Equality: Rhetoric or Reality?

My keynote address to the Stand Against Racism rally at the Kalamazoo YWCA:

I’m racist.  It’s important that you know that.  I call myself ‘racist’ because, along with too many of my fellow Americans, I have internalized the rhetoric of equality without materializing the reality of it.

We internalize the rhetoric every year as we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, as we sing ‘We Shall Overcome’, and as we listen to a recording of the ‘I have a Dream’ speech. We internalize the rhetoric of equality because we find certain things distasteful: things like the N-word, Confederate flags, and the Ku Klux Klan. We internalize the rhetoric of equality whenever we ‘Like’ the Facebook posts of the NAACP and the YWCA. We have internalized the rhetoric of equality because we think of ourselves as “good people” who begin our sentences with the words: “I’m not racist.” We internalize the rhetoric of racism when we say, “I can’t be racist; I have friends who are black!”

But here’s the thing: we are still racist. I am racist. There is more to ending racism than simply saying “I’m not racist.” That is simply internalizing the rhetoric; the time has come for us to materialize the reality. Without that latter step, the words are nothing more than an empty hypocrisy, a farce of equality in a country where it’s okay to be racist, so long as you don’t say, “I’m racist.”

This hypocritical state of affairs reminds me of a passage from the New Testament, in the first letter of St. John, chapter 1, where the author writes: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us, but if we confess our sins the God who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

In other words, it would be far better for us to put away our hypocrisy (i.e. Saying, “I’m not racist”) and step into the light with some honest confession (i.e. Saying instead, “I am racist”). Honest confession is the first step on the path to healing and wholeness, to mercy and justice. This is how we will begin to materialize the reality of equality, rather than simply internalizing the rhetoric.

For seven years, from 2006-2013, I lived a fairly insulated and isolated life in an all-white rural village in upstate New York.  I couldn’t name a single African American family in my neighborhood, but I could easily show you who proudly flew Confederate flag on shirts, hats, trucks, and houses.  The church I pastored there had one African American teenager attending for about six months before he finished high school.  The membership included one mixed-race family.  During that time, I founded an ecumenical outreach ministry in a nearby city that is currently mostly made up of white, liberal Christians in their late twenties to mid-thirties.  The clientele of my favorite café, bagel shop, and book store were… you guessed it: mostly white.

The only time during those years when I came into regular contact with people of another race is in my teaching job as a college professor, where I’ve noticed that my non-white students regularly got lower grades than my white students.  I didn’t know why that was the case.  Did I then stop everything and go to great lengths to find out what was wrong with my teaching style or my grading practices?  No.  Why?  Because I was too busy with all the other stuff going on in my life to put something so big on my plate at an institution where I was just an adjunct professor.  I chose instead keep my schedule as convenient as possible, rather than do the hard work necessary to adjust an imbalance of power that benefits people who look like me but damages long-term opportunities for others.  I don’t know about you, but that sounds pretty racist to me.

Because I’m racist, I don’t have the right to order protestors to stay peaceful and nonviolent when entire communities are outraged at the verdict of a trial. I don’t have the right to slap you across the face and then tell you that it would be wrong for you to slap me back. A wiser person than myself once said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

I don’t have the right to accuse my African American sisters and brothers of “playing the race card” because, as it turns out, I have a “race card” of my own and it’s an ace that’s permanently up my sleeve: it’s called being white and it gives me a distinct, unfair advantage over others whenever I walk into a place of business/worship/government, or even when simply walking or driving down the street.

Being white comes with its own set of privileges that are automatically, subconsciously bestowed upon those of us whose skin happens to be melanin-deficient.

White privilege is what gives me the luxury of changing the channel or looking away from the suffering of my fellow human beings. White privilege is what allows me to shrug my shoulders and say, “That’s too bad, but it’s not my problem.”

In the last fifty years, our American society has internalized the rhetoric of equality: we have declared that it is no longer socially acceptable to openly espouse views of personal prejudice against other people because of the color of their skin. But the job is only half-done.

White privilege is the other side of racism, which does not depend on one’s personal feelings about people of other races. White privilege is not about personal prejudice; it is about systemic oppression, which is much harder to see with our eyes that have been so blinded by individualism. We cannot see the forest for the trees; we have become fish who cannot perceive the water in which we swim… it is all around us and within us, but we don’t even know it’s there.

And if we refuse to raise our collective consciousness to the reality of systemic oppression, if we refuse to acknowledge the existence of this water, if we continue changing the channel and looking away from these inconvenient truths, then the current of this river will continue to sweep us downstream to where the riptides become rapids and the rapids become a waterfall, where we are swept over the edge to destruction and death. But for now, we still have time: We have this moment in which we can open our eyes to see the oppression and begin swimming against the tide.

We have today, in which we can still choose to show up, shut up, and listen to one another. We can educate ourselves: cracking a book instead of just changing the channel. We can say to each other this matters because you matter; you are a person, not a statistic. And together we are one people, made of one blood, in the divine image. Whatever our religion, we are living stones: bricks in the Temple of the Spirit where the light of glory shines forever.

This, we believe, is our common destiny. And that is why we have come here today: to materialize the reality of equality, instead of just internalizing the rhetoric. We have come here to make Dr. King’s dream come true because his dream is our dream and our dream is God’s dream.

Whatever our religion, however we understand that word God, we come together today with the faith to see this thing through, to open our eyes and change our fate before it’s too late: to stand up for freedom together, to speak out for justice together, and to work together until we move beyond the internalized rhetoric of reality and begin to materialize the reality.

In Defense of Pronouns

A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog post on my ideas about church growth and pastoral leadership:

A Growing Church is a Dying Church

As it turns out, this post said what many others were thinking. I watched as it made its way around the theological corners of the blogosphere, sparking an enthusiastic “Amen!” from many of my colleagues in ministry. The response, however, has not been entirely positive. A small minority of commentators have branded me as a ‘Leftist’ whose heretical views are responsible for the decline of mainline Protestant churches.

Why have I been so labeled?

  • Have I blasphemed against the doctrines of the Trinity, the Incarnation, or the Atonement? No.
  • Have I called for Christians to stop praying, throw out the Bible, or cease & desist from celebrating the Sacraments? No.
  • Have I discouraged churches from engaging in mission, serving their communities, or speaking publicly about their faith? No.

I have done none of these things. To the contrary, my call in the article is for more prayer and Bible study, more frequent celebrations of the Eucharist, and more community outreach, all of which are activities that even the most theologically conservative Christians could get behind with their whole hearts.

The issue that has repeatedly stoked the fires of anger in some of my readers is my use of a single, three-lettered pronoun: She. The hypothetical pastor in my article is a woman.

It was a relatively minor editorial decision that I made on the fly. When I wrote the article, I didn’t set out to make any kind of deliberate statement about feminism or gender equality through my use of pronouns. Honestly, I didn’t give it much thought because it didn’t seem like a big deal to me at the time.

I serve in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), where we have ordained women to the ministry of Word and Sacrament for over half a century. In every single congregation I have served, women have not only been my colleagues, but also my predecessors at the table and in the pulpit. My wife was ordained several years before I was and it was through her, in part, that I began to discern my own call to pastoral ministry.

I have been shocked that this minor detail seems to have drawn out the sexist attitudes that still poison our church life and do violence to the gospel itself, no less than the arbitrary distinctions between Jews and Gentiles that St. Paul sought to overcome in his time.

It seems ridiculous to me that this particular article could have sparked such a hateful reaction.

Even though the article itself only advocates for things that could be affirmed by all Christians, detractors point to my use of feminine pronouns as evidence for a liberal conspiracy to undermine, subvert, and destroy the church from within.

Gender equality had nothing to do with the main thrust of my article, but it has emerged as an important issue in the way that the article has been received by its critics. To me, their unexpected vitriol highlights two important realities:

  1. That our sisters in ordained ministry are being compelled to carry the cross of mainline decline.
  2. That some versions of the conservative vision for ‘renewal’ in the church have little to do with fidelity to the gospel and much to do with returning to a nostalgic ideal of a specifically American way of life, dominated by straight, white men.

In the time since the article’s initial publication, I have received numerous requests for it to be reprinted in church bulletins and newsletters. Some churches have asked whether they could change the pronouns from feminine to masculine. I have refused to authorize any such changes.

I think it’s important to keep the feminine pronouns as they are. So long as it is up to me, I would rather there not be a second version of this article in circulation that could be used to remove the scandal for sexist ears.

A Biblical Guide to Debunking the Heterosexual Agenda

By Carloxito (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Don’t get your knickers in a twist

If you want to get the non-satirical version,
read my follow-up post: The Real Story (Not Satire)

As a baptized, ordained, practicing, Bible-reading, Spirit-filled, Jesus-loving Christian, I just have to say how sick and tired I am of these straight-marriage activists spreading their heterosexual agenda all over my church and country!

Their sinful, detestable practices are unbiblical and unnatural in the eyes of science and God.  It may not be “politically correct” to say so these days, but I refuse to “tolerate” these perverts and their lies anymore…

Don’t take my word for it, here is what the BIBLE says:

Genesis 4

After God made Adam and Eve, they had three sons: Cain, Abel, and Seth.  No daughters.  Yet is specifically says that Cain got married to a woman.  Did you know that Cain, the first murderer, was a STRAIGHT?  Heterosexuality and murder have gone hand-in-hand since the earliest days of the human race.

What’s even worse is that Cain got married to a woman even though the Bible very clearly states that there were no human women (other than his mother) in existence at that time.  The conclusion is inescapable: Cain married an ANIMAL.  Heterosexual marriage sits at the top of a slippery slope that leads directly to bestiality.

Not only that, but the Bible tells us how Lamech, an early descendant of Cain the hetero and murderer, took two wives and was a very violent person.  Elsewhere in the Bible, there are other flagrant, unrepentant heteros like Abraham, David, and Solomon who have multiple wives.  Judah, another heterosexual pervert, impregnates a prostitute who turns out to be his own daughter-in-law!  Here again, we see the Bible clearly showing how sin begets sin and straight-marriage leads directly to POLYGAMY and FORNICATION.

Genesis 19

In the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, the Bible is VERY clear in its condemnation of the heterosexual lifestyle.  While the men of Sodom were at his door, Abraham’s nephew Lot (another known heterosexual) offers his virgin daughters to be raped.  After Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed, Lot’s daughters, burning with heterosexual lust, get their father DRUNK and have SEX with him so that they will get pregnant.  The Bible is crystal clear on this point as well: Heterosexuality leads to drunkenness and INCEST.  That’s what these straight-marriage activists are pushing for.  DON’T LET THEM GET AWAY WITH IT!!!


The Old Testament book of Leviticus spends significantly more time condemning straight sex than it does dealing with sexual activity between people of the same gender.  Therefore, heterosexuality is obviously a far bigger problem in the eyes of God.

The most direct and clear condemnation of heterosexuality can be found in Leviticus 19:19 –

“Ye shall keep my statutes. Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind: thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed: neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon thee.” (Lev. 19:19, KJV)

God gave us an orderly and organized universe, therefore he is offended by different kinds of things mixing together.  If God went to such lengths to condemn the mixing of different cattle, seeds, and fabrics, why wouldn’t he also condemn the mixing of genders and their bodily fluids?  Do you think God would be so foolish as to overlook something that big?  Obviously not.  The meaning of this verse is clear: God never intended for people of different genders to mix sexually.

Matthew 5:27-29

Jesus never had a bad thing to say about same-sex relationships.  He obviously didn’t consider them to be much of a problem.  But he had quite a bit to say about the sin of heterosexuality!  In his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus tells us that even those who secretly harbor heterosexual tendencies are in danger of burning in hell:

Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:

But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.

If the heterosexual orientation is so “normal”, as straight-marriage activists claim it is, then why is there no evidence that Jesus ever married a woman?  If the Son of God thought it was worth avoiding, then Christians should too.

1 Corinthians 7

The apostle Paul stated very clearly in his first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 7, verse 1: “It is good for a man not to touch a woman.”  This is his first condemnation of heterosexuality, but he doesn’t stop there.  In verse 27, he advises young men to “seek not a wife.”  He tells us why in verses 33-34: Paul says that a married person “careth for the things that are of the world” whereas an unmarried person “careth for the things that belong to the Lord.”  Once again, the Bible is clear in stating that heterosexual marriage puts people into a spiritually compromised position.


Don’t get me wrong in all this: I don’t hate straight people.  I love them as Jesus commanded me to.  I live in a part of town that has a rather large heterosexual population.  There’s even a straight couple that lives down the block from me.  In fact, one of my very best friends is straight, so I can’t be heterophobic.  I’m no bigot; I’m just a Bible-believing Christian who follows what the Word of God says, and the Bible is quite clear in its message that heterosexuality is less than God’s best for human beings.

My heart breaks when I see the youth of our nation getting sucked into a heterosexual lifestyle without knowing the clear and present danger that lurks there!  The mainstream media refuses to talk about this, but I have come to believe, through prayer and the study of Genesis 3, that God has sent the plague of pregnancy among the human race as punishment for the sin of heterosexuality.  Pregnancy and childbirth was one of the leading causes of death for women throughout history.  Recent medical advances have lessened that probability, but they can’t erase the fact that heterosexuality is still a SIN.

Statistics and medical data clearly show that people are more likely to get pregnant from straight sex than they are from sexual activity shared with a partner of the same gender.  Why would the numbers be so dramatically higher for straight folks unless GOD was trying to send us a message?

The message is clear: REPENT of your heterosexual perversion and turn back to God’s plan for your life!

Go find a good church that preaches what the Bible REALLY says about heterosexuality.  You can tell them by the rainbow flags hanging outside.  You can also find them by looking for words like:

  1. Integrity (Episcopal)
  2. Dignity (Catholic)
  3. More Light (Presbyterian)
  4. Reconciling (Methodist)
  5. Open & Affirming (United Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ, or Baptist)

This is a free country, so I don’t mind sharing it with straight people, so long as they don’t flaunt it in public.  Whatever sins they commit behind closed doors is between them and God.  But I have a big problem with the way these straight-marriage advocates push their unbiblical heterosexual agenda in the media and the government.  Did you know that some of them are even trying to get LAWS passed that FORCE you to marry people of the opposite gender?!  Some of these sick hetero perverts have even set up RE-EDUCATION CAMPS that brainwash kids and adults into accepting their agenda!  Before long, these fanatics will even be doing away with the separation of church & state in order to FORCE pastors and churches to marry ONLY straight people.

This is my country too and I WANT IT BACK!

Remember to get out and VOTE!

Only you can stop this heterosexual menace from conquering America!

The Most Durable Power

Another treat for the anniversary of ‘I Have A Dream’. This is one of my favorite preachers, Rev. Tamara Lebak, Associate Minister at All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. If you only listen to one sermon today, make it Dr. King’s, but if you listen to two, make this the next one.

(Reblog) Malala Yousafzai’s speech to the UN General Assembly

Malala Yousafzai. Image retrieved from Shri News


Reblogged and excerpted from The Independent:

Dear friends, on 9 October 2012, the Taliban shot me on the left side of my forehead. They shot my friends, too. They thought that the bullets would silence us, but they failed. And out of that silence came thousands of voices. The terrorists thought they would change my aims and stop my ambitions. But nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born. I am the same Malala. My ambitions are the same. My hopes are the same. And my dreams are the same. Dear sisters and brothers, I am not against anyone. Neither am I here to speak in terms of personal revenge against the Taliban or any other terrorist group. I am here to speak for the right of education for every child. I want education for the sons and daughters of the Taliban and all the terrorists and extremists. I do not even hate the Talib who shot me.

Even if there was a gun in my hand and he was standing in front of me, I would not shoot him. This is the compassion I have learned from Mohamed, the prophet of mercy, Jesus Christ and Lord Buddha. This the legacy of change I have inherited from Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Mohammed Ali Jinnah.

This is the philosophy of nonviolence that I have learned from Gandhi, Bacha Khan and Mother Teresa. And this is the forgiveness that I have learned from my father and from my mother. This is what my soul is telling me: be peaceful and love everyone.

Dear sisters and brothers, we realise the importance of light when we see darkness. We realise the importance of our voice when we are silenced.

Click here to read the full speech

(Reblog) On gay bishops, what a difference a decade makes

By Bishop Gene Robinson

Reblogged from the Washington Post:

Twenty or 30 years ago, most Americans would have told you they didn’t know anyone gay.  By that, they would have been claiming not to know anyone who openly and proudly disclosed their sexual orientation – and certainly not in the ranks of the clergy.  Now, is there any family in America left who doesn’t know some family member, co-worker or former classmate to be gay?  And once they know someone gay, know their relationships and their families, people are simply not willing to believe all the awful things said about us – especially by religious institutions.

Every denomination, no matter how clear and unwavering their condemnation of homosexuality and homosexual relationships, is struggling with this societal and religious issue.  A substantial majority of Roman Catholic laity in America now support marriage equality – a momentous step beyond mere acceptance of homosexual people.  Mormons and evangelicals are softening their language about gay people at a minimum; some are reassessing their traditional stances and moving toward greater acceptance.

Religious institutions of all stripes are asking this big question:  Could the church have gotten it wrong in using a few verses of scripture to condemn homosexual people, just as it got it wrong about using isolated verses to justify slavery and the denigration/subjugation of women?  More and more religious people and institutions are moving toward a “yes” in response to that question.  The church has misunderstood God’s will before, but over time, we get it right.  I believe that this is one of those moments.

Click here to read the whole article

This is me NOT weighing in on the Chick-Fil-A thing


Those who know me already know where I stand and why.  No need to rehash that here and now.  Nor do I wish to dignify this week’s mutual posturing exercises with any sort of direct response.

If you’re reading this and, like me, you identify yourself as a Christian and you care about your religious values being known and respected in this country, I recommend that you follow in the footsteps of your Lord and Savior and do the kinds of things that Jesus did.  The folks at your local food bank, rescue mission, soup kitchen, or homeless shelter are desperate for donations and volunteers.  As Jesus told his followers in the Sermon on the Mount, “Let your light shine before all people, that they might see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”  Help your church become known for these kinds of good works and your actions will speak volumes to the world about the sincerity of your faith and the depth of your convictions.  I guarantee that it will leave a far more lasting and fruitful testimony for Christ than standing in line for fried chicken.

If you’re reading this and, like me, you care passionately about equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people, I recommend that you get involved with the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) at your school or the local Parents & Friends of Lesbians And Gays (PFLAG) chapter in your community.  If there aren’t any such organizations in your area, consider starting one.  By all means, vote with your dollars and don’t patronize any establishment that troubles your conscience, but don’t think that the personal opinions of CEOs will be swayed by your non-participation.  The truth is that they positively couldn’t give a rat’s posterior about your basic human dignity.  Instead, focus your efforts of political change on achievable goals with tangible results.  Donate to or volunteer for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC).  Write to your elected officials and tell them that you care about marriage equality.  Campaign and vote for candidates who support equality.  Talk to your local school board about bullying.  Educate your kids.  Love your neighbor’s gay kid, especially if that kid isn’t getting much support from home.  Knowing that you’re there and available to listen will make all the difference in the world.  You might even save a life.

I firmly believe that things will get better, but before they do, we all need to do our part to make it happen.

When you’re lovers in a dangerous time,
sometimes you’re made to feel as if your love’s a crime,
but nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight.
Got to kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight.

-Bruce Cockburn