It didn’t take long for Michelle Shocked’s ‘misunderstood’ anti-gay rant to make the headlines last week. Her choice of language was repugnant. (A few days later, she apologized.) Although she has received more press in recent days than she has had in the last decade, for now, she only has cancelled concerts to show for it. But this isn’t a blog about her. It’s about the missing voice of affirmative LGBT faith leaders in the media.
Many will see the Shocked incident as a typical Christian anti-gay ‘whack-a-mole’, individual and unconnected to the start of Supreme Court oral arguments on Proposition 8 and DOMA. But those on the front lines of LGBT civil rights recognize Shocked as parrot of the pulpit. After Lifeway Christian Resources (a Southern Baptist organization) revealed that 64% of Americans think legal gay marriage is inevitable, you can expect to hear a steady stream of prophetic filibustering this spring. Between now and June, those who still go to church will hear many sermons on the Armageddon inducing powers of homosexuality. The most putrid and sensational will, no doubt, escape from confines of their own dwindling congregations, loose its hated across our public airwaves and further cement the notion that Christians are anti-gay.
Why not? It’s all we ever hear. 3 out of every 4 anti-gay sentiments reported in our public media come from religious sources. (40% of negative rhetoric specifically from evangelical circles.) We often confuse those who speak from lofty perches as having earned the authority to speak for the many, when if fact, they were probably just the first to grab the microphone. An argument could be made that religion-fueled bigotry retains its foothold in LGBT civil rights opposition because it continues to be given the bullhorn. We keep boo-ing the speaker hoping he’ll be quiet, but we’re still filling the room. Walk away and what’s it matter? There comes a time when the onus becomes ours to change the programming. If we change the channel the ratings will fall and the show will be canceled – end of story.
But it is a mistake to steal the microphone from every person of faith.
Author and minister, Rob Bell has sold more books than Michelle Shocked could ever dream of matching in record sales. He is one of the most audible voices of modern Christianity, actively influencing an entire generation of Evangelicals. Recently, Bell publicly expressed his support for gay marriage with emboldened clarity yet, outside of faith-based circles, few noticed. He is one in a handful of articulate, compassionate, and influential religious voices willing to be responsible for moving a generation toward LGBT affirmation. Notable believers like Brian McLaren are crucial in helping Christians understand that the language used by their forefathers is one of an inherited and broken theology that must evolve. It’s important to find positive role models who admit to climbing out of the primordial goo and are willing to build a bridge to safety.
If Michelle Shocked is worthy of a mention at all, it is that she is a Follower being baptized in the rising waters of change. For those who claim a faith tradition, the neutral ground is rapidly disappearing. Silence, apathy and indecision were once an oasis in a rising tide of discrimination. Staying silent meant avoiding controversy – but now we recognize that silence is too easily confused with consent for injustice. For those victims of the current, it is our challenge to give them a recognizable voice that can guide them to safety.