People who have never met Amber Dee Parker or read her children’s book call her hateful. A bigot.
But the Lincoln-born-and-raised first-time author is resolute in her conviction: Her book “God Made Dad & Mom” offers a loving and gentle way to teach children about the sinfulness of same-sex marriage and the homosexual “lifestyle choice.”
She says the words on the 32-page book are not her own, but God’s — as revealed to her one night in 2009.
“God Made Dad & Mom” ($11.99, Bridge Logos) is “based on the Judeo-Christian” definition of marriage — one man and one woman. The book was released in March, just as the U.S. Supreme Court took on the Defense Of Marriage Act (DOMA).
“God Made Dad & Mom” has been endorsed by the American Family Association, Family Research Council and Concerned Women for America.
It has been lambasted by gay and straight publications and is the subject of an international petition drive demanding Amazon.com stop selling it.
To date, Parker has received more than 1,000 book orders and 270 reviews on Amazon.com — the vast majority of them harshly negative.
At 2 p.m. Saturday, Parker will host a book signing at the SouthPointe Barnes & Noble. It is her unofficial start to an eventual cross-country book tour.
She admits to being a bit nervous about the crowd she might draw. She’d like to read the book to the youngsters in attendance, but she worries protesters could interrupt.
Meanwhile, several Lincoln religious leaders say they hope people just stay away and not give her book or her point of view the benefit of public attention.
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Parker, 32, grew up Amber Thompson in Lincoln. Raised by her grandparents, she attended kindergarten at Lincoln Christian School and Lincoln Public Schools through 12th grade. She graduated from Lincoln Southeast High School in 1999 and married.
“I didn’t go to college. I never dreamed of being a writer,” Parker said over coffee at Barnes & Noble.
Now living in Omaha, Parker is a member of Westside Church, an evangelical Christian church.
Parker interprets the Bible literally.
She is certain God called her to write this storybook four years ago — the morning after Iowa voted to recognize same-sex marriages. She woke up with the story fully written in her head.
“I couldn’t get out of bed fast enough,” she recalled. “God gave me the story which ran through my mind like a Rolodex.”
A story complete with words, verse and illustrations.
“I had to write it down,” Parker said.
Two months later, she got up the nerve to call Bridge Logos, a Christian publishing company. She anticipated red tape, but instead she found herself talking to the acquisitions editor who told her to send him the book along with a synopsis of key points.
“Before sending it them I prayed to God,” Parker said.
Before her eyes, sentences in her manuscript suddenly became highlighted, she said. God helped her see what she should send to the publisher.
Within 24 hours of receiving Parker’s storyline, Bridge Logos offered to publish the book with one caveat — that she find and pay for an illustrator.
Her search for an illustrator took four years, stymied mostly by the high cost of hiring one.
Ultimately, she found Hannah Segura, a Nebraska girl who just happens to be the daughter of Parker’s physician.
“She drew it down to a T the way I imagined it — with the heart, kindness and love coming across the pages,” Parker said.
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Where Parker sees love others see hate. Intolerance.
Teaching youngsters to pray away the gay and see homosexuality as a sinful lifestyle choice is hurtful and demeaning, opponents say.
They’d like the book to die on the shelf — unread.
No one disputes that Parker is entitled to her point of view, but invoking God into a conversation about public policy is sort of going nuclear, said the Rev. Jim Keck, senior minister at First-Plymouth Congregational Church.
How do you argue against God?
And how do you know what God really wants?
“Only one person can claim what God’s image and intention for us is — and that is God,” said Rabbi Craig Lewis of Congregation B’nai Jeshurun (South Street Temple). “None of us can proclaim exactly what God intended.”
It’s all a matter of interpretation.
And there are many interpretations.
Is the Bible a historical document providing a clear blueprint for right and wrong, sin or sin-free — as conservative Christians believe?
Or is it a map of many paths, ultimately designed to guide us in our practices, values and systems of ethics — as more liberal and progressive faiths assert?
“Americans have to come to terms that there is scripture from the deep patriarchal past that doesn’t fit anymore,” Keck said. He argues that people cannot “cherry-pick” scriptures that suit their feelings while disavowing other passages, such as those allowing polygamy and other other human behaviors now widely rejected by society.
But the Rev. Stu Kerns, minister of Zion Presbyterian Church, disagrees that some Bible passages have lost relevance in modern society.
“I believe the human condition is more timeless than that,” Kerns said. “If you read it carefully, they were pretty much the same as us. There is more technology and more information, but in terms of the moral issues men and women have faced — that has not changed much over the past 4,000 years.
“We understand that people have a variety of sexual impulses that are sinful, and we should restrain from them.”
Among them are fornication, cohabitation and homosexual relations, he said.
“It isn’t a new position. It has 4,000 years of history behind it,” Kerns said. “That is what becomes frustrating — when upholding a tradition of marriage and sex that has been the dominant position for 4,000 years, and one day you wake up and hear the nation telling you that you are out of step and homophobic, and to let that viewpoint go unchallenged. To be treated like I am the one with the novel point of view.”
Rabbi Lewis takes counterpoint.
“The Torah gives us inspiration in guiding our practices, our values, our system of ethics, and often we come across passages — even commandments — which we find to be objectionable,” he said.
“The prohibition against homosexuality is one of those we have to confront. The Torah says: Man shall not lay with another man, that it is an abomination. But I don’t believe that we can take that literally as God’s word. And Judaism teaches that above all, the number one commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself. That supercedes any of these other questionable commands.”
Unitarian Church Minister Fritz Hudson said human culture is an evolving process.
“We have to trust our reasoning and ability to apply it, rather than look at a cookbook made 2,000 years ago,” he said.
Catholic catechism is very clear on the sacrament of marriage, said Lincoln Diocese Bishop James Conley.
“The Catholic Church teaches that marriage is established by God. … As part of His divine revelation, marriage is a sacred bond between one man and one woman,” he said. “But because God created everything and we are made in his image and likeness, this definition of marriage is written into human nature” — natural law allowing only men and women to procreate.
Catholic, Presbyterian and Methodist churches don’t condemn same-sex attraction, which they agree has always existed, but all say acting upon those urges is sinful.
And that puts the Rev. Stephen Griffith of Saint Paul United Methodist Church at the crux of the religious crossroads.
As the church’s minister to the community, his role includes working with the lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender (LGBT) community. The official policy of the United Methodist Church is that all people have sacred worth and should have the same basic human rights and civil liberties as all people.
However, church policy also states: “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching,” Griffith said.
“There are many ministers and lay persons in the United Methodist church who believe the official position is wrong and should be changed,” Griffith said.
He is among them.
“But I don’t think it can be done by arguing,” Griffith said. “For me it has been a bit of a journey to come to this position, to continue reading, studying and praying, to be open to what God is teaching me.
“A big part of my journey has been the opportunity to become acquainted with gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people — to recognize that they are human beings and persons of sacred worth. And to come to the realization that in many cases they have understood themselves to have always been this way.
“If they have always been this way — and I believe God created us as humans — it must mean God created them this way. I recognize them as children of God, just as I am, and of sacred worth, just as I am.”
What's Griffith’s hope? That the United Methodist Church broadens its definition of marriage.
“I personally believe that all loving, faithful, monogamous relationships should be supported, strengthened and recognized regardless of the gender of the couple,” he said.
Increasingly, that viewpoint is being embraced by mainstream churches, as well as the general public. Fifty-one percent of Americans now support gay marriage, according to a 2013 PEW Research Center survey; compared to 32 percent in 2003.
At the root of this growing acceptance is the principle of equality.
“At a certain level, gay marriage is about having equal opportunity,” Lewis said. “Marriage is a legal status. If you are attracted to the same gender, you should have the rights and ability to be in a long-term committed relationship that affords the same privileges as someone who is heterosexual has.”
With a marriage license comes legal and economic rights — to health insurance, federal benefits, child custody, home ownership, taxes and spousal health-related decisions — things most of us take for granted as automatic when we marry.
Bishop Conley says the legal rights issues are separate and distinct from the sacrament of marriage — and should be addressed as such.
“Those issues can be looked at in an objective way without accepting a redefinition of marriage,” Conley said.
But same-sex marriage proponents say marriage is more than a legal status. Just as heterosexuals who vow to have and to hold until death do they part, gay couples want that same blessing from God.
“I know a number of gay and lesbian couples who have lived together faithfully and monogamously for 20 to 30 years," Griffith said. "In recent years, a number of them have begun raising children who are thriving, loved and loving. Many times they (gay couples) are living a deeply religious life. It seems clear to me that God is blessing those families. And if God is blessing those families, who am I to argue against it?
“For me, same-sex marriage is not a matter of redefining marriage, it is looking at and claiming what is the heart of marriage."
In many respects Conley and Kerns agree — except their definitions of marriage are guided by the Bible and the dictates of God.
“The conservative Christian church feels like it didn’t pick this fight, but feels the need to speak the truth in love and not just be silent,” Kerns said. “We do believe it hurts people. Sin alienates us from God. There is damage.
“The point of conflict is normalizing sin in the culture. When the culture pushes to normalize sin and it hurts one’s relationship with God, it is hard to just stand by and not speak.”
Both sides say when it comes to redefining marriage the best interests of the children must remain in the forefront.
"We need to look out for the instruction of our children and their innocence," author Parker said.
Her fear is the acceptance of gay marriage paves the way for polygamy, pedophilia and beastiality.
"Enough is not enough with these groups," she said. "They want total power and total control. The foundation of family and the foundation of health in general is being sidelined."
Conley asserts: “Children have an inherent right to be born and raised by a mother and a father.
“Sociological studies and research have shown to us that children are healthier and flourish in a household with a mother and a father. It seems to me that the children are the ones who are losing out on this.”
Which is why Catholic adoption agencies and foster care programs do not place children with same-sex couples.
“We believe it is a disservice to children,” Conley said. “We should always be striving for the idea of having the complementary parenting of a mother and a father.”
First-Plymouth minister Jim Keck says that argument doesn’t hold water in today’s society.
“We want a safe and moral and loving home for every child," he said. "But the gender of the parents is beside the point.
“Some of this is scandalous. Think of all the foster homes needed for children without parents; children without the educational opportunities and health care they should have — and here we are engaged in a conversation about what a ‘perfect’ family is.
"Heck, I want more good-enough families are that providing a safe and loving environment for our kids.”
And in the end, that boils down to relationships.
“For me that is what all of life is really about,” Griffith said. “Relationships — how we work with one another and how we honor one another. …
“It’s not about the issues and dogmas and beliefs. It is about our relationships.”