We all know the routine. A person on the internet questions your belief, misinterprets the Bible to contradict Christian teachings. They argue that we should let the hungry starve, kick the downtrodden, rob from the naked, and turn off the neon welcome signs of our hearts to marginalized folks.
You disengage, knowing you are right, you unfriend, mute, snooze the person on social media.
The routine continues, you reach out to a supportive echo chamber of people who completely agree you had no part in the conflict – they ignore any potential nuance you could rethink, and reduce the experience to “you’re right, they’re wrong.” The tempting routine feels so cozy with support that you are right.
But being right may not be helpful. The choir of support will make you feel better, but may rob you of an opportunity to decolonize our lives, our religion, our world. Perhaps, you need an election year intervention. I believe conflict and tension are an essential. We can’t dread conflict, just like we can dread the air we need to breathe. It is an inevitable task if you care to faithfully create change
Yes, it’s uncomfortable, but it is not worth ignoring another person’s humanity or transformational engagement. God nudges us impatiently. I think that often disengaging from conversation and having friends who never invite reflection can be a misuse of privilege. I’m not calling anyone out, but rather calling us all in to consider if we are abandoning conversations from which our privilege will protect us. We may be making these conversations the responsibility of people who need to escape them for survival. Personally, I need a community that can remind me that even though I am queer, brown, and quirky that I still have privilege.
The nuance of intersectional identity cultivates responsibility and pushes us to hard conversations. Because whiteness matters. Presenting masculine matters. College education matters. Speaking without an accent matters. Citizenship matters. There is no oppression competition and there is still responsibility in privileges even if you also identify with a group that is marginalized.
We can push more by having intentional community.
A good friend of mine, Rev. Matt Keadle, and I were venting, lamenting, about people who dangerously have behaviors and habits rooted in racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, and other -ISMs.
When I get worked up, I feel urgent about issues, talking way too fast and too much, and finding relief in constantly offering context that I am too emotional. It is a bad habit that implicitly asks for understanding or forgiveness for being upset over oppressive behavior. I want to be right.
Matt balances the conversation and the pace of our thinking; he takes deep thoughtful pauses to consider different perspectives and allows his heart to remember the vast number of different people it holds; he doesn’t speak if he is unsure; he can be angry and sad while still engaging his values and resisting an urge to be petty.
Sometimes, Matt really bothers me by having no natural pettiness. At times, talking to Matt is not fun or indulgent of my feelings.
But conversations with Matt are God-filled, essential for our shared work, wellbeing and sustainability in this work. Matt keeps me angry, honest, and clamorous in my expectations of God. I’d like to think that I help the Holy Spirit stir up Matt. I make him uncomfortable at times by just being and talking with the assuredness that nothing I can say would break the friendship, and that I can feel when he wants to say something and I make an awkward, pressuring space for him to say it.
To be honest with readers, Matt is white and also straight. He is cisgender too. Oh yeah, Matt is also from the midwest. Nothing about the richness of either of our individual intersectional identities dictates that we should be friends.
But we reach out to one another because we are different, we don’t go right to making each other feel better about a tough experience. We ask each other to be reflective, to know we both can be wrong, hurtful. We trust our values are rooted in God and love, but not in being right. We see when disengagement is about survival and when we are trying to hide away privilege and responsibility to avoid discomfort.
Maybe, you want to avoid “feeling bad” when changing and transforming. For many, it’s sad and true, but we can practice discomfort and still survive, which may mean that being right is only about a stubbornness and commitment to being right according to the whiteness and patriarchy we have been taught is “normal” and comfortable.
Get a friend who won’t rush to make you feel better without thinking.
Get out of posting in social media groups where you know everyone will agree with you.
Stop playing through the same routine.
It’s not helpful. It’s played out. Be fresh. Be bold. Be bothered. Engage.
Survive, for goodness sake, survive! But lean into the discomfort during this season of change. Wander in the desert for a little while to find deeper wells.
Two memes have echoed in my mind since I started my first call back in February of this year: “Jesus has skin in the game, and so do we,” and “Seek the well-being of the city to which I have carried you into exile,” from Jeremiah 29. Both resonated, again, as I reflected on the intersection of faith, queer identity, and politics.
With the privilege I have as a white, cisgender person, being queer has given me some “skin in the game” – wounds and barriers of being gay and married in a straight world, and a straight church. I am continually challenged by my colleagues and neighbors and friends of color, those with differing abilities or health issues, those with queer identities different from mine, to stand with those whose experiences place them further on the margins.
Jesus wasn’t a Samaritan, but he centered a Samaritan man in a story about embodying love for neighbor.
Jesus wasn’t a woman, but his longest conversation about God and life and identity was with the woman at the well.
Jesus wasn’t a tax collector, or someone shamed for supporting themselves as a sex worker, but that didn’t stop him from eating with those who were.
And he paid a price for that: ultimately, Jesus was arrested, tortured, and lynched by the state for proclaiming God’s justice all the way to the margins.
Jesus had some serious skin in the game, y’all, and I am increasingly convicted that I need to as well.
“Seek the well-being of the city.” I had a conversation with a family member recently about a whole lot of things we vehemently disagree on, and as I listened really hard to understand where they were coming from, I finally understood: with every fiber of their being, they believe that individualism is going to save us, as people and as a nation.
I responded that what got me through seminary, and the process to get a call that went on forever and was fraught with anti-LGBTQIA systemic challenges and bias, was not rugged pull-myself-up-individualism, but all of you. This community of LGBTQIA clergy and seminarians did not weaken me, or encourage self-pity and blame. Rather, you showed me the joys and the injustices of the world and church in which we live, and flamed the fire of my call, and encouraged me at times when I thought I couldn’t do one more thing. I could not do any of this on my own.
And we aren’t meant to. “Seek the well-being of the city to which I have carried you into exile.” Not my own well-being, or the well-being of just those like me or those closest to me, but the well-being of the city. And especially now, when we are all in exile in different ways, I take this as my guide, in my preaching, my life, and my vote.
When I go to the poles, it is because Moses demanded justice from Pharaoh, Rizpah mourned for her children until they were buried, Jeramiah called the people to seek the well-being of the whole community, Mary claimed that God’s justice was going to be a reality in THIS world, and Jesus over and over demonstrated God’s commitment to a world of justice for all people, especially those on the margins.
When I speak out on “political” issues, it is not because I am a democrat or a liberal, but because as a queer person of faith, I find it confounding that something like “feed the hungry, heal the sick, welcome the stranger, care for the widow” is considered political in the first place.
Seek the well-being of the city to which you are sent, because we all have skin in the game!
After nine years of working at The Basilica of Saint Mary in Minneapolis, Proclaim member Meagan McLaughlin (she/her/hers) studied at Luther Seminary and United Theological Seminary and graduated with her MDiv in December of 2015. Pastor Meagan was ordained in January of 2020, and is currently serving her first call at Christ Lutheran Church, in Webster Groves, MO. Meagan, her wife, Karen, and their three cats live in St. Louis, and when she is not preaching (on Zoom), providing (socially-distanced) pastoral care, serving on (yet another) committee, or walking in one the parks in her new neighborhood, you can probably find her cuddling with her cats and binge-watching Disney+.
As Christians, we follow a man who was political. The Good News that he proclaimed empowers us to be political. The Jesus I know and the Gospel I read are inherently political. Neither are partisan but it’s right there in the Greek, politikos: of, for, or relating to citizens. So while “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”, we can insist that religious values be used to govern. And much deeper values than the #ThoughtsAndPrayers that are too often tweeted out.
Christian values that cry out for the release of those imprisoned and the freedom of the oppressed.
Rev. Ben Hogue was blessed to bring the words of his saint-mentor Joel Workin into the halls of Congress, opening the House of Representatives in prayer on the day of his installation at Lutheran Church of the Reformation. Ben lives next to Reformation with his fiancé Marshall, and their Beltway boys, Bogart (cat) and Bosco (dog). He is very excited that candy corn is back on store shelves.