Saturday, September 11, 2010

My Ideas Should Not Depend on Yours for Their Validity

Another nocturnal walk brings another epiphany: My ideas should not have to depend on your believing them as I do in order for them to have validity, and vice-versa. It seems so simple, something that I have heard countless times, but tonight it is clicking in a new way for me.

A friend of mine, Matt, helped me to realize this today when he wrote in his blog about why he does not, shall we say, see religion in the same way I do. Check him out at We agreed, however, that we can respectfully agree to disagree, and remain friends, indeed are even more respectful as a result.

We live in a time, of which we are reminded every 9/11, indeed every day, of extremely dysfunctional political, philosophical, and theological relationships. The red states (counties, cities) are getting redder, and the blue states are getting bluer, and I think that makes all of us both red and blue in our own way. The culture wars ratchet up, and only seem to be getting more intractable day by day and year by year. Congress deadlocks, court decisions are discounted as "activist," families are torn apart, and friendships seem impossible to form with those who don't believe exactly as we do.

It hasn't always been this way, and it doesn't have to be this way.


Here is the epiphany: 1. Ideas (religious, political, or otherwise) become dangerous when we have to force them on others to validate them for ourselves; 2. If my beliefs do not depend on your believing them in order to gain their validity, and vice-versa, we can respect each others' independence of thought.

Let's play with this a bit. Suppose you are a Bible-believing Christian who does not allow for homosexuality as a variation of human sexuality because the Bible disapproves of it in at least seven passages (more, according to our friends at the Westboro Baptist Church). The Bible clearly states that a man who lies with a man as with a woman commits to'evah, an abomination, and the blood of the both shall be upon them; they shall both be put to death.

Short of actually working to carry out that rather horrific scene, what is wrong with believing this? As it turns out, plenty, if this belief is, as it often is, forced on others. Because this belief has had countless political consequences as a result of being "forced on" those who do not believe in this way. Parents have disowned their children, or rejected them, students have beaten and sexually abused other students, school districts, the military, churches, and other institutions have imposed a strangling code silence, and states have prevented marriage, all in the name of upholding the beliefs of some.

What would it look like to be truly "neutral" with regard to these beliefs?

It would look neutral if, and only if, I say to you that I believe this, but I am not going to impose this belief on you through curtailing your civil rights, insulting your personhood, tearing apart your families, firing you from your jobs, and preventing you from voicing your views. Why? Because you let me do the same as I let you: speak the truth as you see it.

Many things in the Bible are to'evah, not least of which is what comes almost immediately before Leviticus 20:13, the verse quoted above about men lying with men as being an act punishable by death. The act of which I am thinking is quoted more often throughout the Bible than "a man shall not lie with a man as with a woman."

Here it is in Exodus (21:7): "Anyone who curses his father or mother shall be put to death." Again, in Leviticus (20:9), "If anyone curses his father or mother, he must be put to death. He has cursed his father or his mother, and his blood will be on his own head (NIV)." Again in Proverbs (20:20): "If a man curses his father or mother, his lamp will be snuffed out in pitch darkness."

Even Jesus finds this verse important enough to repeat verbatim in Matthew (15:4) and Mark (7:10): "For God [or Moses, in Mark] said, 'Honor your father and mother,' and 'Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.'" Jesus says this!! Nice, good Jesus.

How many children have cursed their fathers or mothers for any number of reasons? And how many of those children have we put to death, or driven to death by saying that we must hate their sin of cursing their father or mother, while loving them as sinners?

How many preachers are advocating that children, or adult children, be put to death for this cursing? How many "ministries" exist to "cure" children of cursing their fathers or mothers?

How many children are thrown out in the street for cursing their fathers or their mothers? And how many schools impose strict policies on their students and staff never to curse their fathers or their mothers?

I imagine the number is pretty low.

I wouldn't hate you for believing that your children should be put to death for cursing you. I'd think it an awfully strange thing to think, and I would oppose your imposing that thought on your children in a way that would damage them. I'd probably even say it's a good thing my Mom or Dad didn't toss me off a bridge at numerous points during my growing up. And I'm sure your Mom and/or Dad, or Mom & Mom, or Dad & Dad, would say the same thing about you.


Why, I ask, must we force our views on others? Must we insist that if you do not believe as I do, that we should have nothing to discuss further? Must we insist that everyone throughout the world should live as we do, and should believe the same beliefs in the same way? Because there are indeed a large variety of beliefs, which, as long as they do not end up building walls of shame, walls of isolation, and literal walls around others, as long as they do not lead us to fly into towers or start wars, as long as they do not lead us to codify laws and policies to restrict others from expressing their own beliefs, as long as they do not lead us to think ourselves better people or more worthy of living than others, as long as they can be spoken in a way that do not start riots throughout the world, why not speak them?

I respect you, and you respect me, when we can agree to disagree on some things.

Building conversations on this basis, rather than on the basis of forcing each other to believe as we do, can build relationships, tear down walls, and save lives.

I cannot believe that my ideas are so weak that they must depend on your assent to them for validity, or vice-versa. I believe what I believe, from my experience, from what faith has been given me, from what my own human mind has been able to reason out, and there you have it: a thoughtful conclusion.


I can see many ways in which people would disagree with me, or see this stance as being naive or untenable.

For one, people do, out of both fear and a will to dominate, impose their beliefs on others in countless ways. Whether it be through weakness of character or joy in domination, people seem invariably to fight to be right. I myself like being right and being agreed with when it comes to something that I find important. But, for example, because my friend Matt does not believe that this bread and this wine is the body and blood of Christ, that does not prevent me from believing that the elements are the real presence of Jesus Christ, the son of God, the savior.

For another, particularly from a religious point of view, those who do not believe as we do transgress, indeed break the law, that we ourselves must live by in order to have the kind of life that we feel we must live. But, for example, are heterosexual marriages so inherently weak that they cannot tolerate people living in same-sex marriages? Are same-sex relationships so inherently desirable that they will entice those who would otherwise be out making babies to stay home and make whoopee instead? Are your children so weak of mind and character that they will glom on to every view expressed to them, and try out every possibility floated in their direction?

It seems to me asinine, not to mention disproven by experience, that people will try everything and become anything to which they are exposed. If this were the case, we'd have a nation of rapists, drug addicts, and especially murderers, given the amount of this activity that is shown on television, let alone video games. I worry about how certain song lyrics and video games that extol violence against women give young people the impression that it is OK to rape. But I also fear the stance that mentioning a fun weekend at Valley Fair with your gay boyfriend will have any impact on a whole class of children's sexual development.

This is not merely a plea for tolerance, but for allowing others to live the lives that are given them, and trusting that, given plenty of lessons in respecting others, they will carry out that respect themselves.

"Leverage the Voice of Love"


Nocturnal walks have always been helpful to me. Walking out in the rain tonight, just now, a phrase came to me, I have no idea from where, but it is something that quivers with possibility: "Leverage the voice of love."

What does this mean? What is the "voice of love," and how is it to be leveraged?

The need for the voice of love today is greater than ever. On this 9th anniversary of 9/11, we seem to be threatened from so many corners: terrorism, extremism, racism, homophobia, sexism, overpopulation, environmental disaster, natural disaster, and the list goes on.

And I hear: "Leverage the voice of love."

What a concept! The voice of love, which seems to have been drowned out by voices of fear and hate, needs help. It needs each of us who hear it to say that we're hearing it, and that it must be brought out from its closet of fear, from underneath its bushel, and placed where it will shine as a beacon in the night to all who live in despair.

"Leverage the voice of love." Don't let it go out. Don't let it get so quiet that it is no longer heard. Don't assume that it will speak for itself. Don't assume that it is not your voice, or that someone else will say what is in your heart to say.

The cadence catches my ear--the assonance, the meter, the symmetry. "Leverage the voice of love."

This is a call to act--and the action is one which does not take so much work or thought. It does not take a genius to be loving, or a master of divinity to realize that it is within our souls to speak at such a time that needs to hear the voice of love, reason, and grace. It only takes one to speak up and say, "I love."


In particular today I am thinking about the need for this voice leveraged strongly in the Anoka/Hennepin school district area, where the suicides of 7 students, some of whom were gay or perceived to be gay or lesbian, have bereft dear people of their loved ones, much like several thousand were bereft on a 9/11 many years ago.

Tonight, I was fortunate, indeed blessed, to share the table of Tammy and Shawn Aaberg, and their sons who remain, as they and I were interviewed on the death of their son, Justin, to suicide, and to some extent the relation of his death to the Anoka/Hennepin policy of "neutrality" on matters of sexual orientation within the curriculum of the District. I brought the voice of a concerned outsider to their lives and the district, but they shared what was rending their hearts at the most personal loss anyone can experience--the loss of a child.

Their hospitality to me and the interviewer was as moving to me as their story. I, a stranger in their home, was treated as a welcomed guest. It is hospitality that was given to us freely and gracefully and lovingly as the hospitality that Jesus offers to his own.

I did not know Justin, but I would have walked through fire for him, to stop those who were tormenting him. Never underestimate the voice of love within you, and know that there are those out there who would walk through fire for you, whom you do not even know. Never forget that your voice might be the one to save a life.

The story of Justin's loss will soon be known more widely within the gay community through this interview, and in the Minneapolis/St. Paul community through a report that will be broadcast on WCCO news in the Minneapolis metropolitan area this coming Monday night (9/13/10) at 10pm. More will rise up who would walk through fire for Justin, for Tammy, Shawn, and their remaining dear sons, for every student of Anoka/Hennepin who still lives in fear and abuse and for whom despair is a daily diet, for each person who hears that God hates "their sin," which is indeed a message in the case of many that God hates them. You, dear reader, may be one to rise up.

"Leverage the voice of love."

The voice of love, that which has touched my heart through so many voices in my life, starting with my own parents and sister, through so many family, friends, teachers, mentors, ministers, and even through people I have hardly known, this is the voice that we must raise to the highest rafters of torture and pain, the voice that cuts despair, the voice that destroys terrorism by transcending it, because the power of love is stronger than the power of hate.


The voice of love too is the voice that God speaks when God says, "This is my son, the beloved, in whom I am well-pleased." This is the voice that God speaks to each of us, in our desolation and torment, the voice that God was quietly yet persistently speaking as Jesus, God's own son, was dying on the cross, lost, isolated, forgotten, and ashamed, in his own crucifixion.

"Leverage the voice of love."

This is the voice that my cinematic hero, Father Barry in "On the Waterfront," raised from the depths of a death ship in which one was killed for the cause of justice. Father Barry said of that death: "That is a crucifixion."

Anytime a policy takes precedence over peoples' lives, that is a crucifixion. Anytime people put their ideas over the lives of others, whether those ideas are religious or political, whether those voices are Christian, Muslim, Liberal, or Conservative, that is a crucifixion. Lives will always be more important than ideas or policies, which should only serve to protect lives and not help to end them, although sometimes lives must be lost to defend the ideas and principles of freedom that our country was founded on, that all were created equal, all.

By the account of his parents and those who knew him, Justin's was a voice of music, laughter, and love for his friends, his parents, his brothers, and many others. A voice any one of us would have been privileged to hear. A voice that none of us will hear again spoken alive in this life.

But as the voices of those who could have spoken for him in the place of his torment, in his school, were silenced, so was his. For the neutrality on sexual orientation with respect to curriculum that staff are required to follow extends far beyond what the staff may or may not say or do with respect to curriculum, and, I think, far beyond what the School Board may realize as its intended reach. The consequences of this policy impact the lives of its students.


I appreciate that the Anoka/Hennepin district has begun to take concrete measures to stop the violence against its LGBTQ students. It is to be commended on beginning to take these steps. My last blog entry elicited the response from the district that I was acting on misinformation, which could be true to some degree, but I am not mistaken about the effects of their policy, one which existed over a year ago when two teachers were called out on their torment of one of their students, based on their student's perceived (and not actual) sexual orientation.

The district paid out $25,000 a full year ago to this student because of their torment of him, but did not admit that there was a problem beyond this supposedly isolated case, and one of those teachers in fact sought compensation for being "outed" as a tormentor. My hope is that her outing did not subject her to the same treatment that she visited upon her own student.

By treating this harassment as an isolated incident and not the result of a systemic problem, caused in great part by the neutrality policy, the District enabled the harassment of others to continue, which it does to this day.

The real kicker with this policy is the sentence: "Staff are encouraged to take into consideration individual student needs and refer students to the appropriate social worker or licensed school counselor."

Although this sounds wise and professional, unfortunately conversations with social workers and counselors are subject to a higher degree of confidentiality, unless these conversations approach topics of harm to self or others, while conversations with teachers are at a lower degree of confidentiality. Teachers could inform parents of warning signs and bad experiences far ahead of the time that social workers and counselors could. This was the case with Justin, and may have been the case with many others.

As long as the policy of neutrality exists, no step the district might take will be able to topple the wall of abuse that meets many in the course of their daily lives. No action will be sufficient to allow people who are experiencing despair to reach out in trust to their teachers and speak the words that they must speak to stop the violence from happening to them.

For, let's be honest, what really is a policy that enjoins its staff to be neutral on matters of sexual orientation actually saying?

It is not telling staff or students that they cannot mention matters of heterosexual sexual orientation. Because if that were the case, they could not talk about anyone, gay or straight. Sexual orientation is a deep part of everyone, no matter the particularity of their sexual orientation.

Neutrality on "sexual orientation" is a polite euphemism for not saying anything about homosexuality.

Imagine if teachers could not mention their opposite-sex spouses, girlfriends, or boyfriends in class. Imagine if they could not display a picture or wear a ring on a prominent finger. Imagine if their sexual orientation were considered by parents as a disease that their kids could catch.

This is the real meaning of "neutrality"--silence on homosexuality. And, as was said in the 80s when thousands were dying from AIDS and the government was doing far less to stop it than Anoka/Hennepin is doing to combat bullying, silence = death.


"Leverage the voice of love." The phrase continues to sing in my mind's ear. Who are the voices of love in your life? What do they have to say at this time of crisis, which for many is a crisis of faith as well--faith in others, in God, and in a system that proclaims itself a protector of each of its students? How can we work together to bring these voices together, to leverage their love and the power they have to transcend hate?

We've all got work to do in getting these voices of love together, of focusing them at a problem that will not go away by mere dint of thought. At the very least, we can raise our voice, to let one other person know about what is going on in the Anoka/Hennepin school district, or in the district closer to you, to raise the voice of love that says "I do not hate you, my brother/sister," or to say "I will not burn your sacred book," or to say "I will walk through fire for you."

As another of my heroes of faith said, "Love must act as light must shine and fire must burn." Father James Otis Sargent Huntington's voice of love speaks clearly some 75 years after his death. And he is right: Love must act.

Leverage the voice of love--of your love, and of the love of all whom you know. Bring these voices together into one powerful tool of healing, that will not let terrorism, whether it be from without or within, have the final say.

For this is the time when the voices of love must come together and act.