Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Battle for Hope: An All Souls' Meditation (and Plea)

It’s ironic that I have been blogging about hope. Hope is, for me, the hardest virtue of all. Charity I can work at. Faith is just there—sort of.

But hope? It’s hard for me to muster. Hope is for me what Emily Dickinson so aptly described—"the thing with feathers" that sings in our souls, elusive and hard to catch when we try to pinpoint its location inside. Specifically, it’s hard to muster a strong sense that things can be different, better.

I’m almost afraid to say these things on this blog. For two reasons: first, I don’t want to daunt anyone else’s spirits; and second, I fear coming across as plaintive, and in that sense, playing into the hands of those who want to identify all gay voices as disordered and querulous.

But as the masthead for the blog says, when I started Bilgrimage, I committed myself to telling the truth at all costs, even when the truth is uncomfortable—and uncomfortable for me first and foremost. This blog is me on pilgrimage with anyone else who wants to journey along, towards truth that needs to be spoken but doesn't get told.

Perhaps it would help if I sketched as sharply as possible where these reflections are coming from. The piece I posted a few weeks ago, an open letter to the U.S. bishops about the rise of violence in our political discourse ( I cross-posted it to the blog café at National Catholic Reporter’s website.

In the past week, a blogger has responded to it. He upbraids me for believing reports of hate rhetoric at Palin rallies. He tells me these stories have been debunked. He says no hate has been manifested at these rallies.

And I have to admit, I’m daunted by these statements. I’m daunted not because I believe for a moment they’re true. I’m daunted because it seems there is a significant proportion of people in our nation and faith communities who will believe red is blue no matter how compelling the evidence otherwise is.

This does me in. I don’t know how to talk to people like that. I don’t know how to talk to anyone in a world in which clear communication can be so systemically distorted that people can look at videos of some of the rallies I’ve referenced and not see hatred on the faces at those rallies.

And not be concerned about that hate. As citizens. As people of faith. And dismiss and attack that concern when it comes from other citizens and other people of faith.

To make the point sharper, I have to go a bit deeper. The blogger in question is someone who has been responding to me (and I to him) on the NCR blog café for some time. From previous conversations, I’ve learned that he promotes the leading Catholic "ex-gay" group Courage. I have reason to believe that he supports the idea—well, let’s be frank: that he accepts the lie—that people can be “cured” of their homosexuality. He has implied, though has not said this outright, that he is among those who have been so cured.

I am feeling the dialogue with this blogger at a personal level, and it’s a level of pain. The pain has to do with the sense that nothing I say, do, or write will ever be enough—in a world in which what is so clearly a lie is not merely believed by large numbers of people of faith, but actively used to attack others. And with the blessing of churches. The lie about which I'm speaking here is, of course, the lie about sexual orientation, that it is not a given of our personal constitution from birth.

It is hard enough to be accused of being a liar when you are testifying to what you know is true: that those faces of some people at some McCain-Palin rallies are distorted by hate; that some people at some of these rallies have shouted violent hate slogans; that those leading the rallies have been silent about the hatred and violence; that the pastoral leaders of my church and many other churches have been silent in the face of such growing hatred, and have even made common cause with those promoting the hatred.*

It is hard enough to be accused of being a liar when you are testifying to what you know to be true in your own life, your experience, your bones: that people are born gay or straight; that it is exceedingly cruel to try to convince us that we are made wrong by God and should be remade by psychiatrists and churches; that our fate as human beings should depend on our willingness to turn such cruelty against ourselves and believe lies about our very nature in order to fit in.

But it is even harder when those telling lies seem to triumph. I have lived for many years now in a world in which it appears that many churches not only shield homophobes, but actually reward them. I continue to see that dynamic play out in many mainstream churches—for instance, in the United Methodist Church, where there is clear evidence that a former boss of Steve’s and mine made our lives hellacious primarily because of her belief that gay folks are second-class human beings. And where she has recently been given another nice reward by her church for her homophobia.

I am tired, frankly. I’m tired of trying to muster hope.

As a result, I’m not doing very well for myself or for those around me. I am letting my health slip away, as I give up on trying to exercise and to control weight. Haven’t been to the doctor for a check up (or any other reason) in over a year now. Have no health coverage, and can’t afford to go to the doctor.

Sometimes it just seems better, frankly, to give in to ill health as I age, just to accept the messages that unemployment, lack of health coverage, and persistent experiences of discrimination keep giving me: I really don’t count a lot in the grand scheme of things. Try as I will, I’ll be called a liar even when I speak plain truth, and that label will stick even when it comes from people of faith who employ blatant lies to make it stick.

And who then receive rewards from churches for whom bashing a gay person is a badge of honor—churches whose fundamental messages to gay human beings is that we are full of sin and unwelcome, despite empty rhetoric about open hearts and open minds. Otherwise, how could those churches keep bashing gay human beings while honoring those who bash us, if they wished to give any other message than this to us?

The situation in which that homophobic boss now rewarded by the Methodist church has placed us is one in which we watch money slip away each month over and beyond the amount we are losing from retirement funds due to the recession. We watch the money slip away because our combined incomes don’t cover expenses, with the additional house note we’re forced to pay as a result of promises the homophobic boss made to lure us to work with her, and then broke when it became expedient to get rid of us.

I don’t want to complain. I am not sharing these personal details in order to engage anyone’s sympathy.

I am sharing them to be honest about my own struggle to find hope—about the precise place where that struggle arises in my life as a gay man trying to hold on to faith in the face of systemic lies and systemic cruelty in the Christian churches. I am sharing these thoughts in order to be honest about the precise place in which I need to find hope, if it’s to be found.

I'm not sure if many of those now seeing hope in this election cycle reflect on the unique situation in which gay and lesbian Americans find ourselves, as we watch poll numbers rise in support of homphobic initiatives like proposition 8 in California or amendment 2 in Florida. We are certainly full of hope.

At the same time, our hope is mixed with pain—with the pain of knowing that we may be bashed yet again by the vote for such initiatives, with the pain of knowing that, in fact, a not insignificant number of those going to the polls to elect Mr. Obama will also vote for these homophobic initiatives, because they believe they are compelled to do so by their religious faith.

The hope we who are LGBT look for in the coming elections is mixed with the pain of knowing that for a large number of American Christians, we are and should remain second-class citizens: we should expect limited human rights; we should expect to be lied about and lied to by people of faith, who believe they are doing God's will in abusing us. And who will be rewarded by their churches when they behave in this way, churches that will use any tactic available, including legal threats, to try to keep the testimony of gay believers from being heard.

Part of reaching for hope is listening to others who offer resources for hope in times of struggle. Any suggestions from anyone? Surely I am not the only gay person in the world battling to find hope in the midst of such struggles.

*Yesterday's Politico website carries an article by David Paul Kuhn showing overwhelming support for McCain-Palin among whites who attend church regularly, except among white Catholics: