Homosexuality and the American Church

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Maybe you were surprised by the news and maybe you weren’t. Ted Haggard, pastor of the 14,000 member New Life Baptist Church in Colorado Springs, President of the National Association of Evangelicals, and a trusted advisor to President Bush, is accused of regularly having sex and doing meth with a male prostitute for over three years now. It’s hard not to be distracted as each new salacious detail is leaked or pieced together. First he denies it all together. Then he admits to purchasing drugs but not using them. Now he admits to receiving a massage from the prostitute, but nothing else. [See Update below.]

We had Pastor Ted, as he’s known to his congregants, on our show last year, talking about how one would actually govern in America according to Christian principles. Now, with the dust of the Mark Foley scandal barely settled, we had to turn to Jeff Sharlet, one of our trusted advisors on matters of religion in modern life, to make sense of the bigger story at work here. Sharlet wrote a long profile of Haggard’s church for Harper’s last May, and in his blog piece about Haggard today mentions a companion essay he wrote about the figure of the gay man in the imagination of contemporary Evangelical Christianity:

The oversexed female as public enemy has been replaced by the oversexed male; and in the worst case scenario, he is gay…”The gay man” is the new seductress sent by Satan to tempt the men of Christendom. He takes what he wants and loves whom he will and his life, in the imagination of Christian men’s groups, is an endless succession of orgasms, interrupted only by jocular episodes of male bonhomie. The gay man promises a guilt-free existence, the garden before Eve. He is thought to exist in the purest state of “manhood,” which is boyhood, before there were girls…

[Christian conservatives] love the gay man because he is a siren, and his song is alluring; and because they believe that the siren is nonetheless stranded at sea, singing in desperation from a slippery perch on a jagged outcrop of stone. The gay man, they imagine, is calling to them; and they believe they are calling back — as if all of human sexuality was a grand and tragic game of Marco Polo.

Jeff Sharlet, Sex as a Weapon, Nerve, 2005

We’re taking Sharlet’s lead this Monday to throw some light on the intersection between homosexuality and contemporary American Christianity. We’re interested in culture, history, symbolism, texts, subtexts, theology, psychology, actual circumstances — everything but politics. A question as a starting point: why is the figure of the gay man so central to ideas about sexuality, sin and redemption?

Update, 11/6/06 12:40pm

A letter from Ted Haggard was read at the New Life Church’s service yesterday. While it didn’t answer every question his previous statements had brought up, it did have a few definitive statements. “I am a deceiver and a liar,” he wrote. “The accusations that have been leveled against me are not all true, but enough of them are true that I have been appropriately and lovingly removed from ministry.”

He went on: “There is a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I’ve been warring against it all of my adult life. For extended periods of time, I would enjoy victory and rejoice in freedom. Then, from time to time, the dirt that I thought was gone would resurface, and I would find myself thinking thoughts and experiencing desires that were contrary to everything I believe and teach.”

You can read the whole letter here (pdf).

Jeff Sharlet

Contributing Editor, Harper’s and Rolling Stone

Editor, The Revealer

Mel White

Evangelical Pastor

Author, Stranger at the Gate: To Be Gay and Christian in America and Religion Gone Bad: The Hidden Dangers of the Christian Right

Founder, Soulforce

Nathan Paxton

Ph.D. candidate in political science, Harvard University

Commenter, Open Source

Blogger, NateKnowsNada

Extra Credit Reading

Jeff Sharlet, Soldiers of Christ: Inside America’s most powerful megachurch with Pastor Ted Haggard, Harper’s Magazine, May 2005: “Colorado Springs is a city of faith…It is a city of people who have fled the cities, people who have fought a spiritual war for the ground they are on, for an interior frontier on which they have built new temples to the Lord. From these temples they will retake their forsaken promised lands, remake them in the likeness of a dream. They call the dream ‘Christian,’ but in its particulars it is ‘American.'”

Jeff Sharlet, Haggard’s Downfall, the Revealer, November 2nd, 2006: “If the story is true, Ted’s a hypocrite of the worst kind; then again, he’s also another victim of the very closet over which he publicly stands guard, as are all the New Life church members he’s led into it.”

Mel White, Open Letter From Mel White to Jerry Falwell, Soulforce, June 5, 1999: “Dear Jerry,

I’ve been reading your autobiography again. It still moves me. And I’m not just saying that because I wrote it.”

Jeff Sharlet, Sex As a Weapon, Nerve, April 25, 2006: “Christian conservatives loathe all forms of homo- and bisexuality, of course, but it is the gay man (singular; he’s an archetype) who looms largest in their books and sermons and blogs and cell group meetings. Not, for the most part, as a figure of evil, but one to be almost envied. ‘The gay man’ is the new seductress sent by Satan to tempt the men of Christendom.”

Karen Francis, Homosexuals vs Fornicators: Both are Sinners in the Eyes of Christianity, Associated Content, October 26, 2006: “I love [my homosexual friends], but I hate the sin, because I know that all sin leads to death and it doesn’t have to be a physical death, but a social and spiritual death will surely come. If it was so lovely being in a homosexual lifestyle you would not see so many suicides and violent relationships within that community; however this does not negate the fact that there is just as much dysfunction in relationships dealing with fornicators.”

Related Content


  • There’s a great blogger, Beth Adams at http://cassandrapages.typepad.com/the_cassandra_pages/ who happens to also be the author of a new book called Going to Heaven: The Lif and Election of Bishop Gene Robinson, who is, in effect, the preeminent Satan…the first openly gay bishop in Christendom.

    Some more discussions of it here:

    http://velveteenrabbi.blogs.com/blog/2006/09/going_to_heaven.html

    http://www.lofitribe.com/2006/09/07/going-to-heaven-gene-robinson

    http://koshtra.blogspot.com/2006_09_01_koshtra_archive.html#115732212973151979

    http://middlewesterner.typepad.com/middlewesterner/2006/09/elizabeth_adams.html

    http://www.hoardedordinaries.com/archives/000896.html

  • Some obvious thoughts (my specialty being pointing out the obvious):

    It takes a bit of narcissism to hide things about yourself that are impure to project an image of purity. Furthermore, a classic defense mechanism is to act based on the opposite of your true feelings (such as being nice to someone you really hate). It’s so obvious that it’s now just a joke about how homosexuals will hide their homosexuality by calling it evil and trying to stop it.

    I’d like to see a Jungian psychologist as well as a real psychologist (heh) interviewed, as well as an ethnologist who specializes in America and her history. It seems to me that this behavior, suppressing or hiding very well one’s own natural tendencies is seen as a sign of strength in our macho culture.

  • jazzman

    In the Predatory Politics thread, I wrote that hypocrites often champion against beliefs that they themselves hold and exploit. Some do it to deflect attention from their actions (plausible deniability – How could I who decries such an abomination and as an avowed anti-homosexual be involved in such behavior?)

    As I believe that hypocrisy is the handmaiden of the IDEAL, (in this case it’s a doctrinal ideal – with no rational basis in reality) these hypocrites acknowledge ideal (biblical) – behavior while falling short due to the irrational nature of the proscription in thrall to psychological compulsions that they are unable to control or choose not to.

    If we are to believe that one’s homosexuality is innate, then the “intersection between homosexuality and contemporary American Christianity” is just that; a confluence of gay humans who desire to participate in the Christian Community (where in all but the most liberal denominations, they face a less than Christian reception.) I believe that the anima & animus are present in varying proportions in ALL human beings. Some people are better at repressing the “socially (or biblically) undesirable” portion than others. (There’s some (heh) real Jungian jargon for pinkboi )

    As I seem to be stressing here on ROS as of late, all of this is due to peoples’ FEAR: Fear of one’s sexual (animalistic) desire; it must be repressed or fought. If gives in to these desires we are exhorted to love the sinner but hate the sin and by implication yourself (an overworked cinematic device – see “American Beauty” or “The Boys in the Band” for clichéd self-hating homosexuals.) I have stated in the Fear Factor thread that ALL theistic religions are founded on FEAR. Fear of pissing off God. Fear of God – the Old Testament is replete with references to God rewarding those who fear Him. There is the FEAR of not being among the numbered chosen who will go to Heaven (Calvinists, Jehovah’s witnesses.) FEAR of Satan, FEAR of evil, fear of the dark and all bogeymen. Fear of THEMSELVES

    The Fundamentalist Movement easily exploits OT fears and offers a method of salvation for the faithful (unquestioning) believer. The majority of Americans live in a constant state of FEAR and are ripe for manipulation by fear mongers of all stripes.

    The theme of the gay man appearing to be central to ideas about sexuality, sin and redemption, is you can’t have redemption without some reason (sin) to go and sin no more and the Puritanical canard of evil homosexuality has been transmogrified into an irrational phobia (FEAR) of the libertine predator who subverts (perverts) our youth and seeks to destroy the foundation of the “American Way of Life” by thru a committed love relationship (gay marriage). There is nothing to fear not even fear itself.

    Peace to ALL,

    Jazzman

  • plnelson

    “It takes a bit of narcissism to hide things about yourself that are impure to project an image of purity.”

    I disagree. It just takes fear.

    It’s easy to make fun of the guy for the obvious reasons. But remember: for a very long time MILLIONS of gay men and lesbians lived secret lives, married to members of the opposite sex and facing the loss of their jobs, community standing, and even their lives if they gave voice to their real feelings. Even today many gays and lesbians still try to blend into straight society because in their families and communities and churches and other places that are important to them, to come out would be devastating.

    Seen in this light Haggard is a victim, afraid to come to terms with his own sexuality. Not unlike many other people, especially in his religion and part of the country.

    This is the most destructive thing about fundamentalist and traditionalist religion – the biggest exponents of which, today, are various Christian and Muslim groups. Human beings are SEXUAL. It’s a basic aspect of who we are. The right to BE sexual, to express and enjoy our sexuality, and to seek sexual contact with other consenting adults, should be seen as a basic human right, regardless of gender or sexual orientaion.

  • manning120

    “Why is the figure of the gay man so central to ideas about sexuality, sin and redemption?” Religion transforms moral principles into iron-clad doctrines. At some point homosexuality was deemed immoral, and that got written up in the Bible (see Leviticus 18:22). Given the modern understanding of human nature not accessible to the authors of scripture, what rational objections might one have to homosexuality? To me, a live and let live policy is wisest, especially since homosexuals for some reason contribute to art and other social endeavors far out of proportion to their number, partly because of not devoting as much time and effort to producing and raising children, and thus constitute an extremely valuable human resource. But for believers, the word of God trumps rationality. That limits the argument to determining the parameters of punishment for homosexuality – does the Bible require death, or banishment, or what? Can homosexuals go to heaven? Does refraining from homosexual acts that are nonetheless desired meliorate the punishment? And the theological straight-jacket presents a very difficult dilemma for believers struggling with their innate homosexual orientation. The reason “the gay man” (should we exclude women?) has become “so central” probably relates partly to the fact that the contrast between scripture and rationality in this area is more stark than in any other, and partly to the fact that the “rational animal” is also highly sexual, whatever his/her orientation might be. (After writing this, I found that plnelson made similar points a few minutes earlier, with which I concur, although plnelson’s emphasis differs slightly from mine.)

  • plnelson

    “since homosexuals for some reason contribute to art and other social endeavors far out of proportion to their number, partly because of not devoting as much time and effort to producing and raising children, and thus constitute an extremely valuable human resource.”

    Who knows? I’ve heard all kinds of theories. I’m an artist, poet and photographer and my wife is a musician so we travel in “artsy” circles. It’s certainly true that we SEEM to know more gays in these areas than in other places or circumstances. But there are any number of possible reasons –

    1. Maybe there really IS some connection between sexual orientation and creativity, but that seems implausible – why should there be?

    2. Practical reasons you mention. But we know people with kids who are artists, musicians and poets, and anyway gay people raise families, too.

    3. An “outsider mentality”. In these same social circles we also see a way larger proportion of Jews, for example. And also many people whose political, religious, or lifestyle views are different in others ways from the mainstream. (in some ways I’m a good example of that) So it may be that if you are “different”, if you “think different” or if you are treated differently, it either fosters creativity or gives you more of a need to express yourself.

    4. More acceptance. Artsy communities have long had a reputation for accepting people who are different or eccentric. Many people have multiple skills, so suppose you are a young gay person who has strong skills that could either result in a successful art career or a successful career in accountancy. The art choice may be more appealing because then you can be yourself.

    4(b). More acceptance. Maybe there are just as many firemen, soldiers, and corporate executives who are gay but there would be a higher cost to be paid going public in those occupations.

    Since much art has a transgressive quality anyway (mine certainly does!) the idea of the male gay artist fits neatly into the religious idea of sin and desecration. Moreover the “accepting” culture of the art world I mentioned in 4 and 4b runs exactly counter to the religious need to control people’s lives and set limits to everything.

  • manning120

    Plnelson, your comments are constructive, but (like mine that you commented on) perhaps not directly on the assigned topic. Maybe a separate show or thread on this could be set up. At any rate, I’m amazed that the contributions of homosexuals – let me use “gays,” because that seems to have a less weighty moral connotation – gets left out of discussions of whether homosexual conduct and same-sex marriage should be legal. I have the impression that the anti-gay zealots in history have failed to make significant contributions to art and philosophy, especially in comparison to the contributions of gays. In addition to your personal experiences and ruminations, I suggest looking at web sites touting gay figures such as http://gayinfo.tripod.com/A-Z-M3.html. Among the notables: Plato, Socrates, Michelangelo, Benjamin Britten, and Tchaikovsky. I hate to list some because I’ve left out so many stunningly brilliant people.

  • manning120

    Sorry, the home page of that cite is http://gayinfo.tripod.com/.

  • maureen2520

    Jehovah’s Witnesses are not afraid of not being of those chosen to go to Heaven, because the Bible says that the “meek will inherit the earth” and that those in Heaven will rule over the earth with Jesus, as kings and priests. So they’re fine with not being one of the 144,000 mentioned at Revelation who are going to Heaven. Also Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe in hell. It is a misinterpretation of the words Sheol, Hades and Gehenna. The wicked just die and are not resurrected to mess up the earth again. Nothing to be afraid of, a lot to look forward to.

  • plnelson

    “Jehovah’s Witnesses are not afraid of not being of those chosen to go to Heaven, ”

    . . . and this is related to this topic . . . how?

  • The biblical David and his friend Jonathan are often pointed out as a biblical gay couple. True, this is mostly pointed out by gay guys but David does say something like he loves Jonathan more than he any woman… and that would include Bathsheba.

  • plnelson

    “The oversexed female as public enemy has been replaced by the oversexed male; and in the worst case scenario, he is gay…”The gay man” is the new seductress sent by Satan to tempt the men of Christendom. He takes what he wants and loves whom he will and his life, in the imagination of Christian men’s groups, is an endless succession of orgasms, interrupted only by jocular episodes of male bonhomie. The gay man promises a guilt-free existence, the garden before Eve. He is thought to exist in the purest state of “manhood,” which is boyhood, before there were girls”

    If this is true, it’s a GOOD thing because it forces us to deal with the FACT of sexuality.

    Modern life is a constant process of coming to terms with our biological nature, freed of the constraints imposed in the past by our limitations. It used to be a struggle just to have enough food to eat. Now we can produce far more food than we need and have an endless variety of choices. Both obesity and the joy (or is it “Joy”) of cooking result. Personally I love to cook and eat – food is a sensual pleasure that can be enjoyed in the growing of it, the shopping at the market for it, the preparing of it, and the tastes, smells, and textures of it. The Christian and Muslim fundamentalists would probably tell us we should only eat for sustenance, if they were to be true to their sexual credo.

    The fact is that we do NOT need to make as many babies as we used to. Not only is the world overpopulated, but infant mortality is vastly lower than it used to be. AND people live longer. My wife and I are in our 50’s. Babies aren’t an option for us, so does that mean we should stop having sex?

    What about the couple in their 30’s who have had two kids and that’s all they

    want?

    Once we accept the idea that sex has ANY purpose other than making babies then we have to deal with the issue that gays force religions to deal with: sex for its own sake. As I showed above, gays are not the only examples of this, but they do provide a very clear one. That’s why they threaten religions, because religions seems to have a particularly hard time coming to terms with sex.

  • rc21

    Many interesting comments. My personal philosophy is ” To each their own”. Just dont hurt anyone and don’t force your beliefs on me. Be they anti-gay or pro gay. Some aspects of homosexuality are not very appealing. I dont understand why so many gay men are still having unprotected sex. I find this disturbing and sad. I also dont need to be told by religous groups that gay people are sinners who will go to hell.

    Yes plnelson many gay people are artists. Why? I have also found this to be true.

  • RC21 says: “I dont understand why so many gay men are still having unprotected sex”

    Probably for all the same reasons that so many heterosexuals are still having unprotected sex.

  • It seems that the religions dorely on fear, in many forms. They are in constant need of a current representation of evil temptation. To maintain any influence in society , however, they also need to maintain enough followers to form a critical mass.

    As women gained the right to vote and then access to economic independence from men, they also gained the wherewithal to defy their husbands and fathers and choose a different religious/political path. As the Church cannot afford to lose their votes, they must stop demonizing them. They must find a way to co-opt them. The same could be said for minorities, especially as their raw numbers grow. So, they have to find a different marginalized group to hold up as those which represent the evil incarnate.

    With any luck, the rest of us will continue to voice compassion with truthful force, and enough rational people will reject these destructive postulations that the religious groups will not be able to hold anyone’s attention. Rather than allowing the mean-spirited to marginalize others for loving, we shall embrace those who are loving and mean-spiritedness (I think I just made up that word) will itself be marginalized. (one can at hold the vision….)

  • rc21

    allison ,You really need to rethink what you posted. The chances of a man having unprotected sex with another man leading to harm is much greater than for the heterosexual male. It is that kind of cavalier attitude that has contributed to so many gay men contracting the aids virus.

  • Actually, rc21, the number of heterosexuals getting HIV in the US right now is almost as high as the number of gay men, and considering how non-widespread the virus has traditionally been in heterosexual communities, that’s worrying.

    Certain actions are most likely to lead to contracting HIV, and it doesn’t matter what sex the partners are. Let’s put it this way: whether you are a man or woman having sex with someone HIV+, you have a roughly equivalent chance to contracting the virus.

    Back to Ted Haggard. I have to say that I feel both pity and a sense of relief at the news. (Although when he immediately resigned his positions even while denying the allegations, I figured that he’d change his story eventually.) I feel pity for him because the closet is a frightening, god-awful place; if there is a hell, it will be like the closet, where you feel isolated, alone, cut off from God and other people by your unbearable secret. And I feel pity because I hate to see another human and another Christian in so much obvious pain.

    And yet I feel relief and perhaps even some vindication, because a man who’s persecuted many people — as a means of wiping out his own perceived immorality — cannot do that anymore.

    One thing that’s funny about the conservative Christian man, as Jeff Sharlet begins to touch on in the excerpt above, is how he keeps trying to sail closer and closer to that siren song. Groups like the Promisekeepers, the church “men’s group”, male-only prayer breakfast groups, and such all encourage character that many often consider “gay.” Men are supposed to open up, discuss their feelings, to bond deeply and emotionally with other men in the group, to encourage “intimacy” (of a non-sexual sort, of course) among the members, and to create that sort of bonhomie we’ve been talking about. Funnily enough, the men involved recognize the “gayness” of what they’re engaging in, and so they concurrently go deeper while still (sometimes) mocking the lack of manliness they are part of. And for gay men involved in these sorts of churches and parachurch activites, this must be like putting a sumptuous feast in front of someone who’s known nothing but rice and water for his whole life.

    Conservative Christians, I think, believe that they are rescuing the sirens from their lonely outcrops, where gay men are stranded and cut off from their own humanity. But the reality seems to be that these Christians are rescuing themselves, coming closer to siren gays so that they may complete their own humanity. In some sense, it is these Christians who are stuck on the lonely outcrops of rock in the middle of an ocean, finding some redemption in that which they often resist.

  • nother

    What does the Bible actually say about being gay?

    This is an interesting study done by the BBC concerning the actual passages in the bible that deal with homosexuality. After each passage they list the “pro-gay” and “anti-gay” interpretations.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/3205727.stm

  • rc21

    To natep; Through 2004 the number of people alive in the USA who have contracted the aids virus through male to male sexual contact is 441,380 the number who have been infected through male to male sex and drug use is 64,837. That is more than half a million. Those currently living with the virus who were infected through heterosexual sex is 159,114. How many of those people had partners who were bi sexual? We may never know. It is safe to say the numbers would be substantial. Aids spread to the heterosexual community mainly through people who were bisexual and/or drug users. My stats are from the Center fordisease control and prevention.

    Yes straight people now also have to be worried about the virus. But this is due in large part to risky behavior bisexuality/drug use. not typical male to female sex.

    People who try and downplay the threat of aids to the male gay community by trying to equate statistics to those of the straight community are being disingenuous. They also do nothing to help young gay males understand that aids is very dangerous and a constant threat to their life.People should not be commiting suicide because they think their sexual behaviour is no more risky than that of straight people. I say this in the hope that fewer people will die not more.

    • I much prefer infomartive articles like this to that high brow literature.

  • RC21,

    According to CDC and KFF figures, 40 percent of new cases in the US are in MSM contact, and 30 percent of new cases are in heterosexual contact. In terms of acts, HIV is carried most concentratedly in blood and semen, so any sexual activity that allows for the entry of blood or semen into the partner’s body is a potentially risky act. Anal sex and vaginal sex are the two most risky acts to undertake, as a result.

    I’m not trying to downplay the risks and problems in the gay male community; those are serious. However, the number of young heterosexual friends and students I have who do not use condoms (“because she’s on the pill”, etc.) seems staggeringly more than the proportion of young gay males I know who don’t. That’s a biased sample, of course, but it seems to have held true for a number of my gay male friends experiences with straight friends.

    Your contention that the spread in the heterosexual community comes from bi-identified or IDU people is perhaps logical, but is really more of an assertion than proven fact. It’s certainly not the case in the vast majority of the world, and even in the rest of the developed world (e.g., continental Europe), it’s often been perceived as an “African” disease as much and even more than a “gay” disease. I refer you to Peter Baldwin’s excellent Disease and Democracy.

    Nother: “What the Bible says” is parrticularly relevant to evangelical Christians, as they place a premium on Scripture as a singular source of authority. For other Christians, scripture is one of several sources of authority, and so “what the Bible says” is vitally important, but it lives in relation with other types of authority. Thus, one interpetation or another is hardly “definitive.”

  • Ben

    Add to the list among the reasons the male sexual figure currently is so central? The churches are slowly losing their villains to progress. A very small minority like gay men are a low risk asset to use for getting a flock or congregation motivated toward more doctrinal piety. Using adversarial and xenophobic comparatives has had little risk of backlash from the afflicted minority. It’s only been in the last quarter century that the minority has started swinging back in earnest at the abuse and using the asset has become a higher risk for the churches. Theocrats have always needed devils to fulfill their control aims. In a fear based religious control system – if there is no devil, what is left to motivate?

  • Old Nick

    I wish we might reconsider homosexuality. It’s at least as much an activity as it is an identity. And probably more so, as I’ll try to suggest below. It’s also only one pole of a continuum of sexual possibilities that we of the post-Christian West are largely unaware of.

    I wonder how many other ‘straight’ people can say they’ve spoken extensively, or even merely casually, to men who are predominately attracted to other men, and who have taken on the identity ‘gay’ as an antidote to the terrible, throttling repression of truth natep touches on @ 10:30 AM, Nov. 6th.

    My own personal experience with ‘gayness’ is limited to a two-year, weekends-only stint tending bar in an establishment whose customers were largely but not exclusively gay men. Now, I’ll readily admit that 230 or so four-hour bartending shifts don’t comprise much of a sample size: I might run the risk of stereotyping or other error in my forthcoming comments. But I’ll venture it anyway, if only because I sense stereotyping aplenty already extant in this thread’s conversation. At least, in my couple of years of work, I had ample opportunity to talk to the people on the other side of the bar. Many of my regulars were men who had actively and enthusiastically taken the label ‘gay’ for themselves; others were men utterly indistinguishable from the men of our stereotypical ‘straight’ culture. You’d never have suspected their sexual preferences…unless you discovered their favorite weekend hangout. These ‘straight’-looking enjoyed same-sex relations without ever considering themselves ‘gay’. I suspect this is the misunderstood truth of Ted Haggard too.

    ‘Homosexuality’ as an identity is a fairly recent socio-historical development. I cringe when I read about ‘gayness’ in anything other than a post-19th century context. Ancient Greece – Athens in particular – is often cited as an example of uncloseted ‘gayness’ – as if, by implication, homosexuality is actually a secret cultural norm that Abrahamic religions are entirely right to constrain and demonize.

    The truth, as usual, is a good deal richer than and different from these simplistic sorts of stereotypes. In Courtesans and Fishcakes, James Davidson paints a very different picture of ancient Hellenic passions. To summarze, Athens was no more ‘gay’ than any other culture that doesn’t demonize same-sex activity. In Athens, most men had wives; and women were commodified as sexual ‘properties’ just as in more recent and modern homophobic societies. Plato represented one end of the continuum: a man attracted exclusively to other men; Xenophon (an Athenian general and historian) represented the other end: a man sexually attracted to women only.

    Now, and in truth, ancient Athens was an unseemly morass of misogyny and xenophobia, but at least it didn’t evince much homophobia. Instead, it was a culture wherein sex was much more openly ‘bi’ than we post-Christian moderns can easily understand. Sex was a continuum whose poles might be recognizable to us as ‘straight’ and ‘gay’, but whose reality was much more diverse.

    What I’m trying to lead up to is this: Ted Haggard isn’t likely ‘gay’. He’s probably no more gay than your typical Athenian male whose sexual activities took place mostly with his wife (or with courtesans – again, try the Davidson title linked to above), and maybe only occasionally involved liaisons with other men or youths.

    We in the post-Christian West are socialized to perceive sexuality as either ‘straight’ or ‘gay’. I suggest that’s a profoundly flawed lens: focused only on the two poles. Although I’m not qualified to explain male-to-male attraction, I can assume it’s different from my own attractions only in direction, not in quality.

    Because we culturally limit our comprehensions to the straight/gay poles, the full bisexual truth of the continuum eludes us. Our taboos nudge us away from bisexual experimentation and toward the polarized straight/gay sexual preferences that would be our strongest—but not our exclusive—attractions if we lived in a less judgmental culture.

    Ancient Greece allowed its people to live along the continuum; cultures afflicted with the ‘morality’ of the Abrahamic faiths do not. Most ancient Athenians were predominantely heterosexual, and yet occasionally homosexual too. There were no ‘gay’ Athenians, and no ‘straight’ Athenians.

    I rue the profound misunderstanding and false sense of polarity we’ve inherited as a consequence of patriarchal monotheism’s attempt to control human sexuality in general, and sexual access to females in particular.

    Enough already.

    Demonizing non-heterosexual attraction and activity is a terrible blight on humankind. Ted Haggard took part in it. Ted Haggard also seems to have ignored one of his faith’s finest contributions to human ethics: “Judge not, that ye be not judged” – Matthew 7.1

    How ironic that his own preferences include many a moment along the continuum of human sexual possibilities instead of exclusively at the ‘straight’ pole his ‘flock’ expect him to adhere to like a trained dog. And how ironic that this simple human reality proved stronger than his willingness, based on the edicts of benighted and bigoted men dead now for millennia, to repress his honest preferences.

    plnelson is right: we’ve got to grow up and understand our desires for sex as a biological appetite every bit as real and valid as hunger and thirst. To accept the fullness and diversity of our human realities, and to admit that acting to slake our desires is more humanly fulfilling than repressing them.

    And to ignore the judgmental legacy of a demonstrably bigoted and superstitious era of our species’ evolution from ignorance toward enlightenment.

    Christianity might flourish if it took the lead in this, instead of continuously trying to turn the clock back to eras long passed, and, frankly, unlamented.

  • Sopper14

    may be too late – and I know the focus is gay men – but if the guests have a chance to contrast the evangelical church’s relationship to gay men with that to lesbians, might be interesting

  • francocampanello

    I feekl that men are hardwired to compartmentalize. So we all can be family men and dutiful while at the same time focussed on sex. Gay men are pros at this, as we have always had to hide our “real selves” while we act “straight”. Do your guests feel that the only time we get into trouble is when we get caught overlapping two mutually exclusive compartments?

  • emilyf

    I was very disappointed with the broadcast tonight. It gave only one (very biased) view of “fundamentalist” Christians who oppose homosexuality. I was shocked that “fundamentalist Christians” were referred to as “militants”. And it seemed that the guests and the host were implying that male bonding in churches more often than not leads to homoerotic feelings between men. Also, Chris’ comment that he is not sure the condemnation of homosexuality even had a biblical basis (or something to that effect) is surprising. I guess the part where the Bible speaks of homosexuality as an “abomination” is not Biblical foundation for not approving of homosexuality?

  • Jesusisonthethrone

    We are a father and son that have been listening to your program. We are evangelical Christians, meaning we believe that the scripture is Gods word and our sufficiant guide for living. We think that your program was not objective. You were trying too much to get one message accross. There are many people that have found genuine restoration from a homosexual lifestyle. The people we know, the stories that we’ve heard, and the data that we’ve seen contradicts that which was communicated during your program. It was very interesting to us that you didnt have a guest representing this restoration movement. It was also unfortunate that the difficult circumstances of Ted Haggard was used as an obvious launching pad for an agenda. As I read scripture I can’t even imagine that homosexuality is a gift from God as one of your guests said. I would reference Romans 1:26-32 as an example that contradicts that notion. Sin means to “miss the mark” or fall short of the glory of what God had in mind. Whether adultry, pride, pornograhy, murder, lieing, homosexuality, exploitantion or selfishnes of any kind it all equally falls short of what God has in mind. The goodnews is that Jesus Christ came to die and bridge the gap between us who fall short and the God who wants to restore us back to Himself.

  • Ben

    Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things.

  • plnelson

    “allison ,You really need to rethink what you posted. The chances of a man having unprotected sex with another man leading to harm is much greater than for the heterosexual male.”

    This depends entirely on the type of sex the couple has. There is no kind of sexual practice two men can enjoy that a man and a woman can’t enjoy.

  • plnelson

    “may be too late – and I know the focus is gay men – but if the guests have a chance to contrast the evangelical church’s relationship to gay men with that to lesbians, might be interesting”

    That is actually a fascinating aspect of this topic.

    You practically can’t find straight erotica (dirty magazines and videos, if you need to know) for straight guys that does not feature at least some lesbian sex. There is definitely a double standard among the straight redneck crowd who will hardly shake hands with a gay man, but who will pay good money to watch two women have sex.

  • Thank you for airing the difference between Evangelical and Fundamentalist. As a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, I cringe every time the secular press uses the term Evangelical when Fundamentalist is much more accurate.

  • The Christian church is about maintaining the patriarchial power structure. Women and Gays get burned at the stake. The male rejection of the feminine (in women and in gay men) stems from jealousy of the power to create life. Mysogyny is just basic Christian dogma.

  • Emilyf…

    I take it you are refering to…

    Leviticus 18:22 states: “Thou shall not lie with mankind as with womankind: it is abomination.”

    Wherein God/The Bible does NOT say homosexuality is an abomination. The bible says to lie with a MAN is an abomination. Sounds to me like God wants us to become lesbians.

  • jbakerco

    I just listened to this program and had a few comments and questions.

    It seems there is strong animosity to view the bible as the ultimate authority. Those on the program seemed to present this point of view as intolerable. I find this interesting that they are intolerable of this view.

    What is wrong about taking the bible as authoritative?

    If the bible isn’t authoritative then how do the evangelical guests on the show define “Christianity?”

    Is it an objective truth or is it just subject to pluralism?

    Now the guests on the program interpret scripture in a way that the doesn’t portrait homosexuality as sin. This led me to a few other questions that I would like some responses too.

    Do these guests believe in sin and how do they define it?

    What is there response to other sins described in the bible? Should adultery, or pride, or selfishness or betrayal be embraced?

    One of the guests also responded quite negatively to the idea that a Christian could hate the sin and love the sinner.

    What does God do in scripture? Does God encourage sin or does He separate the sin and the sinner?

    Ok that is enough for now. If I could please receive rational responses and not emotional reactions, that would be wonderful. Thank you!

  • babu

    PeggySue: “The male rejection of the feminine (in women and in gay men) stems from jealousy of the power to create life. Mysogyny is just basic Christian dogma.”

    I agree with you that post-Jesus, Christian dogma as eventually cannonized by various writers of varying versions into what is now known as Scripture appears to support — or is interpreted by people to support misogny. But I think it stemmed from the concurrent rise of materialism and the desire to identify your off-spring for the purpose of passing on accumulated wealth or power and as a tactic to ward off mortality, among other things.

    Chastity is a psycho-drama developed to protect property rights. It’s sad to see how suggestible we are, emotionally; how much shame and sadness has been created by this idea.

    I think gay-bashing, to a certain extent traces to the time when birth and survival rates were low enough that men were admonished not to ‘waste their seed’. Otherwise, I agree with Nick; human sexuality is a continuum.

    In these days of excess population, gays and lesbians — and others who choose not to pro-create – should be recognized as part of the solution, not part of the problem.

  • rc21

    To old nick; Great post I agree with pretty much everything you said. Everything is not black and white. Bisexuality plays a big part in this subject. You are also correct in saying many gays dont fit the typical gay steryotype. IE. carson Kressly,Liberache,etc.

    To emiliyf ; Did you really expect a fair and balanced show? Shows run by people who are liberal will usually try and find the most extreme example of an opinion they dont agree with. Thus making their belief seem more credible. It is an old trick. Have a show on affirmitive action. They will bring in some well spoken college proffesors who will speak of the need for cultural diversity and all the nice sounding positive reasons to support affirmitive action. To counter the liberal side they will bring in David Duke or some other crazy racist. By doing this they try to infer that if you are anti affirmitive action you must be racist. The same is done with the gay issue. If you are not in favor of homosexuality or gay marriage you must be a homophobe or some wild eyed bible thumping idiot. It’s called liberal bias. It will be denied by the shows producers,who will claim they do everything possible to give a fair and equal forum to both sides.

  • babu

    Well, I see that voting has begun over on the East Coast.

    This should be very interesting. Maybe there will be an upsurge of common reason followed by a call to impeach the dangerous fool.

  • Potter

    Thank you Old Nick for your excellent post, one of your finest. I do believe we all live somewhere on that continuum of male/female-hetero/homo and either aware and accepting or are in denial of it. I’ll add to your Greeks Socrates who (supposedly) said “Know Thyself” and note too that this was written on the lintel of the entrance to the Temple of Apollo at Delphi.

    The show was excellent, unexpectedly so: deep and revealing, a welcome relief from all the prurient and vindictive gotcha chatter. Chris was at his probing best (ie not the Christianity he knows) yet after one good hour still scratching the surface. What was exposed last night again (the personal unhappiness, dysfunction, it’s repercussions, manipulations for power and influence) will again be buried hopefully a little less deeply for the seriousness of this discussion and others like it. The slow process of enlightenment shows, now in the move towards sanction of same-sex marriage.

  • bachfan

    Just listened to the podcast. While I can’t necessarily speak to the issues with homosexuals, this show hit the nail on the head when talking about the patriarchal nature of the evangelical Christian movement. As a student at a college with an extremely large and extremely active chapter of Campus Crusade for Christ, I’ve been in a position to observe the evangelical movement, and to know many people who are involved in it. (Campus Crusade is a student-centered arm of the american evangelical movement.)

    I naively attended a meeting during my first year on campus, thinking that “non-denominational” meant that it was a truly ecumenical, open, ‘Christian’ organization. (I am a pretty liberal Catholic – we do exist!) I got an earful of rabid, hardline anti-gay, pro-‘family values’ rhetoric. The guest speaker was spouting a 1950s conservative call to arms, and an auditorium of 500+ college students were eating it up.

    While my affiliation with Crusade ended as quicly as it had begun, I watched many friends grow more and more involved. While I believe in their right to subscribe to and practice any religious belief they choose, what scares me the most is the cult-like control that Crusade, and the Evangelical movement, seems to have over them. They follow the party line, they use the rhetoric, tossing about evangelical buzzwords like Fellowship. They participate in gender-separated Bible studies, which I attended a few times. Study leaders talked about the importance of men being together, ‘without the influence/distraction of women.’ Raising men to be MEN, in the old-school sense. I can only imagine the 1950’s values the women’s Bible studies probably talked about. Some of my male friends also participate in “accountability,” in which they tell a group of other guys about their moral lapses: impure thoughts, masturbation, etc.

    I apologize for the long winded post, which probably revealed far too many of my own personal biases. Just wanted to talk a bit about how some of the things discussed in this edition of Open Source are happening in America’s youth as well as in adult communities.

  • Ben

    An advocacy – I have lived in a predominantly gay neighborhood for about a third of my life. I interact with gay men and women in my creative endeavors and in my professional life on a daily basis. I was married by an officiant who cannot get the state to legally recognize a marriage between himself and his 10+ year partner and they are every bit as legitimate as my relationship is. OldNick and several others here have nailed it: there are many expressions of sexuality, and that what media portrays as gay, particularly in msm / christian media, is woefully short of reality. When first introduced to non-traditional gender roles and sexual relationships, the reality can get complex and become intimidating. It’s a lot for people to wrap their minds around, and I can empathize with people who can’t intellectually or emotionally get across that barrier. Those who can’t get over it should not be empowered to encourage ignorance.

    Laws preventing legal rights (marriage) are not the only risk for homosexuals. There are still physical safety risks, as well as economic, psychological, and health risks. By allowing any radical religio-political entity like the evangelical dominionists or any other sect of fundamental literalists to set the tone of conversation and make homosexuals (or any sexuality other than the narrow doctrine) appear as less than human (fallen, in need of correction) puts all of us human beings at further risk. It should be rigorously challenged and attacked and shown for the bigoted destructive path that it is.

    I’ll add that homosexuals are something of an indicator group, and this culture of dogmatic radical religious doctrine is becoming more powerful and can have far reaching effects into other areas of culture and law. It shouldn’t be hard to extrapolate that what is happening here can happen to another group.

    As to the literalism of any “scripture” lending any validity to demonizing these human beings and reducing their rights? If the interpretation is used negatively toward goals that lower the value of other human beings, then that speaks volumes about the interpreter and the audience that receives it.

    (sorry for the long post – I have to add to the chorus OldNick, nice one)

  • kevinjbowman

    As a Christian I find myself at odds with most all of the evangelical fundamentalist rhetoric that comes out of organizations like “Focus on the Family.” I follow the teachings the Bible and feel that those who call themselves Christ followers should submit to those commands. However like you, I am appalled by the idea that there needs to be a movement to prevent gay couples, who do not share the same moral system, from sharing the joy of marriage since it is obviously not a moral violation of their personal belief system. That is what freedom is all about.

    Which is why I was equally disappointed with this broadcast because it present the same agenda as the “crazy fundamentalist” Christians. The ideas presented here seemed to argue that belief in a Biblical moral system that governs sexual behavior was a “social sin.” I find that Ted Haggard has the right and the freedom to his moral belief system. He has the right to find a behavior sinful that you do not. In this case we are speaking of his own personal judgment of his own lifestyle.

    If we are free, and we want to share in living in a free world, I need to be allowed to feel that homosexuality is sinful as much as you need to be allowed to feel it is not, and the government should not encroach on either of us as we seek to live life and love those we love.

  • plnelson

    “What is wrong about taking the bible as authoritative?”

    It depends on the extent of the alleged “authority”. The problem is not one of “taking” it as authoritative – the problem is one of “giving” it as authoritative, ir more to the point, FORCING it on others as authoritative.

    Feel free to use it as an authority over yourself, but since I don’t subscribe to its authority why should I feel bound by it?

  • dkr
  • kevinjbowman

    plnelson,

    That is my point. I do not want the Bible to be used by anyone to compel anyone by it’s authority, but I want it to be my authority and in the case of this broadcast, Ted Haggard wants it to be his authority, and I was disappointed with the tone that he was wrong for that.

    I can assure you that I get as angry about people like Haggard and his cohorts claiming that you should be bound by by the Biblical moral system as any non-beliver. But we are suppose to be social liberals. That means he should be awarded the same courtesy by us we want him to extend to people not agreeing with his sentiments. The broadcast did not do that, instead it condemned him and his belief system, that disappointed me. Haggard should be welcome to find counseling for his “issue”

  • kevinjbowman

    plnelson,

    Another comment for you, one to answer your question from Monday night about the Lesbianism issue. The answer is found in the “Christians” vilifying certain sins at their discretion to secure for themselves a sense of righteousness. In “Letter’s To Arthur Greeves” C.S. Lewis deals with this issue in a more broad scale of Christian behavior. I want to post the quote in an edited format that I used recently in another venue. This is not a direct quote but an editing of a couple paragraphs together to summarize the thought.

    “That the system [Puritan Bibliolatry] denied pleasures to others as well as to the votaries themselves: whatever the merits of self-denial, this is unpardonable interference… [since] It inconsistently kept some worldly pleasures, and always selected the worst ones-gluttony, avarice, etc…

    It was ignorant….[and] found very ill grounded in the Bible itself and as ignorant as savages of the historical and theological reading needed to make the Bible more than a superstition…

    ‘By their fruits ye shall know them.’ Have they the marks of peace, love, wisdom and humility on their faces or in their conversation? Really, you need not bother about that kind of Puritanism. ”

    The issue is this selective self denial for the purpose of self righteousness rather than actual understanding of the Bible’s teachings. The Bible is far closer inline with liberal politics (peace and justice) than with conservative politics. However those matters are not measurable for a selection of who is in and out within these circles. So instead these true measures of spirituality are replaced with “convenient sins” that the fundamentalist pastor can assume most members of his church do not struggle with. Therefore, since MANY Christian men have strong addictions to internet pornography, and lesbianism is a major element of internet porn, it is excluded from the named avarice list.

    I am deeply regretful more Christan’s do not understand the games being played. I am deeply regretful that so many I share a faith system so embarrassingly went to the polls in TN and other states thinking that darkening an oval against gay marriage was what defines “Christian Service.” I am deeply regretful we can not work together on issues like poverty and social justice because of a militant hijack of the conversation by people who want to define the nature of who is in and who is out.

    Despite all my regrets. They are the people who speak for what Christianity means in the public square. They are the people who will continue to make lists that are convenient for them and their parishioners. Never lose site of the truth that there are MANY of us who they do not speak for!

  • I think you guys missed my point about unprotected sex. Regardless of who has a higher chance of gettting AIDS, everyone takes unnecessary risks when it comes to sex. Heterosexual couples risk undesired pregnancy. All couples risk a host of other diseases. Still, they take the risk all the time. One person asked why men in homosexual relationships take the risk. I was suggesting that the reasons for the risk-taking are probably no different than than for those having heterosxual relations. Hormones. Emotions. You name it.

    It is unrealistic and not at all helpful to demonize those in same sex relationships any more than others for unwisely engaging in unprotected sex. If we hope to address the issue, we must see if for what it is: a human one. Putting one group on the defensive as a particularly bad offender and creating divisiveness distracts us from looking inward and helping one another.

  • Old Nick

    First, bachfan, your post wasn’t too long. It was excellent. Sometimes the mid-length posts are the best: meaty and yet not at all fatty. (I ought try to larn that trick!)

    Second, I’d like to add a postscript to my other post in this thread. (And thank you very much, Potter, Ben, rc21, et.al. for your overly generous words about that post – you seem happier with it than I was!)

    From the peerless Shirley Manson:

    Sex is not the enemy

    No evolution

    Sometimes it depresses me

    The same old same

    Oh we keep repeating history

    The institution curses curiosity

    It’s our conviction

    Sex is not the enemy

    A revolution is the solution

    A revolution is the solution

    I won’t feel guilty

    No matter what they’re telling me

    I won’t feel dirty and buy into their misery

    I won’t be shamed ’cause I believe that love is free

    It fuels the heart and sex is not my enemy

    A revolution is the solution

    A revolution is the solution

    True love is like gold

    There’s not enough to go around

    But then there’s God

    And doesn’t God love everyone

    Give me a choice

    Give me a chance to turn the key

    And find my voice

    Sex is not the enemy

    A revolution is the solution

    A revolution is the solution

    Sex is not the enemy

    A revolution…”

    http://www.alwaysontherun.net/garbage.htm#bl7

    &

    http://www.cduniverse.com/productinfo.asp?pid=6840788&BAB=M

  • JP Dan

    Always late, better never perhaps. Maybe a last word.

    One topic that seems to have been missed in the broadcast and the comments – the God-like lust to harm someone and get away with it that featured so prominently in Republic as the “Ring of Gyges” story.

    I see this as a foundation of most of our sexual attitudes wherein some people are set-up by circumstance (gay men are an example) to be victims of would-be gods who get lucky enough to find them and are able to harm them, often to great adulation.

    The anti-abortion movement is entirely about playing anti-sex god focussed on women who are pregnant and don’t want to be. Consider the possible harms described in arguments presented to the supreme court yesterday (Wednesday 11/8). Suppressing homosexuality (as far from the topic of abortion as possible) has always been important to them.

    Hate and hurt are part of being human. The best of societies suppresses both and the worst promotes both. Which are we?

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  • Old Nick

    PS to Ben: my praise to bachfan applies to yours, too.

    FTM, thanks to everyone who took the time to post. It’s nice to read a conversation on this human subject that’s (mostly) not a miasma of demonization and accusation.

    Full human rights & respect for all humans!

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