There are many reasons to be proud of the United States, just as there also are many reasons to feel a sense of shame at some of the country's history.
This Fourth of July weekend I want to focus not on the deep strands of racism in our history -- racism still woven into so many of our social and governmental structures -- but, rather, on the progress we've made in beginning to weave LGBTQ+ people into our social fabric in a healthy way.
We're far from where we need to be, but the distance we've come from my childhood is in some ways rather breathtaking. When I was a boy in the 1950s in a small almost-all-white town in northern Illinois, youth and adults often could be heard using the word "queer" as a slanderous term that dehumanized gays and lesbians (about whom most of us kids knew next to nothing).
Today, the LGBTQ+ community has reclaimed that term of derision and turned it into a label of pride. (As evidence, here is last week's sermon from one of our associate pastors at Second Presbyterian Church in Kansas City, Mo.) In some ways the same thing happened to the first followers of Jesus. When they first were called "Christians" it was mostly a pejorative term. But eventually they owned it, gladly marking themselves with the title of their Messiah.
One of the first times I wrote about LGBTQ+ issues for The Kansas City Star was in a rather lengthy piece that ran on the editorial pages in February 1993 in response to President Bill Clinton's ill-advised don't ask-don't tell military policy. That piece is reproduced as part of this essay on the Bible and homosexuality. The reaction to the 1993 piece -- in which I argued that the Bible offers no real guidance on the matter except for urging unconditional love for all -- was heavy and mixed. I was praised and I was denounced. Some readers were clear that the essay alone would be enough to guarantee me a place in hell.
What struck me then -- and what strikes me even more today -- is the strength and resiliency of the LGBTQ+ community as it seeks to negotiate its rightful place in our culture. Gay people have put up with an enormous amount of derision and grief, as, of course, have people of color in our country. And both have shown remarkable fortitude in continuing to seek equal civil rights and respect.
A good example of that is found in this RNS story about how LGBTQ+ people on the campus of Liberty University in Virginia have managed to live through an atmosphere of contempt for them at the school founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, who, as the story notes, once "labeled AIDS as divine punishment for gay people and for 'the society that tolerates homosexuals.'"
Despite that -- and additional condemnation from Falwell's son, Jerry Falwell Jr., now Liberty president -- LGBTQ+ students and others on campus are surviving and seeking to take advantage of the freedoms guaranteed to them as Americans -- freedoms that now, of course, include the right to same-sex marriage in all 50 states.
Pride Month 2020 just ended, but it brought to the attention of the nation once more not just the progress made since the Stonewall Riots in 1969 but also the remaining bigotry, at least some of which finds its roots in the misreading of scripture that I mentioned above.
So in this age of anxiety and protest, let's continue to work toward changing the unjust systems that keep people down in America, but let's also remember and cheer the fact that in a relatively short period of time, LGBTQ+ people have come closer to being considered part of America's mainstream. None of this would have happened without loud and insistent voices of protest, voices that need to continue speaking. Let's make it a habit to listen carefully to the voices of all American citizens before deciding whether to join or oppose them.
(The flag image above came from here.)
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HOW TO GET RELIGION WRONG
Here is an essay I happened upon that I hope you'll read. It's by a woman who, at age 18, had an abortion. And it's about her rigid religious upbringing and why she rejected that. To me, her story is an example of what can happen when religion without love and forgiveness is injected into the brains of children. Sigh.