“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
Last week I had the privilege of attending a clergy luncheon for People of Faith for Equality Virginia. The guest speakers were LGBT students who shared their experiences–both positive and negative–of being out as LGBT in their high schools. Living in northern Virginia–the blue slice of an otherwise very red state–most of the experiences with their peers were, fortunately, positive.
At the same time, when asked about their experiences with teachers and staff, one student said, “Excruciatingly neutral.” She explained that while most teachers and staff didn’t harass them, neither did they take an active stand for LGBT students. It was as if these adults were afraid of being seen as “too supportive” of LGBT students or perhaps as LGBT themselves.
And when it came to their church homes? You guessed it–excruciatingly neutral.
The churches they attend are welcoming enough. Some of them even fly a rainbow flag to let LGBT folk of all ages know those congregations are welcoming and safe spaces. The challenge in these congregations is there is little to no active advocacy for LGBT students–and especially for “T” (transgender) students. So what seems to be the issue?
I think part of the issue is the tendency of progressive/liberal communities of faith to be “excruciatingly neutral” in general. That is, we don’t want to be seen as exclusive; we want to genuinely welcome everyone into our communities. And if we’re serious about extending such a radical welcome, that means we can’t afford to go too far in any one direction, right?
Well, yes and no.
First, regardless of what we may think of the exclusive theology and practices of many conservative communities of faith, we have to admit that at least we know where they stand. You either agree with them or you’re somehow an agent of “the Enemy.” In progressive/liberal communities of faith, such exclusivity is the enemy. We try to make room for a wide variety of opinions on any number of issues. That position makes active advocacy on many issues a challenge because, well, “some people” may not be ready to move forward. And being the good progressives we are, we want to give people time to make informed decisions–hopefully in agreement with our desires, of course.
While such sensitivity is admirable–and I believe, necessary–in our communities of faith, it is even more vital for us to not allow that sensitivity to prevent us from living out our missions and visions. So if part of our mission and vision is active support of LGBT issues, we actively support LGBT issues through as many appropriate avenues as possible–and that includes advocacy for LGBT youth. If feeding the homeless and addressing poverty issues are important to us, then we actively work in those areas. You get the point.
We are never, however, excruciatingly neutral.
“But what about those who aren’t on board?” you might ask. “What if you offend people? What if big donors leave?”
Well, those are good questions and they represent real possibilities. I’ll admit I try not to purposely offend people with my views (although I still manage to do so at times); and I’m willing to listen to different and respectfully presented points of view (note: I have no patience for negative drama and triangulation). And let’s face it, like many of my clergy colleagues, finances are almost always a part of the fabric of community life. It’s just the way life works.
At the same time, if an excruciating neutrality on critical issues is necessary to ensure our survival, haven’t we missed the point of being a community of faith altogether?
Blessings on your journeys!