One of the big issues at General Assembly involved a statement apologizing to the LGBTQI community. Unfortunately, a beautiful and well-crafted apology was hijacked, made political, and really changed into something that said nothing. The joke among many bloggers was that it was our denomination’s official un-apology that states regret to the gay community. If people actually read the text, the real irony is that the statement pities conservatives for not being progressive enough to accept the gay community, which was not part of the original. Let us just say that the statement left a lot to be desired.
Before I go any further, I should also state that I think there is a lot that the denomination needs to do to apologize to the more conservative side of the church. As I noticed at the last General Assembly, probably more than at this one, the liberal faction of the church actively went out of their way to suppress conservatives’ voice, and organizations spent too much time trying to get power or win, rather than listening for God. This was wholly evident in this General Assembly when one group used the issue of the gay apology for their own political gain.
But the situation was ripe for that to happen. For the most part, people wanted to be conciliatory, but in doing so, instead of discussing why an apology was necessary, the focus was on what the headlines will say and what the people will think. That is understandable for an institution that has gone through what we have, but we really missed the chance to educate why this is important and how we as a church have the power to change the discourse on LGBT issues within the faith context.
I think the apology really got sidetracked because people didn’t know or understand why an apology was necessary. Fifteen years ago, I would not have known the history, and could have sat on the side asking why this is important. I know that is true for many of you. In fact, a few days ago, I was driving someone from church on an errand. She was marveling at how far they’d come and how quickly the gay community had received their rights. I looked at her saying, “Seriously!” For her, the fight was 20 to 30 years. For the gay community, it goes back through time. Though we only know through documentation, homosexuality and transgender acceptance has varied. At some times and places it was accepted, and other times and places rejected, but even when accepted, LGBT people were still another class of citizen.
Interestingly, prior to the Nazi regime, Berlin was one of the more progressive and accepting communities. Some historians have marveled at how similar it was to our gay community. But like many things, the hate and distrust of those who were different spawned the rarely taught but all too real pink holocaust, where gay men were sent to camps during World War II. Though fewer in number were killed than the Jews, they were often subjected to inhumane experiments, and most were castrated. By the end of the war, this community was not able to integrate back into the society, and some were transferred right from the concentration camps to jails. While the church did not have an active role in the abuse, they turned their heads and did not raise voice.
This complicity with that torture is understandable, since it would be common for men who were found out to be gay to be castrated, jailed, or killed. When I first studied this, I was amazed to learn that in my lifetime people around the world were and are still subjected to this treatment for their sexual orientation. Even today, in parts of the world, the threat of death is a reality. Along with the abuses and persecution of gay men, few know the pains and struggles of lesbian women and transgendered people, who have been raped, jailed, or killed. The worst part is that in almost every instance when you find a justification for this treatment, it is not only with the support and complicity of the Church, but its encouragement.
Some will say, “But that was then.” Unfortunately, as with many things, the justification for bullies to pick on LGBTQI children and societies to make laws against them or target them for other abuses are justified by eisegetical interpretations of a couple minor passages in the Bible, not science or the metanarrative of faith.
We can see these justifications play out in North Carolina, as there really is no basis for laws excluding transgender people from the restrooms of their identified gender, outside of a religious argument. But laws are one thing, our attitudes are something else! Personally, I think that people’s attitudes are more harmful, because unjust laws can be broken, and I know many who are doing just that! But it is impossible to escape people’s attitudes. Even when you try to escape, the painful realities are there.
What makes it even harder for the gay community is that while we have made strides towards inclusion, even in the most inclusive places, the attitudes justified through religious teachings persist. Though not widely reported, gay hate crimes are still high in number. Even in NYC, the famous Greenwich Village area has had a rise in gay hate crimes, and we cannot forget about the Pulse nightclub shooting. For me, it was amazing that the government, who is never quick to label something as terrorism, did so within hours. It took the media, and the rest of the government, to begin to figure out that the issue that was more important than the terrorism was the anti-gay hate that played into the attack in Orlando.
It is time that we stop and think about things. As Gay Pride month comes to a close, we need to think about how we have played into the persecution of our brothers and sisters. We need to think about how our attitudes towards LGBTQI people are complicit within the persecution, as well as how we need to change to let everyone know that there is a place at the table for them, with no qualifiers or political equivocations.
Three days into GA, and I cannot help but think about the importance of what we have been doing, and how tired you can get from daylong meetings!
I like to think of GA as a roller coaster ride-the Saturday and Sunday sessions are like climbing to the highest peak of the coaster. There really was nothing exciting, or really even notable, other than the worship service (which was awesome), but we were filled with anticipation.
On Monday we took the plunge, and that was true to form. Yesterday we dealt with issues that our congregation has been working on for the past year. The list covers resolutions on urban congregations (which has a lot of very helpful things for us); racial and ethnic issues, including all of the work we have done with the Beloved Community, and something which we may get involved with concerning elections; and deeper support for HIV/AIDS.
Almost everything we acted on was passed unanimously, and the feeling about the call to justice as a church was powerful. At the same time, we need to recognize that dealing with justice work, especially as a predominantly white denomination, will be uncomfortable because we have to recognize that our way is not the way. Moreover, we cannot do justice without listening, and must recognize that at times our intentions to empower others can often take away power. This is one of the lessons learned in our work with the Beloved Community and our efforts to understand implicit bias.
This was most evident in the way in which we discussed one of the overtures. One interesting issue was difficulty surrounding the use of the language “people of color” to refer to what our denomination used to consider “racial/ethnic.” The term “people of color” was created by the taskforce in which “people of color” were a supermajority. It is a term which they find both empowering and recognized beyond the church. But as a predominately white group, issues of discomfort were raised. Despite our uneasiness, we recognized that this was the language the people themselves asked for, and though it may make us uncomfortable, it is not our place to label someone else to alleviate our discomfort.
People with power always feel that they have the right to label others. Even when we try to be inclusive, we often assert our power privilege to use language that is recognizable and comfortable for us, but not necessarily desired by the groups which we are trying to include. This is important, and one reason I worked to get the language recognizing implicit bias into many of the overtures that came before the committee.
I am very glad to be here. I also continue to be excited and proud to be on the Social Justice committee. I will be talking in depth about all of the things we discussed when I get back, and will probably be blogging more as we move to the plenary session tomorrow!
The last three days have been a great time of relaxing, walking, and meeting people finding cool little places. One of my favorite hobbies is to just sit and talk with someone I don’t know and learn about them hear how they view the world and what is important. That has been fascinating up here. As many of you will see on Facebook I packed in as much as I could, but now the work begins.
The morning started with am moving presentation by the Presbyterians for Middle East Peace. I take the stance that I don’t think that divestment as a tool is helpful, especially after the last General Assembly. The problem that I see is that the energy spent talking about divestment could be better used to study, listen, and really come up with solutions. But as we know, in almost any organization, when money is the focus it often turns to a win or lose thing. I have written a lot about that.
What was neat was listening to two men, one a Palestinian Muslim Man and one Arab Christian. As they spoke it was powerful listening to their view of how BDS is more like a new form of colonialism from the west then it is liberation for the Palestinian people. It was interesting to hear the underlying implicit bias that exists in the whole discussion too. But I am sure I will write more about that later.
Worship was amazing! There were moments that I was moved to tears feeling the presence of the holy spirit. It was cool how they transitioned from the traditional service to a contemporary style at communion. They played all of the stuff we do at revive and I kind of lost myself in the moment! It was great. The theme of the conference is reconciliation, but I could not help but notice that we went from the old traditional to the new at the very point of the service where we witness being the body of Christ. Planned or not it represented a new day for the church in a powerful way.
The first day only has one exciting action all of the rest is organizational business. That exciting piece was the election of co-moderators. This is the first time that they had co-moderators and it is also the first time that two women were at the top of the ticket, both brilliant and relatable. It was a powerful moment and made me proud to be part of a church that is embracing its diversity, neither of the slates were all white and both made it clear that we are going to be an inclusive church.
That’s it for today.
Prayer from the Rainbow Flag Lowering at the Santa Clara County Offices in solidarity with the LGBT community in Orlando.
God of many names and deepest compassion,
We come before you today with broken souls and hearts full of fear as we stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Orlando. A sacred place of welcome, acceptance, and love has been desecrated in the false name of righteousness and purity. As we remember the 49 lives lost and let us not let them be forgotten. Each individual was someone who you created and loved and deserving of being loved
As we stand here in this plaza dedicated to peace and justice we recognize that violence and hate is never righteous and that the lack of respect for human life IS a lack of respect for You!
As we gather holding onto each other we recognize that as long as there is hate, as long as our politicians use hate to get elected and our communities use hate to teach prejudice and discrimination, we know that we will not be safe and that the peace we strive for will allude us. We pray that we can learn to recognize and name all hate. That those who have the positions of power can be called to address it wherever it is and stop it in the name of Peace and Justice!
As we stand united many of us are individually crying out in in pain and sorrow. We are left with the questions of why. Why do people think that God could condone violence? Why do people think that a God who created you could want anything but the best for you? Why do people feel justified in targeting LGBT community? Why can’t we all just learn to love and accept each other? And so many others. We pray that we can come to an understanding and use these questions to teach others Justice and Peace.
As we remember the lives lost and think of how we will respond, let us think of the appropriate words of the Christian Apostle Paul 9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.
11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. (Rom 12:9-16 NRS)
No matter what faith tradition we come from, when we live into love we live into all that you have created us to be. Let us learn to combat hate with love. And let us be kind to one another as we struggle to make sense of your presence in this tragedy. Help us to lift up those who have lost their lives, their families, their friends. Help us to find the ways we need to be a community for them and help us to know how we can make sure that they will NOT be forgotten. And events like this will never happen again.
God of many names and boundless compassion, strengthen all who have come today. As this legislative body gathers, let us take a moment to reflect on this month of Gay Pride.
I was once asked what does it mean to be gay, my cheeky answer, “to be happy!”
For many being gay was the opposite of being happy. Many youth, teens, and young adults saw their sexuality as a defect. One that was so bad that they could no longer bare live. They felt as if they were alone. Many were hurt in unspeakable ways. Others lived in fear of what might happen. We must learn from our past and not let this continue. We must find ways of acceptance and seek justice for all.
For many AIDS changed their lives. I remember 20 years ago sitting with my uncle as he told me brief stories of living as a gay man in San Francisco from the 50’s through the late 80’s. As he recalled the AIDS epidemic he recounted it like a soldier wanting to forget the war, his snippets were short and filled with pain and sadness. It is sad that it takes a tragedy for people to realize that Gay people are people, they have families and they hurt.
We remember leaders like Harvey Milk who brought the Gay community in San Francisco out of the Closet and Barbara Gittings who fought the APA to removed homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, and the myriad of others who who made inclusion today possible.
For those who are no longer with us, for those took their own lives, for those who died of AIDS for the forefathers and mothers who risked everything, let us take a moment of silence to remember them.
Time of Silence
As you convene and go about your work in this session, I implore you to think about the lives that are impacted by the laws you pass, their interpretation, and their implementation. Especially when it is so easy to legislate discrimination in order to keep the status quo and to make the majority “comfortable.”
We know that we are still not done with the fight for LGBT acceptance. As children, teens, and young adults are still bullied we have an obligation to let other know that we will not stand for that.
As other states refuse to recognize the humanity of transgendered people we must let others know that we will not stand for that.
We must continue to be the example, we must continue to advocate, and we must use the power of our county, and her resources to fight for equality and justice.
We are in a unique place where our voice for justice is heard and is an example for the world.
I implore you to take the time to think about inclusion, to think about the lives your work touches, and if you have a faith to pray to your God and ask for guidance and if not, to look to your neighbor and recognize their humanity and and seek a way to find justice and compassion in your legislating.
Let us boldly go forth into the world, rejoicing in the power of the Spirit of justice and the Love that can truly change the world. Amen.
As you know I am preparing for my next, and probably my last, stint as a commissioner to the General Assembly. This meeting will no doubt be as emotional as it was last time. There are some really big issues that are coming up at this General Assembly that will mark the direction and future of our denomination.
But this is to be expected. Just look around. It is not like things are going well for our society. We are on the verge of electing a president most people agree is not the best person for the job, at least if you are relying on the polls for either front runner. The disparity between the wealthy and poor is increasing. Racial and religious tensions are at a place where cities here and around the world are already breaking down. We stand at the precipice of an environmental catastrophe.
I don’t say this to be gloom and doom, but we share a lot of the blame for the direction of our country and world. While we were fighting about gay and lesbian people, we lost sight of what was happening to the faithful communities. Christians¾not just Presbyterians¾became known as hypocrites and haters. We lost our moral authority, because instead of following our instruction to give voice to the voiceless and create a just society, we spent billions of dollars to prove that a group less then 10% of the population¾was not worthy of faith. And right there, you can see the problem. It is not our place to say who is worthy and who is not it is God’s.
I have a radical theory about modern Christianity. It goes like this: we do not like God, but we feel real guilty about that. Shocking, I know, but think about it. When we debate issues and analyze the things that are said, most of the time the driving points rely on tradition, comfort, or power. Even when people claim an argument to be “theological,” it rarely has to do with God.
Here is the problem: because we do not trust in God and let Christ be our guide, we have rightly lost our place at the table, because there is no foundation and no unique voice that we bring to issues. Because of this, we see an increase in policies and laws that are at best discriminatory and at worst, genocidal. We have dropped the ball!
This General Assembly has the potential to act boldly in justice and retake our moral authority. With the LGBTQ issues behind us, we are running towards deeper questions of justice in our world, especially in how we welcome people, how we give voice to the voiceless, and how we create a better environment.
The scary thing is that there is still a win-at-all-costs attitude. Like last time, proposals are being made which are more about power and winning then they are about really making a difference. And many are reflecting social norms, rather than speaking to the things God would be calling us to do.
So here is my plea: most of the commissioners will be doing last-minute cramming for the General Assembly this week as they prepare to leave next week. Pray that God will speak to them as they read and seek information; that the Holy Spirit will use them to make the right decisions; and that as a denomination, we can come out of this year’s General Assembly with a bold statement that can help redirect our nation and our world, before it really is too late.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen