Last week, Jars of Clay performed at a music festival in Australia. As part of the programming of the event, the festival offered various breakout sessions and panel discussions on a host of topics that might be interesting to the festival attendees. I was invited to sit on a panel discussion about moral behavior and the church. The question we were presented was, “Does the western church’s focus on moral behavior undermine the church’s ability to love?”
On one side of me sat the head of a lobbying group that fought against the legalization of gay marriage in Australia. On the other side of me was a Christian street evangelist. I was immediately aware that I had not given much attention to the dialogue about gay rights. I knew it was a focal topic for many people in the church, and that it was a major issue in the growing partisanship of American politics, I just had not had the opportunity to think about it much.
During the panel discussion, the question was asked of the lobbyist, “Why not legalize gay marriage?” His response sparked my curiosity. He said that gay marriage was a slippery slope into other forms of marriage ie: polygamy, marriage to animals, etc. He also said that it was harmful to children to be forced into a situation without a father, or without a mother. He also spoke of the sanctity of the traditional marriage model and how it could be diminished.
It was a lively conversation, and in the end, I don’t think we reached much of an answer to the question of moral behavior and the church. I did walk away with quite a lot to think about. I had so many questions about gay marriage. With so many angles to consider and so many layers to unfold, it was overwhelming, and so I did what most people do, I got distracted and forgot about it.
Two days later, I was on an international flight traveling back to the U.S. I should have been sleeping, but the time reversal’s effect on my body kept me awake, and so I caught up on a few movies. The one that stirred my soul, more than Anchorman 2 or American Hustle was 12 Years a Slave.
The film had such incredible storytelling and superb acting that gave faces and souls to the men, women and children trapped in slavery. The thing that continued to swirl around my mind was a scene when one of the slave owners was quoting scripture to slaves. He was using the words to drive home a point about his supremacy over the slaves, and the wrath they would face if they were disobedient.
He was mis-using scripture to back up his acts of oppression toward another human. He was using scripture to back up his idea that slaves were less than human, and so should not be given the rights of humans.
I would not say that the issues of slavery, which are tied to color and race, clearly mirror the issues of gay rights. But for some reason, all the questions I had surrounding gay marriage came rushing back.
I sat on the plane and thought about the hard questions I would have to ask myself in order to find my way toward a healthy dialogue about gay rights. If gay men and women were being oppressed, not having an opinion in the matter seemed equal to the acceptance of systemic racism by way of silence. The common quote, “What is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing” came to mind.
Having grown up in the Christian church, I have observed and perpetrated many acts that originated out of fear. In my career as an artist, musician, and storyteller, I have attempted to illuminate fear-based behavior in the church.
I have attempted to provide questions that could lead to a more love based approach. This has meant taking a careful and often critical view of contemporary church behavior and culture. At times this has led me to unproductive and unfair assessments of the church culture. Other times, it has helped me navigate around unhealthy environments and practices that could have caused me to hurt people.
I wanted to figure out if I had a blind spot. Was I buying into a form of oppression?
Or does the legalization of gay marriage actually undermine traditional marriage and the biblical view of how we are called to live our lives?
So… yes, the implications and applications of answers to these hard questions are staggeringly important. And my engagement of the issue of just under 3 days left me very under equipped to answer my own questions.
So that was the background and motivation behind my latest Twitter conversation.
(A TANGENT + EXPLANATION)
Why Twitter? Like most people who use it, I have found that 140 characters is incredibly limiting. I have to constantly re-sculpt and re-fashion my words. I am constantly chopping and simplifying my statements… and for that very reason, it keeps me and others from just vomiting opinions into the middle of the conversation.
I have liked the limitations because some people, me included, like to write doctoral dissertations that cannot possibly be helpful in a live and organic dialogue about an issue. The format is quick, and it is inclusive. It is also the only space I know with such a vast collection of different people with different perspectives.
Now, the draw back to Twitter as a discussion format is that it is sometimes hard to find the nuance in a persons post. And in my case, I think I’m communicating one thing, but what comes out is entirely different…. In my haste to get the next idea out, I wrote things that were unnecessarily combative.
For example, In my latest conversation on Twitter, I knew that the immediate response to questions about the gay community would be about whether gay sex was wrong or right. I do think this is a part of the issue, but I wanted to talk about other areas, and having just been on a panel discussing the ways the church’s focus on moral behavior undermines its ability to love, I didn’t want to get stuck on the “moral right or wrong” part and stall any ability to talk about other aspects of the issue. So I wrote:
“It is perhaps less important to know what is “right and wrong” morally speaking, than to know how to act toward those we consider “wrong.”
“I don’t particularly care about Scriptures stance on what is “wrong.” I care more about how it says we should treat people.”
In the heat of discussion, I communicated poorly and thus unintentionally wrote that I did not care about what scripture said. Thus, the tsunami hit. It was picked up by bloggers and written into editorials before I could blink. And rightly so, people were shocked and offended by my statement dismissing the value of scripture. I got it. And possibly, I got what that combination of statements warranted for response. I should’ve chosen my words more wisely.
I care about what scripture says. It matters.
The second round of poorly chosen words surrounded the clarity of scripture. I was trying to communicate that although we often say, “Scripture is clear about this or that,” the very fact that so many people disagree or have alternate perspectives or interpretations of scripture, means that we have to move beyond simply quoting a scripture to prove our point. We have to dig into the scripture and help translate it and offer context. Simply quoting a scripture can stall out a good honest dialogue.
But what I wrote was:
“Never liked the phrase: “Scripture clearly says…(blank) about…”
Because most people read and interpret scripture wrong, I don’t think scripture “clearly” states much of anything regarding morality.”
Yeah…. That was definitely not my intended point. This was also met with a great amount of negative feedback.
So, that said, Twitter is a great place to share selfies and a horrible forum for discussions and a bad place to communicate under the fog of jetleg...which leads me to this:
In my questions and dialogue with people on Twitter, it became evident that the issue I had chosen to discuss was far too personal, nuanced, and deeply connected to faith and our human condition to honor the amount of wrestling that others have done on this topic. And though they were my questions and it was a dialogue provoked by me, it bled into the Jars of Clay world, and my other band mates felt people’s dismay, frustration and the projection of my views and ideas back on to them. It is not theirs to shoulder.
It was a poor choice of venue on my part. I chose some of my words poorly. And I was unable to moderate the conversation in such a way that it kept everyone’s views with a shared validity and civility as I had hoped. And so, I am not going to continue the conversation on that forum. I do apologize for causing such a negative stir.
In the coming days, I will begin posting some questions on my blog (www.danhaseltine.com, and even doing some interviews around this topic, as I believe there can be healthy dialogue and better understanding even if there is not shared agreement. I am dedicated to being a life long learner. With a full heart- Dan