Straight from the Pastor: A Message of Enlightenment and Modernity Amidst the Insanity of Zealots

May 27 2012 Published by under Featured News

It has been awhile since I last posted an article by Pastor Howard Bess of Palmer, Alaska…but on the heels of my last entry yesterday - and all this nonsense by Christian extremists who insist that they are living by the inerrant word of the Bible, I felt his submission today was timely. Thank God for sanity! Christians such as Pastor Bess are why I call myself an Agnostic Christian rather than an Atheist.

Pastor Bess puts his words into action when he wrote a book titled, “Pastor, I am Gay” which caused him blow-back from the fundamentalists in his region – including Sarah Palin. Here is an excerpt from a article from September 2008…

Inevitably, his work brought him into conflict with Palin and other highly politicized Christian fundamentalists in the valley. “Things got very intense around here in the ’90s — the culture war was very hot here,” Bess said. “The evangelicals were trying to take over the valley. They took over the school board, the community hospital board, even the local electric utility. And Sarah Palin was in the direct center of all these culture battles, along with the churches she belonged to.”

Bess’ first run-in with Palin’s religious forces came when he decided to write his book, “Pastor, I Am Gay.” The book was the result of a theological journey that began in the 1970s when Bess was asked for guidance by a closeted homosexual in his Santa Barbara congregation. After deep reflection on the subject, Bess came to the conclusion that “gay people were not sick, nor they were special sinners.”

When it was published in 1995, Bess’ book caused an immediate storm in the Mat-Su Valley, an evangelical stronghold dotted with storefront churches. Conservative ministers targeted the book, and the only bookstore in the valley that dared to stock it — Shalom Christian Books and Gifts – soon dropped it after the owner was barraged with angry phone calls. The Frontiersman, the local newspaper that ran a column by Bess for seven years, fired him and ran a vicious cartoon that suggested even drooling child molesters would be welcomed by Bess’ church.

And after she became mayor of Wasilla, according to Bess, Sarah Palin tried to get rid of his book from the local library. Palin now denies that she wanted to censor library books, but Bess insists that his book was on a “hit list” targeted by Palin. “I’m as certain of that as I am that I’m sitting here. This is a small town, we all know each other. People in city government have confirmed to me what Sarah was trying to do.”

His email today had this to say regarding the article he sent to me as an attachment which I am posting in full below…

Dear Friends!

Attached is this week’s column is attached. For some recognizing that the Bible material is time located and bound is a disturbing thought. We would like religious truth in a timeless and fixed form. It is simply not that way. Just today a very fine lady told me about being denied any leadership role in her church because she cut her hair, she wore make-up, and she was not sufficiently submissive to her husband. She left the church. I trust that the column will be helpful.

Howard Bess


by Howard Bess

We all have a mind’s eye picture of a preacher with Bible in hand declaring that something is true because it is written in the Bible. It is not just preachers. Lay people spout the same attitude. Well intended and devout believers constantly write letters to the editor expressing their confidence in the Bible. They all are certain that the Bible is God’s Word to the world. If it is in the Bible, it must be true.

In the past this attitude has led to advocacy of slavery, segregation, subordination of women and corporal punishment for children. It has been only when these Biblical teachings were challenged and set aside that justice has prevailed. The latest challenge to Bible standards is the current debate about Biblical marriage and same-sex marriages. The Bible standard advocates are calling for Biblical standards for marriage.

Many of the relevant passages are found in the book of Leviticus. The place of women is set out as a part of the property codes. Women were property. Men were owners of women. A man could own as many women as he could afford. Polygamy was the standard, not monogamy. Men owned women in three categories.

  • They owned wives;
  • they owned concubines;
  • and they owned slaves.

All were available to their owner for his sexual use. Most of the women involved were little more than breeding stock. These standards were prevalent all over the Middle East and reflect Mesopotamian and Babylonian traditions.

Over the centuries, custom changed and, while polygamy was allowed and was common, cultural pressures and standards evolved toward monogamy. One standard did not change. Women in Jesus’ day were still seen as property. Marriages were still arranged. A woman had no voice in the acquiring of a husband. A young woman was provided for marriage for what was deemed the best interests of the father.

During the times of Jesus, the life of many women in a poverty economy was precarious. A man could divorce a woman by declaring his freedom from her. The worst scenario for a woman was to have no owner. The so-called prostitutes that hung around Jesus were not prostitutes in a modern sense. They were vulnerable women who had no owner. Evidently Jesus accepted them and provided them with a level of protection and security. One of the criticisms of Jesus was that he associated with prostitutes.

To his credit, the Apostle Paul declared that in Christ there was no longer slave or free, male or female. In spite of the acceptance by Jesus and the declaration of Paul, the early church embraced and perpetuated patriarchal dominance and female submission. The Leviticus standard of male ownership of wives continued in most of Christianity until the 20th century. It now seems incredible that women in the United States did not have a vote until the 19th Amendment was adopted in 1920.

I scratch my head when I hear someone declare that we need to return to Biblical standards for marriage.

Around the world and within the United States the understandings of marriage and marriage practices are hugely diverse. In that diversity a new question has been inserted in the public discussion. Should two persons of the same sex be allowed to marry? It is a subject that is never addressed in the Bible. It is a modern question that has evolved over the past 50 years. The Bible is a collection of ancient writings. I would not expect any of these writings to address a question that is so recent. Bible quotations seem so very irrelevant.

Today the typical marriage is clearly outside Biblical standards. Women are as active in choosing a mate as is a male partner. Arranged marriages are no longer the norm. The relationship is seen as a partnership, not an owner/client arrangement. Most Americans have happily rejected Biblical marriage.

Is there no standard for marriage that can be embraced in our modern world? I suspect that diversity of understandings will win the day. The need to formalize the attractions that we have for a loving companion will not go away.

I like the simple formula that Darlene and I embraced. Before a small group of witnesses, we stood before a minister and spoke words to one another. First, I said “I Howard take you Darlene to be my wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health so long as we both shall live. To this I give you my promise.” Darlene responded by speaking the same words to me. We were married.

The Bible standards seemed so very irrelevant.

The End

The Rev. Howard Bess is a retired American Baptist minister, who lives in Palmer, Alaska.

I don’t know how to add any more to the Pastor’s words, other than to share with you that he is a fellow graduate of Wheaton College with Billy Graham in 1943, as well as other notable alumni.  About the Author ~ Leah L. Burton


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