Last week, I received a letter that maybe many of you in the Disciples world have received regarding an argument for not taking sides (or perhaps taking both sides) on the issue of sexual orientation.
This is my open response:
I was not raised in a faith community and I spent much of my life ridiculing the institutions of what I considered to be a hypocritical, irrelevant and corrupt religion, often distracted by the pursuits of worldly interests such as self-serving power or wealth, and impotent to bring any real change to gross social injustices. Fortunately, I have come to recognize and take responsibility for my own blindness. My faith journey has been unexpected, to say the least, and my call has been only accepted with a fair amount of kicking and screaming. I have not, however, forgotten how it was possible for me to see Church the way that I had for so long. Sometimes I wish I could slip back into that blindness, so that I could align myself closer with the many visionary revolutionaries in our society, who are often atheist and almost always anti-religious. But alas, it is my faith that sets me apart from them, while it is strangely my passion for social justice that sets me apart from much of the institutional church.
I am not writing to berate the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). But I am writing to implore one to consider that above and beyond the call for tolerance of a diversity of opinion, is the imperative to advocate for the marginalized, the abused, the powerless, the oppressed. The problem with a call to accept all at the Table of Christ, is that the table we have to offer is inherently crooked. Not because we are bad people. But because we are people. Those who conform to the current power-structure (those who are not marginalized, abused, etc) take no risks by coming to that table and take no risks by inviting others to join them there. But those who have been systematically denied a place, those who have been denied a voice at all, those who have been told implicitly and explicitly for centuries in this society that who they are is an abomination in the eyes of God, those people risk everything. In fact, they not only risk everything, they actually pay the price with their identities, since the proposition is that they come to the table stripped of the dignity of being in a community that affirms that they are not created as an abomination but rather in the image of God. In other words, it is not sufficient to ask those who have been oppressed and ridiculed to be the bigger person and come to the table of reconciliation without demanding that the oppressors who wish to join them give up their power.
What I have heard is that conservatives and liberal-minded folks are both children of God and must sit side by side, for the sake of unity. I understand that. But getting conservatives and liberals to get along is not the imperative of Christ. Proclaiming the Kingdom of God, which radically overthrows oppressive systems, is. Doing so at the risk of one’s life is Christlike. There is no neutrality when it comes to justice and there certainly is no playing on both sides of the field. And there should be no patience when it comes to justice. We cannot rely on secular society (again) to perform our moral duties for us. If justice is what God demands, then the due date was yesterday. If justice is what God demands, then it is up to Her people to clear the way.
Furthermore the line is not between liberals and conservatives on this issue. The line is between the few who actually do something by taking a stand and the majority who do nothing while debating ideas. I lump liberals and conservatives together on all social justice issues so long as human beings are subordinated under chatty theories that hardly challenge the status quo. I am especially critical of so-called liberals like those of the Jim Crow era who, as Malcolm X put it, preached integration while practicing segregation.
So what about the privileged? What about the powerful? What about the bigots? Don’t they deserve Christ’s love too? Of course. But the appeasement of the prejudiced at the expense of the abused is cruel and inhumane. We must make a bold statement on the inclusiveness of God’s love, but with the caveat of Her preference to the poor and oppressed. Not because God loves some more than others, but rather because the undoing of an unjust system to set us all free, by definition, prefers those who have been denied dignity, power and a voice. Most people are going to get disturbed, but that is why we are pastors in addition to prophets. We must comfort and guide folks that have been lied to their whole lives in the process of overcoming the blindness of heterosexual privilege. But we must recognize that the price of not doing this work is paid by the oppressed. We cannot ask them to bear that burden any longer.
Lastly, to claim that people who like the color blue are welcome into a community that also welcomes people who like the color red as equals is permissible, because neither red nor blue are preferred in our society. To say that LGBTQi folks are welcome in a community as equals that also welcomes those who think that LGBTQi folks are an abomination is really to say that either LGBTQi are not welcome as equals, or that our definition of welcome is perverse or meaningless. The reason, of course, is obvious: LGBTQi folks are not considered equals in our society. When they are, then the statement would be as uncontroversial as the earlier example. Until then, we are not doing any justice work by pretending that it is now. That, again, is blindness.
The call of the Church is to preach truth to power, serve the marginalized, and emulate the Kingdom until it comes. None of this is meant to be comfortable. In fact, it is ensured to bring hardship and loneliness. But we can trudge that path because of where it leads, and because of who walked it before us.