Shuck and Jive

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The Responsibility of Privilege

Closeted Pastor linked to my post on the big gay wedding. She quoted some of what I had placed in the comment section. If you are a nice person, go and wish her well. If you are a butthead, stay here and hassle me.

This is what I wrote in the comment section and she picked up:

When I met with our local PFLAG group at my previous location, this conversation or a form of it happened at every meeting.

Remember PFLAG is a secular organization. Yet the religious discussion would happen again and again. A high school student, or a 20s or 30s something person would tell a little about his or her story.

Someone would ask, "How are your parents doing with this?"

The individual would reply, "Well, you know, they are Christian."

And everyone would groan. They all knew exactly what that meant, bigotry. Perhaps it meant being kicked out of the house; each story was different on the specific incarnation of bigotry in each household.

I believe that the Christian religion, at least in America, is the leading cause of injustice toward gays. I lay the blame at the feet of Christianity. Not just some Christians, all Christians.

I say this as a Christian minister. It is as much my fault as it is the god hates fags people.

Why? Because the Christian umbrella allows sanctuary to bigotry.

If Christians who think differently do not speak out and act for justice, we are not following Christ.

We are not even being neutral.

I should probably give a disclaimer for what I wrote. I am pretty much out there on my views and activities regarding my gay friends (shorthand for the alphabet soup). It isn't because I am courageous or stupid. (It may be because I am the spawn of Satan. The verdict isn't out yet on that).

I wrote in her comment section the following:

I am straight, married, kids, white, and serve a progressive congregation. My privilege allows (and in my case I feel, compels) me to speak out more than others who do not share this privilege.

What I am saying is a disclaimer for my comment you quoted. I really cannot tell others what to do. I don't even know myself what to do.

The risks for you are far greater than they are for me. For instance, if you were in my denomination and you were outed you could lose your credentials. That is something I am not in danger of losing.

My point was to those who are in a position of privilege to use that privilege for justice, not just sit on it. We all have to follow our own conscience and do what we can within our limits.
Preachers know this scenario. They preach a sermon on loving enemies, forgiving, humility, and looking out for the interests of others more than your own, and the only people who get it are those who have these qualities already. The buttheads don't think it applies to them!

I got my first call because I wasn't a woman. Someone on the committee was adamant that they not hire a woman, so they didn't even seriously consider qualified women candidates. If I was gay and out, I wouldn't have even been able to interview.

Buttheads think that is a good thing. They want to keep women and gays out because they fear the competition. I think that is it. I don't think I thought of it that way before. The keep-gays-from-being-ordained crowd are really afraid of competition. Wimps.

Anyway, when I get on my soapbox and tell folks to take risks in regards to justice for gays, I am not speaking to those who can really lose everything. I am talking to those of us with privilege. I am talking to those of us who might risk losing a tall steeple call if we are too forthcoming with what we know is right. Friends, tall steeples ain't what they are cracked up to be.

We all have our limits. We all have risks and contexts. We all have our own style. No one can tell anyone what to do. But I gotta think that we could as a church and as a nation turn a lot of things around if those of us with privilege developed a conscience to go with it.


  1. John, thank you for this post. You are most gracious. I agree in large measure with what you have said. I will also paste here my response from over at my place.

    I appreciate the distinction you make between those with the privilege of the position. I agree and understand. But I also feel that it might be better for my soul to find out, once and for all, what kind of congregation it really is that I serve. My judgment is that I may be able to do that by beginning these "new initiatives." If it is a congregation who, on the whole would be retching at the thought that it's been a lesbian in their pulpit all this time... it might be better for me to "try plumbing" (as a college professor was known to tell people he thought didn't belong in his department).

    Here is where I have my privilege: I am of European ancestry, I have money in the bank and in investments, I own my home without a mortgage. Of course, money can disappear quickly with a major illness or if one does not have gainful employment. But I do not believe that I should fear the loss of my ordination credentials as much as I do.

    It's just that I love it so, that i feel so deeply called to it. It's just that my heart might break. But you know what they say about the Lord... Godde heals the broken-hearted, and binds up their wounds. So I have assurance, even if I did lose this call I love, that God would find a way to fix me and set me right again.

    And, of course, you are welcome to link to me. I'm honored.

    Pax. C.

  2. But, Cecilia, if it comes to that..God forbid!! Why leave the ordained ministry if it's what God has called you to do?

    Have you considered the possibility of pursuing orders in another more affirming Christian denomination such as the UCC or TEC?

  3. For many of us, Grace, it comes down to the fact that there are real doctrinal reasons that people choose one denomination over another, particularly Presbyterianism.

    As a Calvinist with a penchant for neo-orthodoxy, I would be out of place in most other denominations. I get incredibly uncomfortable during altar calls. I hate getting asked "are you saved?" and "when were you saved?" (my pastor has a great response to the latter--she says "when Jesus was crucified. This promise was sealed in the waters of my baptism when I was a baby girl.").

    God help me, I love the Presbyterian Church. I love its dedication to scholarship and study, I love the style of worship (though I tend to a bit of closet Anglicanism), and I love how, when we're at our best, a big family that doesn't get along all the time, but dammit, determined to love each other.

    The question shouldn't be about which non-Presbyterian denominations gay clergy should go to. I think creating a new Presbyqueerian denomination is a bad idea. I still firmly believe that (at least as far as I'm concerned), the push for social justice begins here in the PC(USA). I am not a United Methodist, an ELCA Lutheran, an Episcopalian, a UCC Congregationalist, an American Baptist, or a Roman Catholic. These folks have to come to grips with their denominations' issues themselves. I got my own little patch of grass to work on.

  4. i just wanted to say thank you so much for your post. it is so encouraging to know there's people out there like you. standing up for what Jesus would've stood up for.

  5. Hey Cecilia,

    "But I also feel that it might be better for my soul to find out, once and for all, what kind of congregation it really is that I serve."

    Sometimes you gotta go for soul! I think you will find that you have all kinds of support and in surprising places.

    Thanks, Hidden and welcome!!

  6. I understand, Fly. Although, from what I can see there are plenty of Calvinists in TEC. It's a pretty "big tent." :)

    If I want to get some sense of where people are at spiritually, I'll usually ask if they were reared in the church, or to share how they came to faith in Christ.

  7. Perhaps, Grace, but there's a huge difference between Presbyterianism and TEC (by which I'm assuming you mean The Episcopal Church).

    Being a Presbyterian actually means two things: one's polity is Reformed (which the Episcopals are technically not), and one's government is Presbyterian (as opposed to the hierarchical Anglicans). The recent kerfuffle in the Episcopal Church is not over whether GLBT people can be ordained as Priests, but whether one could be elevated to the ecclesiastical office of Bishop (another term that gets Reformed hackles up--the rallying cry of the Presbyterians at Westminster was "no Bishop and no King!"). A Bishopric is a permanent office with hierarchical privileges. In our system (which is shared by the Church of Scotland and even the hyperconservative American splinters), even the "highest" position in the church, the Moderator of the General Assembly, is a temporary position, and her powers are strictly parliamentary. At the local level, we elect our own leadership to the Session and pick our own pastors. The Episcopal Church (and the greater Anglican community for that matter) don't do that. It can be a highly fractious means of government, but I still think it's better than any other that have been tried.

    No, the solution to getting the PC(USA) into the 21st Century, kicking and screaming, is not for a mass exodus of The Gay. Believe me, the Cons have tried. The time for compromise (as embodied in the PUP Report) is probably long gone now. It's time to do what's right for God's church.

  8. I'll just echo flycandler here, Grace.

    There are many vast theological differences between the Episcopal Church and Reformed, Calvinist denominations such as the PCUSA. One example I can think of is that Episcopalians believe in either consubstantiation or transubstantiation occurs during the Eucharist (apparently which one they believe in depends on who you talk to, as far as I can tell.) In any event, those ideas are often referred to by our Presbyterian forbearers as a most "damnable and persistent heresy" because they require Christ to be re-crucified each week during the Eucharist.

    (And don't even get me started about the Bishopric, the anti-egalitarian nature of their polity, etc.)

    Our church shares a building with an Episcopal church (the second oldest PCUSA/ECA partnership in the nation, as a matter of fact) and while I respect and admire their traditions (I even sat in on their confirmation classes, just to figure out what they believed since our congregations worship together on occasion) I'm definitely NOT an Episcopalian. Nor am I a Methodist, nor a Baptist for similar reasons -- they're simply wrong about some important points of theology.

    It is unfortunate that Sunday Schools in all our churches do such a bad job at teaching people our foundational beliefs. If they did that, perhaps people would recognize that there are indeed still significant differences between denominations. I think that would eliminate a lot of confusion. Because, as we can see today, the fights in the PCUSA are mostly because a bunch of fundamentalists are mistaken about what constitutes orthodox Reformed theology. They were, at some point unfortunately, sold a false bill of goods and were falsely convinced that the the PCUSA is a fundamentalist rather than a historically Reformed, Calvinist denomination. That is, if they'd just go off and find the denomination to which they actually belong, we'd all be much happier, I suspect.