The Raleigh Rant
Gay Lives Matter
In spite of all the controversy over the slogan “Black Lives Matter,” it is apparent even in a quick review of the daily news that people of color in America do not receive justice either from the police or our judicial system. I would not belittle the efforts to bring attention to this national problem that requires immediate corrections, but I would add a note of another minority group that often is overlooked in the criminal justice system.
So, what comes next?
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is legislation proposed in the U. S. Congress that would prohibit discrimination in hiring and employment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity by employers with at least 15 employees. ENDA has been introduced in every Congress since 1994 except the 109th. Similar legislation has been introduced without passage since 1974. The cliché is “married on Sunday, fired on Monday and evicted on Tuesday.”
So what good does it do LGBT people if they can be married but still discriminated against in employment and public accommodation? Surely these were some of the most basic rights established in prior civil rights legislation. Will the backlash against same-sex marriage provide a continuing blockade of any federal legislation on these issues? I’m not a political scientist so I can’t speculate on the chances for passage any time soon, but I can state that I always have felt that this was our most basic need and should be a priority for LGBT advocates.
Unfortunately, in the midst of all the celebrations about the recent Supreme Court decision, the attitude appears to be that victory has been won so now we can just go home and enjoy life. The battle ground on same-sex marriage has just moved to the states, which is the reverse of what has occurred on job and housing discrimination. Many employers, cities, and states have non-discrimination rules and laws; it’s at the federal level where we’ve been stymied. Presidential executive orders have established safeguards for federal employees, and recently employees of federal contractors, but there are not even any guidelines much less regulations for most employers. Major corporations have been far ahead of the game for decades in promoting diversity as good business and good for business, but lots of smaller companies still operate at the whim of their owners. There are rules about age, race, gender, and national origin, but discrimination still exists even in these categories.
Although public opinion on discrimination against LGBT people has changed in recent years along with attitudes against same-sex marriage, there does not appear to be the same strong religious bias for job discrimination as there is against same-sex marriage. Many religious organizations still discriminate against LGBTs but don’t promote that policy for all employers. So it appears the politicians who the ones who are still lagging behind public opinion. We would not have same-sex marriage in the United States today except for lawsuits and court decisions. We have not had the same success with anti-discrimination lawsuits, such as the Hobby Lobby decision last yet.
Clearly the Republican Party still sees homosexuality, and particularly same-sex marriage, as a wedge issue that appeals to their base although it is questionable how long that can remain a successful campaign issue. The traditional divide between liberal and conservative voters doesn’t apply to the issue of LGBT discrimination, where many voters see it as a libertarian issue.
So are the major LGBT advocacy groups re-orienting their campaigns? It is too soon to say, or to guess what direction that may take. They have badly miscalculated on ENDA in the past. Internal conflicts among the groups over whether or not to include transgender issues or religious exceptions weakened a unified political front. Court decisions on same-sex marriage drove the change in the laws as well as public opinion, but that does not appear to be a viable option for job discrimination.
This morning I’m suffering somewhat from intellectual whiplash. I recently published two book reviews on Goodreads. The liberal Living the Questions: The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity challenges all our traditional beliefs. The conservative What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality assumes a very defensive position for the evangelical literal Biblical tradition. Reading those books seemed like the authors live in two different worlds. I won’t repeat the reviews here since they also already have appeared on my Facebook and Twitter pages thanks to Goodreads.
What concerns me the most is that these authors exemplify the pattern of people talking past each other, trying to win debating points, defending their theological positions, and with very little effort to reach out in some type of Christian reconciliation. If we are so adamant and disagree on so many issues, how can the Christian Church thrive? We already have hundreds of Protestant denominations that have fractured the church into slivers of divisions both theologically and organizationally. Of course, there are even divisions with the Catholic Church. So why do we get so hung up on dogma?
I guess it’s the human quality to want to prove that we’re “right”, and whoever disagrees with us must be wrong. The popular philosophy of a decade ago of finding “win-win” solutions to social problems seems to have dissolved into the partisanships beyond our politics. As Americans we can’t seem to agree on anything: religion, politics, economics, national defense, race relations, public safety, guns, etc. While we long have been a culturally diverse nation with an amalgam of immigrant cultures and traditions, we used to be able to compromise and cooperate at least at the basic functioning levels of government. We’ve become so dysfunctional that we can’t even agree literally on what time it is. Whatever became of civil discourse?
Of course there were fights (some literally) in the early stages of the creation of the United States, but eventually we passed a Constitution and a Bill of Rights. We’ve only amended the Constitution a handful of times so it seems to have worked reasonably well over almost 250 years. Our threats from international terrorism, income inequality, and lack of social mobility seem pale in comparison with the struggles our forefathers faced. Certainly the cataclysm of the Civil War was the low point in our struggle as a nation. Are we sliding down that path again?
Within the Methodist Church we have made an effort at dialogue and discernment, but I can’t see that it has produced much in resolving social or church legislative issues. We keep kicking the can down the road, whether it’s reorganizing the boards, ministries, or the role of the bishops. General Conference has become a 2-week long morass of budgeting and policy debates that are no way to run an organization effectively. The statistics of declining membership in the mainline denominations indicate an issue of lack of relevance in the everyday life of people and their need or understanding of organized religion. Certainly these unresolved debates about dogma can only drive people away from the church.
I have moved this blog from WordPress to my web site. For those of you reading on Facebook or LinkedIn, you may not have been aware of where it originated. There is no need to go into the details, but I would like to explain the rationale of the move. It allows me more closely to integrate and coordinate my online activities and to be more efficient with my time as well as more clearly focused on my agenda.
About 18 months ago, I did a 180-degree turn on the blog and changed the subject from writing to the evolution of gay Christians and their impact upon society and vice versa. That is the story of the struggle that I portray in my book, and that is the struggle to which I still devote a lot of my time. We’re beginning to see a cultural shift in society not only in the acceptance of gays, but also of gays “coming out” as Christians. I have included a longer feature on the new web site of the Cultural Revolution in the US.
Although a few political candidates are still trying to use homosexuality as a wedge issue in the upcoming national election, it’s a dead issue except to a small, hostile minority that can’t win elections. Corporations understood the benefits of diversity 30 years ago and actively promote it, but some politicians (and a lot more churches) are still behind the times in not understanding the shift in cultural norms. It’s no longer a debate between the Christians and the secular world; it is a failing tactic to try to block the inevitable change that already is occurring worldwide.
We’re being reminded that race is still an issue in this country although we thought we made great strikes with major federal civic rights legislation and the election of our first African-American President. We’ve seen the continuing strident personal animus against Obama and the subjugation of people of color in cities large and small. That has happened not only economically and politically but also in the skewed system of justice. So even these issues we thought were behind us keep raising their ugly heads, and the controversial issue of homosexuality and its context within Christianity (is it a sin or not?) only increase the resistance of those who want to turn back the clock to the days of Jim Crow. Civil rights are not issues of liberal versus conservative philosophies. They are the continuing struggle to finally fulfill the promises made in our Bill of Rights and Amendments to The Constitution.
I came home from the Jack Crum Conference on Prophetic Ministries in Durham this evening both encouraged and discouraged. I was encouraged by the prophetic voices that spoke and encouraged us to keep on in the struggle to make the United Methodist Church live up to its motto. I was discouraged that in spite of weeks of publicity and promotion, only 63 people (not counting speakers and guests) showed up. I think it is indicative of how the progressive arm of the United Methodist Church is struggling to find traction in the recalcitrant majority of clerics who are fearful of their careers and unwilling to take risks if it involves their retirement benefits. We have a sympathetic Bishop in North Carolina who is restricted by the legal authority of her position to uphold the Book of Discipline, and who even advertised the meeting on the NC Conference web site.
The fact is the Methodists are dragging their feet on LGBT issues in comparison with the other mainline denominations that have moved on to other issues. Some of the clergy present acknowledged that they have moved on to other denominations where they serve as ordained elders without fear of reprisal or intimidation. Such is the hypocrisy of the United Methodist Church that clergy who lie or wink can be ordained, but those who are truthful or honest cannot. That was the traditional practice 50 years ago, but it is an abomination today.
I also was struck by the fact that the majority of those in attendance at the conference were allies rather than gays or lesbians. That is only a reflection of the obvious fact we as a group have either never been a part of an organized church or have left because we were unwelcome and regarded as second-class members. The church will take our money, but we can’t serve in leadership positions or be openly recognized, particularly if it involves our spouse.
A friend and I discussed the criticism that he has received for remaining as a member of the church that is so backward in its polity. Why doesn’t he just leave and go to another denomination that is more relevant to the needs of today’s society? It’s simple. We were born and raised Methodists, and that not only reflects our common belief, but also is the home and source of our support in spite of what the official policies of the church may be. We are in communion with others in our congregation, and that is where we feel at home.
The church is SO distracted by the issue of same-sex marriage and unthinking of the idea of evangelism to the disposed that we risk the hazard of becoming irrelevant in the face of an increasingly secularized society. Are we presumptuous to claim that (LGBT) people are the new face of the civil rights movement in America, and that it is being fought not only in the legislatures but also in the churches? I think not. Today the parallels between homophobia and racism were again brought clearly into focus. We have not resolved either issue, and it is a long road ahead that deserves our best energies and efforts.