(Note: The following is a text of a sermon I delivered Monday March 21, 2010)
Gospel Reading: John 3: 1-17
Following Christ in the Closet or...The Real John 3:16 Guy!
“I want you to always wear the tightest jeans possible and I never want you to do anything that would make you inconspicuous!”
The first openly gay person elected to public office in the United States.
Born: May 22, 1930
Killed by an assassin’s bullets: November 27, 1978
In the fall of 2010, there was a rash of bullying prompted suicides committed by adolescent and young adult LGBTQ persons across the United States.
What was so unusual about this particular series of suicides was not so much that they occurred at all
- Because as the Queer community is all too painfully aware, the problem of bullying prompted suicides of young gay people is epidemic –
- The Centers for Disease Control reports that on average 4,440 adolescent and young adult bullying prompted suicides are committed by gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender and Queer youth (or those who are also perceived to be gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender and Queer) each year.
Let me repeat that number: 4,440 on average per year in the United States.
So, then what made these particular five suicides so significant in the fall of 2010?
It was the fact that for the first time, attention on a national scale, was focused on the occurrences and the epidemic problem. The epidemic was, for the very first time, brought to the attention of the American public. It came into their living rooms. The faces of the innocent were seen via television and internet and they became real.
As people began to process these tragic deaths in their own particular ways, the idea sprouted up across the internet and blogosphere that those who would like to remember the deaths of these young people, and also to demonstrate their support for positive action against bullying, would do so by wearing something purple on a particular Wednesday.
The idea was widely accepted and was encouraged nationwide as well as throughout North America, there was, however, one small corner of North America where there was an attempt made by a school official to prohibit students from wearing purple to school on this particular Wednesday.
The Vice President of a local Arkansas school district was so vehemently opposed to the idea that instead of simply voicing his opposition to the notion of students in his school district wearing purple to school, he did so, instead, by using the most vile and ugly words imaginable AND he posed those words on his Facebook page.
Midland, Arkansas School District Vice President Clint McCance wrote:
“Seriously they want me to wear purple because five queers killed themselves. The only way im wearin it for them is if they all commit suicide. I cant believe the people of this world have gotten this stupid. We are honoring the fact that they sinned and killed thereselves because of their sin. REALLY PEOPLE.”
A few brave and offended souls posted comments to McCance’s homophobic rant and to these comments, McCance responded:
“[B]eing a fag doesn't give you the right to ruin the rest of our lives. If you get easily offended by being called a fag then dont tell anyone you are a fag. Keep that shit to yourself. I dont care how people decide to live their lives. They dont bother me if they keep it to thereselves. It pisses me off though that we make a special purple fag day for them. I like that fags cant procreate. I also enjoy the fact that they often give each other aids and die. If you arent against it, you might as well be for it.”
He then went on to add:
"I would disown my kids if they were gay. They will not be welcome at my home or in my vicinity. I will absolutely run them off. Of course my kids will know better. My kids will have solid christian beliefs. See, fags infect everyone."
When a Arkansas newspaper editor posted a critical op-ed piece regarding McCance’s statements, McCance’s response to the editor in justifying his vitriolic words was:
"I have a family to protect."
Compounded by the fact that these words occurred in the midst of bullying prompted deaths across the country
– compounded by the fact that this man was the Vice President of his local school board and by virtue of his position, that the use of such words gave license to anyone in his district to bully at will
– few people outside of Arkansas, however, were aware that this exchange of ugly words had occurred.
That was until LGBTQ bloggers heard of the story and began to publicize it across the country. The horrible words shocked the Queer community and emails, letters and phone calls began to pour in to the Midland, Arkansas school board demanding that McCance be removed from the board.
This went on for over a week and nothing was done by either the local school board or the Arkansas State Department of Education to censure or remove McCance from his job as school board Vice President.
Increasingly angered by the lack of response, the Queer community stepped up their protests flooding both the local school board and State Department of Education with letters, emails and phone calls.
The response the Queer community received was something to the effect: “We’ve heard your concerns, but under Arkansas law, there’s nothing we can do.” The local school board and the State Department of Education took the additional step of publishing the tracking data regarding the protests which they had received.
The data showed that, in comparison, only a few voices of protest had been heard from the citizens of the town of Midland or for that matter from the citizens of Arkansas. On the contrary, most of the responses received from within Arkansas were in fact in SUPPORT of McCance and the statements he had made.
The data further showed that nearly all of the protests calling for McCance’s removal had come mostly from people outside of Arkansas who self identified as gay, lesbian, bi sexual, transgender or Queer. With this data in hand the Midland school board and the Arkansas State Department of Education kind of shut the door on the matter with something approaching an “Oh, well! It is what it is!” type attitude reinitiating the fact that since McCance hadn’t committed any crime, he could neither be censured nor removed from office.
A large segment of the Queer community, although angry (but not altogether surprised) by this reaction, felt a distinct sense of frustration at what we saw as being on our own during such a painful time for our community.
It was in sharing this sense of abandonment that I posted on my personal blogg an article entitled “Harvey the Prophet” in which I quoted from Harvey Milk’s famous Hope Speech which occurred a short time prior to his death in 1978:
“You see there is am major difference--and it remains a vital difference--between a friend and a gay person, a friend in office and a gay person in office. Gay people have been slandered nationwide. We've been tarred and we've been brushed with the picture of pornography. In Dade County, we were accused of child molestation. It's not enough anymore just to have friends represent us. No matter how good that friend may be.”
I went on to voice my opinion that although we as a community were grateful for the voices of our allies, the occurrence in Arkansas was evidence of our need to speak for ourselves and not to relay on others to speak for us.
The responses I received to my blogg were threefold:
Two thirds where from self identified liberal or progressive straight people (many of whom I knew personally) who responded to me in one of two ways:
1. That since they did not live in Arkansas, it wasn’t there obligation to speak to local matters there and that there were enough problems in their own neighborhoods, towns and cities without the need of going off to Arkansas to get involved in other people’s problems.
2. That how dare I criticize anyone who chooses to speak on behalf of gay people. That they had our own best interests at heart and that I (and the Queer community at large) needed to trust them to do what was best for us. Additionally, I was told that change occurred slowly and that our instance at trying to rush things only made matters worse.
The third group of respondents were from my own community – gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and Queer people - who told me that by writing the things that I did that I was “an embarrassment to the Queer community” and that I “needed to apologize to the straight people who speak for us” because, again echoing the sentiments of the second segment of responses, “they have our best interests at heart” and that we as a community “need to trust others to speak for us.”
Fortunately, that was not the end of the story. CNN’s Anderson Cooper became aware of Mr. McCance and internationally publicized his words. With Anderson Cooper highlighting the cause, others then began to voice their outrage – it became safe to come out of the closet – to speak up and demand McCance’s removal from office. The firestorm was so intense that McCance finally resigned his seat on the school board and offered a limited apology – not for his sentiments but for the particular words he chose to use in expressing his feelings.
Flash forward to the earlier part of this month:
The Guardian (UK) Newspaper published an editorial in their religion section titled:
Gay-friendly Progressive Christianity has become a self-righteous subculture: The Christian gay rights lobby adopts the narrative of 'accepting who you are' and diverts the religion towards a flabby liberalism
The writer of the piece went on to say that:
One of worst thing that has happened to progressive/liberal Christianity was when progressive/liberal Christianity adopted “the gay rights agenda.” He went on to say that the acceptance of gay Christianity has created a ministry of “victimization and soft Christianity.” He went on to further state that the elevation of Gene Robinson to the office of Bishop was the single worst thing to happen within progressive/liberal Christianity.
Of the total number of respondents to his article, 57% voiced their support of his analysis.
“All it takes for evil to succeed, is for good people to do nothing.”
You see, from my theological perspective - whether you are gay or straight – especially in that we as theologians, as ministers, as clergy - as people who name the name of Christ –
It is not possible for us to fulfill our prophetic call and prophetic voice from inside the closet.
We cannot, like Nicodemus, only speak to things regarding our Spirituality at night.
As a Queer theologian, it is my belief that as part and parcel of the Divine gift of our unique sexuality, we also have a unique Prophetic voice.
Additionally as those of us who call ourselves Christians – Christ Followers – we are charged by the founder of our faith with the following admonishment:
“You and you alone are the social irritating salt which exacerbates humanity’s blurred moral eyesight and their open, unethical societal wounds. If you don’t discover why God has placed you here – for a time just like this one – to act as an ethical irritant applied to the numb consciousness of humanity, then you are indeed a very sad individual. You have become simply another person who is walked all over by the rest of humanity.
You and you alone light the way for all of humanity. A beacon, built at a great height, perched atop a hill, which cannot be ignored.
No one ever lights a lamp in order to hide it. On the contrary! We light lamps so that we may lift them up high and place them on stands so that every room of society’s home is bathed in glowing light.
Let the great and blinding light of your Godly passion for justice burn so brilliantly before all of humanity that they may have no doubts regarding your ethical and moral integrity especially in consideration of your many noble and praiseworthy acts of kindness, mercy and love! So much so that humanity will say of you: “Praise Abba/Amma God in heaven for one such as this!”
In the Hebrew Scriptures there are two signs or indicators of someone’s having received a true calling as a Prophet:
1. They didn’t want the job.
No one sought out the job of prophet. They may or may not have embraced their call once they received it, but for the most part, they did everything possible to avoid it. They ran, hid, tried to talk themselves out of it, but most never wanted the job.
2. Their calling required of them to never be inconspicuous.
Whether it was Moses confronting the power of government in the person of Pharaoh and then walking around the desert with a veil over his face (I would refer you back to the Hebrew Scripture reading for Transfiguration Sunday)
Or if it was
Isaiah who walked the streets of Jerusalem for three years completely nude and bare footed.
Or if was
Hosea who openly and publically flaunted society’s conventionality by marring a woman referred to as a “prostitute.”
Or if it was
Ezekiel who publicly - in the streets of Jerusalem - baked cakes made from excrement
Their prophetic voices where never muffled in a closet.
Their prophetic calling was always conspicuous.
My charge to you today
- and my prayer for you today
- is that you find total and absolute freedom in your spiritual and sexual expression
- whether you are gay or straight or fall anywhere in-between on the scale of human sexuality
Please prayerfully consider what keeps you in the closet.
What, like Nicodemus, prompts you to be one who stands for Jesus only in the dark?
What is it that makes you uncomfortable about God’s gay, lesbian, bi sexual, transgender and Queer children? All of whom are created in the image of God.
And as an aside: Remember that Nicodemus did eventually “come out” as someone who embraced the teachings of Jesus.
He spoke openly at Jesus’ trail advising his accusers to avoid putting Jesus to death.
And after Jesus’ death, he along with Joseph of Arimathea, approached Pilate, requested permission to remove the body of Jesus from the cross and then he purchased the needed spices and linens to prepare Jesus’ body for burial. In doing so he made himself ceremonially unclean by lovingly and publically anointing the body of Jesus, wrapping it in linen cloth and placing Jesus’ body in the tomb.
Nicodemus became conspicuous!
“I want you to always wear the tightest jeans possible and I never want you to do anything that would make you inconspicuous!”