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  • Writer's pictureDavid Beers

Rethinking "Rethinking"

Rethinking “Rethinking”

I have been struggling with dealing with my emotional response to the events of the last two weeks. There is a mixture of horror, astonishment, and even fear. The people who stormed the Capitol building in a violent coup attempt and insurrection against the United States' legitimate government remind me so much of the people I grew up around in Murfreesboro. The same kind of people who hid behind their polite Southern gentility and Christianity. Those same people were aware of the abuse I suffered in my life at home and sexually at the hands of a Scout Leader (by the way, in a United Methodist church-sponsored Troop). They did nothing, said nothing, and used it to marginalize me further, bully and condemn me as deviant and unnatural.


So, I will let you know that I have little patience for those who call for unity at this point. I do understand the reasons for all those things, and yet those actions are still inexcusable. I continue to sort through the detritus of the emotional and spiritual wreckage those things made of my life. Adding to my experiential response is the new awareness I have gained by being a student at the Pacific School of Religion. Their whole purpose is to offer religious education that confronts head-on racism, misogyny, xenophobia, and homophobia. I have classes with diverse students who are willing to express their feelings and experience in a common forum that allows me to hear their voices in a very personal way.


I have expressed my opinions publicly. I believe this is my responsibility as a white-bodied person. All of us must confront our white privilege and complicity in the hate crime of white supremacy. We must acknowledge that our institutions, justice system, and even the white Christian Church have been tools that are the very means for oppressing BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and Persons of Color). Therefore, it heartened me to receive the document sent out by the Cabinet of the Florida Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. The fact that they spoke to the issues in an honest and straight-forward manner was, in my opinion, courageous and very unusual. While the United Methodist Church is unwilling to confess its sin of homophobia and transphobia on a corporate and institutional level, they at least are willing, in Florida, to begin the process of dealing with this issue of racism and white supremacy.


I do not claim the high moral ground here. I have been aware of racial injustice for most of my life but never confronted myself dealing with my implicit personal bias dealing with white supremacy and privilege. I allowed myself to believe the lie that told me that my queerness was unnatural and against the will of God. I know the reason why I get so angry about it now. In my own experience as a queer person trying to live up to a heteronormative masculinity, I did quite a deal of emotional damage to myself and others. So, now I have no patience for those who refuse to hear this new Gospel I want to share. I often lose the grace and understanding to others that I expect to receive myself.


This loss of grace has happened a couple of times. The first is when a clergy friend of mine reposted a quote from a leading "evangelical" pastor in the Florida Conference. It was the typical conservative response to the far-right insurrection for those on the left to move towards unity and dialogue. I expressed my dismay and shock that this comment would be called prophetic. There is no acknowledgment of the hatred and brokenness that inspired these actions or the violence both enacted and threatened against members of the government and the institution of the United States. Just a call for an understanding of the perspective of those in the seditious mob attacking the Capitol building. They didn't use these words but implied the inference. To compound the paradoxical nature of the comment was that both people are Latinx. There are much better representation and ministry for Latinx people in Florida than in other places in the United States. However, that group of United Methodists and Spanish-speaking clergy are still "other" in the eyes of the institutional denomination.


After a few conversations back and forth, they assured me that there was a stand against white supremacy and handled it tactfully. This idea is the same kind of centrist, moderate, niceness that the official United Methodist Church peddles about women clergy, cross-ethnic appointments, the status of BIPOC congregations, and queer persons in the life of the denomination. I hear this from some of the clergypersons I know who fear conservatives in their communities. Losing members and offerings seem to be a more significant concern rather than to proclaim an inclusive gospel. The funny thing is that heterosexual adultery and promiscuity among members and clergy is the elephant in the room that no one will discuss out of decency. Conservative congregations still, in 2021, refuse to accept a female senior pastor, "because we're just not ready for it yet," Even more the continued "othering" of the African American and Latinx congregations and clergy. These groups exist as separate entities as if they are a part of subgroups of the denomination. This separation, however, is not a wholly bad thing. These congregations can exist and maintain their own ethnic identity and be authentic to their spirituality is a good thing.


The second thing that riled me up in the last week was a conversation in my "online" Sunday School class. It has been more than one week. I have expressed my opinion about white privilege and supremacy and gotten some push back. This last week, I suggested that what happened could be an opportunity to examine the issues above. Once again, I got push back. The other person told me that we need to be loving and listen to those who expressed violent and hateful positions. When I suggested that it was a failure of many to see God in the other, my words were not accepted by this other person as relevant and I should see God in those who hated and feared the other. At that point, I stopped talking. I skipped the class this morning because I still wasn't feeling too charitable and didn't want to bring that spirit of discord into the group. Neither of us was wrong, but we were talking past one another. As I said earlier, I have become an apostle for the new-found spirit of liberation that came from accepting who I am and fighting against oppression, injustice, and hatred against any marginalized group.


So, this morning, instead of Zooming Sunday School, I attended the online service for Allendale United Methodist Church in St. Petersburg, Florida. It is a progressive and inclusive congregation led by the "radical" pastor Andy Oliver. He preached on the calling of Philip and Nathaniel. Nathaniel's challenge to Philip's request to see the new Messiah was to say "what good can come from Nazareth". Many think that Nathaniel's attitude was not right. Rev. Oliver suggested that this skepticism was appropriate in the context of the original setting. He used that opportunity to offer that we as "white-bodied" Christians must hear the distrust in the voice of BIPOC Christians (and non-Christians) in our desire to love our neighbor unconditionally. The doubt that we even believe that God loves all people unconditionally becomes explicitly and implicitly expressed in our hymns, liturgy, and structures. The use of religious language and even passages from Scripture to justify and excuse oppression and white heteronormative racist patriarchy only gives truth to the lie of that doctrine of faith. Providing more evidence to that fact is the belief in limited election and salvation only available through the institutional Church. These are roadblocks put up by those with power and privilege as a gatekeeper to keep the other from full acceptance and inclusion.


The context of the Israelites in Egypt was the focus of the sermon at West End. The amazing senior pastor Rev. Dr. Carol Cavin-Dillon talked about remaining hopeful during waiting on God or even the people of God. The two pastors expressed the understanding that hope is not passive. Hope requires those who wait to continue to defy oppression and systems of racism and injustice. Many call it "being subversive," In my project for my Spiritual Formation class, I talked about becoming "Holy Law-Breakers" and "God's Illegal Love." Whenever the religious community becomes complicit with the oppressive power structure, God breaks through when people break religious law and tradition to reach out to the other. Scripture references the midwives in Exodus, Jesus' interactions with women, Peter's eating non-kosher food. These are examples of how religion and its institutional structure to maintain oppression and injustice systems to defend those in power are overcome.

When religious organizations prostitute themselves to maintain their power to the oppressive colonizers, any religious law or tradition becomes a violent domination tool. Just think about the purity codes in the Hebrew Scriptures. Once a way to set the Israelites apart from their polytheist neighbor, now have become chains of oppression to control women's bodies, justify the enslavement of BIPOC, and a way to diminish the gift of human sexuality in all its expressions. Paul spoke out against the food laws and even circumcision as ritual acts meant to bind the community together, and yet those things had become an idol and symbols of exclusion.


At this point, I will remain hopeful. At the same time, I will continue to speak against white supremacy, privilege, and the oppression of all outside considered "other." My BIPOC friends challenged me personally to take up my responsibility as a "white-bodied" person to confront my racism and privilege and become a voice for healing and anti-racism (and anti-oppression in all communities) in my own "white-bodied" communities.


Remember:

Race is a myth.

Gender is a construct.

Sexuality is a spectrum.

The love of others is the only law that matters to God (or the Universe)


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