Nice Nasty: A Look At TD Jakes Remarks About Marriage Equality

With the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in favor of marriage equality last week, it was expected that clergy across the country would begin to express their opinions.

Bishop TD Jakes, pastor of The Potter’s House in Dallas, Texas, offered remarks about marriage equality and a Christian response here:

Bishop Jakes’ remarks may seem like a respectful way to address the issue, but they aren’t. There’s a pervasive idea that speaking about issues calmly with respectful language somehow sanctifies the troubling rhetoric that is being delivered. As a friend put it, there’s a heavy element of “nice nasty” that’s present in Jakes’ remarks.

Jakes starts by telling his congregation that Christians shouldn’t “lose their minds” in regards to the Supreme Court ruling. To paraphrase his words, the Church shouldn’t be concerned when “the world” does what it tends to do. He notes that the Justices were dealing with the rights that are given by the Constitution. He goes on to mention that the Justices weren’t debating Romans 1 and First Corinthians when deciding this ruling. This is a hint into where Jakes will ultimately end up. The New Testament books of Romans and 1 Corinthians contain lynchpin scriptures for people who are opposed to same-sex relations. Certain words and phrases function as dog whistles in church contexts, sending a rallying call around certain ideas that are understood but not spelled out directly. Mentioning Romans and First Corinthians as he did is a coded way of pointing the parishioner toward an understanding of same-sex sexual activity as sin. Jakes has stated previously that he thinks scripture “condemns” sex between people of the same-sex in an interview with Oprah in 2012, but it wouldn’t have been smart to be direct in a broadcast that was aired to millions. The COGIC backlash involving Andrew Caldwell is instructive in this case.

Bishop Jakes upholds the idea that the traditional way of reading the text will automatically lead to his particular understanding. This is not true, as many faithful people who read the text come up with different ideas about every subject the Bible presents. In a seminary class I once took, a classmate said, “I take the Bible literally, and the Bible literally does not condemn gay people. They aren’t speaking about what we are discussing today.” There’s a multitude of ways to view scripture. Those diverse interpretations are a major part of why we have so many denominations today.

From Charismanews.com

From Charismanews.com

Jakes also makes the assumption that things would be better if people became “real Christians.” For Jakes, it appears that a true Christian is someone who shares their faith. If more Christians evangelized, and not segregate themselves from people who aren’t like-minded, Christianity would spread. The statistics available concerning Christian perception in this country would suggest otherwise (Read this Barna Group report here). People know what the Christian message is, and they perceive it to be one of hate and intolerance. They hear and understand, they just don’t want what’s being offered.

Lastly, Jakes makes a comment about the Bible toward the end that may well be the most concerning portion of the remarks. He says, “But I must warn you, God does not judge you by the Constitution. He judges you by the Word of God. So while the Supreme Court is looking at the Constitution, you better search the Scripture.” He continued to say, “This blessed old book is still good, it’s still right anyhow.”

This remark is a veiled threat. Given the context of the sermon, people who don’t agree or live by Jakes’ biblical understanding of sexuality are in danger of being judged by God. To suggest that judgement is the appropriate response to Jakes’s perspective of sexuality—a perspective that is highly debatable at best—is cruel, regardless of how well-meaning it sounds. Scripturally, Jesus does discuss the threat of judgment, but it is frequently to those who abuse children or people he loves (Matthew 18:1-6), hypocrites (Mark 7: 1-13), and people who ignore the most vulnerable in society (Matthew 25:31-46). Saying “God said it” doesn’t absolve anyone from the responsibility of the stances they take. God isn’t making the declaration; you are. Damnation and hell are some of the most violently used concepts in Christian thought, and they are often used by people in power to threaten others toward their point of view. Rarely is biblical wrath directed at the modern day equivalents of the ones who receive the threats in scripture. This needs to change.

Jakes relies on the idea of the church being separate from the world to justify placing LGBT people and their issues on the back-burner. It’s not something to “lose his mind” about, which is a nice-nasty way of saying that LGBT issues aren’t worth Christian effort to fight for. This is where he, and many others, make a critical error. Separating the church from the world will not remove LGBT people from the church house. We are everywhere, including in the pews of his church when he was giving this message. We are ministers, deacons, trustees, and ushers. We participate in the life of the church in such an ingrained way, that our removal would be immediately noticed. There are affirming churches and clergy who praised God when the Supreme Court made marriage equality the law of the land. Are they not Christian? There is no clean place to cut down the middle. A break away from the LGBT community wouldn’t sanctify the church, it would splinter the church into even more pieces than it is right now.

Bishop Jakes does what many do, function under a cloak of civility to push anti-LGBT message. He’s savvy enough not to use buzzwords that will not attract the same level of scrutiny and critique that others do when they engage in anti-LGBT speech. It’s time to begin noticing this, and holding our leaders more accountable for the ideas they present, as well as the consequences they produce for others.

Advertisements

On Theology, Action, and Whether or Not You’re A Bigot

The fact of the matter is this: theology leads to action.

Lessons and ideas are presented in church as gospel truth, with the expectation that the hearers work them out in their own personal lives. This can lead to disastrous effects in the lives of those who adhere to the beliefs, as well as to those who aren’t a part of churches at all.  Try as we might, we don’t live in neat, separate bubbles. Our political and theological choices affect people in real life. We are far more connected then we’d like to admit, bonded by the realities of location and legal mandates.

There is no safe discrimination, no harmless separation of theology and societal impact. You’d think that Brown v. Board of Education demonstrated that, but many have failed to acknowledge the religious force behind racism and segregation. This religious force is also present in other political issues of the day. To throw a theological bomb that explodes people’s lives while hiding behind religious freedom is ignorance at best and cowardice at worst. Theological differences aren’t merely a difference of thought. They bring great consequences and harm to those that fall on the wrong side of them. This damage isn’t delayed until an anticipated afterlife where the “incorrect” people are punished, but in the every day lives of people that just want basic human dignity.

It’s astoundingly disingenuous to teach that perspectives and orientations of life are dangerous and then expect people not to make political decisions based on those ideas. Church and State are separated in theory. In practice, they often have too much to do with one another. And to be fair, perhaps it’s silly to believe that religious viewpoints and political affairs could exist in separate spaces. We bring our whole selves to whatever venue we enter, including our beliefs. Still, it’s simply unfair to legally force people into restrictive situations based on a faith that is not shared by all.

Unfortunately, restriction is the aim and goal for far too many. For example, in 2012 Maryland took up a public vote to affirm same-sex marriage. While many churches mobilized with the intent to have the bill turned down, the referendum passed with popular support. DOMA still existed at this point, but even with that limiting federal law there were legal benefits that some Christians, people who claim to love, actively worked to deny others who may or may not share their faith. To many Christians, defending a theological stance at the expense of people’s request for equal treatment in the eyes of the law is fine. Never mind the fact that there are still a multitude of legal implications for people who don’t fit traditional norms in any way, shape or form.

Or what about the idea that a woman’s respect is connected to how much clothing she has on, and how few sexual partners she has? An idea of purity that is paraded as a personal, religious viewpoint plays a huge factor in laws concerning rape and reproductive rights (and no, that doesn’t just mean abortion). Countless stories of sexual abuse take place due to the idea that somehow a woman presented herself in such a way as to invite violence into her life. Yet, the idea of modesty is upheld as a magnet for righteousness and a repellent for violence. (I’m sure the sufferers of violence where the law requires woman to be fully covered would disagree with that idea.)  Of course, no one is blatantly saying that rape or other types of sexual assault are okay. But the line connecting uncritical teachings about women and real world consequences for their well being is much thicker than many would like to admit.

What about the predominantly white evangelical political machine, that works and advocates for policies and ideas that will hurt the least of these that Jesus championed? Who think issues of race no longer exists?

What about the women who have had sex, either by force or by choice, who must deal with the ingrained teaching that they are “damaged goods?”

What about the men and women, boys and girls, who have killed themselves because their sexuality didn’t match their church’s doctrine?

What about the single mothers and single fathers?

There is no such thing as nice bigotry. Being polite may alter rhetoric, but it doesn’t alter the effects that people deal with as a result of religious teaching. If you, as a result of your belief, actively work towards or consent to the marginalization and discrimination of others, you’re a behaving like a bigot.  If you are okay with someone whose life is lived harmlessly different from your own being less protected by law, you cannot claim religious exemption. Be honest about the implications of our beliefs. There are those who have to deal with the repercussions.

If anything, Jesus should be the defining factor. Jesus did not excuse sin, but he also spoke out against societal and governmental influences that conspired to harm others. Whether or not you agree with someone’s choices, find the compassion in Christ (or wherever you may look) to not create oppressive situations for others.