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(Editor’s note: SDGLN welcomes a new column called RGOD2 by the Rev. Canon Albert Ogle of St. Paul’s Cathedral in San Diego. Ogle is known around the world for his work in support of LGBT rights and HIV-prevention efforts. RGOD2 will look at faith and religion from an LGBT point of view.)
The Feast of the Epiphany – a feast of disagreement
Today, Christians in the West celebrate the end of the 12-day-long Christmas season with the story in Mathew’s Gospel about the coming of the “magi” (magicians, astrologers or kings) to worship the baby Jesus.
Meanwhile, the Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate Christmas Day on Jan. 6. Orthodox Christians celebrated the magi way back on Dec. 25! We Christians agree to disagree.
Where churches lack agreement on liturgical dates and observances, they compensate for by unfortunately agreeing to wage war on LGBT people throughout most of the planet. Recent trends in the late 20th and now 21st century ecumenical movement are showing renewed inter-church and interfaith co-operation in demonizing LGBT folk (Cardinal George’s latest outrageous comparison to gay people with the Klu Klux Klan is one recent example. See top left illustration.).
Why do so many religious people who actually do not get along or agree on a range of issues, find unity in fighting us? Maybe we are God’s new gift to Christian unity? WOW!
Let’s look at what today’s feast is all about. (The appropriate greeting for Epiphany is not “Happy Fanny,” by the way).
The “12 days of Christmas” was created to repair some of the political fallout when Pope Gregory changed the universal calendar in 1582 to keep Easter on a more reliable lunar calendar by reducing the number of leap years.
The Eastern European countries and Russia observe the older dating system, creating a 12-day difference, so the church creatively repaired the difference of opinion and time by creating a longer Christmas season. Dec. 25 –Jan. 6 = a creative solution to Christian unilateralism and more sales for Ca$hmas! My Orthodox friends LOVE to party, especially right in the middle of the longer Christmas season we all call New Year!
Gifts of the magi
The magi (from where we get our word magic) bring three gifts – gold (universal currency), frankincense (incense for a God) and myrrh (sweet smelling oils used for embalming the dead).
The magi, we are told, hail from the East and represent the “universal significance” of the Jesus birth event now involving other religious traditions. The magi have often been associated with Persian Zoroastrian priests and astrologers and were probably an attempt by the early church to assimilate other forms of religious experience into early Christianity.
At its best, the story is about our global consciousness. It is not about Christianity being right and all other religions being wrong. The magi do not become Christians or return to evangelize among their astrology-loving followers, as some might believe.
Evangelicals have difficulty with the magi story because it introduces aspects of human religious and mystical experience that do not fit with their image of being a faithful person. Astrology and magic are suspected of being linked with demonic forces and witchcraft, so there will not be any significant Epiphany celebrations in Iowa or at Saddleback church this weekend.
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe the star (which led the Magi to Herod, who then called for the slaughter of all male children younger than 2 around Bethlehem) was of demonic origin to help shift the moral of the story back onto their distaste for “mystery” religions. Feminists joke if there had been three wise women instead of “wise men,” they would have found Jesus more efficiently without getting lost!
I still cannot figure out how you find a street address without a GPS system and using a whole STAR. WOW! However, I love the story of the magi and it has not only captured the imagination of many artists, but it also symbolizes the unholy mess we live in as the church kneels at the feet of ultimate power.
The feast also offers a framework for discussion on religious differences and “certainty” in a globalized world. If Christians cannot decide even on the celebration of Jesus’ birthday, then maybe we can find something else to unite us (like making life hell on Earth for LGBT people)? If we are to have some peace and quiet as LGBT people, we need to help the Christians find someone else to persecute together (what about shrimp-eaters, some of whom publically flaunt this well-known anti-biblical practice?)
A contemporary Nativity scene with Rick, Henry and Francis
Christian art has traditionally portrayed the magi coming to the stable in Bethlehem and presenting their three gifts to the baby Jesus. I imagine a modern-day Epiphany scene with three contemporary “magicians” coming to kneel at baby Jesus feet.
The first gift of GOLD would be given by Rick Warren, who may not be a king, but in the last election proved himself to be a “king maker.” I imagine him presenting the GOLDEN Rule of modern day Christianity -- “He who has the gold ... rules.” Millions of dollars continue to pour into Africa from well-meaning Christians supporting the further criminalization of homosexuality. Warren has distanced himself recently from the Ugandan mess, but his 300,000 Purpose Driven churches continue to offer an anti-gay alternative to reality for millions of people who are taught to “pray the gay away.” (See middle left illustration.).
The second magician would be some significant Anglican archbishop who would be swinging an imaginary mirror ball – like a flaming disco ball with frankincense coming out of it like a fiery thurible! There are so many candidates to choose from but as we do not have a pope, maybe we should have a competition between Henry Orombi of Uganda who supports the Bahati Bill (See bottom left illustration(, or some other distinguished archbishop who supports sending gays to jail. My beloved Anglican church has been swinging that incense ball for over 500 years, mastering the magic of “smoke and mirrors” in all five continents. Half the countries where LGBT is still criminalized are largely Anglican and in sub-Sahara Africa.
The third gift to the little baby Jesus is the gift of myrrh. This is the PERFECT gift from the Roman Catholic hierarchy. Its perfume is designed to cover up the stench of some pretty dreadful sex scandals in recent days. I imagine Cardinal Francis George of Chicago as the perfect representative with his newly designed “spray bottle” resembling a KKK hood.
So I imagine three contemporary magi coming to the holy family with their gifts, representing the worst possible aspects of modern day Christianity. “Jesus, protect us from your followers” is probably the most appropriate prayer to offer to the baby surrounded on all sides by these contemporary “king- makers” and magicians.
So as the country and world wrestles with the question: “How we can agree on ecumenical diversity without attacking LGBT people?” our material may be pretty sparse. Vatican Catholics “officially” do not believe Mormons to be real Christians (the pope said so with reference to Mormon baptism being invalid) and Evangelicals are scared to death of Mitt Romney’s potential takeover of the White House.
This unholy Trinity is underpinned by Catholic biblical and moral teaching to the belief that homosexuality is not a real identity, just a set of “behaviors.” Smelling sweetly of myrrh, a Catholic presidential candidate can still uphold traditional church values on the family and the sins of “serial” fornication. How many times was Jesus actually mentioned in the recent speeches of the “wanna-be-king” presidential candidates?
Icons and codes give secret messaging
The traditional Nativity scene with “one man and one woman” in a committed monogamous married relationship and their newborn child has become the ultimate image of the current preoccupation with religious ecumenism to “deify” the nuclear family.
We are turning the nuclear family into a god, to be worshipped, idealized beyond recognition. This is idolatry. Jesus grew up to be an unmarried radical who invited people to consider they might be part of something bigger than their families of origin or their religion or nation.
If you listen carefully to every recent pronouncement against LGBT people, it is often preceded by a new theology of “deifying the family.”
Religious code, often used by all three of our respective contemporary magi, further isolates LGBT people from their families by suggesting that being gay is “anti-family or undermines “family values.”. Of course no homosexuals are born into “real” families in any country where this kind of magic is effectively working.
Learning from the past
If California’s experience with Proposition 8 can teach us something to apply in the near future, this unholy alliance between the king-makers of Evangelical fundamentalists, Catholics and Mormons, may be the deciding factor in the presidential election this year. Or, as history authenticates, these Christians may not be able to agree on anything after all, including our next president.
There are also costly lessons to be learned from the “certainty” of liberal Californians in 2007-08 when we were SO complacent about winning marriage equality. Meanwhile, the ecumenical “spin doctors” concocted their spells and with smoke and mirrors, whiffs of myrrh and lots of gold, delayed marriage equality in California and curtailed effective outreach to most at risk populations in the global HIV/AIDS plan. In 2012, the stakes are higher: Who are the king-makers and what new spells and tricks will captivate our imaginations and prejudices?
Kingship provides an important role to save us from our lesser selves and to bring us together when we fight over calendars, religion and who is naughty or who is nice. “Happy Epiphany” (revelation) on this feast day and pray that the country has a big one in 2012!
The Rev. Canon Albert Ogle is president of St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation and lives in San Diego. Donations to the foundation can be made by clicking HERE.