Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Seven Passages: Stories of Gay Christians

As the resident theatre buff in our troupe of troublemakers, I feel it is my duty to report the recent news on the intersection of church and stage.

Spectrum Theater in Grand Rapids, Michigan recently hosted the world premiere of a play entitled: Seven Passages: Stories of Gay Christians. Like most of the theatre we do in Grand Rapids, this is not the kind of Waiting for Guffman type of work that most people associate with community theatre. We take great pride in our theatre and we work hard at it.

The play was conceived and director by a theatre instructor from one of our local heathen-unfriendly colleges. Like The Laramie Project, The Vagina Monologues or the work of Anna Deveare-Smith, this play was created out of interviews conducted with real people—in this case, real gay Christians from West Michigan.

Reportedly over 100 interviews were conducted and from a script of seven million pages or so, the director and actors whittled it down to a much more workable hour and forty-five minute play.

[Note: In the interest of full disclosure, I want to point out that I know and like many of the people involved with the show. Friends and colleagues of mine helped write and perform in the show and other friends and colleagues of mine were characters in the show. Spectrum Theater is a place very close to my heart and Actors’ Theatre (the theatre company responsible for the show) is one of my favorites. They generally do very good work, and often times, they do very important work.

That being said, I was going into the show with some skepticism, too (but then, I go into everything with skepticism because, after all, I’m a skeptic). Some of the people involved with the show were not people I am a fan of. More importantly, it should be noted, I’m not really a fan of, y’know, Christianity. I love the gays (both specific members of the gay community and gays in general who I find to be a swingin’ bunch of cats) but not so much the Christians. Actually individual Christians I often like, but Christianity I don’t. As a former Christian myself I have a particular dislike for the way Christian dogma distorts people’s worldview.]

Now, I’m not going to bother reviewing the show because if you didn’t see it, you won’t see it (at least not this production, I believe it will be produced again next year in Kalamazoo) and if you did see it you already know what you thought. What I want to talk about isn’t so much the production as it was the content—the message, if you will.

In brief, for those of you who didn’t see it, the play tells the stories of real gay and lesbian Christians in their own words as they deal with living full lives as both homosexuals and Christians. The title, Seven Passages, refers to the seven biblical passages that are used to indicate God’s displeasure with homosexual activity (remarkably, one of the passages included is one of the creation accounts in Genesis. Though it doesn’t mention anything about homosexuality, it’s brought up in the play as part of the idiotic “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” rhetoric that many fundamentalists use to show that homosexuality is ‘unnatural’).

I hope this play will help facilitate discussion in the Christian community about how they deal with ‘the gay issue,’ (Actors’ made a real effort to get as many clergy members as they could to come see the show) because, frankly, Christians don’t deal with it very well.

Okay, that’s an understatement.

Let me try to be more accurate: Christianity is responsible for a vast majority of the homophobia in our country. And I’m not just talking about Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church; I’m talking about people like my mom and the millions of other Michigan voters who voted to amend the state Constitution so that homosexuals could continue to not have the right to marry. Many of these people don’t even think of themselves as homophobic or anti-gay, my mother included, but their actions speak louder than words.

Not all Christians are homophobic—clearly at least 100 Christians within 50 miles or so of me are themselves homosexual (which, of course, does not mean they are not also homophobic, but still) — not even all flavors of Christianity offer up the kind of subtle or not-so-subtle anti-gay rhetoric that others do but Christianity as an institution, Christian dogma and the way it has poisoned the thinking of billions of people, is anti-gay. There may be only seven passages in the Bible that condemn homosexuality, but its seven passages that hold a lot of sway.

I hope this play will also be helpful to the gay Christian community. I hope it will let them see that there is, in fact, a community for them. Based on the reactions I heard after the show, it is very “affirming” to people. And while affirming what you already thought is not really the highest aim of art, if it means one less gay Christian has to deal with depression or commits suicide, then I say “affirm away!”

And while I hope good comes from the play and I applaud the effort, my experience with it was mostly frustrating.

See, fairly early on in the play, they discuss the passage in Leviticus. You know the one. Leviticus 20:13: “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed and abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.” They also point out that in Leviticus, it’s made clear that God doesn’t want you to eat shellfish or wear poly-cotton blends. And that’s a wonderful point to make.

We don’t abide by any of the other crazy crap in Leviticus, why pick out that one passage as a modern code of conduct? It’s all interpretation, the play points out. Fundamentalists are just picking and choosing which ancient rules they think we should still abide by.

And at this point in the show, I wanted to stand up in the theatre and yell, “YES! You’ve got it!” They were on the cusp of truth, their thinking was right and yet . . . they missed it. Their logical train jumped the shark and they missed the only reasonable conclusion: It’s all interpretation! ‘This is the passage that God really meant. The gays are an abomination, but shellfish are fine’ is interpretation but so is saying ‘Leviticus is full of ancient cultural mores that we needn’t listen to in our modern world, and those six other passages are just silly too, but the other stuff, the stuff we like, well that shit’s totally true!” NO! You’re interpreting too!

There are only two ways to avoid hypocrisy here: either take absolutely everything the Bible says as literal truth, abide by every rule it gives OR throw the damn thing out. And since, the book is filled with contradictions and it is therefore impossible to take it as literal truth and live your life exactly in accordance with its teachings, the only solution is to get rid of it.

I was waiting for just one of the characters in the play to say: “So I gave up on all of the silly teachings of Christianity and now I don’t have to deal with the competing ‘truths’ of actual reality and Christian teaching about reality and I can just live my life as a happy, whole human being.” But it didn’t happen.

I wonder if that’s because none of the 100 people interviewed for the play did give up on Christianity or because that’s not the story they wanted to tell with this play. I don’t really know. But I for one would have appreciated the honesty in admitting that sometimes you can’t reconcile the irreconcilable, and that it’s not the “gay” part of the equation that’s causing the problem.


Anonymous said...

Well put! People's ability (including mine) to hold irreconcilable beliefs is amazing. Is there any hope?

Anonymous said...

Please go to compulsorynews.com and read a like review of this writer. My friend is trying to put together a daily progressive i-net "paper" for
those of us have trouble believing the local media.

Anonymous said...

I saw this play and actually wrote a story about it for Western's entertainment magazine, The Weekend Scene.

Anyway, I thought the play was absolutely incredible. I cried a couple times and stayed after it was finished to talk to the cast and gay Christians interviewed for it.

Unknown said...

I consider myself part of the "courageous faithful," and I am just curious: How do you think that Christian dogma distorts people's worlview? In other words, how does something in-animate such as the beliefs or writings of a certain religion distort people's worldview?

Fletcher said...

Luke had this response, but these new fangled internets confuse him so I'm posting it for him:

"Dogma distorts worldviews because individuals base their thinking on unreliable sources of knowledge such as texts and authority. The dogma may be inanimate but it perpetuates the tendency to override rational or scientific thinking much as any other unreliable body of knowledge such as astrology or folk wisdom."

Anonymous said...

As somewhat of a student of Scripture I find it necessary to point out that there is a third alternative to your stated position: "There are only two ways to avoid hypocrisy here: either take absolutely everything the Bible says as literal truth, abide by every rule it gives OR throw the damn thing out..."

This statement does not take into consideration that there really is a third way to use the Bible. That is, to actually study the HISTORY behind the Bible; why were things said, written, and taught and WHEN were they said, writtten and taught, and from this information get a BETTER interpretation of what the Bible is actually trying to say and why. In other words... CONTEXTUALLY interpret the Bible.

For example, the admonition to avoid shellfish which you mentioned, as most good scholars would tell you, probably came about when people ate shellfish, had an allergic reaction to the shellfish, and died. Who knew what an allergy was during the Babylonian Captivity circa 550 BCE?
Ergo, the thinking they had back then, "God does not want us to eat shellfish and He just proved it to us." We however, know what an allergic reaction is and why shellfish cause some people to choke to death in a very short period of time. Therefore, now we can with reasonable certainty, understand that God was protecting those of the BCE era who did not understand such things and has increased our knowledge enough to be rational in our thinking 2500 years later.

By the way, the truest interpretation of the phrase "abomination before the LORD" as used in the statute from Leviticus against gays is that an abomination is an action which occurred during the worship of a false god --- an all out orgy if you will --- enjoining both male/female, female/female and male/male sexual actions. Again therefore, this would be quivalent to a beleiver practicing a ritual meant for a false god. Remember that in those days the LORD was the most important thing to the writers of Scripture. Hence, excommunication back then for performing a ritual meant for the worship of a false god was by death, not just by shunning. The gay act was not condemned because of itself, but because it was used to worship other gods.

The Bible is good, once you really study the history of how and why it says what it says, and it will make much more sense knowing its history. So much so, that the idea of just "...throwing the damn thing out..." is not a reasonable solution. It is rather the lazy way of thinking for a man/woman afraid to read.

I am GAY, a CHRISTIAN, and proud to be both and I study 'about' the Bible as much or more than I read the "damn thing"(your words)itself.

You may email a reply to ftbsolutions@msn.com ... God Bless