Love of neighbor in the 21st century: racial justice and LGBT equality

Kristoffer Tripplaar BLOOMBERG U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the 15th Annual Human Rights Campaign National Dinner at the … Continued

Kristoffer Tripplaar

BLOOMBERG

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the 15th Annual Human Rights Campaign National Dinner at the Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2011. Obama told the largest U.S. gay-rights group that the progress made on policies that have benefited the gay community still is threatened by opponents who want to “turn the clock back.”

“Commitment to mutuality is not a light or easy matter,” wrote Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz. Ada, the pioneer of “mujerista theology,” theology done from the perspective of Hispanic women, has just died. But her chapter, “Solidarity: Love of Neighbor in the 21st Century,” has never been more timely. If you want to be an ally of justice in the 21st century, Ada emphasized, you’d better be willing to embrace complexity.

Here’s a very recent example. The first African American president in American history has just said he supports marriage equality for lesbians, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens. So naturally the controversial story stemming from this historic moment is about the African American church and its resistance to marriage equality?

What am I missing here? Well, one thing I’m missing is a more complex response.

President Obama’s “evolution” on LGBT equality can be said to actually track that of other African Americans. African Americans have been steadily decreasing in their opposition to marriage equality for LGBT people; according to a Pew Research Center poll from April today only 49 percent of African American respondents described themselves as opposed to marriage between gays and lesbians, 14 percent fewer than in 2008. That’s a huge percentage of change.

On the other hand, 74 percent of white evangelicals oppose gay marriage. And as is clear from recent news reports, anti-gay messaging from white evangelical pulpits, post President Obama’s statement, may fill the enthusiasm gap many evangelicals seems to feel for Mitt Romney. So who is driving the opposition to LGBT equality in terms of sheer numbers? Here’s a clue: it’s not the African American church.

As a straight, white ally of racial justice and LGBT equality in the 21st century, a key emphasis for me has to be on not taking the easy path of either/or. Another emphasis needs to be on not overlooking the obvious, as failing to recognize that President Obama’s evolution tracks other trends among African Americans instead of reading his response as a break with the African American community. His response is a break with some African Americans, but not with others.

Thus, it is also critical not to see the African American church and its leadership as a monolith on LGBT rights. The opposition to the anti-gay Amendment 1 in North Carolina crossed racial and religious lines, as the umbrella group, Protect All Families, demonstrates on its Web site, Rev. William Barber, head of the North Carolina NAACP, preached with power and biblical authority against Amendment 1. When I was on the inaugural Religion Council of the Human Rights Campaign, we clergy who were allies and supporters of full LGBT equality were a multi-faith, multi-religious group, and multi-racial group, including African American members.

And I can tell you for a fact, from teaching many African American students at Chicago Theological Seminary who either are themselves LGBT or who are supportive of LGBT equality, and who are preparing for ministry in the African American church, the future of change toward greater openness on LGBT equality in the African American church has never looked better.

President Obama famously framed his support of marriage equality as a faith argument on the love of God and neighbor.

That’s a strong biblical argument for LGBT rights. But it is also a strong argument for maintaining mutuality with the African American struggle through their complexity of responses and not singling out the African American church for special criticism.

“Solidarity will not become a reality unless we are totally committed to mutuality,” wrote Ada. Contradictions continue, but we move forward when we do not abandon the totality of our commitments.

About

Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is Professor of Theology and immediate past President of Chicago Theological Seminary. She is also a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. Her most recent books are "#OccupytheBible: What Jesus Really Said (and Did) About Money and Power" and, as contributor and editor, "Interfaith Just Peacemaking: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives on the New Paradigm of Peace and War."
  • JasSpir

    Hallelujah – a nuanced understanding! It is to be hoped that the African American Christians who choose to apply an outdated code from a different society to that of our own time and place, and to those who have no relationship to it, now have more compassion for those white preachers who fought against human rights for African Americans. There is no more *a* Black church than there is a monolithic white Christian evangelical church.

  • ccnl1

    “Abrahamics” believe that their god created all of us and of course that includes the gay members of the human race. Also, those who have studied homosexuality have determined that there is no choice involved therefore gays are gay because god made them that way.

    To wit:

    o The Royal College of Psychiatrists stated in 2007:

    “ Despite almost a century of psychoanalytic and psychological speculation, there is no substantive evidence to support the suggestion that the nature of parenting or early childhood experiences play any role in the formation of a person’s fundamental heteros-exual or hom-ose-xual orientation. It would appear that sexual orientation is biological in nature, determined by a complex interplay of genetic factors and the early uterine environment. Sexual orientation is therefore not a choice.[60] ”

    “Garcia-Falgueras and Swaab state in the abstract of their 2010 study, “The fetal brain develops during the intrauterine period in the male direction through a direct action of testosterone on the developing nerve cells, or in the female direction through the absence of this hor-mone surge. In this way, our gender identity (the conviction of belonging to the male or female gender) and sexual orientation are programmed or organized into our brain structures when we are still in the womb. There is no indication that social environment after birth has an effect on gender identity or sexual orientation.”[8

    See also the Philadelphia Inquirer review “Gay Gene, Deconstructed”, 12/12/2011. Said review addresses the following “How do genes associated with homosexuality avoid being weeded out by Darwinian evolution?”

    Of course, those gays who belong to Abrahamic religions supposedly abide by the rules of no adultery or fornication allowed.

    And because of basic biology differences said monogamous ventures should always be called same-sex unions not same-sex marriages.

    From below, on top, backwards, forwards, from this side of the Moon and from the other side too, gay sexual

  • quiensabe

    As a white evangelical who has maintained loving friendships with Christian gays, I have yet come to terms that homosexuality is immutable. I also have two friends from whom I receive Godly counsel about most things in my life. Both of these men are adulterers and pastors. I have reason to believe that one of them practiced homosexuality at one time in his life. This is part of the reason I told you your work is important. I love each one of them and expect to see them in Heaven someday.

    Two of those homosexuals have died excruciatingly painful deaths resulting from AIDS. They made it through the polio scare in the 50′s and neither of them suffered from smallpox. Until HIV is a thing of the past, their death was caused by their lifestyle.

    I say this because it is hard to agree that love of God and neighbor is a Biblical basis for same sex marriage. I do believe the Bible is clear on homosexuality but our salvation doesn’t rest on being straight of gay. It rests on having accepted Jesus.

  • quiensabe

    I am saying we live in the age of grace. We all have sinned and have fallen short, including you. I do not answer for these men; that’s between them and God. If you are saying you stopped sinning after salvation, then you are a better man than I Gunga Din.

  • quiensabe

    That’s not what I’ve said at all. Does God wink at sin? No. My point is that there is no degree of sin. Your post reeks of pride in your becoming a new man. So, the Bible says that the sin of pride is the worst one that you can be forgiven for. And, of course, there is the unforgivable sin which is unbelief that Jesus is the Son of God. You split hairs with your cooperation thesis. Salvation is not a theological thesis. You ask Jesus to save you. That simple.

    The point I pose to Susan is that the Bible is correct on its treatment of homosexuality and that she, as a representative of Jesus on earth, should not present homosexuality as an immutable behavior no more than should the adulterer or you, Scot, who appears to be committing the sin of pride.

    There is another thing, Scot, you should keep in mind as you present yourself as pristine, God told Moses He would have mercy on who He would have mercy. God is, after all, sovereign, isn’t He?

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