Outing Dumbledore

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Well shoot. Here I was trying to come to Harry Potter’s defense and help assure Christians they have little to worry about with these books, and then J.K. Rowling goes and outs Dumbledore.

I wrote an initial article this summer about how, though the Potter books are not specifically Christian in content, there was still a good deal of virtue in them and that for our family they provided opportunities for us to discuss our faith. And just when we thought we’d mined the books for all the faith oriented discussions they could yield, J.K. Rowling tells the world that she wrote Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts school and mentor to Harry Potter, as a gay man.

dumbledore32.jpgWhat was Rowling thinking? She had to have known that this revelation would only provide ammunition to all the Potter haterz out there. I remember when I first wrote my article friends of mine said things like, “You know you’ll probably have a back-lash on this, right?” and “Are you prepared to die on this hill?” So I confess that when I first got news of the Dumbledore development, I thought, “Great, it serves me right for defending a fictional literary character who is a wizard no less.”

While it’s true that my energies might be better spent elsewhere, my aim was less to champion the books as it was to address what seems to me to be unthoughtful criticisms from the church, and to wonder why our first response is usually fear. I wasn’t advocating for everyone to read these books, I was merely saying they weren’t the occultish affair that many Christians assumed they were and furthermore that they consistently provided opportunities to talk about our faith with our own kids in compelling context.

And that’s exactly what happened this week. When I got the news about Dumbledore’s sexual orientation, I was frustrated that Rowling would bring any kind of sexuality into these books. I had always been grateful that the books steered clear of blatant sexual themes. I then wondered if I should talk to my boys about this news or passively hope they wouldn’t hear about it (less on account of homophobia and more because I didn’t want the stories to be colored with any kind of sexuality for them). But I knew they would hear about it sooner or later, and it was best that they hear about it from me. So at lunch that day, I made the announcement: Albus Dumbledore was gay. And a fruitful conversation followed.

Whatever your theological position on homosexuality, I think it’s safe to say that by and large the church has demonized gays and lesbians or at the very least dismissed them as reprobates consumed by lustful desires. However, if you know any homosexuals personally, you begin to see that it’s a bit more complicated than that.

We have a number of Christian friends who over the years have outed themselves as gay – many of whom would have done just about anything to be heterosexual. When someone close to you makes the often painful admission that they are gay, it becomes difficult to dismiss them as merely perverted or lascivious. You have to reconcile their sexuality with their humanity, which is inconvenient and messy.

And in a way that’s what’s happened with Dumbledore. He is a character that is so beloved, wise, gifted, and heroic – someone readers have come to trust and to love, someone we even wish we could be perhaps. He is like a friend, he’s like family. Why complicate things with these very personal details? Now we have to factor his sexuality into the equation and come to terms with it. Do we excommunicate him from the family? Are we afraid to be in a room alone with him? Do we now disregard all the virtues that made us love him in the first place? It’s messy, and complicated – and a lot like real life. At least that’s how it has been for us when people we loved came out of the closet. The question is: Now what?

The Potter books reveal no sordid affairs of any kind going on in the castle of Hogwarts, and it appears as though he was a celibate homosexual (unless Rowling decides to rewrite the history she’s given us). I told my boys that this has all reminded me of one of my own heroes: renowned author Henri Nouwen. Nouwen wrote some of Christendom’s most beloved books, full of deep wisdom and great compassion. At the height of his career as author and teacher at Harvard and Yale, he left behind his position of influence and renown and lived the remainder of his days in obscurity serving the severely mentally handicapped at the L’arche Daybreak Community in Canada, exemplifying selfless Christian service.

In his books he bravely faced his pain and helped the rest of us to face our own and allow God to redeem it by making us “wounded healers.” After his death, it was revealed that he was gay, and in fact the great pain that he often made reference to was his own subsequent loneliness and his conviction that if he chose love and companionship with another, he would have to sacrifice his ministry.

He chose his ministry and remained a celibate homosexual.

We got to talk with my boys about all of this, and it was fruitful. We got to talk about the difficult theology in discerning what God’s heart is toward homosexuals (wherever you land on this issue, I think it’s safe to say that we as a Christian community haven’t always responded lovingly and in a Christ-like manner). We wondered how a church like “God Hates Fags” could exist within Christendom. We wondered what a truly Christ-like response to homosexuals would look like.

Tough questions without easy answers that we must wrestle with if we are to be Christians worth our salt. Tough questions that I might have otherwise avoided if it weren’t for the news of Dumbledore’s orientation. So I’m right back where I started with my initial defense of the Potter books. They have consistently provided fertile opportunities to dig in and ask hard questions about faith.

Even though I was irritated with Rowling at first for dropping this bomb on us, I suppose I’m indebted once again to her for an opportunity to have a meaningful conversation about faith, God, and love.

That was probably her intent.


30 Comments

  1. Jim A

    I have always been terrible at the word association game where someone says a word and you say the first thing that comes to mind. I need more time to think about what a clever response might be. That said, when I saw CNN reporting this story, my very first thought was – RabbitRoom: What’s Jason going to say? I should admit that I’ve been lurking around the original posting’s comment section but I won’t.

    Jason, your discussion here is definitely thought provoking. I do take issue though with Rowling even bringing it up. I’ve never cared much that there’s magic in her books any more than I care that all the princess movies/stories my daughters love to watch/read have much magic in them.
    Buechner’s “Telling the Truth” suggests the Gospel isn’t to far removed from the fantasy world of the magic of say Cinderella. And I understand your point about things in the book giving you an opportunity to discuss things with your children.
    However, some things like the birds and the bees are things parents should bring up gradually as their kids grow up. I feel like Rowling forced upon many parents a discussion that they didn’t feel their kids were mature enough to follow. Why can’t the story just exist. Can you imagine Tolkien every coming out and saying that Gandalf was really a transgendered hemophite wizard? Try explaining that to anyone under the age of, well, uh, 37. I feel like a frog in a pot and the culture has just turned up the knob a notch.

    The other aspect that I, as a Christian, have to deal with is how to stand against something that is sin without judging who is sinning. On Gullahorn’s “Room To Breathe” Album the opening song talks of being the devil who would befriend us fast and corrupt us slow (like boiling a frog). Have we gotten to a point where we are willing to say that certain lustful desires are ok because we are “wired” for it? I think very often these days as Christians we hesitate to say somethings wrong because it comes out sounding like we are judging someone. I’ll also say that as Christians we Have often done a lot of judging in the past and we have focused on that rather than seeing how we could enter into relationship with them and make them feel they have worth in ours and God’s eyes (like Christ asking the woman at the well for water) and also to see how we might be able to wash their feet. This makes me think the church you mention is addressing the issue in a very wrong and possibly harmful way.

    However, what do we tell the man consumed by lust who’s married but goes searching in places outside his home to satisfy that lust? Do we tell him/her, well there really isn’t anything wrong with your lifestyle since you are driven in that direction anyway. Or what do we tell our friends who’ve outed themselves or other friends/colleagues that the lifestyle is not what God intended.
    I am glad you mentioned the bit about chosing celabacy. I’ver heard Tony Campolo suggest that’s how Christians who believe they are wired to be homosexual should live (albeit a very difficult life).

  2. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Jim A said,
    “The other aspect that I, as a Christian, have to deal with is how to stand against something that is sin without judging who is sinning.”

    So much of that comes from recognizing that we are not only dead to sin as believers (Rom 6) – we are dead to Law (Rom 7). The Law is the way of self-effort, of comparison, of striving, of judging. But the problem is when we judge others – and I mean judge them, not merely saying that the sin is wrong, but look down on them for it – we really are causing sin in our own lives, because our judgment is measured back to us and falls on our own heads. The way out of this death-trap is to recognize that Christ within us is the living Law, the indwelling Overcomer, and that there is no separate “I” or human self that has to strive to conform to the Law by effort; our outer actions will conform to the will of God as we trust the indwelling Spirit of God to manifest his fruit through us. And so the way out of judging others is to see them in the same light, that, for believers who are caught in sin, we look at them not as second class or in comparison with our own great amazing strong wonderful perfect actions, but see that what they need is to recognize what Christ has done for them – that he has not only forgiven their sins (like us), but he has (like us) imparted to them the Power that created the universe: Himself. This Power, if relied on as our Center, will cause us to walk in His ways and keep His statutes.

    So – for those we are tempted to judge, as well as ourselves – we are dead to sin, and dead to Law. If you read through Paul’s epistles you’ll see a pattern emerge: first he talks about their identity in Christ, then he deals with behavior. And sometimes, with their behavior, he talks like this: “Are you nuts? Have you gone out of your minds? You obtained the Spirit by faith; you’re not now going to be perfected by self-effort.” And regarding the more sensual sins, “Are you nuts? You’re fornicating? Don’t you know your body is the temple of the Lord?” Identity is supposed to drive our behavior, but it won’t unless we rely on our real identity in Christ – Christ Himself at the ground and center of our being, the God in the temple whose intention is to shine outward through our spirit, soul, and body into the lives of others.

    Sin is sin. But we’re dead to sin. Dead to Law. Dead to judging others.

  3. Profile photo of Pete Peterson

    Pete Peterson

    @pete

    Jim A. said: “Can you imagine Tolkien ever coming out and saying that Gandalf was really a transgendered hemophite wizard? “

    No, but seriously, would anyone have really been shocked if he came out and said Sam and Frodo were gay? Come on, you know you’ve thought it.

  4. Jim A

    Ron, very well put! If I attempt to apply Paul’s reaction to our reaction, we forget about mentioning the first half of the equation and jump straight to the part about “are you nuts?”. That also says though that with Christ living in us, the sin nature in us should die but “old habits they die hard in you, old loves they leave shards in you” ot quote a famous musician…

    Pete, I actually would have been surprised if he had come out and said it because I believe it would have been out of character for him and doesn’t seem to fit the story at all. And call me naive but I prefer to see them as devoted friends with a brotherly love. I never thought there was anything overt in the books, much like in Dumbledore’s case. They were on an adventure together and needed each others help.

  5. Pete Peterson

    I know Jim. I was speaking mostly in jest. The weird thing is that kids today are so estranged from that sort of brotherly love that they automatically assume they are gay when they watch the movies (not so much with the books). If I had a nickel for every time I had to get on a soapbox and convince people Sam and Frodo aren’t gay…

  6. Jim A

    Thats funny Pete! As I was hitting post, I thought about adding something in there about how the movies really accentuated that apect of their relationship! What really makes me laugh out loud is sitting here in this “electronic rabbit room” wondering if in the real rabbit room if Lewis ever leaned over and said so come on JR, are Sam and Frodo gay or what?

    Andrew P, have I mentioned lately how much I really love this cozy (if not pub room warm) room you’ve created??

  7. Profile photo of Pete Peterson

    Pete Peterson

    @pete

    Note: A few weeks ago, about the time Jason posted his “Defending Harry Potter” thoughts, I wrote this along a similar theme. I don’t want to see the front page flooded with Potter-talk so I’ll toss it in here as a comment.

    A local school recently confronted the issue of whether or not they should remove Harry Potter books from the library. They’ve received numerous complaints from parents about the evils of witchery and Pottery and have been ordered by some not to allow their child to check out, read, or even talk about a Harry Potter book. This frightens me, especially since I know what is in the library and Harry Potter is the least that should concern parents (would that they were so concerned about math or history).

    To my horror I discovered that some of these censor-frenzied parents were friends of mine. They are people at whose homes I recline after a day’s hard work, at whose tables I have eaten many dinners, with whose children I laugh and play, and at whose sides I have worshiped, prayed, and had fellowship. All these things between us and here I find myself baffled.

    So I gently broached the subject to hear for myself whether such otherwise thoughtful people could actually be calling for the ban of these wonderful books. At the mere mention of the book though, words like ‘demonic’, ‘evil’, and ‘of the Devil’ began to spew. And the worst was still to come. In defense I tried to convey my perspective that the series is filled with Christian morals and symbols, and is in fact written by an author that professes Christianity. Then, amid anecdotes parroted from propagandist ministers about the evil secret lives of Mrs. Rowling, I am calmly notified with a smug smile that “not all that claim they are Christians, are.”

    I was dumbfounded. Without batting an eye, a brother-in-Christ with whom I have an otherwise wonderful relationship passed judgment on another’s Christian faith without the slightest evidence and then went on to say that ‘the fruit tells the tree’, without having read a word of a single one of Mrs. Rowling’s ‘fruits.’ Perhaps what most disturbed me was the implication that I also, by association, may be no true Christian.

    Try to imagine, if you will, that you have spent two decades pouring everything you are into a great work that reflects beauty, truth, valor, friendship, love, the power of sacrifice and arguably even Christ himself. You walk out your door to offer this great work to the world and are greeted by your brothers and sisters and those you call neighbor who take one brief glimpse of your creation and decry it as “Evil”, “of the Devil”, and “Demonic”. How do you feel Mrs. Rowling?

    I daresay this is indeed the work “of the Devil”. Yet in whose house hath he meddled? Not Mrs. Rowling’s I think.

    This has kept me up nights. My mind has run through a hundred conversations in which I try to explain to people that they are taking what ought to be a beautiful chance to build stronger relationships with their children and are instead building a wall between them. And each time I come to the conclusion that there is no argument that can pierce the spell such people are under. Having a conversation with a person whose mind is utterly made-up, shut-up, and has no intention of opening is a scary thing. And worse, their children come to me with bright eyes and fired imaginations, eager to discuss the Potter book they read in secret, and what am I to do? Subvert the parental authority? I cannot. So I dismiss the subject and turn the conversation to things less incendiary. And the child goes away thinking his parent a fool that has judged a book by its cover, and I go home feeling that I’ve joined the Party and thrown another book on the bonfire.

    I lay awake. I wrestle my faith. And what has brought me to the arena? Harry Potter of all things. But the thing that pesters my sleep is not that a child is denied the book; there is far more magic in the world than Harry Potter, and I trust a child will find it. No, the thing that sticks in my mind is that people willingly chain themselves inside stained-glass cells, and throw stones at shadows, and name them Satan, and then they scoff at those who come to visit them in their prisons.

    And so a child came to me with magic, and I took it away. I explained to him that no matter what I thought of the book in his hand, that my relationship with my fellow Christians was more important, and sometimes we have to put away what we want, or think, or even love, so that others might not stumble. The child understands, or says he does, and I slip him something of Narnia with a grin. And I return to my dinners, and recliners, and happy fellowship and all is well save for the stumbling blocks laid at my feet and these prison bars between us.

  8. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Pete said,

    “No, the thing that sticks in my mind is that people willingly chain themselves inside stained-glass cells, and throw stones at shadows, and name them Satan, and then they scoff at those who come to visit them in their prisons.”

    Reminds me of the Dwarf in The Last Battle, sitting in the Real Narnia out in the sun with flowers and trees, and yet still believing they’re locked in a dark, dirty stable in the shadow-Narnia.

    “Well, if that doesn’t beat everything!” exclaimed Diggle. “How can you go on talking all that rot? Your wonderful Lion didn’t come and help you, did he? Thought not. And now – even now – when you’ve been beaten and shoved into this black hole, just the same as the rest of us, you’re still at your old game. Starting a new lie! Trying to make us believe we’re none of us shut up, and it ain’t dark, and heaven knows what.”

    “Well, at any rate, there’s no Humbug here. We haven’t let anyone take us in. The Dwarfs are for the Dwarfs!”

    “You see,” said Aslan. “They will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out. But come, children. I have other work to do.”

    There is also a scene in Phantastes where Anodos is imprisoned by a dark knight, which is really only his shadow-self. In the end Anodos simply walks out of the door of the cell and suddenly realizes it was open all the time.

    Many think to use our minds as our Keeper; by cunning we try to keep ourselves from being deceived, and so are deceived by our cunning. There is only one Keeper, and He indwells every one of His people. If we rely on Him, He will keep us from deception, for He said the Holy Spirit “will guide you into all truth and teach you all things.” He’s our protection from deception.

  9. Profile photo of Jason Gray

    Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, Pete and Ron and the others who have posted. This is exactly the kind of conversation that I hoped to have. I don’t care if anybody reads a Harry Potter book, but I do care about the ugly self-righteousness that as Pete says, imprisons us and blinds us from having a fruitful dialogue.

    That’s not to say I think anyone who doesn’t read a potter book is an ugly self-righteous fool – I can understand and respect anyone who might not find the books worth their time or even virtuous in the least. But it’s those who villify books, musics, art, and even differing theological perspectives without doing the hard work of compassion that I take issue with.

    Compassion means “to suffer with” or as Buechner calls it: the “sometimes fatal capacity to know what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes.” Thus compassion requires us to at least try to see from someone else’s perspective before forming any conclusions. This is where I feel many Christians miss the mark. As Pete pointed out, most Potter detractors have never opened the book, and refuse to hear any defense of the books that they’ve already blindly passed judgement on. I think the root problem is fear – so many Christians are afraid of being deceived. But this betrays a lack of faith in the One who promises to direct our paths (Pr 16:9), who will finish what he started in us (Phil 1:6), and whose perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18).

    I often suspect that it’s the church’s fear of the arts in general that cripple us from being as compassionate as we are called to be, since compassion requires imagination – imagining what it’s like to be under someone else’s skin. Only then can we hope to really love another.

    I’ll add one more thing, and I admit I could be way off on this… but in regards to not causing a weaker brother or sister to stumble… The older I get the more I think that stumbling is just what they need, at least in terms of losing the sure footing of self-righteous belief. I always thought that scripture meant that I had to do anything potentially controversial in private – having a glass of wine, reading a Harry Potter book (or any book other than the bible), watching a Star Wars movie, etc. I remember once when we were making a chicken dinner with a sauce that required a few ounces of white wine, I made my wife go in to the liquor store to buy it since I was a somewhat well known music minister in the area, and I didn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea. I now feel so foolish that I did that…

    I’m starting to wonder if some of our attempts at being sensitive to the weaker brother/sister are actually fortifying the walls of their self made prison. Living openly in our God-given freedom in many cases may rattle the cage enough to put a crack in the wall that lets the light in. That’s what happened for me – I saw people who were free in Christ and it made me want it. I began to see where I was adding all kinds of things to the gospel, which is a serious sin.

    (This is all foolish talk to some degree. I realize that it sounds like I’m writing this from the high ground. The truth is I may be locked in my own stained-glass prison… but I hope at least, by God’s grace, that I’ve nurtured enough of a hunger for freedom that when it presents itself, I follow it out the door. Or at least follow it as far as I’m willing to let freedom take me – for freedom is a wonderful and terrifying thing.)

  10. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Jason,
    You’re totally correct in saying most Christians are afraid of being deceived. “Deception lurks around every corner; the universe is full against us; we must hide in the Christian enclave and be hermits from the world.” But – the Bible actually says we’re to be in the world but not of it. We live in the world, and encounter the world, but we have a totally different inner Source than the world does. We can trust this inner Source to be our armor, our helmet, our shield against deception, rather than trying to protect ourselves using our human effort and cunning.

    On “causing someone to stumble”: The weaker brother is in fact the legalistic one. But the weak brother that I can stumble is the one who, by his confidence in me, follows my lead in doing something that his conscience is telling him is wrong. If he thinks drinking a glass of wine is wrong, then it is a sin for him to do it. I know, like Paul, that there is nothing wrong with wine in and of itself. It’s the use made of it that determines sin. Law-folk always want to build a big, wide fence around the sin; the Bible says, “Do not be drunk with wine” and so they build a fence widely around the hole by saying “Drinking wine is a sin.” Subconsciously, “By effort and human cunning let’s protect the congregation from sin, because of course Christ doesn’t have the power to do that.” If pastors preach Christ, not only his forgiveness but our co-death and co-resurrection with him, cluing God’s people into the infinite and readily available power of Christ within each of us, Christ within each person will push through into manifestation. He will keep us, cause us to walk in his ways, be the one willing and acting in us for his good pleasure.

    So – being sensitive to a weaker brother doesn’t mean to abstain so they won’t judge us. I get a sort of pleasure out of pushing people’s boundaries, saying and doing things that other people have fence laws about. But Paul’s take on not stumbling someone is that if a particular weak brother has confidence in us, and by that confidence may go against his conscience and do what he believes deep down is wrong, then we abstain. For me, that means when I hang out with young musicians who look up to me I abstain, not in hypocrisy – because I’m very transparent about what I believe – but in not wanting them to copy my behavior when they are not mature enough to handle it.

    That’s a personal call we each make in each particular situation. It’s not a blanket statement of “Don’t drink wine because weaker brothers will judge.” In cases of judging, I say, “Let ’em judge.” Jesus did that all the time with Law-fences – he walked right through them and the legalistic people were constantly scandalized by his behavior; legalists, connected in their thought-life to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, define our identity by behavior, while God, through the Tree of Life, wants our behavior to flow from our Christ-established identity.

  11. Steve Weeks

    Gentlemen, you use many words to turn a cut and dried issue into a muck and muddy puddle. The Bible says in no uncertain terms that homosexuality is a sin. I too allowed my children to read the Potter books over my objections to “wizardry” which is also a known work of the devil. I did so because I read one of the books and saw no references that might be worrisome.

    With the latest “gay revelation” from Rowling, my opinion has drastically changed to the opposite of opinion of what is okay and what is damaging for a child to deal with. Ms. Rowling stated in an interview that the Potter books were intended for adolescents who were ready for this sort of behavior among humans. Well I’m not absolutely certain at what age adolescence occurs, but I’m reasonably sure that the 7 and 8 year olds reading these books aren’t there yet. Ms. Rowling could have gone her entire life and not divulged her character’s sexual preference and it wouldn’t have mattered one whit in the entire scope of things. However she decided to turn an “adolescent” reading into a controversial issue, even away from the witchcraft issue, which many Christians gave a pass upon.

    In an interview after the announcement, Rowling acknowledged that Christians were going to be upset with her decision to share her secret. Why in the world would anyone, unless courting controversy, modify a much-loved character in a manner that would invite scorn from anyone, much less Christians? One has to ascertain from everything she stated and all the analysis since the announcement, that she wanted this scornful scene to ensue–otherwise she would have never have uttered (what I believe) was a forgery. No one saw this coming because the character was not assigned this “gayness” until much after the fact, and probably only in recent weeks or months.

    As far as the use of the word, “homophobe”, I’m ashamed of any Christian for even using the word to describe someone who has definite objections to the sort of lifestyle lived by homosexuals. In my opinion, it portends a shift from a person’s Christian foundations toward more of a secularist stance especially on issues dealing with Christians.

    I do not apologize for disapproving of and objecting to my children being exposed to these types of issues at a very young age, if at all. They have plenty of time as adults to deal with their own feelings of this, much less having someone like Rowling attempting to indoctrinate children to “tolerate” a lifestyle that is not Biblically acceptable, and not generally acceptable even beyond the bounds of Christianity. Do I think gays should be treated badly or discriminated against? Absolutely not. We are all given guarantees of freedoms by the constitution and gays should receive those no matter their orientation. But to say that “gayness” should be “sneaked” into a character in a retrospective manner is nothing short of deceitful. It would be like Frank Morgan’s family suddenly letting us in on the secret that the Tin Man and Scarecrow where having a gay relationship, or at least one of them wanted to but the Lion kept intervening. Its not a ludicrous analogy and is very appropriate to this scenario.

    My 11 year old daughter has been taught from a very young age, to not discriminate against anyone. She learned of homosexuality by the 3rd grade from others in her school. We’ve dealt with the Biblical aspects of it and also the personal aspect of it as she may one day find herself the best friend of a gay person. I have always encouraged her to not accept the behavior but to, as the bottom line, accept the person as a friend just as she would any heterosexual. She is very comfortable with that possible scenario. However, she was disgusted (remember, she is 11) with this revelation from Rowling. I haven’t told her as of yet that she can’t read the last book, but she seems to be making the decision on her own. In my opinion, and this is the most common of common sense, children her age should never have to deal with a situation like this from fantasy characters that she has come to trust. Sure, she has to learn that things aren’t always what they seem but that is a lesson for a little older person not already enamored with and entire cast of characters and their escapades. Its trickery, self-servience and wrong. Period.

    I pray that Ms Rowling finds a way to promote her form of “tolerance” without “crowbarring” it into the minds of our young children.

    Thanks and God bless.

  12. Jim A

    Steve, I have in the past handled this issue much differently than I do now and I hope now it is much more Christ-like. I now find myself working with and sharing an offic with a homsexual guy and I’m working very hard to respond to him with forms of agape that I’m not sure he’s ever gotten before.
    That said, I agree with you that it is a sin. Same as incest. Same as beastiality. Same as cheating on your wife. Same as lusting in your heart about the woman walking down the street in a short skirt.
    It bothers me (and it sounds like other Christ followers) also that this “revelation” had to be made when it seems to serve no purpose. I appreciate good art/stories/music as much as the next guy but I do hesitate to support via the dollar or promotion.
    Pete/Jason, I’d also be interested in seeing your opinions on the upcoming movie “The Golden Compass”. My question is (I admit to not having read the books) if it’s a good story well told, is it something we should consume knowing that the author is an avowed atheist who says the story is about killing God? I like to believe I have a strong enough faith now to read atheistic literature like that from Dawkins or Harris to understand what their arguments are so that I can refine my counterargument in a loving way to those i come across that carry the same arguments.
    In all this, I know that I am called to respond only in agape love to those struggling with their own demons as I would hope others would respond to me with mine.

  13. Profile photo of Pete Peterson

    Pete Peterson

    @pete

    I just finished reading The Golden Compass a few weeks ago and I loved it. I couldn’t put it down and couldn’t wait to get online when I was done to check out the trailer for the movie. Great, great book.

    But there was a moment in the final chapter that worried me, and the book ended in such a way that I knew I’d need to read the next one to figure out where Pullman, the author, was going. Then I heard that he was, not only an atheist, but someone that purposely wanted to write an ‘anti-Narnia” book and I started to worry.

    Now I’m well into The Subtle Knife, the second book, and I’m more worried all the time. I’m not going to make up my mind about it until I’m done with the series but my current opinion is that I wouldn’t recommend the books to a child, which is unfortunate. Pullman, thus far, seems to have a ridiculous understanding of religion, falling into the silly cliche of “the Church has caused more suffering and war than anything else in human history”.

    On the other hand, they are wonderfully written books and I’m anxious to find out exactly where Pullman is going with it all. (I haven’t seen any real spoilers and don’t want to.)

  14. Profile photo of Jason Gray

    Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    I’d like to address Steve first. And I hope I’m not being too defensive, because I think Steve’s post is great.

    It’s funny to me that I agree with your position, and yet are you referring to me when you make the homophobia statement? Would that mean that you’re ashamed of me as your brother in Christ? That sounds like strong and reactive language, like the kind of language I hear from someone who loves the text more than people.

    And I get that. And there’s something to be said for loving truth above all else. I’d like to think I love truth, and sometimes unfortunately I love it even at the exclusion of people (just ask my wife). But I’m trying to be better… I always think of a Charlie Peacock line: “maybe then I’ll love mercy more than being right…”

    The difference is seen between the Pharisees and Jesus. I’m a Pharisee more often than not. But again, I’m trying. Even in the way I wrote my post, I’m conscious of eavesdroppers, and so I always try to write compassionately. I reserve my sharper critiques for the churched.

    In my defense, the homophobia remark was intended to be shorthand for saying the case against Rowling for outing Dumbledore can be made without even having to venture into the territory of morality. For critics who would accuse me of homophobia and thus dismiss what I was saying, it was my intention to cut them off at the pass. Regardless of religious convictions, it was just an unnecessary and irresponsible decision on her part. In many ways it sexualizes an otherwise (refreshingly) asexual book.

    My only other point I was making was not in defense of Rowling or Dumbledore or homosexuals or anyone – I was just thinking out loud about how inconvenient it is when somebody we love reveals compromising secrets about themselves, and in this way J.K. Rowling (intentionally or not) created a real life simulation of this awkwardness. I’m not saying it’s good or right what she has done, just that it is… well… awkward and inconvenient to say the least.

    Thank you Steve for the opportunity to clarify my meaning.

  15. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Jason,

    So – ok, I finally went and read some of the media slop about Rowling’s Great Carnegie Hall revelation. And what strikes me, as someone who no longer consumes mass quantities of modern pop culture, is the same reaction I have when I sign on AOL and unwillingly see the flashing headlines shouting about which celebrities were arrested, which ones are sleeping with who, and why Ellen Degeneres was so mad about the dog. My inner reaction is “Why do I have to waste even a single cell of brain space on seeing this relentless spewing of unmitigated banality, raw sewage, and gossip disguised as “news”?

    Our society – western civilization – is locked into a total celebrity cult, success-drivenness, and sexual obsession. You can see the sex obsession even in the degeneration of language, where terms once used in several ways are now valid only in the sexual arena: gay, intercourse (remember how ‘engaging in social intercourse’ meant conversing with others?), sensual (which now means ‘sexual’ to most people, when really it means “of the senses”). I like what Lewis said in Mere Christianity: “Suppose there was a country where you could fill a crowded theatre simply by having a covered plate on the stage. The cover is lifted just before the lights go out, revealing a mutton chop and a bit of bacon, to thunderous applause. Wouldn’t you think that something had gone wrong with the food instinct of that country?” (total paraphrase, just realized I gave away my copy of MC – again!).

    Anyway, when it comes right down to it, what difference does it make if the author says the character is gay, and yet there is no homosexuality in the books themselves? That may have been her fundamental concept of Dumbledore, but it is not given expression (as far as I know, having read only the first two so far due to time constraints), except maybe in the sex-obsessed minds of certain fan ‘literature’.

    So, for further consideration, I would state with vehement force that it is much worse for one’s Christian spirituality to be a daily consumer of the pop culture – MTV, CBS, NBC, TBS, FOX, Cinemax, HBO, and BSN – than it would be to read the entire Potter series six times straight through, even knowing that Dumbledore is…is…O Lord, don’t make me say it..not here in California…(ok, so I do tend toward the sarcastically dramatic sometimes..that was my Jimmy Swaggart impersonation).

    But in any case, anyone who claims harshly, like many Christians, that Christians should never read Potter had better be prepared to get rid of their television(s), their magazine subscriptions, and anything else that lets the spewing madness of the world-mind into their homes (it’s akin to saying, “Don’t smoke, because your body is the temple of the Lord” and then being a consumer of Doritos, Blue Pepsi, MacDonald’s, and all that other junk that is radically and deliberately misnamed “Food.”)

    Don’t think I’m joking about the daily thing…one of the best things I ever did for my own mind and for my family’s well-being was when we moved into our new house in 2000 I never hooked up the dish..eventually had it dismantled. I do watch movies at times, but I pick ’em. The good ones I buy and watch over and over. We have family movie night on Fridays; otherwise the kids get no tv. They draw, read, play outside, make up games, and my son makes iStop movies with Lego or clay on my laptop. The TV is on when it storms for weather and my wife watching golf, or football occasionally. But the regular mind-trapping, attention-span shortening, hope-sucking daily grind of television is over for me, and I like the peace that brings to our household. It also gives me more time to read, or practice guitar/banjo, or write songs (or write this).

    That reminds me..I’ve read only two of the Potter books. I’m rereading George MacDonald’s Lilith right now (a mind-altering experience in a different way), but I’ll have to get to the rest of the Potter series next, even if Dumbledore is secretly a gay Presbyterian minister songwriter who wrote Confederate Railroad’s “I Like My Girls on The Trashy Side.”.

  16. John Michalak

    Thoreau said that all “news” is gossip. Really, 98% of what is called news, what bearing does it really have on our daily lives? But, still we watch…I will say, Ron, watching sports in High Definition is a “sensual” pleasure I’d have trouble giving up. 🙂

    One reason I’ve suggested that people may be put off with this news isn’t just about just disillusionment with the text, but with the author. When we’re bonded to a book, we enjoy the idea that we’re also bonded with the author who wrote it. People may be struggling with the fact that they’re not as kindred with Rowling as they imagined.

  17. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    John,

    Good points, esp about disillusionment with the author.

    To clarify for anyone else who reads this, though you know this, my point in the last comment was that if we are going to pass judgment on the reading of Harry Potter as a “cut and dried issue” then we’d better be cut-and-dried about all the other issues in our lives beforehand. Those who judge by the Law put themselves under the Law and so under the same judgment (the entire purpose of the early chapters of Romans). I wouldn’t say that everyone has to banish all television; I personally prefer it so. But any believer can benefit from the judicious limiting of media consumption, and also making better use of our time. This is not a Law-judgment on others; it’s simply an observation drawn from my personal experience.

    Homosexuality is, according to the Bible, sin. Yet it is one of a myriad of wrong uses of our humanity. If we quit reading any book that contained sin we’d have to stop reading, including the Bible, which is chock-full of the sinful actions of human beings and in many places is not fit reading for younger children. So – as a parent, live your conscience toward raising your kids. But do your best not to impose your conscience on the parenting of others. Some may choose to use Harry Potter as an object lesson, like I am using Fitzgerald’s “The Great Brain” series with my kids. “Is Tom D. thinking of the consequences of his actions?” “No!” “Is he thinking about other people, or just about what he wants to gain from this?” etc. And of course, “What does the Bible say about this?” I don’t interrupt the story too often to do this – more often it’s at the end of the chapter that I ask the questions. But Potter can be used the same way – received as art, but evaluated after reception.

    All art on this earthly plane is human; therefore, in order for art to be real, and speak to other humans, it must be honest and incorporate elements of our experiential reality. The battle between good and evil, choices made for one or the other, consequences for actions, sometimes people getting away with sin – all is fodder for our own thought; we need not accept the witchcraft in Potter, nor Dumbledore’s background as “righteousness” in order to enjoy the stories. Lewis says in An Experiment In Criticism: “We delight to enter into other men’s beliefs, even though we think them untrue. And into their passions, though we think them depraved, like those, sometimes, of Marlowe or Carlyle…the specific value or good of literature…admits us into experiences other than our own. They are not, any more than our personal experiences, all equally worth having…Those of us who have been true readers all our life seldom fully realise the enormous extension of our being which we owe to authors. We realise it best when we talk with an unliterary friend. He may be full of goodness and good sense but he inhabits a tiny world. The man who is contened to be only himself, and therefore less a self, is in prison. Reality, even through the eyes of many, is not enough. I will see what others have invented…In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself.”

    In any reading we encounter the author’s point of view. If we read only those points of view with which we agree, how small our inner world would be (and yet how could we find such books without reading many whose view is askew from ours?). I’m not justifying homosexuality, or witchcraft. I’m justifying literature, and putting down the hyper-religious tendency to want to hide out in a Christian enclave “against the world”. It is entirely possible to read Harry Potter, in the world, and be not of the world.

    Now, we have to ask, “Does this affect me? Does Dumbledore’s latent homosexuality cause me to either justify sin or want to be gay myself? Does the witchcraft in the books tempt me to want that kind of power?” The answer likely is no. But to take this view to an extreme, and justify watching any movie as a believer and filling our minds with powerful images that end up driving our moral behavior – that’s another question entirely.

  18. Profile photo of Jason Gray

    Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    I really appreciate this post, Ron. I love the Lewis quote and think it’s probably the most pertinent statement in all this – the idea of inhabiting a tiny world. Increasingly, I want to step outside the confines of my own tiny world and limited perspective in hopes of discovering and addressing my own blind spots. I’m no longer all that interested in reading books that I already agree with it. I want to be challenged and have my world enlarged. If I only read the books that espouse and affirm my current views, I’m afraid the best I’m doing is fortifying the walls of the prison I build out of the materials of my own self-righteousness. I regularly try to inflict myself with books – especially non-fiction. Maybe it’s my own form of ascetism.

    This reminds me of something from an earlier post here that I’ve been thinking about. I don’t mean this as a criticism of the poster, but more just wanted to dig in to something I’ve recently noticed about myself.

    I love being right! And I’m pretty decent at defending my positions and creating strong counter-arguments. And I’m finding that this skill is pretty worthless and irrelevent in the grand scheme of things. Early on in our marriage, I was really good at winning arguments to the point where my poor and wonderful wife just stopped fighting back. I believe that God began to reveal to me the value of losing, and one of the hardest lessons I’m still learning is that being right isn’t always all that important. It’s good for me to lose arguments. Again I think of that Charlie Peacock line “maybe then I’ll love mercy more than being right…”

    So I’m thinking about the comment regarding reading books by atheists and such as a way of looking for intelligent ways to offer a counter-argument. I think this is wise and that not enough Christians are willing to do the time and hard work it takes to engage in this kind of thoughtful conversation. But on the other hand, it might not be the best way to get at the truth.

    What if we passionately pursued the truth instead of investing so much energy in being right? What if in the reading of a book, we honestly let the author share his story without the agenda of building our own defense. One of my favorite lines from Pulp Fiction was when Uma Thurman asked John Travolta, “when someone is talking to you, do you listen or wait to speak?” Travolta says, “I wait to speak, but I’m trying real hard to listen.”

    In one of his recent books (can’t remember which one now and I’m on the road), Don Miller talks about our crippling need to be right and how increasingly ineffective this tack has been in making new converts. More and more I feel like my faith is less about being right than it is about being in love.

    So my point is this: I wonder how things would be different if we could drop our agendas and look for the truth that may be in a Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hutchens book, and then square it against our own beliefs and experience. How might this enlarge our world and maybe even our faith? Could our faith withstand it? Would it help us to ask questions that we haven’t thought to ask? It’s risky, to be sure – and not something I would recomment lightly. But if we really pursue the truth, no matter who expresses it, I think it will lead us to Christ, since I believe and have experienced him to be the author of Truth.

    I know this has little to do with the issue at hand regarding the Potter books, but I wanted to respond to that earlier post.

    Re: The Golden Compass? We read the first book, thought it was interesting but not particularly uplifting for us, so we passed on the rest of the books. We’ll probably see the movie, though. I’m less inclined to read a novel with an atheist agenda than I am a non-fiction book.

    I guess when it comes to books, movies, music, entertainment, etc, the rule of thumb that we use for consuming these things is whether or not we’ll find beauty, goodness, or truth in them. If so, we go for it. The Golden Compass didn’t meet that standard for us so we moved on. (Pulp Fiction is a good example, too. I think it’s a VERY well crafted film. The scenes and dialogue are delicious to watch from that point of view, but in the end I didn’t find enough beauty, goodness, or truth to find it commendable for anything other than it’s stylishness. Magnolia on the other hand is a dark film that in my opinion is full of beauty, goodness, and truth and therefore – despite it’s well earned R-rating – I recommend it all the time.)

    I’m so grateful to have this dialogue with all you posters! Your input is expanding my tiny world!

    JGray

  19. John Michalak

    Since this has broadened a bit: On my to-do list of upcoming blog articles is one on loving your enemy, and specifically the process of “agreeing with your enemy quickly”. I realize that the immediate connotation of this phrase is about reconciling over a personal dispute or the obligation of one for another, but the language of that phrase has been a launching pad for me in thinking about what it means to agree with my enemy.

    Does this mean I compromise on my core beliefs? Homosexuality, atheism, Buddhism, etc. No. But, I have found that it’s very rare that my “enemy” and I have absolutely NOTHING in common. And, doesn’t the road to reconciliation start by embracing what we do have in common? Agreeing on what we agree on? I’m sure I share a lot of things with Rowling, or a homosexual, or a Buddhist, etc. We are all human, we all have common needs, we share common strengths and weaknesses, a common potential for compassion, and a common potential for hate and prejudice.

    Now, how to do this without compromising is a mystery, I think. Not unlike the Incarnation when Jesus left his status of being eternally right to share some commonality with his enemy–US. It’s scary, and certainly risky, but it’s a type of sacrifice that is truly biblical, in my opinion. We go to where people are in order to bring them to God. That’s what God did (and is still doing) for us.

  20. John Michalak

    (AP…any way your folks can set up an option for us to edit our comments? I hate typos!)

    I thought of something else, more specific to the Gay issue. I read a wonderful book by Stanley Grenz recently titled “Welcoming But Not Affirming”. In it he writes:

    “Sexuality lies behind the human quest for completeness. This yearning for wholeness, which we express through our seemingly innate drive to bond with others, forms an important basis for the interpersonal dimension of existence. …We are not meant to be isolated individuals or to focus only on relationships with those who are already much like us. We are created for community with the Divine Other and with the human other, and the bonding of sexual otherness is the immediate and obvious evidence of this.”

    So as I said in my last comment, we want to draw a bridge between ourselves and anyone we’re inviting into God’s fold. And, the commonality we share with the homosexual is, per Romans 1, an idolatrous love of self and the desire to meet our deepest needs with what is familiar and safe.

    Otherness, while the path to relational wholeness, requires faith and the courage to entrust our well-being with what is alien to our nature (i.e. a transcendent God, the opposite sex). Both devout saints and rampant homosexuals struggle with such “homo-centricity”, so the first step to reaching out to homosexuals is to join them in this struggle.

    How? By inviting them wholeheartedly into our fold. By showing them that we too can risk the perils of otherness by welcoming people of such an alien lifestyle into our homo-centric world of orthodoxy. In the church, whether that means, a long-term “visitor”, member, etc., is subjective in my view and up to each congregation. The idea, however, is to welcome, but not to affirm. Again, here’s Grenz:

    “The church is composed of sinners—redeemed sinners to be sure—but sinners nonetheless. It consists of people who are seeking to do God’s will in the midst of the brokenness of life. The church can only assist people to overcome sin and live in obedience to God if they receive the ministry of, and perhaps even participate in, the believing community. This is as true for gays and lesbians as for anyone else.”

  21. Josiah A. Roelfsema

    Jim A. said: “Can you imagine Tolkien ever coming out and saying that Gandalf was really a transgendered hemophite wizard? “

    Pete said: No, but seriously, would anyone have really been shocked if he came out and said Sam and Frodo were gay? Come on, you know you’ve thought it.

    Jim A said:
    What really makes me laugh out loud is sitting here in this “electronic rabbit room” wondering if in the real rabbit room if Lewis ever leaned over and said so come on JR, are Sam and Frodo gay or what?

    On the friend-love. I seriously doubt whether it ever entered Lewis’ or Tolkien’s head that Frodo and Sam could be gay. And I am sure that both would have scoffed at anyone who automatically assumed that they were. Both understood (and, I think, practiced) a far deeper and stronger form of friendship than most of us know today (although I hope to get closer all the time). Reasons: (1) Both were scholars who studied the stories and worlds of time gone by when friendship really meant something deep to a great many people. (2) Tolkien specifically modeled Frodo and Sam’s relationship off the British practice of an officer being taken care of by his batman (like a personal valet). (3) Both had deep, close, even intimate, friendships. (4) Lewis’ words in “The Four Loves” regarding “phileo” lead me to this same conclusion.

    Pete said: I know Jim. I was speaking mostly in jest. The weird thing is that kids today are so estranged from that sort of brotherly love that they automatically assume they are gay when they watch the movies (not so much with the books).

    This is right on target, I think. Homosexuality has now entered everyday conversations, changing how we look at boys and their friends. Consider this, if you happened upon two (or more) boys skinny dipping in some secluded pond (a common practice not so long ago), what would your first thought be? Isn’t it unfortunate that boys and girls, but especially boys, now have to deal with those kind of impressions growing up? Most adolescent boys don’t want to be gay, so as soon as he does something that might give others that impression he will most likely run from it. For example, he begins to like some boys better than others, a natural part of life and friendship. But now, in our society, he must worry that he’s gay. So, what will he do? Avoid it. I am convinced that too many deep friendships have been killed at the start because of this. I am very glad that Tolkien and Lewis and their friends did not let this slow them down any.

    Anyway, thanks for the forum and the good storytelling, songwriting, singing, preaching, and so on.

    JR

  22. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Jason,

    One of my favorite preachers used to say (a lot!), “You don’t have to park your brain at the door of the church to be a Christian.” We don’t have to be afraid of reading opposing viewpoints; our job is to maintain reliance on God and His promises. As we have seen in this particular Rabbit Room discussion, opposing viewpoints are the very thing which get our thoughts going. We don’t have to be afraid of other opinions, because we contain the One who said of the Holy Spirit, “He will guide you into all truth and teach you all things.” He is now our wisdom from God – indwelling wisdom. There is so much fear in the church concerning, well, everything because we have swallowed the false idea that we must exert our own effort in order to keep from being deceived, to keep from backsliding, to be holy, and all the rest of it. All we do, really, is recognize what we have received in Christ: “Everything (not some things) we need for life and godliness.”
    RB

  23. Jim A

    Ron, do you ever get the feeling when you read something that you glimpse something bigger? I got that in your statement – “because we have swallowed the false idea that we must exert our own effort in order to keep from being deceived”. The truth they say has a ring to it and this statement was a deafening bell tower to me.
    Jason, you are right and make a great point! 🙂 It shouldn’t be about trying to “win” the argument but should be about trying to “win” souls for Christ. I have not read Hutchinson, Dawkins, or Harris’ books but not because I’m concerned about them swwaying me away from my faith but because I’m drawn more to books that have the ring of Truth about them like Yancey, N.T. Wright, Buechner and Lewis.

    JimA

  24. Jeff Lane

    Jim A……Very nice words, I too read and listen for the truths to ring out to say you are in line, to where I don’t have to look at every word and phrase to hear or to try to find what it is saying, the truth with ring loud and clear and then your heart will say…this is good….Selah!

  25. Easton Crow

    Thanks for a truly interesting discussion. As a married man who sturggles with same sex attractions, I have been blessed to a find a church that is welcoming and affirming, but not in the least condoning. The men to whom I have entrusted this knowledge have become the closest friends I have ever known. They have been around at midnight when I called with pain in my heart. They have called me on my actions when I have stumbled. They are faithful models of the love of Christ, and I am deeply grateful for them. So, for what it is worth, there are Christians out there who get it right.

  26. The Rabbit Room

    […] This one has been discussed here too. Rowling’s over-blabbing about the books notwithstanding, I still think this epic story will stand the test of time. I read the first Harry Potter book before it was controversial or cool to read Harry Potter, and I looked eagerly forward to each next episode, wondering all the while what all the fuss from the church was about. Having now written the first of a fantasy series, I’m all the more amazed by Rowling’s gift. It’s not an easy thing to do, writing a book–let alone writing a book knowing that literally millions of people will be reading it, griping about it, scrutinizing it, demonizing it, or over-spiritualizing it. The real feat was that she pulled it off. The last book wasn’t perfect, but closing the last book was for me extremely satisfying. Read the Rabbit Room discussion here. And you can read the post Outing Dumbledore here. […]

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