This is the third in a series of posts about the Wild Goose Festival. Part One highlights the “good stuff” I experienced at this progressive Christian Festival held at a campsite in the hills outside of Durham, NC. Part Two reveals the anger I felt as I entered the weekend, not anger at Wild Goose or the organizers, but a deeper pain arising from duplicity and a lack of integrity by many folks within the progressive church. People have left thoughtful, insightful, and moving comments that I encourage you to read.
Perhaps the logical next post on the festival would be a critique of the Goose, the lineup, and particularly how lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) issues and people were discussed. Since most of the people involved in the critique are friends, acquaintances, and colleagues, who I can approach directly, I have already begun to approach them individually to share directly with them any concerns, questions, or suggestions I have, and to start or continue a dialogue between now and the next Goose.
My friend, Anarchist Reverend, has written a clear, thoughtful, and what I view as an accurate critique of the Goose. He includes a list of specific suggestions to consider to make the festival more welcoming and affirming of LGBTQ folks. Check out his post.
For me, I gave birth to some inwardly growing thoughts that I articulated at Wild Goose. Of course I worried that I was just going to lay an egg as I ruminated over these thoughts and tried to organize them in my head and my mouth leading up to my one hour presentation. In this post I want to lay out what I said or at least tried to say during my Saturday afternoon presentation at the Storytelling Tent. This will be a LONG post but not exhaustive, so if you attended, and remember something else I said that I don’t include, please feel free to add it in the comments section.
I determined that even with all the anger and pain I felt (see previous post) I wanted to present fun and engaging excerpts from my one-person plays. I performed a scene from Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House and a scene from my new play, I Can See Sarah Palin from my Window!, a comedy about cancer, misogyny, and hospitality.
The centerpiece of the performance portion of my presentation included scenes from Transfigurations–Transgressing Gender in the Bible, performance scholarship about gender non-conforming characters in the Bible. These are positive portrayals of queer folks in the scripture who transgress and transcend gender rules in regards to gender presentation and gender roles. They are the most important people in some of the most important stories in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. As I performed the scenes and talked about others I did not have time to perform in full, I provided exegetical support for my views and did Biblical magic tricks of sorts taking well-known stories and revealing queer folks hidden in them. People responded afterwards, “I never saw that before.”
And indeed one of the purposes of the work is to raise visibility for people oppressed by society and the church. In so doing I speak about being an ally to transgender, transsexual, genderqueer, gender non-conforming individuals. I mentioned November 20th, the Transgender Day of Remembrance and the violence regularly perpetuated against trans* folks, particularly female identified/presenting people of color.
I talked about justice within the LGBTQ rainbow collective and how shocked I was to see within our communities people get treated differently based on what they look like, what they have, what they do not have, their race, gender, gender identity, gender presentation, age, and even their orientation with the oppression and dismissal of bisexuals by many gays and lesbians.
And then…I had 10 minutes that I reserved to speak freely, out of character, as myself, without dramatic scenes to scaffold me. Although I was a performer and not a speaker at the Goose, I had something to say directly to the audience about social justice for LGBTQ people and the church.
The main thing I explained for the audience is why LGBTQ rights, full inclusion, and equality represent a uniquely special social justice issue for the Christian church in the USA today. Below I outline three reasons:
1. In Christian communities and institutions we have a responsibility to be informed and act regarding a variety of social justice issues. Economic justice, prison reform, capital punishment, immigration rights, environmental concerns, racial justice, etc. (I will talk about the special nature of justice for women in the church below.) BUT Believers, church leaders, and Christian institutions are RESPONSIBLE for much of the legal, social, and religious oppression of LGBTQ folks in the US today.
Churches and Christians, acting as agents of Christ, using religious language, wielding the Bible as a weapon have strategized, lobbied, funded, articulated, and consistently aggressively practiced the oppression of LGBTQ people. “We” as members of Christian churches and institutions in the US are responsible for this issue and the people oppressed in a way that is quite different from the shared responsibility we have on the social justice issues I have listed above. The oppression of women in most churches, male privilege in the pulpit, the invalidation of rights and slander of women in society perpetuated by the church and anti-women, patriarchal theology serves as another injustice that the church has taken a direct role in creating and supporting.
Since “WE” are directly responsible for much of this oppression, WE are required to provide a clear, vocal, assertive, and sustained commitment to justice regarding LGBTQ people and gender equality.
2. While the “gay issue” is being discussed and LGBTQ issues are included as agenda items, we queer folk are in the room and have been for a long time. We are in community with the straight, gender-normative church majority. We are sisters, brothers, and others sitting in the pews and doing ministry and justice work. Looking at demographics most people acknowledge that women represent more than half of most congregations and denominations. (As much as 60% and more in some places, although the percentage of women in ministry is far less than men in these same churches.) In regards to LGBTQ folks we may be the largest minority population in the white Evangelical and the emerging church movement.
In other words–“We are the Other among You.” And while it is essential to respond to needs and concerns of people around the world and in our neighborhood, we have a special responsibility towards family members within our homes. We are not a distant other. We are your sisters, cousins, pastors, wives, children, students, friends in the fellowship of the saints. LGBTQ folks are the spiritual family members in need among us, and to say “I Love You” while remaining inactive and unresponsive to the needs of LGBTQ not only undermines our communion, it questions our very claim to be Christian.
3. I need to be free to serve. (and this a point I made during Jay Bakker’s discussion three hours after my own presentation.) As a gay man, I am liberated in my mind, my theology, and my relationship with my delightful partner, Glen Retief. BUT since this LGBTQ issue remains and has not been seriously addressed by most people in the Evangelical church and the Emerging church movement, since it is still AN ISSUE among many Christians, I am not FREE to plunge my creative, intellectual, soul energy into other social justice issues.
Many LGBTQ people live distracted by the oppressions we face. We live encumbered as we look out for each other. In most places we are not protected on our jobs, in our housing, and elsewhere. We live in committed relationships as “legal strangers,” and within the church most often as second-class citizens. We care about many social justice issues. We are engaged in educating ourselves and contributing to the work of racial justice, economic justice, the environment, and much more at home and abroad, but we are not yet able to act freely because we have to explain and justify our very existence to the people with whom we do justice work. Denying us an equal place, just like denying women an equal place, churches have impoverished themselves. LGBTQ folks will continue to do the work. We will continue “to have church” even if it means leaving the places that are not willing to affirm us. But many of us long to see the resources, time, energy, and people addressing LGBTQ issues freed up so that we can move forward.
Will we ever be completely free or equal? From looking at racial inequality and the oppression of women in the USA, we understand that there will always be on-going justice work. We know that we are a population with an intersection of oppressions and privileges that we need to address. We need a long-term commitment to justice for all. For LGBTQ issues this means that Christians committed to social justice need to state their support, educate themselves, and include LGBTQ justice on the mission statement and risk offending anti-LGBTQ forces. They need to move beyond good intentions to informed action. They need to listen to the stories of LGBTQ within their own groups and take them seriously.
It means that the people who privately support LGBTQ equality and inclusion need to come out and state their support publicly, speak openly as allies, and give the world and the church notice that this issue is settled–“We believe in justice for all and will no longer enable people to remain stuck on this issue.”
October 11 is National Coming Out Day. How about everyone in every church and Christian institution who believes that queer, transgender, bisexual, lesbian, and gay people should be treated as equals and fully included, publicly announce their support and commitment to justice. Every emerging church leader, every pastor, Christian singer and worship leader, Christian college professor, every Sunday School teacher, and executive director of Christian organizations, every speaker and author–everyone. And in so doing create a crisis for the publishing houses, the Christian conference organizers, the Protestant church in the United States and beyond. Perhaps some speakers will be uninvited. Book contracts will be lost. Ministers will be asked to step down. Justice work can be costly. Folks like Jay Bakker know this, and after losing so much because of his commitment to justice for LGBTQ people, he now fellowships in some of the suffering we have endured for decades by our brothers and sisters in the church.
As I stated yesterday in my blog, I have known fear that has kept me in the closet, kept me silent, kept me dishonest. But I have also discovered the power of coming out, of being clear in one’s conscious, of living with integrity and authenticity.
I appeal to you as friends. Greater love has no one than this that one lay down one’s life for a friend.