I know some Bilgrimage readers have been following (and participating in) the mind-blowing discussion of Gil Caldwell's Religion News Service article at National Catholic Reporter in the past several days, because I can see your contributions in the discussion thread. For those who don't know what this discussion is about: Reverend Gilbert H. Caldwell is a United Methodist minister with a long, admirable history of advocating for equal rights for people of color within the United States and in the church in which he's ordained. His book Something Within recounts his life story, his days of marching with Martin Luther King, Jr., in the Civil Rights movement, his years of work for racial justice and reconciliation in both the culture at large and the Christian churches. (I've blogged about Gil Caldwell's work in the past: click his name in the labels below for my previous postings about him.)
Gil Caldwell is, if the preceding brief account of his history hasn't made that clear to you, an African-American man. Because of his commitment to equal rights and justice for people of color in church and society, he has for a very long time now also advocated for equal rights and justice for LGBT people in church and society. He has long maintained that the two movements for rights and justice — the Civil Rights movement for people of color in the 1950s and 1960s and the later movement for LGBT rights — are one and the same.
They're one movement for equal rights and justice for people long oppressed, long denied the same rights other people enjoy. According to Gil Caldwell, who knew Rev. King personally, King himself believed this and would be actively involved in the struggle for LGBT rights today. As Gil Caldwell told a gathering of Soulforce members at the 2008 UMC general conference, a church committed to challenging racism and sexism must also challenge heterosexism and homophobia, since the place from which all these ideologies of denigration and exclusion emanate is the same place of hate.
And so Gil Caldwell has long been a thorn in the side of the UMC church, in which white Methodists, many of them with long historic roots in the wing of the Methodist church that resisted the abolition of slavery and the abolition of the color line in the Civil Rights period, collaborate with (and egg on) African Methodists to oppose the full inclusion of LGBT members in the United Methodist Church. Gil Caldwell has long worked to open his United Methodist church to full inclusion of LGBT people and to counter the discrimination and prejudice of UMC members resistant to seeing LGBT people as fully human.
His RNS article republished by NCR calls on other black clergy today to do the same. As Richard Flory notes in his recent end-of-year summary of five ways in which American Christianity is changing rapidly right now, not only are white evangelicals moving rapidly to full acceptance of LGBT people and LGBT rights, but African-American evangelicals are doing the same. And this rapid movement is now producing tension between African-American ministers of the previous generation, who have traditionally led the African-American community and have been resistant to LGBT rights, and younger black activists allied with the Black Lives Matter movement.
The tension between the Black Lives Matter movement and some Black Church leaders is at least in part because of the legitimacy that BLM accords LGBT activists, who in turn are challenging traditional Church leaders as legitimate representatives of the African American community.
As Paula Lightsey, a queer womanist African-American theologian involved in the BLM movement, explains in an interview last month at Religion Dispatches, from its inception, Black Lives Matter has been open and unabashed about its commitment to LGBT rights: two of the founding members of the hashtag movement identify as queer black women.
And as the manifesto at the Black Lives Matter website stating what the BLM movement is actually about as it challenges a list of misconceptions about the movement notes,
The opening presenter at the first national convening of the Movement for Black Lives in Cleveland this summer was Elle Hearns, a trans black woman organizer from Ohio. That she was collectively chosen to open the proceedings was a deliberate choice to center both women and queer and trans people as movement leaders. This is a clear break from prior racial justice movement politics. Not only does the Movement for Black Lives embrace queer and trans black people, but it has been at the forefront of efforts to highlight our national epidemic of murders of trans women of color. . . . And queer and trans black people are not called in merely to discuss queer and trans issues. They are at the table, on the stage, in the protests. These moves have not been without their challenges, and the movement has had to deal with queer and trans antagonism both from the broader public and within movement spaces. But there is a fundamental belief that when we say Black Lives Matter, we mean all black lives matter.
This manifesto also acknowledges that there is tension within the African-American community between an older generation of black church leaders who resist such full inclusion of LGBT people in the BLM movement, and a younger generation of African-American BLM leaders, who are "reimagining what notions of faith and church look like, and radically transforming the idea of what the 21st-century black church should be." As one of those younger African-American leaders, Brandon Ellington Patterson, states loudly and clearly,
There is no caveat or asterisk on the phrase "black lives matter." All black lives matter, not just the ones you are comfortable with. You cannot be pro-black if you oppress black people. And, more importantly, you cannot love all black people if you oppress black people. You do not mean "black lives matter" if you protest when an unarmed straight black man is killed by the police because they are black, but don't care about the the many transgender black women who have been murdered this year because they were trans.
If we are to liberate black people as a whole, then we must combat all forms of discrimination against black people, including anti-LGBT discrimination and that which we inflict upon them from within our own communities. The struggle must be multilayered, just like the identities of black people. Every chain must be broken.
It's against the backdrop of this historically important conversation within the African-American community today, and within African-American churches in particular, that Gil Caldwell is issuing his clarion call to other African-American ministers who oppose LGBT rights and see the struggle for LGBT rights as discontinuous from the Civil Rights movement to get on board and to recognize that "[t]here is an inconsistency in our commitment to human rights for all if we deny the rights of same-gender-loving persons to marry."
And so back to that mind-blowing discussion in the NCR thread responding to Gil Caldwell's appeal to his fellow black ministers to recognize LGBT rights as real human rights, to which I refer in my opening sentence here: in response to this African-American minister's conversation with other African-American ministers, a number of white men have chosen to log into this discussion at NCR and to take Gil Caldwell to task. These white men addressing an African-American man with a long, distinguished history of work on behalf of civil rights seek to inform him that African Americans don't respect the rights of LGBT people, because they stand for authentic Christian notions of the family and sexuality.
These white men know this, because they speak for African Americans, you understand.
And so will Gil Caldwell please wise up and shut up, since white men who understand what black people think and want have spoken. That's the long and short of what a number of white males who have logged into the NCR thread to expostulate are saying, along with a whole lot of toxic nonsense about how the black family is all torn up and can't possibly let itself be further weakened by accepting bogus "families" headed by gay couples: this on a weekend in which the news cycle has been dominated by a steady stream of stories about how Bristol Palin's family is demanding that the father of her second child born out of wedlock take a paternity test to prove he's the father of the baby, with a reminder from Sarah Elizabeth Williams that, while bearing those two children, Bristol Palin has raked in hundreds of thousands of dollars promoting abstinence as the solution to out-of-wedlock pregnancy.
At the same time, the equally repulsive Duggar clan are back in the news as ten women come forward alleging that their close friend and mentor Bill Gothard — another abstinence advocate — sexually abused them. Two white Christian families with well-documented track records of hating on the gays and blaming gay folks for the decline in family values in the U.S. . . .
You'd think that the white men logging into an NCR discussion that's all about an appeal of an African-American man with a distinguished career of working for civil rights, who is addressing other African Americans, would have the courtesy and humility to recognize that their racist and heterosexist formulae for solving the social problems of the world just might not represent the solution most desirable for other people — especially people of color — wouldn't you? But to obtain such courtesy and humility would require that these white heterosexual male saviors of everyone in the world have the capacity to hear the viewpoints of other people, to think about those viewpoints, and to subject their own taken-for-granted assumptions to critical inquiry.
I for one am not convinced that these fellows have that capacity, and I'm more than a little ashamed ever to have had any connection to a religious community in which they feel so at home, and on whose behalf they claim to speak as they bash black people and gay folks while purporting to speak on behalf of Jesus Christ in doing so.
The video is an interview with Gil Caldwell produced by Adelle Banks of Religious News Service in which Gil Caldwell speaks of his years of involvement in the Civil Rights movement and the struggle for LGBT rights, with a reminder that Duke Divinity School would not accept him as a student in 1954-5 because of his race.