Tag: conservatives

Tiny Violins

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Some of the responses to to a recent post as well as some extra reading has me back at the keyboard again to share something thoughts about this rapidly changing situation in Indiana. I want to focus on one issue in particular: the demand by social conservatives to push for tolerance . So here goes.

Let me be clear: I am arguing for civility and love of enemy here, but I am not blind to the fact that social conservatives have never been accomodating to gay and lesbians. If you read blog posts, like the this one from Rod Dreher, you would think that they had never done anything wrong. They were just sitting around minding their own business when WHAM! those bad pro-ssm folks came and started taking away their rights. As Jacob Levy notes, the general public is having a hard time hearing the social conservative’s tiny violins right now:

…as I’ve said before, the newfound desire for opponents of same-sex marriage to defend pluralism and compromise rings very hollow.

The anti-same-sex-marriage movement during its ascendancy in the 1990s and 2000s was viciously and hatefully maximalist. Imagine the different history of America if conservatives in the late 1990s had energetically supported civil unions provided that they not use the word “marriage,” instead of pursuing the most aggressive and restrictionist DOMAs they could get away with in each context, such that where conservative majorities were strongest even ordinary contractual rights that might seem too much like marriage were prohibited, instead of mobilizing boycotts of firms that offered same-sex couples employment benefits! As it is, their defense of private sector liberty and the pluralism it makes possible is many days late and many dollars short. It kicked in only when, starting in the mid-2000s, the political tide turned.

That shouldn’t change our view of the right outcome; some particular cake baker shouldn’t lose his religious liberty because the movement that’s defending him now makes hypocritical arguments. But it does mean that the violin I hear playing when conservatives complain about the supposedly totalizing and compromise-rejecting agenda of same-sex-marriage supporters is very very small indeed.

So, I’m not ignoring that fact and it needs to be said outloud to our social conservative sisters and brothers. In my case, my desire for civility is not because they deserve it, but because I don’t want to act like they have to people like myself.

Beyond the social right claiming victimhood, there are some issues that really do need to be addressed. Ross Douthat shared recently a post where there might be some need for some clarification of what is okay and is an extention of someone’s faith and what is out of bounds. Douthat’s lists includes the following:

  • “Should religious colleges whose rules or honor codes or covenants explicitly ask students and/or teachers to refrain from sex outside of heterosexual wedlock eventually lose their accreditation unless they change the policy to accommodate gay relationships? At the very least, should they lose their tax-exempt status, as Bob Jones University did over its ban on interracial dating?”

 

  • “In the longer term, is there a place for anyone associated with the traditional Judeo-Christian-Islamic view of sexuality in our society’s elite level institutions? Was Mozilla correct in its handling of the Brendan Eich case? Is California correct to forbid its judges from participating in the Boy Scouts? What are the implications for other institutions? To return to the academic example: Should Princeton find a way to strip Robert George of his tenure over his public stances and activities? Would a public university be justified in denying tenure to a Orthodox Jewish religious studies professor who had stated support for Orthodox Judaism’s views on marriage?”

This goes beyond the “baker-florist-photographer” issue. At this point, we don’t know where that line is. This means a lot of discussion to hammer out a new agreement.

This leads to a final thought: Why did the Legislature and Governor decide to craft legislation without gay and lesbian voices? Did they really think such a law would stand when we all know it was passed because of the changes in opinion? The federal RFRA was passed with bipartisan votes, but the reason it did is because it wasn’t aimed at a certain population.

There are legit issues concerning religious liberty. They need to be discussed. But such discussions need to have everyone at the table. If gays and lesbians are excluded from this, well we will know that social conservatives still see us more as part of the problem and less of the solution.

Macro and Micro-Racism

2014-12-01-16448702mmmainEver since the grand jury in Ferguson, MO failed to indict officer Darrell Wilson in the death of Michael Brown, I’ve been wondering what to say about all of this.  That desire to say something grew this week when another grand jury failed to indict the policeman involved in the death of Eric Garner.

Being an African American male, which seems to be the target of cops these days, I wanted to say something.  I need to say something because this issue involved me.  Eric Garner was only two years younger than me.  That means that it’s not only young black men that can face brutality from police, it could be a middle aged black man like myself.

To put it more starkly, it could be me.  I could be stopped for speeding (as I have been every few years or so) and could face danger from someone that is supposed to keep order.

I’ve been wondering what the response should be to these incidents where black men are being gunned down by the police.  More specifically, I’m wondering what the church’s response should be.  Right now, the options being offered from the left and the right are not the best.

Let’s take what conservatives are saying first.  The response to these cases has been mixed.  Many conservatives tended to look at these issues from a “micro” view, meaning they look at each individual case to determine judgement.  So with the incident involving Michael Brown, they focused on the fact that Brown had stole cigarillos and was responding to Wilson in a way that made Wilson fear for his life.  In the Garner case, there is shared outrage but the reason is different.  Here is what Robert Tracinski said regarding that incident:

…one of the most insidious errors you can make is to turn each case into a symbol of “systemic racism” rather than an individual case to be judged on its own merits.

What did the facts show in the Staten Island case? They don’t show deliberate murder. The video of the police arrest of Eric Garner shows no evidence of malice or specific intent to harm Garner. Rather, it shows a callousness toward his obvious physical distress when the confrontation goes wrong. The killing is less malicious than officious. I mostly agree with Sean Davis, who argues that it was a reckless use of force that caused Garner’s death, which means that there is a good case for prosecuting the policeman responsible on charges of manslaughter.

Despite the damning video that brought the case to national attention, it is not totally cut and dried. The autopsy showed that Garner was already on the run from the grim reaper. The choking action (which may not technically be a “chokehold” but was, er, a hold that choked him) was found to be the primary cause of death, but Garner had major health problems, including asthma. So you could imagine a defense attorney making the case that this just happened to be an unfortunate situation in which a guy resisted arrest and was in such bad shape that he didn’t survive the altercation. There is a conceivable defense that the choking made no difference and Garner would have died anyway just from the stress of resisting arrest. But that’s a defense that ought to be made in court, not pre-emptively endorsed by a grand jury.

That’s why so many on the right have come down on a different side in this case than they did in Ferguson.

For many on the right, each case has to be argued by their own merits.  It makes no sense to look at some “macro” cause like systemic racism.  So, in the Garner case the issue at hand is that the police used excessive force, not racism.

I personally think there is much good to take from this.  The Brown case is different from the Garner case and that should be taken into account.

That said, this view tends to play down more macro-issues like racism to the extent that it’s made to appear that they don’t seem concerned with race or see it as a settled issue, a relic of the 1960s.

But ignoring that race might play a factor (at the very least a hidden factor) is telling a good chunk of the population (African Americans make up about 12% of the US population)  that has had to learn to fear the police that their concerns are silly.  It ignores that there are have been several incidents over the years where black men have faced harrassment from white police.  Here in Minnesota, a black man sitting in a downtown St. Paul skyway waiting for his son to finish school was harrassed and tased by St. Paul police for no apparent reason.

While I don’t think there is some conspiracy, it’s hard not to see a disturbing pattern taking shape.  What conservatives fail to see is that racism isn’t just a bunch of guys wearing bed sheets and standing around a flaming cross.  It can also be a silent bias that people are not even aware of.

If conservatives tend to focus on the micro to the exclusion of the macro, then liberals do the exact opposite.  They are rightly focused on the racism that takes place but sometimes miss the particulars.  They also tend to not really have a realistic way of solving our problems both near term and long term.

Tim Wise is a well-known anti-racism speaker.  In his most recent article he hits the problem (macro) but doesn’t really offer any solutions other than being angry.  Here’s a sample:

Nice people do not protest, angry people do; and right now, I’d trade every nice white person about whom Chris Rock was speaking for 100,000 angry ones. But not those who are angry at black folks or brown immigrants or taxes—we have more than enough of them. I mean 100,000 who are angry enough at a system of racial injustice to throw ourselves upon the gears of the machine, as Mario Savio once insisted. A hundred thousand angry enough to join with our brothers and sisters of color and say enough. A hundred thousand who are tired of silence, tired of collaboration, tired of nice, and ready for justice.

In short, and though I know it won’t strike some folks as particularly, well, nice, it really must be said: fuck nice. And the fact that there are many who would be more disturbed by my language here than by the death of black men at the hands of police, tells us all we need to know about the poison that is niceness, and about the dangerous souls who cling to that self-concept like a badge of honor. They have made clear by virtue of their silence what side they’re on; and that will not, cannot, be forgotten.

Wise has some good points.  But his angry prophet pose doesn’t always help.  Yes, white Americans are somewhat clueless at times about the plight of African Americans.  Sometimes you have to shout at people, but not all the time.  Sometimes yelling at people ends up turning people off instead of allowing them to listen.

Another problem with Wise and other liberals is that they too often are preaching to the choir.  So liberals, especially white liberals can pat themselves on the back, thankful they aren’t like those SOBs who are so blind to racial injustice.

Wise isn’t the only one doing this.  Susan Thistlewaite, the head of Chicago Theological Seminary, has a long piece repeating the problem of white privilege in America, but offers no solution either.  If conservatives can’t see a problem, liberals can’t see a solution.

America has a problem and doesn’t have a solution to racism.

I think the church has to offer an answer that is beyond the conservative and liberal offerings.  As Christians, we have to be committed to diversity and racial reconciliation.  But far too often in my own experience when the church tries to deal with racism, it ends up having blacks talking about being victims and white people being made to feel guilty.

I don’t have a grand theological solution.  What I do think is that during Jesus’ earthly ministry he talked with people.  He invited himself to different tables; tax collectors, religious folk and “sinners.”  I think the way to help at least break down some of the walls is by churches coming together in fellowship.  Maybe predominantly white and black churches could start worshipping together on occassion.

Churches could also focus on solvable solutions instead of dealing with the big macro issue of racism.  Churches should press for reform of local police departments and also pursue changes at the national level.

The church should be able to speak against the macro issue of racism and also work on the micro level for real solutions.

After the last 10 days we have seen that unfortunately we don’t live in a “post-racial society,” at least not yet.  But we can get there. As followers of Jesus we have to work and work on both a macro and a micro level so that one day we won’t hear anymore stories of white policemen harrassing and shooting black men.

We can solve this as long as we have God on our side.

 

Building a Bridge with Beer

beerA few weeks ago, I sat down for a beer with a fellow pastor.  Actually, I had hard cider- he had the beer.  The pastor is theologically conservative and sees me- a gay pastor with an orthodox theology as a bit of an enigma.

We had a very good discussion talking about church and life and where we might agree.  I had the opportunity to share why I am this odd duck.  There is always a bit of uncomfortableness in breaking bread with someone who disagrees with you, but it was a good time and I hope to do it again sometime.

The interesting about my experience is how rare it’s becoming.  The church is in many ways polarizing in the same way the American public is polarizing.  There is less that brings people together.  In many mainline denominations, you have liberals doing one thing, while conservatives do another.  Each side views the other with suspicion if not downright hostility.

Middle judicatories try using various tactics to bring people together.  But the fact is most of them are gimmicks and the two sides go back to arguing over time.

As we look at the mess that’s taking place in Washington, it would help to have some background.  Up until the 90s, work rules in Congress were such that the entire families of a Representative or Senator would move to DC and set up shop.  This allowed for more mingling with persons from another party, which in turn made for law based on compromise.  When the work rules changed, you had Representatives fly in on a Tuesday and leave Thursday/Friday.  Families now stay back home and there is little to no time for people of opposing views to gather socially.  As the institution of Congress waned, we start to see the rise of various outside groups that benefit from a hyper-partisan Congress.

Something like that has happened within churches.  Denominational bodies like the Presbyterian Church (USA) are deteriorating, while outside affinity grow in power and influence.  Liberals stay with liberals and conservatives with conservatives.  The end result is that we stare at each other accusing the other of being unfaithful to God.

As a gay man, I’ve been involved in the arguments concerning the role of gays and lesbians in the life the church.  While I’m still working for inclusion of LGBT persons, I have grown weary of not engaging the other side, of only seeing them as “bad” people and not trying to listen to what they are saying.  I’m trying to learn why a conservative believes the way they do.  I’m not going to change my mind, but I need to know why they believe something because I might find out points of agreement.

This past summer, an evangelical Presbyterian mused about the recent selection of a Transgendered person as the director of More Light Presbyterians, the LGBT group in the PC(USA).  Jodi Craiglow wanted to be angry, but realized the anger wasn’t there:

I’m SUPPOSED to be writing a thesis right now.  In fact, it’s due at the end of this week, and I’m only about a third of the way done with it.  The problem is, that story has been gnawing at the back of my head all day, and I won’t be able to concentrate on what I need to do until I work through my thoughts.  So, I figured I’d share them and see what happens.  I know that, by all rights, the news of a transgendered Presbyterian taking the vanguard in advocating for LGBTQ issues in the denomination should make my little conservative soul writhe in agony.  I should be ANGRY, darnit!

But that’s the problem… and that’s why I’m probably going to get in trouble for this post.  I’m trying to get mad — and I can’t.  I search my heart for righteous indignation, and time and again only come up with sacrificial love.  Do I agree with the lifestyle that Alex is holding?  No.  Do I believe that God calls us to uphold the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman?  Absolutely.  Does that give me license to spew vitriol and drive even more nails into the body of Christ?  For the love of God, no.

I’ve thought and prayed and thought and prayed, and what I keep hearing is, “I love Alex.  And you should, too.”  Yep, there’s sin in Alex’s life — but there’s plenty of it in mine, too.  And for me to say that my sin is in any way less severe or makes me any less deserving of eternal condemnation is to set myself up as the arbiter of moral righteousness, a job that makes me quake in my boots just to think about.  God created Alex — and for that matter, all the folks over at More Light and Covenant Network and all those other affinity groups that I’m supposed to be at war with — fearfully and wonderfully as bearers of His image.

Does that mean that I’m going to spend every waking moment with the people with whom I disagree?  Probably not.  But, at the same time, I dare not retreat off into my little evangelical ghetto, surround myself only with people who think exactly the same way as I do, and complain about all those “liberals” (who, incidentally, I’ve never actually met) who are ruining my denomination.  If Jesus had only spent time with those who agreed with him, the incarnation never would have happened.  My sins would have never been purchased, and I’d have had to exist in eternal separation from the Source of Life.  Who am I to suggest a different course of action than the one espoused by my Lord and Savior?

Issues can and have divided congregations.  They tend to create gaps between people.  I don’t think we can avoid that there will be times when we will disagree with each other- when a gap appears.  The problem comes when we don’t try to build a bridge and reach out to the other.

It’s not easy trying to close the gap.  It’s far easier to stay in our respective ghettoes and it’s far more comfortable.  Except, I don’t think Jesus calls us to be comfortable.  We are called to stand in the gap and work towards building bridges.

I hope to have more occasions to share a beer with someone from the other side.  God seems to do awesome things in those liminal places.