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Love Is Love: A Way Forward Together
The debate is over.
In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court decided this morning that marriage was a fundamental right for all couples regardless of gender. All Americans who wish to can now marry the same-sex partner they love. Every state law that bans such marriages is now dead. And it is over. It is finished. This debate, at long last, is done.
This is a good day to be present. I want to document this day into my memory, so I might tell my children about it later. Although at 25 I can’t possibly understand all this decision entails, there may be a day down the road when I stand tuxedoed and teary-eyed and holding the hands of another, and I want this memory to color that moment. I want to feel the gift of it.
But this day also brings up a lot of complicated feelings for me, too. I am, after all, a follower of Jesus, and many in this family of Christians are not celebrating with me. They are unsure of what to say, uncertain of what the future holds.
'Semper Reformanda' and the PCUSA
The news of the PCUSA adopting the Marriage Amendment came to me over Twitter. Flowing down my feed were tweet after tweet of individuals applauding the latest Christian move toward inclusion (disclaimer: my feed is an echo chamber). Proud Presbyterians puffed up their chests and, hilariously, celebrated the christening of the new “Presbyqueerians” and “Lesbyterians,” and I was overwhelmed. Our church is in perpetual rehab, always growing into the person she is supposed to be and I am so proud of her latest progress. The Marriage Amendment, which affirmed the marriage of Christian same-sex couples , was not much of a surprise, given the progressive spirit of the PCUSA, but even still. It was only a week ago that the largest evangelical church in San Francisco also reformed its teaching on marriage. Three other evangelical megachurches preceded them in the last six months. And if rumors are true, more megas are coming out soon. Change is coursing through the air and knocking me over happy.
Immediately following the vote, some Southern Baptist conservatives also took to Twitter to express their harsh disapproval. Besides declaring that the PCUSA is now officially, by their definition, NOT Christian, they spoiled the often misidentified PCA (Presbyterian Church of America) with lots of love and praise for sticking to their arithmetic of “1 Man + 1 Woman = Marriage.”
I read an article by one of those enraged. He highlighted the key differences between the PCA and the PCUSA. The media had been mixing up the two, so he wrote it mostly to distinguish which one was still Christian, taking some extra digs at trending membership numbers and highlighting all the hot-button disagreements between the two. As I read it, I had to sigh a little, as I couldn’t help but hear the echoes of history reverberating beneath that piece, especially given the Presbyterian past.
A Mandatory Mistake
On a July afternoon in 1995, a 33-year-old man named Curtis Wilkerson walked into a store, stole one pair of socks, and was promptly arrested. This wasn’t Wilkerson’s first crime, but it was surprising, considering his long streak of good behavior. The last time he was trouble with the law was when he was in his teens, after two offenses for abetting robbery. He was sentenced to six years.
After his release from that sentence, Wilkerson cleaned his life up. Instead of running the streets for money, he drove a forklift. All things considered, he was a “success story,” earnestly walking that “straight and narrow” path — up until, that is, those gorgeous socks waved his way.
Why he did it remains a mystery. But since I was once an angsty teenage shoplifter, I imagine he was probably just bored. Hungry for a momentary thrill. An innocent-ish high. I imagine him thinking, it’s just a pair of socks. $2.50. Not much more than a pack of gum.
But be it socks or a Chevy Silverado, the state of California did not care. Shortly following his arrest, he was brought before a judge and sentenced to life in prison.
In California, the three-strikes law was the law of the land. A type of mandatory minimum sentencing law, the law required judges to punish defendants guilty of their third felony with 25 years to life in prison. Stolen socks, most of the time, would’ve counted as a misdemeanor. But, and likely because he was black, Wilkerson was charged with a felony, his third strike. And consequently, was given the harshest punishment in the history of stolen socks.
In 2012, California voters approved a measure to reform the law, making mandatory life sentences only applicable to “serious” felonies, but even still, Wilkerson remains behind bars.
LGBTQ Christians: Hope for the Unseen
On the night I came out, my mom didn’t sleep. She stayed up all night long, crying and praying to God, begging God that what I had said wasn’t true, and if it was, for God to show her some way forward. She waited desperately for a divine word to fall upon her like manna. When it didn’t, when the morning light came and her world was still warped, she got out of bed to go searching for her Lord. She figured God would be at the Christian bookstore.
She worked the aisles for an hour, flipping through books, setting them down, moving from one section to the next. When she found nothing remotely related to this, she started to panic. A store employee passed behind her and she grabbed her arm — asked her where the books on homosexuality were.
The girl gave her a puzzled look and then said:
“Oh. I’m sorry. But we don’t carry books like that here.”
My mom’s eyes blurred with tears. She nodded.
“You’ve got to be kidding me.” She muttered as the girl walked away.
“You’ve got to be kidding.”
On the drive back, she heard the girls’ answer twist and reshape in her mind:
Mothers like you with sons like that don’t belong here.
This past weekend, my mom and I recalled those early days as we walked down the streets of Portland, Ore. We had just finished up the final session at the annual Gay Christian Network Conference, and as we walked to our hotel to pack up our things, we felt at the strange seam stitching us from there to here: From hopeless and alone, to three years later sitting palms-raised, on the receiving end of so much hope and blessing and life from a gathering of Jesus-crazy LGBTQ outsiders. Through all the mess along the way, we managed to press on together, as a family.