I was talking to a guy recently who has been coming to our church after a small group discussion we had about faith and sexual orientation. His perspective really bothered me at the time, but I wasn’t sure why.
The guy is a lot like me in many ways – white, in his thirties, middle class – and in some ways I think his sentiments reflect a larger attitude about GLBT presence in the church and the greater culture.
“You know,” he said, “for me, someone’s sexual orientation just isn’t really an issue.”
Not exactly a terrible thing to say, right? I mean, he was fine when a guest pastor, who happens to be gay, preached on Sunday. He is okay with the fact that we had a transgender youth minister for about a year. So compared to the climate of the past, particularly within the church, this seems to be a really good thing.
But it still bothered me.
Granted, if we are in a place where we are still wrestling with issues of morality around sexual orientation, gender identity, and the like, tolerance or “GLBT blindness” is a step in the right direction. But then I finally got to the heart of my discomfort with his comments.
To say that something like sexual orientation, race, economic status, gender are not issues to us is to speak from a position of privilege. Those who are marginalized, oppressed or denied equality because of who they are do not have such a luxury.
As people of faith, we who have privilege are bound by our beliefs to actively, vocally and passionately advocate for those who do not enjoy our position of privilege or power. At the risk of sounding like a Marvel comic book, we have to use the power we have for good, rather than just standing on the sidelines, assuming that not doing anything is good enough.
My friend, who is a seminary student and is Lesbian, put it this way: “I can talk all day long about justice for people like me, but it carries more weight when someone says the same thing who has nothing to gain from the issue, but who has something they are willing to lose for what they believe is right.”
That “thing to lose” she’s talking about is the very privilege I am bound to use to help her achieve equal standing as a Christian, as a citizen and as a human being. But I do disagree with her on one point; I believe that we who find ourselves at the steering wheel of any system – be it church, government or otherwise – do stand to gain by pressing for an equal seat for others at the table.
We worry that, if we share our piece of the pie, there won’t be enough left for us. But what if the person we invite to the table has a new recipe that we would miss out on without them?
I know this is a trite metaphor, but applied to business, the argument is the same. I, as a white, heterosexual male, may feel threatened by a company-wide policy to recruit employees of more varied backgrounds and identities. On the surface, if feels like I’m acceding what I’ve worked for to someone who we may feel hasn’t earned it like I have.
But what if having someone who thinks and works differently than you opens up previously unavailable markets? What if the size of the so-called table grows, simply because of their creative presence?
Communities of faith face the imminent threat of perceived irrelevance in the present-day culture. When I take a step back and look around, I can see why. Do we, in our congregations, in our leadership, and in the messages we communicate to the public, reflect the growing diversity of backgrounds and experiences, just outside our institutional walls?
Even the “missional” movement faces a similar problem. Just look at the roster of top-tier speakers and authors out there, like Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, Peter Rollins, Shane Claiborne, Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo, and our own Spencer Burke…
Notice a pattern yet?This is not to say that we should not welcome these voices to the conversation. On the contrary, their contributions to this issue of “justice for all, or else justice for none” are critical. But I argue that to remain silent on issues that are thorny, controversial or otherwise pose a threat to our standing is a sin of omission.After all, the greatest differences are made when someone steps out and speaks the truth, particularly when they have something to lose.