Howard Bess on the Success of Gay Rights

Rev. Howard Bess, the Palmer preacher who said his book on gay Christians was targeted for censorship by then-mayor Sarah Palin, wrote an editorial in the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman on the success of gay rights.
About 35 years ago when I first began facing the fact of the presence of gays in our churches, I became a very lonely advocate for their full acceptance and participation. The accepted opinion was that homosexuals were sick or woefully sinful or both. The majority of Americans have moved a long way from that damning evaluation. American opinion is moving us in the direction of full equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people.
Bess describes three reasons why public opinion on gay equality has shifted so far in the 40 years since the Stonewall riots:

"First, gay people slowly but surely have come out of their closets. Gay people have always been around us, in our families, in our communities, in our churches and in our institutions. Our gay family members and friends were invisible to us. The most highly developed skill of a gay person was to remain undetected. No one can point to a single event and say, "It started here," but there are milestones in the opening of the closet door.

"This year is the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall incident. New York City police raided a gay bar called the Stonewall Inn. A riot broke out. That single incident, more than any other, is the rallying point for gay activism. The celebration of the Stonewall riot is the base for all gay pride celebrations and parades.

"The next milestone, especially for gay Christians, was the publishing of a book in 1972 titled, "The Lord Is My Shepherd, and He Knows I am Gay." It was written by a Pentecostal minister named Troy Perry. Because of Perry's efforts there is now a sizable denomination called Metropolitan Community Church that offers a safe church home to gay people who have been turned aside by their churches. Reading Perry's book was pivotal in shaping my own understanding of the homosexual phenomenon.

"The importance of Phil Donahue cannot be overstated. More than any other person he took the discussion of homosexuality into the public arena. He was a pioneer in the world of television talk shows. He took the discussion of the gay presence among us out of the closet. He took what had been a private concern into the public square.

"At first gay people came out of their closets in a trickle. The trickle became a stream and today is a flood. Twenty years ago the typical gay person came out of the closet in college. Now kids in junior high are joining the ranks of the openly gay population. The closet is nearing extinction.

"The second factor in establishing gay rights has been the battle over the Bible. Forty years ago, Churches of every stripe rejected gay people and especially sexual activities among gay people. The commonly held perspective was that the Bible rejected homosexuals and homosexual activities of all kinds. Then Biblical scholars began their homework. A few scholars starting in the mid-1980s looked more intently at the nine Bible passages that were commonly identified as rejecting homosexual activity. In the 1990s a flood of scholarly books hit the bookstores. I have them all in my personal library. The verdict: Not a single passage in the entire Bible speaks about a loving, committed, intimate relationship between two people of the same sex. The Bible neither endorses nor condemns same-sex relationships. The Bible cannot be used to reject gay people.

"Primarily because of the influence of scholarship, opposition to full acceptance of gay people in mainline Christian churches is melting away. I suspect that 50 years from now, Christians will be as embarrassed about the rejection of gay people as they are now about the denial of equality for women and their support of the horror of black slavery.

"The third influence may be the most important. As gay people moved out of their closets and into a more public presence, they have proven themselves to be good public citizens. Our communities are blessed by teachers, lawyers, business owners, legislators, carpenters, doctors and ministers who just happen to be gay. When we get to know our gay neighbors, denying them their full rights, including the right to marry legally becomes all the more absurd.

"Full acceptance of gay people in our churches and in our American society needs to be affirmed and celebrated. We need to put this dark night of ignorance and discrimination behind us. The 40th anniversary observances of the Stonewall riot are a good time for thoughtful people of good will to walk hand-in-hand with our gay neighbors."


Mel said...

A good guy, Rev. Bess. A friend told me yesterday that he was delivering a guest sermon at Immanuel Presbyterian Church today (my brother's family's church), & planned to go see it. If anyone heard him, I hope they'll let us know how it went.

Kellie said...

"I suspect that 50 years from now, Christians will be as embarrassed about the rejection of gay people as they are now about the denial of equality for women and their support of the horror of black slavery."

I love this man. I have been writing about the same thing on the rights that we need to give people who have been incarcerated, once they have served their time.

Thank you for posting this, Bent!

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