Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Review of One Punk, Under God (#2)

In the second episode of One Punk, Under God, Jay Bakker visits his ailing mother, the well-known Tammy Faye. He also spends time with members of a gay church, listening to their stories and watching a lesbian civil union ceremony. From this he reassesses his beliefs about whether Christians should support being gay.

Likeable Tammy. What I know about Tammy Faye Messner (nee Bakker) is mostly negative, and so I was surprised by how she presented herself in this episode. Here is a woman who has been through some extraordinarily difficult times, is constantly mocked, and is dying of cancer—if ever someone had the “right” to be bitter and angry. Instead, she is full of dignity and grace. When Jay talked to her about his troubles with his father, I expected her to blast away at her ex-husband. Instead, she was supportive and understanding of both Jay and Jim—a mother to the end. As a side note, most the people on this show are a little nervous in front of the camera, but not Tammy Faye. With her background in television, she had some serious presence.

The film makers' focus. What we see in this show, like any media, reflects both the person being portrayed and the film-makers’ decisions about what to portray. As such, I find it interesting the first episode was about hypocrisy in the church and this episode (and I believe the next episode) is about division regarding the gay issue. Certainly both issues merit examination, but their centrality in this series probably tells us more about the film makers, and their interests and beliefs, than anything else. Put differently, and somewhat cynically, a series about a pastor’s everyday life of serving, loving, preaching and praising probably wouldn’t make it to the Sundance Channel.

Jay and gays. Our introduction to Jay’s involvement with the gay community comes as he preaches to a gay-Christian group. His words are wonderful—it’s all about love. I suppose that love is a good thing for pastors to communicate in any sermon but all the more so with a group that routinely feels so unloved by the church. From his experiences with this group, Jay reevaluates his beliefs and decides that he should endorse a gay lifestyle as consistent with the Bible or at least not opposed by it. He announces this to his church, and the trailers for the next episode suggest that this stance proves costly in lost resources and people.

Whether a gay lifestyle fits with the teachings of scripture is an involved issue, and smart, loving, and sincere people have different opinions on it. (For a helpful discussion). I have nothing to contribute to this central question, but in this post and others I would to discuss aspects of the gay controversy in the Church.

Out of proportion? Jay is clearly sincere in his convictions about gays, even in the face of the potential loss of ministry support. Bravo--that we should all be willing to sacrifice for our beliefs. Nonetheless, I found myself wondering he was investing so much time, effort, and social capital on this particular issue. Suppose we were to draw up a mission statement for Jay’s Revolution church based on the first episode and then planned out how to enact it. It’s not clear that what is shown in this second episode would be the logical next step. Should Jay have done it? Beats me. I scarcely know that God is calling me to do, let alone others. I’m just observing that in this particular context, and perhaps in the American church as a whole, this issue seems out of proportion.

True evil. In a moving scene, Jay talks with several transgendered women about their experiences in the Christian church. One women told of her experiences going to church in which no one would sit next to her, and when she left, the pastor thanked her for coming but asked her not to come again. If indeed it happened as she described, the pastor’s response represents pure evil. Popular perceptions of pastoral scandals, including that of Jay’s father, involve money, sex, or drugs, but these pale in comparison to deliberately keeping someone from learning about the Kingdom of God. Jesus counted tax collectors and prostitutes among his friends, but he took a whip to those who blocked access to the temple.

Dan Myer’s post on this episode.


Benjamin said...

I just finished watching the first two episodes (you can get the whole season on iTunes for $10).

I thought it was interesting and fairly entertaining--particularly interesting I think is the tension with his dad and also the whole tension of having to run a church.

Jay seems likeable, smart, and clearly pretty good at what he does. It's hard to tell, but it does seem like he's a bit self-absorbed and overly obsessed with his own personal experience -- and that seems to drive some ofhis theological convictions. He also seems a bit sloppy with some of his theology.

(this, of course, may have more to do with the editing of the show than with him...hard to tell)

For example, he likes to say "We are all absolutely OK as we are". Good sound bite. Plays well. But simply not what the Bible says. The Bible says that we are all not OK...

Anyway, I like the guy, I like what he's doing, and I don't like to criticize other pastors. We can disagree theologically without disliking someone.

Dan Myers said...

Brad's hit a lot of the important stuff in this episode again. I can't respond to all of it, but I want to key in on the "out of proportion" issue. I think that it is a pretty important issue for Jay and his church because of the way the ministry is framed and the personal importance he places on consistency. At the same time, this issue has become practically overwhelming in the religious community, which does indeed seem somewhat out-of-proportion.

It's always a bit bizarre to me when any one issue takes over everything. Life is an unbelievably complex enterprise and I often wonder how just about anything can become so central to our apporach to the world that nothing else seems to matter.

Even more curious to me is why it's THIS particular issue. There are many things that are important and many that could become the MOST important. But why this particular one? Why is a church's stance toward gay and lesbian parishoners so important that is it worth setting aside everthing else that the church does, stands for, its relationships with other churches, and so forth.

I do have a sense of why people on the side of accepting GLBT people in their churches think it is important (not why it is the most important thing, but why they feel strongly about it), but I have less of a sense of why people who are opposed are so powerfully and emotionally involved in it that they would secede from their church or denomination.

I don't think it is just because they consider gay lifestyles or gay sex sinful, or because they interpret the bible as saying it is wrong--there's plenty of sin in any group of church goers and plenty of people doing things every week, even in church, that the bible disallows, and these things don't seem to rise to the level of this issue or seem likely to drive them to demand that their church dis-engage from their denomination or that they remove people from their congregations.

I'd very much like to hear from someone who opposes having active gay and lesbian church members and sees this as a paramount issue give us their perspective on why this issue is so much more important that others.

brewright said...

I agree with your bewilderment of the special sin status that has been accorded being gay (whether active or not!). Some how it's become a "super" sin, that deserves special treatment not given other sexual sins, such as premarital sex, or even other sins, such as pride, greed, gluttony, etc....

I can think of cultural and psychological reasons for such a strong reaction, but it's hard to think of biblical ones.