So, I am perusing my twitter feed and I come across this headline:
The opening paragraphs read like my LGBTQ+ religious studies nightmare:
“The first Bible study group held for the U.S. Cabinet in at least 100 years is led by a pastor who believes homosexuality is ‘illegitimate,’ who doesn’t believe women should preach and has described Catholicism as a ‘false’ religion.
Ten members of the Cabinet, including Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, sponsor the study group, which holds meetings lasting between one hour and 90 minutes every Wednesday, according to BBC News. It unfolds at a location in Washington, D.C., that is kept secret for security reasons.
Its leader is Ralph Drollinger, a pastor and president of Capitol Ministries: an organization which aims to ‘evangelize elected officials and lead them toward maturity in Christ.’”
I have my Ph.D. in religion, from a highly respected school—and I know other scholars specializing in LGBTQ+ scholarship. I’ve spent many years teaching, and I’ve published a book (Baby, you Are my Religion: Women, Gay Bars and Theology Before Stonewall ) Upon reading the news that the first Bible study group in one hundred years at the White House was led by a homophobic, woman-hating pastor, I broke. I took to social media, as many of us do, to see how others were feeling abut this newest insult coming from the current administration. I posted:
What the Bible really says about homosexuality is NOT THIS. The first Bible group in a century at the White House is homophobic, and anti-feminist…and therefore anti-Christian. Homophobes and women haters don’t own the Bible anymore. Just fyi Trump Admin. A lot of us who are LGBTQ+ and feminist also have Ph.D.’s in Religion and we aren’t going anywhere, even if we don’t get invited to your private (for security reasons?) Bible group. If God is listening to you I think she’s angry and shutting down your phone line. She wants you to update your scholarship and read contemporary Biblical hermeneutics– in other words, it’s not 1950 anymore. #TimesUp on your hatred.
My friends responded:
–FOOLS and bigots!
–Trump hasn’t read a book. I whole heartedly believe he has never finished reading a book and (audio books do not count) because reading words on a page is crucial
–Right. Rocco Errico learned the common language of the time, Aramaic, to see what it really said. It does not condemn us!
–Here we go with the anti-Catholic bull which most Catholics thought had gone by the wayside decades ago. This is great news because it will peel off the Catholics who voted for Trump and it will start to split the Trumpista base. Trump isn’t even a Christian. He is a full-time actor.
–Such bigots, awful!
–Pure catering to the base. He is not religious at all and has never read the book
My post was shared nine times, and 40 folks responded, a lot of them with the “angry” face, but others with the Facebook “sad” and also “surprised” face.
Other writers were similarly moved, and moved to write more eloquently than I. I was most encouraged by a writer who wrote an “open letter” to the pastor in question. In “An open letter to Ralph Drollinger, the pastor who conducts the White House Bible Study,” author Andrew Seide brings up the problem of location location location…among other things.
“Location is everything in real estate, but it’s only part of the problem here. You are conducting these bible studies on government property, but also on the taxpayer’s dime. These take place during the workday, even though it would be easy enough to schedule them on the weekend or after work hours”
The problem with theocracy here is clear. But, what is even more clear is the problem with the unparalleled access this pastor has with the president of the United States.
When you organize weekly revivals, packed with government actors on government property, and tell them that ‘homosexuality and same-sex ceremonies are illegitimate in God’s eyes,’ you are far afield from a constituent influencing his representatives. You are dictating policy —immoral and inequitable policy — to government actors.
Drollinger never tells his members how to vote, or which policies to pursue. But he hopes it becomes obvious by teaching them the Bible. ‘I will put the blueprint on the engineer’s seat on the train,’ he says. ‘And it will show you the right tracks to the station.’… ‘But I’m not going to tell you what tracks to take. But you’ve got to be pretty stupid not to follow the blueprint, because it’s there.’
You (Drollinger) bragged about how ‘Jeff Sessions [will] go out the same day I teach him something and he’ll do it on camera.’ And also, ‘Trump’s enacting everything I’ve written.’ You (Drollinger) have the power to manipulate government policy to an alarming degree and for no other reason than you claim to be speaking for a god.”
Claiming to be speaking for God is how a group of protestors led by Fred Phelps could be across from Matthew Shepard’s funeral in 1998 and hold signs that read “Matt Burns in Hell.” And, “God Hates Fags.” How did they purport to know this? Because they believe God was on their side. They believed so much that God was on their side, that hey could say anything against gays and lesbians and gays and lesbians would not be able to talk back – because they had no access to God. I believe “TimesUp” on that notion.
A recent Doonesbury cartoon spoofs this (April 22, 2018) horrible idea of religious interference by having a pastor at the pulpit saying “there is confusion among evangelicals about what constitutes sin lately” and the pastor goes on to say, that the church now condones the following “adultery and sexual assault, greed, bullying” and a host of other things, lastly the pastor says, “we’re willing to overlook biblical illiteracy, church non-attendance and no credible sign of faith.” At the end of the cartoon, a participant from the ministry comes up to the pastor and says, “Lovin’ the lower bar, Pastor!” And another adds, “I feel like a freakin’ saint.”
And the pastor just sullenly says, “Enjoy.”
Where are we in our country, when after one hundred years of non-Bible study in the White House, the first group to do so also condemns gays and women preaching? And they do it behind closed doors and with added security. Are we in a theocracy?
There are many books who refute biblical homophobic hermeneutics. The best for me, and the simplest to give a student, is What The Bible Really Says About Homosexuality. This book shows that those who perceive Bible passages as condemning homosexuality are being misled by faulty translation and poor interpretation. It explains in a clear fashion that although the Bible has been used to justify slavery, inquisitions, apartheid and the subjugation of women—this interpretation of the Bible is false, it is not what the Bible really says about homosexuality.
And yet—we have a person in the heart of the White House, addressing our “president” as if he were speaking for God, who self-admits he “will put the blueprint on the engineer’s seat on the train.”
For the love of a God I believe in, and a book I would swear on—what do we do now?
Marie Cartier has a Ph.D. in Religion with an emphasis on Women and Religion from Claremont Graduate University. She is the author of the critically acclaimed book Baby, You Are My Religion: Women, Gay Bars, and Theology Before Stonewall (Routledge 2013). She is a senior lecturer in Gender and Women’s Studies and Queer Studies at California State University Northridge, and in Film Studies at Univ. of CA Irvine.