Monday, September 24, 2012

Joel Osteen Says Being Straight Is 'Not A Choice,' But Maintains Being Gay Is A Sin

From the Huffington Post:

Conservative televangelist Joel Osteen went on national television this morning and admitted that his own sexual orientation is not a choice -- despite maintaining consistently in previous interviews that being gay is a sin, albeit one that "God gives us the grace to change." 

The bestselling author and Texas megachurch leader went on CNN's "Starting Point with Soledad O'Brien" as part of a segment featuring both Osteen and New Yorker writer and former Bill Clinton adviser Richard Socarides. 

Osteen has repeatedly tried to tip toe around his stance on homosexuality, telling Piers Morgan in October of 2011 that he's not "mad at anybody" and doesn't "dislike anybody," while reiterating his belief that the scripture says homosexuality is a sin," and "two hundred years from now, the Scripture is still going to say that."

More here.

I still don't get it. 

I used to think I got it, but that was a long time ago, while I was, and for the first few years after I quit being, a Southern Baptist.  That is, having grown up in a fundamentalist Christian home, I felt like I had a handle on why fundamentalists hold up homosexuality as a sort of special sin that needs lots and lots of admonishment relative to other sins.  I mean, it kind of made sense.  Several verses in the Bible seem to clearly establish that gay sex is a sin: embracing a personal identity that has, at its foundation, an activity that the Bible calls a sin seems worth some extra rhetoric.

But the further in time I got away from the identity I once embraced, fundamentalist Christian, the more blurry the whole argument became.

Why this particular sin, instead of, say, piling on extra rhetoric for violating what Jesus described as "liken unto" the greatest commandment, loving your neighbor as yourself?  There are way, way, way more people who clearly do not love their neighbors as themselves, and they wear it like a badge on their sleeves.  If loving your neighbor as yourself really is tantamount to loving "the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind," then shouldn't fundamentalists be making much more effort here instead of pounding the pulpit on the relatively obscure Biblical passages about homosexuality?

For that matter, why didn't Jesus Himself say anything about homosexuality?  This is actually a pretty key point: Jesus lived in what historians call Hellenistic civilization, the geographic areas conquered by Alexander the Great.  Consequently, Greek culture deeply influenced thinking and behavior throughout the Mediterranean basin, and this continued, even after Roman conquests, well into and after the time of Christ.  Indeed, the cultural influence of Greek civilization was so pervasive in the Holy Land, that there was something of a cultural crisis when prominent Jewish men were having cosmetic surgery in order to look as though they had not been circumcised so as to participate in Greek-style athletic events, which were always done in the nude.  Needless to say, homosexuality was prominent in Greek culture, and, therefore, prominent in Palestine during the time of Christ.  But Jesus didn't say one word about it, not a single word, almost as though he accepted it as a sort of fact of life.

Jesus did, however, say lots of other stuff, again and again, in fact, that just doesn't seem to bear the same sort of weight with modern fundamentalists as the sin of homosexuality.  Jesus essentially said that if you're rich it is almost impossible to go to Heaven, but for fundamentalists, that's nothing compared to being gay.  Jesus told the adulteress, who he had just saved from the local volunteer execution squad, simply to go and sin no more.  He didn't go on and on about it.  Indeed, he rescued her by observing to the mob that only "he who is without sin" is qualified to make such an ultimate judgment.  But fundamentalists ignore all this stuff from the Gospels and rhetorically go for the jugular on teh gay.

So like I said, I just don't get it.  The more I've broken this down over the years, the more I've analyzed it, the less sense it makes.  Okay, fine, it's a sin, if that's what you think, but it just makes no sense the way it's been elevated to THE SIN.

But here's what I do understand.  Gay people make some straight people nervous.  Indeed, there's a word for that, "homophobia," which, in common usage, is interchangeable with "bigot," but I'm talking about its dictionary definition, a fear of homosexuals and homosexuality, manifest as anxiety or nervousness.  You don't find much homophobia among straight people who know gay people, who work with them, who live with them, who have gay family members, but you do find it among straight people who don't know any gay people simply because their experience hasn't yet shown them that there's really nothing to be afraid of.

Without better explanation of the theology behind making gayness THE SIN, the only conclusion I can make is that fundamentalists are nervous about gay people, or, at least, some fundamentalists are nervous about gay people, and they turn to the Bible to justify their fears.  And, in the religious context, when one is quoting Scripture, for whatever reason, it's not terribly easy to dissent.  So the anti-gay thing has taken on a life of its own.

And that's why prominent fundamentalist Christians like Osteen continue to paint themselves into an absurdist corner when talking about teh gay in a secular context.  I think.  I mean, I could be wrong.  Like I said, I still don't really get it.