Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

The Outing of Albus Dumbledore

albus-dumbledore-gay.jpgI should probably stay away from this, but I can’t.  As many probably know, recently J. K. Rowling, author of the incredibly popular “Harry Potter” books, outed her character, Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, as gay.  The rightwing is predictably outraged because Dumbledore was the “moral compass” for Harry, Ron, and Hermione in a series of fantasy books for children.  Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly even claimed it was proof that there is a conspiracy to convince children that tolerance of same-sex orientation is good–this from a man who was sued by a (female) former producer for sexual harassment when he repeatedly tried to get said producer and her former college roommate to join him in a menage a trois! Hypocrisy lives.

Meanwhile, not all of the GLBT community or their allies are pleased.  Bob Cornwall notes the long, sad, history in literature and film which portrays all “good” gays and lesbians as closeted–and then having to pay for their supposed evil by dying. Is Dumbledore in that category?  I’m not sure. I didn’t see Dumbledore so much as closeted as one of those rare individuals who have a low sex drive and find it easy to be celibate. (It wasn’t until Rowling’s “outing” that I picked up on the clues that he was once in love–with the man who became his great enemy, Grindlewald.  Being forced to kill your first love could lead many people to lifelong celibacy–regardless of sexual orientation.)

What I found more disturbing is that Rowling did not make Dumbledore’s sexuality explicit in the books themselves.  After all, she claims that promoting tolerance and fair treatment of all is a major theme of her books.  She’s right:  the books deal with prejudice–the slavery of house elves, the denigration of goblins, and shunning of half-giants and werewolves.  Repeatedly, children reading the series are taught to judge people by their character and not by popular views of what “their kind” are like–and this in a fictional world in which gender equality and racial equality is a reality reflected in everything from the composition of Quidditch teams to political offices.  So, why keep Dumbledore’s sexual orientation only implicit in the books themselves?  Sure, one doesn’t want children reading explicit sex scenes–of any kind–but the only dating or love shown in the books is heterosexual.  How does that help the primary readership learn acceptance of gays or lesbians?  Shouldn’t Dumbledore’s outing have come in the books themselves?

I think Rowling stumbles here.  By contrast, I recommend the fantasy novels of the American author Mercedes Lackey, at this point.  In many ways, Rowling is the better author. But Lackey’s works, especially her novels of the fictional world of Valdemar, contain several gay or lesbian characters.  One in particular, Vanyel the last Herald Mage, is a major character who must come of age and discover and accept his sexual orientation in a very repressive family with a somewhat repressive society. It’s a powerful story of love and loss and courage and the struggles for change and acceptance–and I would recommend it highly to adolescent readers.  At this point, Lackey’s Vanyel is the better model than Rowling’s Dumbledore.

November 2, 2007 Posted by | GLBT issues | 4 Comments

The Fragmentation of the Religious Right?

The New York Times has published a lengthy article called “The Evangelical Crack-Up” which you can read here.  Thanks to Melissa Rogers for calling it to my attention.  I have noted the trends outlined in that article before:  Most of the prominent leaders of the Religious Right are either retiring or dying off; congregations are firing pastors who overly politicize their pulpits; younger evangelical leaders are returning to a broader moral agenda than just anti-abortion and anti-homosexuality–an agenda that includes concern for the poor, the environment, torture and human rights–and sometimes even opposition to war. 

This fragmentation of the Religious Right comes at a time of resurgent militism among some atheists and secularists (e.g., the spate of bestselling books arguing that religious faith is the root of all that is wrong with the world), but also at a time of resurgence for the evangelical left and center, of resurgence for the broader Christian center and left, and of increasing religious pluralism.  But the Religious Right has been counted dead and gone and its funeral held prematurely far too many times since 1980.  In the late ’90s prominent members of the RR itself were pronouncing it dead–such as when political columnist Cal Thomas and fundamentalist pastor Ed DobsonI(no relation to psychologist and Focus on the Family founder, James Dobson),both founding members and prominent leaders of the Moral Majority. co-wrote Blinded By Might:  Why the Religious Right Cannot Save AmericaThe authors detailed the ways in which fundamentalist Protestantism had lost its soul by becoming an adjunct of the Republican Party and adopting the tactics of cutthroath politics.  Dobson stood by what he said–dropping out of the Religious Right and concentrating on his pastorate–and on the poor.  By contrast, Cal Thomas’ relapsed almost immediately–rallying the fundamentalist troops to support the presidential candidacy of George W. Bush and uncritically supporting him since then. 

So, we have to approach the current disharmony in the Religious Right with caution.  It is too soon to count the likes of James Dobson as a spent political force or to relegate fundamentalism to the cultural backwaters it occupied from the 1920s to the 1970s.   It is FAR too early to pronounce the triumph of the Christian Left or even the Evangelical Left (much less an interfaith Religious Left) or even center.  And the growth of the “angry atheists” like Hitchens and Dawkins could easily lead to a backlash that renews the Religious Right.  Theocratic and Christian nationalist forces are still a significant force–and the current fragmentation may only last one presidential election cycle (or maybe not even that–many think that if Sen. Hillary Clinton becomes the Democratic Party nominee, she will reunite the Right against her–even if the GOP nominee is Rudy Guiliani)–as it did from ’96 to 2000.

Still, this current fragmentation DOES offer an opportunity for Christians and other persons of faith with a progressive agenda to change the political debate.  There are many signs that this opportunity is not being wasted: I have highlighted before the National Religious Campaign Against Torture and its evangelical counterpart, Evangelicals for Human Rights.  Now, Ron Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action is leading a group of U.S. evangelicals to pressure the U.S. to do more to support a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian crisis–rather than the uncritical support for Israel that is typical of many evangelicals.  The “Green Christian” movement of “Creation Care” is growing rapidly. 

It remains true that the majority of U.S. evangelicals would like to see Roe v. Wade overturned and/or elective abortions made illegal.  My own stance of support for the legal right to abortions while working to eliminate the causes that lead women to seek abortions is controversial–as a perusal of the comments on this blog under abortion posts will show.  Mega-church pastor Rick Warren’s invitation for Sen. Barack Obama, known to be pro-choice, to join his conference on ways to combat the AIDS pandemic was widely criticized by other white evangelical leaders.  It is also true that the majority of U.S. evangelicals continue to believe that sexual orientation is a choice, not a given, and to believe that all same-sex behavior is immoral. Again, my welcoming and affirming stance is not widely shared–not even by progressive evangelicals such as Ron Sider or Jim Wallis.

But the message that Sider and Wallis have been shouting for years–that abortion and “homosexuality” are not the only moral issues worth addressing, seems finally to be falling on fertile ground.  I find that to be very hopeful.

November 2, 2007 Posted by | evangelicals, fundamentalists | Comments Off on The Fragmentation of the Religious Right?