Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A few long-winded thoughts on this whole deal.

(For the background on this post, check out this article: http://www.dailytarheel.com/index.php/article/2011/08/4e5c6c791822c) 

Okay, someone asked me for my thoughts on this Psalm-100-kicked-out-a-gay-member situation.  And even though none of the rest of you asked, I’m putting my two cents in anyway.  Magnanimously and with great self-aggrandizement, I cannot help but feel that I am in a particularly good position to comment.  I am a straight Christian who does not believe homosexuality necessarily conflicts with Christianity.  And as a former Achordant, I have 3 years experience in the UNC a cappella community (whatever that means), and have some insight into what it looks like to take people into - and cast people out of - your singing group.  Yet as a recent graduate, I also feel fairly objective.  I have no personal investment in these groups institutionally, only an interest in my friends and a hope that they are doing well and doing good.

First off, let me be clear that I cannot speak for Psalm 100, its members, or Will (who in the years I’ve known him, has never needed anyone to speak up for him).  I can say that Will is one of the most outgoing and loving people I’ve ever met, and he has an intense respect for other people’s feelings, opinions, and basic human dignity - I have always admired him for that, even if I did not express it.  For an organization whose primary goal is to bless its campus with the love of Christ through music to expel someone like Will, who I’ve seen act out that love on a daily basis, it is truly their loss.  

Second, I want to say that the responses to Psalm 100 and its members that I’ve seen on the DTH article page, as well as on facebook and twitter have been unnecessarily vicious and mean-spirited.  If you believe that other people should be more tolerant, and you won’t tolerate them if they’re not, then you become the very hypocrite you’re decrying.  I believe that Psalm was misguided in their decision, but I do not believe they were acting out of malice or hatred, and the same cannot be said of all of you who are currently insulting them, comparing them to Westboro Baptist Church, and questioning their sexuality in open forum.  When you act like that, you forfeit the moral high ground, and shame on you for lowering yourself to that level.

So, now the good stuff.

To all my non-Christian friends who might be confused about the difference between discrimination based on sexual orientation, and disagreeing on the scripture in question, well there is a difference.  One says, “You can’t be here because you’re gay.”  The other says, “You can’t be here because you disagree with us on a fundamental issue to our faith and the faith we’re trying to spread.”  Psalm is claiming the latter as their cause for voting out a member.  Which would be fine.... except for a few things:

  • By this logic, straight allies must also be expelled from Christian communities.  By this logic, I should have been expelled from the leadership team of InterVarsity during my junior year.  I was not.  This is the problem - straight people who affirm homosexuality in Christian communities are seldom if ever targeted in these situations.  It’s only the gay people who are okay with gay people that ever get voted out... So the claim that this is the result of a theological disagreement does not seem totally valid or objective.  I know one of Psalm 100’s former presidents (and several past members) have in fact been allies, yet they were never voted out for their position.
  • This argument presumes that the issue of homosexuality is a fundamental and necessary focal point of the Christian faith.  I personally do not believe it is.  Many Christians I know do not believe it is.  They’re more inclined to cite the teachings of Jesus and the Gospel narrative as fundamental beliefs.  One’s opinion on homosexuality is secondary (or even...thirdary?).  In fact, this is why Psalm 100’s constitution, to the best of my knowledge, is fairly broad and interdenominational when it comes to doctrinal issues... so broad, in fact, that it says nothing specific about sex or sexual orientation at all.  (If I’m right about that, and there’s a chance I am not, it would completely invalidate Psalm 100’s claim that Will was voted out due to disagreements with the organization’s constitution.)  To quote Rupertus Meldenius, “Unity in essentials, liberty in non-essentials, and charity in both.”  Funnily enough, I think that same principle is a part of Psalm’s constitution, so I think they got their essentials mixed up.
  • This is not consistent with Psalm 100’s history.  A few years ago, a very talented (gay) male auditioned for several groups at UNC, and all of them were prepared to offer him a spot, including Psalm 100.  Members of Psalm 100 at the time told me they suspected he was probably gay, but were prepared to overlook that because he had such a good voice.  I wonder if Will was a better soloist, he’d still be in the group?  


Perhaps there is flat-out homophobia in the group - I suppose it’s possible that the men are uncomfortable with the idea of gay men other than worship leaders in such close contact with them, and the women are disappointed by having one fewer option to fill in the blank man-shaped hole in their dream weddings... but that seems unlikely.  After all, if the idea of flirting or attraction is such a threat, then having a co-ed group where everyone has to be straight seems kind of a bad idea.  From my memory, I’m pretty sure Psalm has spurred at least as many in-group relationships as the Clef Hangers.  


No, I think what’s happened is an ideological shift.  Over the past 4 years, I witnessed Psalm 100 transition from a more moderate-liberal group (several members even voted for Obama - gasp!), to a more moderate-conservative group.  At least a few (I think more) are affiliated with Cornerstone, which I believe to be UNC’s most conservative Christian ministry.  It’s chapter leader, Miles O’Neill, has taught in the past on the incompatibility of homosexuality and Christianity - yet by his own admission to me, he has never actually read any scholarship or opinions supporting their compatibility.  Not Mel White, not Jack Rogers, not even Andrew Marin.  If I had to guess, I would say this same limited-worldview, limited-scholarship mindset has led Psalm 100 to its current predicament.

It appears to me that what has happened here is that there is a majority opinion amongst Psalm members about homosexuality and that as a result of that majority, alternative interpretations of scripture became unacceptable.  The members of Psalm 100 have made a few unfortunate mistakes here, though perhaps not realizing it.  

  • Despite being a non-denominational group, they have collectively spoken for all Christians everywhere.  This small group of college students has essentially claimed that they know better about the Bible than all the Christians in the United Church of Christ, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Metropolitan Community Church, several congregations of the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the Episcopal Church, the Disciples of Christ, the Quakers, and to an extent even the Anglican Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the National Baptist Convention, the Pentecostal Church and the American Baptist Church.  And that is quite a claim to make.  Alas, if only those massive congregations of Christian men and women had the wisdom apparently possessed by the members of Psalm 100. (INSERT RETROSPECTIVE SNARK ALERT HERE)
  • The decision to vote out a gay member unfortunately does not speak only to the image and reputation of Psalm 100.  It has a direct effect on the way people on UNC’s campus perceive all the Christian ministries on campus, making it more difficult for those ministries to go about their outreach without tacking on this additional barrier to people’s willingness to hear a Gospel they are growing more and more convinced is intolerant and discriminatory.  I’m sure the members of Psalm that are still left are happy to quote scripture to themselves, the stuff about taking joy in persecution for Christ etc.  The funny thing is, I suspect Will is in a position to do the same...

Christians must allow themselves the room to disagree on how to interpret the Bible, which is shockingly unclear on many issues, and this issue in particular.  We have different ideas about what is fundamental to the Gospel, and different ideas about how to interpret even those, and different ideas further about how to apply those ideas to a modern culture so different from the one in which the books of the Bible were originally written.  I wonder, if most of the members of Psalm 100 adhered to reformed Calvinist theology, and firmly believed in predestination as a fundamental tenant of Christian theology, would they have cast out an Arminian?  If most of the members of Psalm 100 felt the historical existence of a real Adam and Eve was necessary to the Gospel narrative, would they cast out someone who believed the evidence for evolution was too overwhelming to accept that Adam and Eve existed, even if that person still believed in the teachings, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ?  I doubt it very much.  

However, I have not yet gotten to Psalm 100’s biggest misstep.  They have opened themselves to a complete retraction of their student organization status.  They claim they are discriminating based on ideology and not sexuality, but I suspect few people buy that and if pressure mounts enough, the university might not buy it either.  And according to the Supreme Court’s decision in CLS vs. Martinez last summer, UNC would be constitutionally justified in casting Psalm 100 out from its groups.  (The irony of that sentence is pretty thick.)  The SCOTUS decided that the effect of discrimination against gay individuals outweighed the intellectual argument for freedom of religion in this case.  While they respect the right of religious groups to discriminate against gay people, they do not respect the right of them to do it while receiving federal and state money and while utilizing federal and state facilities.  So I just hope the current members Psalm 100 are prepared for what would be a completely justified and legally acceptable sanction from UNC, and I hope they have a good answer for what I’m sure would be their very disappointed alumni and founders as to how they let it happen. 

That’s where I stand, that’s what I think, at least right now.  Don’t mean to offend, but I’m not surprised if I did.  Feel free to disagree.  I’m not one of the Christians that minds if you do.

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