Monday, March 30, 2009

Religious Violence

I know, long time no blog. You get out of the habit and it takes a while to get back in the habit. Anyway. Michael Adee of TAMFS wrote an article entitled:Re-Imagining Marriage, Gender & Confronting the Religious Violence of Defending Marriage. Viola Larson responded to it on her blog:Naming His Grace. This is my response. Michael Adee in his title and article uses the curious phrase: "religious violence." I suggest that Mr. Adee has used the word violence as a rhetorical device that diminishes the human emotional response to real violence.

The word violence, for most of us, has a high negative emotional content. Violence is bad, most of the time. There is self protection against the violence of others against us or others and most of us would say that self defense in the form of violence against violence is acceptable. But is there such a thing as religious violence at least outside of physical violence against others because of their beliefs?

I think the time has come for us to limit the use of the word violence. Michael Adee and others in the movement for gay rights have used the word violence to describe the actions of any who would seek to bar or block their political, (both in society and in the Church), goals. I think they overreach as do others who use the term.

I define violence as the attempt to do physical harm, or success at doing physical harm to another person or other persons. This is not to say that other things in life don't hurt. Many do and I will get to that. Rather I suggest that the use of the word violence in situations in which physical harm is neither achieved nor intended is a rhetorical device intended to heighten the emotional effect of one's argument or obscure the fact that one has less than stellar logic behind one's argument.

There are many other ways to cause harm than through physical violence. Psychological abuse is terribly harmful. Constantly telling someone that they are worthless may have broad, long term negative psychological effects. But it is not physical violence. When one loses one's job in the current economic recession, (depression? downturn?), that loss has severe negative economic and psychological effects. It also may have physical effects, like hunger and homelessness. But it is not, strictly, violence. Violence has to have the intention of physical harm or the effect of immediate physical harm.

Thus hitting someone with a fist is intentional violence. Hitting someone with your car may not be intentional but if you are at fault it is a violent act. If you are not at fault there may be physical harm to another but you have not caused the physical harm and therefore have not committed a violent act.

Michael Adee argues that the denial of marriage to gays and lesbians and the denial of ordination to self affirming, practicing homosexuals is spiritual violence. I suggest that he chose a different noun. Mr. Adee may want to argue that these denials are the result of prejudice and that they do economic and psychological harm to people. He might want to argue that the denial of ordination to those with gifts for ministry is an attempt to thwart the will of God. But when he uses the word violence he makes an emotional argument that is rhetorically strong but also a lie. The denial of ordination does not result in a physical wound. Neither does the denial of marriage.

This is not to say that there is no violence against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered persons in America. There is. These acts of violence must stop. They are the result of prejudice and the failure to see the image of God in the other. All are created in the image of God so no matter what one's sexual inclinations or lifestyle may be, (unless that one causes physical harm to others), that person should not be harmed physically. The attempt to cause physical harm to another is sin. I will go further and suggest that the use of epithets against another is also sin. But epithets are not violence.

Having said all of that I think Mr. Adee has a case when he argues that the denial of marriage to gays and lesbians causes economic and sociological disadvantages. But this is true for all who are not married. Contrary to the argument of some in the GLBT community not all single heterosexuals have the option of getting married. Certainly many do. Those who live together in a sexual relationship (if they are both adults and not closely related), without getting married certainly could get married. But there are many single heterosexuals who cannot get married for the simple reason that no one wants to marry them! I suggest that a study of gays and lesbians in exclusive relationships in comparison to heterosexual singles who do not have partners may show that there are more heterosexuals who cannot get married than gays and lesbians.

The core problem is the laws that provide benefits to those who are married. There are over one hundred benefits that accrue to those who are married that are not available to those who are not married. This must be carefully studied and end. A society should privilege the birth of children and the raising of children in a home where they are properly nurtured by their birth parents when at all possible. But many of the benefits should go to all.

A couple of examples: imagine with me a brother and sister who live together in the same house. The brother has physical, mental or emotional problems that prevent him from working. The sister goes out to work. The brother, because he is not married to his sister and is not her child cannot be carried on her insurance!

A man works his whole life and accrues Social Security and pension benefits. The wife does not work outside the home. If the man dies the wife continues to receive the pension benefits (although they might be lowered when the man dies), and Social Security benefits, although those paid to a single person are less than those paid to a married person. But if the wife remarries she loses the pension benefits and the Social Security benefits that her first husband earned. This is a clear prejudice against child rearing and caring for a household. Don't tell any stay at home mom that raising children is not work! My mother, who raised five children is likely to give you a lecture!

Thus the current system of benefits in America are skewed against those who are not married has to stop.

This discrimination against those who are not married causes great anger in the GLBT community, as it should. The proper response is to change the laws. But as GLBT's know the likelihood of these laws changing is about equal to changing the law of gravity. That is one of (but only one), of the drive behind the movement to allow marriage between two men or two women.

But let us use more precise language. Discrimination, while it certainly has economic and psychological effects, is not violence.

So Mr. Adee, please change your language. Argue against what you see as prejudice, against what we both see as discrimination, (although I will disagree with you about marriage), and please argue for the equality of benefits for all single persons.

But the rhetoric of violence when no violence has occurred has to stop.

Pastor Bob

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