Please note, I’m using the term homophobic to indicate bias against sexual minorities; the terms heterosexism (bias against non-heterosexual persons) and genderism (attitudes, conditions, or behaviors that promote stereotyping of social roles based on gender – including bias against gender nonconforming, transgender, genderfluid, and third/fourth gender persons) seem more accurate but in my experience a general audience isn’t always familiar these terms.
I was already thinking about the church as an agent of social change when I read Denise Oliver Velez’s post at DailyKos.
None of us—meaning people of color—can fix you. The only person who can begin to right these wrongs is you. Most of us don’t live in your neighborhoods, nor do we work with you, or even go to school with you. Most of us aren’t married to you. Most of you have white children, parents, in-laws, cousins and co-workers.
Few of you get up each morning and say as you look in the mirror while you brush your teeth, “Today, I’m going out to do battle against racism.” You aren’t driven by that, your whole life is not shaped by being the wrong color, and though you may get outraged from time to time, when reminded by the more heinous offenses against us, it isn’t your rallying cry. You expect us to lead the various poc civil rights movements from our own segregated spaces and you’ll join in from time to time, or perhaps make a donation to “our” worthy causes. You don’t wake up in the morning each day and say to yourselves—I have white privilege, and that’s not alright.
You still go to family celebrations with racists. When at gatherings with none of us present rarely do you confront others there with you about their racism. What makes it harder is that you rarely look at your own unconscious acceptance of a world that allows racism and privilege to fester, boil and erupt.
Last week, I was the Art Of Hosting for faith communities. The question of hosting in culturally competent ways came up. What does it mean to host conversations in a racially diverse community? How do we work across cultural lines? Can the church which has for so long been a perpetrator of racism, sexism, homophobia and other biases and bigotries become an agent of positive transformation?
During the week at Art of Hosting, one participant asked how you host a meeting at which sexual minorities are seated next to people who think simply being who they (glbt persons) are is a sin. The same question can be asked about women and their roles in the church – how do you host a meeting when ordained women are seated at a table with people who believe women should not be ordained? How can a person of color belong to a church which has a long history of racism? During the 2012 election, more than a few people wondered how anyone who is African American could belong to the Mormon church given it’s history of overt racism and its complete and deliberate silence on the issue of its own history of racism.
For progressives in faith communities, these are not trivial concerns or questions. A great many liberal people left the church long ago. Those of us left have our work cut out for us. In the minds of many Americans, the church exists to defend yesterday’s biases, it is a force in society whose primary role seems to be shouting “Dear God no! Anything but progress!” The public face of Christianity is far too often grimacing in anger. If Christianity is losing its influence in society, it has no one to blame but itself.
Hate and bigotry have hidden behind the mask of religion for a very long time. And religion is at long last paying the price.
If religious progressives wish to preserve the church we must work to guarantee it becomes a truly inclusive organization. We must move it into the vanguard of social change so that it becomes a dynamic, anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-homophobic institution. What would it mean if Christian churches at the local, regional and national level were recognized as primary movers in favor of a more inclusive society, in favor of multiplicity in society? What if the church and its leaders were known as eloquent and available speakers on issues of inclusion? I’m not excluding A2A or social/economic class or agism from the concerns of the church.
As a member of the Executive Council (EC) of the United Church of Christ, I am excited to be part of a national governing body that has done its best to speak for and include all persons. We will make mistakes, but mistakes of good faith not malice or malign intent. We will be imperfect. That is not a sin. The EC takes seriously the creation of a multi-racial, inter-generational church in which the gifts of men, women, glbt persons, persons with physical disabilities and of all classes are welcomed and celebrated.
What if, rather than simply creating such a church, we were to set about becoming an agent of inclusion in all of society. We will play a prophetic role not simply by living it out but by proclaiming it for all to hear. What if a community – any community – knew it could turn to its local United Church of Christ congregation as an agent of racial reconciliation or a voice for gender justice? There are no easy answers, there are many complex questions. I believe the church should possess the profound moral leadership to combat racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, ageism, faithism, classism, and genderism.
We – as members of churches – have a lot of work to do. We need to equip ourselves with both the tools and self-confidence to confront bias and bigotry. We will face difficult times, we will find ourselves in conflict so we should prepare for that as well. We need to hone our skills at hosting community discussion and dialogue; we should prepare ourselves to speak publicly and persuasively against racism, sexism, and homophobia; that means we should have skillful talking points ready as needed. And we need to know how to love those whose and words and actions are very often far from lovable. I’m not sure I can do it. But I don’t have a choice. When the angel appears to Mary, the angel tells her to “fear not.” We as Christians can do our best, I will do my best.
I believe the Christian church is at a time of choosing between the good and the nice. We can be good or we can be nice but not both.