30 June 2011

Preaching gently to the choir #WGF11

The following is a re-post of a comment I left earlier today on Peterson Toscano's blog. Peterson is a Quaker performance artist and activist. He grew up within the conservative evangelical church, and spent 17 years in various "ex-gay" programs, trying without success to change his sexual identity. After coming to his senses and coming out as a gay man, Peterson (who is one of the funniest people I've ever had the pleasure of meeting) turned his painful history into a comedic one-man show, Doin' Time in the Homo No Mo' Halfway House - How I Survived the Ex-Gay Movement! which exposes some of the suffering inflicted by that movement. When the time came for him to move on from re-living that part of his life, he set about working on self-formation as a strong and eloquent ally for transgender folk, many of whom still suffer more constant, serious oppression than their lesbian, gay, and bisexual brothers and sisters - and sometimes face discrimination and ignorance from LGB folks themselves. Among other things, Peterson began combing the Bible, together with trans* Christian friends, and found gold nuggets of story that could be interpreted - at least speculatively - in a trans*-positive way. These became Transfigurations - Transgressing Gender in the Bible, a new piece of comedic performance art. Peterson has also done a bunch of other cool stuff. He performed and spoke this past weekend at the Wild Goose Festival, excerpting from both of these works, and he rocked my world.

The post on which I commented was called What I carried into Wild Goose, and in it, Peterson confesses his frustration with Christian leaders in a conservative evangelical context, who privately sympathize with the plight of their LGBTQ sisters and brothers, but who are not willing to take the risks involved with publicly saying so. Go, read it, and while you're there, check out some more of Peterson's wisdom, witness, and humor. My comment follows:

Peterson, thanks for this. Your thoughtful, faithful honesty and courage continues to humble me. I think a related – yet not identical – problem is people like me. I’ve never been part of the conservative evangelical world. I grew up outside the Church, and I’m now a part of two churches: a middle-sized, traditional-ish Episcopal church, and a very small (30-40 adults plus kids) trans-denominational “emerging” church. Both of my church communities are very progressive, open, and welcoming, with LGBTQ folks demonstrably welcome (including in leadership positions), though neither is by any means perfect. As an individual (and, to some extent, a leader) in these communities, I have always been open and honest about my unequivocal belief in equality regardless of sexual or gender identity – but it has been far too easy for me to act as if there’s no particular need for me to do more than that. I mean “the Church”, for me (that is, the rather open and progressive communities I’m personally a part of), is doing OK, right? This boat’s not in need of rockin’. We’re all equal and welcome and loved, and all’s right in the world.

And this, while I’ve also campaigned for years for the idea that we need to think and act and connect outside our parochial little tribal worlds – that the Church is so much bigger than that. This, while I’ve been a part of a community that, despite its small size, incarnates that idea by including and celebrating folks of so many different church backgrounds – Anglicans and Methodists and Charismatic/Pentecostals and Brethren and Catholics and agnostics and Lutherans and Presbyterians and atheists and Baptists and, yes, Evangelicals coming together as one Body of Christ – not uniform, but together in community. This, while I’ve been active in Emergent Village, which in this respect (ecclesiological diversity) looks like my little church writ large. So what exactly is my excuse, living as I am within these larger, ecclesiologically diverse contexts, for thinking and acting on such a small, safe, limited scale when it comes to the place of my LGBTQ brothers and sisters? Well…er…um…it sure has been easier for me that way….

Well, brother, all I can say at this point is, I’m sorry. I’m sorry I’ve been so silent for so long. But I hear you loud and clear, and you (along with many other folks I was blessed to spend time with at the Goose) have finally spoken to me with words and witness that have managed to penetrate my thick head and heart – words and witness that the Spirit has been trying to get through to me for some time now, I believe, though I’m well-practiced at ignoring her. I’ve begun work in allowing myself to be formed as an ally. I hope I’ll be led to ways I can help. And I thank you, again, for your witness.

(And if anyone else reading this is like me – straight, cisgender, liberal, progressive, living and perhaps leading in liberal/progressive contexts, preaching gently to the choir, enjoying the safety and affirmation of that situation, and feeling OK about our place in this changing world – can I suggest that we ask ourselves, our LGBTQ friends, and the Spirit if that’s really all we’re called to at this moment in history? The Body of Christ is bigger than our little progressive ghettos, and the Church as a whole is responsible for great pain and suffering, every day. Are we being called to help do something about that? Are we listening?)

photo by celebdu (rights)


Peterson Toscano said...

I am so glad you were at Wild Goose and that we met. It means a lot that my presentation moved you. Thank you for sharing your comments on my blog and here. Wonderful ally work!

Steve F. said...

Mike, thank you for your post. It means a lot to folks like me, even though we weren't at Wild Goose.

Individually, it's important to let GLBTQ folks know that one is an ally. I found an amazing number of allies in the bloggers I first met when I started blogging seven years ago.

But it's also a blessing when a congregation or a community chooses to be known as a GLBTQ ally. One of the best ways to do this is to resolve, as a community, to be listed on the Welcoming Churches database sponsored by the Gay Christian Network ( http://www.welcomingchurches.com/beta/pages/home ).

Depending on denomination, there are other groups that hang a "welcome, you're safe here" sign out - the More Light Presbyterians, the Reconciling In Christ (RIC) movement, and many others like them.

So many like me have been out in the storm, seeking safe harbor. It has been such a blessing to find those who are willing to say, "You are welcome here; you are safe here." It means more than you could probably ever know.

And yes, it takes courage. But, as friends in recovery have told me, courage is simply "fear that has said its prayers."

Mike Croghan said...

Thanks, Peterson! I'm just getting started, inshallah. BTW, my church's small group was inspired, shocked, horrified, and ROTFLing over Homo No Mo'. We only watched half so far - hoping to finish it this week or next. (We're a small church. We have one small group. Actually, that's not entirely true - we just started an Artist's Way group. Anyway....) Thanks, again, for putting yourself, your gifts, and your pain out there.

Mike Croghan said...

Steve, thanks so much for your thoughts. I'm working with the folks in my church now, hopefully toward that kind of community identification. We are consensus-based and flat, organizationally, and very small (30-40 adults plus lotsa kids), and we have queer members (though that's a tricky term because we don't have formal membership - but there are LGBTQ folks who are certainly and fully part of the community). And because of our flat structure (there are no roles - in worship, team leadership, etc. - that are reserved only for certain members), there's no question of "full" membership or exclusion from leadership, etc. But we really haven't *talked* about queer issues much - and as a consensus-based group, talk we must. But we're beginning that now, I think.

Thanks again, Steve!

Unknown said...

Mike, we've not met, but you've just ain't healing to my heart. Thank you.

Unknown said...

That should be sung not ain't. I hate autocorrect.

Mike Croghan said...

Thanks so much, Jane! Without autocorrect, there'd be that much less humor in the world. It's no Peterson Toscano, but still. ;-)