New Breed of Evangelicals Supports Marriage Equality

Brandan Robertson

Imagine it: The Evangelical Christian church in America is a place of extravagant welcome for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Christians.

Not the kind of welcome that we have right now. You know, the one where we’re welcome to sit in the pew, sing songs and put our money in the plate as it passes by, but we are not allowed to lead Sunday School, youth groups, or, heaven forbid, be church leaders such as deacons or preachers.

No, really. Take a moment to imagine the Evangelical church welcoming LGBT Christians with no conditions — with the unconditional love of Christ — just as they are. And while you’re lost in that fantastical fantasy, imagine those church leaders embracing you in your same-sex marriage and celebrating your relationship.

This is the vision of a new organization called Evangelicals for Marriage Equality.

Founded about a year ago by Josh Dickson, the former Deputy Director of Faith Outreach for the Democratic National Convention and Michael Saltsman, vice president of a Washington, D.C., research firm, the fledgling organization has big plans for the future of the Evangelical church.

“As Evangelicals for Marriage Equality, we believe you can be a devout, Bible-believing evangelical and support the right of same-sex couples to be recognized by the government as married,” reads the opening line from the statement posted at their Web site. “Our commitment to following Christ leads us to speak out for equal treatment under the law for others — whether or not they share our religious convictions.”

Those are fighting words to leaders of the right-wing evangelical church. The statement was found so revolutionary that three Christian magazines — Christianity Today, Relevant and World Magazine — turned down a full-page advertisement for the launch of the new group in September.

The organization has also been attacked by other evangelical leaders such as Andrew T. Walker, director of policy studies for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, who accused the group of not making its case for marriage equality.

“I saw a lot of emotion. I saw appeals to injustice and craven caricatures of Christianity, but I didn’t see any real arguments,” writes Walker.

Brandan Robertson, the spokesman for EME is not surprised by the backlash.

“We expected that because the sad history of Evangelicalism shows we have become bogged down with a political agenda,” Robertson told Whosoever in a recent interview. “Everyone who has responded to us has missed the point saying things like we’re trying to redefine marriage or water down theology. But, our statement explicitly says we’re not asking anyone to change their theology but rather we are saying, ‘you have a right to hold that theology but are you called by Christ to work to Christianize our government or are we called to love our neighbor?'”

EME has some heavy-hitters among on their advisory board ready to help make that case including well-known author and theologian Brian McLaren and Richard Cizik, the former vice president of government affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals. Cizik resigned that post in 2008 after saying during an interview on NPR that his views on same-sex marriage were “shifting,” and that he believed civil unions should be available for gays and lesbians.

In a post on the EME site he now writes: “While I haven’t come to a conclusion on gay marriage within the Church, believing sincere people will reach different answers on that question, I am convinced that we cannot deny basic societal and constitutional rights — equal protection and due process under the law — to people based on their sexual orientation or practice.”

This is the fine line the organization is walking — urging evangelicals to leave marriage to the political arena and reclaim the gospel of Jesus for the religious arena.

“We hope that as we change the hearts and minds of evangelicals through these conversations that our posture toward the LGBT community will improve because for far too long the church has been on the wrong side of history,” Robertson explained. “Once again, with this issue we have put aside the call of Jesus and picked up political agendas. It’s really harmful and oppressive to the LGBT community and we don’t believe that should continue.”

In October, Robertson and others from the organization will try to begin that heart-changing dialogue with Southern Baptist leaders at Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission meeting in Nashville, Tennessee. Robertson hopes to sit down with some of the leaders speaking at the convention to make his case for evangelical support of marriage equality.

Robertson hopes to make it clear to those leaders that their anti-gay message is not resonating with millennial members of the congregation. A 2014 Gallup poll revealed that 45% of young evangelicals support same-sex marriage, while only 19% of their elders over 50 do.

“We’re trying to show the older evangelicals that this is a generational issue and instead of pushing us out of the church because we support same-sex marriage, we want to show that we are people of integrity with biblical values, but this is where we’ve come to on this issue,” Robertson said.

He is going to Nashville optimistic that he can made a difference.

“If I can, as a millennial, sit in a room with evangelical leaders and have this discussion and show that dialogue is possible, that witness to evangelical millennials will be powerful and will allow them to come out in support of these issues,” he said. “As long as people of power don’t talk with millennials, there will be fear mongering language used and young evangelicals will shy away from speaking out on things they actually believe in and we’ll stay in our theological box. We want to be an example that these conversations can happen and you don’t have to give up your evangelical credentials to do it.”

Robertson does not approach his task with rose-colored glasses, however. He realizes that those evangelicals with political power, especially, will not move easily on a message that has served them well and kept organizational coffers full. In addition, he knows there are fences to mend with the LGBT population hurt by the evangelical crusade against the community.

“If you say the word ‘evangelical’ to the LGBT community, one of the first things that pops into their minds is “anti-gay” or homophobic and we’d like to correct that,” Robertson said.”I’d like them to see that there is a different kind of evangelical that is not working to deny them rights but there are actually people that look like Jesus.”

In the end, Robertson’s vision for the church is one of welcome for LGBT people, without strings or a hidden agenda to change LGBT people or champion legislation against them.

“If we can figure out how we can rediscover the root of the Good News and really center ourselves back around Jesus, the church is going to become a place that has tremendous potential for good,” he said. “It’s going to become a safe haven for LGBT men and women. It will become a place of safety and dialogue as well as a place for doubt. That’s a church I really envision and want to cultivate.”

Listen to our podcast interview with Evangelicals for Marriage Equality spokesman Brandan Robertson.

America’s Religiosity: A Gut Check of Its Christianities

Funny USA America Flag Retro Sunglasses

It’s hardly news anymore that a growing number of Americans are checking the box “none” on surveys of religious belief. According to Pew Research Center polling, one-fifth of the public and a third of those under thirty are unaffiliated with any religious entity.

Among those left who still report being affiliated, the percentage of fundamentalists and other conservatives is increasing. It’s the pie that’s shrinking and leaving the right-wing to have a bigger share.

Relying on figures publicized by denominations is problematic. There are convenient ways for memberships to be counted.

But even the granddaddy of right-wingers, the Southern Baptist Convention, reported this year that it’s losing members and baptizing fewer people. Their response, of course, wasn’t to question their teachings but to assume they needed better marketing.

Those who are religiously addicted never question what they’re teaching. They’re so invested in it that to do so would be a real downer for their high of righteousness.

They always assume that it’s the packaging that needs up-dating. Hence the stagings of hipster churches, or prosperity mega-churches like Joel Osteen’s and Rick Warren’s that refuse not to smile.

These fundamentalist-with-a-positive-attitude approaches have become multi-million dollar empires. Many drawn into them cherish those positive feelings without commitment to their worn out hidden theologies.

They eschew the language and public demeanors of the Fred Phelpses or other regressive clergy who get national media attention for their otherwise insignificant congregations through outrageous anti-gay acts, burning Qurans, or rantings about divine punishment ready to rain down on the country for whatever cultural fears they can stoke in the gullible who feel they’re losing in the victories of American oligarchy.

It’s still this Christian movement that, like the addict in a family, gets most of the attention, steers the agenda, and keeps progressives in a defensive posture. There are a number of reasons for that.

First, and foremost, right-wingers are the religious category with the most money to spend on their causes. How many pastors would take a more progressive stand on numerous issues, believing that it’s what Jesus would do, if they weren’t afraid that key people would leave their churches, particularly the wealthiest givers, who’re usually conservative?

Conservative theology attracts many of the rich because it justifies the accumulation of wealth. It preaches that wealth is as a sign of divine blessing.

Look at the right-wing Green family that owns Hobby Lobby. Their recent Supreme Court victory seemed to have little to do with their faith because they profited from selling what was made in a country that mandated abortion and had previously funded the contraceptives they discovered to be against their beliefs only when a president they wanted to destroy backed them.

The conservatives’ choice of Biblical passages to take literally is never “It’s harder for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom of god” or “Give all you have to the poor and follow me” or the numerous passages in the Hebrew scriptures about usury that say never loan money and ask for ANY interest. And the dominant religion in any culture is the one that supports the status quo and its powerful.

Second, progressive churches regularly fail at acting progressive. They have progressive theologies, but aren’t sure what to do with them, often out of nervousness about upsetting the very status quo that marginalizes Christian progressives.

This has left challenging regressive Christianities to atheist, agnostic and skeptic organizations along with non-Christian religious movements. The established baptist-inspired Americans for the Separation of Church and State has been joined by more anti-religious groups such as the Freedom from Religion Foundation. And to the original American Humanist Association a growing list of others have been added.

Progressive churches have instead taken up charity activities. In the light of strategic conservative attacks on the government safety net, compassion seems to demand it.

But two observations need to be made here. Right-wing defunding of government assistance programs is a deliberate strategy intended to move liberal money away from politics into making up the difference through funding charities. This gives mega-rich corporations and right-wingers even more of an advantage in buying the political arena while progressive funds are diverted into charities.

But conservative churches do charity as well, and with their major goal to convert recipients to their brand of sectarianism. So, doing charity work, as admirable as it is, doesn’t distinguish progressive churches from fundamentalist ones.

In the mind of younger generations from Generation X to the Millennials, then, there is little reason to come back to a progressive church. These generations are looking for actions that speak to a sense of justice, not what goes on Sunday mornings inside some pious-looking building.

For the progressive church to grow, it will have to move beyond charity to taking a public place in the front line of justice work. For the ten years I was president of the board of a campus ecumenical ministry, what attracted students was exactly that.

Only when convinced we practiced justice, did they ask what we believed and how it fit. Did we march to stand for LGBT rights? Did we support the dignity and power of working people? Did we fight for ecological justice and the future of the planet? Did we live as if all oppressions are offensive and intersecting?

So, when the United Church of Christ filed a lawsuit to protect it’s first amendment right to perform same-sex marriages in North Carolina, that was a belated example of progressive Christianity standing out from all the regressive sectarianism. Their progressive action even led a Baptist alliance to follow them.

And that contradicts the third reason why the religious addicts have dominated national attention. Progressive Christianity has been defensive, always having to respond to what it isn’t, rather than on the offense.

When any position leads, people take notice. Then they see it as a real option, one that real people really believe, walking their walk not just talking some talk.


Robert N. Minor, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas, is author of When Religion Is an Addiction; Scared Straight: Why It’s So Hard to Accept Gay People and Why It’s So Hard to Be Human: and Gay & Healthy in a Sick Society. Contact him at www.FairnessProject.org

Gays Force Religious Right to Lose All Sense of Morality

Photo by Brett Sayles from Pexels

My goodness, how the impending threat of “gay tyranny” in God’s country, the United States of ‘Murica, has gotten Peter LaBarbera hot under the collar.

The founder of the laughably named Americans For Truth About Homosexuality, has penned a screed worthy of the Bigot Hall of Fame, located somewhere in the South, I’m sure (hey, now, I’m a born and bred Southerner, so I can say these things).

The “gay hysteria”-fueled rhetoric begins in the first couple of sentences as LaBarbera bemoans “how decades of court-imposed favored legal status for homosexuality have already stolen away our ‘freedom to be moral.'”

Really, Peter? The fact that gays and lesbians can get married in 17 states and judges are falling over each other to strike down state constitutional bans on gay marriage has left you bereft of a moral compass? So, I expect we can read the news reports of how you’re now knocking off banks, snatching purses and cheating on your spouse? Please, your “freedom to be moral” is a personal choice. Courts, and their decisions, have nothing to do with it.

Ah, but the right-wing blah-blah “criminalization of Christianity” rhetoric train wreck has just begun. He, of course, drags out a couple of tired examples of why gays and lesbians have no right – NO RIGHT, YOU HEAR ME? – to compare their “sin” with the “skin” of black people.

Do the media know or care that Blacks who believe Scripture that homosexuality is wrong repeatedly have been victimized by “gay” activism — which posits that approval of “gayness” and same-sex relationships trumps one’s personal religious and moral beliefs about sexual morality and marriage?

Does Peter care that there are black people who believe Scripture and don’t believe homosexuality is wrong and see, quite clearly, thank you very much, that discrimination against LGBT people, simply because of who they are or who they love is very much akin to the struggle for black civil rights?

Also, does Peter even realize that what LGBT people are fighting for is not the right to have a sexual relationship (Lawrence v. Texas already solved that problem), but to attain the same right to form life-long relationships that are legally recognized by state and federal governments and have nothing to do with “one’s personal religious and moral beliefs about sexual morality and marriage?”

I personally know married heterosexual couples who participate in a “swingers” lifestyle. I personally disapprove on a moral basis, because I believe in monogamy. But, they’re lovely people and their sexual proclivities have nothing to do with me so I live and let live because, hey, my “freedom to be moral” remains intact no matter what they do.

But, he buries the lead deep in his screed. What Peter is really, really afraid of is that if LGBT people are recognized as “normal” and given “special rights” as, y’know, equal, American, tax-paying citizens, then we’ll no longer be one nation “under God,” never mind that many LGBT people are also people of faith, who understand that religion is a personal thing and have no desire to, um, lord it over others, or cry “discrimination” when someone doesn’t believe like they do.

But, anyway, here’s the money shot:

[I]f true liberty is to survive in this Republic that professes to be “under God,” a boldly conservative state like Oklahoma or Texas will need to stand up to the judicial elitists and pronounce that it will not follow tyrannical SCOTUS or federal mandates imposing legal “equality” for manifestly unequal homosexual behaviors. Such a state would assert that our First Amendment freedom as Americans is sacrosanct — and superior to unnatural, man-made “gay rights” — because “inalienable” rights means not having the dictates of one’s faith and conscience squashed by the secular, soulless State.

Which, honestly, when you get right down to it, sounds an awful lot like a man named Theodore Bilbo, a Mississippi segregationist who wrote a book in 1947 called Take Your Choice: Separation or Mongrelization. I invite you to replace words like “racial integrity,” and “race,” and “racial purity,” with phrases like “traditional marriage,” and phrases like “the social equality of the races and to sanction intermarriage,” with “LGBT equality and ‘gay marriage'” (in scare quotes).

Nothing is more sacred than racial integrity. Purity of race is a gift of God, but it is a gift which man can destroy. And God, in his infinite wisdom, has so ordained it that when man destroys his racial purity, it can never be redeemed. This should be sufficient to show that any statement which says our Christian religion forces us to accept the social equality of the races and to sanction intermarriage as the private affair of the two individuals concerned is utterly and absolutely fallacious. If God gave the Negro the inalienable right to social equality and intermarriage with whites, then we must go further and say that He gave to the black man the right to destroy the white race. –Theodore Bilbo in Take Your Choice: Separation or Mongrelization, 1947

Which is to say that right-wing homophobia is simply the red-headed stepchild of right-wing racism. What Peter and his ilk really fear is the end of the divine right of white, straight men to make all the decisions in this country. White men who happen to be gay are seen as the worst traitors to their race, I mean, sexual orientation, which is why the right wing is so obsessed with not just their marginalization, but their utter and ultimate destruction. Do not be fooled, the opposition to LGBT equality is exactly the same as opposition to black civil rights all those years ago, a dying majority’s last ditch effort to retain its power and influence.

But, perhaps Peter is right all along. I fear that the re-emergence of the thoroughly immoral Jim Crow-type laws popping in state legislatures around the country, without any sense by their sponsors of the historic irony or stench of desperation they emit, really does prove that the right-wing has finally succumbed to its own madness and no longer has the freedom to be moral.

Candace Chellew-Hodge is a recovering Southern Baptist and founder/editor of Whosoever: An Online Magazine for GLBT Christians, and author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians, published by Jossey-Bass. She currently serves as the pastor of Jubilee! Circle, a progressive, inclusive community in Columbia, South Carolina. She is also a spiritual director and is currently taking on new directees. She blogs regularly at Religion Dispatches.

The Inevitable Will Take More Effort

Photo by Nick Karvounis on Unsplash

As of this writing, 17 states have legal marriage equality. Six got there by a court’s decision, eight by legislative action, and three by popular vote.

It’s fun to say “as of this writing” because the political landscape is changing more quickly than most of us who’ve been working for human rights would ever have expected. It’s exciting.

The excitement also includes pleasant surprises along the way. Just this past month a federal judge in Utah, Robert Shelby – a registered Republican endorsed by Utah’s Tea Party Senator, Mike Lee, as an “outstanding judge” – ruled that Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

This so shocked a state beholden to one dominant militantly anti-gay religious empire that its acting attorney general was unprepared to request a stay of same-sex marriages — and that judge didn’t order one! Last December Utah’s actual, duly elected Mormon attorney general had resigned over numerous charges of misconduct and unethical behavior.

The Utah panic began. On the one hand, the Utah State Tax Commission decided that married same-sex couples in Utah may file joint state income tax returns — a change from an earlier state position that wouldn’t have allowed them to file as married.

On the other hand, Utah’s acting attorney general began lawyering-up. After a two-week search, he hired three outside counsels who know what they’re doing according to Utah’s local right-wing think tank, the Sutherland Institute, which seems to be calling the shots for Utah’s state government,

Then another surprise on January 14th when another federal judge struck down as unconstitutional Oklahoma’s 2004 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. US Senior District Judge Terrance Kern, a life-long Oklahoman educated at Oklahoma State and with a former 24-year private practice in Ardmore, described the ban as “an arbitrary, irrational exclusion of just one class of Oklahoma citizens from a governmental benefit.”

“Equal protection is at the very heart of our legal system and central to our consent to be governed,” Kern’s 68-page decision says. “It is not a scarce commodity to be meted out begrudgingly or in short portions. Therefore, the majority view in Oklahoma must give way to individual constitutional rights.”

Oh, oh. If this can happen among the conservative judges of Utah and Oklahoma, then who’s next? Missouri? Alabama? Texas?

And make no mistake about it — the right-wing is running even more scared that this can happen in their own backyards. It’s ready to play even more serious hardball to keep its cultural relevance apparent and its fund-raising up.

It can’t rely on “Duck Dynasty’s” bigotry alone. That national fad is soon to run its course.

Mat Staver, Dean of Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University Law School and radical right-wing Liberty Counsel, feels this threat along with all the other well-worn threats to his culture war crusades and fundraising that are coming at him. The courts cannot be trusted, he responded.

“They have no right to act as dictators to undermine not only the will of the people but something that is part of our constitutional history and even beyond that, part of our natural created order.” (Unless they agree with Mat.)

That was one of the saner, less panicky, responses. One headline read: “Obama Judge Invents Constitutional Right to Gay Marriage in Utah” You knew the right-wingers had to make this all Obama’s fault too.

All of this fun for progressives doesn’t call for complacency or major celebrations. The very panic all this puts the radical right-wing in means there are battles ahead no matter how inevitable the victory of justice seems.

The radical right-wing expects that the battle is at state and local levels. And as it did before with school boards, low-level judgeships, city councils, and county legislatures, its strategy is to fight under the largely nationally-focused media radar.

Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Ann Coulter are just as popular with them as they always were. And the Republican Party and many state legislatures and governors remain tightly in the grip of the Christian right-wing.

As C.J Werleman wrote last month: “the Christian Right now holds a majority of seats in more than half of all Republican Party State Committees. Nearly half of the Senate, and half of all congressmen have an 80-100 percent approval rate from the three most influential Christian advocacy groups: the Christian Coalition, Eagle Forum and the Family Research Council.”

As if giving up on the Presidency and counting on the redistricted House of Representatives to stifle progress, the Republican strategy is to control state politics with super-majorities. Note what’s happened in Wisconsin, North Carolina, Missouri and elsewhere.

The Christian right remains well-funded. Its media and grassroots organizational structures have gone nowhere, its think-tanks are well established, and it’s still convinced it’s playing a long-term strategy.

All of the recent setbacks we’ve been celebrating have only made its members more fearful and far angrier. They feel as if they are the righteous rats who’ve been cornered. And it’s more likely that because of this, the most vulnerable individuals among us will get mauled by their anger.

Out of our common humanity we must take responsibility for being prepared for all that’s about to come. We can’t let down our guard nor compromise our principles.

We can’t abandon other groups because we’ve already gotten ours. And we can’t start acting as if because something is inevitable, we can opt out of the rest of the process toward it.

There are miles to go before we sleep, and traveling them requires no naiveté now. With eyes wide open, Chris Hedges reminds us: “All ideological, theological and political debates with the radical Christian right are useless. It cares nothing for rational thought and discussion. Its adherents are using the space within the open society to destroy the open society itself. Our naive attempts to placate a movement bent on our destruction, to prove to it that we too have “values,” only strengthen its supposed legitimacy and increase our own weakness.”

Never Let Other People Define Your Reality

Young Man Watching the Sunrise From Top of the Mountain

For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. — Romans 8:38-39

From the time my children were born I exhorted them to obey as a mantra the title of this article. God is to be our Revelator, not mere man! As Isaiah said, “Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils: for wherein is he to be accounted of? — Isaiah 2:22

The scriptures above tell us that nothing can separate us from the love of God to those who “… call upon the name of the Lord”. (Romans 10:13) We are frequently hammered over the head by perhaps well-intentioned people within and without the Church as to how to think and behave in order to be a Christian. Preachers and evangelists frequently bombard us with guilt-inducing sermons designed to make us feel fragile and fallen. Of course, we are fragile and fallen creatures, and that is why the Church is a hospital for the spiritually sick.

One example of seeking to define others’ realty is that on this very day, a Methodist pastor, Rev. Frank Schaeffer, who blessed the union of his gay son’s marriage was told in a “church trial” that he must renounce same-sex marriage or be defrocked as a minister in the Methodist church. This pastor has stated that he will continue to bless same-sex unions, and it’s very likely that he’ll be defrocked by that denomination. This courageous man refuses to let anyone or any institution define his reality for him!

What a travesty that this church would seek to define his reality and punish him for showing love and acceptance to God’s gay children. It is an outrage that bespeaks the loss of credibility to a church that claims to have “open heart, open hands, open doors.” It is attempting to usurp the conscience of Rev. Schaeffer and enact punishment that violates its very stated tenets.

There is nothing that we can do that takes God by surprise! God is not stupid! He has known from the foundation of the world what each of us would do and how each of us would respond to the free gift of His Sacrifice on our behalf. Moreover, He knows us better than we know ourselves!

Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou compassest my path and my lying down and art acquainted with all my ways. — Psalm 139:2-3

Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ! Not even our sins! That’s the Good News of the Gospel!

We even see this type of God’s unmerited favor to us in the Old Testament.

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits: Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who dealeth all thy diseases; Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who croweth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies… As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressioins from us… For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust. — Psalm 103:2-4, 12-14

And that is what we all are: mere dust whom God has inscrutably chosen to use to fulfill His will on this earth.

The easiest way to go astray is to let others, including denominations and other professing Christians, tell us what to think and how to act and, thereby, put us into bondage to their views of the world and their view of how a Christian is to think and act. Clearly, we don’t want to cause a weaker brother or sister to stumble or cause hindrance to the proclamation of the Gospel. Moreover, we are to struggle to live up to God’s will for each of our lives. However, it is a struggle, not an accomplishment. Even the Apostle Paul said that with his mind he served the law of God; “… but with the flesh the law of sin”. (Romans 7:25)

You must not be inauthentic, manifesting seemingly desirable attributes as peace and sweetness when you don’t possess these attributes. God has called us all to be authentic so He can use us as we are and as He and He alone can mature us in the faith. You may solicit others’ advice regarding problems in your life, but if these people love you they will respect your choices, even if they disagree with them.

There has been a long tradition in Catholicism that one’s “informed conscience” trumps any papal pronouncement, Church dogma, and teachings from the Magesterium, or teaching arm, of the Church. There is good reason for this tradition, and that is that in Christianity one size doesn’t fit all. You aren’t a Christian on the basis of what you do as much as you are a Christian on the basis of what you are; what you are is comprised of God’s imputation of His righteousness to you because you trust Him.

Let God have His way with you and never let others define your reality or put you into bondage to their views of the world. Their views may be right for them, but not necessarily right for you.

Some Christians are more mature than others. However, it is God Who does the maturation process within each of us—an accomplishment that no human being can achieve. Before we can mature, we must become broken before God; unfortunately, others may likely home in on our frailties and brokenness—the very qualities that God can use to mature us in the faith and enact His will upon the earth.

Therefore, practicing this article’s title will set you free to be more fully used by God!

If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed. — John 8:36

And LGBT, and all, Christians are free, if we truly internalize the Gospel that Jesus taught and epitomized!

When Our Number Comes Up

What do we do when our number comes up? Waiting, after all, is not an end in itself; we wait because one day – at least theoretically – our number will be called. It will be our turn. Then the wait will be over, and it will be time for action.

In the Phoenix area, where I live, an LGBT Christian media group is now forming. I’m interested, because I’m a lesbian Christian writer. I want to contribute to any effort that might bring Christ’s love to LGBT people, or to reconcile straight believers with those who are sexual minorities. But early on, I’m concerned with the direction it seems to be taking. It appears to be mired in an attitude of long-term waiting.

This was understandable, back in 1980 or 1990. But this is 2013. We must probably wait a while longer, but the numbers are ticking down to ours. We haven’t long to wait now. Are we ready to take action?

Advent doesn’t last long. Every year, I’m astonished at how the season flies by. Four little weeks – four candles on the wreath. Then all at once, we wake up and it’s Christmas morning. The wait is over, and a new season is here.

I attended the initial meeting of the media group with some friends from the local chapter of the LGBT Catholic organization, Dignity. I’ve since converted to Anglo-Catholicism; I’m still very much a Catholic, but an Episcopalian one. But the folks in Dignity were my earliest friends in the community. They welcomed me then, they still welcome me, and I have a special, enduring affection for them. And I understand that while nobody is more accustomed to waiting than gay Catholics, they are getting mighty tired of waiting.

My Dignity friends, one of whom is a priest, chafed at the let’s-wait mentality of the media group. They saw the folded letter to a homophobic preacher, a copy of which greeted us on each of our chairs when we came into the meeting room. Their reaction was the same as mine: not again. Not still. Not even now.

I’m not ready to give up on the media group, but neither am I ready to commit to it. I won’t waste one more minute trying to persuade homophobic preachers to accept us. That approach gets ahold of entirely the wrong end of the stick. It has become very clear that the Holy Spirit isn’t working by convincing the leaders, who would then persuade the people in the pews. God is working from exactly the opposite direction.

Fine and dandy if a preacher sees the light about us, and bravely stands up to tell his or her congregation the good news. If too many of the people in the pews are not ready to hear it – if they throw temper-tantrums and threaten to fire the preacher – that good news goes nowhere. If a sufficient number of the people, on the other hand, have seen the light, then their pastor may mulishly rant and rail against it, but he or she will soon be out of a job. Homophobic preachers will eventually find themselves standing on park benches, ranting and railing to the pigeons.

Dignity has discovered the same thing many conservative evangelicals have yet to learn. The organization was originally conceived as a means of convincing the leadership to accept sexual minorities. That has gone nowhere, because leaders are the last to change. They’re leaders; why should they change, when they are fawned over, and treated as if they’ve got a direct line to God? Or when changing might mean throwing away their livelihood?

Roman Catholic bishops have been chucking Dignity chapters off Church property right and left. This has been regarded as bad news, but in an authoritarian, top-down body like the Church of Rome, it is only to be expected. Those with authority, vested with power, will do all they can to hold onto it. If we wait on them, we will be waiting forever.

Our Dignity chapter now holds its masses in a United Church of Christ chapel. The UCC is definitely not a top-down body. Individual congregations are perfectly free not to accept gays, but when they try to pressure their fellow congregations into complying, they are told to go pound sand. Temper-tantrums by backwards church members don’t work very well when the leadership doesn’t have much power to be taken away.

Sometimes I think LGBT Christians have become too patient. We’ve gotten so used to waiting that we’re almost comfortable there. Like the children of Israel, we’ve been wandering in the desert for so long, we’ve come to think of it as home. The Promised Land beckons, but it’s unfamiliar territory. And the unfamiliar can be very scary.

In the heady days after Stonewall, the LGBT rights movement’s slogan was, “We’re here, we’re queer … get used to it!” I don’t think that even now, many sexual minority Christians have made that battle cry their own. Both religious conservatives and secular liberals treat us as if we don’t exist. As if in one corner there are the Christians – all of whom are straight and anti-gay – and in the other LGBT folks – all of whom are either non- or anti-religious. We see that limited mentality reflected even now, in the mainstream media’s coverage of the marriage-equality issue.

On one side, the official opinion-shapers say, are “the Christians” – who universally disapprove of same-sex marriage. On the other, “the gays” – who don’t need religious sanction for their unions. Gay Christians are simply assumed either not to exist, or to be of negligible importance. Churches and straight Christian allies who support same-sex marriage are brushed aside and ignored as irrelevant.

But even a majority of American Roman Catholics, as poll after poll now shows, are supportive of same-sex marriage. And a new coalition of evangelical allies, inspired by a challenge from columnist Dan Savage, has formed to stand for equality in the Body of Christ. They call themselves NALT – an acronym for “Not All Like That” – because they want the world to know they refuse to conform to a stereotype that paints them as anti-gay.

Our number is almost ready to be called. Are we ready to stand up and walk proudly to the head of the line? Very soon there may be nothing keeping us in the desert except for our own timidity and complacency. Before we can take occupancy of the Promised Land, we must be prepared to call it home.

Will Marriage Equality Matter to the Community?

Watching the marriages of lesbians and gay men take place this past year ought to be warming the heart of anyone who values equality and fairness. Government recognition – with responsibilities and benefits tied to the official status of a relationship – so long denied them, is becoming a reality federally and state by state.

There are those radical right-wingers who wish none of it were happening and see same-sex marriages as disgustingly evil. Their reactions are, if nothing else, sad commentaries on their inability to be moved by what marriage — so hard fought for and so often assumed to be a hopeless dream — means to real human beings beyond just winning equal rights.

It’s as if the right-wing lacks some natural feelings for celebrating love wherever it’s found. And hiding in their trumped-up religious arguments only saves them from being moved out of some common humanity that knows real empathy for the feelings of fellow human beings.

While right-wing religious people go on and on about Divine love, they seem to have lost the capability of finding it beyond their sects. Their ideas of love are self-centered and insular.

And right-wingers prefer to think of all lesbian and gay male partnerships as less than their own true relationships. They’d rather paint them as just about sex and lust so as not to admit in their own minds that these relationships involve a level of commitment that expresses all that love could mean between two people.

Rather than facing all that LGBT people have gone through to just love someone, and that this is certainly a religious parable of what love is meant to be, the naysayers cling to their dogmas. In reality, LGBT people have been beaten, tortured and killed, have been kicked out of their families and lost their jobs, have been ridiculed and condemned from platforms and pulpits, because they fought to love someone.

So many of those taking advantage of marriage equality had already been living in love and commitment to each other for decades. These older generations seem to be flocking to the legal marriage protections given by the government more than the young who’ve lived through years marked by a bit more tolerance and often don’t feel what this breakthrough means in the light of lifetimes of oppression that older generations came to take as second nature.

Yes, yes. There is much about the institution of marriage in our culture to question. There are many of us both outside and inside the LGBT community who do so, and some who criticize those who choose it, assuming the worst intentions of anyone who’d want to marry.

And it’s true. On the whole marriage isn’t doing well. It’s been a patriarchal institution. Culturally, it comes with role expectations that are often stifling, straight-acting and undemocratic.

Society over-promises that marriage gives so much more than any institution could ever deliver. And in America it’s defined, as most things are, by consumerism.

But putting all that aside, for so many, to partake in marriage seems to legitimize, solemnize, and express relationships that are deep and meaningful. And it provides protection not only for their relationship but for both partners in it.

Then, again, marriage isn’t an end in itself. We get married for reasons other than just to be married.

The right-wing keeps saying that its purpose is to have children. Paul, the first-century Christian apostle wrote that it’s to take care of sexual lust: “It’s better to marry than to burn.”

But there’s something bigger. Merely huddling together in a protected status afraid of what loneliness, uncertainty, and danger might otherwise come would be fear, not love.

The test of marriage is how the love it expresses spills over into a community. That includes the friends we love but also the larger communities with which we identify.

Social commentator, conservationist, farmer, essayist, novelist, professor of English, and poet Wendell Barry put it this way: “Lovers must not, like usurers, live for themselves alone. They must finally turn from their gaze at one another back toward the community.

“If they had only themselves to consider, lovers would not need to marry, but they must think of others and of other things. They say their vows to the community as much as to one another, and the community gathers around them to hear and to wish them well, on their behalf and its own. It gathers around them because it understands how necessary, how joyful, and how fearful this joining is…. And so here, at the very heart of community life, we find not something to sell as in the public market but this momentous giving. If the community cannot protect this giving, it can protect nothing…” (Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community, 1993)

To abandon the realization that we’re always in a community by getting married is to abandon the very acts of love that two, three or more can accomplish in the world. It’s to ask for something from the community without giving back what that community also needs from the combined strength, energy and love of lovers.

For LGBT people, one question is: will becoming married mean forsaking any LGBT community with the shared interests, problems, and concerns of all of us that it had in the past? If so, how will we be reminded that we are all in this together till death us do part?

Who will then take care of our widows and widowers if not our community? Where will they go to live out their days after saying the inevitable goodbye to the one they committed to for life?

Who will be healthy community elders for LGBT youth at the times they need them? Who will model for our youth, who can get so caught up in other things, what long-term, grow-old-together relationships look like, or even the fact that they can exist?

Who, then, out of their love together will love so much that it will spill over in community?

Black Churches Divided Over Same-Sex Marriage

Recently, Sightings picked up on some lines written by the influential Evangelical-oriented author, Eric Metaxas. “Not so fast,” he wisely enough cautioned those who consider legalized, same-sex marriage to be inevitable. And yet, hours after he posted this alert, the United States Supreme Court issued a judgment, which made legal same-sex marriage look a bit more inevitable.

“Not so fast,” Metaxas would continue to warn: look at many factors in American life and not just at the biased-media that caters to supporters of the cause. He needed evidence for his stand and found it here in Illinois, where the legislature so far has failed to remove legal barriers to same-sex marriage.

You didn’t hear about it?

Metaxas accused the media of creating a blackout about the legislature’s vote and about one of the main reasons for that vote. Citing the National Organization for Marriage and the National Review, he reported that black pastors demanded that state legislators acknowledge the biblical definition of marriage, as they (the black pastors) interpreted it. Quoting the “National” and the “National” sources, Metaxas wrote that these pastors defeated “gay-marriage advocates and their supporters in the legislature in the bluest of blue states.”

Rather than speculate about the future, I’d simply say that Metaxas has alerted the media and everyone else, of whatever race or denomination, to keep their eyes on the black churches. One would not think of trying to cover religion in this blue city in the bluest of blue states without paying most attention to black churches — perhaps after having first noted Catholic archdiocesan news.

Whoever takes a look at the scene finds that, yes, many black pastors and, we presume, congregants, oppose same-sex marriage for reasons rooted in their biblical understanding and cultural expressions.

But a second look reveals profound controversy within black churches.

A year ago (July 31, 2012), the Coalition of African American Pastors (CAAP) drew attention to Chicago and elsewhere when it mobilized to defeat President Obama’s re-election bid. CAAP’s founder and president, the Rev. William Owens, called President Obama’s position on same-sex marriage a “travesty” and accused him of “pandering” to the gay and lesbian community. The 3,472 pastor-strong CAAP swayed some legislators, but the President won last November’s election.

Meanwhile, of course, the CAAP awakened much opposition. When Owens rejected the claim that the right to marriage for same-sex couples matched other rights, critics quickly stepped up to question his involvement in civil rights causes (he boldly asserted that he had been up front about his views).

Also, since President Obama changed his official opinion on same-sex marriage and since the recent Supreme Court ruling, polls have found an increase in support of same-sex marriage among blacks.

It is too early to tell whether black pastors will carry the same weight they are said to have exercised in the Illinois legislature and can help defeat this “rights” issue one more time.

Metaxas is right: the change in the public’s willingness to support same-sex marriage is “not inevitable.” The public, “the media,” and religious observers — including those of us who do much “sighting” of religion in American life — will do well to sharpen our focus on the vital African-American churches, which are often the most dynamic and influential forces in most of our metropolises.

Those of us who pay attention to the local black churches, to the loyalty so many of them command, to the respect they gain through their ministries, and to the power that goes with all that, have to pay attention to the interplay of the “inevitable” and the “evitable” in these days of sudden and radical change.

References:
Metaxas, Eric. “The False Narrative of Gay Marriage: It Is Not Inevitable.” The Christian Post, June 26, 2013. Accessed July 13, 2013.
Maza, Carlos. “Three Things The Media Should Know About Rev. William Owens And His Coalition Of African-American Pastors.” Equality Matters (blog), August 8, 2012. Accessed July 13, 2013.
Black Pastors Condemn Supreme Court For Ruling on Gay Marriage.” Atlanta Daily World, June 26, 2013. Accessed July 13, 2013.
The Black Church.” BlackDemographics.com. Accessed July 13, 2013.

Distinguishing “Morality” from “Ethics” in the Wedding Debates

Picture this: The scene is Gresham, Oregon, January 17, 2013. A woman walks into Sweet Cakes Bakery and cheerfully exclaims to the owner, Aaron Klein, that she is about to marry and would like to order a wedding cake. This is a return order from a satisfied customer since the woman’s spouse-to-be ordered a cake not very long ago for her mother’s wedding.

When Klein learns that this cake is meant for a same-sex wedding, however, he refuses the order, and tells the woman that he must first live in accordance with his religious beliefs protected by his First Amendment rights granted by the U.S. Constitution. According to reports from local station KATU, Klein argued that he would rather close down his business than “be forced to do something that violates my conscience. I’d rather have my kids see their dad stand up for what he believes in than to see him bow down because one person complained.”

Sweet Cakes has certainly left a bitter taste for this couple who are considering lodging a formal complaint since the Oregon Equality Act of 2007 protects residents from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The tradition of the wedding cake dates back centuries. It symbolizes the anticipation of a sweet life together. The couple cut the confectionary delight hand-in-hand representing their first of many combined and cooperative undertakings in marriage. They feed each other a piece to show their joint commitment.

Now picture this: The scene is Des Moines, Iowa, 2011. A joyous and excited engaged couple, in preparation for their upcoming nuptials, entered Victoria Childress’s home bake shop for a taste testing appointment for their wedding cake.

When the couple entered Victoria Childress’s shop, she inquired who was getting married? A member of the couple, Janelle Sievers, told the baker that they were, she and her partner Tina Vodraska. Upon hearing this, Childress informed the couple, according to published accounts: “I’ll tell you I’m a Christian, and I do have convictions. I’m sorry to tell you, but I’m not going to be able to do your cake.”

Later, according to Janelle, “I don’t think either one of us knew what to say. We were just shocked.”

Interviewed by a reporter for local TV station KCCI, Childress gave her reasons: “I didn’t do the cake because of my convictions for their lifestyle. It is my right as a business owner. [I]t’s to do with me and my walk with God and what I will answer [to] him for.”

The Iowa State Supreme Court in 2009 voted unanimously to uphold a lower court ruling legalizing marriage for same-sex couples, preceded by the Iowa Legislature, which amended Iowa’s Civil Rights Act in 2007 to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” in the areas of employment, housing, education, and public accommodations. Janelle and Tina have yet to decide whether they will file a civil law suit.

Now picture this: The scene is the small Virginia town of Central Point in Caroline County in 1958, when childhood friends fall in love and marry across the Potomac River in Washington, DC. Virtually the entire town attends the reception festivities in the Central Point home of one of the partners, whose family invited the young couple to live with them until they could afford a home of their own.

Soon afterwards, as the couple sleeps peacefully embracing in their bed, local police officers crack the silence by abruptly storming the room, guns poised, flash light beams temporarily blinding the couple who suddenly find themselves shacked in handcuffs as they march terrified to the town jail.

“Richard,” asked Mildred, “what did we do wrong?” Richard could only shake his head in bewildered astonishment, though they both know why they had been brought there. Richard Loving, a man of European descent, and Mildred Jetter Loving, a woman of African descent, married in a state that passed and retained its anti-miscegenation statute, the so-called “Racial Integrity Act” of 1924, making it unlawful for a White person and a Person of Color to engage in sexual relations.

At the trial, the judge, Leon Bazile, convicted and sentenced them both to one-year imprisonment with a suspended sentence on the condition that the couple leaves the state of Virginia for a period of 25 years. Staring at Richard and Mildred during the sentencing, Bazile invoked Biblical justifications to convict the couple: “Almighty God created the races — white, black, yellow, Malay and red — and He placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with His arrangement, there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that He separated the races shows that He did not intend for the races to mix.”

Mildred and Richard filed a number of law suits taking their case all the way to the highest court in the land. In the case of Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967), the Supreme Court of the United States declared the state of Virginia’s anti-miscegenation statute unconstitutional, thereby overturning Pace v. Alabama (1883), and ending all race-based legal restrictions on adult consensual sexual activity and marriage throughout the U.S.

I mention these three cases in an attempt to distinguish two vital concepts. The first is the issue of morality, which I see based on our values and our set of beliefs derived by some from religious faith traditions, and by others from secular humanist principles. We live in a country that protects all of our moral belief systems, which no one has the right to take from us. Our beliefs are our own to cherish and to live by as long as we deem fitting. Some people may refer to “morality” as the “Golden Rule,” whereby we treat others how we want to be treated.

A closely aligned but also somewhat distinct notion is the concept of ethics. For me, this applies to what some refer to as the “Platinum Rule,” whereby we treat others how they want to be treated. We consider their needs, their best interests, their values and beliefs, even if these do not necessarily connect or bond with our own.

As a university professor of pre-service teacher education students, I raise the distinction between moral convictions and professional ethics when we discuss issues of controversy within the field of education. For example, I discuss how as teachers, they may find their moral teachings in opposition to the beliefs or lived experiences of their students. For example, their students may “come out” to them as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, or they may live with same-sex parents or guardians. Or some of their students’ parent(s) or care givers may be undocumented workers. Or students may be followers of faith traditions they may neither understand nor approve. As teachers, however, they have ethical obligations to serve all their students with the highest degree of professionalism and to treat them equitably.

With this backdrop, then, I ask us, how would the Oregon couple, Janelle and Tina, and Mildred and Richard wish to be treated, and what would be in their best interests? You be the judge.

Revolution v. Reform: Moving Beyond the Assimilationist “4 M’s” of the LGB Movement

Introduction to a Cautionary Critique

I am very encouraged by the Supreme Court’s ruling declaring DOMA (the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act”) unconstitutional according to the 5th Amendment’s Equal Protection clause, and now same-sex couples who legally marry in states that have such rights will now receive federal marriage benefits. Also, by throwing the decision back to the lower court, which has already judged California’s ballot Proposition 8 unconstitutional, the Supreme Court has virtually guaranteed same-sex couples in California the legal right to marry.

Last year, President Barack Obama on May 9 in an interview with ABC TV “Good Morning America” host, Robin Roberts, “came out” for marriage equality asserting that “Same-sex couples should be able to get married.”

I watched breaking news in 2011 of the New York state Senate when, following the House of Representatives’ lead, passed a bill legalizing marriage for same-sex couples. I reflected on how momentum was certainly building in the fight for marriage equality. Within hours, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo proudly signed the bill into law.

I remember TV cameras focusing on a crowd in New York City back when that state made marriage equality a reality. People spontaneously organized at the historic Stonewall Inn in New York City’s West Village upon notification of the legislators’ action. One reveler interviewed on camera stated that she showed up “to be a part of history.” Also, some of the nation’s leading economists estimated the potential for enormous revenue increases to New York’s businesses because of the expected surge in marriages conducted in the state as a result of this legislation.

For me, watching news accounts on that day in 2011 and this week with the breaking news of the results of the marriage equality Supreme Course decisions, this brought to the surface a full array of emotions from subdued optimism to discomfort and concern.

There are moments in history when conditions come together to create the impetus for great social change. Many historians and activists place the beginning of the modern movement for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender equality at the Stonewall Inn, a small bar frequented by trans people, lesbians, bisexuals, gay men, students, and others of all races located at 53 Christopher Street in New York City’s Greenwich Village.

At approximately one-twenty on the morning of June 28, 1969, New York City Police officers conducted a routine raid on the bar on the charge that the owners had been selling alcohol without a license. Feeling they had been harassed far too long, people challenged police officers on this morning lasting with varying intensity over the next five nights by flinging bottles, rocks, bricks, trash cans, and parking meters used at battering rams.

In reality, even before these historic events at the Stonewall Inn, a little-known action preceded Stonewall by nearly three years, and should more likely be considered as the founding event for the modern LGBT movement. In August 1966, at Gene Compton’s Cafeteria, in what is known as the Tenderloin District in San Francisco, trans people and gay sex workers joined in fighting police harassment and oppression. Police, conducting one of their numerous raids, entered Compton’s and began physically harassing the clientele. This time, however, people fought back by hurling coffee at the officers and heaving cups, dishes, and trays around the cafeteria. Police retreated outside as customers smashed windows. Over the course of the next night, people gathered to picket the cafeteria, which refused to allow trans people back inside.

Out of the ashes of Compton’s Cafeteria and the Stonewall Inn, people, primarily young, formed a number of militant groups. One of the first was the Gay Liberation Front (GLF). GLF was not a formalized organization per se, but rather a series of small groups across the U.S. and other countries. GLF meetings took place in people’s living rooms, basements in houses of worship, and storefronts. Members insisted on the freedom to explore new ways of living as part of a radical project of social transformation.

GLF adopted a set of principles emphasizing coalition-building with other disenfranchised groups – women, trans people, minoritized racial and ethnic groups, working-class people, young people, elders, people with disabilities – as a means of dismantling the economic and social structures they considered inherently oppressive.

During the early 1970s, I was an active member of GLF in Washington D.C. We held early meetings at Grace Church, the Washington Free Clinic in Georgetown, and All Souls Church on 16th Street, and we rented a brownstone on S Street in Northwest D.C. for the establishment of a GLF living collective. Meetings provided a space for us to come together and put into practice what feminists had taught us – that the “personal is the political.”

We laughed and we cried together. We shared our ideas and our most intimate secrets. We dreamed our dreams and laid our plans for a world free from all the deadly forms of oppression, and as we went along, invented new ways of relating. For the men, we came to consciousness of how we had been stifled as men growing up in a culture that taught us to hate the feminine within, that taught us that if we were to be considered worthy, we must be athletic, independent, assertive, domineering, competitive, and that we must bury our emotions deep within the recesses of our souls.

My discomfort in watching the joyous reactions in recent gains for marriage equality and the celebration of revelers outside the Stonewall Inn at the passage of a statewide bill legalizing marriage for same-sex couples stems from my understanding and experience as a political activist and as a student of history, an understanding of the Stonewall rebellion as representing an impetus for revolutionary change within an overridingly oppressive social structure, as opposed to mere reform, accommodation, or assimilation.

When we consider the phrase, “Keep your eyes on the prize,” I now wonder what we consider precisely as the prizes, the goals, that we are working toward? Are we working under the vision of Stonewall of “a radical project of social transformation” and “dismantling the economic and social structures they considered inherently oppressive?” Or are we working to reform the current social system in order to assimilate? Or none of the above? I am sure each of us will have a different answer.

Looking back over the years, as our visibility has increased, as our place within the culture has become somewhat more assured, much certainly has been gained, but also, something very precious has been lost. That early excitement, that desire – though by no means the ability – to fully restructure the culture, as distinguished from our mere reform, seems now to lay dormant in many sectors of our communities.

In our current so-called “neoliberal” age, emphasis is placed on privatization, global capital, reduced governmental oversight and deregulation of the corporate sector, attacks on labor organizing, and competition. We are living in an environment in which property rights hold precedence over human rights. In this environment, we are witnessing a cultural war waged by the political, corporate, and theocratic right, a war to turn back all the gains progressive people have made over the years.

Within this environment, however, I perceive four main themes as the major focus of the larger lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) movement, what I am calling the “4 Ms” of the mainstream LGB movement.

I do not include here trans identities because, firstly, I cannot discern a “mainstream” trans movement, and secondly, the 4 Ms in their current LGB mainstream construction exclude trans people. According to my colleague, Chase Catalano, “The silencing of trans experiences often reminds me of how folks in leather, drag queens, and dykes on bikes were viewed with contempt when they wanted to be included in the early Pride events for being too contentious (folks didn’t want ‘those people’ getting the media attention from the ‘normal people’).”

The four themes of the LGB movement comprise an assimilationist/reformist rather than a revolutionary impetus. These Ms are: 1. Marriage Equality, 2. Military Inclusion, 3. Media Visibility, and 4. Making Money.

1. Marriage Equality

Now in twelve states (thirteen when we soon count California, the District of Columbia, and the Coguille Indian Nation in Oregon), and the dissolution of DOMA, we have soared above the symbolic line of demarcation granting us the estimated 1300 privileges and benefits of marriage previously accessible only to different-sex married couples. We can now wear our gold bands proudly on our left hands with all the benefits of publicly-sanctioned recognition of our relationships including tax breaks, inheritance guarantees, adoption of partners’ children, insurance benefits, and others. We can register at department stores hoping our families and friends will buy us our favorite flatware and dishes, monogrammed sheets and pillow cases, and large screen TVs.

With our ascension over the demarcation line, though, we find the deeply entrenched hierarchy of privilege remaining intact on the basis of relationship status! Why should couples in legally recognized relationships collect the government-granted array of economic and social benefits at the exclusion of those who either cannot or will not meet prescribed requirements? Why, for example, can an individual who marries an employee of a company providing health insurance qualify for inclusion of similar health insurance, while an unemployed single person who has searched in vain for a job, or an individual who works for a company not offering health insurance remain in the ranks of the estimated 50 million U.S. residents with no health insurance? Why, for that matter, does this nation link health insurance either to employment or to out-of-pocket monthly expenditures?

Rather than fighting so hard to rise beyond that line privileging those above and limiting those below, we need to work to abolish the line itself, forever, and as a society, provide these benefits to all, regardless of relationship status. For example, we must consider access to quality healthcare not as a privilege for those who have the means, but as a basic human right for all.

2. Military Inclusion

Due to the dedication and hard work by individuals and organizations over the previous decades who have been successful in lobbying government officials to repeal the highly discriminatory and offensive so-called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) military policy, now lesbian, gay, and bisexual people can serve their nation openly. This reversal stands to benefit the country by providing a greater pool of committed and talented individuals whose chief intent is to serve and protect their nation with pride. Existing medical and conduct regulations, however, still prohibit many individuals along the transgender spectrum from enlisting.

As I have followed the debates over the years, I have been constantly struck by the arguments favoring maintenance of the DADT policy, ranging from fears over the “predatory nature of the homosexual” in bunks and showers, to homosexuals crumbling under the pressure of combat, to these service members placing themselves in compromising situations in which they will be forced to divulge critical defense secrets to foreign governments. I give credit to lesbian, gay, and bisexual people for maintaining a willingness to join the military following such scurrilous and libelous depictions.

While stated military goals may promote the notion of providing global security and protecting and defending the homeland, we must maintain and extend our focused and continued attention and critique, however, on the overriding abuses of maintaining a military that engages in unjustified incursions into other lands controlled by an industrial complex that promotes corporate interests. The U.S. government officially estimated the 2010 military budget alone, for example, at $680 billion dollars comprising 20 percent of total U.S. governmental expenditures. Outside organizations challenge these figure by estimating the actual percentage of at least 36 percent.

I contend that individuals and groups that stand up and put their lives on the line to defend the country from very real threats are true patriots. But true patriots are also those who speak out, stand up, and challenge our governmental leaders, those who put their lives on the line by actively advocating for justice, freedom, and liberty through peaceful means: the diplomats and the mediators; those working in conflict resolution; the activists dedicated to preventing wars and to bringing existing wars to diplomatic resolution once they have begun; the individuals of conscience who refuse to give over their minds, their souls, and their bodies to armed conflict; the practitioners of non-violent resistance in the face of tyranny and oppression; the anti-war activists who strive to educate their peers, their citizenry, and, yes, their governmental leaders about the perils of unjustified and unjust armed conflict and invasions into lands not their own in advance of appropriate attempts at diplomatic means of resolving conflict.

Looking over the history of humanity, it is apparent that tyranny, at times, could only be countered through the raising of arms. On numerous occasions, however, diplomacy has been successful, and at other times, it should have been used more extensively before rushing to war. I, therefore, find it unacceptable when one’s patriotism and one’s love of country is called into question when one advocates for peaceful means of conflict resolution, for it is also an act of patriotism to work to keep our troops out of harm’s way, and to work to create conditions and understanding that ultimately make war less likely. In addition, I believe we must challenge the extraordinary wide income gap in the United States that offers few options for reasonable employment for young and older workers alike, making military service one of a limited number of options for employment and advancement.

We must work to address the largest income and asset gap of all other so-called “developed” nations, in which the top one percent of the population has accumulated an estimated 34.6 percent of the wealth, the next 9 percent an estimated 38.5 percent, and the remaining 90 percent of the nation a combined accumulation of only 26.9 percent.

Within this environment, politicians, working on behalf of corporate backers, continue to provide massive tax breaks for exceedingly wealthy individuals and to corporations. In addition, they blame and drive to decertify labor unions, end government entitlement programs designed to offer a safety net to the country’s most economically vulnerable, and attempt to privatize everything from Medicare to national parks all in the paradoxical name of “free enterprise.” Within this environment, corporate bosses, through their mouth pieces in government, divert educational institutions to the private sector to accommodate the needs of business.

3. Media Visibility

Today, we see more lesbian and gay people, and occasionally bisexual and transgender characters on television, in films, fiction and non-fiction written materials, magazines, commercials, and ads. From the pages of slick magazines, Melissa Ethridge and her (now former) partner, sporting broad smiles and holding hands, display chic Cartier bracelets on their wrists; a male couple with a young girl and a yellow Labrador Retriever smile as they are all seated on the floor beside their Ikea couch. Then there are Kurt on “Glee,” Mitchell and Cameron on “Modern Family,” “Will and Grace,” “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” Justin, Mark, and Alexis on “Ugly Betty,” Andrew on “Desperate Housewives, “Tim Gunn on “Project Runway”; Brokeback Mountain, The Kids are Alright, The Single Man. These represent only the tip of the proverbial iceberg of recent examples of media visibility.

These characterizations, though on occasion representing minoritized races and ethnicities, comprise largely white and middle- to upper-class people. While the majority today would be considered by many as “positive” representations for the most part, which may more fully and accurately represent some of our lives relative to the rather sad and miserable or violently threatening characterizations presented previously, the majority depict the upwardly mobile, socially assimilated character who poses little overt challenge to the status quo, those who function rather successfully in the competitive corporate world, those who shop for a dishwasher or go on an expensive vacation with their heterosexual friends and relatives.

While many benefits accrue with these representations, such as providing better role models for our youth, helping to overcome many of the stereotypes and reducing prejudices, the Capitalist system seems to have employed these images of “we are just like you” in its attempts to co-opt critique and possible challenge to that very system.

To provide an additional example of this project of co-optation: This past semester, I entered my university classroom and was about to introduce that day’s lesson when my eye caught a large poster pined to the bulletin board displaying a tightly clenched raised fist, reminiscent of the iconic Black Power symbol popularized in the 1960s. Above the image read the words in large capital letters, “JOIN THE FIGHT.”

Encouraged by the sight, I walked over to the poster hoping to find some indication of resurgent social activism. To my dismay and utter aversion, however, appearing in smaller letters, the poster advertised “The Fighting Burrito,” a local fast food campus hang out. The profit motive transformed this iconic symbol into a sales pitch for burritos, tacos, carbonated drinks, and nachos.

In our communities, the “Pride” marches of the past have morphed into parades and festivals funded on a base of major corporate sponsorship, and capitalist consumption. Parade contingents now include large canvas banners affixed with familiar logos of national and local banks, and insurance, soft drink and beer, and real estate companies. Ironically, some of these same companies not so long ago refused to hire “out” members of our communities, but seeing how our business will improve their economic bottom line, we are now happily welcomed.

Along the parade routes and at rally sites, companies and individuals display and sell their wares, from internet and phone company subscriptions to rainbow colored everything imaginable: from t-shirts to teething rings, and from towels to toilet seat covers. Merchants and artisans borrow the pink triangle – the Nazi patch gay men were forced to wear on their clothing when incarcerated in concentration camps – to fashion glimmering pink Rhinestone jewelry worn as glamorous fashion accessories.

I call this consumerism “the tchotchetization of a movement” (“tchotchke” in Yiddish means knick knacks, small objects, etc.).

Originally, the pink triangle, this symbol of ultimate oppression, in the 1970s our communities deployed as a mark of solidarity, in the AIDS activist movement of the 1980s and 1990s, as an emblem of resistance in mobilizing against the intransigence of governmental and societal inaction, and today simply as an accoutrement of vanity.

4. Making Money

While possibly the exception, and certainly not necessarily the rule, some of us at least are now “out” at work with few or no real consequences to our job security. Others now ascend the corporate ladder with relative ease, and own exclusive vacation homes in the Florida Keys, Panama, or Tuscany to “get away from it all.” We gentrify older urban neighborhoods, and spruce up city landscapes with the newest decorative trends.

I ask, however, are we actually contributing to the ever widening income gap that has overtaken our country? And what about the folks and entire communities we dislocate as we gentrify entire neighborhoods?

More often than not, these individuals include White gay and bisexual men who conform fairly closely to traditional conceptualizations of gender expression. Lesbians and bisexual women, as women within an overriding sexist society, statistically earn less than their male counterparts, and individuals who present along the transgender spectrum continue to find less freedom of expression, and, therefore, far less job security.

A Call to Further and Wider Action

While the “4 Ms” are all somewhat laudable goals, I believe that if we are going to achieve a truly equitable society, we must reach higher, wider, and broader. As important as these goals may be, I hope we do not envision them as the final resting place over the rainbow.

If we do rest here, after having been seduced by promises of achieving some degree of credibility and respectability, I fear we will have become part of the very problems that so many of us have fought so tirelessly to eradicate.

I do remain hopeful, however. The increasing visibility and recognition of trans people today has shaken traditionally dichotomous notions of gender, and in turn, other stifling kinds of binaries, which are the very cornerstones for the entrenchment keeping our society from moving forward. Their stories and experiences have great potential to bring us back into the future – a future in which anyone on the gender spectrum everywhere will live freely, unencumbered by social taboos and cultural norms of gender. It is a future in which the “feminine” and “masculine” – as well as all the qualities on the continuum in between – can live and prosper in us all.

Metaphorically, oppression operates like a wheel with many spokes. If we work to dismantle only one or a few specific spokes, the wheel will continue to roll over people. Let us, then, also work on dismantling all the many spokes to conquering all the many forms of oppression in all their many forms.

Until and unless we can join in coalition with other groups, I consider that the possibility for achieving a genuine sense of community and a genuine sense of equity will be unattainable.

I believe also that sexual and relational attractions and gender identities and expressions alone are not sufficient to connect a community, and by extension, a movement for progressive social change, and that we must, therefore, look beyond ourselves and base a community and a movement not simply on social identities, but also on shared ideals and values among individuals from disparate social identities, with like minds, political philosophies, and strategies for achieving their objectives.

Let us revel in our past victories, for we have fought tirelessly for them. But let us not dwell here because we have further to go to ensure a truly just and equitable society and world. In the final analysis, whenever anyone is diminished, we are all demeaned, when anyone or any group remains institutionally and socially marginalized, excluded, or disenfranchised from primary rights and benefits, the possibility for authentic community cannot be realized unless and until we become involved, to challenge, to question, and to act in truly transformational ways.

I hope, therefore, that we can reignite the revolutionary and transformational flame of what was Stonewall.

I want to thank Chase Catalano, Bradley Freihoffer, Paul Gorski, Joseph Henderson, Nana Osei-Kofi, and Samuel Pottebaum for their insightful suggested editorial changes and additions to this essay.