Ignoble Indifference: Evangelicals, Race, and GLBT Issues

By Andrew Wilkes 04-27-2010

[Read more of this blog conversation in response to the Sojourners magazine article "Is the 'Emerging Church' for Whites Only?"]

While progressive evangelicals consider color within and beyond the Emergent Church, let us not ignore the stories of our gay and lesbian brethren as if the two issues are completely separate. The two issues ought not be conflated, and yet they are inextricably intertwined.

Far too often, black and brown youth who are gay and lesbian suffer from an unceasing stream of epithets, threats, and violence in the formative years of life. From the ghastly murder of Sakia Gunn, a fifteen-year-old lesbian, to the skull-fracturing beating of Gregory Love at Morehouse, visceral responses to homosexuality have provoked not only dehumanizing discourse but also destructive deeds. Violence against our gay and lesbian brethren -- again, many of whom are black and brown -- is immoral, illegal, and incompatible with those who follow the Prince of Peace.

Another sin of civil rights storytelling is that many who invoke Martin King ignore Bayard Rustin. And yet, the emergence of Martin King as a nonviolent prophet is unintelligible without brother Rustin -- a brilliant organizer, orator, nonviolent strategist, and also a gay man.

Or when Tonex, perhaps the most gifted gospel artist of the past quarter-century, came out, many of his peers publicly threw him under the pews. The not-so-subtle message was twofold: one cannot be explicitly gay and publicly offer praise to God; and secondly -- since everyone and their grandmama knows that there are gay gospel artists -- one must suffer in silence before God and Church. This message is unhelpful, tacitly encouraging a culture of shame and clandestine sexuality.

Instead, let progressive evangelicals acknowledge that there are Christian arguments for gay marriage, civil unions, and so forth. One may or may not be convinced, but let us be charitable enough to acknowledge that there are Jesus-loving and justice-seeking believers who have theological reasons to account for their sexuality, an open and affirming church, and so forth.

The stone-cold truth, I suspect, is that more than a few progressive evangelicals are indifferent about GLBT issues. By God's grace, I ashamedly -- and yet gratefully -- admit that I am slowly being delivered from this apathy.

There is an evil which most of us condone and are even guilty of: indifference to evil. We remain neutral, impartial, and not easily moved by the wrongs done unto other people. Indifference to evil is more insidious than evil itself ... The prophets' great contribution to humanity was the discovery of the evil of indifference. One may be decent and sinister, pious and sinful.

--Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Insecurity of Freedom, pgs. 110-1

Gracious Triune God of love and justice, deliver us from this ignoble indifference.

portrait-andrew-wilkesAndrew Wilkes is a former Sojourners policy and organizing fellow, a 2010-11 Coro Fellow in Public Affairs, and the proud son of Jettie Burnett and Shelby Wilkes. On May 22, he will also be a proud graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary!

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