Friday, February 29, 2008

Week in Review: Equality Is a Moral Imperative

Another Friday. And wow. When I gathered material last night for my weekly Friday news round-up, little did I know how much the news sites and blogs would be popping this morning with fresh items worth mentioning.

Above all, the open letter Barack Obama issued yesterday to the LGBT community (and to all Americans, since we all suffer when any of us are oppressed) deserves attention. The full text may be found at today’s Bilerico Project Blog at http://www.bilerico.com/.

This statement is significant. It centers on one simple, stark claim: Equality is a moral imperative. The beloved community that constitutes America at its best is a community, rather than a collection of disparate individuals with competing interests, precisely because it regards equality as a moral imperative. The vision of American democracy at its best centers on the astonishing moral claim that all human beings are made equal by the hand of God and have an equal claim on the right to pursue their destiny without being fettered by the prejudice of others.

It’s interesting to me how this moral imperative seems to fall on deaf ears not merely among Americans to the right of the political spectrum, but also among Americans who identify as liberal. That is, it falls on deaf ears among liberals when the moral imperative involves LGBT Americans. It is still difficult for many liberals to hear the moral imperative to accord full human rights to gay human beings. It is still hard for many liberals to understand that standing in solidarity with LGBT Americans and working with us to eradicate the many barriers we experience to equality is a moral imperative involving all of us—not just gay people.

A case in point: the lively blog at my statewide “liberal” weekly newspaper the Arkansas Times. Yesterday, the paper’s editor Max Brantley excerpted Mr. Obama’s statement in a posting entitled “Today I Am an Obamaist": see www.arktimes.com/blogs/arkansasblog. The responses of bloggers to Obama’s statement have been astonishing. They’ve been deeply saddening.

There are, of course, the predictable wing-nut rantings and ravings: if you think Katrina was a disaster, just wait for what God will do to the nation when we let the mire and cess of queers rise to the top. What’s shocking to read, though, are not these predictable comments: what's shocking are the postings of self-professed liberals who say they had planned to vote Democratic in the coming election, no matter which candidate is chosen.

One poster says he will now change his vote to McCain. Many others chide Obama for having miscalculated politically. Some of these say that making this statement—that is, enunciating the clear moral imperative that binds us together as a beloved community—will drive centrist voters into the Republican fold.

The subtext of these comments is worrisome to me. For these "liberals," gay human beings are obviously still the Other. We who are gay are not the children, the brothers, the sisters of those who are content to see us still denied full human rights. We are clearly the poor unfortunates who should stand beside the table while they sit to feast, and be grateful when a crumb is dropped into our outstretched hands.

These “liberals” just haven’t yet gotten the message. They haven’t yet heard the moral imperative. The concerns—the lives—of gay human beings are somehow at a remove from their lives. Whereas they have no difficulty at all hearing the imperative for women or African Americans to be given a chance at a full human life, they have yet to hear that moral imperative when it comes to LGBT people.

And this in a state in which, a half century ago, most white people responded to the moral imperative to treat black citizens as fully human with the same timid truculence they now apply to that moral imperative in the case of their gay children, brothers, and sisters. Fifty years ago, it was politically unpopular—politically disastrous—to stand up and speak forthrightly about the full humanity of African Americans in Arkansas.

Today, we celebrate and admire those who had the courage to speak out. Those who vacillated, who sat on the fence, who calculated the political odds and did the expedient thing: their names are all but forgotten. They did not make the choice that moved our society closer to the vision of a beloved community. They deserve not to be remembered, frankly, because they obstructed rather than participated in history in the making, in the realization of the vision of the beloved community.

Speaking of remembering, a theme I have stressed repeatedly regarding gay youth like Lawrence King or Simmie Williams, whose lives were recently tragically cut short by hate crimes, this week’s Arkansas Times carries a story that has touched the depths of my soul. Leslie Newell Peacock’s “Stirring the Ashes” at www.arktimes.com discusses a horrendous event that occurred just outside Little Rock on 5 March 1959.

On that day, 21 African-American youth aged 13 to 16 died at a fire at the Negro Boys Industrial School. These teens were sleeping in a dormitory whose doors were padlocked on the outside. When a fire broke out in the adjacent chapel, they burned to death. Fourteen of the young men were so badly burnt that their bodies could not be recognized. They are buried together in an unmarked grave at a cemetery in Little Rock.

A number of these young men were placed in the Industrial School—a correctional institution for wayward black youth—on outrageously slim charges: e.g., for soaping windows at Halloween time, or for riding the bike of a white friend (with the friend’s permission). This story is a reminder of where we have come from in places such as Little Rock, when it comes to the rights of African Americans.

Just as we should not forget the names and lives of Lawrence King or Matthew Shepard or Simmie Williams, we must challenge ourselves to remember the names of Lindsey Cross, Charles L. Thomas, William Loyd Piggee, and the other young men who died in this horrible fire in 1959. The Arkansas Times article prints those names, and I, for one, will do my best to keep them in memory, as a reminder that the life of every human being counts, that the life of no one who dies tragically young due to prejudice deserves to fall into the darkness of forgetting: Equality is a moral imperative.

As I read this article side by side with the Arkansas Times blog regarding Mr. Obama’s statement yesterday—with the Cassandra-like moanings of liberals because Mr. Obama has chosen to do what is right if not politically expedient—I call to mind the Pete Seeger commemorative that Steve and I watched this past week on PBS. Since that special aired, we’ve been playing Pete Seeger’s protest songs over and over.

In a Carnegie Hall performance of that stirring anthem of the Civil Rights movement, “We Shall Overcome,” Seeger noted how much the youth of the Civil Rights struggle taught their elders. He notes that the verse, “We are not afraid,” was inspired by youths’ willingness to demonstrate fearlessly for equal rights, when their elders, both white and black, cautioned prudence and political calculation.

PBS’s choice to air this special now strikes me as fortuitous. We are at a similar turning point in our history today, with regard to the fundamental direction our nation will take. We are at a crossroads at which we must either choose to accord fundamental rights to LGBT Americans, or frankly admit that we have given up on the vision of a beloved community.

What I wish desperately to say to my “liberal” fellow citizens who are now wringing their hands about the unwisdom of Mr. Obama’s statement yesterday is, Equality is a moral imperative. I want to tell these fellow citizens that another death of any gay youth—the killing of a single other gay youth because he or she is gay—is unacceptable. We must make this a nation in which such deaths are no longer thinkable. These youth are not just the children of the biological parents who gave birth to them: they are all of our children; they are the children of you liberals who still hear the call to equality for LGBT citizens with deaf ears.

Today’s Towleroad blog contains a posting entitled “Ellen Degeneres on Lawrence King: We Must Change Our Country”: see http://www.towleroad.com/. This posting notes that on her show today, Ellen will issue an appeal for us to remember Lawrence King and to make what happened to this youth unthinkable in our nation in the future. Ellen will appeal to us to vote in the coming elections with this moral imperative in mind. The posting links to a clip of that segment of today’s “Ellen.”

And finally, I want to leave readers with a thought-provoking quote from today’s Christian Science Monitor. The Monitor carries an editorial today entitled, “What Is ‘Good Theology?’ ” The editorial excerpts a statement from Karen Armstrong’s The Spiral Staircase, in which Armstrong defines what constitutes authentic theology in the religious traditions of the world. Armstrong states:

The one and only test of a valid religious idea, doctrinal statement, spiritual experience, or devotional practice was that it must lead directly to practical compassion. If your understanding of the divine made you kinder, more empathetic, and impelled you to express this sympathy in concrete acts of loving-kindness, this was good theology. But if your notion of God made you unkind, belligerent, cruel, or self-righteous, or if it led you to kill in God's name, it was bad theology.

The one and only test of a valid religious idea . . . is that it must lead directly to practical compassion. If only all of us could hear that moral imperative today. And, in particular, would it not be inspiring if the churches examined themselves on this point, and asked whether their proclamations about LGBT human beings lead directly to practical compassion. If they lead in some other direction—if, for instance, they foster ignorance or distortion of the real lives of gay persons, or if they fuel violence in any form towards LGBT persons—it seems the conclusion is inescapable: the churches are misrepresenting the authentic Christian tradition, when they use it to support callous or destructive attitudes towards gay human beings.


Thursday, February 28, 2008

LGBT Visibility: Giving Witness













Today's AfterElton blogsite contains a posting by Christie Keith entitled "Inching Out of the Closet": see www.afterelton.com/people/2008/2/inchingout. Christie Keith makes an important point about visibility: she notes that studies indicate a strong correlation between the public's knowledge of a gay person--a real-life, flesh-and-blood human being--and increasing acceptance of gay people and support of our rights. As Keith says,

And that doesn't mean visibility to each other, but mainstream visibility. There is nothing more strongly correlated with increased support of gay rights among straight people, from marriage to adoption to opposing a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, than one simple thing: knowing someone who is gay.

Since this is a point I have made in a recent blog exchange at the National Catholic Reporter website, I'd like to lift part of a posting I made several days ago at that site to this blogsite. The person with whom I've been having a dialogue at NCR is a staunch Catholic. He argues that the best churches can offer LGBT people is tolerance, not acceptance.

He points to the "excesses" of the gay community, as exhibited in festivals like the Folsom St. Festival, as justification for the churches' judgment that openly gay folks are public sinners, and as justification for the disdain of mainstream America for LGBT people. Here's part of my reply to this blogger at http://ncrcafe.org/node/1337#comment-20878:

What I think I'd like to draw attention to as a way of moving the conversation beyond that kind of futile rebuttal is this: if we begin our examination of the place of gay folks in the church today with the preconceived notion that homosexuality is all about sex, is a notorious sin, and is a social problem whose public face is represented in carnivals, then we're going to see no problem at all in the church's bizarre (and, I argue, disordered) preoccupation with this notorious sin that is threatening social stability.

But there are a lot of other places we might begin the discussion. Rather than looking at clips of the Folsom St. parade, for instance, we might talk to some gay-lesbian family members or parishioners who have never been to a carnival parade in their lives. If we did that, we might find that the "public face" of homosexuality (to use your phrase) is no more salacious or wild than the public face of heterosexuality.

The majority of LGBT people in our society are leading the same rather mundane and boring lives as the majority of straight people. Most of us work, come home, watch t.v., have dinner, go to bed, and start the round the next day. We are no more concentrated in gay bars than straight people are concentrated in heterosexual watering holes. Many of us spend most of our time caring for family members. Indeed, most of us are actually married but living in the closet.

Which is to say, it's not all about sex. It's about love. It's about the everyday, about people right in my midst and yours who don't deserve to have "public faces" put on their lives--who don't deserve to be reduced to "lifestyle" tags, since we have lives. Get to know us--to know us as real human beings--and many of your preconceptions about our "lifestyles" may fall like scales from your eyes.

You say, "A gay couple is not comparable to a married couple, but to an unmarried one. Cohabitation between two homosexual men or women would be the same near occasion for sexual sin and the sin of scandal as between a heterosexual couple."

Why is this so, I wonder? If the church does not usually inquire into the living arrangements of unmarried straight people as a precondition to their receiving communion, and if it does not assume that two unmarried straight people of the opposite sex living together are necessarily having sex, why should it do so in the case of two gay people?

I would submit to you that right there is the heart of the problem: assumptions--and invidious ones--are being made about the lives and behavior of gay people that simply aren't made about the lives and behavior of straight people. What the church has wisely left to the private forum of the confessional in the case of single straight people, it does not do so today in its public utterances about and treatment of gay people.

This is unjust. And where there is injustice, people surely do have the right not merely to ask for but to demand acceptance.

To behave otherwise when one's basic human rights are violated and when one's very humanity is trampled on would be to collude with those who try to convince one that one's humanity is flawed or less worthy of respect than that of others. If one colludes with such forces, one undermines a very fundamental church teaching: namely, that all of us come from the hand of God as good, as worthy of respect, as having the same human dignity as anyone else, regardless of our skin color, our nationality, our income bracket, our gender, our educational level.

Increasing our visibility is all-important, if the churches and mainstream America are to “get it.” Making ourselves known as family members, neighbors, and friends is essential if the churches and mainstream America are to support movements to make the murder of gay youth unthinkable in the future. Precisely because the churches (and their mainstream supporters) continue all too frequently to reduce gay persons to stereotypes—homosexual sinners—it is crucially imperative that those of us who are LGBT and living in the midst of “ordinary” folks reveal ourselves, our lives, and humanity to those around us.

Certainly I would prefer to live quietly, without fanfare and self-disclosure. Life has not afforded me that opportunity, however, and I now choose to see the repeated disruption of Steve’s and my life together by gross prejudice of church folks as an opportunity to give witness.

I, we, are called to give witness. We witness to the grace in our lives, the unmerited and unexpected gifts that make our journey possible. We witness to the power of our shared love and of the love we see shared in a multitude of LGBT lives. We give witness to the mere, plain, simple, precious humanity of gay people everywhere.

We must do so, for the sake of LGBT youth. They do not deserve to be bullied, taunted, and scorned. The churches will one day be held accountable at the judgment seat of history for their collusion with the social forces that make such heinous crimes possible, and for their silence in the face of violence against LGBT youth. The churches will be held accountable by a God who despises injustice and abuse of the least among us.

It is time that those of us who are LGBT and who continue to maintain some hope, however tenuous, that the churches will live up to their calling to walk in the footsteps of a Lord whose love embraced everyone he met, speak out and call the churches to accountability. It is time for us to break silence. It is time for us to demand that the churches do so as well.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Manly Men and Homophobic Churches

















A disturbing story today out of Ft. Lauderdale, where a gay couple, Mitchell Mart and Melbourne Brunner, eating at a restaurant Saturday said good morning to a passerby, who turned on them and beat Brunner to a bloody pulp. The whole story is at www.towleroad.com/2008/02/gay-man-beaten.html.

This comes several days after a 17-year old gay teen, Simmie Williams, Jr., was shot and killed in the same city by two unknown young men. Police are trying to determine if this shooting was a hate crime because of Simmie Williams’s sexual orientation: www.towleroad.com/2008/02/gay-florida-tee.html.

The mayor of Ft. Lauderdale, Jim Naugle, has for some time now been leading a crusade against the city’s large gay community, in active collaboration with a group of right-wing religious leaders www.towleroad.com/2007/08/christian-hate-.html. Last year a gay couple visiting the city were dismayed (and frightened) to hear anti-gay scripture verses being read over the loudspeaker of the airport as they retrieved their luggage at the airport baggage terminal.

The news of the Ft. Lauderdale shootings comes on the heels of news that Janice Langbehn, whose partner Lisa Pond died suddenly in Miami last years as the Seattle couple prepared to take a cruise with their children, has filed suit against Jackson Memorial Hospital because of the treatment she received when Pond was dying. Langbehn was refused the right to provide medical information about Pond, was not allowed to see her until shortly before her death, and was told that she was in an anti-gay state with anti-gay laws: see www.365gay.com/Newscon08/02/022208fla.htm.

A posting on today’s Towleroad website (www.towleroad.com/2008/02/is-fort-lauderd.html) asks whether Ft. Lauderdale mayor Naugle is in part responsible for the increase in incidents of violent homophobia in his city. In my view, he definitely is—and so are the ministers and churches supporting him.

I can address the latter from my own personal experiences during Steve’s and my recent time in Florida. Unknown to us, on the day of our arrival to take jobs in a United Methodist college, the Florida United Methodist state conference of 2006 concluded. It did so after a bitterly divisive debate over the status of gay members of Methodist churches, which split the Methodist church of Florida down the middle.

We had absolutely no idea of any of this until months later, when promises made to us at the time of our hiring began to be revoked and we began to experience baffling persecution from the supervisor who had hired us as an openly gay couple. The issue at stake in the 2006 Florida UMC conference was whether gay members can even be admitted to Methodist churches in Florida—not whether gays living celibate lives can be admitted to churches, but whether gay persons should be admitted at all. About half of the churches in the state of Florida wanted, at the 2006 conference, to exclude gay members altogether.

Though we had been told that our being an openly gay couple would not present a problem at the college that hired us, we quickly learned that this was far from the case—at least, in the mind of our supervisor. Within a few weeks, she informed us that the UMC bishop of Florida, Bishop Timothy Whitaker, had told her that, if he had known we were a couple (as opposed to being openly gay but single), he would not have approved our hire. (The bishop sits on the board of the college that hired us.)

During our unhappy year working at this college, we were constantly hounded by the supervisor about appearing together—though we had only one car—about taking lunch together, and even about taking one another to the doctor, though married couples at the school never receive reprimands for such activities. Not a single minister on the college’s board sought to defend us against this unjust treatment.

All of this was baffling to us. Though many people have images of Little Rock as backwards and conservative, with respect to gay issues the churches here are in many ways light years ahead of where they are in Florida. The Episcopal bishop of central Florida has strong sympathies with the breakaway group that continues to protest the elevation of an openly gay priest, Gene Robinson, to the episcopacy. In the area of Florida in which we lived, Episcopal churches even post "anti-gay" scriptures on their websites.

By contrast, the current and former Episcopal bishops of Arkansas have maintained a welcoming space within Episcopal churches for the the gay community. The previous bishop signed a statement some years ago supporting the ordination of openly gay persons to the ministry, and permitted parishes that chose to do so to celebrate gay unions. The current bishop has continued this support for gay persons.

We went to a Catholic liturgy once in our whole time in Florida. The church would have been our parish church, had we attended regularly. On the day we went to liturgy there, the parish deacon employed a dialogue homily in which he asked parishioners to tell him any words of Jesus they could recall.

A woman behind us, who muttered, “Praise the Lord,” throughout much of the homily, shouted out, “Repent!” We did not return to this parish. We were, as far as we could detect, the sole gay couple in the parish that day.

The churches are clearly a large part of the problem in our society, when LGBT people are bashed, killed, disemployed solely because we are gay, prevented from seeing our partners in the hospital, denied healthcare benefits. Given Steve’s and my experiences in Florida, I can without any doubt at all say that the churches play a large role in fomenting homophobia in that state—both through their silence when LGBT people are assaulted or demeaned, and through their active attempts to make LGBT people unwelcome, as with the group with whom Naugle in Ft. Lauderdale has affiliated himself.

It disturbs me that among the ministers egging Naugle on are some prominent African-American church leaders. I am particularly dismayed by homophobia in the African-American community. It seems to me that people who have experienced severe historic oppression should understand the mechanisms of oppression in the present, and should stand in solidarity with other oppressed groups. We who are oppressed have strong reason to stand together. The same groups who now bash gays in the churches were promoting racism a half century ago. I know. I grew up with those Christians. I heard the bible used then to justify subordination and abuse of people of color, just as I hear it used now to justify oppression of LGBT people.

One of the most shocking instances of homophobia on the part of an African-American minister in recent days was a remark made by Rev. Ken Hutcherson of Seattle in a sermon a few weeks ago. After proclaiming that "God hates soft men" and "God hates effeminate men," Hutcherson went on to say, "If I was in a drugstore and some guy opened the door for me, I'd rip his arm off and beat him with the wet end”: see http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/352368_faith23.html.

Hutcherson is a representative of the “men’s movement” in the churches. This movement tries to retrieve the church for men—as in manly men. It quite commonly preaches that men are “naturally” superior to women and have been given authority by God to rule women. It places great stock in assuring that men behave like men and women like women—at least, according to manly men’s definition of how men and women should behave. It believes that “correct” gender behavior is mandated by scripture and by God, and that those who deviated from these mandates are to be scorned and punished.

For this movement at its most ludicrous (and for a demonstration that the same ugly attitudes are alive and well in white churches, too), I recommend (if readers can stomach it) a You Tube video of a recent sermon by Rev. Steven L. Anderson of Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, Arizona. Rev. Anderson is preaching on a biblical phrase, "him that pisseth against the wall": see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SDxcyqeRc-4.

Anderson takes the text to mean—I’m not making this up!—that God intends for men to urinate standing up. His sermon mounts a bizarre diatribe against Germans for (so he claims) demanding that men urinate while sitting down. The sermon mocks men who are “male” and not real men. Anderson’s mincing tone of voice when he speaks of males as opposed to men suggests that males are soft men who have allowed themselves to be whipped into shape by women who demand that they pee sitting down.

This would be laughable, if such rhetoric and such attitudes did not translate into the kind of violence we are seeing all too often these days against LGBT people, including gay youth. Note to churches: I find nothing in the scriptures which states that having a penis elevates a person to the status of a demi-god, and nothing which permits penis-endowed manly men to demonstrate their manly entitlement by beating others to a bloody pulp or shooting them to death.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Shame

At last the mainstream media is picking up the Lawrence King story: NOT!

Huffington Post is reporting today that Anderson Cooper had announced that Monday night's CNN 360 show would run a segment on the murder of Lawrence King. In blog comments prior to the show, Cooper suggests that the bullying of this gay teen did not receive the attention it deserved from parents and school officials.

Cooper prepared a segment on the Lawrence King murder, which CNN then cut from last night's program, while running a segment on a boy singing in his underwear. More on this shameful story, along with a clip of the segment that was cut, may be found at

www.huffingtonpost.com/dipayan-gupta/cnn-cuts-gay-teen-killing_b_88595.html

In my blog discussions about gay issues at the National Catholic Reporter blogsite, I am learning quite a bit about some of the reasons underlying media avoidance of such stories, as well as underlying reasons for schools' refusal to address the problem and for the shameful silence of the churches.

One blogger with whom I've been in dialogue speaks of religious freedom--specifically, of the right of "Christians" not to accept LGBT people.

To which I wish to respond: religious freedom ends where hate begins. Religionists have a right to believe whatever nonsense they want, and that right should be respected. If members of a religious group want to believe that the moon is made of green cheese (and that God so made it 2000 years ago on the first day of creation), I'm all for the right to hold this belief.

What I resist and will keep resisting is the use of religion to support or foment hatred. In a civil society comprised of many different types of people, religion cannot be allowed to fray the threads of the civil social contract that holds us all together.

Another blogger at the NCR site resists the notion that youth can be identified as gay or lesbian at an early age in schools. In my view, this resistance is counter-intuitive. As the case of Lawrence King demonstrates, schoolchildren are often very quick to identify a classmate as gender-inappropriate and to harass that child precisely and solely for this reason.

Underlying the squeamishness of some citizens--and some church members--to entertain this possibility is, I would suggest, a fear that when those of us who are openly gay or lesbian report such experiences from our own younger years and ask for bullied youth to be protected in schools today, we're recruiting.

This strange fear on the part of the mainstream overlooks the reality that youth are, in fact, often identified as gay-lesbian or gender-inappropriate at an early age, and bullied for this reason. And when this happens, schools often do nothing at all to protect the tormented youngster. Parents sometimes even cheer the bullying, maintaining that they have a religious right to teach their children to oppose homosexuality.

And through it all, the churches remain silent. Children are being murdered in our nation, and the churches will not address the problem. This is shameful.

As I have testified in previous blog postings, as an openly gay educator, I myself experienced severe reprisal from a supervisor when I was charged with leading faculty in a project of preparing students for civic engagement. To be specific, I was punished for suggesting on a single occasion that faculty look at GLSEN--Gay, Lesbian, Straight Educational Network--as a resource for civic engagement. This was in a church-affiliated university that claims to deplore prejudice against gay people.

Why do I keep reporting this? Because it has to be said. Because mainstream media outlets collude with the churches in keeping silent.

Because children continue to be bullied and murdered.

And because, as a believer, I cannot remain silent and live with myself.

Needs of LGBT Cancer Survivors

Dear Readers,

As a follow-up to my posting earlier today, I want to lift a posting from the comments section. I'm doing so because, in blog threads, comments often disappear into the comments section, and are overlooked by subsequent readers of a posting. Please note the following appeal:

"LGBT Cancer survivors struggle every day. Please help us get the word out, about our national nonprofit LGBT cancer survivor organization, OutWithCancer . We have two websites, which we would be thrilled if you were to both post about and link to. http://www.outwithcancer.com and http://www.lgbtcancer.com Please email any questions you might have to me at darryl@outwithcancer.com Thanks!"


The Limits of Crozier Shaking

My attempt to engage members of my own religious communion in dialogue about LGBT issues continues on the blog threads of National Catholic Reporter.

And I must admit, I’m growing weary.
I’m growing weary of hearing the churches talk about homosexual sin, rather than gay people.
Sin, not people.
No church that claims to be motivated by pastoral concern talks about sin before people. No church that professes pastoral intent reduces a group of human beings to some nifty, disposable stereotype—like notorious sinner (one of the labels used by a blogger at the NCR threads), or intrinsically disordered human beings, or the homosexuals with their sinful lifestyle.
In reducing gay human beings to a tagged and stigmatized mass, the churches undercut all of their claims to be motivated by pastoral concern for homosexual sinners. This is not about pastoral concern: it’s about using a group of people for base political purposes. Pure and simple.
It’s despicable. It’s as despicable as the church’s use of the Jews throughout history—the dirty, devious, child-killing Jews who infect pure, clean, honest, child-loving Christian cultures, in order to undermine and destroy.
The churches have rightly been resoundingly criticized for the anti-semitism that led them to be largely silent about the evils of Nazism in the first half of the 20th century, all over Europe. There will come a time in which they are similarly resoundingly criticized for the homophobia that leads them to be largely silent about violence towards LGBT people at this point in history.
Is it any wonder that Europeans have increasingly refused to affiliate themselves with—or participate in the liturgical life of—the churches after World War II? And is it any surprise that, according to the latest Pew report, a third of American Catholics have now dropped their Catholic identity? Catholicism would be dying on the vine in the U.S. now, if immigrants weren’t filling the pews being vacated by millions of Catholic who have grown weary of the sound and fury that signifies nothing.
Sound and fury, as in a constant clerical bleating about abortion and homosexuality as though these are the sole moral issues demanding attention at this point in history—at this point, when the United States is in an end-game war in the Middle East, which we entered on the basis of government lies; at this point, when many of our citizens cannot afford healthcare; at this point, when the tiny minority of our citizens who own most of our resources have enriched themselves even more grossly in the last decade.
Sound and fury: I have grown weary of hearing my church talk about abortion and homosexuality as the most pressing ethical issues about which I should think, when the same church officials talking to me about those issues have not cleaned their own houses following revelations of widespread clerical abuse of minors. It is no secret that Catholic officials have routinely and systematically covered up this abuse for decades, have paid out millions of dollars given to them by unsuspecting layfolks to silence families that have experienced this abuse, have lied, destroyed evidence, and obstructed justice.
It is no secret that the cover-up goes right to the Vatican.
And yet we’re still expected to listen, when the pope and bishops shake their croziers at us and command us to vote solely on the basis of candidates’ positions re: gay marriage and abortion?
What’s clear to me is that these issues aren’t primarily about morality, in the real mind of church officials, in the mind that informs their political calculations. They are primarily about political utility. They’re useful galvanizing issues to call the faithful to stand in solidarity—in solidarity against, rather than for; in opposition to rather than in support of efforts to build a more humane culture. These are issues that are supposed to stop all questions, to cut off all critical discourse and critical thinking. Abortion = killing babies = unthinkable evil = stop asking pesky questions.
The intent interest the Vatican has recently taken in the political life of both Italy and Spain suggests this utilitarian political intent to me. In Italy, the Vatican has helped bring down the center-left government by colluding with some very disreputable political characters whose hands are far from clean. The ostensible concern of the church has been the previous government’s intent to sanction gay unions, and its liberal position on abortion.
In Spain, the Vatican and many Spanish bishops continue to try to herd the faithful to the polls to vote against the current Socialist government in the upcoming March 9 election. There again, the abortion and gay marriage issues loom large in Catholic rhetoric. As I reported in a previous posting, the Vatican and the bishops organized a mass pro-family demonstration at the end of last year to fire a warning shot against the current government. In both countries, an American-style politics of religious-right opposition is being tested, with the abortion and gay-marriage issues as the centerpoint of the opposition.
Never mind that the current abortion policy in Spain pre-existed the Socialist government, and that abortion does not have the political traction in Europe that it does in America. Gay marriage is a new phenomenon, however, and it appears that the mindset of the Vatican in using both issues as rallying points for right-wing Catholic opposition is to use the gay issue (which is to say, gay persons) as its primary wedge issue in the European context, with the abortion issue tagged onto that issue to galvanize rich American Catholics, who are helping to fund these right-wing movements in European Catholicism.
One suspects that the real heart of all this political action—the heart of darkness—is a growing sense on the part of the Vatican that it is losing control. To be specific, there is a growing sense that it is losing control of the political life of the West—a control that it held more securely in a period of Republican dominance of the White House.
There is a growing sense of alarm at the inability of the church to use abortion, in particular, as the rallying point for oppositional right-wing politics in the U.S. In the current American elections, the religious right is in total disarray. All the old shibboleths, all the well-tried rallying cries, are falling on deaf ears. Too many revelations in the past several years have shown Americans that the leaders of the religious right do not have their own moral houses in order.
Conservatives are not very good at generating new ideas. When pressed, they quite commonly resort to the same old same old, the same tried and true tactics that have worked in the past. When those fail, the reflex action of the right is then to remove the velvet glove and show the iron fist: to try to coerce where it cannot cajole.
This, I fear, is what the Vatican hopes to do now, both in Europe and in North America. There is a hardening of the lines everywhere in American Catholicism in particular, as the old oppositional politics fails to yield the same predictable results.
In my home diocese of Little Rock, the diocesan administrator Msgr. Hebert has just announced that Catholics may not participate in this year’s Race for the Cure, on the ground that this anti-breast cancer event supports Planned Parenthood (in some places, but not in Arkansas), that it supports stem-cell research (not true), and that it refuses to publicize that abortion causes breast cancer (not even worthy of comment). Never mind that Komen for the Cure donates lavishly to Catholic hospitals in Arkansas. On this, see today’s Arkansas Times blog at www.arktimes.com.
In a similar move, tiny Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina has recently announced that it has canceled healthcare benefits that provide for abortions, sterilization, and contraception for faculty and staff. Eight faculty members are threatening a lawsuit. The decision to cancel these provisions of their healthcare plan were made unilaterally by the college president Dr. Thierfelder and the abbot of the monastery that owns the college, Abbot Solari.
These gentlemen claim that consultation is not incumbent on them, when Catholic moral teaching is at stake. The faculty threatening suit reply that the majority of faculty and staff are not Catholic and should not be expected to abide by peculiar Catholic moral teachings. They also note that the college receives state and federal funding, and that in doing so, it is required not to engage in religious discrimination.
Evidently Belmont Abbey is intent on keeping this funding in place, while maintaining its right to cancel provisions for contraception in its healthcare plan, without consulting those affected by the decision. In Spain, similarly, the bishops have resoundingly rejected a suggestion of the Socialist government that, if the church wants to go on the warpath against the current government, it should forego the ample state support it now receives.
All of this is sound and fury. All of this signifies nothing. It represents a desperate attempt of the Catholic hierarchy to use these political wedge issues (and gay human beings) to deflect attention from its own egregious wrongdoing in the sexual abuse crisis. At the heart of the current political offensive emanating from the Vatican is the fear that if the political makeup of the American government changes significantly, the pope and bishops will not be granted the immunity from prosecution they enjoy under the current administration.
There is a tremendous fear that, if legal action forces dioceses to open their files, the ugly story of the church’s obstruction of justice, misuse of funds, and protection of pedophile priests will be made public. There is also an overriding concern not to permit disclosures of the central role that the Vatican has played in the obstruction of justice.
For further information on the Spanish situation, see the Clerical Whispers blog at www.clericalwhispers.blogspot.com. In a posting last week entitled “Church-vs.-State: Militant Catholics Try to Sway Spanish Elections," this outstanding Irish blog notes that militant ultra-right Catholic groups with strong ties to the Vatican have organized themselves and are trying to sway the upcoming elections, using abortion and gay marriage as their wedge issues.
That excellent blog also has several postings about the Belmont Abbey situation. Others by yours truly are to be found on the blog of the National Catholic Reporter at http://ncrcafe.org/node/944. Note there the collusion of church officials with well-heeled right-wing political groups in the U.S. The same collusion is evident in the political activities of the church in Spain and Italy. The interest of these groups in the Spanish election is evident, for instance, in a recent editorial of the Wall Street Journal attacking the Spanish government: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120354690556281099.html?mod=googlenews_wsj.
If it’s not ultimately about money, why else would Wall Street be taking an interest in this election (and implicitly supporting the Vatican-endorsed attempt of ultra-right Catholic groups to topple the Spanish government)?
It’s about money. Open those files re: clerical abuse, and the money will stop pouring in. The faithful are continuing to give only because they remain uninformed about the full parameters of the abuse story.
This is the church at its worst: protecting clerical sexual abusers, meddling in the political life of nations trying to build healthy pluralistic societies that respect the civil liberty and full humanity of all citizens. This is the church at its worst, caring more about money, power, and privilege than human beings, particularly human beings experiencing oppression.
This the church at its worst, bashing gay human beings to score political points, to deflect attention from its leaders’ dirty secrets.
Is it any wonder that a third of American Catholics are now walking away, shaking their heads, shaking the dust from their feet? And will this trend diminish, in the next generation, if the hierarchy remains obdurate?
And as a final footnote, I wonder as I think through all these issues why an African-American educational leader I know and once respected, a woman who heads a church-based university and who professes support for gay persons, is willing to dirty her hands by playing political games with people who represent such malice to the LGBT community. This is a question I ponder repeatedly these days, as the campaign of Mr. Obama lifts to national attention questions about homophobia in the black community.
Do people who rise to positions of power and influence inevitably sell out? Does power truly always corrupt? And does it corrupt the more absolutely, the more absolute its claims become? Do people with such power inevitably decide that it really is, in the final analysis, all about the money?
I hope that if Mr. Obama is elected, we will not find that to be the case with him. We desperately need the change about which he keeps talking, if we are to safeguard a future worth living for the next generation.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

An America as Good as Its Promise

And now Barack Obama has addressed the murder of Lawrence King. According to today's Bilerico blog, Mr. Obama released the following statement yesterday:

It was heartbreaking to learn about Lawrence King’s death, and my thoughts and prayers go out to his family. King’s senseless death is a tragic example of the corrosive effect that bigotry and fear can have in our society. It’s also an urgent reminder that we need to do more in our schools to foster tolerance and an acceptance of diversity; that we must enact a federal hate crimes law that protects all LGBT Americans; and that we must recommit ourselves to becoming active and engaged parents, citizens and neighbors, so that bias and bigotry cannot take hold in the first place. We all have a responsibility to help this nation live up to its founding promise of equality for all.

Kudos to Mr. Obama.

And now, as someone who has donated** to Mr. Obama's campaign, I challenge Barack Obama to continue to distance himself from "ex-gay" proponents such as Rev. Donnie McClurkin, who performed in the Obama campaign in South Carolina. The damages done to tender human psyches by bogus reparative "therapies" purporting to change sexual orientation are too well-documented to be dismissed easily. "Ex-gay" ministries are especially damaging to young people finding their way through the maze of gender issues in adolescence, youth whose families sometimes place them in "Christian" reparative therapy programs such as Love in Action in Memphis.

This weekend, there has been a conference of survivors of ex-gay ministry in Memphis, in which speakers and artists explore and publicize the damages of this spurious form of psychotherapy which has been soundly repudiated by all psychotherapeutic organizations of any standing. Peterson Toscano's a musing blog, to which my blog is linked, reports on this conference.

I also call on Mr. Obama to support the courageous stand his own church, the United Church of Christ, has taken on LGBT issues. This denomination was the first mainstream denomination in North America to ordain openly gay pastors. The UCC also supports gay marriage. Mr. Obama has stated that he is not in favor of gay marriage--that he has not yet found himself able to come to the place at which his church has arrived re: this issue.

Yet an editorial in today's NY Times reports that studies in New Jersey are showing that legalized gay unions result in a second-class status for gay couples. Gay couples in New Jersey report meeting obstacles in dealing with inheritance questions, in making medical decisions on behalf of one's partner or even in being permitted visitation rights when the partner is in the hospital. A horrific story from Miami last year, which is now resulting in legal action, reported that a woman whose partner collapsed and died when they were visiting Miami from Washington State was told that she might not see her partner in the hospital, since they were in an anti-gay state with anti-gay laws.

The NY Times editorial notes that gay couples of color are especially prone to meeting obstacles under gay union laws, since they often do not have the financial resources to hire lawyers to fight discrimination, or to prepare estate documents to protect inheritance rights. The editorial calls on Gov. Corzine of New Jersey to demonstrate courage in addressing these issues.

I call on Mr. Obama to show the same courage. I was heartened by the speech he gave in an Atlanta church some weeks ago, in which he challenged the African-American community to deal with its homophobia. As someone who has worked within historically black colleges and universities, as an openly gay employee, I can testify about this: homophobia is alive and well in the African-American community (as in the white community). And it needs to be addressed. Silence about this issue contributes to the HIV epidemic in the African-American community. The failure to admit that black men can be living on the down-low and spreading AIDS to female partners, the silence about the presence of LGBT African Americans in the black community, contributes to the alarming rise in HIV cases among black women.

The black churches have historically been silent about these issues and about issues of sexuality in general. It is time for honest, open conversations. It is time to forge a new, safer social space for LBGT youth of color. The black churches should play a significant role in this regard. They--and Mr. Obama--would do well to listen to the courageous testimony of African-American athlete Charles Barkley about these issues.

Thank you for speaking out, Mr. Obama. Please keep on keeping on. And as you do so, please remember the inspiring words of a powerful African-American woman (and a lesbian), who helped pave the way for your success today. As Barbara Jordan once said, “What the people want is very simple--they want an America as good as its promise.”

This is what many of us in America--gay, straight, black, white, male, female--long for today. Please do not disappoint those who have pinned their hopes on you.


**I certainly don't want to imply that I am a major donor to Mr. Obama's campaign. I have given the bit I can as someone who is unemployed and without health insurance. But what I have given is given with strong hope that the changes Mr. Obama promises will actually be enacted, should he be elected. For those of us who are LGBT Americans, whose vocational lives have often been disrupted by prejudice, who have no federal protection when we are discriminated against in the workplace, it is crucially important that laws be enacted forbidding discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in the areas of employment, housing, benefits, medical care, and so on. When our jobs are ended due to a discrimination we can't challenge in the absence of laws protecting us, we lose access to healthcare benefits which, without an income, we cannot afford. For those of us in committed relationships, if one partner is lucky enough to obtain another job when discrimination interrupts both partners' lives, there is often no chance of carrying the other partner on the new health insurance plan, since the majority of employers do not provide partner benefits. All of this needs to be part of any serious platform of change in contemporary America. We all lose, when the gifts of some cannot be realized due to prejudice. When those being impeded by discrimination are talented young people beginning their careers, the nation as a whole stands to lose very much, if those youth cannot achieve their goals due to insupportable discrimination.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

God Knit LarryTogether

Since I’ve complained repeatedly about the silence of both the mainstream media and the major presidential candidates re: the murder of Lawrence King, I want to give credit today to one candidate and one significant media outlet for speaking out.

Today’s NY Times has an article by Rebecca Cathcart reporting on yesterday’s memorial service for Lawrence King. The article quotes a wonderful excerpt from the sermon given at this event by Rev. Dan Birchfield of Westminster Presbyterian Church:

“God knit Larry together and made him wonderfully complex. Larry was a masterpiece.”

And, according to today’s Bilerico blog, yesterday Hilary Clinton spoke out about the death of Lawrence King, stating (www.bilerico.com/2008/02/statement_from_hillary_clinton_on_the_me.php):

“I was deeply saddened by the recent death of 15-year old Lawrence King, who was killed at his school in Oxnard, CA. No one should face intimidation or violence, particularly at school, because of their sexual orientation or the way they express their gender identity. We must finally enact a federal hate crimes law to ensure that gay, lesbian and transgender Americans are protected against violent, bias-motivated crimes. We must send a unified message that hate-based crime will not be tolerated.”

Kudos to Hilary Clinton.

And now, when will the churches speak out? I call on Hilary Clinton to challenge her own United Methodist church to make its stand against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and its opposition to homophobic violence more than rhetorical—particularly in the personnel policies and procedures of its own institutions.

Hilary, can we talk? I’d be interested in hearing how you can energize your own church and call it to accountability. The churches--all the "mainstream" churches--are at the heart of the problem of homophobia in American society.

And that needs to change. And it will change only when church members make it unthinkable for their churches to talk the talk without walking the walk. It is time for church members to call their churches to accountability. It is not too much to ask that churches accord the same simple justice to LGBT members that they ask church members to practice in their dealings with society at large.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Week in Review: A Candle in Your Heart


















Another Friday, and as I look back on the week, once again, I've compiled a small compendium of online articles that have lit candles in my heart. It's often a struggle to keep hope alive in a world that conspires to convince us change is not possible.

It's a struggle to find and speak truth in a world in which the truth is systemically distorted by media, by powers and principalities, by those whose self-interest is served by manipulating the truth.

In such a world, the voices of witnesses such as these help keep the flame lit, when turbulent winds and dark days threaten to extinguish it:

First, I’m grateful for Rev. Andy Burnette’s 20 Feb. posting at Bilerico project entitled “Thanks for Your Concern about My Children” (www.bilerico.com/2008/02/thanks_for_your_concern_about_my_childre.php). Rev. Burnette addresses those who express concern about his daughter, given his decision to speak out courageously on behalf of LGBT rights as a minister in Indiana. He is grateful for those who are concerned about his daughter’s safety. He notes, though, that it is his very concern about his children and their future that compels him to speak out about prejudice wherever it is found:

“I can’t imagine having to admit that, while I believe prejudice is wrong, I didn’t say anything because I was afraid. That admission would teach her that self-preservation is more important than truth and justice, that it’s OK to be quiet about discrimination when speaking up could be uncomfortable. . . .May we have the courage to do what is right, for ourselves, and for the next generation.”

Rev. Burnette’s article includes the quotation from Martin Luther King, Jr., about shallow understanding and lukewarm acceptance that I highlight my own 20 Feb. blog entry.

And today, when a memorial service for Lawrence King is to be held in Westminster Presbyterian Church in Port Hueneme, CA, I want to highlight Sara Whitman’s comments in that same 20 Feb. blog entry. Whitman notes that the national media “has done a complete pass on the [Lawrence King] story.” She decries the silence of the major presidential candidates about Lawrence King’s murder. Sara Whitman’s Huffington Post article was picked up this week on the Towleroad blog at www.towleroad.com/2008/02/lawrence-king.html.

Given that silence, I was heartened to read in Pam’s House Blend blog this week an article entitled “Parents Confront Officials about Lawrence King Shooting” (www.pamshouseblend.com/showDiary.do;jsessionid=4A0DDC165E766AC3D00D71957B29D080?diaryId=4558). Pam notes that the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) is keeping track of local vigils organized to remember Lawrence King, and has issued a list of four concrete steps schools can take to confront school bullying of LGBT children.

I’m delighted to hear that GLSEN is calling on schools to address the issue of school bullying of LGBT youth, in light of Lawrence King’s murder. Yet, as I explain in my blog entry of 15 February, the mention of GLSEN reminds me of the role the churches and their institutions play in suppressing open discussion of homophobia and homophobic violence.

As that blog entry explains, in my last position leading faculty at a church-based institution noted for its commitment to civic engagement, I was severely punished by my supervisor for even mentioning GLSEN as a resource for faculty. This supervisor, who is the mother of a gay son and has worked in a leadership position in the United Methodist church, found the mere mention of GLSEN in a church-based school a way of “putting my lifestyle in the face of colleagues.”

The church has a long, long way to go. It is time to break silence.

Since I have chided the presidential candidates this week for their silence about Lawrence King’s shooting, I would like to give credit to Barack Obama for speaking out in Houston against the scapegoating of gay people. Mr. Obama stated, "I know how easy it is for politicians to turn us on each other, to use immigrants or gay people or folks who aren't like us as scapegoats for what they do." A link to a video of this speech is at www.towleroad.com/2008/02/obama-slams-pol.html.

And finally, I would like to give credit to one courageous church leader—in a church not known for its welcome of LGBT people—for daring to remind us that the rejection of LGBT folks by churches undermines the churches’ claim to walk in the footsteps of Jesus.

In a homily he gave last Sunday on the second Sunday of Lent, Bishop Thomas Gumbleton stated:

"When I think of how our church acts sometimes, and maybe without our knowing it, any one of us as an individual within the church, when we look at the way of Jesus and look at the way we act, we fall short. I think that within the church, Jesus was always the compassionate, welcoming, loving, forgiving messenger of God. In our church, we still reject people because of who they are. I've said this before and I repeat it today; we fail people who are of homosexual orientation. Most of them have not felt, and still do not feel, truly welcome, truly accepted as who they are and the person that God has made them."

Bishop Gumbleton’s sermon may be found at the blog café of National Catholic Reporter (http://ncrcafe.org/node/1619). Courageous advocates like Bishop Gumbleton deserve to be supported and celebrated by the LGBT community. All too often, they suffer reprisal at the hands of their own church when they speak out—and this has happened to Bishop Gumbleton.

Those whose words I’m citing in this post have been candles to my heart this week, as I continue to ponder the senseless murder of LGBT youth in our land, along with the silence of the churches (and media) about this national social cancer. As the Persian mystic poet Rumi reminds us in his poem “Candle in the Heart,” there is a candle in our hearts ready to be kindled. And it is love that kindles that candle—love that comes to us of its own accord, love that should be accepted and celebrated as it is, not excused or explained away, when it kindles candles in our heart. The love that fills human hearts, changes lives, and pours forth into the lives of others in endless creativity is a precious resource for all of society. Those who love should never be chastised for their loving. They should certainly not be maimed or killed because they love. As Rumi urges:


“Remind those who tell you otherwise that

Love

comes to you of its own accord,

and the yearning for it

cannot be learned in any school.”


In memoriam, Lawrence King (1993-2008). Love never fails . . . .

Thursday, February 21, 2008

We Are the Ones We've Been Waiting For

It’s impossible to understand (or confront) the silence of the leading presidential candidates about the murder of Lawrence King without looking at how progressives in the U.S. have dealt with values-laden issues for some decades now. Today’s AlterNet blog (www.alternet.org/blogs/peek/77366/) has an enlightening article by Trish at Pensito Review entitled "The Secret of Obama’s Success: He Listens to George Lakoff.” Lakoff (who founded the Rockridge Institute—see www.rockridgeinstitute.org/) argues that the political discourse of American progressives avoids values-laden rhetoric in favor of reason-based analysis of policies. Lakoff notes:

Progressives regularly mistake policies with values, which are ethical ideas like empathy, responsibility, fairness, freedom, justice, and so on. Policies are not themselves values, though they are, or should be, based on values. Thus, Social Security and universal health insurance are not values; they are policies meant to reflect and codify the values of human dignity, the common good, fairness, and equality.

In Lakoff’s view, the unwillingness of progressives to engage values is a mistake. I agree wholeheartedly. As my profile for this blog notes, among my chief interests are challenging the religious right’s claim to own God, calling the churches to accountability for injustice to LGBT persons, and stopping bullying of LGBT youth in schools. These are interrelated goals, and it’s impossible to understand the silence of both the leading “progressive” candidates for president and the silence of the churches about the death of Lawrence King, without looking at what progressives have done to values issues in the recent past, as the right wing has dominated the political landscape of America.

During this period, progressives have been all too willing to relinquish values-laden discourse to the right, and especially the religious right. We who recognize that the values represented by the religions of the world and their ethical traditions are far more diverse and revolutionary than the religious right wants Americans to believe have been conspicuously silent, as people who betray the core values of the world’s religions posture as the sole owners of values discourse.

We who want to keep progressive political options alive in the U.S. have allowed the religious right to railroad values discourse into a dead-end shouting match about abortion, reproductive rights, and “family values,” while a large number of our citizens go without basic health coverage, while we let ourselves be herded like dumb sheep into a war based on lies, while the obscenely rich grab an even larger share of the world’s resources, while children born in poverty in our nation have a decreasing chance at an adequate education, while the globe spins towards irreversible climactic changes due to global warming.

These issues are all values-centered issues. Yet we on the progressive end of the political spectrum treat them as policy issues. We relinquish the language of values to the religious right, and allow our fellow citizens to assume that these issues—all deeply and inherently related to the core ethical values of our religious traditions—have no basis in values at all.

Hence the ability of the major presidential candidates—in particular, the “progressive” ones the ones who should most be expected to speak out—to remain silent about the murder of a fifteen year-old boy by a classmate who considered the boy gender-inappropriate. Such murders ought not to happen in American schools. Not ever. Not ever again. Parents everywhere should be up in arms at the thought that an American child can be shot to death in an American school for questioning gender roles.

Churches all over the land should be holding vigils, pray-ins, sit-ins, classes about school violence and homophobia. But they’re not doing so. And those who claim to represent the most progressive options for us in the current presidential campaign continue to remain silent.

How has it come to this? In addition to relinquishing discourse about (and the very definition of) values to the right, we who stand for progressive change have also tolerated for far too long faint, insulting blathering about values on the part of many of our churches—blathering that is much ado about nothing, all sound and fury signifying nothing. We allow the churches to salve their consciences (and our own) by talking rather than walking.

We allow the churches to deplore homophobia and homophobic violence while fueling homophobia and homophobic violence. Not only do many churches observe the silence of the tomb regarding a social problem that can cause a fifteen year-old boy to be murdered in cold blood. Many of the same churches discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in hiring and firing employees in their institutions, refuse to ordain openly gay-lesbian members, and hold national meetings at which the lives and fates of LGBT church members are discussed without permitting those whose lives and fates are being determined to have a voice in the discussion!

I could point to many churches as examples of this shell game. The one that leaps to mind now, however, as I think through the damages caused to LGBT persons by church talk in the absence of church walk, is the United Methodist church. It does so for two reasons. First, one of the two “progressive” candidates for president, Hilary Clinton, is a United Methodist. I would argue that some of Ms. Clinton’s inability to engage issues like homophobia from a clear, forthright, unambiguous values standpoint has everything to do with the shell game her own church plays about this issue, over and over.

My second reason for pointing to the UMC as an exemplar of the talk-but-no-walk tendency of “progressive” and “gay-friendly” churches has to do with my own work experience. Though I am an alienated Catholic, my last two administrative positions were in UMC colleges. I have become very familiarsadly familiar, far more familiar than I would preferwith how some UMC institutions treat their LGBT employees, and with the ravages the shell game represents for the lives of some employees in UMC institutions.

The UMC Social Principles have clear statements forbidding discrimination and violence against employees on the grounds of sexual orientation. The UMC Social Principles also have very unambiguous statements about the right of all employees to demand workplaces that afford mental and physical safety.

Unfortunately, some UMC institutions do not adhere to these Social Principles even to the extent of adopting a non-discrimination policy on grounds of sexual orientation. My most recent place of employment has no such statement in its catalogue, which is the institution’s official arbiter of personnel policy. The institution is also in a right-to-work state where an employee may be fired at the mere whim of the college, with no reason provided. Needless to say, as with many right-to-work states, the state has noas in nada, zilch—laws prohibiting discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation.

In my experience, churches that talk but don’t walk will go as low as they are permitted to do, when an unjust law is on their side. This is how white Christians in the American South behaved when I was growing up, and it is how many churches now behave towards LGBT people, when the law permits. They will do whatever is permitted to them, when the law protects them, regardless of whatever high-minded statements their ethical codes or social principles declare.

In my experience, it is sadly and entirely possible to find oneself summarily booted from a UMC institution after having been reprimanded for “putting your lifestyle in the face of colleagues,” after having been given written instructions not to take your partner to the doctor (while married couples at the institution routinely take each other to doctors), or after having done outstanding work, but not ever having been given any evaluation at all, to which one might respond with information that challenges the supervisor's misrepresentation of one's work record. One can have all this happen even as one approaches the age of 60, with the full complicity of a retired dean of a UMC seminary, an ordained man, who, in addition to his retirement income, is making a plush salary at the college as a consultant. One can also have it happen while the board of the college is comprised of large numbers of UMC ministers and the UMC bishop of the state in which the institution is located—though one can also be told that the bishop has “problems” with the hiring of openly gay couples . . . .

Why are Mr. Obama and Ms. Clinton able to remain silent about the cold-blooded murder of Lawrence King? Because we allow them to do so. We who call ourselves progressive have allowed the religious right to capture God and the discourse of values. And we allow our churches to talk about their disdain for homophobic violence while practicing homophobic violence towards their own employees and LGBT members.

If we are the ones we have been waiting for, then it is time we speak out. No child should be murdered ever again in an American school for engaging in behavior the mainstream considers gender inappropriate. And the churches should be challenged—and challenged hard—to recognize that their silence in the face of this event and the social cancer it reveals is as shameful as the silence of the German churches while the Nazis came to power.