Pridefest, Rent, and the World We Live In

So a couple of Saturdays ago (June 16), Travis staked out a corner of the Greater Ozarks 2012 Pridefest in the Square to take some photos for Queen City Faces. It seemed like a great idea at the time, a perfect way to capture some of the faces of Springfield. He talked with a couple of people, shared the purpose of Queen City Faces, and took some great shots. After he’d been there for a while, a woman approached him and asked him if he’d considered the fact that some of the people at Pridefest could potentially lose their jobs or face alienation from their families if these pictures placing them at Pridefest ended up online (you can read Travis’ account of this story here). I’m not sure if the woman who talked with Travis was lesbian herself or if she was concerned that even being publicly associated with an event like Pridefest could hurt her career, but I do know that she believed that she could lose her job if her employers saw a photo of her at Pridefest. The whole thing got me thinking…we really do still live in a world where even those who associate with the LGBT community or stand in solidarity with them by attending events like Pridefest can face negative repercussions, and those repercussions pale in comparison to those who are actually lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. What year are we living in? Why is it still OK to persecute these children of God? Why are we still finding reasons to denigrate, dehumanize, scorn, and shun those who need to experience the tangible love of God more than anyone else?

As Travis was taking photos at Pridefest, I saw Phil talking with some “Christian” protesters who were in attendance at the event. Without even approaching them, I knew that Phil was engaging this man holding up a large wooden cross in conversation surrounding the subject of homosexuality and scripture, talking about the love of God and the hatred being spewed by the church. I don’t know the exact words that were being exchanged, but Phil’s oldest son informed me that the guy with the cross was saying that it was bad to be gay, so his dad was talking to him about that. I don’t know that Phil’s words made any difference to the man, but they made a difference to his kid, and I do know that his willingness to offer this man another Christian perspective meant the world to some of my gay and lesbian friends who saw what Phil was doing.

Now, the reason I wasn’t able to be part of the conversation Travis had with the woman concerned about losing her job or the conversation Phil had with the cross-carrying man was because I was preparing to perform with Springfield Little Theatre’s cast of Rent on the Pridefest stage.  Rent has long been called a controversial musical. In fact, I know I myself have given a few disclaimers to people from the church who have expressed an interest in coming to see it. Not to discourage them from coming, just to prepare them for what they were going to see. Rent deals with AIDS, drug addiciton, and sexuality. There are three romantic relationships that run through the musical, one between and man and a woman, one between two men, and one between two women. In Springfield, MO, that’s controversial. But the more I think about it, the more I want to say, you know what? Rent isn’t controversial! Maybe it was back in 1996 when it was released, but this is 2012! The world is a different place! We live post Will & Grace. We live in the era of Glee. We watch TV shows where violence is glorified and murder is celebrated (as long as you’re killing the bad guys, right?). And we think Rent is controversial? 

Which also gets me thinking… Why is showing up at an event that supports the LGBT community controversial? Why is standing up for the rights of a marginalized and demonized and dehumanized segment of our society controversial? Why is a musical that celebrates love and the ways it ties us together in the face of heartbreak and disease controversial? Conversely, why isn’t it controversial to claim to be Christian as you stand for discrimination and hatred? Why isn’t it controversial to spiritually abuse our LGBT brothers and sisters, all in the name of God? Talk about taking the Lord’s name in vain. 

So yeah, these are some of my musings early on in my sabbatical, in the wake of Pridefest. I lament the fear with which our LGBT brothers and sisters live, the fear that leads them feeling they even need to hide their faces a bit at Pridefest (because this is, after all, Springfield, MO), the fear that keeps them out of our churches because of the abuse they have had to endure, the fear that has shut off belief that God could ever love them, the fear that keeps them locked in closets of loneliness and despair, the fear that has them believing that there may not be a safe space for them. My heart aches. And so I stand in solidarity, in the hopes that some day these fears can be assuaged, that the controversy and disgrace will be laws like the one passed in North Carolina, the hateful language upheld in church doctrine, and the wholly un-Christian practice of dehumanizing and denigration of our LGBT brothers and sisters.

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Standing Against the E-Verify Ordinance

Some time ago in the Springfield News-Leader, there was an op-ed piece that called into question clergy and church involvement in the efforts to defeat the E-Verify ordinance.  Here is my response to that editorial:

In response to John Main of Pleasant Hope who wrote the words, “Shame on the local churches who are protesting E-Verify.  It’s not Christian that an unemployed American should have to compete with criminals for a job.  Since churches enjoy tax-exempt status, they ‘don’t have a dog in this hunt’ and should remain silent.”  To be Christian is to be a follower of Jesus and a follower of the way of Jesus.  As a member of the clergy, I am compelled to point out that the way of Jesus is the way of compassion, of reaching out to the least of these, of extending care to the poor, to the outcast, to the marginalized.  Members of the clergy and members of local churches who stand in opposition to the mandatory implementation of E-Verify do so precisely because they “have a dog in this hunt.”  They, like I, recognize that such a system targets a minority population in our country.  Such a system does nothing to encourage employers to hire only documented workers, it just drives the illegal hiring practices further underground.  Whether people want to admit it or not, our economy is dependent upon the work of undocumented workers.  They are often doing the jobs that citizens of this country won’t do and they are doing that work for less.  There is an unfair hiring practice in place on the part of many businesses that hire undocumented workers and then pay them in cash so they can get away with hiring workers for less.  And because such practices are done under the table, there are no protections in place for the workers.  These are the practices that lead to modern day slavery, which is one of the many reasons some Christians feel compelled to speak out against this ordinance.  When people claim that E-Verify will solve this problem of modern day slavery, they are failing to recognize that E-Verify does nothing to address the problem of employers paying their employees under the table.

Is illegal immigration a problem in the United States?  No doubt.  But I have to say one of the biggest problems is how it enables businesses to exploit human beings for the benefit of cheap goods and services.  We all want a good “deal.”  Sales at the supermarket or the mall drive many of our purchases.  Until we recognize that the great “deals” we come across each day are often made available to us because of the unfair employment practices of businesses by hiring undocumented workers who are not paid a fair (much less living) wage in order for us to have those great deals, and then work to do something about the exploitation of the undocumented worker, much of the problem of illegal immigration will remain.  E-Verify is not the solution to this problem.  And that is why I can call myself a Christian as I stand in opposition to its mandatory implementation.

Where are the Explicity Female Images of God?

In response to the rampant sexism and imagined female oppression of men displayed in the Super Bowl commercials, I am looking for music to use in worship that celebrates more feminine imagery for God. I am sorry, though not really surprised, to report that there is a derth of music to challenge the maleness of God. In fact, the very small number of hymns in our hymnal that use feminine pronouns for God makes those hymns merely token hymns, and therefore not meant to challenge the dominant patriarchal structures.

Though this is the practice I have generally used, just saying “God” for God instead of “him” really doesn’t do anything to challenge those structures either, because the term god is inherently male. But heaven forbid we refer to God as “Goddess.” Oh my gosh, I think the walls of the church would come crumbling down if I did that on a Sunday morning! Not that I really plan to, because unfortunately, the word “Goddess” carries too much baggage for people. But the really sad thing is, so does the pronoun “She”.

I am reminded of what my feminist theology professor said: There can never be reverse sexism in this country until Congress has been made up of entirely women for 200 years. And even then, it may never be possible because patriarchy has been the dominant form of western civilization.

We have such a long way to go.