Spongebob, Say It Ain’t So!

Spongebob is a gay advocate, according to Dr. James Dobson, head of the conservative Focus on the Family and advisor to the President about religious issues. Spongebob joins Tinky Winky, the Teletubby outed by The Rev. Jerry Falwell in 1999 as a threat to children and families.

Dr.
Dobson issued the warning in Washington, D.C. the night before President Bush
spoke at his inauguration about spreading freedom and liberty around the world.
Spongebob appears in a video produced by the non-profit We Are Family
Foundation
, whose intent is to promote tolerance and
diversity.

I was tempted to pass on
this. It’s the kind of story that causes those who don’t see the world through
the same lens as Dr. Dobson to sit back, perhaps laugh, and go about their
business. I was tempted to do the
same.

But it grates on me that the
CNN headline says “Christians
Issue Gay Warning on Spongebob video.”
In the short-hand language of
headlines, all persons of faith are painted with the same brush. And I can’t
acquiesce in this.

I was in meetings
last week with several groups of church persons who were wrestling with how to
fund important missional programs of The United Methodist Church–how to create
healthy congregations, how to raise funds for tsunami relief, HIV-AIDS, malaria
prevention and other urgent human needs. Spongebob’s sexuality was never
mentioned.

While Dr. Dobson drew
headlines for a warning about a troupe of cartoon characters, these Christians
dealt with substantial issues of life and death–issues that have traditionally
been at the heart of the Christian gospel. They labored outside the limelight
to solve problems and to serve people in the world faithfully. And this is why
I take more than passing interest in this small
flap.

Those of us in the old line
denominations are too reticent, too reserved and too inexperienced to attract
media coverage to our concerns. Dr. Dobson, on the other hand, knows how to do
this. In the absence of the quiet voices of Mainline leaders, his positions can
appear to be representatives of a wider constituency than is actually the
case.

Apparently I’m not alone in this concern. The public discussion about values is leading other Christians who are concerned about poverty, hunger, peace and justice to speak and act more forthrightly. In a profile in the New York Times recently The Rev. Robert Edgar of the National Council of Churches says, “We’re people of faith, too, and we’re going to talk about what the Bible says about poverty. When nine million children are living in poverty, that’s a moral value.”

The
crux of the issue is which values from Christian tradition inform and shape
Christian faith today–the selective, politicized values of the right, or a more
comprehensive set of values that are rooted in the fullness of scripture? And
how do we talk about these values in a compelling
way?

According to David J. Frenchak,
president of the Seminary Consortium for Urban Pastoral Education, an
evangelical organization, “We’ve let not evangelicals, but the right wing
determine what moral values
are.”

Frank Thomas writes in What’s the Matter
with Kansas?
that the cultural battles of the right-wing backlash are
non-winnable. They amount to taking offense conspicuously, even flamboyantly,
but they result in a greater feeling of disempowerment. “It [the cultural
backlash] offers no resolution, simply reminding us we can never win.” (p.
123.)

So, perhaps we should thank
Dr. Dobson for his flamboyance. In an unintended way, he is helping us to
participate in the national dialogue. But we need to find the messages and the
methods to speak more clearly and simply to more people. We can’t leave it up
to Spongebob to speak for us.

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