Houston: You have written about moderation and the fact that, especially as the movement went on, there was perhaps an unfair characterization of moderates in the civil rights movement. Do you still feel that way? … If so, how do you look at moderates, especially white moderate southerners now that the movement has progressed over time?
Campbell: I don’t really know what the term “moderate” means in terms of race. You either believe that all people are equal or you don’t. If you don’t, then you are a racist. You are an extremist. If you say, “well, I believe that we are equal in some ways and some ways we are not,” that doesn’t makes you a moderate. It makes you a racist. Now, I think I know how people used the word back during the movement. Anybody who said moderate meant, “well, let’s don’t try to do it overnight.” Generally, in my observation, people who said, Rome wasn’t built in a day, they just meant Rome couldn’t be built. If you are not going to do it right away, then you weren’t going to do it. If you say, “well, we will do it next year,” well, you are an extremist to the people who say never, and there were a lot of people who said never, and still some.
I went to speak at a PFLAG meeting this past week. There are a lot of people hurting because of the way we treat our LGBT sisters and brothers, our sons and daughters.
For whatever reason, I find myself writing a great deal about the issue of how the church welcomes—or fails to welcome—Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, and Queer people. I have been reminded that there are other issues in addition to this in the world, big issues, important issues, life-and-death issues—issues more important than “who gets to sleep with whom.” So, why don’t I concentrate on those a little bit more and give the “homosexual thing” a rest? Besides, winning people over from being “anti” to “pro” through the strength of arguments—no matter how impressive—doesn’t work well as a strategy.
To the first complaint: I agree that other important issues exist, issues that also deserve attention. However, I want to suggest that dismissing as peripheral an issue that affects someone else may come a bit too easily for those who happen not to find themselves on the sharp end of the stick. For those for whom the inclusion of LGBTIQ people matters, it’s not first about “who gets to sleep with whom.” If this were merely about sleeping arrangements and agreements about how and with whom we use our genitals, we might be justified in putting it off for another day. It’s about identity, though: it’s about dignity; it’s about justice; it’s about love. When you sit down across the table and hold the hand of a parent whose child has just pulled the plug on a life inundated with the taunting and belittling violence visited upon her by people who self-identify (loudly) as Christians, a life that, when it finally came down to making a decision about it, she calculated just contained too much pain, then perhaps you can begin to understand that for far too many people this issue is a big, important, “life-and-death” issue.
If you can’t see that, I’m not nearly a good enough writer to be able to convince you.
So, why don’t I focus on some of those other issues? I do, when opportunity to do so coincides with a belief that I have something meaningful to add to the conversation. I don’t think issues of race or poverty or or violence or lack of access to healthcare are somehow less important, just because I don’t happen to comment on them as often. For good or for ill, I just happen to have the opportunity and the means by which to address this particular issue. I know and love people who are affected by the hatred and bigotry, by the exclusion.
Moreover, I think speaking up is the right thing to do—which brings me to the last complaint about whether I’m aware that I’m not really changing people’s minds, that all my writing is not finally prompting people to go from thinking that being gay or transgendered is a blight on creation to thinking that sexual orientation and gender identity is a gift from God.
So, let me lay out what it is I’m trying to do with all this writing about the inclusion of LGBTIQ people: Generally speaking, I’m not trying to persuade people who believe that being gay or transgender is a sin that it’s not a sin. The chances of that happening, I realize, remain slim. I’m trying to convince people who already believe that excluding people because of their sexual orientation or identity is wrong to quit hanging back for fear of making waves.
In other words, my goal is to persuade “moderates” that, when it comes to issues of justice, not only does moderation fail to allow you any avenues out of which to live your hard-won convictions about justice, it doesn’t even keep you permanently safe from the slings and arrows of the folks who want to consign LGBTIQ people to Hell.
Now, I know that there are going to be some people who will bridle under the assertion that equating sexual orientation and gender identity with race are all equally matters of justice—that the traditional Civil Rights movement is somehow cheapened when it is associated with LGBTIQ inclusion. The thinking goes: Whereas racism is about the inclusion and welcome of all people regardless of race (which is a fact of birth), this whole sexual orientation and gender identity thing is about the inclusion of people who are making a choice to live in sin.
If that’s what you think, my laying out a bunch of arguments about the biological nature of sexual orientation and gender identity isn’t going to persuade you. So, you might just as well give up and read something else, because this only going to convince you further that agitators like me are leading the church and America down the road to perdition. In other words, this article’s not for you.
This article is for people who already agree in principle that neither sexual orientation nor gender identity is a basis upon which to judge a person’s faithfulness to God.
This article is for people who already believe that sexual activity and sexual orientation are two separate issues—that the former truly is about human choice, while the latter is a fact of birth.
This article is for people who are already persuaded that the church fails the expectations of justice inherent in God’s reign when it excludes LGBTIQ people from full participation in the life and ministry of the church …
… but who think that now is not the time, that perhaps a more favorable climate will appear at some point in the future.
What would a more favorable climate look like? One in which everybody already agrees with me, where nobody will get mad and leave the church, and in which I won’t get fired for what I believe?
I’ll grant you that such a climate would make things a lot easier, just like it would have been a lot easier in the 1960s for people to have magically seen the error of their ways on race without the bloodshed and heartache of the Civil Rights movement. Unfortunately, the birth of new worlds, not unlike the birth of children, never comes without pain.1 We’re Christians; we understand that the beauty of resurrection requires the ugliness of crucifixion.
Am I spoiling, then, for a headlong rush to the cross on this issue?
No. However, the thought that God’s reign will present itself to us fully formed if we just cross our fingers and wait long enough is not only naïve, it’s ultimately a vote to keep a rotten situation rotten.
What about patience? Aren’t I implying that God can’t take care of things in God’s timing, rather than in mine?
Two thoughts come to mind when I hear this question. One, my fervent prayer is that I’m a part of “God’s timing” and not a competitor with it. Humility prevents me from claiming more than that. I hope, but I cannot be certain.
Second, “patience” is a wonderful reminder from those who find themselves in the midst of oppression; but it is often merely heard by those being oppressed as a contribution to the overall state of oppression when it is said by folks whose ox isn’t currently being gored. In other words, it’s easy to say “You just need to be patient” when you feel as though by saying it you don’t stand to lose anything. Unfortunately, though, that’s an illusion, since we all stand to lose by embracing moderation on issues of justice.
Here’s the thing: We kid ourselves if we think that the whole church isn’t damaged when we moderate our impulses toward justice and allow inequity to survive unchallenged. If you believe the diagnosis that an illness has been introduced into the body, getting a second or third opinion might make sense—a fifteenth or sixteenth opinion is an admission, however, that whatever concern you may have isn’t going to prompt any action that will lead to a cure.2 To say that the treatment is “just too painful to think about” is to say to that the illness that is eating us up from the inside out is preferable to the cure.3
If you agree that excluding people from full participation in the life and ministry of the church is a failure of the church’s vocation to be welcoming, then moderation isn’t an option.
Even patience? Yes.
- Given the recent boneheadedness in politics perpetrated by men with respect to women’s bodies, I want to go on record as saying that this statement in no way offers an inference that I possess more knowledge about childbirth than is anything more than purely observational. ↩
- Again, if you don’t agree with my diagnosis of the situation—that exclusion of people based on sexual orientation or gender identity is an injustice—then this isn’t the article for you. ↩
- Look, I know the illness/cure metaphor is an imperfect one, being perhaps inflammatory. It does, however, have the virtue of being Scriptural. Paul had a great deal to say about the integrity of the body and its ailments (see 1 Cor. 12:12ff.). ↩