A note to the reader: The responsibilities of running a city are complex and demanding. It’s regrettable that Councilmember Scott Peotter has obliged the City Council, the citizens of this city, and this writer to divert our attention from working together to make Newport Beach a great place to live and work in order to address his untoward behavior.
The continuing controversy over Newport Beach City Councilmember Scott Peotter’s behavior has taken two tracks: First, his religious stances – most recently his email newsletter in which he writes, “[T]he Supreme Court (that would be 5 out of 9 guys in black robes) decided 10 days ago to overturn 5,000 years of Judeo-Christian tradition be redefining and allowing gay marriage.” The fact that he chose to overlook that three out of those “9 guys in black robes” are women notwithstanding, many in the community found his comments regarding LGBTs to be religious bigotry.
The second aspect of the controversy concerns Peotter’s political ethics, given the charges under investigation by the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) investigation into campaign expenditures and contributions of both Peotter and his backer, the Residents for Reform PAC, as well as charges that he has violated the Brown Act.
As Jeff Herdman of Balboa Island said, when asked why he calls for Peotter’s resignation: “Ethics.”
Herdman, a member of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, also sees a less-than-ethical aspect to Peotter’s religious stance: “I have no opinion about his opinion on same-sex marriage,” he said, “though the format was an issue: his use of the city seal in his email.”
The purpose of this column is to follow on Herdman’s point. If an elected official is going to take a public stand as a Christian, make sure one’s ethical ducks are in good order. That means paying scrupulous attention to the standards and protocols expected of those in politics – a discipline Peotter has thus far disrespected.
This was apparent on the very evening he formally joined the city council. For its invocations, the city has a standard of not referring to specific deities; prayers are to be offered up to a generic God, fittingly I’d say in a community populated by Jews, Muslims, Christians, and others. Peotter’s pastor, however, offered up his prayer to Jesus Christ. Residents would likely be more impressed by Peotter’s faith were he to demonstrate respect for the City’s standards and protocols rather than flout them.
More recently, as Mayor Ed Selich explained to the City News Service, “Councilmember Peotter’s comments on the (Supreme Court gay marriage ruling) are inappropriate as a city council member and are not reflective of city policy.”
In a response published in the Daily Pilot, Peotter wrote, “I don’t expect to park my faith or convictions at the door because I am elected official, nor would I expect the LGBT community to do so either.”
Pastor Mark Davis, of St. Mark Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, attended the special council meeting on July 14 to address Peotter’s actions.
“Peotter was trying to get us to believe [the issue] was all about free speech, yet everybody there said what they said freely…This was not about anyone’s free speech, it was about city officials being responsible to those whom they represent. We are confusing the loss of a privileged voice with the suppression of free speech.”
In using his First Amendment rights to take on “the homosexual movement,” Peotter should get his facts in order. His disinterest in doing so dates to 1989, when he was involved in the Irvine Values Coalition behind Measure N, a referendum (narrowly passed) that removed that city’s ban on bias based on sexual orientation.
(One of his colleagues in the Coalition was the Rev. Louis Sheldon, of Anaheim, whose talent as founder of the Traditional Values Coalition at riling up fear and loathing toward LGBTs among evangelical and fundamentalist Christians is equaled by his ability to raise big money from the latter.)
The Irvine Coalition’s use of several campaign pieces of “hard evidence – studies, interviews, court cases – to blast the homosexual ‘life style’” were later confirmed to be “distortions or outright misrepresentations of the facts,” by the Los Angeles Times in “Gay ‘Facts’ in Mailers Disputed.”
Peotter’s lack of interest in getting the facts right extends to his references to the Bible. When he complains of the “Supreme Court’s “overturn[ing] 5,000 years of Judeo-Christian tradition by redefining and allowing gay marriage,” he’s mistaken, asserts Pastor Davis.
“My biggest beef with those who insist that there is only one arrangement of marriage that is ‘the biblical view of marriage’ is that it’s a blatant misreading of the Bible,” explains Pastor Davis. “Those like Peotter simply have to ignore the enormous amount of Scripture that says the contrary. Abraham had two wives, Jacob had two wives and two concubines. Other practices included sex with prostitutes and slaves, arranged marriages, marriage of a deceased brother’s widow to the next older brother (whether he had existing wives or not). None of these definitions of marriage in the Old Testament was condemned. Like other existing cultures in the Ancient Near East, these family and marriage arrangements were driven by the economics of a tribal agrarian society that required several wives and many children to survive. In this the Hebrews were no different from other tribes in the area. And, likewise, in the New Testament era it was actually Julius Caesar who pressed for the one-man/one-woman model of marriage in his empire — and he ran into substantial resistance from his colleagues over it. The point is that none of these evolving ‘biblical’ definitions of marriage and family was in opposition to homosexuality. And the New Testament emphasis on ‘one man and one woman’ was in opposition to divorce and polygamy, not same-sex relationships.”
In his newsletter, Peotter objects to LGBTs’ use of “the rainbow as their symbol, as it was God’s symbol that he wouldn’t destroy the world by flood again.”
When he complains, “The homosexual movement is taking a symbol that was meant for something else and is corrupting it for their use,” he slips into an arrogance of exclusivity I consider to be the very antithesis of Christianity. In doing this it is Peotter who limits the transcendence of Scripture.
The Bible is filled with metaphor and endures because it has inspired its readers in countless new and fresh ways. All sorts of people have long used the rainbow to make sense of our world.
- H. Lawrence – a heterosexual if ever there was one — drew on biblical imagery in his novel of 1915 The Rainbow to explore the sexual and emotional dynamics between men and women during the Industrial Revolution. Besides, what’s more hopeful than a rainbow after a storm? And why shouldn’t a long-persecuted group like homosexuals take inspiration from it? The Jesus I know – ever an advocate for the oppressed in the face of establishment indifference to their suffering — would understand this.
Peotter could enlighten himself by reading the article in Slate, “A Rainbow Marriage: How did the rainbow become a symbol of gay pride?” in which Forrest Wickman traces the gay community’s adoption of the rainbow to the 1970s.
Peotter could also have benefitted from witnessing one of the most joyous weddings I’ve ever attended, when last summer two friends married in the first same-sex wedding performed in their church. The Hawaiian theme meant that the event was a full-on rainbow of color. The grooms alternately wept and grinned, as did many of the guests — for those of us familiar with the couple’s journey of faith, it was a moving celebration of the power of God’s love and grace. Who knows, as same-sex marriage becomes a familiar part of American culture, the Scott Peotters of our community may find themselves in attendance at such a wedding, whether it be that of a family member, friend, or political associate who has finally had the courage to come out.
Contrast the joy of such weddings with this observation by Pastor Davis: “I can tell you the saddest thing anyone ever said to me was when a friend, raised Assemblies of God, told me, ‘I know I’m gay and I know I’m going to hell for it.’ I just can’t imagine a sadder conclusion about life, about God, about yourself.”
Davis’s friend needs the hope and reassurance of the rainbow.
Don’t we all.
Jean Hastings Ardell is the president of the Newport Beach Democratic Women’s Club.