's not what the Bible says. For most of Biblical history, the Bible supported polygamy. For example:

Lamech had two wives. Gen. 4:19 & 23.

Esau had several wives. Gen. 28:9, 36:2, 36:6.

Jacob had several wives. Gen. 31:17, 32:22, 37:2.

Gideon had many wives. Judges 8:30.

Elkanah, Samuel's father, had two wives. I Sam. 1:2.

King David had multiple wives (as well as concubines). I Sam. 25:43, 27:3. 30:5, 30:18; II Sam. 2:2, 5:13, 12:11, 19:5; I Chron. 14:3.

King Solomon had multiple wives (as well as concubines). I Kings 10:8, 11:3 (seven hundred princesses and three hundred concubines), 11:4, 11:8.

King Ahab of Israel. I Kings 20:3, 20:5, 20:7.

King Jehoiachin of Judah, who was carried off to Babylon. II Kings 24:15.

Ashhur father of Tekoa. I Chron. 4:5.

Shaharaim. I Chron. 8:8-9.

King Rehoboam (Solomon's son). II Chron. 11:21 (eighteen wives and sixty concubines).

King Abijah of Judah. II Chron. 13:21 (fourteen wives).

King Joash of Judah. II Chron. 24:2-3 (two wives).

See Deut. 21:15 -- how a man treats his two wives if he likes one but not the other.

These examples above are not the only ones. But the Biblical witness for only monogamy (however much I think it is a good idea, which I do) just isn't there.

JCF said...

God's definition of Marriage is: 1 Man, 1 Woman, faithfully joining together in [authentic], let me spell it out... female parts & male parts merge naturally -- sexual union, for offspring, for a Life-long Covenant. [there is no sexual union/Marriage in heaven].

The followers & worshippers of Jesus Christ, formed by Scripture, Tradition and REASON are talking here, LGM. Run along now... [Or go join J Backholm in his oppressive Fertililty Cult }-X]

Susan FTW!