Thinking Out Loud

by Rev . Gil Caldwell

Asbury Park, New Jersey where I live, is today covered with snow, followed by rain that is turning into ice. The weather outside has given me the excuse to do what I do with some frequency; “Thinking Out Loud”. An article in today’s New York Times; “Part of Kentucky Marriage Law Overturned” has attracted my attention. Judge John Heyburn II who struck down portions of the law is quoted in the last paragraph of the article;

For many years, many states had a tradition of segregation and even articulated reasons why it created a better and more stable society. In time even the most strident supporters of these views understood that they could not enforce their particular moral views to the detriment of another’s constitutional rights. Here as well, sometime in the not too distant future, the same understanding will come to pass.

My “Thinking Out Loud”;

  • I continue to contend that we should not overlook the similarities between the “moral views” that once justified, sanctioned and sustained racial segregation and the “moral views” that today, justify, sustain and sanction, discrimination against same gender loving persons and couples. The parallel that Judge Heyburn makes between the two, in no way suggests equivalence between the slavery and racial segregation of black persons and the discrimination faced by persons who are same gender loving. If we engage in debates about equivalence between the two, it allows legal discrimination against same gender loving persons and couples to continue, and minimizes rather than  highlights, the history of legal and cultural racial segregation.
  • I am proud to have been one of four African American clergypersons who appeared in the 32 minute film, “Love Heals Homophobia” sponsored/produced by the St. Paul’s Foundation. It was filmed and circulated to respond in particular to the anti-gay culture and legislation of Uganda and other nations. I have thought, that it is a film that is as appropriate for Russia, as it is for any predominantly black nation. The film, and reading the comments of Judge Heyburn, has prompted these thoughts about religion, colonialism and how some adherents of religion in the USA, in their language, legislation, biblical interpretation, moral and religious views about homosexuality, are engaging in a kind of religious, missionary colonizing, of the USA.
  • It has been said with tongue-in-cheek about the colonialism and missionary presence in Africa;”When they (missionaries linked to colonialism) came, we had the land and they had the Bible. When they left, they had the land, and we had the Bible.” And, one aspect of the Bible that was “left”, was Biblical interpretation that declared same sex love was un-Biblical and sinful. The NY Times had recently, a front page article about anti-homosexual language, legislation and practice in Nigeria. The article suggested in one sentence that the British who colonized what is now Nigeria, brought with them, their religion-based, Victorian ideas about sexuality and homosexuality.

The Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa supported racial apartheid politically. With support of it shaped by their Biblical interpretation and theology. Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress, with the support of a few clergy and lay members of the Dutch Reformed Church waged a successful struggle against political and religious sanction of apartheid. Today’s South African Constitution affirms the rights of LGBT persons and the right of same sex couples to marry. While other nation’s in Africa, are waging cultural, political and religious wars against homosexuals. Why? Could it be that the sons and daughters of those who once “used” their religion to justify, colonialism, and racial segregation in Africa, and slavery and racial segregation in the USA, are now seeking in Africa and the USA, to use their religion to deny  same gender loving persons equal access and equality in church and society?

I have said in this “Thinking Out Loud” article, that the film “Love Heals Homophobia” should be shown in Russia to counter the anti-gay politics and legislation of that nation. But, as some religious and political leaders in the USA continue to resurrect the Bible, “traditional marriage” and their “moral views” to deny constitutional and religious rights to same gender couples, the film has as much applicability in the USA as it does in Africa.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said of lynching; “A law against lynching may not make a man love me, but it will discourage him from lynching me.” It seems to me that we who claim spiritual/religious faith, should understand the importance of laws in our society that affirm the humanity and protects the rights of all persons, regardless of our views about the legitimacy of how and whom they love. People of faith, even as they wrestle with their understandings of their holy texts, cannot justify, particularly in the USA, laws that deny some persons their constitutional rights.

Years ago, it must have been 1957, I took a course given by the theologian Paul Tillich at Harvard Divinity School. I confess that intellectually I was in water over my head. It was in that course that I began to realize I was not to be a candidate for a Ph.D. I was stimulated by Tillich as he spoke of the “ground of being”. He did this while drinking out a cup that may have not been filled with water. I end this epistle by simply mentioning the title of one of Tillich’s books; “Love, Power, and Justice: Ontological Analysis and Ethical Applications”, Oxford University Press, 1954. (WOW! What a title).

I ask of my scholarly, academician, friends/colleagues, what would Paul Tillich say about the anti-gay language and legislation of the United Methodist Church, that has robbed us of our long-standing commitment to love, that is best reflected in justice? Tillich, even though he is dead, has far more clout than  Gil Caldwell. How do we recruit him for our resistance to anti-gay, heterosexism? I want, before I die, for the UMC to confront and challenge the greed that makes of the practice of capitalism in the USA, un-democratic! Justice, I believe for same gender loving couples, ought be a slam dunk, thus we ought get on with it. But, I am convinced that economic justice if achieved, will be the struggle of struggles in this century. Arsenio Hall used to say as he began his TV program years ago, “Let’s get busy”. I suggest the same as we end the foolishness of resistance to gay rights in church and society, and move to the achievement of economic rights and justice.