Houston pastor Joel Osteen and feel-good homophobia

Lakewood Church leader part of new breed who couch anti-gay teachings in forgiveness, love

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Joel Osteen

When the Michele Bachmanns or Glenn Becks of the world do their public rants about rampant homosexual perversion and the decay of American values, I’m happy to let them talk.

As painful as it is to keep the free flow of ideas going, it is important to let people fly their colors. This way you know where they stand and you get to fly your own big neon flag in response. When activists called to have the Mormon church’s tax-exempt status yanked for its role in California’s Prop 8, I took the church’s side — not because I approved of their bully tactics, but because I didn’t want to see other churches lose their right to fight for us one day.

So you’d think I’d be OK with Houston megachurch pastor Joel Osteen’s recent remarks recently to Oprah Winfrey: “I believe that homosexuality is shown as a sin in the scripture. I do.” I’m so not OK with this I almost foam at the mouth whenever I think about that nuclear white Osteen smile.

True, Osteen was just sick about having to say that we’re sinners, and almost apologized for it. He went out of his way to opine that Christians make too big a deal about homosexuality and that it’s about as sinful as being prideful or fibbing. I’m glad that my marriage only offends God somewhat.

I’ve heard that Osteen has a big gay following, and I know one of those fans well. Once I emailed him to report that Osteen called homosexuality “not God’s best” on Larry King. My friend wrote back, “Well, nobody’s perfect. You take what’s good and leave the rest.” He continues to be inspired.

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Abby Dees | Thinking Out Loud

This all sounds reasonable, and you could argue that my friend was reminding me of my own professed philosophy about free speech and religion. And yet I shrieked out loud when I read his email.

The reason Fox News gets a pass but Osteen has incurred my wrath is because his message is so insidious. It’s feel-good homophobia, so couched in God-loves-you talk that Osteen avoids all responsibility for the fact that real people take his words to heart. Not everyone can “leave the rest” as my friend does.

Whenever Osteen answers the question about homosexuality he hems and haws, but always comes to the apparently painful conclusion that the Bible is unambiguous about it.

He’s quick to add that he does love gay people, welcomes them in his church, doesn’t judge, that there are worse things to be, etc. The message that it’s still a sin to be gay gets quickly obscured by smiley faces and glitter glue for hope.

Curiously, Osteen is rarely willing to take a stand on any other issues. He’s gotten criticized by the religious right for staying out of politics and being unwilling to talk about sin as much as he talks about positivity. It’s all about being “the best you can be” — God’s plan for you. When Mike Wallace asked Osteen if he thought Mormons were true Christians, he humbly responded, “I haven’t really studied them or thought about them…I just try to let God be the judge of that. I mean, I don’t know” and “I’m not one to judge the little details of it.”

Hmm. Why so vague about the folks who have an entirely different set of scriptures, but so damned clear on the disappointing truth about homosexuality? Perhaps some serious re-examination is in order.

Another pastor whose language and selective choice of issues is spookily similar to Osteen’s is the purpose-driven Rick Warren. Also a proclaimed political abstainer, he encouraged his flock to vote against same-sex marriage and has disturbing ties to the recent wave of anti-gay policies in Africa. Warren still insists that he loves gay people and works closely with “a number of gay organizations,” though no one ever asks which ones. These men are entitled to their opinions, but it’s time to call out the hypocrisy of this new breed of influential pastors who want us all to bathe in the light of God’s forgiving love. Except that LGBT people must still deny how God made them if they want “God’s best” for themselves.

California-based writer Abby Dees is the author of  ‘Queer  Questions Straight Talk.’ She can be contacted through her website QueerQuestionsStraightTalk.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 20, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Good question

Lesbian writer Abby Dees wrote her book more for straight friends of gays than for gays themselves

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Author Abby Dees. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

Abby Dees wrote Queer Questions Straight Talk from her own experiences while learning about how others perceived gay people. The book, with “108 frank & provocative questions it’s OK to ask your lesbian, gay or bisexual loved one,” was imagined as a gift from gays to their straight parents, family or friends, to put them at ease about what being gay means — and to see that others have had the same questions. But Dees has also heard of gay people using the book to ask each other questions as a party game. But she can see it used as a part of a sensitivity training session, as well.

While she discusses the topics briefly, the book is a collection of questions, not answers. And she starts out with the basics: “Do you think you were always gay or lesbian or bi?” Comedian Carol Leifer submitted that one; others were collected by e-mail and through Facebook.

Dees found was that virtually all of the questions were things she’d heard before — everything from “Does this mean I’m not going to be a grandmother?” to “Are there any real lesbians like the ones on The L Word?

She mostly avoids sexually graphic questions and steers the conversation to “What’s your perfect date like?” (A response of “Dinner, good conversation and a movie, what’s yours?”) is more likely to help someone understand similarities than vast differences.

“What’s the most challenging thing about having a relationship with someone of the same sex?” she asks. Her own answer is that she would find it more challenging to have a relationship with a member of the opposite sex because of vastly different interests of men and women.

Dees says that her relationship with her mother has always been good and her mom edited the book. But reading the questions prompted them to have more discussions.

“She’s very proud of this book,” Dees says. “She went from ‘happy with you honey’ to a PFLAG mom who outs me every opportunity she gets.”

Dees describes her evolving relationship with her mother as more than a 20-year process. The questions in this 100-page book are meant to start a series of conversations, and were not meant to be raced through in one quick session.

The toughest section of the book to write, she says, deals with religion. She wrote it first and then went back to it last to lighten the tone. She admits that for the person whose only reference is that if you’re gay, you’re going to hell, this book might not help. But for others, “Do you feel you can be [gay] and go to heaven” might be a good starting point for a conversation.

She stressed that there are no right or wrong answers. And you don’t need to be an expert to answer these questions. “‘I don’t know.’ is a really good answer,” she says.

— David P. Taffet

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Stuff That Makes a Gay Heart Weep: A Definitive Guide to the Loud & Proud Dislikes of Millions by Freeman Hall (2010, Adams Media)
$14; 216 pp.

How many fashion faux pas does someone have to endure before everyone understands that plumber’s butt and muffin tops are not acceptable? Don’t those people look in mirrors before they leave the house? Do you need to rent a plane and sky-write “Wear pants that fit?” It’s enough to make you scream or want to break down in public — but you hate that.

But that’s not the only thing that you hate. There are dozens more, as you’ll see in Stuff That Makes a Gay Heart Weep.

So somebody gives you a bottle of cheap booze or wine. Or you got tacky home décor for Christmas. These kinds of things make you want to simply crawl into a fetal position until it all goes away … and they’re all throughout this book.

Justin Bieber: Now he really makes you want to bawl your eyes out. So does Richard Simmons and a certain Mama Grizzly with lipstick. The Kardashians — sniff. Guidos and Guidettes — pah! And that Angelina Jolie and Hugh Jackman are not gay? Waterworks.

If this book doesn’t make you weep from laughter, there’s something wrong. It’s absolutely hilarious.

With his signature snarky sense of humor and his feel for the absurd, author Freeman Hall pokes fun at kitschy, faddish, everyday things, places and people that practically beg to be ridiculed. There are more than 200 entries so hilariously, awfully tragic that you don’t have to be gay to want to break down in tears, even if you’re a guilty party (though it doesn’t hurt). And once you’re done reading, you almost have to come up with your own “Stuff List.”
Wrap yourself in your Snuggie because you need a good laugh out loud. Stuff That Makes a Gay Heart Weep is an absolute scream.

— Terri Schlichenmeyer

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 17, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Ailing woman seeks home for cats

When a member of the community calls and asks for help, we like to respond. Rita Smith has had some health problems and is having to move from her house. She asked if we could help place some of her cats.

Abby

Abby is a black and white, 3-year-old neutered male. She found him when he was two weeks old wedged between milk cartons in the garage.

Tiger won’t come out of the closet.

Rita thinks Tiger needs to be an only cat. He’s a 7-pound tabby and he’s camera shy. He followed her around the yard as a kitten until she brought him in the house. Now he hides in the closet because the other cats picked on him.

Jojo, Slate and Heather are siblings. All are solid gray and just 1 year old. She said they could go together or separately. A neighbor dumped them on her doorstep when they were two weeks old. All three are spayed/neutered.

If you can give any of her pets a home, call Rita at 214-363-1087.

Jojo
Slate

—  David Taffet