Category Archives: change

No Homosexual Lifestyle???

In August of last year, the darling of the progressive Christian world, John Pavlovitz, wrote a post titled Repeat After Me: “There is No Such Thing as a “Homosexual Lifestyle.”  What?!? No homosexual lifestyle? I find that hard to believe. I mean, if there’s no “homosexual lifestyle”, that means I’ve been an asshole for absolutely no reason whatsoever. That is a turn of events I just cannot accept.

Look, there are numerous places where the Bible plainly states homosexuality is a sin. Here are a few of those places:

  • In Leviticus 18:22, God told Moses that men shouldn’t lie with men as they do with women because that is an abomination. Of course, a few chapters earlier, God also told Moses that the people shouldn’t eat pork and shrimp. But, I love pork and shrimp, so I ignore that part. Thank you, God, for the miracle of proof-texting!
  • In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Paul said that “homosexuals” won’t “inherit the kingdom of God”. Yes, I know the word “homosexual” doesn’t appear in the Bible until the middle of the 20th century. But, the words that have been rendered as “homosexual” are slang terms and we really don’t know what they mean. But, hey, if we don’t know what Paul meant, what’s wrong with interpreting it in a way that benefits us “normal”, straight folks?
  • In Romans 1:26-28, Paul tells us that men and women gave up natural, God-ordained relations and defiled themselves with icky, same-sex shenanigans and were promptly punished for it. Sure, in the very next chapter, Paul tells us that God condemns the kind of judgement he just threw out, but that doesn’t help my case, so I’m ignoring it.

Seriously, is this man, this “pastor”, trying to tell me that my deeply held religious belief about the homosexuals, based on a Bible verses that have been few proof-texted and cherry-picked within an inch of their life, is wrong? Really?

According to Pavlovitz, “We all have a gender identity and a sexual orientation and these things all fall along a vast and complicated continuum. It is this specific combination of both how we see ourselves and who we are drawn to that form this essential part of who we are.” Oh, come on, “gender identity” and “sexual orientation”? Everyone knows God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. And, Eve was always Eve, not Steve who decided he was Eve. No less an authority than the Southern Baptist Convention backs this up in their resolution “On Transgender Identity”. How could that many Baptists be wrong about something like this?

He also says that the Christians are holding onto “the prejudices and fears our faith inherited 3500 years ago when we didn’t know what we know now” and is “deliberately choosing to not know now; preferring religion to reality”. Well, of course we are. Otherwise we might have to change. And, if there’s one thing we don’t do very well, it’s change.

Look, the bottom line is that accepting homosexuality as innate and not a “lifestyle” is just another step onto the slippery slope that will ultimately lead Christians to live by the teachings of Jesus and start loving our neighbor and turning the other cheek. God only knows where that could lead.

I’m Still Not Ashamed Of My Heritage?

The Rieves family coat of arms. Until recently, I didn't know we had one.
Apparently, this is the Rives family coat of arms. Until recently, I didn’t know we had one.

Race is a funny thing in the South. Most of the time, it’s confusing and hard to navigate. If you’re a (sort of) progressive, white man, even more so. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been digging into my family history and found that I was a little off base about my background (and by “a little off base”, I mean “not even in the fucking ballpark”). I’m still sorting out what these revelations mean to me.

You see, a couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post titled, “I Am Not Ashamed Of My Heritage…, Maybe” in which I said:

“I’m not exactly what you’d call “proud” of my family’s history. But I don’t walk around with my head hung low, beating myself up because my ancestors owned other people. The truth is, there was only one of them (my great-great-grandfather) who could even have had the means. Whether he owned anyone or not, he wasn’t exactly a pleasant fellow (known as “the laziest man in Chatham County”, he somehow found the energy to cross the street and beat up a black man for speaking to a white woman). By and large, however, the men of my family in those days were yeoman farmers and tradesmen, just like the majority of the men who made up the Confederate Army. In other words, my family were rednecks and, for them, the war wasn’t about slavery.”

As it turns out, that’s not exactly true

I have spent most of my adult life, believing that my ancestors were part of something called the “yeomanry”.  That social class occupied a level between the gentry and the poor. They could be farmers who owned the land they worked, tradesmen and craftsmen, artisans, etc. In other words, middle/working class. But, digging into my family history has shown that not only were my ancestors members of the gentry, they were one of the prominent farming families in Chatham County.

This little jaunt through the ages began several years ago when my brother found an old book in the Siler City library called “Reliques of Rives“. It was a reference copy and he couldn’t check it out, so he made copies of the relevant sections (well, what he considered relevant, anyway). I read it, but the information didn’t stick; probably because it’s not that well-written and really hard to follow. Then, about a month ago, Jeff sent me a link to another book he’d found that mentioned our family, titled “History of North Carolina: North Carolina biography, by special staff of writers” that said our great-grandfather was born on a plantation. And, then it got interesting, because it also said my great-great-great grandfather was a “planter”. Now, if the word “planter” (in all it’s forms) had occurred only once, I could’ve chalked it up to differences in the language that develop over the course of almost 100 years (it was published in 1919). But twice? I couldn’t see that being a coincidence. It wasn’t.

Digging through all the piles of crap in my office, I found that copy of “Reliques” my dear brother had made. Settling down on the porch with it and a cup of coffee one morning, I reread it and it was an eye-opening experience. That grandfather (times 3) that was mentioned in “History of North Carolina”? Well, it turns out he inherited a plantation called “The Barrax” from his father, along with “one negro man named Anthony”. In all, Thomas (grandfather X4) parceled out around 24 slaves in his will, seeming to give them about as much thought as the land, livestock and furniture mentioned in the document. Going back even further, I found that my family was part of the gentry in England, with impressive titles and holdings in that county. The first Rives (the only spelling of the family name back then) came here in the Cavalier migration of the mid-to-late 1600’s. There’s not much to be found about him in the records, which are pretty scarce (destroyed by fire, etc.), but his descendants did pretty well for themselves, as is evidenced by Thomas’ will.

Saying all this was quite a revelation for me is an understatement. But, don’t worry, I haven’t become filled with white liberal angst over the fact that my ancestors probably weren’t the most progressive people of their day. The truth is, I came to grips with the idea that they were probably assholes a long time ago (see story about great-great grandfather a few paragraphs earlier). As for the fact that they owned slaves, well, all I can say is that ended 150 years ago and there are plenty of other, more recent things in my family history to feel all angst-ey about.

In the post previous to this one, I said that I wasn’t ashamed of my heritage “because it is a history of good people doing the best they could with what they had; which, most of the time, wasn’t very much.” And, I’m still not because they were doing the best they could with what they had. It just turns out that what they lacked wasn’t material goods. A working moral compass, though? That may be a different story.

Why Are You Being So Mean To Bernie?

Bernie Sanders and Black Lives Matter activists

So, it seems that a couple of protesters claiming to be part of Black Lives Matter had the nerve to disrupt another Bernie Sanders campaign event. Saturday, in that progressive bastion of Seattle, two women made their way on stage and took the microphone away from Sanders to address the crowd, calling for 4 1/2 minutes of silence in honor of the 4 1/2 hours that Michael Brown’s body lay on a Ferguson street last year and not letting Sanders speak. Liberals are not happy.

So, what has gotten progressive panties in such a bunch? Not Marissa  Johnson’s and Mara Jacqueline Willaford’s attempt to exercise a little agency on behalf of their community, that’s cool. It’s the fact that they were…, impolite. No, really, that’s what people are saying. The response of many progressives hasn’t exactly been polite either and it reveals that we may not be the champions of racial justice we like to think we are.

So, what are those “not good” things that are brought to the surface? Well, lets see, there’s a certain cluelessness that rears its head every time a progressive’s commitment to racial justice is questioned. Then, there’s a plantation mentality undercurrent in the liberal backlash. And, lastly, there’s the fact that our reaction is one we rip conservatives for whenever they do the same thing.

So, let’s tackle these items one at a time:

  1. There’s a certain cluelessness that rears its head every time a progressive’s commitment to racial justice is questioned. I’ve seen several people respond to the protest by pointing out that Bernie “walked with Dr. King.” Yeah, here’s the thing: that was 50 years ago and if anyone has the right to say “Fine, but what have you done for me lately?”, it’s African-Americans. Despite the fact that we have twice elected a black man to the presidency (proof of a post-racial society, right?), African-Americans are incarcerated almost 6 times as much as whites and all too many young black men are dying in police custody. So, yeah, while progressives might have a better record than conservatives when it comes to racial justice, it’s still not good. And, just so you know, getting butthurt when someone points that out isn’t helpful.
  2. There’s an undercurrent of plantation mentality in the liberal backlash. When I say “a plantation mentality“, I’m not talking about the standard version that conservatives use to demonize minorities, I’m talking about the sense of entitlement that makes progressives think that black folks should just be quiet and let the (white) people who know what’s best for all of us handle things. This mindset shows up in several different ways, but perhaps the best example comes from an American News X article where the author says, “BLM (Black Lives Matter) needs to sit down and take the time to read about Bernie’s track record of fighting for civil rights, and addressing institutional economic racism.” Why, that’s not condescending at all.
  3. There’s the fact that our reaction is one we rip conservatives for whenever they do the same thing. This item is, quite possibly, the most damning one of all. From Trayvon Martin to Michael Brown to Freddie Gray, every time a young, black man dies at the hands of white people, evidence of their less-than-savory past is waved around by conservatives to show that, basically, they got what was coming to them. We’re doing something similar to Marissa Johnson. Within hours of the Sanders protest, a thread popped up on a Democratic Underground message forum sharing a Facebook post of Johnson’s in which she admits to having a Sarah Palin button on her backpack in high school and another where she says, “GOP shoulda groomed me right then…now they gotta see me on the other side *shrugs*”. Somehow, this seems to constitute “documentation” of Johnson’s status as a Republican operative. Now, I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want people using things I thought 10 years ago to characterize my current beliefs, much less what I thought in high school. And, the second statement says the GOP lost its chance to recruit years ago, not that she’s allied with them now. I can’t help but think that if Johnson had interrupted one of the other candidates (especially a Republican), these two articles would be praised in liberal circles, not used as evidence of her disloyalty to the cause. At it’s heart, this is a smear campaign and we (rightly) give conservatives grief whenever they use this tactic. So, why is okay for us to employ it here?

Look, the bottom line is that African-Americans have been beating their heads against the wall for years when it comes to racial justice. If, in their frustration at not being heard, they’re a little less than polite, that’s understandable. But, maybe we liberals/progressives need to do a little self-examination to figure out why we get so upset us when that frustration comes our way. Don’t expect to like the answer, though.

Here We Go Again

I'm just going to leave this right here...
I’m just going to leave this right here…

The Supreme Court will be deciding the fate of same-sex marriage this session and  the protesters are out in force. From both sides, of course, but I thought I’d take a look at some of the arguments of the folks on the anti- side by checking out their signs. I would say they’re full of shit, but that wouldn’t be nice (maybe even mocking and sarcastic) and I’m trying not to be ugly these days. So, let’s just say I find their logic (not to mention their compassion)…, lacking. Check these out:

  • “Protect marriage and protect innocent children”   By not allowing gay folks to get married? Really? Look, marriage was in the shitter long before same-sex marriage was anyone’s horizon. In other words, we straight folks have fucked it up all by our lonesome. So, why not let people who are LGBT have shot at it. They can’t do any worse than we have. Besides, don’t they deserve the right to be just as miserable as we are? And, as for protecting children, protect them from what? Being molested? Right, because only people who are gay molest children.
  • “Follow God’s Directions: ‘One Man, One Woman'”  I notice you don’t use the phrase “Biblical marriage” anymore, why is that? Maybe because you figured out the Bible doesn’t back up your definition of marriage? So, now it’s “Follow God’s directions”. Tell me, where did you find these directions? Did God send you an email spelling them out? I’m sure all your divorces are just fine, though. While we’re on that subject…
  • “God made them male and female…, and said a man shall be joined to his wife.”  Which sounds really good…, until you read the whole thing and realize that Jesus was talking about divorce and not being gay.
  • “A Child Needs a Mom And A Dad”  Even if that dad is abusive or that mom is an addict? Look, I know you mean well, but seriously you need to stop with this shit because it’s just wrong. I mean, factually, not morally. Well, yeah, it’s morally wrong, too. But, that’s not what I’m talking about right now. There are plenty of kids who are growing up just fine with one parent, two parents, parents of the opposite sex, parents of the same sex, etc. What counts is love. And, not being an asshole (which is not the same thing, but it’ll do for a start).
  • “Today, man marries man. Tomorrow, man has civil union with his dog. Followed by man marrying his dog.”  Seriously? Can you look me in the eye and say, with a straight face, that allowing two consenting adult humans is anywhere near analogous to people marrying non-humans who do not have the capacity to consent?!? Sadly, some of you probably can. I’m not sure what to think about that.
  • “Stop Judicial Tyranny!”  It appears that some folks don’t understand the principle of judicial review, so here’s a quick and dirty breakdown: it is the job of the Supreme Court to look at the laws in this country and determine whether they are in line with the Constitution. You remember the Constitution, right? That’s the piece of paper some of you carry around in your pocket and pull out when it suits your purpose. The fact that you think the Supreme Court fulfilling its assigned duty is “judicial tyranny” leads me to suspect you haven’t spent much time actually reading it, though.
  • “Homo-sex Is A Threat To National Security.”  What…the…actual…fuck? I don’t even know where to start with this one. However, when I googled it to see if I could find where it came from, I saw it on a forum supported by the Landover Baptist Church (a satirical website that parodies fundamentalism and the Religious Right). Hopefully, that means this isn’t a belief that anyone actually holds. Hopefully.

So, do I think this “reasoned argument” against the ideas and beliefs of those opposed to equal rights for people who are LGBT will make a difference? Maybe. Maybe not. Okay, probably not, but a fellow has to try.

That Could’ve Been Me

There was one of these billboards just across the line in Randolph County when I was a youngster.
There was one of these billboards just across the line in Randolph County when I was a youngster.
           Last week, PBS aired Klansville U.S.A.,  a documentary about Bob Jones and the Ku Klux Klan in North Carolian in the 1960’s. It was one of the most interesting films I’ve seen in quite a while and I highly recommend it. The basics presented weren’t exactly news to me, as I grew in the 60’s and 70’s knowing that the Klan not only existed, but that some of the people in my community were most likely members. Hell, as the caption in the picture above states, there were billboards across the state attesting to that fact. But, I did not know that the North Carolina chapter of the United Klans of America was the largest in the country in its heyday, boasting 10,000 dues-paying members. Coupled with the fact that North Carolina has long been considered the most progressive state in the South((a reputation our “esteemed” legislators seem intent on trashing)), this fact illustrates the weird relationship many southerners have with race relations.
          While I found all that interesting, the characterization of Bob Jones had me absolutely riveted. Jones was a working-class guy from Salisbury, NC who drifted from job to job, was kicked out of the Navy in the 1940’s for refusing to salute a black officer and found his raison d’être as the most influential Klan leader in the country. As I watched a couple of interviews with him, I was struck at the ease with which the word “n***er” rolled off his tongue. And, like many southerners of the time((Hell, like many southerners today)), Jones had no real animosity toward his African-American neighbors…, as long as they knew their place and stayed in it, of course. His father was a Klansman during its early 20th century  resurgence and Jones liked to boast that his mother marched with the local Klavern while she was pregnant with him. Right about now, you’re probably wondering why someone like Bob Jones would capture my attention that way. It’s because I could easily have turned out just like him.
          I also grew up in a working-class family, the descendant of farmers and mill hands. I drifted from job to job until I found my raison d’etre in the fire department. Hell, I was even kicked out the Air Force((not because I wouldn’t salute a black officer, though)). Racism was present in my own family, too. My grandfather never hesitated to drop an “N-bomb” and was incensed at Hank Aaron breaking Babe Ruth’s record. My dad loved tell my brother and I racial jokes and broke out a few “N-bombs” himself over the years. And, as I got older, it was rumored that at least one fellow volunteer firefighter was a card-carrying Klansman((A rumor he did nothing to dispel)). Add to that the fact that I was a white kid during the civil rights movement, a time of great upheaval in the South and a racially charged atmosphere was impossible to avoid, and even I question how I didn’t become the next Bob Jones.
          So, what happened? Why didn’t I turn out like Jones or the people I knew growing up with who supported the Klan, either through membership or turning a blind eye to it? My family, that’s what happened. Because, while my father and grandfather could say “n***er” with relative impunity, that was a short cut to getting my mouth washed out with soap (which was really a best-case scenario). Because some members of my family might not have always spoken kindly about African-Americans as as a group, they always treated individual black people with respect and kindness. Because, even though he loved telling those awful jokes, my father taught me that what mattered was a person’s character, not their skin color((he never said so overtly, but that’s the way he lived)). While all of that was important in making me who am I today, I think I turned out this way mostly because my family wasn’t afraid.
         I say that because racism and discrimination exist because of fear. Fear of what, you ask? In a word, change. Poor  white  people fought (and still fight) integration and equal rights for people of color not because they’re bad people, but because they’re afraid that if these folks achieve equality, they could lose what little they have. And, when you don’t have much, you’ll fight tooth and nail to preserve it.
           So, why didn’t my family succumb to this fear? At least part of it can be attributed to our economic situation. My father worked for the U.S. Post Office, which was about as secure as jobs got in those days. My grandfather drove a truck for Southern Railway, which almost as good. But, there was also a strength in my forebears that wouldn’t allow them to blame their misfortunes on others. When hours got cut and money was tight, well, you took your belt up another notch and did whatever was needed to get by. You did not, under any circumstances, waste time finding someone to blame for your bad luck. Were we that different from other families? I don’t think so, but sometimes I wonder.
          I realize this an odd post for Martin Luther King Day, but I believe it’s more honest than anything I could write about Dr. King. Don’t get me wrong, I admire the man and am astounded at what he accomplished. But, as a white man born and raised in the South, my journey is vastly different from King’s and that of my friends and neighbors of color. But, those paths intersect on a regular basis and we have to find a way walk together when they do. That only happens when we see each other as human, not rednecks or n***ers.

A Change Of Heart

heart in hands

After another state’s sterling effort at executing one of their wards, the death penalty is back in the news. If you have no idea what I’m talking about here (and, you’re too lazy to click the link), Oklahoma recently executed Clayton Lockett. Unfortunately, it didn’t exactly go to plan and, by all accounts, Lockett suffered horribly for 43 minutes before finally dying of a heart attack. In light of this news, and that states are having difficulty getting the proper drugs for their lethal injection cocktails, talk of older methods of execution being revived and North Carolina’s GOP-dominated legislature repealing the Racial Justice Act, it seems like a good time to talk about my views on capital punishment

For most of my adult life, I was a staunch advocate of the death penalty. I firmly believed it was an effective deterrent to violent crime. Hey, I thought, even if it didn’t prevent anyone else from doing something heinous, the executee was most certainly deterred from any more criminal acts. Besides, I’m from the south and the idea that some folks just need killin’ is a widely accepted truth down here. Strangely, southerners are also deeply Christian and the contradiction of supporting state-sanctioned execution and claiming to follow someone who was executed by the state is lost on many of us.

For me, that changed about 6 or 7 years ago when my father recommended I read a book by Donald Spoto titled “The Hidden Jesus: A New Life“. In it, Spoto makes several controversial assertions, such as questioning the validity of the virgin birth, that Jesus was actually born in Nazereth, that there’s no evidence of the star the Magi supposedly followed, etc. Very interesting stuff, but none of it rocked me like the two following passages:

“To argue that some criminals are beyond the pale of grace and forgiveness — and therefore must be executed rather than allowed a lifetime to repent— is simply to replace God’s ultimately free, forgiving and transformative action in the hearts of human beings with one’s own presumptive and preemptive judgment.”

and

“A Christian by definition cannot support capital punishment, for he believes in and adores one who consistently condemned violence and vengeance – and who the ultimately innocent man wrongly executed.”

It was the first time I’d ever seen the dichotomy between supporting the death penalty and being a Christian laid out so starkly and I wrestled with it with for quite a while before realizing that, yes, some folks do need killin’, but that’s not my job. My job is to forgive, consistently, completely and continually.

Over time, I came to realize that Spoto was right; Christians cannot support the death penalty and remain true to their faith. Jesus left very few distinct commands for us to follow, but chief among them were these: Love each other, love your neighbor and love your enemies. If you take nothing else from this post, please understand one thing: when we execute people, we deny them the grace that we have been shown. Even worse, we deny them the opportunity even to find that grace and repent of their sins. And, there is nothing of love in that.

Making A Change

My morning has not followed its usual pattern. For one thing, I got up early this morning and…, wait, let me rephrase that. I got up at the same time, but I left the house much earlier than I usually do. Diana and I are making one of our semi-annual trips to Florida this weekend and the car needed to be serviced and inspected, necessitating the early departure. While that’s going on, I’m sitting in a coffee shop, writing; which is something I rarely do. The change of scenery is somewhat stimulating, but I have also seen the downside to writing in public: old men with voices that carry like you wouldn’t believe. Seriously, this dude isin another room and I can hear him over the music that’s practically blasting through my headphones. Fortunately, it’s nothing that good coffee, patience and some Los Lobos won’t fix. And, to top it all off, I’m writing the first post for my new blog.

If you’re a fan or (even better) a follower of my other little corner of the web, But Not Yet, you’re probably wondering what the hell is going on, because this is not where you usually find me. I guess a little explanation is in order. Four years ago, when I started this blogging thing, I was beginning to change the way I approached my faith and needed a way to get my thoughts in order. Flannery O’Connor once said “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say” and, like a lot of writers, I find that to be true. Now, you’re probably thinking that a personal journal would take care of that and, you’d be right. But I’m just vain enough to believe others might like to hear what I have to say. That meant that a blog was the way to go. I started out with a free site on Google’s Blogger and titled “But Not Yet” because it was part of a quote by St. Augustine that I thought was catchy. I stuck with it for a couple of iterations of my site, but I’m realizing it doesn’t work anymore. Especially since, a couple of years ago, I decided to chase a dream I’ve had for almost as long as I can remember: to make a living as an author. And,  while But Not Yet provided a cool tagline, it didn’t really say anything about what I’m trying to do here. Hence, the change. 

So, I’ve explained the reason for the change, but not what I changed it to. First, the address. Every blogging guru I’ve ever read says your name (or the name of your business) should figure prominently in your URL. Now, I’ve tried a lot of stuff recommended by said gurus without a lot of success, so a part of me wonders why I’m doing this. But, hey, maybe (thirty)third time’s the charm.

The name of the new blog, The Progressive Redneck, comes to us courtesy of Hugh Hollowell who is the closest thing I have to a mentor in all this craziness. It refers to the fact that, while I am pretty progressive, I still have a few redneck tendencies (something I’ll detail in another post). It’s also a play on words and a back-handed tribute to my grandfather, James Ronald Steele (one of the magazines he read on a regular basis  was The Progressive Farmer)While he might not agree with some of the things I say here, Grandpa was a good man and had a huge hand in who I’ve become. I’d like to think he’d be proud even if he thought I was wrong.

So, there you have it. I’ve moved and I’m praying it brings about the desired outcome: a following crazy enough to spend money on whatever ridiculous ideas fall out of my head. Will it? Only time will tell. But, you have a hand in that, dear reader. If you liked the old blog enough to subscribe, please do the same here. If you’ve never read my blog and like what you see, do the same. And, all you guys, please share this with anyone you can think of. I’ll end by saying that I love each and everyone one of you, whether you follow me or not. Although, I’ll probably love you a lot more if you do.