On Friday, I was blessed to keynote a gathering of Christians and Muslims commemorating the Orlando victims, holding them in light and love while pledging to work together to better relationships between Christans and LGBT persons, between Christians and Muslims, and between Muslims and LGBT persons.
What I did not expect was work between Christians and Christians.
Those who know me are very familiar with my public and consistent work for and in the GLBT+ community. I don’t need or want to detail it, but suffice it to say I am a committed, stalwart voice for love and equality. I do this largely because of my faith, not in spite of it. And this, for much of my Christian life, has caused strife between me and Christians who vehemently disagree. Some have been openly hostile to me and questioned the authenticity of my Christianity. This happens kinda regularly on the blog, too. But most Christians I know have not attacked me. It is not surprising that I was considered very Progressive in the seminary I attended (and still attend as a doctoral student), but this is an incomplete metric. I would most likely have been considered on the more conservative side had I attended San Francisco Theological Seminary, where some of my dear, Progressive Christian and Unitarian-Universalist (UU) colleagues matriculated. But at United Theological Seminary, I made wonderful, dear friends who are more conservative than me on most political issues, and on some doctrinal ones as well. Yet we love each other. Deeply. Fully. Without reservation. We don’t just say it and then bitch about each other behind one another’s backs. We hold some issues in tension and return to them, again and again, because we care about hearing and being heard. To some in the Progressive movement, this makes me a traitor. It makes me inauthentic and untrustworthy. Lately, I have been attacked more from the Left than I am from the Right, which again makes me suspect, even though I identify as a Socialist (before there was Marx and Engels there was Jesus Christ), but I digress.
Anyway, I went to this event expecting to see Episcoplian, Presbyterian, United Church of Christ (UCC), and UU persons, which I did; we were gathering in a UCC church. I assumed it would be the usual Progressive fare. But I was shocked–and even taken aback–to see a listed on the program a representative from a local mega church that I have, in the main, disagreed with on a vast majority of issues. To be clear, I had never met the pastor before, but I quickly surmised what he was likely to say so I braced myself and prepared to, if necessary, refute damaging things said from the pulpit.
Let’s pause here and call this by the proper name: I judged. I had never reached out to any pastor of the mega churches and asked to speak with them; I had drawn conclusions based upon evidence filtrated through media, anecdotes, and upon the ways many mega church pastors conduct themselves on the national and local stages. I was flummoxed by why such a voice was being lifted up during this time.
Can you feel the moral superiority poring out of me? Even the Rock could smell what I was cooking.
And then Pastor John, as I will call him, spoke. He confessed that his church had not publicly addressed the issue of GLBTQ+ rights, one way or another, and that the elephant in the room was getting bigger. I could see the earnestness and honesty in his eyes, and feel the passion in his words. He said that the congregation needs to process, to go through intentional conversation; I realized that he was asking for help to do the work that so many of us in the UCC, PC (USA), Episcoplal Church, and the UU have done over the past decades. Pastor John elucidated two major points about what can be learned from Orlando; I’ll admit that I can’t remember the second one because I felt his words hit me like a sledgehammer: he spoke about identity. Who are we and who do we perceive others to be? What are the lies we are believing, the assumptions we are making? I felt God smacking me on the back of the head. “Pick out the oak tree in your own eye before pointing out the splinter in your neighbor’s.”
At the reception, I had a great conversation with Pastor John and I hope to be an asset in any way I can as he and his community undertake an intentional walk toward shaping their identity and responding to who God calls them to be; and regardless of what they decide, I am inspired by their desire to undertake the work. And the next time I see him, I am going to look him in the eye and thank him for pastoring to me Friday night. He taught me something very, very important.
But I must admit another sin. I told Pastor John a lie. As we were walking out I said that I was so glad to see someone from his church on the program. That was true, but only because he had lovingingly and unknowingly put me in my place. I was only glad when I allowed myself to listen to him instead of assuming I knew his story or how Christ moved in his heart.
God clearly did not think that I had adequately gotten the point, because on Saturday I had the opposite experience. I have been volunteering with YS Pride for the past three years. As an organization, just celebrated our 5th year; the current crew, by and large, picked it up from the original crew after year two, so I have been feeling pretty strongly that it is time for me to step down and pass the torch to people with fresh vision, new ideas, and various approaches to serve the community. As I have largely been responsible for the programming for the day, the last three years have featured a very heavy spiritual bent, with every attempt to be made to be as ecumenical and inclusive as possible. Yesterday, I read out the names and told the stories of every trans* person killed so far in 2016, something that was only possible because of this fabulously maintained Wikipedia page. Representatives from various trans* organizations were present, along with PFLAG, GLSEN, BRAVO, and a whole host of other wonderful groups. Many spoke. We read the names of the victims of Orlando, heard a recitation of the mourner’s Kaddish from a Jewish lesbian laywoman; we were held in sacred silence as befits the Quaker tradition by a member of the local Friends Meeting; and people from a wide variety of religious and spiritual traditions gathered together to sing and support one another. It was beautiful.
Before signing off, I put out the call for queer and ally persons of color and trans* persons to volunteer and help shape YS Pride in the coming years. I then handed over the microphone to an individual who had previously been very critical of me (not by name) online for speaking to our local police department about safety and security after Orlando, and claimed that I have an “elite, white” perspective, apparently because I invited the Chief of Police to make some opening remarks, which he did. I was filled with gratitude when the next person who followed the Chief, a trans* man, thanked the Orlando Police Department for their work and support of and for the largely Latinx community of victims in the tragedy. But the final individual who spoke, who I know identifies with plural pronouns, criticized the Pride organizers for saying pretty words, but not doing anything to be authentically invitational to communities of color, specifically because the police chief spoke. They drew a distinct line between being in solidarity with various communities and supporting police presence or participation in Pride. And while they did make important points about the challenges facing the most vulnerable communities–queer and trans* persons of color, especially returning citizens–their assumption was that we on the committee had no education or knowledge of this. They spoke about the “older generation” needing to be pulled to the Left by Millennials, so that we can be a more inviting and inclusive community. As long as we are not police or military, apparently, I thought at the time. And I’m too exhausted to give a point-by-point refutation of the other arguments because it is not necessary. Their words are not what is at issue here. My immediate internal response is the issue: I wanted to shout, “I’ve been to the national White Privieldge Conference; I was at Ecumenical Advocacy Days in DC when the topic was mass incarceration and its impact on communities of color; I have worked with trans* persons in a wide variety of contexts; I visit people in prison; I am the only Caucasian in my doctoral cohort; do you know how much education I have, both institutional and experiential??! Dammit, how dare you judge me or others without ever having talked to us one ti…”
Oh. Right. Well, shit.
There’s that damn oak tree again.
The congregation and I just finished our walk through 2 Corinthians this week; it was the longest study of one book that we’ve done, in worship, since I assumed the pulpit. God so very clearly, so very powerfully, led us to the Narrative Lectionary and the selection of 2 Corinthians because we needed to study it together. And today, I needed to admit my sins. My failures. The ways that I was wanting to boast in myself rather than boasting in the Lord. The ways that I judged others and then became righteously indignant when someone did it to me.
Alright, God. Alright. I get it. Sheesh. You don’t have to hit me over the head wi…
Oh. Right. Well, shit.