“Today I am tempted to feel like an exile in my native land – to question who and what I am. But this I know: …We are fully human. We are Americans. We are Christians. And we are most assuredly married.”
Last week on Facebook, I posted a link to a blog written by our dear friend Harry Knox, Director of Religion and Faith for the HRC, quoted above. In heartfelt words, he articulated a poignant response to the recent vote that banned gay marriage in Maine. He also continued to assert that he and his partner deserve the same rights as heterosexual couples, referring to himself as a Christian who would not give up the fight.
After elections like the one in Maine last week, it’s expected that LGBT citizens are going to voice outrage with organized religion. While I agree that what’s happening is abominable, some go so far as calling people like Harry part of the problem because they continue to sit in the pews. It’s not something I would have been able to do a year ago, but because of my experience with our most recent spring concert, I am moved to respond in defense of those like Harry who follow the faith.
Our outrage with organized religion is absolutely justified, but I believe if everything we write, speak or sing comes from a place of anger, people eventually stop listening. Frustration is a great motivator, but it’s only effective when channeled in a productive way. Swords and cudgels may have served the civil rights movement, but I don’t believe they are the instruments of choice for non-confrontational beings.
People are so afraid of us – scared to the point of willful ignorance. Like wild animals, they know no other way to react than by attacking what they’re afraid of. These days, many years into this exhausting struggle, it seems our most frequent response is to behave as badly as they do. Do we really expect them to lend us the requisite power to change laws if all we do is throw stones back in their yards? While I applaud those who can take down a three-story glass house with a single pitch, it only goes so far. Many times it does little more than get the attention of these people and prompt them to get more creative.
I believe that one of the reasons we’ve not been successful in our fight is that we’ve forgotten who we are in the midst of it. When we created last year’s spring concert, “Shaken, Not Heard: Stories of Gay Men, Faith and Reconciliation,” we were very careful to channel our anger, frustration and hurt into something beautiful rather than blameful. We knew that only speaking ill of organized religion, no matter how right and just that would be, would defeat our purpose. We achieved just that and in the end, our men delivered, standing tall, proud and strong while the audiences dissolved into tears. Family members, not content to simply stand, stood in the pews – not because we had proven an angry point, but because our storytelling was courageous and we were fiercely restrained. In the end, we remembered who we were. More importantly, we realized who we weren’t: mongers of war.
In the war on homosexuality, I believe we must be equally strategic in how we engage with organized religion, and some of the best maneuvers in this struggle are being employed by those like Harry who remain in the pews, at the organ, or in the pulpit. They are the ones saying, “I will not go away in a huff. I will not separate from you. I will live by example, for however long it takes, until you can no longer deny this basic truth: we are the same.” For them, it’s not about being accepted by their detractors, it’s about educating them.
I may not agree with the religious views of people like Harry, but I applaud the courage and steadfastness it takes for someone like him to remain storming the halls of organized religion. We cannot fault him, we need him. We need Daniel Helminiak to explain the scriptures and call these people on their manipulative misinterpretations. We need Bradley Schmeling to rise victorious after sparking a national debate among the Lutherans. We need Christian de la Huerta to bring forward research that proves these belief systems wrong. We need Chris Glaser, Angela Harmon, David Salyer, Carolyn Mobley – everyone who served on the panel discussions after our performances – and we need hundreds of thousands more just like them. If the church is going to run the country and pay for election results, would we not do well to make sure some of us remain affiliated with the church?
Take a look at what one Atlanta family has been doing for nearly a decade. I can’t tell you how inspiring it is to know followers of faith like Jeff and Patti Ellis. Visit their website (below) and ask whether you want to remain critical of them just because they still go to church. I don’t.
Organized religion is not going away, it will never be on our side, and it will continue to deny us legal rights until a tipping point is reached. In the meantime, a large number of us must be angry and protest, but many of us only need to be our best selves in order to create some of the most dramatic changes. The Atlanta Gay Men’s Chorus does just that through the universal language of music.
And Harry Knox does it by following his faith. In the end, we all become part of the solution.