Thursday, January 1, 2009

This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never"

In 1963 Martin Luther King was in jail again for civil disobedience. There had been a public statement by eight White Alabama clergy denouncing King for his public demonstrations, telling him he should use less disruptive means. Less disruptive than even King's non-violent approach? Perhaps they meant King should have been invisible. But King replied better than I can and he used that time to write his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, which later became the centerpiece of his book Why We Can't Wait.

An anonymous writer (over two posts) compares King's letter to the various voices around the current Gay Rights movement. Since King had Bayard Rustin, an openly gay man, as one of his organizers and since Coretta Scott King championed gay rights (including gay marriage) in the last decade of her life, our writer is convinced that King's words should be used (with only a few word substitutions in the quotes below) to advance our causes as well. The words of our anonymous writer are usually summarized.

To the Mormon leaders who claim victimhood when gays protested the large Mormon support for the gay marriage ban, and to the gay leaders who don't respond to those lies, King wrote:

You deplore the demonstrations taking place [at your churches]. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects, and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place [at your churches] but it is even more unfortunate that [your straight] power structure left the [gay] community with no alternative.

King also has a beef with the part of the church that should be our ally.

…all too many others have been more cautious than courageous, and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows … in the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon [gays], I have watched [straight] churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities.

This sounds like it is directed to the progressive part of my own United Methodist Church where church unity trumps social justice.

Looking over impressive church buildings King asks:

Over and over I have found myself asking: "What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? ... Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary [gay] men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?

Where are their voices when Dobson, Falwell, Warren, Bishop Harry Jackson, Jr., Bishop Eddie Long, Ken Hutcherson, even the Pope, condemn gays from their pulpits using nonsensical and frightening language? How many of their Sodom and Gomorrah sermons have motivated hate crimes?

So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an arch-defender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent, and often even vocal sanction of things as they are . . . but the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.

Forfeit the loyalty of millions? Irrelevant? King is right on target. Since 1963 the United Methodist Church in America alone has lost at least 2 million members. Many millions more have left all the other denominations of the Christian church. Of course, what's left of the church will claim that only by becoming more conservative (and anti-gay) will they "recapture the sacrificial spirit," denying the evidence of membership loss around them.

Some have been dismissed from their churches, have lost the support of their bishops and fellow ministers. But they have acted in the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the Gospel in these troubled times. They have carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment.

Though King referred to church officials above, our anonymous author contrasts this statement to the spineless gay leaders who don't mind a president who tramples on their rights as long as he's a Democrat. Many of these leaders are telling other gays to leave Obama alone because addressing gay rights will only get in the way. King has a reply to that too:

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in Civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily . . . we know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed . . . there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth.

In the past gays have been told to wait. Don't jeopardize the chances of a Democratic Congress or President. You'll just be a target. Now we're being told don't jeopardize the economic recovery. Even gay leaders are saying this. But this is a moral crusade that should be independent of the parties and their timetables. King couldn't count on Kennedy to do the right thing. We may not be able to count on Obama.

Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was "well-timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of [discrimination]. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every [gay] with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied.

How can we counsel patience when gays are taunted, bullied, and murdered? When gays are the subject of dehumanizing sermons and sent for treatment that does great harm and no good? When gays can't hold hands in public, are fearful of losing apartment and job -- especially jobs in the military or working with children? Why wait when positive representations of gays are challenged or banned? When kids are disowned by parents? When spouses are denied visitation at hospital and funeral? Why should we be told that what little we have is enough? And why does it matter that we haven't suffered as much as Blacks?

Gay rights are civil rights!

Happy New Year!

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