The Bible, bigotry, and same sex attraction

At a conference for High School journalists, Dan Savage gave a talk that was supposed to be about anti-bullying. Instead it was anti-Christian. As he began to talk about the “bullish*t” of what can be found in the Bible, many Christian students stood up and walked out on him—a move he later called “pansy-assed.” Here’s the video. It’s about three minutes, but be forewarned there is some swearing going on in it (not suitable if kids are nearby.)

The video has gone viral since being posted three days ago, the vast majority of people giving it a “like.” The comments below the video are horrifically anti-gay and only go to further the disgusting stereotype that Savage is bashing in his speech.

My first reaction to this video was shock. I couldn’t believe that someone could speak like that in such a public forum. If a speaker in a similar forum talked about how Jesus died for all of our sins he or she would have been rushed off the stage. But I quickly got over that. St. Peter wrote, “Don’t be surprised that a trial is occurring among you, as if something strange were happening to you.” (1 Peter 4:12) Christians should expect to be persecuted.

My next reaction was sympathy. There was a part of me that felt bad for him. Here is a man who has been abused by people claiming to be Christian. He references being insulted and being physically beat up while others have died over this. And for him the source of blame is the Bible.

He suggests that we should overlook the prohibitions in the Bible regarding same sex activity just as we overlook things like stoning women who are adulterers. I teach a course on Scripture at Franciscan and I’ll be honest: it’s hard to read things like that in Scripture. Interestingly enough, the reason we find it hard to read is because we’ve been transformed by Christ who we also learn about in the Bible. For there are many cultures (who don’t read the Bible) who would still agree with those kind of behaviors.

If the law of God seems barbaric in the Old Testament, we have to remember that it was because 3,500 years ago humanity was barbaric, at least by our Western civilization standards of the 21st century. When you hear of the genocides that still occur today you can argue that not much has changed in some places in the world.

God slowly revealed Himself to the Israelites so that through them the world might learn what it truly means to live and love through the example and teaching of Jesus Christ. We don’t stone women anymore for adultery—”Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” is one of the most famous lines of Jesus (John 8). In fact, we don’t believe in capital punishment at all (unless keeping the prisoner alive is a danger to society—an argument that makes more sense when prisoners were kept in tents and clay houses than billion dollar penitentiaries.)

Savage mentions that, “the Bible is a radically pro-slavery document.” I believe this accusation to be purposefully ignorant. Yes, St. Paul wrote of the respect and duty that slaves should have for their masters and masters for their slaves. But while the term “slave” is used in broad terms in both the Old and New Testament, it is NEVER used in the way it was experienced in America (capturing people from their native land, selling them off for profit, denying rights, justifying abuse, etc.) The Jewish people experienced that kind of slavery at the hand of the Egyptians and a strong part of their Law was to not do that to anyone else.

In the Jewish custom, a slave was more like an indentured servant who could only sell themselves, not be sold by someone else. And after six years they’d have to be released unless they begged their master to be a servant for life (Exodus 21:5) and even then only the judges could decide if that could happen.

But I understand Savage’s deeper point. In the time of slavery in America, some slave owners used the Bible to justify their actions. They were wrong to do so. In our current time, there are many America who bully and discriminate against people with same sex attractions and use the Bible to justify their actions. Guess what? They are wrong to do so, too.

Christianity has much to atone for in the way we have treated people with homosexual attractions. If only we were as shocked at the way the media portrays sinful heterosexual activity! It’s too easy to be shocked and disgusted at the sins we aren’t tempted to commit because we have no sympathy for the offender (whereas we are naturally kinder to people who struggle with our same issues.) Jesus didn’t say, “Love one another… except for the gays.” We are all commanded by Christ to love as He loved us and to treat each other with the dignity that comes from being made in the image and likeness of God. It seems clear to me that Dan Savage has never experienced that love from people who claim to know Christ but instead has experienced the opposite. And that’s why I feel such sorrow when I hear him speak.

However, just because people get the Bible wrong doesn’t mean the Bible is wrong. Savage (and others) think the Bible and Christianity is the problem. If that were true then cultures not formed on the Bible should be tolerant and accepting of homosexual behavior… but that is not always the case. In a 2007 Pew Survey that asked if homosexuality should be accepted in society, Latin America, Western Europe, and Central Europe found about half agreeing with that idea. But Southern and Eastern Europe, the Middle East, huge portions of Asia and all of Africa strongly disagreed. It’s hard to suggest that the Bible has influenced predijuce in China and India. (See the study here, page 35.)

And though I feel some sympathy for the man that doesn’t mean I sympathize at all with his position. He’s wrong and I think it was horrible that he used that opportunity with high school teenagers to bash the Bible. He would have been way more effective sharing with those teenagers the pain of being judged and condemned by by people with religious beliefs than attacking Christianity. He was “fighting back” to a group of kids who hadn’t done him any harm. It was immature and inappropriate.

I was proud of the students who walked out on him. It wasn’t “pansy-assed.” It was just the opposite. In Savage’s attempt to teach teens about not discriminating against homosexuals, he became the bully.

The world won’t see it that way. His anti-Christian rhetoric will be justified by “righteous anger” that blames all people of faith for any unjust act done against a person with same sex attraction. More and more in society today, people think to be Christian is to be a bigot. They think that we who believe that sex was made for a man and woman in marriage should hang our head in shame and stay home on voting day to atone for our sins.

Sadly, many Christians are doing just that. These issues are driving many away from the Church. It reminds me of something the artist formerly known as Ratzinger wrote in 1970 (from his book Faith and the Future, this quote taken from here) :

“The church will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning.

She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes . . . she will lose many of her social privileges. . . As a small society, [the Church] will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members…

The real crisis has scarcely begun. We will have to count on terrific upheavals. But I am equally certain about what will remain at the end: not the Church of the political cult, which is dead already, but the Church of faith. She may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that she was until recently; but she will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as man’s home, where he will find life and hope beyond death.” 

Smaller but stronger. A Church who’s strength is built not on the amount of her followers but the depth of her love for God and neighbor.

So how should we treat those who speak against us? With love. How should we behave towards those with same sex attractions? Love. What should we do to those who support and provide abortions? Love. How should we treat our enemies? Love.

But—and forgive me for using a phrase that Savage employed—not a “pansy-ass” love that says that everything is fine no matter what you do. A love that is rooted in truth. A love that is rooted in mercy. A love that is rooted in Jesus Christ.

Our love of God and neighbor means we can’t silent on these issues, no matter what persecution we will face, no matter what people may think of us when we do. And when we speak we must do so “with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that be the will of God, than from doing evil.” (1 Peter 3:16-17)

Don’t expect to be understood. Don’t be surprised at the trial. And don’t lose hope for this culture. “Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:8)

The Word of God

The Bible tries to help a teenager with his life… but he’s not listening.

Get in the Game!

Two people are wearing the same football jersey. One of them worked his entire life to make it on the team; the other person bought it at a store. Which person values their jersey more? This video is meant to be the introduction to a discussion on what it means to fully and actively participate in the liturgy.

Hey, Hey, We’re the Zombies…

The zombies are coming.

I get to write a scripts for Outside Da Box. They asked if I could write something for teens about “the healing power of the Eucharist.”

My first shot at the script had a teen go through the day under constant attack: mom says he’s grounded for the weekend and then throws a grenade at him, girlfriend dumps him and then sword fights with him, etc. The idea is that he would be “beaten up” by his daily activity but then comes into the chapel and is healed and refreshed by the Eucharist.

But the script was deemed too violent. So I wrote a zombie one instead.

Oddly enough, that worked.

The short film will be out in the next few weeks, but there is already a fun buzz about it on Facebook. And if you’re just dying (or, more appropriately, undying) to know what happens, you can highlight the invisible text below to get a special SPOILER for the film:

Jesus wins. 

Great twist ending, isn’t it? I think it will surprise everyone who sees it.

I’ll let you know when it comes out and post a link to it on this blog. I’m eager for you all to see it but even more eager to hear what you think. Until then, I will attempt to satiate your love for all things zombies with my favorite song about zombies (“re:Brains” from Jonathan Coulton) preformed by a guy dressed as a zombie translating the lyrics into American Sign Language. Because that’s what the internet is for. 

Kids and Fame Don’t Mix

Having children that range from 4 to 13, there are times I watch the Disney Channel. I love the cartoons (Phineas and Ferb!) but not a fan of their sitcoms. Aside from the bad writing, lame jokes, lack of good parental role models, and the laugh track (which I only appreciate because it lets me know when they were trying to be funny,) the thing that bugs me the most about these shows is that I wonder what will happen to these “child stars” when they get older.

The track record is not good. Let’s turn the wayback machine to 1981 when an adorable Drew Barrymore (6 years old) helped her brother with the E.T. in his closet. She was smoking cigarettes by the age of 9, drinking by the age of 11, smoking pot by 12 and snorting cocaine by 13.

Miley Cyrus got a lot of publicity after she turned 18 and became overtly sexual with her outfits and lyrics.

Do I need to go into details about Britney Spears and Linsdey Lohan?

Most recently, Demi Lovato (Disney star of Rock Camp and “Sonny with a Chance”) has come out of rehab for drug addiction and shared with the press that she still struggles with self-injuring. She’s 19.

And it’s not just the girls who are at risk. Macaulay Culkin, star of the classic Home Alone movies, was just ten when those started. He’s been mostly silent about his personal life during his teenage years, though he was arrested for drug possession when he was 24. Haley Joel Osment (when he was 18) flipped his car because he was driving under the influence and also possessed drugs. Daniel Radcliffe reciently confessed that as a teen he regularly came to the Harry Potter set drunk.

Kids and fame don’t mix. We all know that TV and movie sets are not a healthy place for them,  but we have more “child entertainers” now than ever before.

Is anybody doing anything to stop this?

Is there anything we can do to stop this?

It is easy to shake our heads when former child stars end up on the cover of People magazine because of one scandal or another, but aren’t we also at fault? It’s not as though this surprises us anymore. Here’s the obvious truth: The more famous a child becomes, the more likely they will get involved in dangerous and unhealthy behaviors that could even lead to their deaths (like River Phoenix.)

Sadly, I don’t have a conclusion to this blog. It’s more of a lament. I see children in danger and an economy and society that encourages their destruction.

If you think about it, it’s not unlike the Hunger Games. So perhaps Peeta offers us the best advice: “If no one watches, then they don’t have a game.”

What about you? Any thoughts?

Proud to be an American Catholic

Ten years ago, in the midst of a well publicized sexual scandal, it was tough to show your pride in the American Catholic Church. Story after story flooded the news of abominable actions done by priests while some bishops and cardinals seemed to purposely look the other way, allowing further abuse to incur. I remember listening to a heart-breaking homily by a pastor who wept as he shared how he instinctively took his collar off when someone came from behind him and asked if he was a priest. It was a difficult time.

We who were faithful knew that the Church was more than the media portrayed and that those who did such things didn’t live up to the teachings of Christ or the Church… but such beliefs paled to the stories of those victims whose lives were ruined by the abuse they received. One wondered if the Church would ever have a voice in America again.

After a decade of repentance, penance, and changes in both personal and policy, the American Church is once again earning the right to be heard. With new faces in the episcopate such as Cardinal Dolan of New York, the United States Council of Catholic Bishops is once again picking up the shepherd’s staff to proclaim the truth and protect the faithful.

Reciently, the USCCB published a document titled, “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty” about religious freedom in the United States. It’s a powerful statement and I’d encourage everyone to take a look at it. It speaks against the HHS mandate in the strongest language possible. As Vincent Phillip Muñoz from the Weekly Standard wrote:

“The bishops call on Catholics in America, ‘in solidarity with our fellow citizens,’ not to obey the law. They implicitly compare the HHS regulation to a segregation-era statute, and even cite Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail.’ In a not-so-subtle manner, the bishops tell the Obama administration that they are willing to go to prison rather than comply with the mandate’s provisions.”

But the document is not just about the HHS Mandate. It shows that this is just the latest in a pattern of attacks on religious liberty in America, citing issues from immigration, adoption services (for Christian agencies who won’t place a child with a homosexual couple,) and discrimination against small church congregations and students on college campuses.

The examples aren’t just about Catholics because the Bishops want to speak to a larger issue than just theological distinctives within the Church. They write, “This is not a Catholic issue. This is not a Jewish issue. This is not an Orthodox, Mormon, or Muslim issue. It is an American issue.” And then the document highlights how religious freedom is at the heart of our constitution and our history.

Simply put, this document is a line in the sand. The USCCB has said “enough!” and is calling all people of faith to stand with them and fight these unjust laws. It is clear they’ll do whatever it takes to make it happen.

How can we join them?

1) Pray. They specifically suggest that the fourteen days from June 21st to July 4th be a time of intense prayer for all people of faith.

2) Talk about it. Many Catholics don’t like mixing Church and politics, thinking it goes against our country’s “separation of church and state.” But ironically, this is exactly what we want! We don’t want the state telling the Church what to do, what to believe, who to employ, or how to live out her mission. Post things on your Facebook wall, write blogs (I’ll keep writing about this!), tweet… use all the advantages of social media to let others know the truth of what is going on.

3) Write your senator and congressman/woman. Yes, it sounds cliche, but it needs to happen—especially as we come to an election year. Let those who represent you know how strongly you feel. Send emails, attend rallies, write letters, and vote in a way that will protect religious liberty in America.

I’m proud of our American bishops for taking such a stand. Let us pray they will stay strong in the face of adversity and that God would use this to unite people of faith everywhere so that we may truly be “one nation under God.”

Maria doing an Irish jig

Just recorded this adorable video of my four year old daughter, Maria, doing an Irish jig. If you’re wondering, that is me playing the accordion in the background. To make it more interesting, I filmed it in the style of a Michael Bay film. I hope you enjoy.

At the intersection between Catholicism and Culture

First of all, thanks to all of you who reached out to me over the past month saying you missed the blog. I missed it, too! But I needed a break both to clear my head and re-work the entire site.

Do you like it? My gratitude to WordPress.com for making such a user-friendly blog/web-page. My previous webpage was hosted by Mac and created on iWeb. But Mac is shutting down it’s web hosting and it’s clear they’re not committed to the iWeb program (no updates in two years, no promise of a new version.) So I was forced to go elsewhere…

Glad I did. The ease of this page means it’s easier for me to blog without worrying about a lot of technical hassle. Previously, I found it difficult to publish blogs on the road. Now I can do it through my iPad!

But aside from the tech stuff, I’m most excited about the new direction of this blog. My previous blog was titled, “For the Love of God.” I focused my writing on things that would draw the reader deeper into God’s love. But this blog is about the intersection between Catholicism and culture. Of course, I’ll keep writing about God’s love. But I also want to show where God’s love can be found in the midst of popular culture.

One of my favorite lines from Vatican II came from a document called Ad Gentes. It was about the missionary activity of the Church. And it said that a missionary must live within the culture so they may “lay bare the seeds of the Word of God that lie hidden among their fellows.” (Ad Gentes 11)

Isn’t that cool? It’s easy to critique culture and assume the world is going to hell. But the real challenge is to find God within culture and lift that up for all to see. God is not somewhere else—God is HERE!

So that’s my hope for this blog, to reveal God in our midst. Of course, I’ll keep posting stupid stuff as well 🙂

My other big hope for this blog is that it would be a conversation. iWeb didn’t handle comments well, but WordPress thrives on it. I’d love to hear what you think about what I’m writing, and jump in frequently. I’ll try to leave some posts open ended so you can have your say as well.

So here’s what I’d like you to do. Post a comment right now. I guess I have to approve all first comments, but then it’s automatic. So say “hello” or “welcome back” and let me clear you so future comments can go right up as you type them. Also, if you could click around and let me know if anything doesn’t work, I’d really appreciate it.

My plan is to blog at least twice a week, though I’m not going to stick to “Monday/Thursday” like I did with my last blog ’cause I found that a bit too restrictive.

Thanks for reading this blog. It’s great to be back, and I really look forward to the conversation!

UPDATE: If you want to post a comment, click the grey “cartoon balloon” at the end of the title of this blog.

Holy Water

A teenager goes into Church and absentmindedly blesses himself with holy water when he hears a voice that asks, “Why did you do that?” Then the teen is taken on a journey where he discovers how important holy water (and Baptism) really is.

Between the Savior and the Sea

a novel by Bob Rice

When Christ was on the cross… where was Simon Peter?

Between the Savior and the Sea tells the Gospel story through Simon Peter’s eyes. It not only brings to life the famous moments of the Gospels, it also goes where they are silent: What miracles occurred when Simon Peter and the other disciples were sent off two by two? How did he know that Jesus was the Christ? And what was he thinking when he denied him? Led to experience things beyond his wildest imagination, Simon Peter felt torn between being a fisherman and a “fisher of men,” caught between the Savior and the sea.

This book is available at Amazon.com (also available on Kindle and Nook.) Here are some kind things folks have said about it:

Carmelite Review: “Besides telling the Jesus story from the perspective of the Apostles, Bob Rice uses the Ignatian spiritual technique of filling out the Gospel scenes with lots of sensory content—the smell of the sea, the sound of a room full of sleeping disciples, etc., etc. Yes, besides being a good psychological writer, Bob Rice is a good descriptive writer… (the book) provides some food for thought, it uplifts the heart and mind, and it can lead us to prayer. And that’s a good thing.”

Catholic Nerd: “This book is an easy read and a page turner… it turns the Bible into a compelling story without being ‘preachy’ or feeling like you are being forced to learn.”

Creative Minority Report: “Rice’s book is a fictionalized history of Peter. It’s a weird genre that makes me nervous because it’s tough to get it right. But I gotta’ tell you I think ‘Between the Savior and the Sea’ is darn good. I found myself moved quite often. It’s faithful and insightful. It gave me much to consider.”

Curt Jester: “As a novel I found much of it to be a rich meditation and I really liked the interactions among the Apostles and the portrayal of the political environment of the time and the different groups. Some aspects of the Gospels such as the disciples going out to preach I haven’t thought too much about, but I enjoyed how this was shown.”

Dominic Bettinelli: “’Between the Savior and the Sea’ accomplishes what every work of Christian fiction should aspire to, namely that as I read it and when I was done I was brought closer to Christ, to His Church, and to His sacraments. At times, I was brought to the point of tears as I contemplated Christ’s love and His sacrifices.”

Thinking in Christ: “You could almost forget you are reading a 2000 year old story as you work your way through these pages… The stories come alive with emotion that you might have never imagined being there.”

Books and Pals: “Biblical scholars and different Christian denominations can’t agree on all the specifics. However, the big picture, I think Rice got. For believers or the curious who find reading the bible hard going, Between the Savior and the Sea is an excellent compromise. For those who have read The Bible, the new viewpoint and easier reading might be something you’d be interested in reading. For non-believers, decide for yourself.”