Of Course You See Color When Looking at People—or at Least You Should

joining-hands

Every time I hear a white person tell me that they “don’t see color”, I know that they’re likely either lying or kidding themselves. 

I try very hard to see color every day—and gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and every other distinction of the people who cross my path, because those things are important. I need to see theses things so that I can truly see them, so that my understanding will stretch beyond its current capacity, so that I will be able to consider a story different than the one I have.

We’ve been led to believe that the goal of equality is to somehow make these differences in people disappear—yet in reality we need to be profoundly aware of them and to recognize them as beautiful and valuable and necessary. The virtue is not in ignoring our various distinctions but in celebrating them; not in pretending as though they don’t exist, but in believing that their existence makes us a better version of Humanity, as we live together in community. 

I used to think that the measurement of my evolution as a proper progressive cisgender white guy was the ability to “look past” race, but I’ve come to understand that this too was a reflection of my privilege, because it assumed that people of color (or any other marginalized group) had as easy I road as I’d had, and the luxury of such options. When your specifications form the baseline of what you come to believe as “normal,” that can happen. This blindness in me also assumed that people of color would somehow not want their heritage fully acknowledged and celebrated.

For a white person to say that he or she doesn’t see race or difference, is to trivialize the experiences of people of color, to render their specific stories unimportant, to imagine that injustice is not a daily experience and that we have nothing to learn in that regard. To seek true diversity is to become a willing student of the lives of other people and this can only happen when we step into the very different space others occupy—and listen.

Throughout history, marginalized groups fighting for justice have not been asking to be made invisible or tolerated in anonymity by those with power or advantage, but to be fully seen and fully acknowledged without censoring. In light of this, the very worthy aspiration of loving others as we desire to be loved, is still inferior to loving others as they desire to be loved; in not merely assuming they need what we need, but asking them what love looks like to them and responding.  

Yes, there is much about us that is universal: the desire to be heard and known, the need to be loved and to love, the joy of finding our place and calling, and the need to live into these without restraint. Championing equality is to see every person as fully deserving of such things, and to work so that each can pursue them with as little obstacle as possible from both without and within. It is the steadfast belief in a consistent inherent value of people.

But our distinctions of race, gender, orientation, and place of origin all shape how easy or difficult it has been for us to claim these inherent needs, and they craft the specific lens through which we filter the world. The very specific intersection of our various differences alters how we individually have experienced life and the unique set of obstacles and difficulties we’ve had—and so we need to bring these all to bear as we build community, each being informed by one another.

The color of someone’s skin, their inclination to love, their gender identity, the culture of their upbringing, and every other facet of their humanity matters, because these all work in concert to compose the once-in-history expression of life they manifest. These things are the unique lines of their original stories. 

And as a person of faith, these distinctions all reveal the unlimited beauty of One who is the source of each of us, so this rich diversity is the very holy ground where God speaks. 

Bigotry doesn’t happen when we notice other people’s differences. It happens when we believe or act as if those differences make another less worthy of love or opportunity or compassion or respect.

See people.
See all of them.
That’s the only way you can really love them.
Love people well today.

 

 

Why Being LGBTQ IS “God’s Best” for LGBTQ People

PrayingMan

I was already thirty minutes into an ever-intensifying conversation with my then Senior Pastor, about the many LGBTQ students in our student ministry who were clearly becoming a source of mild discomfort for some concerned older folks in our community. After a frustrating half hour of evasive theological language, a good deal of hair-splitting semantics, and lots of vague non answers, I finally just laid it all out there:

“So, what exactly do you want me to say to these kids?” I asked.

He replied flatly, “Tell them that this is not God’s best for them.” 

I’d heard that phrase hundreds of times before; from pastors and Christian speakers, from church friends and parents in our community. I’d heard it so many times in fact, that it had become religious white noise that I barely noticed. Yet this time, in this very moment I suddenly realized that it didn’t ring true for me anymore. It was no longer a good enough response. It actually felt more like a lie—and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to say it to hurting kids any longer.

That was the day that I became a fully LGBTQ-affirming pastor, though it would take years to get up the nerve to admit it to myself, let alone to anyone else.

I’d already long ago wrestled through the “clobber passages” in the Bible regarding homosexuality and had come to the conclusion that they had no relevance to a modern understanding of gender identity or sexual orientation; nothing of consequence to say about the inherent moral value of someone born LGBTQ. Now though, I started to recognize the way the Church was damaging young people in the gay community, even while using language that on the surface appeared compassionate and tolerant. As that great poet James Brown used to say: Like a dull knife, you just ain’t cuttin’. You’re takin’ loud, not sayin’ nothin’. 

Telling someone that their identity and orientation are “not God’s best for them” is really a clever cop-out; an attempt to seem both benevolent and firm, kind but faithful, sinner-loving but sin-despising. 

In reality though the phrase smacks of laziness, allowing the speaker to:
– avoid engaging the Scriptures thoroughly and thoughtfully regarding complex matters of sexuality.
– ignore what Science has been speaking clearly to us on these matters.
– sidestep what a practical working out of the statement really means as it relates to things like ministry involvement and open, committed relationships for LGBTQ Christians in the Church.

In other words, those who are saying this phrase to and of the LGBTQ community don’t usually mean that these people are living a life that is less than God intends for them (because this is impossible to determine), it means that they are not willing to fully welcome these folks in their churches without eventual change. It is ultimately a devaluing of people disguised as affirmation: “I believe God wants better for you, and I will demand that you ultimately agree with me in order for you to remain here in good standing.”

Telling any human being that something fundamental and involuntary about them is not God’s best for them, leaves them in the tragic position of believing that they themselves are inherently less-than. It births a lifetime of self-loathing and guilt that suffocates a soul rather than giving it life. It makes people feel alienated from the rest of the faith community (who, curiously already apparently have God’s best).

The logical follow-through to such a position is to ask LGBTQ people to change (however that is supposed to work) or to be celibate; to live a life without intimacy and companionship and the deepest connections with another. I don’t believe those are things we can impose on other people.

Jesus speaks in Scripture that he comes so that we can have an experience of “abundant life”, but he doesn’t succinctly describe what that looks like, and we would be foolish to determine his meaning for anyone else. God works in and around and through people as God desires, and this is never our jurisdiction.

Here’s what I do know about “God’s best” for people:

God’s best for people is not isolation or denial or exclusion or conditional acceptance.

God’s best for people is authenticity; the truest truth about who they are.
God’s best for people is being free to love and be loved, to know and be known, to care and be cared for.
God’s best for people is them recognizing they bear the very likeness of God.
God’s best for people is being allowed to spend a lifetime alongside someone they love.
God’s best for people is being able to participate fully in the life of the greater Church and the local church of their choosing.
God’s best for people is them realizing that they are inherently good because that is their default condition.
God’s best for people is to not have to continually overcome Christians just to get to Jesus. 

It’s the height of arrogance to assume that the manner in which someone loves is up for another’s debate. I’ll never tell an LGBTQ person that their gender identity or sexual orientation are not God’s best for them, because I simply do not believe that to be at all true.

And I trust that the God who made them—already knows what is best for them and speaks more clearly to them on these matters than to anyone else.

As for me, it is enough in my lifetime to devote my energies to determining what God’s best is for me—and if I am to believe Jesus, it all starts and ends with loving all people as I desire to be loved. 

Go and do likewise.

Why Keeping Bad Guys Out of Girl’s Bathrooms, isn’t What’s Going on Here

unique-bathroom-stalls

How did I become the bad guy because I don’t want guys in the bathroom with my daughters and their friends. Just pee in the damn bathroom your supposed to!

This Facebook post showed up in my news feed this morning from a friend, who I absolutely do consider a good guy. It was liked and commented on favorably by many Christian folks I currently or once considered friends. I think it is indicative of sentiments I see shared frequently in the Church and by those sharing my faith these days. 

Here was my response to the folks on that thread and those reading this who have similar feelings:

1) No sane, decent, loving fathers want guys in the bathroom with their daughters. Making these claims is setting up battle lines that don’t exist and creating a false good vs. evil delineation to make ourselves feel better. It’s claiming some manufactured moral high ground that simply isn’t present.

2) We straight folk have all been using the public bathroom with LGBTQ people for our entire lives and most of us have never had an issue, (and definitely not one this bill addresses). We will all continue to use the bathroom with LGBTQ people going forward. The idea that we now won’t, or that this will somehow keep our daughters safer is simply misinformation and fear-peddling to justify a conclusion. It’s a false victory based on a nonexistent threat, which the Church and politicians specialize in.

3) HB2 and similar legislation have nothing to do with keeping men out of women’s restroom facilities and so much to do with businesses being allowed to discriminate based on gender identity and sexual orientation. The heart of these bills is about giving license to refuse service to individuals and to keep those individuals from legally disputing this refusal. Heterosexual men who disobey laws to assault women won’t have any more grounds to do so regardless whether or not these laws are passed.

4) If said straight men could be trusted not to do bad things to women, we wouldn’t be having any of these conversations. As a Christian I’m disappointed that we aren’t talking about that in our churches and on campaign trails, or making bold public statements about that. I’m profoundly saddened that high-profile evangelists and pastors aren’t facing this real monster with the same sustained ferocity they attack an imagined one with.

Women are in exponentially higher danger of being sexually assaulted by a boyfriend, spouse, or a classmate, and children at home by a relative or family friend, than by a stranger in a bathroom—and it isn’t even close.

5) A cisgender white male saying to a Transgender person, “Just pee in the damn bathroom your supposed to”, is one of the least helpful and least compassionate responses one can utter, and exposes a startling lack of knowledge on that matter. These individuals feel an internal brain disconnection with their physical anatomy. To be Transgender is to not feel accurately represented in the gender you were assigned at birth. It is about someone’s personal sense of being, so “peeing where they are supposed to” is exactly what they are trying to do here.

Google the phrase “white privilege” and you’ll see why this statement is an issue in itself.

6) Unless we’re all going to show our birth certificates at public restrooms, nothing about HB2 or similar legislation has any relevance at all with regard to public safety in the bathroom—not to mention completely unenforceable. This is a non-issue. It’s Don Quixote’s windmills. It’s the worst kind of distraction because it pretends to solve nonexistent problems that it wouldn’t address even if they did exist.

7) I don’t want bad guys in the bathroom with my daughter either. I’ve just researched enough to know that nothing about this legislation has any bearing on that desire. I’ve realized that the greatest danger to her isn’t the LGBTQ community or public restroom use, it’s cisgender guys who can’t control themselves wherever they are.

I know I can’t legislate the world so that she has no contact with these men at school, out shopping, at fraternities, at church, on band trips, at work, in relationships—those places where she is most in danger of being assaulted. All I can do is teach her, guide her, and try to create a less horrible world for her to walk into.

Like minded people on my friend’s thread shared a frustration that they are wrongly called “intolerant” by expressing the above views. It’s not intolerance that is the problem here, it’s education. It’s a lack of knowledge that we’re OK living with.

I think we’re always looking for a clear enemy and an easy solution. There just isn’t one here, and definitely not within these bills. HB2 is a bad decision made for the wrong reasons to solve a problem that didn’t exist. Too many people are all too willing to take the lazy hate bait because they’d rather not do the difficult work of reading and reflecting and wrestling with complex issues, and addressing matters if they become too complicated or time-consuming than is required to read a divisive meme. This is especially true when we believe our faith is somehow under attack.

If we want women to feel safe in the bathroom or anywhere else, we can’t legislate it so. We’ve got to ask more difficult questions and to face much more troublesome realities about who we are as a (predominantly heteronormative) society. 

This isn’t a battle for the safety of stalls for our young women, it’s a battle for the souls of our young men.

I told my friend that he’s not the bad guy and he’s not. The bad guys are straight guys who want to force their way upon women wherever they do this, those who stay silent in the face of them, and those who shut down efforts to call them out as the real problem—a problem a “bathroom bill” does absolutely nothing to address.

Unless we make this the main thing in these conversations, especially in the Church, I think we’re missing the point—and often times on purpose.

Trying really hard to be a good guy…

All the Gay Things (A Letter From a Tired, Defiant LGBTQ Ally)

RainbowMosaic

All you post about is gay things… Is there something that we need to know about you? Damn, enough is enough. We get it!!! Not everyone hates gay people!!!   – Tammy (a straight Christian, posted on my Facebook timeline)

Some days someone just crystallizes everything that you feel is wrong, in a neat, tidy little package. Tammy gave me such a gift yesterday.

In a small, compacted space, she managed to cram it all in: rudeness, privilege, arrogance, apathy, exaggeration—and a good old-fashioned cheap shot involving my sexuality.

Sadly, the content of Tammy’s message isn’t anything new to me. Two years ago a blog post called If I Have Gay Children went viral, and though I’d been a gay-affirming pastor for many years, by that afternoon I’d unexpectedly become an official, globally visible LGBTQ ally, with all that accompanies such a title:

Since then I’ve been attacked and berated daily by snarling Conservative Evangelicals, continually assuring me with great joy of my waiting, extra crispy little corner of Hell.

After losing my job, I’ve since lost a few hundred friends from my former churches, who have either unfriended or unfollowed me, or more often simply gone silent and disconnected from my life.

I’ve been perceived by some members of the extreme Left as using the gay community and having ulterior motives in my ministry.

I’ve been passed over by privately supportive but frightened mainstream Christian publishers for being too vocal on LGBTQ issues, and excluded from Progressive events by those questioning my heart for marginalized people.

And while I can’t honestly say that I love it all, I do gladly welcome it all because it helps me understand in even the smallest of ways what LGBTQ people face every single day and it daily clarifies my calling. It keeps me learning and keeps me focused.

There is nothing about any of the above that I don’t treasure, embrace, and fully rejoice in—and the reason is a response like Tammy’s. 

Her brazen, unsolicited, uninformed salvo saddened me greatly for a number of reasons:

Tammy was a member of a church where I served as a pastor for nearly a decade and knows my heart and my family. I’d considered her a friend. This was the first communication I’d ever received from her on social media. Tammy and I both live in North Carolina, which right now is ground zero for the battle over LGBTQ rights. She is a Christian and in my experience, a very nice person.

Given all that, what’s so sad about Tammy’s comments is that she should know better but she doesn’t,
that she should have more compassion and empathy for hurting folks but she doesn’t,
that she should be using her voice to defend the incessant attacks on the LGBTQ community right now but she isn’t,
that the way she does speak into the fray is to tell me that she’s sick of all my “gay things”.

And this, is why I am an LGBTQ ally; a consistent, loud, unapologetic, unrelenting ally.

I do what I do, not because it’s easy or because I enjoy conflict or to anger former friends or to win the praise of any group of people. I do what I do because I despise inequality, because inequality is being openly championed in the Church and in the courts, because I am so weary of Christian people who are OK with that or simply silent. I do this because my faith compels me to.

Anyone paying attention to the 400+ posts here knows that I talk about far more than simply LGBTQ issues, but the exaggeration is itself illuminating. White, straight, middle class, Christian privilege creates a very low threshold on compassion for the gay community, a quick saturation point after which interest quickly dries up, a short time before “enough is enough.” When you have privilege, any move toward balance is threatening, every word of affirmation seems louder, each victory feels magnified.

In Tammy’s eyes we should be finished with this issue, and people like me should move on to other pressing matters.

But Tammy doesn’t get to choose the matters that are pressing upon my heart. No one does. Not even me.

In areas of equality you don’t stop speaking when people grow weary of hearing you or when adversity comes or even when some progress comes.

You stop speaking when the work is done.

Until the LGBTQ community have every civil right that is afforded to all citizens of the United States, the work is not yet done.
While business are allowed to terminate or refuse service to people for their gender identity and sexual orientation, the work is not yet done.
While LGBTQ people are not welcomed fully into the life of our churches, the work is not yet done.
Until LGBTQ teens are not bullied by peers and families to the point that their only option feels like suicide, the work is not yet done.

I’ll admit it friends, I’m tired right now.

I’m tired of standing in the center of a swirling sh*t storm ever single day.

I’m tired of hateful followers of Jesus claiming that Christ compels them to be horrible to people in the name of loving them.

I’m tired of the same badly interpreted Bible verses being tossed out again and again to justify discrimination.

I’m tired from the heart-wrenching stories LGBTQ people send to me and share with me, because the pastors around them won’t listen or don’t care, or because their Christian parents have shut or kicked them out.

I’m tired of loving families of faith being forced by their churches to choose God or their children.

I’m tired of social media Christian tirades that trivialize the lives, families, loves, and inherent value of people made fully in the image of God.

I’m tired of celebrity evangelists, high-profile pastors, and opportunistic politicians brokering in lazy theology and willingly damaging the people they are charged with protecting.

I’m tired of religious extremists on either side seeing a small fragment of me and thinking they know my totality.

And I’m tired of seeing people like Tammy trying to police someone else’s burden, who want to make people feel guilty for their convictions, and who act as though silence is an option while there is so much work to be done and while so many people still hurting.

I have disappointing news for Tammy and for anyone else who is tired of my many “gay things”:

I’m going to continue to write and share and speak on the topics and in the manner and with the frequency I feel called to, because for me being an ally isn’t a fad or a trend or some cozy, little niche I’m temporarily filling until something else comes along.

It isn’t even voluntary. It’s the authentic response of my heart in real-time to what God has placed there.

To my fellow straight allies and those who are quietly amen-ing right now: Keep going. Speak loudly and repeatedly in your circles of influence. It matters. Share the work of LGBTQ writers who are speaking their truth.

To my friends who are LGBTQ and to their families: I love and respect you, and because I do I will keep speaking, despite any small difficulties I may encounter. I know they all greatly pale in comparison to those you’ve endured and still endure. My allyship is about you.

It’s an honor to know you, to stand beside you and when I can, to take some of the slings and arrows so you don’t have to.

This is what friends do.

Stay tuned social media family:

Many more gay things on the way…