Was there Room for Jesus at the Stone Wall Inn?

On my way to the office this morning I passed a couple taking some pictures in front of new sign posted on a busy intersection. I was a bit nervous for the couple, Brooklyn traffic still makes my stomach sink every morning, and wanted to see what was on the sign they were standing in front of. As I passed the couple and looked back I saw that the sign was a big rainbow flag stating “Brooklyn Celebrates Pride.”

As a white heterosexual male I have to admit that I didn’t realize it was that time of the year. Usually I’m made aware that it’s Pride season when all my Conservative Christian friends post pictures equating New York Cities Pride Parade with the on goings of Sodom and Gomorrah. The New York parade hasn’t occurred yet so the fact that Pride is being celebrated by millions wasn’t in my consciousness.

As I continued driving I started to think about the couple. I couldn’t help but think about their lives, their story, and the struggles they faced. In my heart I know it can’t be easy for our gay brothers and sisters to live a life completely free of worry, care, and judgment. I always wonder and marvel at the strength it must take to live in a society where some question their humanity, love, and sadly in most churches, their faith.

I write about issues of Social Justice because I’m a “Jesus person.” I’ve been a Jesus person all of my life. It’s really all that I’ve ever known. Its what defines who I am and why I live my life the way I do. Jesus has kept a tight grip on my heart since I was a little boy and he has never let go.

I say all this because in a week filled with news of suicide, nuclear war, and dictatorship, I sometimes wonder if the cares of this world take my eyes off of Christ. I’ve been wrestling in my head with those arguments that claim homosexuality is a choice, a manifestation of sin, deplorable, etc. I’ve been wrestling with the reality that we all fall short of God’s expectations and desperately need mercy.

I’m not a theologian, biblical scholar, or Christian philosopher. I’m a simple person that feels Jesus has called us all to live out what Scripture says in Ephesians 4:1 “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” I want to spread humility, love, and compassion in the same manner is was shown to me through the life of Jesus.

I know that Pride began when Gay men and woman began to fight back against brutal police oppression at the Stone Wall Inn in 1969. I know that day was the beginning of a people awakening to express their humanity. I pray that as a follower of Christ I stand always with the oppressed. I want to stand with “the least of these” even when doing so might raise the eyebrows of “good church folk.” I want to stand for grace and salvation because that is what Jesus gave to me. If I’m wrong than it will be only because I’m a fool for Christ and the hope he inspires.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The First Amendment V. The First Commandment

“I have the right to do anything,” you say–but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”–but not everything is constructive.”

1 Corinthians 10:23

 

On Monday my Social Media was abuzz with opinions regarding the Supreme Court’s ruling in Masterpiece Cake Shop Vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. I would say that the opinions of my friends, much like that of the country was a clean partisan split. Interestingly I found that those friends who I can label as self proscribed “Christians” were the most outwardly happy with the Courts ruling. This is not all that surprising, however, it does raise an issue that I think Christians should think about in greater depth.

Some quick background on the case: A Christian baker in Colorado was asked by a gay couple to make a wedding cake for their upcoming ceremony. The baker declined and explained to the couple that he believes making the cake would violate his Christian values. The Civil Rights Commission of Colorado (A government entity) found the baker in violation of the couples civil rights and levied fines. The Supreme Court (I will leave it here just to give a quick cursory telling of the story) found that the Civil Rights Commission violated the rights of the baker.

Now, as an exercise in political thinking I found the Courts decision very interesting. What really sparked my interest, however, was an article in the New York Times documenting more cases like this that will test boundaries of “religious freedom and civil rights”. One such issue the Times discussed was a Bill recently passed in Oklahoma (SB 1140). This bill essentially allows private adoption agencies the legal right to discriminate against gay and lesbian couples when placing children. This Bill, which before reading the Times I was unaware of, will most likely push the “Christian Rights vs. Gay Rights” debate to the forefront of the Supreme Court in the coming years.

I don’t know all that much about adoption/ child welfare issues. I did work, for a very short period of time, as a Social Worker who would visit with newly adopted children and families to help offer services as they transition into their new lives together. For the most part I came across very loving parents and very excited children. They were always so happy to have a new place to call home and new people to call Mom and Dad. What I did learn during my time in the field, is that those children waiting to be adopted face the constant fear of instability, sexual assault, educational neglect, and emotional abuse. Children waiting to be adopted too often experience fear when living every day in group-homes, foster care facilities, and in some foster homes.

While I was not responsible for finding foster kids adoptive homes, I did hear stories from other Social Workers who had this job, and these stories still shake me. I was told of a thirteen year old child that was given one meal a day by his foster family, beaten for minor infractions like spilling milk, and forced to eat his own vomit after getting sick. Luckily, in this story the authorities learned of the crimes that occurred while the child was in foster care and they were able to find a nice adoptive family to take him in. Authorities also were able to persecute the foster parents who committed the gruesome crimes. In this instance the child was lucky. I often pray that this is not the reality being experienced by any of the over “107,918” children in foster care who are waiting to be adopted by a loving family.

After learning about SB 1140 I did a quick Google search just to learn a little more about the law. I came across many “Christian” organizations making the argument that this law is necessary because it will allow religious organization the ability to “provide social welfare services congruent with Christian values.” I found a few op-eds from Christian writers who saw this as a victory for “Christian liberty”, “Godly values”, and “traditional families”.  I did not see, from any Christians at least, statements on how this will positively impact (according to the Oklahoma Department of Human Services) over 9,000 kids in Oklahoma in need of adoption.

I understand that for some Christians there is a belief that sexual politics is an arena where there can be no compromise. While I don’t share this view I would never ask someone to act in a manner that violates his or her deeply held spiritual convictions. However, since the people speaking in these op-eds and in the media are proclaiming to be fellow “Christians” I feel as though I can engage in a little debate and push back on these feelings.

In the beginning of the blog I quote 1 Corinthians 10:23. Here we see the Church struggling with issues of ethical Christian living. The Church in Corinth is asking what it should do about issues regarding a proper diet, morals, etc. The answer given in the Scriptures is one that speaks to our current times. Essentially we are told that since Christ came to renew our minds and hearts there no longer should be worries about trivial matters like diet. We are told that everything is now permitted, however, we must realize that we can’t go “overboard.”

We learn in the scriptures that Christians should feel free to eat anything they want, however, as good brothers and sisters of Christ they should realize that this freedom may have to be put aside for the greater good of others. Many Pastors will use this scripture when teaching about things like alcohol consumption. They usually will say things like “sure, you can drink alcohol as a Christian just don’t be a drunk and act in ways that would embarrass Christ. You should be careful though and realize that there may be a Christian Brother or sister that is struggling with alcohol abuse. It may not be wise to drink around them. So in essence, yes, as a Christian feel free to drink in moderation, just recognize that this freedom comes with a responsibility.”

I think this teaching serves as a great parallel to something like SB 1140. In America we are granted freedom of religion and freedom to engage in faith and moral traditions that proscribe certain standards of behavior. However, we are Christians first and Americans second. We are often looked at as examples of “good behavior” even if we don’t mean to be. Yes, maybe some Christians feel that gay couples should not be allowed to adopt because it violates Church teaching. I argue this does not outweigh the duty we have as Christ centered individuals to continually work to be the salt of the earth.

As Christians we must ask ourselves this question: does allowing private organizations the ability to refuse children in our care an adoptive home simply because we find an individuals lifestyle to be “sinful”? It may be legal but does it edify the spirit of Jesus and the witness of Christ’s saving grace?

I would ask Oklahoma’s Governor Mary Fallin, who at an event organized by Franklin Graham stated “I’m not scared to walk my faith because my faith plays a role in the decisions I make” to stop and consider those children who may be victims. I would ask all those Christians who publicly stand against the L.G.B.T community to ponder if its “sin” they are against or if it’s the feeling of being outwardly “righteous” that makes them stand in condemnation of our Gay brothers and sisters?

As Christians we have always lead movements for peace, justice, and love. From abolishing slavery, to establishing Unions and marching for civil rights, Christians have a heritage we can be proud of. I pray we don’t tarnish that heritage because it’s politically expedient.

 

 

 

 

With Friends Like These Who Needs Enemies?

Last year a Harris Poll was conducted to determine just “how happy” average Americans are. The poll (http://time.com/4871720/how-happy-are-americans/), found that only 33% of Americans responded that they are “overall happy.” Why are we such an unhappy group of people? Some on the left would say it’s probably because Donald Trump is our President. The Right would retort that it’s “godless” liberal values that are making us increasingly unhappy.

I have no real opinion or thoughts as to why, as a people, Americans are unhappier than others. Sometimes I believe it stems from living under a capitalist economy those forces us to work and toil harder and harder to scratch out a meager living. At other times I believe we may be so unhappy because we are all longing for spiritual fulfillment. And some days I assume that the entire nation is comprised of New York Knicks fans that suffer with year after year of losing, dashed hopes, and relentless heart break (you can insert my fellow Jets fans in place of the Knicks if you prefer).

Happiness is a very hard thing to define, measure, or even understand. I know Social Work literature is filled with studies that show variables like “community, faith, family, purpose, and work”  are things which make us feel more “content”, which is also often translated into feeling happy. Any Social Worker worth their salt will look to these variables and often suggest that clients experiencing depression, loss of hope, and those who are unhappy, reach out and connect more with sources of contentment.

So often in American life we resort to our “tribal camps.” Associating with those that think, believe, and behave like we do, naturally makes us feel more comfortable, and dare we say “more content”? This is why so often I find myself going to left leaning websites to read articles that document a sense of justification for feeling the world needs to be a more progressive place. This always makes feel safe, accepted, and content.

However, on Tuesday  I decided to venture out of my zone of contentment and read a few articles from a Conservative website. I thought “hey why don’t you be more opened minded and see what the other side has to say.” I have to admit that I was a bit nervous at first but after ten minutes it wasn’t all that bad. I didn’t come across anything to grotesquely right wing that would upset my “snowflake” sensibilities.

I was intrigued by an article posted on the website ( I won’t share the article or the site. I don’t want to stir unnecessary debate/ hurt feelings of those who may frequent the site.), regarding an update on Democratic Senatorial Candidate Chelsea Manning. For those who may not be aware of Chelsea’s story I will give a really quick overview: Chelsea Manning was born Bradley Manning. Manning served in the military as a specialist in Technology and intelligence. Manning was essential to providing organizations like Wikileaks and the New York Times  with classified information that informed their reports on abuses carried out by the United States Government during the Iraq war. Manning was subsequently arrested and sent to prison for giving out classified information. While in Prison, Manning declared that she was now identifying as a female and will be changing her name from Bradley to Chelsea. She has since been released from prison and is currently running in the Democratic Primary for Senator in Maryland.

I was intrigued that an overtly Conservative website would post a story about Chelsea manning’s health. Apparently there were some reports released that claimed she tried to take her own life. The report explained that Chelsea is okay and is recuperating. The story was pretty dry and self-explanatory.

I ventured past the text of the article and saw some of the comments. This is what really struck my interest. A self-identifying “soccer mom” whose username for the website (which I will make up to protect her identity) literally was along the lines of “ChrstianGal4Jesus” had the first comment on the story. Her comment, which I’m directly quoting, was “I know this makes me a bad Christian but I don’t care that she is okay. She is a traitor. She is lucky she wasn’t shot and killed.”

“ChristianGal” was very sincere and honest with her comments. While I was in a bit of shock to see her so openly state that she didn’t care that Chelsea Manning was okay, I felt compelled to take a second and think about what she said. I was struck that she was honest in feeling that her remarks exclude her from “polite Christian company.” I appreciate honest people that are self-aware. I was disappointed, however, by the amount of people that responded positively and told “ChristianGal” not to be ashamed. There were, at my last check, which was noon on Wednesday, over 20 responses affirming “ChristianGals” feelings and explaining her lack of empathy did not make her a “bad Christian.”

In Evangelical circles it’s very popular for people to say “I hate the sin and love the sinner.” Essentially, this statement is trying to clarify that a Christian is not personally hostile to another individual, but that they are merely hostile to a belief, action, or behavior that can be considered sinful. Evangelicals are very quick to offer this statement as a response to LGBTQ issues. It’s a common troupe for explaining why Evangelicals generally do not support things like “gay marriage”, “gender neutral bathrooms”, or “same sex adoption.”

I think most Evangelicals  generally are sincere when they make this statement. Sure, some may be overtly homophobic, racist, or sexists, but I think there are some who generally cannot accept certain things they deem to be “ behavioral choices.” I’ve begun to wonder, however, if this statement is starting to serve as a mask for a deeper anger.

In Romans 12:2 Christians are told not to “conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Essentially, Christians should not allow the world, society, popular culture, etc. to take such a prominent role in our lives that it drowns out the saving grace of Christ. We should be believers in Christ, who spend day and night trying to reflect a love so deep that “it passes all understanding.” Can we love, when hating on social media feels so right?

I think its getting increasingly harder for Christians to decouple their thinking from that of the President, Congress, Conservative Pundits, and right-wing Facebook memes. I focus on “Conservatives” only because unlike Christians on the political left who have never had an Evangelical Liberal to admire (I exclude former President Jimmy Carter because I could write a book on how totally not progressive he was but I’ll save that for a later post), politically Conservative Christians have been well represented in the halls of political power. A Conservative response to Chelsea Manning is one of anger, betrayal, and maybe even hatred. A Christian response is one of love, empathy, and hope for a renewal of her spirit and mind. A Conservative response to “ChristianGal” is one of affirming her feelings of discuss; A Christ like response to “ChristianGal” is a word of life affirming love and correction.

A Muslim friend told me that he is disappointed in Christians. He believes that Christians are not holding President Trump to the same standards that they held for President Bush and President Obama. He stated that “Christians may be self-righteous at times but at least they came from a moral place. Now, its like anything goes. Its like they are okay with living in Sodom and Gomorrah.” I don’t think we are anywhere near Sodom and Gomorrah. I believe we are human, imperfect, and in need of love. We can make this right. We must go back to the basics. We must become friends with those in the world. We must not become like the world.