Monday, April 27, 2009

More Welcome at Work Than in Church: State of the Workplace for Gay Citizens

In a posting last week (here), I cited a recent interview with Soulforce co-founder Mel White (here), in which he notes that the movement to treat gays as human persons with rights equal to those of other persons is far more advanced in the laws and practices of most Western cultures than in the churches.

Mel White notes that the United Methodist Church remains split about the question of whether even to admit gay members, let alone affirm the human dignity and divine worth of those members in God’s eyes once they are admitted. He notes that, even as awareness of the human rights of gay persons is increasing in Western cultures, many churches are permitting themselves to be held hostage by right-wing political groups whose real agenda is to undercut their traditions of social engagement and solidarity with the marginal.

In a posting last Friday (here), I noted the continuing strong influence of groups like the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) in the United Methodist Church. As numerous well-documented postings of mine about this political organization have noted, IRD is essentially a neoconservative political-activist organization operating under the guise of a watchdog group to preserve orthodoxy in mainline Protestant churches in the U.S.

Its real goal is to eviscerate the tradition of critical social teaching in these churches. It uses wedge issues like abortion and homosexuality to divide churches, to siphon away energy for and commitment to social teachings critical of rapacious free-market capitalism and injurious to the poor, and to distract church members from the really significant moral challenges facing churches today.

Many churches have only slowly become aware of the real game of groups like IRD. These groups have been given large room to participate (some would say, meddle) in the inner deliberations of various churches up to now, in part because these groups can buy that room with their abundant funding sources and connections to the politically and economically powerful.

As Frederick Clarkson notes in a 2006 article about the battle for the soul of mainline churches in the U.S. (here), unless church leaders and members begin to recognize the political context of what now seem to be internal church struggles around abortion and homosexuality, and unless they repudiate the undue influence on church institutions of these right-wing political organizations masquerading as watchdogs for orthodoxy, the churches will end up becoming mouthpieces for the rich and powerful, rather than what they are meant to be, prophetic critics of the status quo.

Clarkson quotes Rev. John Thomas of the United Church of Christ, who calls on the mainline churches to become more critically aware of the game that groups like IRD are playing with the churches, and to combat attempts of such groups to take over the churches. Rev. Thomas states,

“Groups like the Evangelical Association of Reformed, Christian and Congregational Churches and the Biblical Witness Fellowship,” he said last year, “are increasingly being exposed even as they are increasingly aggressive.” Their relationship to the right-wing Institute for Religion and Democracy and its long-term agenda of silencing a progressive religious voice while enlisting the church in an unholy alliance with right-wing politics is no longer deniable. United Church of Christ folk like to be “nice,” to be hospitable. But, to play with a verse of scripture just a bit, we doves innocently entertain these serpents in our midst at our own peril.

And, as if to confirm Mel White’s observation that the churches are lagging far behind the secular culture in recognizing the human worth and rights of gay persons (and are lagging behind because they have allowed themselves to be captivated by right-wing political-activist groups like IRD), in a recent article entitled “Better Gay at Work Than in Church” (here), Paul Gorrell reports that many secular employers are far ahead of the churches, when it comes to granting equal rights to gay employees.

Gorrell cites a recent Human Rights Campaign report on “The State of the Workplace for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Americans,” which shows that 85% of Fortune 500 companies have protections based on sexual orientation for employees, 57% offer partnership benefits, and 18 Fortune 100 companies offer transgender-inclusive health benefits. Gorrell concludes, “In general, gay people are more welcome at work than they are at church.”

Sad, no? And, sadly, I concur. As I’ve noted on this blog, based on Steve’s and my experiences in Catholic and United Methodist colleges and universities, I would not encourage any openly gay LGBT young person to consider a career in most churches or church-owned institutions. The churches and their institutions are, on the whole, failing lamentably at being welcoming places for those who are gay or lesbian.

The agenda of the Maxie Dunnams (here) of the world—and the churches and their institutions are unfortunately full of Maxies—is decidedly to make anyone who is gay or lesbian unwelcome. No matter what Jesus said or what Jesus did.

This is proud bigotry and proud hypocrisy. Those engaging in this anti-ministry of exclusion in the name of Christ are, of course, cynically aware that they do not and do not intend to hold heterosexual church members to the standards they wish to impose on gay and lesbian members. The selective and hypocritical appeal to standards about celibacy in singleness and fidelity in marriage is bluntly not about sexual morality at all: it's about keeping LGBT people out of the churches and demonstrating to us that we are despised and unwelcome.

Sadly, many secular employers today offer young gay folks what the churches claim to offer, but refuse to deliver, when the one knocking at the door is gay. Young gay folks entering the workforce who want affirmation of themselves as human beings, economic and social resources to live with dignity, freedom from discrimination, a place in which to offer their talents and fulfill themselves as human beings, hope for the future, a social space in which to form healthy, long-term, committed relationships, would be well advised to avoid most churches and their institutions.

People do have to find salvation and hope somewhere. When the churches’ doors are decisively closed to gay folks, we’ll look elsewhere. That’s the only choice the churches are willing to offer us right now, in many instances.