What we need now is thick skin and perspective.
In all honesty, like many other civil rights struggles, I could choose to stay out of it. It doesn’t really affect me, does it? There are many drawbacks to getting involved.
To be sure, those of us who strive for justice and equality for gay and lesbian people love our LGBTQI friends and family members. Those of us who are Christian read in the Bible that all of us are created in God’s image, that nothing on heaven or on earth can separate us from the love of God. We hear echoes of this in our founding documents, holding it to be self-evident truth that all men and women are created equal.
So when I see this:
I feel compelled to get involved, as a matter of faith, and as a matter of civil concern.
So, I’ve been trying to step it up a bit lately. The Kansas House overwhelmingly passed HB2453, a bill purporting to protect “Religious Freedom,” but really just another layer of sanction for religiously-based discrimination against gay and lesbian people. Truth is that it is still legal to discriminate against people based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the state of Kansas, and probably will be until those words are added to Kansas Human Rights law. This bill was gravy. But now, under the guise of religious freedom, this bill wanted to overtly permit those with “sincerely held religious belief(s)” to exempt themselves from laws everyone else has to follow.
It prompted me to join friends Aaron and Kate—all of us straight, white, mainline protestant clergy types—at the Kansas Statehouse to give a faith-based testimony against the bill and to thank Representatives who voted no. A few other faith voices spoke up, and major players in the business community (whether seeing the clear human rights concerns or the danger to the bottom line) came out strongly against the bill too and the Senate tapped the breaks and killed it (for now).
Strident right-wing voices have been lifting up Christ’s name as a rationale for this sort of legislation, and they really only speak for a minority of Kansans. The rest of us who also bear the name of Christ have been too quiet for far too long. So I also attended a statehouse rally last week for Equality, again in my robe and my stole, this time joining maybe two dozen interfaith clergy and hundreds more speaking out for equality and justice.
It is the right thing to do, because it is about justice, and it is always the right time to speak out for justice. But it is also essential for the church, for as long as we remain silent, we will not be living out the core of the Gospel and we will continue to push people away who might otherwise find a home in the church. We need to be doing more.
What we allies need now is thick skin and perspective.
If I had reason to be timid, it has so far proven unfounded. At the Kirk, feedback has been largely positive. I’m grateful to serve a church community that is loving and striving to live more fully into its core identity as a place that seeks to experience and share God’s boundless love in south Kansas City and beyond. Not everyone there is of the same mind, and some will likely be upset, but there is great love and latitude and hope stirring there. I hope to get more people out front with me as we look to the future. And if you are gay or lesbian or an ally and want a pastor and a church home where you can be fully yourself, please pay us a visit. I’d be honored to welcome you.
So I know I am doing all of this from a relatively safe place, and I don’t want to discount the challenge others have to weigh when choosing to stand up like I have. But I was a bit taken a back by the essay Jim Wallis wrote today, where he wrote his appreciation for “Young Christians Speaking Out Against Anti-Gay Discrimination.” In the essay, he describes the harsh ire that was ignited when “young evangelical writer[s]” Jonathan Merritt and Kirstin Powers spoke out against the proposed laws in Kansas and beyond.
“Never in my life has my very faith been called into question like this.” Merritt wrote. “You are not a Christian”; “You are the enemies of Christianity,” some tweeted to them.
Harsh and painful words, to be sure. An example of a strong impulse to see any faith that is different from one’s own as Unchristian, indeed.
But if this is all we have to endure when we stand up for justice, I think we can handle it.
Truth be told, it really is nothing when you think about what actual discrimination looks like:
- Having your dignity maligned and your access to basic services questioned.
- Legislation written to mandate your second-class status.
- Not being able to marry the person you love, or adopt your children that you have been raising, or visit your partner in the hospital, or receive last-rites.
There are people dying today because of the hate they experience. My recognition of that fact puts a few criticisms of my faith, or that of others who push for justice, into a different context. It really does not even come close.
What we allies need now is thick skin and perspective.
Truth be told, this isn’t just a struggle for equality for GLBTQI friends. For even though they now benefit from hard-fought equal-rights protections, people of color, religious minorities (no, not evangelical Christians, but Jews, Muslims, even non-believers too), and women are constantly facing barriers to equality. Today. It’s a matter of justice, welcome, and equality for all. Period. And the church needs to say so.
I am a straight, white man, operating in a world of extreme privilege in the most wealthy, powerful nation the world has ever known. I am a creature of dust, a child of God, no better or holy or intrinsically different than any other person—gay, straight, queer, male, female, black, white, Asian, native American, Christian, Muslim, Jew, Atheist. I believe in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior and have dedicated my life to following his way, but I can handle it if a few people want to call my faith illegitimate. My faith and my standing as a Christian doesn’t depend on them, anyway.
This has opened my eyes to a far greater need: we need to keep speaking and keep acting and keep working. I’m grateful for the work of Merritt and Powers, for my friends who joined me in Topeka these past few weeks. I’m amazed and inspired by the work being done by people of faith about this around the country. Just look at what Marci Glass is doing in Boise, or what Mieke Vandersall is doing in New York City. They and many more move me and inspire me. But let us keep our eyes on what these and many others are working for: a world where all people are free to live up to the best ideals of our country and our faith. For LGBTQI friends. But more than that. For people of color. For women. For the hungry and the poor and the undocumented and the outsider and the outcast. The attention needs to be on those who are experiencing discrimination, not on a few of us who are standing up and advocating an end to it.
This is what the Gospel teaches us to do. Lets get going.