This sad spectacle would never have happened if Gene Rivers was still alive

I used to know Gene Rivers pretty well. Brilliant guy. Fierce, funny, passionate, prophetic.

The Gene Rivers I used to know would have shredded the buffoonery of this guy using his name to recycle disingenuous Chuck-Colson-wannabe, persecuted-hegemon nonsense:

Hey, didn’t you used to be Gene Rivers? (RNS photo by Lauren Markoe)

Rivers made clear that he holds differing beliefs, and draws the line of tolerance in a different place. “What the guy said on the radio … there’s actually evidence for the argument that in certain cases young women, in this case we’re talking about lesbians, have come to that orientation as a function of abuse.”

“The radio guy may have simply overstated the case,” continued Rivers, pastor of Boston’s Azusa Christian Community and senior policy adviser to the Church of God in Christ’s presiding bishop. …

Rivers said his tolerance ends where people force him to accept anything beyond what he knows as biblical truth, or when opponents threaten his tax-exempt status because of his beliefs. He said he would be willing to go to jail to defend his religious views.

“If you mess with the Bible, I’m going to jail,” he told the crowd, to an enthusiastic round of applause.

I don’t know what that cheesy, plagiarized applause line is supposed to mean any more than Gene does, but we both know it doesn’t mean anything true or real. It’s the bluster and braggadocio of the Münchhausen martyrs of the Manhattan Declaration. It’s a pose. A laughably dishonest pose.

It’s a pose that Gene Rivers, ca. 1995, would never have let anyone get away with.

This is deeply disappointing. Gene Rivers used to have  a talent for deflating this kind of fatuous, hollow statement.

Gene Rivers also used to believe that things like poverty, racism, mass incarceration, violence, militarization, and Social Darwinism were all things that “mess with the Bible.”

But now, for Gene Rivers, ca. 2013, it’s apparently just lesbians.

And Gene Rivers, ca. 2013, wants you to know he’s defiantly willing to risk jail if the only alternative were not being able to bear false witness against lesbians.

I suppose such a bold stance might be impressive if, you know, anyone, anywhere was in any way threatening to send him to jail for disliking lesbians.

But they’re not. Which makes this bold stance not at all bold.

If obsequiously sucking up to the dominant, privileged religious majority were a crime, then Gene Rivers would, indeed, be guilty. But that’s never been against the law. It was Micaiah who was sent to prison. The apple-polisher Zedekiah remained a free man. So Gene Rivers knows he doesn’t have any reason to worry about “going to jail.”

Loudly announcing one’s bravery in the face of nonexistent threats doesn’t convince others that you’re brave and good. It convinces others that you’re desperately unconvinced of your own capacity for courage or goodness. It inspires pity, not admiration.

Fred Phelps, Gene. Fred Phelps is a free man. That proves you’re being a silly man.

So please stop. This hurts to watch.

And this silly, disingenuous posturing is messing with the Bible. You’re harming its reputation nearly as much as you’re harming your own.

“If you mess with the Bible, I’m going to jail,” he told the crowd, to an enthusiastic round of applause.

Sweet Holy Moses, Gene. If anybody else had said something that pompously vacuous 20 years ago, you’d still be making fun of them for it.

Whatever happened to that guy? Where did he go?

Update: Let me put it this way. The Gene Rivers I knew back in the 1990s did have a tendency to throw some wild punches. But back then he always punched up. Now he’s punching down. And that’s a huge difference. That’s the difference between a prophet and a bully. That’s the difference between heaven and hell.

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  • MarkTemporis

    What does he have against lesbians? I mean, there’s always Leviticus and Romans to justify being a homobigot, but AFAIK the Bible is completely silent on girl-on-girl.

    Is he just mad he wasn’t invited?

  • Baby_Raptor

    They’re losing, and they know they’re losing. More people support equality daily, and it’s becoming law in a new state every other week as of late.

    So they have to change the narrative. Either they find a new evil (See groups like NOM who have started subtly weaving abortion into their narrative so they’ll still have a dead horse to beat paychecks out of) or they twist the current one to meet the changing reality.

    Gays and Lesbians are achieving equality. They can’t stop it. So to keep the checks coming in, they have to come up with a new way that this “threat” needs to be fought. And they do that by claiming that after marriage equality becomes common, the government is going to start jailing people who still hold on to their bigotry.

  • konrad_arflane

    The bit in Romans that’s commonly used as a clobber verse against gay men also mentions women “exchang[ing] natural sexual relations for unnatural ones”. I’m guessing most fundies would read that as a reference to lesbians (and in fairness, I suppose they could be right about that).

  • Lori

    Fred, I’m so sorry that a man you knew well and clearly admired has had his personal Overton Window shifted over to the full d-bag setting. That’s always a painful disappointment.

  • Baby_Raptor

    I’ve actually heard that verse quoted as an argument against birth control; with “unnatural sexual relations” being translated as having sex for any reason other than conception.

    I was a very confused baby raptor, as I’m not entirely sure how they pulled birth control out of that context.

  • *hugs*

  • Becca Stareyes

    That’s some tolerance he has there, since it only covers ‘people who agree with me’ or ‘people who meekly accept my point of view, even when it harms them’.

  • Fred Phelps is a free man, but Kent Hovind is not.

    So what is Gene Rivers really most worried about? His Bible? His freedom of speech? Or his church’s tax-exempt status?

  • Whatever happened to that guy? Where did he go?

    One of the things I noticed during the stretch where I was no longer a Christian but I was also still keeping up with the church people I knew on Facebook was that there were certain people who would put stuff up and I’d wonder, “Was this person always this nuts?” Which then lead to the dangerous follow-up question of, “Was I this nuts and I just didn’t notice it?” I tend to think that the answer to both questions was, “No,” but that answer requires some unpacking.

    Evangelical Christianity is an echo chamber. You go, you’re told that [these people] and [this way] and the Bible says [this] about such things. If that’s something you don’t have personal knowledge of you’ll likely accept and hold that belief and you hang around with other people who hold that belief, so you all reinforce those beliefs to each other. Since those beliefs are walking hand-in-hand with right wing political theory in America and the Overton Window has shifted hard to the right those passed around and accepted beliefs are becoming less tenable to reality.

    On top of that certain people that I knew from church were perpetually bunkered. Everything that happened out in the world had to be read either as an attack on Christianity or a defense of Christianity. Court cases, TV shows, music videos and the like were all only viewed in light of whether they helped or hindered Christianity.

    It is absolutely no surprise to me that the same people who spent the most time in the echo chamber and who spent the most time bunkered down were the ones who were most likely to put stuff on Facebook that resulted in me asking, “What the hell, man? You used to seem normal.” Meanwhile, the people who I knew who were more fringe or less likely to worry about such things just kinda kept doing their thing or, in some cases, left Evangelicalism or the church altogether. Sadly, it would appear that Gene Rivers is in the former category.

    That group, for the record, makes me sad. For the most part they were the bright, capable folks who were in leadership positions. I recognized myself in a lot of the craziness I saw, because my last couple years in Evangelicalism I had to devote a great deal of time and mental energy to squashing my doubts and ignoring the reality I was increasingly picking up on. It requires a great deal of effort to be both intelligent and of the opinion that people who you’ll never meet and who just want to live their lives are out to destroy you and everything you love. That, more than anything, is why Christianity is so cloistered. It’s not about the people who just accept what they’re told without asking. That group is never a danger. It’s about reining in the people who do want to know and understand more. Sadly, it’s those selfsame people who usually build the prison.

  • Oh! Oh! Oh! I know! I know! Pick me! Pick me! Prettyprettyprettyplease pick me!

  • Timothy A. Balch

    It comes from Natural Law: sex is for procreation only, and sex for any other reason (pleasure, recreation, revenge, boredom, etc.) is therefor “unnatural.” This puts humans on the same level as all other animals, disregarding the fact that human females, unlike most others, can have/want intercourse even when they aren’t ovulating.

  • Jeff Weskamp

    These folks need a new evil to fight, so why don’t they fight the genuine evils that are infecting this country today? Where are their condemnations of the Wall Streeters who blissfully accept eighty-five billion taxpayer dollars EVERY MONTH and then turn right around and condemn people on Food Stamps as shameful parasites? Why don’t they condemn the things that Gene Rivers used to criticize, things like “poverty, racism, mass incarceration, violence, militarization, and Social Darwinism?” Where are their condemnations of the corrupt mortgage industry that throws families out on the street who have faithfully kept up their mortgage payments? Why don’t they condemn the growing gap between the rich and the poor that is quickly creating a state of neo-feudalism?

    There’s plenty of evil out there to criticize and confront. But no, they’ll rail at people who have sex with others of the same gender or who want to marry someone of the same gender, or who simply don’t want to be persecuted and tormented because they admit to same-sex attraction.

  • hidden_urchin

    Well, that indicates they don’t know much about sex in nature. It’s not all procreative.

  • Persia

    And even then that’s not ‘all.’ Crazy unnatural dolphins….

  • stardreamer42

    It’s what I call a Weeble argument. One side is, “Non-procreative sex is unnatural because animals don’t do it”; the other side is “But we’re supposed to be better than our animal natures!” Push down on either one, and the other one pops right up. I’ve heard the same person go back and forth between them half a dozen times in the same conversation, apparently completely unaware that they were arguing two mutually-contradictory positions at the same time.

  • stardreamer42

    1) They don’t see those things as genuine evils.

    2) That’s where their funding comes from.

    3) You’re talking nasty Liberal shit there.

  • Reminds me of discovering that Brandon Sanderson, my favorite author, opposes marriage equality. He has since done some thinking and decided that he opposes the government being involved in marriage altogether and thinks we should only have civil unions, but I lost a lot of respect for him that day.

  • *Stands halfway in the shadows, trying unsuccessfully not to chew on the end of a candy cigarette* Follow the money.

  • Also mildly enraged having come upon an article in the New York Times website yesterday that basically said “We’ve proven that homosexuals are promiscuous and naturally polygamous, and don’t even usually sleep with their own sex!”

    What in the actual fuck.

  • JustoneK

    if…naturally polygamous, it- wait.

  • AndrewSshi

    It doesn’t just happen in going from evangelical to non-Christian. Even going from evangelical to Anglican suddenly makes you look at your Facebook feed and wonder what in the eff happened not just to politicize everyone, but to do so in a way that’s clear lunacy.

  • LL

    This is why I find it imposible to respect these people even a little bit. If you actually believe this bullshit, you’re straight-up stupid. And if you don’t believe it, but repeat it to other people, you’re just a cynical asshole.

    Those are really the choices here. There’s no third thing that makes you OK. You’re either stupid or an asshole.

    I do realize there’s an “echo chamber” (my mother* lives in it), but still. If you have normal intelligence, this doesn’t make any sense. So regardless of how deeply you’ve nestled into the echo chamber, you know that what you’re saying is idiotic. Because of the very fact that you are not in jail, nor have you been threatened with jail by anybody for being anti-gay. Nor has anybody you know. Ever.

    * I should say my mother is not (as far as I know) terribly anti-gay. She says other crazy shit (anti-Obama, junk like that), but I haven’t heard her going on about how terrible gay people are.

  • The_L1985

    Don’t usually sleep with their own sex?

    Wouldn’t that make them not homosexual, then?

  • general_apathy

    Are they sure they’re not thinking of zebras?

  • P J Evans

    Are they even thinking? Because that’s definitely a ‘what???’ kind of statement the NYT posted.

  • Well, it’s less mutually-contradictory when you account for the underling assumption that sex is inherently Icky And Wrong, and therefore being “better than our animal natures” would entail having less sex than the animals.

    Because the early church had a nasty neoplatonist infestation, and never really got over that.

  • Aw man! I like his work too. Well, not so much Elantris, but all the Mistborn stuff was rad. He’s on a rather good writing podcast too, if you’re into that sort of thing (Writing Excuses)

    Must be that Mormon upbringing.

  • That’s exactly what it is. He specifically referred to his position as upholding his church’s teachings. I have to wonder what other traditional teachings of the church he upholds, given his penchant for strong female characters — doesn’t he know the church’s official position is in favor of traditional gender roles?

  • Fighting the evil that signs your paychecks isn’t the easiest thing in the world even for the average person. And NOM and their ilk are below-average people. They’re the puppets who keep screaming that everyone must look at a mirage outside while the building we’re living in is burning, because they’re being paid by the arsonists.

  • So they studied homosexual couples solely in the San Fransisco Bay area, and concluded that what they say is true for all homosexuals forever. And they did not do a comparative study of straight people; plenty of straight people also have open marriages and stray a bit from being zero on the Kinsey scale. I’d guess that number is particularly high in the SF Bay area.

    Also, Mr. Quirk’s pronouncement at the end is profoundly ignorant. The average lifespan used to be lower because children and babies died so much. If one survived childhood, getting to 70 or older wasn’t uncommon at all. Dying at or before 47 if you survived childhood WAS somewhat uncommon. Gah. That article is just pure failure and ignorance on every level. “Paper of record” my ass.

  • Funny that they never seem to read “unnatural sexual relations” as “rape”. But this group has proven that they have no notion of consent whatsoever, so I guess it’s not surprising.

  • Lorehead

    The premise is not even true; animals do have non-procreative sex.

  • Nathaniel Winer

    Its worse and even stupider than that: In order to get around the fact that there are plenty of couples who are completely sterile and “non-procreative,” they have decided to redefine such straight couplings as of “the procreative kind.” Drill down deeper and you find they are able to do this by defining “procreative” as “a couple that can stick a penis in a vagina.” So whenever you see a Christian say that straight marriages are oriented or based “procreation,” know that it can be directly translated as “able to stick a penis in a vagina.”

  • EllieMurasaki

    Thing is, a pre/non-operative trans woman and a cis woman who are a couple are a lesbian couple who are capable of putting the trans woman’s penis in the cis woman’s vagina and producing a pregnancy thereby. But try explaining that to the Catholic Church hierarchy.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    And the Christianese bubble is as obsessed with SEX SEX SEX as any teenage horndog, just in the other direction. So SEXUAL sins (especially the Other Guy’s) are always the worst.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    On top of that certain people that I knew from church were perpetually bunkered. Everything that happened out in the world had to be read either as an attack on Christianity or a defense of Christianity. Court cases, TV shows, music videos and the like were all only viewed in light of whether they helped or hindered Christianity.

    Doesn’t that sound like a form of Tunnel Vision OCD?

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    If the zebra was Zecora, I’d think about it.
    (But could I ever get used to those Zebrican rhyming couplets…)

  • Baby_Raptor

    He does?

    Ah, well. I wasn’t a huge fan of his Wheel of Time work, and was only half-seriously considering checking out his other stuff. I know to borrow it now if I get anymore serious about it.

  • His Wheel of Time work was basically polishing a turd, as far as I’m concerned (although I prefer his writing to Jordan’s). His other books are significantly better, though- by all means, I recommend the Mistborn series a thousand times over. His website also has free copies of Warbreaker, which isn’t terrible either.

  • FearlessSon

    If God did not want humans to have sex for pleasure, He would never have given women multiple-orgasms.

  • FearlessSon

    I could argue something similar about Orson Scott Card.

    Likewise Mormon, excellent writer, opposition to marriage equality justified by holding up the teachings of his church as a political point, etc. But the funny thing about Card is that he is more than capable of getting outside his own head when writing characters, and making understood and sympathetic characters who do not share the same kind of upbringing and views as him, and celebrating them. More than one of his primary characters are atheists, for example, and they are not particularly strawman about it. Some of his books have pretty serious themes about understanding those fundamentally different from ourselves, and making connections we would have never thought of otherwise.

    Which is why some people who read Card’s books end up unpleasantly surprised by some of Cards political tract essays, which tend to clash with some of his writing. I say “some” because I have noticed a disturbing tendency in his books for gay characters to end up in opposite-sex marriages while still self-identifying as gay, and childfree characters to realize that they wanted children all along (including sometimes gay childfree characters getting married and having heterosexual sex specifically for procreation.)

    I dropped reading at least two of his series because the character development, so good up to that point, just started to creep me out too much.

  • I don’t think it’s that simple. Have you ever read Michael Shermer’s Why People Believe Weird Things? He makes the case that smart people can be really, really good at deceiving themselves.

  • JustoneK

    I tend to think they’re even better at it, because they have a lot more logic to bend around to confirm the tribal identity thing. And then to make sure they keep the tribal memes alive.

  • banancat

    Nope, it doesn’t mean that. Don’t you know, if a man has sex with a hundred women but has one sexual experience with another man at any time when he wasn’t drunk, he is tainted by homosexuality forever. At least, that’s how a lot of people view it.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Yip, I’ve noticed that I am definitely in the minority when it comes to preferring Jordan’s work to Sanders’. I can live with it. ^_^

  • FearlessSon

    Such people might be smart, but they are hardly wise.

    Smarts is the knowledge of things, and the ability to make connections and put puzzle pieces together. Wisdom is the ability to realize how little you actually know, and the humbleness to admit it to yourself.

  • Jamie Bowden

    Stupid and Asshole are not mutually exclusive.