Saturday, November 15, 2008

Keith Olbermann on Prop 8, Plus a Rant of My Own

I know, I'm a little late to this party, since this clip aired on Monday. But, for those of you who didn't watch it then, and haven't seen it online since then, here's Keith Olbermann's Special Comment on California Prop 8:

If you voted for this Proposition or support those who did or the sentiment they expressed, I have some questions, because, truly, I do not... understand. Why does this matter to you? What is it to you? In a time of impermanence and fly-by-night relationships, these people over here want the same chance at permanence and happiness that is your option. They don't want to deny you yours. They don't want to take anything away from you. They want what you want -- a chance to be a little less alone in the world.

I can understand - though I disagree with them - why some people would be religiously opposed to same-sex relations. I can thus understand why there may be rules and regulations within particular religious communities prohibiting same-sex sexual relations, though such rules are not, I believe, supported by an appropriate understanding of Christian theology and ethics. I can understand why some, whose view of the divine-human relationship is shaped by what scholars call the Deuteronomist school, would try their best to remove "self-avowed, practicing homosexuals" (in quotes because I hate that phrase, which shows up in United Methodist polity on the issue) from their congregations and denomination.

After all, the Deuteronomists - whose main contribution to the Hebrew scriptures is the bulk of Joshua - viewed purity as the main religious concern. Purity of identity and purity of ritual. This purity is the driving force behind the covenantal relationship between God and the religious community. The fate of that community rests on their upholding their end of their covenant with God, which is to keep their group pure. Thus tolerating those who bring impurity into the group could, in this view, bring disaster to the group.

I saw this theology up close and personal in the church that I pastored. That church, part of a dwindling rural community with few jobs and fewer young people - who would leave in droves after they graduated high school - was in an uneasy position. They viewed their history in terms of their relationship with God. When things were going well they enjoyed God's favor, when things were going poorly they suffered God's wrath. In the brief time that I pastored them, things were going poorly. And, while I had plenty of sociological reasons for their decline, they saw it through a theological lens. They were suffering, they explained to me, because they had fallen from God. How had they fallen from God? By tolerating my heretical preaching.

That is how this theology works in a church. There it is destructive, forcing out those who in their mind bring impurity into the community. While I disagree with it, I understand it. It has ancient roots, and even in its most destructive moments articulates something constructive, that the religious community must live up to its covenant with God, striving to be who God calls it to be.

But the United States is not a religious community with a collective self-understanding of being in a particular relationship with God. We are not a church, but a nation, and a pluralistic one at that. The broad diversity of faith - which even includes those who say they have no faith - makes, in the interest of both peace and liberty, some distinction between the regulations of any particular religious community on the one hand and the laws of the state on the other absolutely necessary.

Yet in Prop 8 we have no non-religious justification for the imposition of a law that makes sense only within a particular religious community. In Prop 8 we have religious bodies - mainly the Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints - both funding and even running a political campaign to alter the constitution of a state. Even for those who have religious convictions on the issue - and I should again state that I don't think that such convictions properly understand Christian theology and ethics - this should be chilling.

When churches help pass laws and alter constitutions, principally on the grounds of the rules and regulations of their own particular community, founded on that community's understanding of its relationship with God, it begs this most frightening question:

Which religion, which church, gets to decide which of its own rules get to become civil law?

Because, religious people, we don't all agree.

We may celebrate the imposition of our own religious code on the broader population, but will we celebrate when someone else's religious code is imposed on us?

Keith Olbermann asks of those who support Prop 8 and other such legal efforts to deny equal rights to LGBT persons, Why does this matter to you?

What do you think is at stake here, other than the imposition of a particular religious moral code on the general population? Does the notion that some people have different sexual desires than yours somehow threaten your own sex life? Does the notion that two people of the same gender want to carve out a life together somehow threaten the life and household you've established for yourself?

Because, outside of the religious concern, I just don't get this. And, if the religious concern is the driving force, it should be driving the other way! Because all people who value their own religious freedom should be scared to death of the imposition of any particular religious code on the general population, as the same mechanism may then impose itself on your own practice of your own faith.


Monk-in-Training said...

As a person who has experienced the tragic illness and early death of my wife, I can tell you that at that time LOTS of laws kick into gear. To have been prevented from holding her hand as she died would be beyond a nightmare. To have to fight for my home and property after wards would have only compounded my grief in ways I (thankfully) will never know.

Each time someone says 'civil unions' are good enough for them, all I can think of is those those 'separate but equal' water fountains in my childhood.

Somehow they were always a bit more rundown than 'ours' were, but we didn't care because we had the better ones.

Liam said...

Right on, Sandalstraps. Why should the Mormon church (or my own church, the Catholic church) care about civil marriages?

Of course, growing up in Utah I know that the Mormons in particular have little problem with forcing their standards of purity on other people.

brian beech said...

If you are raising your family as the Bible instructs, you should be teaching against this (I know how you feel about that, but this is how 'we' feel). As this becomes more accepted in society, it will be forced on the people who do not accept it as 'natural'.

I reference you to this:

This is a privately-held company. I'm appalled that a complaint would even be lodged and given any look at all! How long until the gov't tells me (self-employed) that I must program porn sites - otherwise I'd be discriminating. Its absurd for the gov't to tell someone what they have to offer! Soon, they will tell hot dog vendors that they must offer hamburgers; lest they be discriminating against people who like hamburgers, but not hot dogs.

The more accepted homosexual relationships are in society is the more that I get to pay for such relationships. I mean that in the sense that, once gay marriage is legal (which I'm sure is not too far off) it will infest our public schools. Sex education, which the public school has no business teaching, will have to include homosexuality. The school will have to explain how Billy has two dad's or two mom's. All of this and MY tax dollars will be paying for it.

Assigned classwork in, say English Lit., will have to include readings about the homosexual lifestyle. I do not want my child to HAVE to read about such things. If she chooses to read such things, that will be a horse of another color.

Anyone saying that the acceptance of homosexual marriage will have no affect is simply wrong.

If you believe something is right, I must accept it...if I believe something is wrong, I should change. The 'open-mind' mentality is most often a one-sided argument.

Sandalstraps said...


So much to respond to, though I suspect that we're coming from such widely different perspectives that we'll never find a middle ground from which to discuss.

However, you didn't address the one area of this post that I thought we might agree on - the imposition of religious ideology on American laws.

I'm not talking about imposing any particular views on you - other than the right of LGBTQ persons to exist, and to exist in a not less-than way in American society. You remain free to teach your children whatever you want about the subject.

I don't even see how pornography fits in here. That's a real red herring.

What isn't, however, is the subject of legislating in a plural society on the basis of a particular religious tradition.

1.) How is that not a violation of the establishment clause?

2.) How does that not, as someone who has here made a powerful appeal to religious freedom, scare the hell out of you?

Don't you see that freedom of religion and freedom from religion are two sides of the same coin?

If you wish to be free, in a plural society, to practice your own religion without undue interference from the state, you must preserve the strongest reading of the establishment clause; that the state shall establish no religion, nor prohibit the free exercise thereof.

This isn't just a product of modern secularism; it is Baptist teaching. And its one (of several, actually) that I think that early Baptists got right. They recognized that their freedom to live out their faith rested on a sharp distinction between faith on the one hand and civil authority on the other.

No one is saying, with the legal acceptance of the reality of same-sex relations that you have to teach your children anything about them. And if you fear some sort of homosexual-agenda boogieman in public schools, you have the freedom to enroll them in a private religious school that will teach them what you want them to learn on the subject, or you may homeschool them.

What you can't do is use your faith tradition to shape secular law, nor use it to shape pubic school curriculum. To do so would be to violate the very religious freedom that is so important to both of us.

Anonymous said...


Your right to be comfortable with everyone in public does not trump the rights of gays to love each other legally. Who do you think you are, that everyone in this free country should be so careful to never, ever offend your delicate sensibilities? Here's an idea: grow a thicker skin and remember the First Amendment.

Nobody ever said you have to be open-minded about gay marriage. All you have to do is pipe down and quit trying to shove your own particular brand of Christianity down the throats of those who do not freely practice it.

I agree that the eHarmony court decision was wrong and would have been better addressed with the free market. Other than that? Your comment is bereft of logic.

For one thing, stop pretending money has anything to do with it. You say you don't want gay marriages because your tax dollars will have to support it? News flash: gay marriage generates revenue. It is a positive financial step for any state, end of story. For example:

As for your daughter's reading list, well, if you really want to exercise that level of control over what she reads, I suppose you could probably keep her home like some kind of hothouse flower and never allow her to be exposed to any kind of viewpoint that differs from yours, but it won't do much to temper her faith.

Besides, what possible harm could it have? She will not become a lesbian if she has to read Virginia Woolf, I swear. She might turn into a critical thinker, though. And if a positive portrayal of homosexuality is enough to sway her to sympathy despite all your years of teaching her your narrow view of God, well, then maybe your version of God doesn't stand up to common sense.

...Perhaps you might benefit from a little Woolf, yourself?

Sandalstraps said...


I struggled with whether or not to allow your comment to be published.

While I agree with you here, and while I allow anonymous comments, I am uncomfortable with using anonymity while criticizing a commenter.

In the blogosphere, too often, anonymity is used as a cover to say that which you would not say within an accountable social situation. While I deemed that that is not what you are doing here, I would prefer it if in the future you would attach some sort of name to yourself.

Heather said...

Eep! Anonymous commenter was me! I thought I had signed in. Sorry to cause you stress over the question of whether to publish. I of course take full responsibility for my comments.

Also: the morning after, my own words strike me as unnecessarily harsh. I regret that, but not the substance of my argument. I still passionately believe that the First Amendment that covers our right to practice Christianity also covers the rights of others not to practice it. We protect that separation of church and state for our own religious freedom too.

Sandalstraps said...


Thanks for clearing that up. Hope you're doing well.