Friday, September 6, 2013

On #NALTs, kneejerk responses, and African Bishops

So if you go to Twitter and you look for the hashtag #NALT, you will find a range of opinions about the new "Not All Like That" video campaign, where professed Christians speak out in favor of gay rights.

You will see there a backlash from some members of the gay community, lashing out against those of faith, that seems to coalesce around the idea "how dare you speak to me?"

Here's one such tweet:
Dear Straight "Allies": when you tell Queer people how to feel about something straight folks (like #NALT) are doing, you're doing it wrong.
I don't think they were telling you how to feel, they were telling you--and other Chrisians-- what THEY  feel.  And then,
Having a christian tell me they "accept" me means NOTHING to me. And frankly, why should it? #NALT
And I find this to be quite annoying, with its focus on knee-jerk identity politics.  Fine, it means nothing to you, snarky tweeting pereson, but it may mean quite a lot to other people.  Other gay people.  And, other Christians.  Let alone, gay Christians.

I got news for ya, people:  we do not win equality without the support of straight allies.  And we have not won equality in any state that has had a vote without the support of people of faith.  So when those people of faith step up, and put their own faces on the line, to speak not just to the LGBT community but also fellow Christians, I say more power to 'em.  We need all the help we can get, and having a litmus test for progressive bona fides is just infuriating.

One vivid response by an HIV-positive man who lived through the plague years nails the self-satisfaction of the snarky young activists:
I am furious at the too-cool 20-somethings in the LGBTQ Christian community (and I almost can't use the  word "community" for the first time in my life) who think NALT to be pretentious, insincere, presumptuous, etc. etc. …. 
I'm furious at their lack of wisdom (or willingness) on the part of those in our community to acknowledge the fact that they have just slapped the face of these people who are going to take a boat load of shit from their own congregations, friends, and families to perform the simple act of letting people know that they're loved, unconditionally….. 
As I am listening to and watching the kind eyes in these videos, all that I can do is to hold back tears of gratitude.  And fear isn't anywhere to be found.  I see... I see, almost a plea of remorse and empathy in their eyes.  My heart hurts for the kindness that I see…. 
  I for one love you for coming to a place of loving all of God's children without condition. I love you for not playing God, and for your bravery. I love the fact that I've lived to see this day. That I've survived the horrors to hear a message of love where there once was nothing but silence.
The reactionary left wing that tries to define what THE response should be, often within its own little echo chamber.  A purity cult. I definitely would not pass muster there.

While they insult the good efforts of the #NALT campaign, they also took down someone else this week, an African bishop James Tengatenga who was to be head of a program at Dartmouth college.  Yes, indeed, the Bishop had had a history of negative comments about LGBT people. But (like a certain President), he had evolved to an explicit support for LGBT rights, in the context of a place and a culture where how to advocate for LGBT people is not the same as here. But his job was rescinded because there is apparently no nuance possible.

The Rev. Albert Ogle, who is an out gay Episcopal priest who works extensively in Africa on LGBT issues, writes,
The Dartmouth saga is the most recent example of American Christian liberalism paying more attention to the symbols of LGBT equality and inclusion rather than actually in the business of forming new moral paradigms for the 21st century. 
Most liberal institutions in the USA including academia and the faith community have not taken the time or spent the resources needed to understand global homophobia. We are not paying attention to our own collusion in building up a new faith-based industry supported even by funding from the American taxpayer. Dartmouth’s response is only another example that we are really not listening and are prepared to throw good and resourceful people like James Tengatenga under the bus to protect some public persona that we are somehow more inclusive than we really are. Image trumps substance. The Rev. Kapya Kaoma, who was deeply shocked by this sad melodrama, expressed the delineation of battle zones simply as: “America is right. Africa is wrong.”
Ogle and other leaders active for social justice in Africa (including Abp Desmond Tutu) have written a letter decrying the firing of Bishop James, and the failure of American activists to recognize the cultural differences and boundaries of building rights in Africa.

To me, these are partnered issues, because there is an unwillingness to look beyond a certain pattern of "acceptable" activism, and rejection of potential allies for a lack of sufficient "purity".   Which really, is no different than some on the other side of the ideological spectrum.


JCF said...

"LGBTQ Christian community"? "American Christian liberalism"?

I think that NALT is being attacked/Bp Tengatenga was denied his appointment due to the hostile actions of secular anti-theist types. To them, there's nothing Christians can say, and little they can do---not compared to just going extinct (or all "converting" to anti-theism ourselves).

What I most resent from them, is the implication that I'm somehow "less gay" than they are, because I believe that God made me queer (instead of just, I suppose, random genetic mutations). I'm just tired of accusations and attitude...

8thday said...

I am not a fan of the NALT. Mostly because I rely more heavily on people’s actions rather than their words. I know far too many people who say they are allies, fly the rainbow flag, etc. because they perceive it to be the “cool” thing to do. They may even believe it is the right thing to do. But when all is stripped away, they are still using gay stereotypes, still singling out gay folks in their congregations, still using heterosexist language and basically using gays to up their progressive street cred.

Further I find efforts like NALT to be quite narcissistic and condescending. There is a good article which says it better than I ever could here:

Personally, I agree with the one commenter you quote - I do not need some religious person’s acceptance of my being. In fact, I find the offer of acceptance rather condescending in and of itself. And why anyone would want to belong to a club where you are always having to apologize for the conduct of your fellow members, I do not understand. But on the other hand, if a gay person finds some kind of solace in these videos, who I am to say they’re wrong? Everyone comes at it from different life experiences. Live and let live.

What I would like to see is a collection of videos with gays saying that they forgive Christians for all the hate, violence and oppression they have caused, and continue to cause. Now that would be interesting.

IT said...

i think the TengaTenga case is much more ambiguous and problematic. It may be that this was a good decision, but I don't like offers being made and then rescinded-- they should have done their homework. It's the flip side of the flap at the (Roman Catholic) University of San Diego which rescinded an offer to a prominent theologian because she had written a letter that stated that there was no binding Catholic doctrine regarding civil marriage equality. (More here.) In that case, it was the liberals whose ox was gored.

But I will take issue with 8th Day's statement that this is just burnishing some sort of street cred. For example, the REv. Susan Russell has been a passionate activist for equality both in and out of her church. She has walked the walk. And of course, she is herself gay.

IMHO, the LGBT folks who bolster the right-wing meme that this can be reduced to LGBT vs Christian are part of the problem.

So I will continue to applaud the efforts of NALT to break that meme.

JCF said...

I, for one, really don't care for the *name* "NALT" (Not All Like That). I think it's defensive, and pre-emptively accepts a minority status among all (claiming the title) Christians. And frankly, I think LGBT/straight ally Christians should name themselves, and not let (at least at times, anti-theist) Dan Savage do so.

...which is not to speak against the project, per se (I haven't looked at the videos, to see how it's shaping up).


IT, I share your concerns around the process of Tengatenga's appointment/rescinding. This could have been done in At The Start, w/ "all due diligence", and then not have this rescindment conflagration (by which NO ONE benefits).

I *do* know that if we disqualified anyone (over 30) who, as an adult, EVER took a less-than-LGBT-affirming position, we probably WOULD be ruling out the majority (leaving ourselves in a "NALT" minority).

Reality: perhaps MOST people around the world have NEVER MET an OUT LGBT person. It's actually knowing LGBTs which makes such a dramatic transformation in attitudes. If, say, an African bishop has only met same in the past couple of years, I'm not inclined to automatically disqualify him for what he did BEFORE he knew out LGBT people.

8thday said...

For the record, I did not disparage any individual for participating in NALT. I only wanted to bring up that it is important to question and understand the motives of people who are doing this.

But the more I thought about it, the more I see some value to it. My personal crusade is against the use of labels. So when people who use labels, such as Christian, realize that that label has garnered significant negative connotations, and start saying "I'm not like that" it is basically saying "I am not what you perceive that label to be."

Maybe, hopefully, people will begin to realize how destructive and dividing using labels can be. Then we can move from lazy stereotypes to actually getting to know people for the whole person they are.

IT said...

8th day: EXACTLY!!! I agree.