Friday, July 17, 2015

In My Own Words: Journeys in Cognitive Dissonance

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Journeys In Cognitive Dissonance: A Tough Month For Progressive Clergy
Tucker Russell

As many readers will know firsthand, one of the struggles we so often face in the LGBT+ community is the tension between being authentic about our God-given sexuality while also holding on to our spiritual identities in an institution that, all too often, is ignorant and hurtful toward us. LGBT+ people of faith live in the tension of trying to participate in two communities that often deeply mistrust one another. In fact, this sense of tension can be felt not only in identities as LGBT+ persons, but also in a range of issues on social justice and equity. This summer has been a particularly tough season for that dissonance.

Even with a couple weeks of breathing room, it’s hard to wrap my head around the historical impact of national developments this summer. It is safe to say that we will remember these events for many years as huge advancements for equality and justice in our nation. The Supreme Court recognized the right of all Americans to marry the persons they love, and upheld expanded access to healthcare and the Fair Housing Act. Meanwhile, even in the midst of our grief, horror and outrage at the vicious hate crime committed at Mother Emanuel AME, it has been heartening to see the nation respond by taking long overdue steps to remove symbols of white supremacy from public grounds. All told, we are a more just, equal and compassionate nation than we were a month ago.

But progressive people of faith have also had to endure the embarrassment and frustration of seeing so many public figures claiming to represent our faith make statements that are shockingly backward and demonstrably untrue. Sen. Ted Cruz, couched in religious language, referred to the Supreme Court rulings as “some of the darkest 24 hours in American History”. Gov. Mike Huckabee warned that God would “withdraw the hand of protection” he has so far blessed the United States with, and a range of other so-called pastors have warned that God is soon to destroy the United States like Sodom and Gomorrah. It’s quite telling that many even attempted to co-opt the tragedy in Charleston, to spin not as a racially motivated crime but as evidence as their paranoid delusion of a “war” on white evangelicals.

Of course it must be recognized that this has risen largely as a consequence of the Church’s own sin of homophobia. The media portrays people of faith in this way because so many of us have chosen to act in this way. Even so, as a progressive, gay clergy person it is quite irksome to see representatives from SPLC-recognized hate groups treated as if they legitimately represent all Christians and every analysis piece on CNN quick to frame the debate as a contest between “gay rights” and “religious liberty” (in spite of the fact that my own denomination, the United Church of Christ, last year brought a successful lawsuit against the state of South Carolina on the grounds that their ban on same-sex marriage violated our religious liberty by forcing our ministers to treat their congregants unequally). It’s equally embarrassing and frustrating to see those same self-appointed representatives of Christianity show a profound lack of education, empathy, and integrity when addressing things like the Charleston murders or the confederate flag.

So as an act of repentance, I’d like to offer this counter-testimony to the voices of doom and woe that have risen from within the Christian community by examining some of the subtle and insidious ways that homophobia and racism have coalesced into the ugly and hateful worldview we see in so many so-called Christians. The graphic above has been making the rounds on social media because it provides a succinct refutation to the laughable idea that God will destroy the nation because of same-sex marriage. The fundamental point it makes is sound; the doom prophecy promoted by Huckabee and others is outside the pale of reason or civil discourse because it must logically include a belief that same-sex marriage is worse than all of our nation’s other sins put together, which is absurd when you consider our nation’s history with regard to the African slave trade and the genocide of First Nation’s people.

This doom prediction is obviously homophobic in the extreme, something far beyond simply “believing in traditional marriage”. But more than this, it’s also its own subtle form of racism. This argument is premised on the belief, so common in white evangelical American churches, that until now God has offered a special blessing and protection to the United States, shown favor to this particular nation above and beyond God's universal love and grace, on the basis of American Exceptionalism. The argument goes that the reason God has extended the US special favor and blessing is that we were, until recently, a just, holy and righteous nation founded on freedom.

That notion of exceptionalism ignores both the history and the current reality of enslavement, genocide, and systematic oppression. It's an attempt to erase the experiences and testimonies of nonwhite people from the historical record and whitewash our nation's formative years. Worse than that, the theological notion that our current global position of power, privilege, and wealth is the result of divine blessing rather than the fruit of systemic exploitation of nonwhite persons actually attempts to sanctify that injustice. In short, these doom prophecies are rooted in an idealizing of all the seats of privilege that have justified oppression throughout American history- not only straightness but whiteness as well.

With this in mind it becomes clear how the racist and homophobic psyche of the dominant culture can be, in the same month, more distressed over loving and faithful couples winning the right to legal equity than they are by the murder of 9 innocent African-American, and how it can twist both into a narrative about the fictive “war on Christianity”. The truth is “Christianity” is a coded proxy for the privilege of straightness and whiteness.

And so as we move forward and wrestle with these realities, both within our worship settings and faith communities and in the wider society, it is my prayer that progressive people of faith everywhere will have the courage to name this perversion of the truth when we see it, to turn over the tables of the power brokers and self-appointed priests, and to remember that we worship the one who frees slaves and comforts exiles, gathers the oppressed and downtrodden into a community of dignity and equity, and calls us to love our neighbors- all of our neighbors- as we love ourselves.

"Rev. Tucker Russell serves on the ministry staff of First Congregational Church (aka "The Big Red Church") and is proud to be both a member of the LGBT+ community and the progressive faith community. He looks forward to sharing thoughts with the community on the intersection of social, political, and spiritual issues affecting our lives."  

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