What I Said at the White House

I was invited to be part of a forum on global human rights for LGBT persons on Tuesday. Short talks were presented by Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett and Ambassador Susan Rice. Later we were invited to the Vice President’s home, where he shared some additional comments. It was clear that the White House has a strong commitment to human rights for LGBT persons, especially in a world where people are routinely killed, beaten, tortured, arrested, threatened, excluded from employment, driven into secrecy, and imprisoned for being gay.

It was an honor to participate on a panel with such distinguished colleagues and such skilled moderation.

One of the ideas I shared in the panel was this: There is a huge personal cost for religious leaders to change their position on LBGT equality.  And there is a huge personal cost for LGBT people when religious leaders won’t change. For those reasons, I recommended we find ways to encourage religious leaders to move incrementally along a spectrum with four spaces.

1. Promote violence against and stigmatization of gay people in the name of God and religion.2. Oppose violence but uphold stigmatization of gay people in the name of God and religion.

3. Oppose violence and seek to reduce stigmatization of gay people in the name of God and religion.

4. Oppose violence and replace stigmatization with equality in the name of God and religion.

Many leaders in certain parts of the world are still in Zone 1.

Many religious conservatives (Evangelicals and Catholics in the US) are in Zone 2. That’s where I began thirty or forty years ago.

Many are moving into Zone 3. They still stigmatize – for example, by welcoming gay people as members but not as leaders, or by allowing civil unions but opposing gay marriage. But they try to reduce the scope and strength of stigmatization.

More and more are moving into Zone 4.

Many people are unaware of Zone 4. They think the only way for people to become less bigoted and more compassionate is to become less religious and more secular. But that approach is fraught with unintended consequences.

It’s important, I told those present, to speak to those in each group with sensitivity to their situation and to help them take the step they are capable of taking. It’s not simply a choice of inhabiting Zone 1 or 4, and it’s not wise to treat Zone 2 or 3 people as if they were “homophobic” in the same way as Zone 1 people are.

The fact is that there are many people in the middle, and they are moving – often in the right direction, and often at great cost. Many lack sufficient courage to take the next step and need moral encouragement, sometimes actual physical protection, to do so.

It won’t suffice to only let people in Zone 1 and 2 speak in the name of God and religion. It won’t suffice to offer persuasion based on “secular” legal grounds alone. It won’t suffice to forego persuasion and only rely on pressure (via money, aid, etc.), because pressure without persuasion is experienced as oppression.

More of us need to make a bold and clear moral case for Zone 4 so that religious leaders can move towards it with a clear conscience and in good faith.

I may share more about the gathering soon. Stay tuned. For those interested, so much depends on finding new, liberating ways of reading the sacred texts that have so often been quoted to stigmatize LGBT people. My new book attempts to model one such new and liberating way of reading the Bible.You can read more here.

This piece is cross-posted from Brian McLaren’s website here.

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  • Y. A. Warren

    Because I am uncomfortable with people who have unclear boundaries does not make me phobic about them. It makes me cautious.

    I am confused by the attempts to throw away all boundaries that define religions and still call them by the same names as when they had firm boundaries in place. For the record, I believe religion insisting on marriage of two responsible adults is a good thing for our civilized society. When we open the door to bisexual and transgender relationships, we are talking about accepting choices simply because of the way we feel, with no idea where to place the bar on boundaries.

    Bisexuality, when in a marriage, is adultery. Choosing surgery to pretend that this changes one’s actual gender is self-mutilation. Is the next thing that we will say pedophiles need children as sexual partners to feel fulfilled in their lives and that parents are free to have their children surgically re-gendered, as some do in India? Child marriage is common in some cultures. Gandhi and his wife were victims of this practice. The male children made into eunuchs as infants have no honor in India and turn to prostitution to make their daily bread.

    I object to the grouping of those born as homosexual/gay with those who choose to live outside of the laws of committed marriage, the transexuals by choice and the bisexuals who wish to change the laws of committed sexual relationships to include more than two adults.

    • R Vogel

      Bisexuality is simply the sexual attraction to both genders. It has nothing to do with adultery. Adultery is breaking the vows of your marriage. A person can be sexually attracted to both sexes and still be faithful to their marriage vows.

      The pedophile argument is offensive and just plain stupid. You should read up on the concept of consent.

      A transsexual does not change their gender – they change their sex in order to match their gender. How do you place Intersex people in your formula? Are they male, female or both? How should it be decided? If a person can be born with both sex organs, why can’t they be born with the wrong ones? If I slipped you a rufi, and had a sex change operation performed on you, when you woke up would you suddenly be the opposite gender, or would you be your current gender trapped in a body that presented as something different?

      • Y. A. Warren

        Attraction without action is not adultery, no matter what Jimmy Carter confessed. It is the action of including more sexual partners into a marriage that constitutes adultery. You are being disingenuous in your argument against what I said. I find this offensive.

        I am well aware of the concept of consent. My question is about religious boundaries, not civil laws.

        If adults feel trapped and want to pay for their own cosmetic surgeries, I have no objection. I spend my life working on helping others understand that what we do and how we behave should not be based on what we have on our outsides. Gender, and all other cosmetic (exterior) features, are over-stressed, in my opinion.

        • WilmRoget

          ‘Attraction without action is not adultery,”

          According to Jesus, it is.

          Matthew 5:28

          But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

          “You are being disingenuous in your argument against what I said.”

          Your false accusation is sin.

          “I find this offensive.”

          You don’t get to pull that card after you’ve equated our loving relationships, and gender dysphoria, with raping children.

          “I am well aware of the concept of consent.”

          Ah, then you simply dismiss it as irrelevant when it inconvenient for you. That really means that you pose a threat to anyone around at you, for you might, at your own caprice, decide to dismiss with consent and do what you want, regardless of other people’s refusal to consent.

          “If adults feel trapped and want to pay for their own cosmetic surgeries, I have no objection.”

          How condescendingly gracious of you to with-hold your objections to other people having control over their own bodies. How noble and self-sacrificing on your part, when you clearly feel entitled to tell people what they can and cannot do.

          However, your characterization of the surgery that people go through to correct gender dysphoria as ‘cosmetic’ is dishonest and degrading, and you trivialize not only their lives, but the lives of all people.

    • WilmRoget

      “When we open the door to bisexual and transgender relationships, we are
      talking about accepting choices simply because of the way we feel, with
      no idea where to place the bar on boundaries.”

      Your assertion is patently false.

      “Bisexuality, when in a marriage, is adultery.”

      No. Bisexuals do not have to have one partner of each gender to be bisexual. Just as heterosexuals do not have to have more than one partner. Heterosexual men are attracted to women in general. That ability to be attracted to a wide range of individual women does not make heterosexual marriage adultery. Acting on it does of course, and the irony is that Jesus defined adultery so tightly that most heterosexuals, of either gender, commit it.

      “Choosing surgery to pretend that this changes one’s actual gender is self-mutilation.”

      Your degrading characterization of the life experiences of transpeople is vicious sin. Slandering people like that does you no good at all.

      “Is the next thing that we will say pedophiles”

      Equating homosexuality and gender dysphoria with pedophilia is not only hate speech, it creates the very strong impression that you cannot distinguish between consensual and non-consensual relationships.

      Of course, you used it to smear GLBTQ people through guilt by association, and that was slander on your part. But the deeper meaning of your comparison is that you have extreme contempt for our lives, and that you cannot or will not recognize the difference between consensual intimacy and rape.

      “I object”

      to a fantasy that is built entirely out of malice.

      • Y. A. Warren

        My experience is that those who choose to see themselves as victims misinterpret much of what is said in the spirit of pointing out the power and consequences of one’s choices as abuse and hate speech.

        • WilmRoget

          “My experience is that those who choose to see themselves as victims”

          My experience is that those who use degrading characterizations like that want to have the rush they get from slandering other people without being culpable for their slander.


          There was no misinterpretation. And the proof of that is your attempt to engage in further denigration and abuse.

          You are trying to be clever and offensive at the expense of others, without being guilty of abusiveness and slander. It is not working.

    • taizegoose

      I think you are correct in saying that you are confused. There is no need to remain so.

    • taizegoose

      In India ‘Third sex’ people are understood to separate into five (5) categories. In north India they are sought out by new parents in order to bless new borns. There is at least one ministry to Third sex people in SE India, encouraging them along lines not altogether different to Brian’s #4 “zone”.

      There is no “slippery slope” in Brian’s ethical, theologically sound, conclusions Y.A. Marriage is still understood to include only two maturing adults. Any notion to the contrary amounts to fear mongering.

      • Y. A. Warren

        I have no confusion about this, as I have a sister in India who works closely helping the victims of this practice: The practice of creating eunuchs (Third sex) in India is a cruel practice, based on ancient superstitions. The “Third sex” forced eunuchs are actually scorned by most of society, and turn to the sex trade to support themselves. The devastation of this forced practice is not the same as the state of those who freely seek to become another gender through elective surgery.

        • taizegoose

          As I previously noted, Y.A., there are five (5) categories of Third Sex people in India, not only the one (1) about which you sister knows something. As far as I know, the medical practice of gender reallocation is neither widely available nor widely practised in India.

  • WilmRoget

    “Many religious conservatives (Evangelicals and Catholics in the US) are in Zone 2.”

    Actually, they are in zone 1. Anyone who cites Leviticus 20:13, to condemn homosexuality, is calling for violence against homosexuals.

    “and it’s not wise to treat Zone 2 or 3 people as if they were “homophobic” in the same way as Zone 1 people are.”

    Wise is debatable. But it is accurate. Anyone who embraces, or allows, the stigmatization of homosexuals is homophobic (articulating unreasoning fear of or antipathy toward homosexuals and homosexuality). They may not be homophobic to the same degree.

    Pretending that one can be a little homophobic is like pretending that one can be a little pregnant.

  • taizegoose

    Full inclusion of LGBT persons in society as a whole, including faith communities, is not an indication of changing/creating new “boundaries”. YHWH Elohim was seen and heard doing so for the identified sexual minority approx. 2600 years ago: Isaiah 56.1-8. Jesus affirmed this in his ministry: clearing the Court of the Gentiles (all FOUR gospels) and by his ‘ears-to-hear’ statement as recorded in St Matthew 19, regarding eunuchs. And St Philip followed suit when he baptised the Eunuch of Ethiopia, the first non-Jew to join the Way.

    • Y. A. Warren

      Accepting people and accepting behaviors that infringe on our own boundaries are two different things.

      • taizegoose

        Human sexual orientation is being, not doing, Y.A. It’s not “behaviours”. Neither does any other person impinge upon your “boundaries” by being who they are with specific reference to sexual orientation. People are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered. We are called by God in Christ to accept them as God has made them.

        As a heterosexual male, married, with adult children (who understand the diversity of human sexuality) my boundaries are not infringed by the others who are not like me. So, your use of “our own” doesn’t make sense. Your are encouraged to speak personally and honestly: “my own”. Millions upon millions of others who

        disagree with you are not included in “your” own assessments, limited as they are.

        The marriage bed of LGBT couples is undefiled, Y.A. Their genital, love-making “behaviour” in the privacy of their own home is theirs, not yours or anyone else’s.

        • Keith

          Remember our previous discussions? Here is an article that again reinforces my earlier claims. The ball has begun to roll, thanks largely to the errant homosexual movement. There is no stopping it now. Here is the link:

          nytimes (dot) com (slash) 2014 (slash) 10 (slash) 06 (slash) opinion (slash) pedophilia-a-disorder-not-a-crime.html?_r=1

        • Keith

          MMMMMM, and look what else is now being publicly discussed:

          huffingtonpost (dot) com (slash) 2014 (slash) 10 (slash) 09 (slash) legalization-incestuous-relationships-_n_5959494.html?utm_hp_ref=politics&ir=Politics