Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Pride and Shame

I was one of two original grand marshals of the 
2009 Atlanta Pride parade. That's Wade in the front seat.

Along with others, Dean Lewis has been the longtime conscience and “better angel” of the Presbyterian Church on multiple social justice issues. He was on the staff of the Advisory Council on Church and Society of the former United Presbyterian Church under whose auspices the Task Force to Study Homosexuality (1976-1978) was formed and did our work. Knowing of my intern work for the Christian Association at the University of Pennsylvania with LGBT people on campus (1975-1976), I believe Dean was the one or among those who recommended me for the task force.

I served as its only openly gay member, appointed by the first African American woman to serve as General Assembly Moderator, the Rev. Dr. Thelma Adair, and Elder Jeanne Marshall, chair of the advisory council, who became a good friend and later advisor and board member of the Lazarus Project, a Los Angeles based ministry of reconciliation between the church and the LGBT community that I served as founding director.

In his birthday greeting to me last week, Dean reminded me that this year was the 40th anniversary of the delivery of our task force report to the 1978 General Assembly meeting in San Diego, a report whose majority of 14 recommended that homosexuality not be considered a bar to ordination.

The minority report recommended the opposite, and the view of that minority of five held sway at the assembly, putting in place a ban on the ordination of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and, by inference, transgender candidates for professional ministry and lay leadership within the denomination that lasted nearly forty years, and lingers in the less inclusive presbyteries and congregations of the church to this day.

Tomorrow, October 11, is Coming Out Day, a day inviting LGBTQ people and our families, friends and allies to come out about our “faith in the idea that God had when God made” us, in the words of Isak Dinesen (nee Karen Blixen) in Out of Africa and her Immigrant’s Notebook.

Atlanta’s Pride festival and parade/march come this weekend, moved some years ago from the traditional observance on the anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion the final weekend of June because of the Georgia drought that prompted concern about the lawns and grounds of its venue, Piedmont Park. Unique to Atlanta Pride, I believe, is that it has always been an invitation for all to express pride in our diversity, regardless of sexual orientation.

Sunday I was invited to encourage the community of Ormewood Church to attend both festival and parade/march in support as part of a year-long series on “Loving Our Neighbors.” The Sunday before, Ormewood Church had celebrated our first anniversary meeting together thanks to the leadership of many fine people, including organizing pastor, the Rev. Jenelle Holmes.

When the Task Force to Study Homosexuality announced its majority/minority divide on the ordination of LGBT people in the winter of 1978, many opposed to that ordination said that, if the task force had included more lay people, the vote would have been more clearly opposed.

But the minority of five who opposed ordination of LGBT people were all straight, white, older male clergy. The majority of fourteen who saw no reason to exclude LGBT people from ordination were lay and clergy, male and female, black and white, old and young, straight and gay. Diversity welcomed inclusion.

This is especially relevant as we face this week a U.S. Supreme Court which will be dominated by five straight white men.

During the hearings on the nominee for Supreme Court justice, my spouse Wade expressed his continuing dismay that the Senate is mostly old white men. “We need a Congress that is as diverse as the American people,” he said. Amen to that!

I recently lost as a Facebook friend one of my best friends from high school when he questioned “identity politics” and I responded politely that “identity politics” has always been with us: as long as you were a straight, white male, you were welcomed into the power structures of government, business, military, and church.

I wrote in my first book, Uncommon Calling, that it was the Rev. Dr. Thelma Adair who gave me a helpful perspective on the LGBT movement as we waited in line for “The Women’s Breakfast” at the San Diego General Assembly. She said simply, “When I first started coming to General Assemblies, we [African Americans] were not allowed to stay in the same hotels with white delegates. We had to stay in private homes far from the venue.”

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  1. Thanks for refreshing my memory of this history, Chris. I am on a nostalgia binge these days. The 11th will be the first day of Alumni Weekend at SFTS. I'm looking forward to seeing Cecil Hoffman, Mark Merrill and Bear Ride (among others). 1978 was a tough time. I doubt I could ever have imagined my path from then to now. You made a difference in so many lives, including mine. Blessings, friend.

    1. Thanks, Don. I appreciate your saying that. I too have been experiencing nostalgia for people and places and things that have passed. You'll enjoy being with SFTS friends, whom I count also as friends. Please give them my greetings!

  2. Excellent piece, and fascinating breakdown of the membership of the task force majority versus that of its minority.

    Small factual correction, though. You write, "This is especially relevant as we face this week a U.S. Supreme Court which will be dominated by five straight white men." Clarence Thomas may be straight, but he's not white.

    1. That's why I didn't include him in the count of five straight white men. Including him, there are six men on the court. Thanks for your comment!