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Virginia Episcopalians Tackle Gay Marriage, Sort of

by: Teddy Goodson

Sun Feb 21, 2010 at 19:43:04 PM EST

In an article in The Washington Times on Sunday, 21 February 2010, Julia Duin described the gingerly approach of the Virginia Diocese of Virginia in dealing with gay marriage. The article, interestingly, was offered in The Times' blog ( under the misleading teaser of "Virginia Episcopalians narrowly vote not to recognize gay marriage." What they actually did at their annual council meeting at the Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria was form a committee---- always a good fall-back tactic in trying circumstances when dealing with a hot potato, just like the study groups so popular with the Virginia Assembly.

The committee is to "set standards for church-sanctioned blessings of such unions once they are approved by the entire 2-million-member Episcopal Church." This was after a motion to allow openly gay clergy and same-sex blessings was defeated, and was what Duin called a response to the Episcopal General Convention last year which ordered the collection and development of "theological resources and liturgies" for same-sex "blessings." As it happens, 16 Episcopal dioceses already allow same-sex blessings. What was fascinating were the reader comments which followed the short article; pragmatic progressives need to keep an eye on what people are saying to each other. Yes, sometimes it confirms stereotypes, and sometimes it does not:

Teddy Goodson :: Virginia Episcopalians Tackle Gay Marriage, Sort of
This being a report in the conservative  Washington Times, there were of course plenty of hostile comments, some of them quoted here as written:
"I don't know how ANY church can recoginze gay marriage or gay anything, when the Bible clearly states that homosexuality is wrong and sinful.....Being politically correct is mentioned nowhere in the Bible as far as I can tell."

" question to the Espiscopals is this, "What is there to vote for or against when you know that this issue is clearly black and white? There are more urgent needs in the world like saving souls and reaching out to the needy instead of grappling with a non-issue. Get a real Christian life, you Espiscopals!!"

But then rather surprising comments of a different order began showing up:

"As a longtime member of the Episcopal Church, I am deeply disappointed in the Diocese of Virginia..... the Episcopal Church has, for the most part, embraced the philosophy that God loves everyone and is tolerant of all, as long as others are not hurt or have their own personal beliefs infringed upon. I think that it is offensive when people who belong to the not-so-enlightened branches of the Christian faith want to force their non-tolerant views on others....Since being gay is an orientation and not a choice, why can't we just practice a little bit of tolerance towards those who live differently? By the way....  members of the Episcopal church are called "Episcopalians," not "Espiscopals."

Then a very reasoned and learned put-down of the righteous Bible-thumping illiterati popped up, most of which I have taken the liberty of reproducing here because it shows a far deeper grasp of Biblical studies than one usually sees in the popular press, and we could learn some useful points ourselves: (all emphass is mine)

"Most people who are certain they know what the Bible says about homosexuality don't know where the verses that reference same-sex behavior can be found....And they haven't tried to understand the historical context in which those words were written. Yet the assumption that the Bible condemns homosexuality is passed down from generation to generation with very little personal study or research. Even heroes of the Christian faith have changed their minds about the meaning of various biblical texts. Jerry Falwell and many others before and during the civil rights era believed the Bible supported segregation in the church. I don't hear many sermons about reviving segregation. You are a hypocrite if you want to take the Bible literally on homosexuality but not on other issues. The Bible accepts sexual practices that we condemn and condemns sexual practices that we accept: DEUTERONOMY 22:13-21 If it is discovered that a bride is not a virgin, the Bible demands that she be executed by stoning immediately. DEUTERONOMY 22:22 If a married person has sex with someone else's husband or wife, the Bible commands that both adulterers be stoned to death. MARK 10:1-12 Divorce is strictly forbidden in both Testaments, as is remarriage of anyone who has been divorced. LEVITICUS 18:19 The Bible forbids a married couple from having sexual intercourse during a woman's period. If they disobey, both shall be executed. MARK 12:18-27 If a man dies childless, his widow is ordered by biblical law to have intercourse with each of his brothers in turn until she bears her deceased husband a male heir. DEUTERONOMY 25:11-12 If a man gets into a fight with another man and his wife seeks to rescue her husband by grabbing the enemy's genitals, her hand shall be cut off and no pity shall be shown her. I'm certain you don't agree with these teachings from the Bible about sex. And you shouldn't. The list goes on: The Bible says clearly that sex with a prostitute is acceptable for the husband but not for the wife. Polygamy (more than one wife) is acceptable, as is a king's having many concubines. (Solomon, the wisest king of all, had 1,000 concubines.) Slavery and sex with slaves, marriage of girls aged 11-13, and treatment of women as property are all accepted practices in the Scriptures. On the other hand, there are strict prohibitions against interracial marriage, birth control, discussing or even naming a sexual organ, and seeing one's parents nude. If you're interested in actually educating yourself on this topic, I suggest reading "What the Bible Says - And Doesn't Say - About Homosexuality" by Rev. Mel White. It opened my eyes."

Hmm, maybe we should read that book.

Supposed rebuttals soon followed:

"I grew up as a Virginia Episcopalian and almost studied for seminary in the Episcopal Church. This isn't an issue of "hate groups" as one person commented. The issue is a moral one according to what Christianity teaches. People who are teaching that homosexuality is within the confines of acceptable Christian behaviour are blatantly ignoring 1) Scripture and 2) 2000 years of Church history. God does not "evolve".... Call a spade a spade---homosexuality is a sin in Christian teaching....Everyone has things in their life that need to change--for the homosexual, the gambler, the liar, the cheater. And by the way, just so we don't go assuming that I don't have my own struggles...did I mention that I'm bisexual? I know that what I do is unacceptable. I'd like to stop and am working on getting there....

The next one clearly wants a return to the good old days, including Roman liturgy, and quit ditzing around. Also, it seems the writer read the headline and not the story:

"A church and denomination that originally let women become priests, and elected a Gay Bishop has suddenly awakened and closed a door on gay marriages.... The best we can hope for is that they dismiss the Gay Bishop and drum out the female priests, return to Latin for high ceremonies, and fall back to the religion of our Fathers. Gay marriage, Gay Bishops and Gay anything is WRONG. Happy to see the Episcopal Church has gained a backbone and is on the right track again."

I'll end with one short snark from someone who has, really has, to be a liberal, maybe even a Democrat, who reads The Washington Times:

"The choices of one cult have must not hold influence over public policy. The Washington Times would do better to facilitate dialogue on public policy, not give public relations to the minutea of cults."

Actually, I was pleased that the conservative Moonie paper had the journalistic honesty to print the more liberal comments. That is why it pays to write Letters to the Editor, and I mean to every newspaper, most especially sometimes the die-hard reactionary ones. Democrats should not be shy about getting into the fray. It is not that many minds will be changed by a 100-word rant, but having the progressive viewpoint repeatedly showing up will change the whole tenor of public discourse.

If all people see and hear from their neighbors is the right-wing viewpoint, it simply reinforces the idea that the so-called conservative mindset is the majority mindset, and it inevitably escalates the polarization and diminishes the chance of serious discussion.  Not to mention couraging bullheaded obstructionism. Besides, you never know---- someone some where may even, even (gasp!) change their mind.  

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Greed, fear, and hate
Even in red states, which Virginia still is, like it or not, there are always closet liberals and pragmatic progressives, and there are churches which neither practice nor preach sanctified greed, fear of anything that looks like change, and hatred of selected groups. It is a never-ending battle, and those more progressive denominations often find the enemy within their own ranks---- here is the real culture war, the real clash of civilizations.

Those moderates trying to bring their denominations and their states into the 21st century of Enlightenment need all the positive reinforcement and help they can get.

"The Washington Times would do better to facilitate dialogue on public policy, not give public relations to the minutea of cults."

Some 44 yrs ago,
as an easily-impressed 16yr-old, I actually read a part of the Bible -- the Old Testament. Can't quote chapter and verse but still remember the harsh treatment that God meted out to Onan. Your quote of the Mark 12:18-27 (of the obligations of a widow to cohabit with her brothers-in-law) reminded me of it, because the story was the other side of the coin; Onan wasn't about to provide his brother's widow with a male progeny he'd then have to support and spilled his seed on the ground instead (masturbated). Bad boy! Zap!

I think of that story every time I hear some of the fRighties, like Dead-Eye Dick Cheney, get overly excited and a;most breathless when talking about the "possibilities" of waterboarding and other forms of torture.  

When I read ye Bible
at, I suspect, an equivalently young age, I sort of got bogged down in the Begats. Those ancient Semites really were into begatting. Such pornography would never be allowed by today's Puritans. Not in print anyway.

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