Tag Archives: PFLAG

Voting on the Word of God

My husband and I attended a “Straight for Equality” event sponsored by PFLAG yesterday. PFLAG–for those who don’t know the acronym–stands for Parents, Friends and Families of Lesbians and Gays; the organization has 350+ chapters in the US and abroad.  “Straight for Equality” is an advocacy campaign the national organization has just launched.

The President of the national board this year is one Rabbi Horowitz, who actually was the assistant Rabbi at Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation back in the 1970s. He was an entertaining speaker, if a bit long-winded (a common “clerical error”). As he made his pitch for taking the “Straight for Equality” campaign into faith communities, he said something that struck me as both totally new and–upon reflection–self-evidently true.

He said the word of God is subject to vote.

Think about it: The way congregations read their holy books is inescapably influenced by the culture the congregants inhabit. It wasn’t so long ago that most Christian denominations read the bible to require racial segregation and the subordination of women. Some still do, but the vast majority no longer interpret the text in that way. The culture changed, and so did religious people’s understanding of God’s commandments.

When I was researching God and Country, my book about the unrecognized religious roots of contemporary policy preferences, I quickly recognized that even our most fundamentalist contemporary Christians, those who insist the bible is the literal word of God and thus unchanging (God presumably also handled the various translations), hold beliefs that would be shocking heresies to fundamentalists who lived 100 years ago.

We are all creatures of our times. We share the sensibilities of our cultures no matter how stubbornly we resist, and we bring those sensibilities to our interpretations of religious texts.

When enough members of a congregation recognize both the humanity of gay people and the justice of their claim to equality, those members’ attitudes–their “votes”– change doctrine. We’ve seen plenty of examples, as one denomination after another reinterprets rules that previously kept gays from being ordained or married. That process will inevitably continue, no matter how hysterically some try to fight it.

I had always thought of this as the process of social change. The Rabbi calls it “voting on God’s word.”

However we think about it, it reflects the reality that we humans create gods in our own image–which is a good reason to get serious about self-improvement.

Inspiring Places

It’s really difficult to listen to the news without concluding that humanity—or at least civilization—is doomed. From Afghanistan to healthcare, from global climate change to the global economy, the focus is on the massive problems we face and the gigantic barriers to solving them. For every thoughtful analysis of a situation by someone who actually knows something about it, there seem to be twenty bloviating know-nothings trying to compensate for cluelessness with volume.

It’s enough to make you climb into bed and pull the covers up over your head.

So it helps if, every once in a while, we remind ourselves that news is by definition that which is out of the ordinary. As the old saying goes, when a dog bites a man, that’s not news. When a man bites a dog, that is.

We hear about hatred and conflict: racial strife, homophobia, religious intolerance. We don’t hear about the innumerable people of good will whose daily activities include interfaith outreach, efforts on behalf of racial reconciliation, or protecting children from homophobia.

Which brings me to the Spirit and Place Festival, now in its 14th year. Between November 6th and 15th, there will be some 40 programs sponsored by over 100 collaborating organizations, all centered on this year’s theme, “Inspiring Places.”

Spirit & Place grew out of a Polis Center project in the 1990s that examined the relationship between religious practices and urban life. The idea was to explore how the places we live shape our identity. Spirit & Place programs are intended to be “public conversations” rather than lectures or speeches. As their website puts it, “Its mission is to promote civic engagement, respect for diversity, thoughtful reflection, public imagination, and enduring change through creative collaboration among arts, humanities, and religion.”

Inspiring places can be great works of architecture, or humble neighborhoods. Inspiring places can also be gatherings of supportive people focused on improving some aspect of our civic life, or providing a safe and nurturing place for people who need sanctuary and encouragement. Falling into that latter category is PFLAG—Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays—which is once again hosting a Spirit and Place event.

On Sunday, November 8, the Indianapolis PFLAG chapter will team with the Indiana Youth Group and St. Luke’s United Methodist Church to sponsor a discussion about nontraditional families. Reverend Barbara Child of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Indianapolis will help guide a discussion about how people make places inspiring. She will discuss the role of safety and security in a place of sanctuary, and how ordinary people with loving and generous hearts make places inspiring for others.  

PFLAG is one of literally hundreds of organizations and voluntary associations working to make our community better, safer and more nurturing for all of us.

We need to remind ourselves that, for every self-important pundit hurling invective, there are millions of  good people giving their time, effort and money to improve the human environment.

Those people create truly inspiring places.