Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Progressive Christians Who Won't Believe Out Loud
When I first saw this ad last week, I thought it was sweet, although a bit too sugary for my taste. But I got the idea. A new family arrives and endures the looks from the congregants that leave you thinking they are not particularly friendly. Note to Christians: a lot of you look this way to the strangers coming into your churches. It struck me as a sad commentary that the young Asian woman places an Episcopal hymnal next to her in that, "Sorry, no room for you in the pew" way. Such a contrast to the official advertised slogan, "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You." Thankfully, at the end of the ad, she redeems herself. If you look closely, she's the one who moves over to make way for the new family.
A family that is a young son, and his two moms.
The commercial is from Believe Out Loud, a project of Intersections International which is trying to push the heretofore silent majority in Christianity to stop being afraid and finally go public with their welcome of LGBT people into places of worship.
In the circles of progressive Christians, this ad should have been a big hit. Should have been.
But at one progressive website, the executives decided this ad was not the kind of "Mom and Apple Pie" advertising they were comfortable with for Mother's Day. Sojourners website, one of the largest in progressive Christendom, refused to run the ad. This has prompted an outcry from not only Believe Out Loud, and its parent organization, but from many bloggers who note that Sojourners advocates for the poor and the needy and thus gets lumped under the category of "progressive", but has failed to engage on other social justice matters, especially for LGBT people. Or worse--have the founder go on record in other publications in opposition to such things as equal marriage rights.
Jim Wallis, the founder of Sojourners, issued a statement to clarify their position, which has morphed from a concern that to show the ad would appear to be "taking sides" to saying that they would prefer to discuss "the issue of the LGBTQ community" on their editorial pages and not in their ad space.
I believe the appropriate metaphor would be that Mr. Wallis has just put his foot in his mouth.
What is meant by"taking sides" or "the issue of the LGBTQ community"? There is no issue; there is reality. In your face, and in your pews, reality that--oh, my--gay people exist and they show up in church on Sunday. That's what the ad is talking about. There is the growing reality that gay people not only exist and go to church, they are also raising families; hence an even bigger incentive to find a church, so that a child gets a grounding in God that one can hope will not disappear. Gay parents do this... just like straight parents do it. The difference is the straight parents and their children receive spoken and unspoken affirmation from the church for their family life. Churches are great at celebrating through the prayers the umpteenth anniversary of a straight couple. Do they give the same recognition to gay couples? Possibly... but only if you live in one of the countries, or five of the 50 states and the District of Columbia that allow for legalized marriage for LGBT citizens.
In some ways, what Sojourners has done is illustrate the disconnect that so many of us of the gay persuasion find disturbing about those Christians who call themselves, "Progressive." Like others who gather under that label, how progressive they are seems to have limits and often the line seems to be drawn at us. They can fight for the poor. They will sing "We Shall Overcome" on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. But put out church literature at gay pride, or participate in a Pride Week Interfaith service?
In my own experience, I have been flummoxed when talking to clergy that the minute I say something about making overtures toward the LGBT faithful and welcoming them into our church community, I am on the receiving end of a quote from Paul's letter to the Galatians that "In Christ, there is neither Jew or Greek, free or slave, male or female." Admittedly, this is a big step up from having the horrible passages from 1 Corinthians or Romans tossed at me in an effort to deny my membership in the Body of Christ at all. But still, it is a cop out. It is a way of saying, "We don't need to talk about that here."
But that's the problem. We do need to talk about that here because the Church has been the single biggest sinner when it comes to the gay community. Religious leaders have preached hate-filled sermons against us, endorsed bigoted legislation, and have stood on street corners with bullhorns during our pride parades. They have whipped people into a frenzy of fear that LGBT people were going to molest children, destroy marriages, and paint church altars pink and purple. Get into a conversation with someone who opposes equality for LGBT people, and it won't take 15-seconds before the phrase, "The Bible says..." comes trippingly off the tongue.
Meanwhile, the straight Christians who identify as "progressive" or "liberal" are comfortable telling their favorite gay Christian how much they support us in (fill-in-the-current-"issue"-facing-gays). But will they take the same righteous stand to a straight friend, unprompted and unprovoked? More likely, there will be a reason given for why they kept quiet. Strange that they won't maintain that same silent witness if the issue is homelessness, welfare, or the rights of women.
Another pet peeve I have is when I hear the excuse that they can't bear witness on behalf of gay people because, "Well, I'm not gay." Well, I'm not a migrant farm worker, and yet, I will testify to the evils of trying to enact Arizona-style immigration laws in Florida. And imagine what would have happened if every white person in America had said, "Well, I'm not black" during the civil rights movement?
I've read on many a blog written by a priest the bemoaning of the "numbers game" that gets played in churches these days. Everybody's concerned that we need "lotsa" people, and here we get back to those parents with children. They're called "Young Families". Well, what if that "Young Family" has two dads or two moms? They are still a family, right? Yes, but their parents relationship may or may not be validated by the church. What if there are childless couples who arrive at church? Do we count our LGBT people in the numbers, or are they counted in the same way some states seem to want them counted as 3/5ths a person? Of course, I know the answer that we are fully counted in "the book". But what happens when presence in the pew leads to calling to the pulpit? In some places, that's another line drawn in the aisle of acceptability.
I'm fed up with the excuses of supposed "Christian progressives" with their wishy-washy stands on equal rights for LGBT people and trying to find the "other side" in the discussion. If God is the God we know and love and serve, then there is no "other side" in the question of whether or not I should be welcomed into the Body of Christ. I am there already.
Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.--1 John 4: 20-21
A full welcome in the Church is part of that love.