The Raleigh Rant
My mind has been in a jumble since the LGBTQ Presidential Forum last month, and I have been unable to comment on it. That was unprecedented coverage of LGBTQ issues by Democratic presidential candidates. The upbeat tone of support of us quickly dissipated in the din of continued attacks on us by the Trump Administration. The contentious noise of the impeachment inquiries and rebuttals by the Trump propaganda machine have dominated the news cycle and my attention.
Last week, I attended “An Inclusive Conversation: A Biblical Foundation for Fully Including LGBTQ people in the United Methodist Church.” The crowd of about 160 people attending at Wake Forest UMC was a good turn-out, considering the overall conservative attitude of the North Carolina Conference. The Bishop attended the meeting and numerous other ones around the conference. A panel addressed the challenge of making some sense of the controversies regarding the Book of Discipline. We were guided by the former Chair of the Judicial Council, who understood the laws and policies of the church.
We had the advantage of a presentation by Dr. William Lawrence, former dean of the Perkins School of Theology, who reminded us of the inclusive nature of John Wesley’s ministry in 18th Century England. Wesley reached out to those who were unwelcome and physically excluded from attendance in the congregations of the Church of England. Even though he held advanced degrees and positions of honor, his priority always was directed to the plight of the common man. We have seen such a perversion of his concepts of religious traditions and doctrine, that it is difficult to sort out when and how his language was distorted and misused.
However much we may become discouraged in these troubled times, the power of faith and prayer will prevail. My church may not survive in its current form, nor should it since it continues to exclude some people. The re-structuring will be complicated and confusing, and at this point, no one know how it may end up. But the nearly 50-year internal debate over the single issue of human sexuality has robbed it of its primary mission to evangelize and to spread the good news.
My hope was restored by the livestreaming of the funeral of Elijah Cummings at the New Psalmist Baptist Church in Baltimore. I knew only a little about the traditions of the Black Church in America, and the 3-hour ceremony was a struggle at times. But my interest was renewed repeatedly by the music and the evangelistic speakers who cited scripture about the hope and mission of the church. Citing his commitment to the church, his strong faith, and his empathy for people, they brought me to tears through their expressions of love and gratitude for a life well-lived. What more could be said in terms of Christian testimony?
As a gay life-long Democrat, I can hardly be described as objective. I do believe that the LGBTQ community can lead to a broadening of civil rights in America. I also believe that it can renew the vitality of organized religion to make it again relevant in our daily lives. Neither powers nor principalities can separate us from the love of Jesus Christ.
We are embroiled in a national debate over homosexuality, abortion, and race. Trump is not the cause of our consternation; he is only the symptom. Some people are willing to tolerate his insanity because he represents the underlying resentment of the poor whites and religious right. They see the political power structure of the past 30 years slipping from their grasp, and they are furious.
He is successful only in one aspect of the role of the President. He motivates people. Unfortunately, his primary appeal is to the lunatic fringe elements of our society who are incensed with their status. What they don’t understand is how corporate control of not only our economy, but also our government and electoral system, has hurt them. The corporations have deliberately deprived the working class of their former standard of living as a method of increasing profits and executive pay. We don’t actually make anything anymore. The economy and tax system are really just financial gerrymandering that increase inequality. We are re-living the Gilded Age. He also is an expert in manipulating the media. They take the bait every time and can’t resist quoting how outrageous his tweets are. He makes good copy because controversy and violence sell.
Because we are preoccupied with these issues, we fail to deal with the existential issues of our time. We are threatened daily by the lack of gun safety laws, climate change, and dissolution of international agreements and cooperation. In the US, we kill more people every day than in most of the regional wars. We are literally drowning in the seas, and we quibble about the impacts of disrupting the fossil fuels economy. We once cooperated with Russia in the International Space Station, and now we talk about weaponizing space. We have abandoned our nuclear weapons treaties with them. The world is flooded with refugees from regional wars and genocide. Failed nation states disgorge their miserables into a panic-filled mess that can’t deal with them in any humane way. The United Nations, NATO, the European Union, and other regional organizations face dissolution.
The United States following World War II literally rebuilt the world’s infrastructure and economy, and now ours is collapsing from neglect. Basic needs such as roads, bridges, water, sewer, airports, ports, rural hospitals, and rail transport are falling apart. China, Japan, and the European countries have functioning high-speed rail passenger service while Amtrak struggles because of lack of funds for capital equipment. We talk about infrastructure, but we don’t do anything about it. The Triangle has plans sitting on the shelf for public transportation, but has taken little action for the past 20+ years. The status quo is choking our cities from the gridlock, high accident rate, and cost of lengthy commutes.
If we cannot come to terms with each other and face these existential issues, the United States will go the way of the Roman Empire that collapsed from internal corruption, greed and focus on personal self-interests rather than the common good. It ceased to function as a democracy, and so have we. It is time to wake up and demand action. I’m ready to bring out the pitchforks and challenge the corporate control of our government at every level. Populism is not a negative concept. It simply has been distorted into a mass hysteria based on fear.
I recently returned from a family reunion of relatives of my mother. She came from a large family of nine children, and some of her siblings also had large families so we had about 35 people attend of 2nd & 3rd generations. I am one of two surviving grandchildren of the Dahl grandparents who immigrated to this country in 1888.
Some of the relatives are interested in genealogy and have even done DNA testing. I created some family charts years ago but have not maintained the database, so it is out-of-date.
I also researched some of the records on my father’s side of the family that go back even further even though he had only four other siblings and his mother died when he was only three.
The lectionary a couple of weeks ago was on the Good Shepherd and about who is my neighbor. This past weekend caused me to consider who is my family? Christians claims that all people of faith are our family, but that is too broad a claim. My Bible study companions of 13 years are my closest family I suppose since all the members of my immediate family are deceased.
In the LGBT community, many people have adopted a family of friends and allies since their biological family may have disowned them. That happened to my partner years ago even though he eventually was reconciled with his parents. Adopted members of families often ultimately feel they must search their bloodline even though that sometimes ends in even more pain. Being gay was an issue I never discussed with my parents even though it was an open secret. Since I had two partners over a period of 13 years, it was not an issue that could be hidden even if they chose to ignore it.
The members of the small congregation I attend feel like family at their weekly dinner-on-the grounds every Sunday during the school year. Sundays always have been a lonely time for me because in times past they were reserved for time with my parents and sister when they were living. Although my partners did not attend church with me, we lived together and usually were together on the weekends.
Most advocacy groups like to pitch themselves are sort of like families since their members share the same opinions and/or beliefs. I reluctantly recently parted ways with the Reconciling Ministries Network since I no longer believe that the divisions within the United Methodist Church can be reconciled and that the denomination will split. That was the case with the other mainline Protestant denominations in recent years, and I don’t see that the Methodists will be any different.
A lot of folks like to joke about the political discussions and conflicts around the Thanksgiving & Christmas dinner tables where dissension often breaks out even among blood relatives. So what are the ties that bind? Whatever or whomever we chose to affiliate with may be the simplest answer. I consider my long-term friends as family since I have known some of them for decades. Even though we never lived together, our friendship and love feels like family.
Who do you consider to be your family?
The celebrations of 50 years after Stonewall in New York are permutating the posture of New York as the center of the universe. It is claimed that is where the LGBT movement began. Yes, it probably was the first large LGBT riot against the police, but it was not the first movement in the nation. There were a number of small organizations scattered around the country, some of which had more success than others. The Advocate, based in Los Angles, started national publication in 1969.
Yes, there were problems even in the big cities. Los Angeles had a notoriously homophobic police chief. The numerous gay bars in New Orleans were regularly raided by the corrupt police not to enforce morals but as a power play for more money. The riots over civil rights in 1968 all over the country had pushed LGBT issues to the background. People who were transgender were invisible as a matter of self-protection. Drag queens were called female impersonators and were popular in San Francisco and Las Vegas even though they were reported to have first started in the South. As the 60’s came to a close, the free-spirited sexual revolution faced a mean-spirited backlash.
My jobs in the 60’s left little time for political action, but I became more active sexually. I was firmly closeted in the 50’s, but by the mid-60’s, I freely enjoyed patronizing gay bars, baths, and restaurants without a hassle in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Dallas, Houston, and San Francisco. I picked up tricks in Mexico City. In 1967, I was living openly with a gay partner in Dallas in the gay district of Cedar Springs. I had a 35-year gap (1965 - 2000) in visiting New York City so I missed Stonewall. I also did not have the opportunity to visit Fire Island or Provincetown in their hey-day like some of my friends did.
I became more active in LGBT politics in the 70’s. The Texas Gay & Lesbian Task Force was formed, and a small publication This Week in Texas (TWIT) had statewide distribution in the bars. I recall going to a political rally at the AstroArena that drew thousands in Houston. I met Harvey Milk at a workshop in Dallas. The Advocate Magazine hosted a cocktail party at a large hotel in Houston for subscribers who lived in the “fly-over” zone of Texas. Obviously, they thought we lived in the wilderness. I “came out” in San Antonio. The first trial of a gay Methodist preacher was held there in 1976 that sparked a media frenzy.
The Republican Revival in the 80’s pushed LGBT issues to the background, but it was during the Clinton Administration that we suffered one of our worst setbacks. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was promoted as a compromise, but in practice it institutionalized discrimination in the military. It took 20 years to reverse that. Of course, the spread of AIDS sparked a backlash against homosexuals that was fueled by fear and promoted by right-wing politicians and religious groups.
The Supreme Court in 2003 struck down the sodomy laws and in 2015 allowed same-sex marriage. Unfortunately, there is still no federal law that bans discrimination in employment, public accommodations, or housing. The current trend is to promote laws at the state level to protect “religious rights,” i.e. the right to discriminate against LGBT people based upon religious beliefs. We still hear extremists who cry “kill the gays,” and they receive national notoriety for their hatred. The media coverage merely inspires more copycats. Unfortunately, transgender people of color remain the most vulnerable group. The Stonewall riots marked a time in history when the LGBT community decided to fight back, and thus they are well worth noting now
My views on the progress (or lack thereof) in North Carolina will require a separate article.
It’s time for the people of the United Methodist Church to have a divorce. Jesus condemned divorce, yet in our understanding of modern psychology we have come to accept it as sometimes a necessity. When people quarrel endlessly for 47 years, disparaging each other, and focusing on a single unresolved issue, then it’s time to move on.
We’ve heard pleas for reconciliation and discernment, and the Council of Bishops tried to open up church polity to more diversity. It failed, and with it we got a confirmed position of maintaining the status quo both in terms of doctrine and in church structure. Folks worry that the complicated structure of a connectional denomination that doesn’t have “independent” congregations will simply dissolve into nothing. The Episcopalians and Presbyterians did it and survived.
I’m not a “sore loser.” I simply believe that when we lose focus on the mission of the church to evangelize and to bring the good news to all nations, then we have the wrong priorities. The purpose of the church is not to be self-sustaining either in providing jobs for the clergy or the administrative structure of the organization. Our objective is not to enforce compliance with current dogma. Power plays and politics are just a sideshow.
Divorce always is a painful process and an admission of failure to fulfill our vows, but it is a better alternative to remaining in a destructive relationship that destroys the people involved. The pain and suffering of a divorce is less than continuing years of conflict that never can be resolved no matter how hard people may try. We’ve had commissions to study our problems and to make recommendations, but they didn’t work. The neo-colonialism of the Methodist structure has perpetuated a system of patronage and inequality. We’re trying to mesh many cultures without any effort at assimilation. Europe has faced this problem with a surge of refuges that we are only beginning to recognize. The United States has been a melting pot nation that has welcomed cultural diversity and yet brought people together in a community of tolerance and acceptance.
Now the United States is experiencing a clash of cultures, economic classes, and warring ideologies both political and religious. The United Methodist Church is only symptomatic of the broader breaches in our society. People claim we have become less Christian and more secular, but in fact we have become more representative of the many religious communities within this country. We’re quickly becoming less white, Anglo-Saxon, and protestant, and some in the existing power structure are frightened of losing control.
Let us separate with as little acrimony as possible and move on to a new structure with new hope and vigor and less fighting.