This Election Cycle, Minorities Are Stuck Between Two Idealisms

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“When exactly was America great?” John Green has said it, President Obama has said it (to whatever degree he is allowed to say things) and even I have said it. This attacks the fundamental notion of Trump’s campaign: the idea that there exists in America, a kernel of the past unblemished by inequality or racism or sexism, and seeks to say that his nostalgia constitutes a clear and present danger for the many problems we face today that will be swept under the rug, yearning for a past that never actually existed.

This time around, though, he’s not the only one with a problem.

Right now, minorities are stuck in a chasm between two idealisms.

On the one hand, they’ve already become accustomed to the dog-whistling and even blatant alienation of the right, which has appeared to do everything it can to get less and less people to think, “I want to sign up for that.” The right has also done an excellent job of ascribing to an intensely specific version of the past that does not reflect the totality of it, and actively desires to transport us all back there, which they might not try to do if they fully understood that it’s not a place to which many minorities would like to return.

On the other hand are the liberals.

For liberals, the problem with conservatives, they say, is that they refuse to accept things as they are, blinded by the allure of the past. Their refusal to live in the present represents a stubbornness that liberals can’t wrap their minds around. What goes unnoticed is that liberals’ insistence on living in the future also poses a danger to minority communities.

Right now, minorities are stuck in a chasm between two idealisms.

Liberals often lambaste conservatives for this kind of hyper-nostalgia that comes from thinking that the 1950s were a time of greatness to which we need to return, but are often guilty of the same thing when mistaking the future that they idolize for the realities that are.

The conservatives are stuck in the past. The liberals are stuck in the future. The minorities are stuck in the present.

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This problem spans at least three movies.
Michelangelo Signorile recently made an appearance on the Daily show that highlights the dangers of liberalism. The danger is that, being liberal and progressive people can cause you to think that change has occurred even when it has not, simply because you wish it very much to be the case. Many liberals are unaware of how many laws are on the books regarding hiring and firing processes for LGBT people, or they are unaware that the fight for LGBT rights didn’t end with a Supreme Court decision.

Once again, being stuck in the future and practicing utopic thinking can lead to a severe lack of engagement on social issues that liberals care about. It’s the difference between thinking that Roe. V. Wade was the end of the battle and remaining engaged enough to fight every single conservative legislature and demagogue that makes abortion today technically legal, but impossible to get.

It’s the kind of lack of engagement that can lead to the disastrous midterm elections of 2010, where only 12% of youth and minorities voted, feeling that a victory had been won for them in 2008, while older, whiter voters rushed to the polls, “cranky about how ‘tall’ the president was.”, and instituted a political gridlock that made it vexingly difficult for President Obama to do anything at all.

And engagement is not the only area where the problems of liberal future-pressing are made manifest.

Let The Adults Drive

Often, in their push to create a more just society, liberals are guilty of devising a political revolution to which minorities are essential in supporting, but when it comes to structuring that revolution or being “in the room where it happens,” minorities consistently get the short end of the stick.

It’s the difference between thinking that Roe. V. Wade was the end of the battle and remaining engaged enough to fight every single conservative legislature and demagogue that makes abortion technically legal, but impossible to get.

Consider that blacks and Hispanics have already been told this election cycle that they are voting against their best interests by their strong support of Hillary Clinton. But in the gallons of articles about these issues, is there ever a sense of introspection at the infantilization necessary to tell people that they don’t know what is good for them?

– Is there ever any question of precisely why blacks do not feel that Bernie Sanders would be the best bet for them?

– Is there ever any questioning of Hillary’s decisive win in Puerto Rico, full as it is of people that are routinely disenfranchised from the political system and process?

– Is it always viewed as an insulting statistic to ask the question of why Sanders’s wins did not span a more diverse demographic range?

To me, this suggests a fundamental misconception among liberals: minorities like blacks, who vote reliably Democratic, are needed for support, not input. This again creates a dynamic of blacks sitting in the background while the adults make the decisions. For the conservatives, it’s “We don’t want you.” For the liberals it’s, “We want you…to get on board.” I understand that not breaking into that particular voting bloc was disappointing for Sanders supporters, but you’ve got to come up with an answer that’s less insulting than “They don’t know what’s good for them.”

Where does that really leave minorities?

Identity Politics and Economic Policies


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Another troubling aspect of the Sanders campaign is the outright rejection of the validity of identity politics. I’ve heard many liberals, including Senator Sanders himself, brusquely shove identity politics to the side, saying things to the effect of, “Well, when you fix the economic disadvantages, the racism goes away.” And that is simply not true. Economics are certainly a part of the black struggle, but it’s not as if blacks who aren’t poor don’t experience their fair share of racism. Has Barack Obama not experienced extreme racism, even as a laureate of Harvard, one of the most prestigious colleges in the nation? I’m listening.

The reason Barack Obama still experiences a startling amount of racism is that it is simply not a construct reserved solely for blacks shackled by the manacles of low socioeconomic status. The problems of racism and prejudice are not purely economic, and therefore cannot be mended tangentially. Rejecting identity politics out of hand is probably a good way to not speak to the concerns that many minority groups have, including Hispanics, blacks, and the LGBT community.

Economics are certainly a part of the black struggle, but it’s not as if blacks who aren’t poor don’t experience their fair share of racism.

Simply because they are not affected by economic setbacks, as Barack Obama is not, that simply does not magically solve the particular problems of unity, diversity, and racism, in the same way that 60% support for gay marriage doesn’t mean that 30% of those people don’t still feel uncomfortable with same sex PDA.

However, rather than connecting with the concerns, liberals have gone a different way, and decided, like Bernie Sanders, that the South’s votes don’t matter because “it’s the most conservative part of the country,” or that Planned Parenthood (who does great work in minority communities that desperately need it) and its endorsement of Hillary Clinton constitutes “the establishment.”

Rather than thinking there were legitimate reasons that minority voters didn’t want Sanders to be their president, liberals opted for the insulting fantasy that Hillary must’ve just rigged the election, because “Well, I know what’s good for black voters, and it’s Bernie, so she must’ve cheated or tricked them.”

To me, this suggests a fundamental misconception from liberals: minorities like blacks, who vote reliably Democratic, are needed for support, not input.

Another reason that Bernie’s campaign may have failed to strike a winning chord with the black community is that one of the chief identifiers of the communal black struggle/experience is endurance, not idealism. Mothers resolutely praying for the safety of their children, Negro spirituals that sing about the struggle, the grind, the endurance of cyclical, everyday violence, and the slow, step-by-step march towards freedom that every generation gives its energy to for the next – these features dominate the black story.

How then, do you pitch idealism to these people, and wonder why it doesn’t appeal to them as much as an approach that is billed as thoughtful, pragmatic, and consistent?

Trickle Down Revolution


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The last point I’d like to make is that liberals have much to say about the pure applesauce of trickle-down economics, but not a lot to say about the blind spots necessary to believe in trickle-down revolution. Any kind of theory that puts forth the idea that the specific problems of unity, racial division, and minority communities in this country can just be solved by another problem means that once again, minority interests get trampled by the white people who know what’s really best for them.

It’s just like the problems that communities (the LGBT community, the feminist community, and the atheistic community, for example) faced when they realized that there were persistent problems of race and diversity that were not addressed and did not simply go away with revolutionary change for the whole. So you still have the world’s most famous atheists being 4 white dudes, white feminism, gay white men still getting gobs more representation than anyone else also emblematic of the gay community, bisexual people treated as if they don’t even exist, and Caitlyn Jenner somehow being the “face of the trans community” despite being straight trash as a person.

Liberals have a lot to say about the pure applesauce of trickle-down economics, but not a lot to say about the blind spots necessary to believe in trickle-down revolution.

The minorities in these communities often did not find that revolution trickled all the way down to them, and therefore there was no reason for them to expect that Sanders’s revolution would trickle down to them, either, or that they should prefer his revolution to the slow, steady, and pragmatic grind that Clinton represents that is much more characteristic of the historical and present narrative of how these communities took a seat at the table for themselves in the first place.

Unity


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As we wrap up the primary process, it is apparent who minority voters have chosen as the candidate that would best serve their interests. They are attempting to deftly straddle the dangerous nostalgia of the right as well as the demoralizing naiveté and utopic thinking of the left. Because we have problems to solve today, and a step forward is a step forward.

Perhaps it is up to us to get behind them as we always insist we are, rather than their job to get behind the plan that we’ve devised, if we have any interest in listening to what they have to say, instead of simply getting them in line. We might find that, in doing so, we will gain a better understanding of the biases and prejudices that run rampant throughout our whole country, not simply one particular party, and discover the true power of unity, not the false pretenses of unity that create chasms such as these at crossroads such as this.

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Dear White People: Yes, It’s Offensive When You Say It

“Apparently, a bigger issue than…the problems that face us that the president was discussing…was that he said the word ‘nigger’.”

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During the summer of 2015, Marc Maron invited onto his WTF podcast the 44th leader of the free world, President Barack Hussein Obama. They quickly cycled through a lot of topics, including things that the president has discussed before, like his upbringing and policies and issues that are particularly close to his heart.

One of those issues was racism.

“Racism. We are not cured of it,” President Obama said. “And it’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say ‘nigger’ in public. That’s not the measure of whether racism still exists or not. It’s not just a matter of overt discrimination. Societies don’t overnight completely erase everything that happened 200-300 years prior.”

Guess which part of that the news cycle ran with the next day.

Apparently, a bigger issue than criminal justice reform, police brutality, indiscriminate housing and job opportunity, minimum sentencing, the privatization of prisons, and the mass incarceration of minorities, and the problems that face us that the president was discussing…was that he said the word ‘nigger’.

Apparently.

Racism. We are not cured of it,” President Obama said. “And it’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say ‘nigger’ in public.

So there’s this confusion about “nigger”, and the inevitable question, “Why’s it okay for you to say it, and not me?” as if it’s a privilege of sorts that we are refusing to share. Let’s break it down.

Yes, white people, it is offensive when you say it. 

I hope you’ll have noticed by now that I have said the word “nigger” and not “the N word” more than once in this article, and that’s because it’s not a spooky word. There’s nothing mystical about it.

But there’s a simple and solid reason that black people don’t take well to your use of the word ‘nigger’: You don’t share in the experiences of black Americans, and people have the right to define their own experiences. 

For example, sometimes I write about LGBT issues, but I don’t write from a position of being able to speak for a gay person. I don’t pretend I’m in that experience. I certainly don’t use words like “faggot” or “dyke” outside of the context that I just did, which is simply saying them, because those are words that have been used to harm the LGBT community.

For example, sometimes I write about LGBT issues, but I don’t write from a position of being able to speak for a gay person. I don’t pretend I’m in that experience.

If at some point, they decide that they would like to re-purpose those words and wring a new meaning from them, then that’s fine, but it still doesn’t make it okay for me to indiscriminately use them, given that I do not share in their experience.

The same is true for black people. This also explains why in certain cases, people believe that it’s okay for white, Chinese, or Hispanic people to use “nigger”, because they perceive certain individuals as having similar experiences that allow them to “enter” a community.

“Nigger” has been used for centuries to denigrate black people, so the reason I “get to” say it is that I get to decide what it means.

That is where black people take their power from, the repositioning of a weapon used to harm them into a tool for social cohesion, describing their own experience, and sapping it of its power.

So the next time you ask, “Why can black people use the word ‘nigger’ and I can’t?”, just bear in mind that what you’re really asking is, “Why don’t I get to define someone else’s experience?”

And then ask yourself if that’s really the kind of question you want to be seen asking.

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Kim Davis Is Closer To The Bible Than You Think

Now there's a face that screams, "I enjoy Jesus, apple pie, and sending homos to hell."
Now there’s a face that screams, “I enjoy Jesus, knitting, and sending homos to hell.”

As cool as it might be to hate on Kim Davis at the moment (the thing I read about in R.L. Stine’s The Blob That Ate Everything Including Other People’s Civil Rights), it would behoove Christians to think about why that is. In response to this story, there has not just been outrage from the LGBT community, to whom the rights are being denied, nor solely from the secular community, who would see an appalling lack of separation of church and state, but from the Christian community as well.

Aside from the fact that she is the physical embodiment of an apple pie connoisseur, why is it not just the secular or gay communities that have a problem with what she is doing? Why would progressive Christians have a problem with Kim Davis invoking her god’s authority to deny LGBT people their marriage licenses?

Here’s the good news: It’s because they are moral people. What progressive Christians are responding to is that they hold the core belief that you cannot use your beliefs to override someone else’s rights.

Here’s the bad news: Kim Davis is probably more right than they are about the Bible. Using your personal beliefs to override the rights of others is kind of what the Bible is about.

According to Numbers 14:6-9, Joshua stands up to address the people of Israel to let them know that the land they scoped out was really choice real estate, and I’m sure that had nothing to do with what he said next.

If the Lord delight in us, then he will bring us into this land, and give it us; a land which floweth with milk and honey.

Only rebel not ye against the Lord, neither fear ye the people of the land; for they are bread for us: their defence is departed from them, and the Lord is with us: fear them not. (Numbers 14:8,9)

Joshua is saying that his god’s authority trumps the human rights of the people already living on that land. He promises the Israelites that they can take that land because God is with them.

Aaaaannd..here is Kim Davis declaring the source of her authority to deny these marriage licenses.

Might a similar conversation not have happened between Joshua and the members of the lands he pillaged?

Canaanites: “Under what authority do you claim these lands?”

Joshua: “Under God’s authority.”

I hate to be that guy, but unfortunately, Kim Davis didn’t get her ideas from nowhere, and it seems that if Christians worship a tradition in which it’s okay to slaughter people if the Lord is with you, then denying a marriage license probably shouldn’t be that big of a deal.

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The Supreme Court decision reflects our country’s values

I can remember my school holding a forum on LGBT students right around last year and I wrote a pretty long piece about reactions to it. (Forgive the religious rhetoric, I wasn’t quite “out” at the moment of writing that piece). I remember helping produce the LGBT edition of the school newspaper (which I lovingly call The Rainbow Edition, for Dakota.) And I remember talking to a church leader about a problematic textbook demonizing “homosexuals”.

None of those were monumental, but incremental. Simply small things so that in my own way, I could contribute something to the life of another. It reminds me of the closing words of The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant: “And such was the sound that the chorus made together that to have been a part of it at all was enough for me.”

I like to think we all won a little bit today.

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Learning to Love Pt. 2 – Discernment

Copy of the LGBT issue of The Student Movement, the Andrews University Newspaper
Copy of The Rainbow Edition of The Student Movement, the Andrews University Newspaper

Be Good

In the beginning, there was God. And then He decided to create a world full of flyers and walkers and swimmers. The sun, moon and stars – the G-man just decided to bring these marvelous wonders into being. On the sixth day, He made man and woman in His image and gave them free run of the place.  Unfortunately, there was a snake involved, and that’s where things got complicated. But let’s go back to that original situation. God, who had to be existing for at least a billion million years before the creation of the earth, gives Adam and Eve – essentially man-and-woman-babies compared to Him – complete dominion of the earth: the flyers, the walkers, and the swimmers. He gave a couple of teenagers the keys to the Ferrari. While undocumented in this specific story, I’m willing to bet that what He told them mirrors what He said 2,000 years later in front of the multitudes in Matthew 5:48:

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

This is what I imagine the God of the universe told Adam and Eve – those lovely, scantily clad kids – that warm summer day. This is what I imagine God’s conception of us is – one that is infinitely higher than our conception of ourselves. When God handed Adam and Eve the keys to that never-been-touched, green and blue Ferrari called Earth, I imagine that He said something like the verse above, which I paraphrase as the following:

“Be good.”

That’s the message that I take from that verse. It shows that Jesus clearly isn’t interested in micromanaging the minutiae of everything you do, in much the same way as my mother has yet to provide an exhaustive list of things I can’t do in a restaurant when I’m with her. However, I’m pretty sure swallowing escargot whole off a passing waiter’s tray is off-limits. This points to a very important issue in the Bible and a crucial skill when talking about LGBTQ issues – discernment.

Camp Counselor God

Because I’ve worked at camp for several years, I can see a lot of similarities between God and a camp counselor. While some might find the comparison blasphemous or sacrilegious, I’m down for anything that helps you understand God in a real way, or something that can help you apply the Bible’s lessons to real life, which, as I understand it, is the goal of many in the Church already. So let me tell you a story.

Being a counselor means that you are going to forge long-lasting connections with some of those kids, and they may remember Counselor “So and So” for the rest of their lives. But no matter how seriously you take this responsibility, mistakes will be made. Here’s the first mistake you will make as a summer camp counselor. The first mistake you will make is to assume. You will assume that the children have the most basic understanding of what to do and what not to do. You will assume that they have a rudimentary grasp of what is and is not permissible. You will, no matter their age, assume that there are certain unspoken agreements between you and your disciples, and that you all know the vague boundaries of that sphere of acceptable comportment. And you will be so very, very wrong.

If you thought it was acceptable to stay between 8 and 12 on your scale of acceptable behavior, your cabin will immediately do something that is a 2 or a 15. Not only will they blatantly and vigorously cross the lines that you considered unspoken but reasonably well-defined, but they will appear to, before your very eyes, create new lines and cross those. You will have a child look you directly in the eyes and tell you that they didn’t know that it wasn’t okay to push Jimmy into the pile of horse dung, as that was not properly articulated. What you will realize is that the things that the children do are either A) Something that you thought that they would not do and therefore did not make a rule about it, or B) Something that you could not conceive of another person doing at any point in time, therefore you were unable to make a rule about it. In either case, you’ll realize that the children were right. Justified? Perhaps not. But they were right about your failure to properly articulate the rules.

This is how I imagine God. Our beautiful and most loving Father has the highest possible opinion of His creation. He gives us access to what He truly loves, other than us, and trusts that we have the discernment to know what to do with it. Once again, this is not meant to be sacrilegious, but if we accept the idea that this world is not as God intended it to be (which most Christians do), then it wouldn’t be that much further to understand that at some point maybe some things happened that God didn’t think of. The Bible paints a picture of God as our Heavenly Father, which, by definition, would make us His children. And if there’s anything that I know about children, it’s that they are infinitely surprising.

Bottom line: We’ve long since crashed the Ferrari.

I like to think that God thought that “Be good” was a sufficient commandment. After all, He made us in His image, and He’s good, so being good should be a piece of cake for us. All the stuff in the Garden of Eden was either “good” or “very good”, so He must’ve assumed that we were at least half as talented at judging the quality of things as He was. Just like the camp counselor, He assumed that we were more developed in our moral reasoning than we were, probably because He is so advanced. But as I mentioned before, there was a snake, we got confused, and things got a lot more complicated.

Now, we could write off God’s actions and His faith in us as misguided, but I think that God deserves way more credit than that. I think that along with the commandment to be good came the knowledge of what was good. I don’t think that God gave us the commandment knowing that we were incapable of fulfilling it. But once we found out what evil was, we started to mix the two, and had a much harder time deciding what was good and what was bad. But God has an extraordinary gift for hope, and He hasn’t given up. Besides, He knows that He basically implanted everyone with their own personal Jiminy Cricket, or, as some like to call it, a conscience. God knows that even in our fallen state, we can understand what is good, what’s right, what’s of Him.

So what happened after the Garden and the downfall of man? Well, we as humanity went on to do some awful stuff. So awful, apparently, that God sent a worldwide flood to clean it up. Following that, we were slaves for a really long time until this cool dude named Moses asked God to part seas and other crazy stuff. And after all the chaos of living in Egypt and His previous experience with our lack of discernment, it became clear to God that “Be good” wasn’t cutting it, and that we clearly needed some more guidelines. So He gave us ten of them. Unfortunately, the more rules you give, the more room for loopholes and legalism there is, the argument justifying behavior being that you have not given an exhaustive list. This leads to gross infringements of the law based on the technicality of its reading, which we’ll see later on.

The LGBT Conversation

My point is this: I believe that God has given us all that we need to solve the complex problem of how to interact with the LGBTQ community as a Church, and I think He thinks so, too. Unsurprisingly, it’s the same way that we should interact with any community – with love, compassion, and genuine friendship.

Matthew 22 tells the story of Jesus condensing the list of rules. I can almost sense His frustration with the human race. In the beginning He says, “Be fruitful and multiply.” (Gen 1:22) But because of the fall of man, what we ended up multiplying were imperfect people who had forgotten what was good. God tries to help us out by giving us the Ten Commandments, but by the time we get to the New Testament, people are asking Jesus questions like “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” (Matt 22:36) And here Jesus simplifies the list even further to two commandments, saying His famous lines, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the prophets.”

The reason that Jesus’s exchange here is so significant is because these weren’t suggestions. There are plenty of things that I’m sure Jesus was like “Yeah, you should do this” about, but this was not one of them. From the line “All the Law and prophets…”, we can see that, in Jesus’s opinion, these are the only things you need to do.

Furthermore, I know from various conversations I’ve had that the main trepidation in loving or accepting LGBTQ people in our churches is that based on the Bible, homosexuality is a sin (Sidenote: These conversations always center on homosexuality, possibly because our Church isn’t even close to being ready to deal with all the other letters.) But the Bible has some good words to say about discernment in Hebrews 5:12-14:

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

What these verses are saying is that it’s time to grow up. Using our reason is not something to be frowned upon. The process of “cherry-picking”, as some call it, is the process of constantly analyzing our beliefs and interpretations of the Bible. It’s about intelligently reading and applying the Bible to our lives and choosing the parts that help us love God and love each other better. So when you’re frustrated, trying to reconcile what you read about homosexuality in the Bible with real-world context, think: “How will this bring me closer to God? How will this bring me closer to my brother or sister?” If you can’t figure out how a belief is doing either of those, you need to reassess.

This is why “Because the Bible said so” isn’t good enough for me in general, but certainly not in the context of our Church and LGBTQ people. Blind adherence to the Bible is not for the spiritually mature; it is one of two things. Either it is used as a mask to justify sneaky forms of bigotry, or it is for people not willing to be robust enough in their spirituality to create meaning from what they read, and to actually apply what the Bible has to say to the context of their lives. The Bible, while a beautiful book, is also littered with its authors’ interpretations, prejudices, and concerns, and we should be mindful of that when trying to shoehorn what appears to be doctrine from its pages into our everyday lives.

The saddest thing to God, and one of Jesus’s main concerns was not people that didn’t believe in God, but those that did believe thinking that that gave them a privileged position. They believed that their mission was to better the world, when the only way to do that in the first place was to better themselves. In His prayer for His disciples, Jesus says, “I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours.” (John 17:9)

God’s biggest wish for us has never been that we might change the world, but instead that we might change ourselves. His most ardent desire for us is articulated in Jesus’s prayer that we could be ready for the world. That we might have wisdom and peace. And that we might have discernment for the tough issues of today, and the unseen challenges of tomorrow. Personally, I think that God believes that He’s given us enough to work with, that He’s given us a glorious sense of right and wrong, despite our circumstances, and possibly even despite what the Bible says. When it comes to the way that we treat LGBTQ people as a Church – how we actually treat them and how we should treat them – I think that Jesus’s commandment was enough:

Be good.


Comment of the Week goes to Rufus for this thought-provoking gem. Thanks for commenting, Rufus! Rufus LGBT Article Comment Feel free to comment below!

Learning to Love: The LGBT/Church Intersection

Copy of the LGBT issue of The Student Movement, the Andrews University Newspaper
Copy of The Rainbow Edition of The Student Movement, the Andrews University Newspaper

I’ve recently seen opinions expressed on this matter, and I thought that I should say something about it. Not because I’m some vigilante, but because I think it’s important for people of the Church to pay attention to how we treat gay people; it is the defining issue of our Church today. I am a straight black male, so I don’t have any “legitimate reason” for being heavily invested in this issue.

Whenever you talk about things like this, people will ask if you’re gay, or if you have a family member that is, or something that will help them pinpoint why you care so much, but I think that it’s important to have people that care for the only reason that matters – because it’s the right thing to do.

History shows us that social change really takes place when people who can do without it stand up for it anyway. In his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, Martin Luther King Jr. said,

Our white brothers and sisters are here today because they have realized that their destiny is intertwined with our destiny.

Whites marching on Washington with blacks, men standing up for the rights of women, and Civil Rights Leaders pushing forward for rights that they would never see come to fruition – these are examples of people that helped not because they had to, not because they needed it, but because it was right. So that’s why I’m doing this.

My school, Andrews University, is a Seventh-day Adventist school, which means that it fits into a nice subset of Protestantism. We’re defined mostly by our deep respect for the Sabbath (Saturday), our holy day, and our insistence on the imminent return of Jesus Christ. We’re not crazy people; we eat haystacks, go for hikes on the weekend, and occasionally attend prayer meeting with our best friends during the week to recharge. It’s a wonderful community, like a family, but like every family, we have our touchy spots. And the biggest one that we have is homosexuality.

This is largely a formal response to a blog written by Tawanna Persaud concerning the LGBT forum that my school held a couple of weeks ago. But in a broader sense, this is a formal response to the many conversations that I’ve heard and had since, concerning the LGBT community and how the Church is to interact with it. Like many issues in our Church, so much wisdom can be gained from looking back at how Jesus really lived, and the kinds of things that were really important to Him. So here it is – the true, present day value of the gospel, and the life that Jesus lived.

Living like Jesus

One of the most common desires within our church is to live life as Jesus did. You hear that all the time. If you’re a 90s kid like me, you might remember hearing WWJD, “What would Jesus do?” I’d like to apply this kind of philosophy to the LGBT community in today’s culture by talking about the way that Jesus really lived. I really want to emphasize as we proceed that we are talking about real, true to life, flesh and blood people here. Even though I may use words like ‘philosophy’ and ‘issue’ from time to time, I don’t want to lose sight of the fact that what we’re talking about is not a ‘what’, but a ‘who’. In that spirit, we can proceed.

Persaud’s major objection to the forum was that Andrews University held it and they did not once during it re-assert the Church’s well-known position on homosexuality. In her blog, Persaud says, “Always reiterate, as sensibly as possible, that it [homosexuality] is wrong.” In response, I’d like to take a look at the life that Jesus lived, and I want to start at how Jesus felt about rules.

The first thing you have to realize about Jesus is that He’s way cooler than the stuff that you’ve heard about Him. As pastor Rob Bell would put it, “The good news is better than that.” There are a lot of ways that this is true, but the first is that He’s nowhere near as picky as you might have been told. He’s not picky as it concerns people – there are not many qualifications for His Salvation Army. You don’t have to be the best, the cleverest, or the strongest to roll with Jesus. He’s also not terribly picky with rules, and thank God for that.

Jesus was always ready to show the people of His day that rules were subservient to love. This didn’t mean that Jesus was amoral, and it didn’t mean that He had no respect for rules or traditions, but when the rubber met the road, Jesus was a man who was “moved with compassion”, rules be damned. (Matthew 9:36; Matthew 14:14; Mark 1:41) We can see this in multiple instances. If your sheep fell in a ditch on the Sabbath, Jesus would say, “Get it out.” (Matthew 12:11) Jesus healed a blind man on the Sabbath because He was much more concerned with the healing the man needed than when that healing took place. (John 9) In defending His disciples’ disregard for laws of cleanliness, He responded to the Pharisees and Sadducees saying, “Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.” (Matthew 15:11)

Jesus is very concerned with the way that we treat one another, and what we say about each other. When we treat people like issues, when someone has a lifestyle instead of a life, or when we insinuate that their lifestyle is one pockmarked by debauchery and lecherous behavior simply because we don’t understand it, I believe that our words matter to Jesus, and I have a feeling that He might have some strong words for the way that we denigrate what some may call abominable “behavior”.

And while we’re talking about rules, I’d like to speak directly to someone that I know is reading this. I want to speak to the kind of person who is a devout Christian, who is well-acquainted with their Bible, has a deep love for the Church in their heart, and is thoroughly able to engage with the world and the culture they live in. But they have a dilemma.

I feel for this person, because right now, they are having one of the most intense psychological struggles of their lives. When they read their Bible, they read very unequivocally phrased verses like Leviticus 18:22, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman.” They have LGBT friends and family members, and they’re trying desperately to balance their belief in the divinely inspired Word of God with the real people they see in front of them every single day.

To that person, I say that I can’t tell them how to live their life, but I can tell them what Jesus did. Jesus always chose people. He chose them over theory. He chose them over customs. He chose them over doctrines. Because one thing that Jesus seemed to have a firm grasp on was this: If we can see that our doctrines, or even certain Biblical passages, are hurting people, then either the doctrine must be challenged, or our execution of it must be.

Any unwillingness to reassess beliefs in light of context or current culture is either a lack of critical judgment or moral empathy, and both are unacceptable. This doesn’t promote a sense of moral relativism, and it doesn’t support a “Do whatever you want under grace” kind of mentality; it supports the idea of present truth – the idea that there may be more truth to be found tomorrow than we know today, and more importantly, that we may find along the way that we must relinquish previously held beliefs. If we refuse to do this, we risk becoming exactly like the religious rulers of Jesus’s day that He had so much to say about.

Jesus had many a strong word for the religious people of His day, and one thing that consistently surprises me through my conversations with varying types of Christians is the large disconnect between the past and the present. When reading passages about the disciples misunderstanding Jesus, people will ridicule them for their misunderstandings. After seeing passages about how the Pharisees and Sadducees continually miss the point of Jesus’s teachings, people will mock them and say that they had no idea what Jesus was really about, with the insinuation that we do.

What this view fails to take into account is that if we apply Biblical truths to our present, everyday lives, we have to realize that we are the people that Jesus is calling hypocrites, and that the harsh words that he had for the religious people of His day apply to us, the religious people of our day. The metaphors of dirty cups or of whitewashed sepulchers, which are clean on the outside but rotting within, are not made by accident. Jesus consistently makes it clear that those of us who dare call ourselves church people, those of us who have “the truth”, and those of us with a fervent desire to act on The Great Commission had better be well aware that we are held to a different standard. Being a ‘peculiar people’ has costs (1 Peter 2:9), and we should know what they are before we assume any role of leadership in the name of God.

The way I see it, in our church culture, we have shifted from a position based on loving to a position based on believing. I don’t know when it happened, but somewhere along the way, we seem to have accepted the idea that it was better to hold on to a belief or a conviction than to relinquish it, for any reason. Belief is so emphasized in our churches that love sometimes feels, at least to me, like an afterthought. We talk about how there will be a day where people will challenge our beliefs and make us worship as they do, and we talk about standing firm for your beliefs in the waves of a culture with no respect for tradition or doctrine. Unfortunately, many of us can bear in mind that in the future, we will be challenged and threatened by men for what we believe, but fail to remember that in the end, we will be judged by God Himself for the way that we have loved. In Persaud’s blog, she says,

“It is also our Christian duty to be definite and clear and precise on what we stand for.”

However, this idea of standing firm is not always something associated with people that are on the right course. Actually, some of the people that we know as villains in the Bible, or at the very best, misguided, were people that ‘stood firm’ in their beliefs, even to the detriment of others. It’s always a question worth asking whether you are more like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, standing up for what is right in the midst of bad examples; or like the Pharaoh of Egypt, with his heart hardened against God. One is truly standing for God, and the other is too concerned with being right to submit.

Jesus showed that He was very cool with people not always ‘having it right’. The disciples not washing their hands, or even the Roman centurion (Matthew 8:5-13), who would not have even believed in the same God as the Jews, did not trouble Jesus in the least. In fact, He makes it clear that being right is not a big deal at all to Him, but how we treat each other means everything. Being right is something that the scribes and Pharisees knew how to do super well, and Jesus knew it. He says, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.” (Matthew 23:23)

He also says: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.” (Matthew 23:13) These passages show what Jesus has to say about us, that we are neglecting the things that really matter, the people that really matter, and that we’re making it so very difficult for many to enter His magnificent kingdom.

Another thing that Jesus was very interested in, arguably more than anything else, was the constant widening of the circle of inclusion for God’s family. He was always complicating people’s notions of “who’s in” and “who’s out” with his tax collectors, prostitutes, Samaritans, Roman centurions, thieves, lepers, invalids, children, and dirty, uneducated disciples. What makes us believe that Jesus is not still constantly pushing us so that we can realize a love without limits? What makes us think that Jesus has stopped trying to constantly push more people into our circle, His circle? His lessons are still relevant as He continually expands the definition of people that we deem acceptable, just to let us know that we are all His children.

 The last objection that I want to take care of is in this quote from Persaud’s blog: “It is a disservice against God’s character that we always highlight his mercy and not his justice.”

This one is simple, because my God did not ask me to emphasize either of those things. He asked me to emphasize His love. Jesus said: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:34-40) This also gets rid of the ever-present “Love the sinner; hate the sin” mantra, because Jesus is asking us to love God and to love one another, and says that that encapsulates perfectly everything that is our responsibility to do.

I went to the LGBT forum. I sat for an hour and a half, listening to stories of how LGBT people have been discriminated against, by the Church and by the world. I heard how they’ve been treated by their families, and in some cases, how they’ve tried to commit suicide because of what someone told them they were – an abomination. In some cases, this belief was internalized, meaning that an individual that was made in Imago Dei, the image of God, actually came to believe that they were an abomination, or some aberrant piece of God’s design. Some spent years wishing that they could change who they were, and tried to as well. If you were sitting in the same forum as I was, if you were exposed to the same people I was, and you were not “moved with compassion”, and what you took from that was disappointment that the Church did not reinforce their position on the LGBT community, then you need much more help than any of the people that I listened to.

My Christ did not die so that I could overlook pain and suffering in His name.

Given all that I know about the life that Jesus lived and the life that He came to give to us “more abundantly” (John 10:10), I can’t think that He would treat people the way that I’ve seen the LGBT community treated, as a whole, by our church. And when I say “the way that LGBT people are treated by our church”, I should explain myself. I was the News Editor at my school for the past year, and shortly prior to the LGBT forum, we ran an issue dedicated to the LGBT – Church conversation, pictured above. Without going into too much detail, suffice it to say that there are things that did not make it into that issue. Furthermore, there were two anonymous LGBT contributors, contrary to our usual “no anonymous sources” policy on the newspaper. Personally, I think that this says something about the way that LGBT people are treated by our religious institutions, but even if it doesn’t, it is a glaring statement about how these people think that others feel about them. How they think we feel about them. If at an Adventist university, surrounded by people professing to manifest the love of Christ in their everyday lives, LGBT people don’t always feel safe or comfortable identifying themselves, we are doing something wrong.

I can’t see myself getting to heaven and Jesus commending me for sticking to my guns when there were people that needed my help. I can’t imagine Him praising me for my tight grip on doctrine while turning away the spiritually starving that are beating a path to my door. And if He did, if that’s really the kind of God that is waiting for me wherever we go when we die, then He and I are going to have an awkward conversation when I get there.  The God that I believe in tells me that I should love, truly love people, and that I don’t need a shred of exegetical proof to. He tells me that everyone is wonderfully and fearfully made, and that I can’t use Him to mask my prejudice or lack of desire to love who He told me to love.

I am not now, nor have I ever been able to speak for Jesus, but if you want to live like Him, you have to follow what He said. And He said that the law, which contains both His mercy and His justice, and the prophets hang on those two commandments. Jesus cares about mercy and He cares about justice, but what He cares about above everything is you. And if we followed that example, if the thing foremost in our minds was our brothers and sisters; if we treated every person as a treasure instead of as an issue or a problem; in short, if we could see every person as God sees them – as an individual of infinite value – this world would be a much kinder, more accepting, and loving place. And if we are to be followers of Jesus, ambassadors of Christ, we must remember that we are the people charged with the responsibility to make it so.

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