What I Blurted out at Wild Goose

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.

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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.

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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.

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This post has 31 Comments

  1. Kristin Rawls on July 1, 2011 at 10:00 pm Reply

    This is very good, but I think I might reframe the idea that this is the one thing the church is directly responsible for, or qualify it a little. I grew up here in the South, and I’m also aware that large segments of the church justified slavery and upheld Jim Crow and the anti-miscegenation laws. I don’t think Bob Jones overturned its rule against “interracial dating” until a couple of years ago. And I wouldn’t reduce what’s left of the Christian Right program to injustice around gender and sexuality, exactly. I would say that both constitute an exceptionally PROMINENT contemporary aspect of the church’s long history of violence against people who it didn’t think properly conformed to Good Christian Behavior.

    But American Empire and violence against non-Christians within U.S. borders and outside them are just as intertwined in Dominionist/right-wing Christian belief, I think. As is Christian Zionism and the dehumanization of Palestinians. But, yes… This was largely a mainline, justice-oriented event, and given the sophistication of discussions about injustice issues other than women and queer folks, I think you’re right to point out that the mainline church–not just the fundies–is still persecuting women and queer folks and treating sexism and homophobia as legitimate views that are up for debate. So, yeah, I agree.

    • p2son on July 1, 2011 at 10:57 pm Reply

      Oh yes, Kristin, I understand and agree. What I did not emphasize is that the direct orchestration of oppression towards LGBTQ people and the silence around it by some of our allies is contemporary. You may remember in my talk when I referenced slavery and the Civil Rights Movement in the 60s, and I wondered how I would have responded if I lived then as a white person in the church. Would I have stayed quiet and held onto my privilege? What areas today is the church directly oppressing others while many of us have on blinders or are waiting for things to change before we commit ourselves to the work?

      • Kristin Rawls on July 1, 2011 at 11:26 pm Reply

        Right, exactly. And it’s an important question to be asking. And certainly the Dominionist influences in international affairs, such as the work of Blackwater/Xe founder, Eric Prince, are also contemporary. And Christian Zionist trips to Israel to convert Israelis. And the “Christian” justification for neoconservative military endeavors in Iraq, Afghanistan and–I increasingly believe–Libya. And the business of these Christians who believe they’re being persecuted for their faith in the United States–and that there’s a War on Christmas and Sharia is coming for us all… It’s just that it’s not a part of the mainstream church, so unless one knows these people, well… They’re not the types who really want dialogue at all. The Very Far Out There types with whom we wouldn’t be invited to anything “Christian” at all.

        So maybe the distinction is between what mainline Christians who think of themselves as good liberals are doing to hurt people–and what they’re not doing. And it’s important to call them out because they are the most likely allies we have in the world of Christianity–and the people who represent the majority of “Christian America,” I think, and who believe in justice and love and compassion.

        • p2son on July 2, 2011 at 8:05 am Reply

          Yes, these are critical issues to explore and take action–issues that are not on most people’s radars in the same way LGBTQ are.

          One primary difference between these and LGBTQ issues comes up in my second point above–we are a significant part of the very American Christian establishments responsible for oppressing us, and more importantly for my post, churches that remain silent and uncommitted to doing something about. This is a family affair. I am not suggesting one oppression is more important than another. Rather I point out that the church in a America is at a crossroads.

          It is time that our allies stand up for justice and their own integrity. If they are ashamed of us, they give others permission to treat us shamefully.

  2. Kristin Rawls on July 1, 2011 at 10:02 pm Reply

    Er, sorry, the mainline church *in addition to the fundies.*

  3. Plain Foolish on July 2, 2011 at 9:04 am Reply

    The oppression of others through dominionism has been in many ways related to the sexism and in some ways the homophobia of the churches it springs from. I was, sadly, given a chance to witness this firsthand when my father returned from Iraq after his first tour of duty there.

    At the coming home ceremony, held at a megachurch (we won’t even go into the problems I have with it being held at a church at all) the speeches used very male-centric language, and had a very narrow concept of masculinity. This, unfortunately, is typical of military gatherings. While mention is made of “our men and women in uniform”, no other inclusive language need be expected.

    Midway through the event, the pastor of the church was invited to give a “brief” speech and invocation. The speech centered around the “need” for American imperialism in order to lead the Other onto the right road. The language describing Muslims was feminizing, using the perceived inferiority of women, as well as the cultural fear of gender transgression to help justify wqar against them.

    In short, a culture that aaccept these forms of violence within is primed for violence without.

  4. jeff on July 2, 2011 at 10:17 am Reply

    Great posts Peterson. As someone living in UK I haven’t heard about this conference though it sounds interesting and you clealry made a significant contribution.

    As I was reading, the word ‘compelled’ kept coming into my mind (like you I’m a Quaker so it was time to ask what this was about…my own mind or a Divine nudge? I’m still not sure!)

    ‘Compelled’? I remembered Jesus’ story of the Wedding Feast in Luke Chapter 14.

    15 ¶ And when one of them that sat at meat with him heard these things, he said unto him, Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God.
    16 Then said he unto him, A certain man made a great supper, and bade many:
    17 and sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready.
    18 And they all with one consent began to make excuse. The first said unto him, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it: I pray thee have me excused.
    19 And another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them: I pray thee have me excused.
    20 And another said, I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.
    21 So that servant came, and showed his lord these things. Then the master of the house being angry said to his servant, Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind.
    22 And the servant said, Lord, it is done as thou hast commanded, and yet there is room.
    23 And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.
    24 For I say unto you, That none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper.

    Now this story has many many connotations but what struck me is that as LGBTQ people we are ‘compelled’ to come to the Feast. We really have no choice. Well we do have a choice but it is between a closeted life, pushed out, perceived as suffering from some kind of disorder, like the people in the highways and lanes in the Parable. We have to come to terms with our sexuality, our authenticity, our connection with God or die inwardly. But the reward of being so compelled is that we are right in there with God. We are the people Jesus has a soft spot for and we get the best seats at the table.

    ‘He has filled the hungry with good things’

    Now, in Jesus’ story those who aren’t who compelled, the in crowd don’t think they have to come in, make their excuses. They consciously choose not to come to the the feast. There is always ‘more room’ (and the invitation stands forever) but in their lack of ‘compulsion’ they exile themselves from the fullness of life with God. Because they are so included in the mainstream world of society and religion they are paradoxically excluded. They don’t come out as our allies because they don’t have to and have other things to be getting on with (ironically for this interpretation one of their reasons is because they are married).

    Dinner is free but they are afraid it will cost them dear.

    What these folk don’t realise is that in their refusal to openly be our allies, to sit down at the table as our friends and fellow guests they are damaging their connection with God. They are depriving themselves and others of all that is available, of the fullness on offer. They are half empty inside and they don’t realise it.

    We LGBTQ people are among the wedding guests and it is our function to invite the self created outsiders to come in? In our conversations, our writings, our actions, to ask them how they think their position (or lack of it) affects their relation with God?

    We are called to be prophets and the time for excuses is over.

    Come and join us all hungry friends! The food is fantastic and the dessert is to live for.

    Peace

    Jeff :O)

  5. steve on July 3, 2011 at 8:19 am Reply

    jeff the wild goose fest was basically a US attempt to do something like the UK’s Greenbelt festival.
    (greenbelt used to be mainly evangelical and mainly music event but evolved, Peterson performed there couple of times but is long over due a return visit. )

  6. annawoofenden on July 5, 2011 at 9:44 pm Reply

    Thanks for this post. And thanks for speaking at Jay’s talk–it was one of the moments that continues to live in me.

  7. Leslie on July 6, 2011 at 11:05 am Reply

    Thank you for addressing the issue of anger as a spur to right action. Particulalrly among conflict avoidant groups, such as the Religious Society of Friends, we have a tendency to dismiss anger as a self indulgent or improper response, but if our anger is rightly ordered, it can serve as a catalyst and clarifier to discernment and witness.

    In looking, for example, at the times when Jesus got angry, his anger was often accompanied by grief at the failure of faith or belief to lead to lives of faithfulness. Cursing the fig tree, rebuking Peter who spoke of the lives of men and not the life of the Spirit and overturning the tables in the temple were all proportionate responses to the wicked acts done in the name of G-d. No less powerful was his witness to the power of forgiveness to heal and to inspire us to greater good, greater love and greater power in that Spirit.

    Stay with this anger for a time, Friend,and see what grief it inspires. The kingdom is among us, if we have the strength and the belief that we can live into it, inspire it and fulfill it. None of us can do it alone, we need the comfort of G-d and godly friends to make it real, as we seek to love our neighbors and do good to those who would do us harm, even if well intentioned.

    standing with you in this discomfort,
    Leslie

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