When I'm hanging out with friends and/or acquaintances, as an icebreaker I sometimes like to ask people which celebrity is the object of their man or woman crush. I did this at a friend's birthday party a few weeks ago, and the question was mostly well-received and hilariously answered by the 10-ish people that were there. It's a good way to get to know a person, as well as a quick, easy way to determine just how comfortable a person is with their sexual orientation. Some people answer the question instantly, like they've been waiting their entire lives for someone to ask them, while others fumble through stuttered gibberish and flabbergasted expressions before finally, sheepishly spilling the beans. So I guess I shouldn't have been too surprised when the question got around to one guy and he offered this reply, with a look on his face like humor is the eighth deadly sin: "If I were gay, I'd be celibate."
Wow. Point taken. To each their own, I suppose, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't shaking my head and snickering on the inside (and maybe a little on the outside, too). I was also incredibly depressed by his curt, judgmental response, because it clearly illustrated to me how much farther we have to go before the Big Controversial Topic of homosexuality can be at least discussed comfortably by some Christians. And trust me, if the Christian church hopes to survive, we MUST engage in that conversation. The whole "Don't ask, don't tell" attitude isn't going to cut it in the long run. Our society's acceptance of homosexuality is increasing by leaps and bounds, and whether you think that's a good or a bad thing, it's not something that can be ignored any longer.
I personally think it's a great thing. I'm not typically one for denominational pride, but I don't think I was the only proud Lutheran whose heart swelled with joy upon hearing the news in August this year. That month, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America narrowly passed a resolution allowing for homosexual clergy to engage in extramarital monogamous relationships. If an ELCA church decides to adopt this resolution (which they still have the option not to), the homosexual pastor there is no longer bound by vows of celibacy. Of course, this does not grant the pastor permission to sleep around -- to which I say thank goodness -- but it allows them to engage in an intimate physical relationship with one special someone if they so chose to. Frankly, it's not the LGBT community's fault they can't get married in most states, and until the fundamentalist conservative lawmakers who routinely prevent it from happening either change their minds or pass away, this resolution will have to do.
Of course, not every Lutheran feels this way. I've heard about numerous pastors who are outraged by this resolution, some so much so that they're leaving the ELCA. Many other churchgoers are abandoning the denomination for more conservative worship alternatives. And to top it all off, this resolution comes on the coattails of the emerging Reconciling in Christ movement, which advocates for churches to openly, explicitly welcome members regardless of sexual orientation, and has caused considerable controversy at two churches I'm involved with. The ELCA seems to be losing members left and right -- all we wanted to do was be a little more open-minded.
But I have a distinct feeling our open-mindedness toward homosexuality will be rewarded over the next several decades. A friend of mine who also rejoiced over the ELCA's recent decision pointed out that other denominations that made similar decisions -- namely the Episcopal Church and the United Church of Christ -- have more or less recovered from their initial drop in numbers. But ultimately, numbers are not what it's about. In a world where idiots like Fred Phelps grab all the headlines for propagating God's supposed hatred of homosexuals (I don't dare use that other "f" word Phelps loves so much), the LGBT community needs to know they are welcome in the church. And though I can't say I know a single church that turns homosexuals away from their services, a warm welcome is nothing if it's not accompanied by loving affirmation. Every LGBT person is a child of God, too, and they ought to be reminded of that, if not told for the first time ever.
To put it another way, I think social acceptance of homosexuality is the Jesus Christ Superstar of its time. Debuted in 1971, Jesus Christ Superstar is a musical theater adaptation of the canonical Gospels, beginning with Judas' anxiety over the "buzz" surrounding Jesus and ending with the Messiah's crucifixion. Doing some research for this blog post, I became pleasantly reminded just how awesome this Andrew Lloyd Webber-penned production is. I nodded my head in 5/4 time and wished the female vocalists singing on "Everything's Alright" would whisk me away siren-style to some blissful abyss. I giggled impishly to hear people screaming during Jesus' righteous ruckus in "The Temple," completely disrupting the corrupt marketplace it had become. I felt chills consume my entire body at the end of "Judas' Death," when the traitor's ranting is abruptly overtaken by that eerie chant: "Poor old Judas/So long, Judas." I wept uncontrollably to hear Jesus' final words in "The Crucifixion," accompanied by terrifyingly atonal vocal harmonies and noises no God-made piano should ever make. In my always-humble opinion, Jesus Christ Superstar is one of history's greatest creative interpretations of that Superstar we all know and love.
But naturally, not everyone thought so. I wasn't there to witness it, but from what I understand Jesus Christ Superstar caused quite an uproar upon its release. I'm sure at least some of this was the responsibility of those reliable knee-jerk reactors toward anything remotely religious in pop culture, comparable to contemporary Christians who protest the Harry Potter series or The Da Vinci Code just because they exist. But some of what I know about the initial controversy sounds warranted -- though it's actually quite Biblically accurate (disregarding its use of modern slang, of course), Jesus Christ Superstar more or less portrays the Son of God as an outrageous political rebel first, the Messiah second. From a theological standpoint, this is a little upsetting since Jesus had no illusions of taking down the Jerusalem Temple or the Roman Empire during his lifetime on this Earth. And while the song "Superstar" is a great tune, lyrically the sudden return of Judas before Christ's crucifixion seems a bit odd, if not downright unnecessary: "Tell me what you think about your friends at the top/Who'd you think besides yourself's the pick of the crop?/Buddha, was he where it's at? Is he where you are?/Could Mohammed move a mountain or was that just PR?" Um, OK. Have we been mistranslating the Greek the whole time? Because I'm pretty sure none of that's in the Bible.
But that was then, and this is now. When I saw Jesus Christ Superstar back in late 2004 at the Gammage Auditorium, I went with some folks from my church. And we weren't there to picket it -- we were there to watch it and enjoy it for the wonderful piece of Biblically inspired theater it has always been. And today Jesus Christ Superstar (along with its more Scripturally accurate but musically inferior counterpart, Godspell) has become a staple of church community theaters all over the world. Still, I'm sure there are certain Christians out there who want to wring Andrew Lloyd Webber's neck for daring to unleash this musical on the Earth. From what I understand, Jesus Christ Superstar is still banned in South Africa. But with all things considered, so what if Webber took a few liberties with the Bible? In the end, the message is still basically the same.
And on that note, the church is still the church regardless of the minister's sexual orientation or relationship status. Yes, the Bible does say some not-so-nice things about homosexuality, and I'm the last person to advocate for any part of Scripture to be omitted, but for the literal love of You-Know-Who, read them within their context! For one thing, a lot of this same-sex condemnation was a reaction against ancient pagan rituals, at least one of which entailed an old man penetrating a young boy in public. Additionally, about the Sodom and Gomorrah story in Genesis -- how would you feel if a group of people knocked on your door late at night and threatened to anally rape you? Sounds pretty horrific regardless of the victim's sexual orientation; I don't blame God for getting pissed.
But above all, the books of the Bible were written in a time and place where growing the family tree was of the utmost importance. Gay or straight, if a couple couldn't produce a son, they were nothing. And in this day and age, I think condemning the childless is completely unfair; in addition to homosexuals, you might as well condemn bereaved parents, barren women, sterile men, the romantically challenged and -- gasp! -- people who simply don't want to have children. Even if you disagree with me and think homosexuality is the horrible sin the Bible says it is (which it may very well be), is there anyone in ministry who isn't a horrible sinner at least some of the time? Out of Awesome God's list of bad notes, we've seemingly isolated certain ones we've heard to be more dissonant than all the others. But these bad notes are all equally sour and, if one tries hard enough, equally forgivable. Regardless of their musical resumes, no one should be barred from listening to or performing "The Word" if they feel so inspired -- NO ONE.
This all being said, I know for a fact some people like the guy I mentioned earlier in this post will continue denying the inevitability of celebrity man or woman crushes. But Christians who maintain that staunch, vow-of-celibacy attitude toward homosexuals -- in clergy or otherwise -- will have a hard time being taken seriously as church for the next generation. It'll be a cryin' but justified shame if their uber-traditional renditions of "The Word" are forgotten, usurped by the common crowd's much-too-loud chorus of "Hosanna, hey sanna/Sanna sanna Hosanna/Hey sanna Hosanna." God bless the Christians who realize Jesus Christ Superstar wasn't a heresy, but a slightly updated version of "The Word" all along.