Missing the Train?

man in brown hoodie standing in front of train railway
Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Pexels.com

If I were to run for office, I would speak openly and often about being gay.  This is not news.  I’m a fairly public ordained minister who talks, writes and preaches from the pulpit about being gay.  It is a habit for me to bring that part of myself with me wherever I go.  I do not do this because I want to invite people into my bedroom (its a pretty boring place.) Rather, I do it because I know that my speaking about sexuality as part of my lived experience opens up the conversation for others about how sexuality and gender play into our communities, our faith, our health, our politics, and our governed lives.  My sexuality history allows me to speak about access to health care, mental health services, housing, jobs and a host of areas in which I’ve experienced direct discrimination, marginalization and fear…as well as compassion, joy and hope and an intimate understanding of where a lack of clear policies and understanding created chaos.  My public and ongoing exploration of my own male gender expression has helped me to have a deeper understanding of women’s experience of their bodies and how they are politicized whether they are cisgender or transgender.  My public process has also helped me to find a great place of compassion for men who hold on to “traditional” concepts of masculinity and to recognize their needs as a legitimate part of a broader community, while helping them to steer away from patterns of harm based on their gender expression. My willingness to talk about my own sexuality and gender is an opening for others to consider theirs and an invitation for people to have greater understanding and less shame regardless of whether or not they are straight or gay.  My public sexuality is an incredible responsibility as well as a privilege of my gender, my education and my economic class.  I own all of it.

We are missing a moment right now in the discourse around Rush Limbaugh’s stupid attacks on Pete Buttigieg and the radio host’s supporters vile defense of him.  But Buttigieg is also missing a moment to put a strong stake in the ground as a public figure with a platform and a call to action.  In this world, no one “just happens to be black” just as no one “just happens to be gay.” As with Obama’s blackness, having a robust and nuanced response to attacks on being gay will not make Buttigieg a one issue candidate. It has the potential to humanize him and give him greater dimension, and help us all evolve.  The legion of activists, artists and politicians who came before him can attest to that.  I’ve personally spent a lifetime presenting my sexuality as only one facet of myself that is a point of pride.  And I’ve also lifted it up as a uniquely powerful point of insight and transformation.  Certainly, everyone is different, but it feels like a missed opportunity when someone like Limbaugh has a platform to spread hate while someone else who has a platform to counter that destructive narrative appears powerless to use it.

A Dangerous Joke

 

About 90 minutes into Thursday’s forum on LGBTQ issues in Los Angeles, a gay rights leader posed a question to Sen. Elizabeth Warren: How would she respond if a voter approached her and said, “I’m old-fashioned, and my faith teaches me that marriage is between one man and one woman?”

Warren (D-Mass.) responded with a theatrical seriousness. “Well, I’m going to assume it’s a guy who said that,” she deadpanned, pausing a beat for the audience to catch the joke. Then she added, “And I’m going to say, ‘Then just marry one woman — I’m cool with that.’ ”

She finished with a zinger:

“ ‘Assuming you can find one.’ ” – Annie Linesky for Washington Post, Oct. 11, 2019

Elizabeth Warren
One of probably a billion selfies…. Me and Elizabeth Warren in Cambridge, MA – Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018

As an openly gay faith leader with deeply liberal political views, I feel strongly that Senator Warren got it wrong and completely mis-represented me.  Taking a play from Trump’s book, she was playing to her base on Thursday night, but what she missed is that faith is no joke particularly if it is not your faith.  The first lesson of true interfaith work (and I believe that running for office must be a powerful exercise in this work) is that everyone’s beliefs are sacrosanct.  Everyone in the room must be taken seriously.  More importantly everyone must be invited into the room because if you win the race, you will be tasked with the sacred act of governing those who are directly aligned with you and those who oppose you…equally.

I believe we can make this world work with someone like me and those of my colleagues who believe that a ministry like mine is somehow illegitimate because of my sexuality or because it is not rooted in a Western orientation toward God.  The big takeaway for anyone involved in the delicate healing work of interfaith engagement is that modern faith in the public square cannot be about absolutes even when the personal faith is grounded in such unbending beliefs.  Public and un-listening absolutism is what created the wedge and reinforcing it with the kind of snarky, nose-looky-downy humor that was used in the forum on Tuesday weaponizes liberal thought.

This does none of us on the ground any good.  It is a gross step backward and a slap in the face to those of us who are working every day to bring people together against what feels increasingly like impossible odds.  Please, please don’t make our work more difficult by turning it into a Saturday Night Live sketch.

The correct response would not have been a joke. Senator Warren’s answer implies that faith is a triviality.  Coming from that standpoint alienates the large swath of people who base their political decisions on their beliefs…whether they identify with a faith tradition or not.

The correct response would have been something like this:

“Sir, you have the right to believe that marriage is between one woman and one man.  But your rights and beliefs cannot eclipse or erase the beliefs of others.  The US Constitution and the Supreme Court decision that was handed down on June 26, 2015 granting all people the right to marry in the United States regardless of gender identity, upholds this basic principle. We are ALL protected by the Constitution and that means a man who believes in marriage between one man and one woman, the person who believes in marriage between two men, a transwoman and a cisgender man or two females who identify as bi-sexual.  This decision strengthens the protections for you, sir, as much as anyone else because it affirms the human need for intimate relationships and it publicly affirms love.  All consenting adult people are granted this right by the covenant we share as one nation. 

Marriage, like healthcare is a human right…not the exclusive province of the Religious Right.”

So I say to Senator Warren, if you are going to talk faith, take time to dig as deeply into the nuances of it as you have taken to dig into our national finances.  No one calls out for a balance sheet and a calculator on their deathbed and the number of Accountants marrying people and blessing children is minimal.

You and the rest of the candidates need to have a public forum on faith if you actually want to win in 2020.

-ALD

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