Rocks and Hard Places for Gay Christians this Christmas


I pray. Everyday. Sometimes several times. This week begins a twelve day feast of the birth of Christ in my faith tradition, and it happens amidst other celebrations of light in the darkness in every faith. It is a good time to remember that light starts within each of us and spreads as we respect it in ourselves and others, no matter how challenging that may be. Some might say that it is in dark moments of challenge that we are meant to discover the light.

I’m also gay, so this holiday season has been consumed with a roller coaster of emotion and rage at the selection of Pastor Rick Warren to lead a prayer at Barack Obama’s inauguration, where the Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery will also pray.

Until January 20th, I will be praying that those of us who disagree with the selection of Rick Warren will not compound the challenges we face on our journey toward equality by being disrespectful, booing during prayer, or otherwise thinking that this moment is anything but what Obama intended — modeling civility from a position of strength and conviction in his own progressive ideas about sexual and reproductive health and rights. I will pray that we see through the darkness toward the light within each of us, the light that allows us to see more compassionately those we don’t  understand or definitely disagree with, yes, even those who would deny our very existence. In demanding equality we are claiming our right to journey through life on our own terms. To achieve equality we must not deny others in our effort to be recognized.

Obama is not moving toward Rick Warren and social conservatives as Congressional Democrats have attempted to do by hushing progressives clamoring for changes to many policies on sexual and reproductive health. Instead Obama demonstrates that progressive ideas on gay issues, sex ed, contraception and abortion are moral choices.  He invites Warren to join him, even while disagreeing on gay rights and abortion, to find new common ground.  When news of the Warren invitation first broke, I noted that the challenge was now Warren’s to lead hard-right social conservatives past partisanship and bitter divide that has characterized gridlock in Washington for much of the past 30 years, to a new place of civility that Obama is attempting to create in our politics. It appears Warren is taking some initial steps in Obama’s direction.

These are generational changes we are participating in and they are being led and defined by arguably the most progressive new administration in history. Obama recognizes that to get movement on the policies we must change, our democracy requires change as well — this was the premise of his campaign — and it is the surest path toward full equality strategically. Democracy is not designed to produce instant reward, does not offer immediate gratification, is not about wholesale change. It is messy, takes time and most importantly requires we understand that we must do the careful, respectful work of education to bring people who fear change along on our journey.

Anthony B. Pinn has a tremendous piece today about this at Religion Dispatches, in which he concludes:

It is unreasonable to think President-elect Obama can or should
resolve the conflict over religiously informed opinions when this very
task has befuddled religious leaders for centuries. Obama will do well
if he can help us make the tension between religious worldviews
creative and an arena for fruitful exchange. What we can hope for is
management of and respect for our religious differences and an attempt
to map out ways to harness the energy of our shared quest for life
meaning, for a greater sense of who, what, when, and where we are. And,
in this way we might tame the more harmful aspects of our religious and
theological orientations. Will we achieve this taming of our more
harmful theologically-fueled tendencies…not likely, but it’s a task
worth the effort regardless of the outcome.

Obama is making
this effort, and the measure of his success isn’t the contentment of
any particular group; but the ability of each group to voice its
discontent, its disagreement and push a national conversation forward.
Yes, dislike his selection for the invocation, and voice this dislike;
but recognize that Obama’s call for common ground will mean not always
getting what you want.

 

As a community gay people are tired of waiting, of not getting the equality, not that we want as Pinn writes, but that we deserve, as Americans, and most importantly as children of God (for believers). 

Are we more tired than women? More tired than African Americans? More tired than the current wave of brown immigrants coming to this nation of immigrants? More tired than under-educated or economically disadvantaged whites? Are we more tired than the many religions that make up the most diverse and religious country on the planet or non-believers who are continually disregarded when someone says "this is a Christian nation" and whose faiths will not be represented at the inauguration prayers?

Those who have held the moral authority, as gay people do now, have always been long-suffering, non-violent and respectful. The shoulders we stand on in this moment understood that when caught between rocks and hard places, it is the slow erosion of trickling water that softens the hard edges. They left the throwing of rocks, the verbal and literal stoning, the torrent of the fire hoses spraying water against flesh, the beating, bashing and lynching to those on the wrong side of history. The glacial pace of change is frustrating and every group excluded from the promise of equality in America sees that slow pace as our nation’s tragic flaw.  It is also what allows each of us to fall in love with America as each generation works to fulfill her promise in new ways and thus remain a light of freedom to many suffering around the world.

That we might be entering a time when it is possible for us all, as Americans, to solve intractable problems of government with less animosity is a sign of hope.

There are iconic moments in history that have defined every struggle for equality. But if we who disagree with Warren disrupt a prayer, and specifically a prayer at the inaugural of the first African-American President in American history, the iconic moment captured on that historic day will cede moral high ground and goodwill progressives now hold. The gay community continues to deal with its own racial struggles within our community and black gay men and women understand the challenges in ways many white gays do not. To act out during a prayer will not help our cause where we most need the help, on gay issues and HIV/AIDS, within black churches.

Students in Georgia listened to George Wallace standing in the doorway, faced threats and derision, but quietly worked for change and won their rights. They sat at lunch counters where they were not welcome, quietly and simply attempting to order food from people who denied their humanity. Their quiet courage and presence won their rights. People marched and sang wishing President Kennedy would do more, some demanding it, many vocally frustrated by the political reality of the times. Women marched for decades just to be able to vote and then to have bodily autonomy and still await equal pay. Poor people of all races have always struggled to be heard, respected, educated, and employed — and during these tough economic times more iconic images of disparity between rich and poor are being etched in our minds.

Those historic and iconic images changed hearts and minds and led us to this historic election and inauguration.  We who disagree with Warren can listen respectfully for 90 seconds without creating a negative iconic image of people disrupting prayer — and we can continue to fight strategically for the rights that are ours by birth.  We risk too much moral authority — the same that Obama is using to reach out to Warren — by giving in to rage and emotion and disrupting a solemn moment.  We can create positive iconic images in keeping with the respectful and non-violent traditions of all civil rights movements by listening to those we disagree with, and standing firm for our lives and loves with every other long-suffering movement for equality, and in doing so, support Barack Obama in his efforts to bring real and lasting change to our democracy, leading toward the full equality we all seek. 

The promise of nature in winter is that light will return even in the face of the darkest day. It is the same promise that every faith tells different stories to teach at this time of year. In many ways, it is the genius and promise of America — that in the face of darkness we can choose either to add to it, or instead find light within and with quiet strength and grace shine our light in a way that others will see and greet, and be thankful for giving us the opportunity to learn again that there is light within each of us. That we can choose differently. That in choosing to act from strength and light, we create the change we seek.

 

 

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

To schedule an interview with Scott Swenson please contact Communications Director Rachel Perrone at rachel@rhrealitycheck.org.

  • invalid-0

    American, Mormon and Californian, I’d defend to the death my neighbor’s right to have Yes on 8 signs in his yard, even though it hurt my queer heart to have to walk past all FOUR of those signs on my way to the Polls to vote.

    We still love our neighbor though. He’s a good guy who recently fixed our car for us at no charge.

  • invalid-0

    I will be praying that the whole chorus of voices and hearts be heard. Sing out!

  • scott-swenson

    Marti, how wonderful you can say that. Several years ago in my own family I learned that someone I’m very close to didn’t support gay marriage. I asked if I ever got married would she attend? Of course, came the reply. The disconnect between the two positions quickly became obvious, she had not considered the personal, just the political. Over time she has changed her political perspective too. I think we too often forget the “coming out” process that we all internalized before coming out publicly, the struggle to accept the change within before making it on the outside. We would be wise to recall that journey and recognize it in others — and help them make it more quickly by understanding and withstanding the hurts you felt walking by those signs. I arrived in California just after the election for at least a few months of work here, and am pleasantly surprised to see many No on 8 signs still defiantly displayed as I walk my dog all over our neighborhood. Sounds like you have, and are, a good neighbor


    Be the change you seek,

    Scott Swenson, Editor

  • scott-swenson

    Ron, I couldn’t agree more. Everyone should be heard, that is when democracy is healthiest and that is what will get us to progress sooner — by making sure we listen when others are speaking and that we are heard when we are.


    Be the change you seek,

    Scott Swenson, Editor

  • invalid-0

    As a straight Atheiest, I keep trying to figure out how a Gay Person can be a Christian. The Bible dose teach hatred of Homosexuals. As far as the Christian community in America, they seem to do nothing but teach and preach hate. I hope that my Gay brothers and sisters will wake up and reject this barbaric religion. I love you without the help of “God”. Peace!!!

  • invalid-0

    what should i do, fake it? i don’t respect rick warren or his beliefs. should i just shuck and jive and go “yalsa maser?” no thanks, i will tell the truth as i see it. a bigot is a bigot is a bigot…it is he who needs to change, not me.

  • scott-swenson

    No one is asking you to change. I’m simply suggesting that we as gay people are not the only ones who have been waiting for full equality for far too long and that we recognize that and see this for what it is, an attempt by President-elect Obama to model civility. We undermine that and play into the far-right’s hands by disrupting the prayer.


    Be the change you seek,

    Scott Swenson, Editor

  • scott-swenson

    Brian — The Bible does not teach hatred of anyone but it has been used by many — and abused by some — to justify hatred, oppression, and instill fear in many. I certainly understand why many people walk away from religion — I’ve done the same thing. I just haven’t walked away from a connection to God that is felt very personally in my life.


    Be the change you seek,

    Scott Swenson, Editor

  • therealistmom

    Posts like yours only go to show that in the end, we (as GBLT or GBLT supportive people) have it, if only we choose to exercize it.

  • emma

    Scott, you are a much more generous person than I am. I’m neither American nor gay, but the selection of Rick Warren horrifies me, not just for his views on gay people, but for his imperialistic activities in the global South and his repugnant beliefs about women.
    The thing is that fundamentalist Christians have this ridiculous persecution complex, even when they’re dominating public discourse and the legislative agenda. The ones in Australia are much the same (Christian fundamentalism and its influence on politics is an area of my academic focus). No amount of reaching across the aisle is going to placate them, because most of them have nothing but contempt for the concept of democracy. Plus, the majority of Obama’s picks for his administration have been a ‘screw you’ to the left, and the Rick Warren thing is a particularly gratuitous example of such. The political elite continue to perpetuate the idea that ‘standing up to the (scary, tremendously powerful – ha!) left is a sign of Obama’s political bravery, when in fact the truly brave thing to do would be to take a public stand against the right.
    I’m also not sure about this emphasis on ‘civility’, ‘bipartisanship’ (i.e. the left giving in to the right) and so forth at the expense of substantive debate. Accusing a bigot or a war criminal, for instance, of being such seems to be a worse political sin than actually being a bigot or a war criminal. I’m not sure this is leading anywhere good.
    So yeah. I wish I had a solution to suggest, and maybe you’re right; I don’t know. In any case, I really mean it when I say you’re a more generous spirit than I am, and I admire you for that.

  • scott-swenson

    Emma, Thanks for your very thoughtful comment, and let’s be very clear – I agree with you in terms of Rick Warren’s atrocious policy stances on any number of issues. He is on the wrong side of many issues; that he wraps it up in Christianity is offensive to me as a Christian, an American, a human. What I am suggesting is that after a lifetime of divisive politics I’m more than ready and willing to give something else a try. This is Obama’s first attempt at something else. I say let’s see what happens, recognizing that you are right — many on the far-right will NEVER change. Frankly, I’m not sure I want them to, because it is their extreme positions that help us to demonstrate to many in the middle just how ludicrous their ideology is. The more we engage the opposition respectfully, acknowledge their beliefs, put them on full display, the more Americans will come to realize just how far to the far-right we’ve gone and how important it is to get back to center and even try some “liberal” ideas like using science, medically accepted, evidence-based, peer-reviewed strategies to deal with every sexual and reproductive health issue. The more we expose the opposition, the more people realize that “liberal” is far closer to the center than they’ve been led to believe, the better it is for every community seeking equality. I say give civility, common ground and outreach a chance. The worst that could happen is we discover that it doesn’t work and we go back to partisanship and drawing stark contrasts between the right and the left. Based on the generational cycles that American politics operates in we don’t lose either way, and by taking the higher ground and actually using a progressive era to model civility might just produce something wonderful America and the world has yet to experience. Ninety seconds of prayer is what we’re talking about — I’m willing to give the President-elect the benefit of the doubt for ninety-seconds of his historic inaugural and I think strategically we all benefit by not making a scene.


    Be the change you seek,

    Scott Swenson, Editor

  • emma

    Yeah, I get what you mean, and am crossing my fingers you leftie USians will have some success. :) Good luck & best wishes.

  • invalid-0

    Civility is overrated. I’m tired of being told I have to make niiiiiiiiice with bigots.

  • invalid-0

    did “divisiveness” become the cardinal sin in American politics? Gods forbid anyone be uncomfortable!

    Screw this “reach across the aisle and hold hands and sing Kumbaya” crap. I’m tired of liberals berating everybody else to make nice with people who are trying to KILL them.

  • invalid-0

    as a woman, and part of the women’s movement in a low income country, i am used to being told that everything i dare suggest that might uphold women’s rights is divisive. when we argue for economic equality, we are told not to divide the union movement; when we argue for social and political equality, we are told we are dividing our own cultures and are stooges of the West; whatever we do is divisive…so, let’s move on…

    obama reaching out to the evangelicals is one thing but why do it in the most public, likely to be watched globally, emotional moment that we are likely to see in a long time? surely, there could have been a more balanced reaching out from a position of strength? This looks more like capitulation…

    telling the oppressed to compromise is like killing the mockingbird…

  • invalid-0

    What I find an interesting omission in all of this is the complete incompatability of right wing Christianity with feminism, women’s rights and lesbian rights. The left wing male establishment is NOT outraged over the choice of Jon Favreau, who is writing Obama’s inaugural speech. What did Favreau do as part of the “Obama” team? He posted a picture of himself and a friend, gropping the breast of a cardboard poster of Hillary Clinton. Favreau is actually wearing an Obama Staff T-shirt in the photo. Feminists and anti-rape activists are outraged over this! One man gropped a breast and held the cutout “doll’s’ headback while attempting to pour alcohol down her throat. This is classic gang rape, frat boy rape ideology, and easily recognizable to all feminists as pure womanhatred. That they felt free to do this to a future secrectary of state is telling, that Obama didn’t fire this man immediately for doing this is also telling.

    So while Warren gets vilified by the male left (he is attacking gay men), only radical feminist blogs are covering the Favreau outrage. This is a window to the Obama administration, this is the man who wrote Obama’s “soaring” speeches. I never connected with Obama, was suspicious that he wasn’t anything close to a feminist.
    Now I know why I never much liked Obama’s speeches, perhaps I could sense the presence of a womanhater behind the words.

    Gay men are still held in thrawl by patriarchy and male supremacy. So Favreau, who posted this picture on his Facebook page gets awarded a Bostonian of the Year award, the articles about him mentioned this episode as just a harmless boys will be boys prank. As a lesbian I am outraged at this, and I hope other gay men on here are as equally outraged over the choice of Warren as they are over Obama NOT firing this speech writer.

    Liberal men still defend these rape type photos, they still defend pornography and prostitution, and they still belong to mainstream churches that refuse to ordain women. Both the left and the right have womanhating ideologies, and the only time any of this gets out in the open is when feminists (thank the goddess we have our own Internet network now free of male control).

    If men are being attacked this is a human rights outrage, when women are being attacked it’s business as usual.

  • emma

    Yes, this. There isn’t nearly enough outrage regarding RW’s horrendous beliefs about women. Why is the belief that women are inferior beings who need to obey the menfolk considered to be nothing more than a ‘cultural difference’? It’s inexcusable, and people who believe such BS need to be scorned in the same way racists are. It drives me crazy that homophobia and misogyny (plus Muslim-bashing, but that’s OT) are considered at least somewhat acceptable in many circles, particularly when bigots of this variety make religion-based excuses for their hateful and abhorrent beliefs.

  • scott-swenson

    I don’t think anyone is suggesting that the divisions will go away, simply trying to find a way to agree on issues where that is possible and disagree with a higher level of respect — from both sides — where we disagree and perhaps move forward as a result. Given that it has been Democrats and liberals in Congress who have time and time again rolled over for the far-right and given them everything they wanted on sexual and reproductive health in the name of “compromise” — that is NOT what Obama is doing. Modeling civility with someone he disagrees with is not caving in on policies. Most importantly it is the voters who are rejecting the divisiveness — which has become the GOP brand over the past generation and they just got turned out. I suppose progressives can just adopt Rove-like tactics and crush the opposition, but that doesn’t seem to be the mood of the country right now. Obama is trying to suggest we won’t always agree but that we should be able to be civil — it is amusing how hard that seems to be for people on both ends of the spectrum.


    Be the change you seek,

    Scott Swenson, Editor

  • scott-swenson

    You are right, the photo was offensive as were many other issues from both campaigns (Clinton-race and Obama-gender) during the primaries. Far from excusing that behavior, one could suggest that if we find our way toward more civility in our politics, the gender, race, age and gay biases that are reflected in these offensive moments will fade. I just don’t see that rage does anything more than perpetuate the very behavior that is so clearly offensive. We need to move out of our identity silos – as you point out – and find ways to listen to each other in ways that may be uncomfortable as a nation but can help us see one another differently.


    Be the change you seek,

    Scott Swenson, Editor

  • scott-swenson

    Listening is not compromise.


    Be the change you seek,

    Scott Swenson, Editor

  • invalid-0

    I’m tired of it, and of liberals who think that if only they’re pleasant and nice and accommodating enough to these reich-wing psychos, somehow it’ll turn their hearts.

    I’m not really surprised that an xtian is peddling this crap.

  • scott-swenson

    Thanks for writing and commenting. I simply “peddle” the idea that in expecting others who disagree with my viewpoints to listen to me and appreciate my life’s experience that I should start by doing the same. I’ve been in the trenches against these people politically, on campaigns, issues, from gay rights, HIV, reproductive health and death with dignity. I get who they are are and I too am “tired of it” — but I don’t think adopting their tactics and treating them the way they’ve treated us is they way to go. I have this strange notion that liberal and progressives ideas can rise above the divisiveness and actually achieve civil society. That’s what I work for, not just crushing those I disagree with.


    Be the change you seek,

    Scott Swenson, Editor

  • invalid-0

    Yes Scott, I think people say they want civility in politics. What amazes me though is that a photo of Hillary Clinton can be so horrifying, and nobody in the Obama campaign seems to give a damn. At our company, if you posted something like this, it might be grounds for getting fired, and Jon Favreau was wearing an Obama Staffer shirt.

    So I’m weary of the “let’s get beyond this…” move on, forget the sexism and womanhatred in time for the big inaugural speech written by Favreau. I just don’t want to hear the speech now, and probably won’t tune in that day.

    Real unity or connection requires hard work. All too often gays and women just get shoved aside as soon as our “usefulness” as “liberal” voters gets used up. Kind of reminds me of sexist men, who are able to shut up and be civil as long as they are trying to sell a woman a car, for example, but in daily life, they’re vulgar sexist verbal abusers of all the women around them.

    I’d like to see some understanding on Rick Warren’s part of just where he’d like to see the hundreds of gay and lesbian Christians who could visit his church stand. Now wouldn’t that be interesting if Soulforce say showed up with 2000 gays and lesbians as regular church attenders. What would that “conservative” church do with that big a gay contingent? Interesting idea. That would be creative, as would the seminars on real gay and lesbian Christians telling their true stories to straight congregants of that church. I suggest 2000 gays and lesbians, because the numbers would command a certain change of heart, and call Warren on his so-called words of consiliation. Remember these guys know how to smile and be nice in front of the cameras….

  • scott-swenson

    Satsuma, I like your Soulforce idea. I also agree that this is all very hard work. There were times during the primary when it was so painful to listen to mainstream media fumble their way through gender, race and age discussions — and most of the time not even realize how challenged they are by the concept of full equality. It was hard to hear Bill Clinton say the things he said, and frankly its always been offensive to hear him described as the first black President. But as I watched it all happening over the past year I took some comfort in the fact that at least these discussions were finally happening, awkward and difficult as they are, someplace besides progressive circles and diversity workshops. And yes, there are plenty of progressives who still need work, we all do, that’s why we’re here to learn and grow.


    Be the change you seek,

    Scott Swenson, Editor

  • truth

    Because you lack the fundamental sincerity of seeking the Truth in your own lives there will never be an "all-inclusive" society. There isn’t supposed to be… Remember, Jesus came to Divide… In some cases Father against Son and so on… You must seek the Truth and it is evident that you are not because you people can’t even protect the most innocent of human life – children inside the womb! I would suggest starting with abortion, since it is the most obvious. Once you figure this out – look up the word Marriage. Marriage can’t be between anyone other than one man and one woman. Anything else is simply a Civil Union with the same tax status as a Married couple. You’ve taken Objective Truths and spat on them. Natural Laws that govern you and denied them! It’s silly if you think about it because your governed by these Natural Laws whether you like it or not – we all are. If you claim that you aren’t then you are simply a rebelling teenager. God has rules. Learn them. Live them. The sooner you do the better lives you will have here on Earth and eternally. Scott, stop calling yourself a Christian if you are not living the Faith. Nothing wrong with being Gay, but to act on it is a Sin. We love you as a person, but we detest your Sin – as you should also. Love the sinner – hate the sin. It is very clear in the Bible that God doens’t like men laying with men and women laying with women. As far as Obama is concerned… Didn’t you know that he is/was/and always will be a chameleon? 

  • scott-swenson

    “Truth” — Happy New Year. I wish you peace, joy and comfort in the New Year.


    Be the change you seek,

    Scott Swenson, Editor

  • invalid-0

    Yes Scott, it is interesting seeing all these issues that I worked on for over 25 years become national political issues now. The thing is, I think I get impatient more these days, because I know how much has been written about lesbian feminism, lesbian christians etc. Where is Carter Heyward and so many of the lesbian Christian leaders in all of this? Everyone should know about Christian Lesbian Out Together — they’ve been going strong since 1990, for example.

    The advancement of a kind of assimilationist gay agenda is happening. But it is at the expense of our more visionary elements. Read “White Crane Journal’s” most recent issue– Don Kilhefner writes an incredible piece on the dangers of gay assimilation (about gay men so I just use that one word). I highly recommend this gay male journal for every educated person. It’s great!!!

    There are so many people out there who have never personally talked to a gay or lesbian person about the issue of marriage. I had a great conversation with a man in a business networking group: He sincerely wanted to know about Prop 8, and what all the fuss was about. So I’m glad I spoke up about it at a very straight business event.

    We can all do this stuff, and it really works. The right wing is isolated and so is the left wing. Bill Clinton, I agree is a problematic figure, but I do know that he was the first presidential candidate and president actually who used the words gay and lesbian in his inaugural speech. Hillary Clinton got blamed for Bill’s problems, and I would have far prefered her as president. I am, needless to say, overjoyed that she is becoming secretary of state, and I hope she and Obama speak out powerfully for gay and lesbian rights, and the rights of women worldwide.

    More straight people now know who we are as real people than ever before, so in that sense Prop 8 was a big success.
    I look at all of this as a process. Thanks for writing all of this. It’s a good discussion.

  • invalid-0

    Rev. Warren loves god. I love God too. Obama loves his god, Scott loves his god. Even the Morman (who loves his gay neighbor but will go eye for an eye over their YES on prop 8)loves his/her’s god. Still,none of us practicing christians are UNITED. Why??? Who’s GOD is on the american dollar bill,yours, mine, or their’s???

    Simple answer really, it’s just harder to grasp.

    GOD IS BIGGER THAN WE WILL EVER BE!

  • scott-swenson

    Satsuma, You may already have this on your reading list, but if not I’d add Candace Chellew-Hodge to your reading list. Her new book is Bulletproof Faith.  I couldn’t agree with you more from a purely political standpoint — even as bitter as the loss is, Prop 8 advanced the cause in significant ways.  I’ve been with friends in Phoenix, Long Beach, Los Angeles and San Francisco within the past two weeks and it sure seems to me like people "get it" — they don’t like Warren — but they are willing to give Obama credit, and space, to try something symbolic. To a person they all said a variation of, "I’d rather save my energy for a fight on policy if he back tracks even one step there."

     

    Thanks to you too, I appreciate the dialog.  


    Be the change you seek,

    Scott Swenson, Editor

  • invalid-0

    I’ll look into “Bullet Proof Faith.” Thanks for the book suggestion Scott!