Archive for Education
It’s been quite a while since we’ve done a program examining the gay marriage issue. Our last treatment included the voices of 2 self-described evangelicals—Richard Mouw, the president of Fuller Seminary, and Virginia Mollencott, a Professor Emeritus at William Patterson University. We wanted to frame the conversation in the terms most often used in our culture to discuss it, so we chose two evangelicals. But we also wanted to go beyond the yelling and meanness of the debate, which may have reached a peak about the time we did the show. I think we succeeded.
But along with a good amount of positive feedback, and despite our deliberately conciliatory approach, we heard from people form all “sides” that we had hurt them, or offended them, or otherwise inflamed them. I mention this not to say I think we did it wrong, but because to me it’s a measure of how much pain people are in on this topic.
With the California ruling recently, the door is open to that state beginning to marry gays and lesbians as early as next week, and we have asked ourselves what our next forway into the subject might be. It seems clear there has been a great deal of movement in the last couple of years. Witness, for example, a press release that crossed my desk this morning about GLBT families, led by Jay Bakker (son of Jim and Tammy Faye) attending services on Father’s Day at Saddleback Church (Rick Warren’s church) and then meeting with its leaders. That perhaps would not have happened a few years ago.
What are your thoughts about how to cover this issue? Share your thoughts here if you have some.
The Father’s Day visit Kate mentions is the American Family Outing, a series of events being held this spring by Soulforce in order to establish dialogue between LGBT families and six of the country’s largest Evangelical churches and their leaders. The previous five visits have been incredibly successful, and many have ended with pledges to continue the conversation and build on the relationships that were formed.
I’ve got an idea, Kate. Perhaps Speaking of Faith could bring together members of the American Family Outing and leaders from the churches they visited at some point, say six months down the road, in a forum that encourages continuation of this dialogue? That’s a program I’d really like to hear. (Of course, I’m such a fan that you know I’ll be listening regardless!)
When Tel Aviv city councilman Itai Pinkas was in Amsterdam last year, he stared for a long time at the monument honoring homosexuals killed in the Holocaust, sensing its impact was going to stay with him for a long time.
When he got back to Tel Aviv, he took that powerful feeling and raced straight to Mayor Ron Huldai’s office to talk.
Now, Pinkas and Huldai have revealed the outcome of the meeting: Tel Aviv is going to be home to the country’s first memorial to gay victims of Nazi persecution. The public sculpture is slated to go up in the centrally located Gan Meir by midwinter.
According to the article, Tel Aviv will soon open what is thought to be the first LGBT community center in the world to be financed and run by the local government. The mayor’s comments touched me:
The gay community in Tel Aviv is very significant in numbers and contributions to the city’s cultural life and economy, and there is no reason why the local government should not give necessary services crucial to these citizens. Also, some people have bad experience sharing their being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, and others are understandably afraid to do so, so this place will be an open and safe haven for them.
I think that demonstrating to the world our common humanity despite our differences is our highest calling as trans women and men.
And a thought from me: I’m so encouraged to hear so many trans voices speaking about living openly as a way of fulfilling the mandate of a calling or of enacting and empowering change. I’m inspired by this kind of courage.
Virginia Ramey Mollenkott graced last month’s Transforming Faith–Divining Gender conference not only with her warm and wise presence, but with a wonderful keynote address. In it she laid out seven reasons that religious groups should embrace their transgender members. Here’s a summary, taken from my notes:
- The scriptures are trans-friendly; people who value them should be as well. For example, note the Yahwist creation account, in which God’s original creative impulse is toward a hermaphroditic creation. Jesus speaks well of eunuchs and condemns the use of “Raca,” which scholarship has shown means “effeminate” or “sissy.” Once we shed our cultural proclivities, we can see an ethos in scripture that takes a favorable view of gender variance and diversity.
- Transgender members help congregations transcend gender stereotypes. The binary gender construct does not merely differentiate between genders, but unjustly elevates one over the other. Transgender people provide congregations with a unique reminder that stereotypes are not objectively concrete and need not bind us.
- Transgender members remind congregations to use diverse and inclusive language when speaking about God. In Mollenkott’s words, “If God is male, then male is god.” Transgender people are particularly sensitive to the injustices caused by gendering God inappropriately. Transgender people do congregations a great service when they insist upon more accurate language for God.
- Transgender people have traditionally been recognized in many cultures as bridges between the seen and unseen worlds. Mollenkott made particular note of how Milton genders his angel characters in Paradise Lost. There is tremendous depth to this tradition.
- Transgender people have often reflected deeply on the connections between faith, justice, gender, and sex. Our congregations’ hang-ups on these topics have distracted them from far more important matters. Transgender people can educate their congregations on our lives and issues; they are “particularly suited to teach congregations about the multiple connections between sex, gender, and justice.” As outsiders, we bring a perspective our congregations need. Jesus himself defied many gender norms, and yet in spite of his gender transgression, subordinationism holds sway in many congregations. (Mollenkott drew very interesting linkages between the lengths to which some churches and theologians go to justify subordinationism and the reappearance of Arianism.)
- As occupiers of the “forgotten middle,” transgender people can help congregations get over their addiction to certainty. Our dualistic, “good vs. evil” worldview threatens to destroy humanity and the world. (I was reminded here of Karen Armstrong’s work on the Axial Age, a period of history marked by terrible violence out of which arose today’s great religious traditions with their focus on selflessness and compassion.) “Sympathy cannot be confined to our own group,” Mollenkott said. Transgender people know what it means to occupy a middle that defies artificial dualism. This makes us particularly well suited to teach others to love the Other across dualistic divides; we’ve learned to let our pain express itself as support for others. (She made note here of the Drag Mothers who mentor young trans people in Chris Beam’s Transparent.)
- Transgender people demonstrate powerfully that just as all races share one blood, so do all genders. Mollenkott reminded us of the old “one drop” rule of race, by which anyone who had one drop of African American blood was considered African American and a legitimate target of bigotry. The same rule, she said, holds today for gender norms. One drop of femininity equals feminine or “sissy,” as opposed to the pure or normative male. If we lined up the entire human race from darkest skin to lightest skin, she asked, where would “black” end and “white” begin? Similarly, if we lined up from most masculine to most feminine, where would “masculine” begin and “feminine” end? And, more importantly, what would those distinctions even mean in that context?
Please understand my reasons for not blogging today. I am participating in the Day of Silence, a national youth movement protesting the silence faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their allies. My deliberate silence echoes that silence, which is caused by harassment, prejudice, and discrimination. I believe that ending the silence is the first step toward fighting these injustices. Think about the voices you are not hearing today.
What are you going to do to end the silence?
Congratulations to the winners of the second annual Family Equality Council “Family Drawing Contest!” First place, and a $250 savings bond, went to eight-year-old Julian fom New Mexico for his picture of his family camping at the lake.
You can see all the winning pictures at the contest website, or download the e-book Homework, Hugs and Love: A Family Like Yours, which has all of the over 50 drawings submitted and a foreword by children’s author Todd Parr, from the Council’s “Publications” page.
Once again, congratulations to the winners, and to all the kids who sent in drawings. I think you’re awesome!
This Friday marks the twelfth consecutive annual observance of the Day of Silence. From the official site:
The Day of Silence, a project of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), is a student-led day of action when concerned students, from middle school to college, take some form of a vow of silence to bring attention to the name-calling, bullying and harassment — in effect, the silencing — experienced by LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) students and their allies. This year’s Day of Silence will be held in memory of Lawrence King.
DoS has become a hotly contested front in the culture war, as evidenced by all the strategizing among conservative Christians on how best to deal with the DoS (which they see as an attempt to legitimize behavior they oppose). Some conservative leaders have called their followers to keep their children home from school on Friday. Others have sought to institute a “Day of Truth” to draw attention to their beliefs about sexual identity and gender expression and to counter the message of those who keep silence. The American Family Association has asked parents and teachers to use their influence against schools that support the DoS and to force students to abandon their vows of silence or face disciplinary action.
We believe the teaching of Christ in the Golden Rule should guide our actions and attitudes regarding all. We also believe that we should work to make school a safe place for all students. Thus, we advocate students spread a message like this on the Day of Silence:
This is what I’m doing:
I pledge to treat others the way I want to be treated.
Will you join me in this pledge?
“Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:31).
The Day of Silence cards passed out by the students observing the event will ask, “What are you going to do to end the silence?” meaning what will you do to help secure a safe environment for GLBT identified students. This group advocates that we answer that question with a commitment to their safety and the safety of all based on the teachings of Christ.
A safe zone is where the teachings of Christ are truly observed. GLBT students and peers as well as other who appear different have been the target of harassment, violence and scorn. We believe this is wrong. The church should lead the way in combatting violence and harassment in schools. A variety of options exist on the DOS, including silence. Whatever option one chooses, we do not encourage protests, divisive actions or criticism of others. One way to live out our faith is to treat others fairly and with respect.
This, I think, is a good thing.
Edit: Maybe. Alex Blaze makes a very good argument at the Bilerico project that this is unethical “counterprogramming”:
The idea is that Christians are supposed to against all violence, and that they don’t have to be OK with the gay to be against anti-gay violence.
Of course, in the process, they erase queer identity from the day, students who specifically are targeted for expressing themselves. These students need specific protection because the problems they face are unique, so countering that is problematic since it looks like an attempt to sweep the violence they face under the rug.
But it’s more than that – it’s counter-programming. And when someone already knows what one group of people has scheduled and sets up another celebration, event, or remembrance for the same time and the same people, no matter what it is, the intention is clear: to prevent people from participating in the previously scheduled event.
I need to think more about Alex’s argument. When I first read about the “Golden Rule Pledge,” my context for thinking about it was very personal. Many of my friends and colleagues (and even a few family members) disagreed with my decision to pursue gender transition on religious grounds, and I respect their feelings on the matter. And yet none of them would sanction violence against me. How, I’ve wondered, can they express their opposition to violence against me without compromising their beliefs? Having read Alex’s article, I’m wondering how joining me in my observance of the DoS would compromise those beliefs. Is it really necessary for someone to say, “I agree violence against LGBT people is wrong and should be stopped, BUT I still think homosexuality and gender variance are sinful?” Why not just say, “I agree violence against LGBT people is wrong and should be stopped?”
I would hope that Christians on both sides of this issue can at least offer one another sufficient grace to cover the complexity of it.
Another edit: Jim Burroway at Box Turtle Bulletin has written an excellent critique on the “Golden Rule Pledge” that has pushed me over the edge on the topic. He lists four problems with this response to DoS:
- It is counterprogramming.
- It appears to be motivated by opposition to homosexuality rather than opposition to violence.
- It perpetuates the false Christian vs. LGBT dichotomy.
- The “Golden Rule” cards do not actually address violence; they are too susceptible to exploitation for the purposes of hate.
Jim sums up:
The Golden Rule is one of those wonderful aphorisms which serve more as a Rorschach test than a standard. It can mean whatever anybody wants it to means, allowing it to a provide a “nice” cover for those who have no intention of changing their attitudes or behavior. It’s too easy for the Golden Rule Card to become a sanctimonious, self-righteous and passive-aggressive reaction to the Day of Silence. It allows them to claim the moral high ground — a high ground which by their definition is not a level playing field.
Thank you, Jim and Alex, for helping me think through this.
(Thanks to Box Turtle Bulletin.)
I received the following today from Soulforce, the organization that sponsors the annual Equality Rides. I volunteered with Soulforce last year and have been impressed and inspired by their deep commitment to justice and non-violent action.
American Family Outing Aims to Find Common Ground with Families in Six of Today’s Largest Mega-churches
Recently supporters of the Family Research Council received an envelope stamped with the words “EXPOSED: Radicals’ plan to attack churches!” What was the nature of the “plot” that had FRC in such frenzy? Well, in December of 2007, Soulforce, COLAGE, the National Black Justice Coalition, and the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches sent letters to:
- Joel Osteen and the Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas
- Bishop T.D. Jakes and The Potter’s House in Dallas, Texas
- Bishop Harry Jackson, Jr. and Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Maryland
- Bishop Eddie Long and New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Georgia
- Rev. Bill Hybels and Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois
- Dr. Rick Warren and Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California
In these letters we expressed a desire to share a meal with leaders and families in their congregations on a designated weekend between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day 2008 (see complete schedule at www.soulforce.org/afo). Our goal is simply to traverse any division and try to find common ground, despite our differences on the issues of sexual orientation and gender identity. We seek first to understand, and then to be understood, as we engage these congregations — all with pastors who have been ranked by Christian organizations as among the 50 most influential Christian leaders in America. These churches have large memberships, some exceeding tens of thousands, and each leader has an enormous influence on American culture through speaking engagements as well as best-selling books, radio and television programs that reach millions of homes each week.
I’m committed to praying for these families and the churches they’ll be visiting, and I hope you’ll to do the same. As the sacrament teaches us, reconciliation can begin with the sharing of a meal.
I’m off today for Portland, Oregon, to attend the Transforming Faith, Divining Gender conference, sponsored by the Community of Welcoming Congregations. Aside from enjoying the company of old friends and making new ones, I’ll also be presenting a workshop with my dear friend Peterson Toscano entitled “Unearthing Transgressive Taboos and Transformative Texts in Scripture.” Here’s a description of the conference, from the official website:
Transforming Faith: Divining Gender – A three-day interfaith gathering in Portland, Oregon that seeks to:
- Educate communities of faith in the spectrum of gender identities and gender expressions
- Give tools and resources for supporting gender variant youth
- Dismantle binary gender constructs and their reign in misogyny and homophobia
- Nurture and empower transgender leadership.
The keynote address will be offered by Dr. Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, author of 12 books, including Omnigender.
Plenary sessions will feature:
- New Testament scholar Dr. Mary Ann Tolbert, George H. Atkinson Professor of Biblical Studies at the Pacific School of Religion and Executive Director of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry, who will address Gender and the Bible.
- Jenn Burleton, Executive Director of TransActive will present a panel of youth and resources for supporting gender variant children and teens
- Faisal Alam, founder of Al Fatiha (a network for LGBTQ Muslims), will be exploring the complex diversity within the Muslim world and will illustrate the many challenges facing queer Muslims.
The conference will feature:
- Peterson Toscano performing his play, Transfigurations: Transgressing Gender and the Bible.
- A film/video festival
- Interfaith worship experiences, workshops, forums and social gatherings.
If you’re coming to Portland, I can’t wait to see you! If you’re not, don’t worry–I’ll be blogging as much of it as I can. It’s what I do.
This is what I give. I give an expression of care every day to each child, to help him realize that he is unique. I end each program by saying, “You’ve made this day a special day by just your being you. There’s no person in the whole world like you. And I like you just the way you are.”
Fred Rogers (1928-2003), children’s television pioneer and Presbyterian minister
And a comment from me: Today would have been Fred Rogers’ 80th birthday. I loved Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood as a child and miss his influence on the world of children as a parent today. His message of loving affirmation blesses me even now, inspiring and challenging me to make sure the people around me–my children especially–know that they are beloved of God. To get a dose of inspiration from Mr. Rogers, check out his Wikipedia entry and his entry at Wikiquote. His was truly a life well lived, and he is one of my heroes. Thank you so much, Mister Rogers, for teaching me so much about what love is. (Thanks to The Writers Almanac.)