PFLAG Review of “Grace and Demion”

Hi friends, I’m so pleased to present this book review by David Parker. Enjoy!


Review of Grace and Demion

by David Parker

From the beginning of the formation of tribal societies, being different – an “outsider” – has been anathema to each tribal unit. The bible – or the Torah – addresses the particular strictures on the Jews for how they live their lives; these essentially tribal “laws” have been distorted by later-day religious leaders to condemn and criminalize same-sex attraction. Mel White addresses both the pain of being different due to his same-sex attraction and the competing joy of God’s love in his new fable.

Grace is an apprentice angel assigned to carry the message. Of God’s love of all his children to a young Boy Scout who is frightened and ashamed of his attraction to his tent mate. Meanwhile, Demion, a student demon in hell is sent to whisper in his ear “you are different” Both are assigned to this young man for life. Demion is charged with undermining his self esteem, while other demons slyly encourage parents, religious and political leaders, and others to attack anyone who is attracted to their own biological sex. Grace battles Demion and the others by constantly assuring the young boy that God loves him – just as she created him.

The fable follows the training of both; Grace in Heaven and Demion in Hell, in alternate chapters. Demion’s training is a vehicle for examining the meaning of the “clobber passages” and the story of Sodom used by many who have succumbed to Satan’s lure. Grace’s instruction is more direct – God loves every one of her children, just as she has created them. As a parent of a trans* child, I found it interesting that God “holds” her trans* children just a little longer before sending them off to be born because their lives will be especially challenging.

This is an excellent introduction to discussions about the various excuses given by many, especially religious leaders, for their discrimination and hateful teachings for discrimination against LGBTQ people. It includes a series of discussion questions about passages specifically directed toward each excuse. Affirming churches, support groups should find this book a valuable asset when discussing the Bible, same-sex attraction, and gender identity in their Sunday schools and programs.

20 Books That Changed The Way We Felt About Ourselves As LGBT People

The Huffington Post asked their readers to name the books that shaped the way they felt about themselves as LGBT people. While this is by no means a definitive literary list, the responses they received on Facebook and Twitter reflect the community’s wit, strength and overall diversity.

I’m so honored to be included on this list!

  1. TALES OF THE CITY by Armistead Maupin
  2. STONE BUTCH BLUES by Leslie Feinberg
  4. MIDDLESEX by Jeffrey Eugenides
  6. ME TALK PRETTY ONE DAY by David Sedaris
  7. RUBYFRUIT JUNGLE by Rita Mae Brown
  9. COMING OUT: AN ACT OF LOVE by Rob Eichberg
  10. MAN ALIVE by Thomas Page McBee
  11. GAY SOUL by Mark Thompson
  12. STRANGER AT THE GATE by Mel White
  15. THE FRONT RUNNER by Patricia Nell Warren
  17. OTHER VOICES, OTHER ROOMS by Truman Capote
  18. THE SOUL BENEATH THE SKIN by David Nimmons
  19. BOY MEETS BOY by David Levithan
  20. THE SWIMMING POOL LIBRARY by Alan Hollinghurst

What Makes Jesus Mad as Hell?

angryJesusJesus was angry.  Children who wanted to see him were being turned away.  “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me,”he warned his disciples and then shocked them by adding, “but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”

This is not the “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild” as described in the poetry of Charles Wesley. This was Jesus, mad as hell, threatening capital punishment for anyone who caused children to stumble.  Interesting word, stumble.  Scholars suggest that “causes to stumble” can be understood as “become an obstacle to belief.”  In other words Jesus warned his disciples: “When you undermine or weaken or destroy the faith of my children you deserve to die.”

Unfortunately, with few exceptions, current leaders of the 2.5 billion Christians worldwide have forgotten the story (even though it’s repeated in Matthew, Mark and Luke).  They are the 21st century counterparts of those 1st century disciples yet they don’t seem shocked or personally alarmed by Jesus’ warning.  Why is that?  Don’t they understand that 2,000 years after Jesus spoke those words that they too are standing in the way of the children who want to see Jesus?

In this case, I’m referring to the young gays and bisexuals (13 to 24) who have just learned that in the past decade their diagnosed HIV infection rate has risen by 132% while all other demographics have seen a 33% decline.  Warning!  Before we get back to Jesus, millstones and his 21st century disciples let’s guess what those same Christian clergy think when they see that gay and bisexual youth and young adults are the only U.S. population where HIV is on the rise.  They’ll say what they said in the 1980s and 90s when the plague was first discovered. “It’s a gay plague,” they said. “We have no reason to feel blame. It’s their unsafe sexual practices that caused the rise.”

It is a mistake to blame “unsafe sexual practices” for the grim statistic but we can’t ignore those sexual practices either.  Once again we need to rally our community to confront the problems of “condom fatigue,” (the decreased and irregular use of condoms); of “prevention fatigue” (the growing apathy towards safer sex campaigns); of the increasing acceptability of  alcohol, methamphetamine, nitrates and other party drugs that lead to risky sexual behavior; of not being tested for the HIV virus on a regular basis; and of not being treated immediately when the virus is detected.

However, it isn’t enough to help end the unsafe sexual practices.  There is another even more important factor to consider, unsafe religious practices.  With very few exceptions, clergy and lay leaders representing 2.5 billion Christians worldwide are still defending their tired old beliefs that homosexuality is a sickness and a sin, beliefs based on biblical misuse and scientific ignorance.  Those beliefs cause God’s LGBTQ children to stumble.  They weaken, undermine and destroy faith and not just faith in God but faith in themselves as well.

The Christian-religion-based misinformation campaign can have equally devastating effects on young gay and bisexual men with no interest in Jesus or in the Christian churches.  Religion-based anti-homosexual beliefs poison the well of information about homosexuality and homosexuals from which the entire nation drinks.  Here’s the connection between these dangerous Christian beliefs and the rise of diagnosed HIV cases among gay and bisexual youth and young adults.

The Aids Healthcare Foundation (treating 300,000 HIV/AIDS patients in 33 countries) warns us that behind the “unsafe sexual practices” that lead to the rise of HIV infections is the “high level of stigma youth face in their communities.” The key word here is “stigma.” The young men who practice “unsafe sex” are victims of “unsafe religious practices” that stigmatize  them for being gay and further stigmatizes the disease that threatens them.

That stigma keeps them from understanding that their sexual orientation or gender identity is a gift from God to be accepted and celebrated and lived with integrity.  That stigma keeps them from healthy gay relationships and leads them to sexual practices that are secretive and often destructive. That stigma keeps them from being tested for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.  That stigma keeps them from seeking care and speaking honestly with their sexual partners even when they know they are positive.  That stigma leads directly and indirectly to the rise of HIV infection rates and that stigma is without doubt a direct result of the anti-homosexual teachings of Christian leaders in the U.S. and abroad.

Have they forgotten what made Jesus mad as hell? Maybe some entrepreneurial lesbian will find a way to manufacture and market miniature millstones we could place on the desks of clergy to help them remember the consequences for undermining or weakening or destroying the faith of God’s children. They need to be reminded of their direct and indirect responsibility for the alarming rise of HIV infections in God’s gay and bisexual children, especially among African-American and Hispanic teenagers and young adults.  Above all they need to be reminded forcefully that they must end the debate that has gone on for five decades and instead of making it just a slogan like the United Methodist Church, they need to actually open their minds, hearts and doors to God’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer and Questioning children.  And if they don’t? Let’s hear Jesus’ words again:

“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”

The “Religious Exemption” A Clear and Present Danger

The current U.S. Supreme Court case Sebelius v Hobby Lobby is simply the most recent ploy by the religious right to superimpose their “family values” on the rest of us. According to their lawyers, Hobby Lobby is a “Mom and Pop craft supply business” owned and operated by “devout Christians” whose only concern is “saving the lives of the unborn.” More specifically, David and Barbara Green, Hobby Lobby’s owners, object to the Affordable Care Act’s regulation that forces a company to provide its female employees with health insurance that provides “morning after” pills and intrauterine devices, even if doing so would violate the strong religious beliefs of the family that owns the business. In other words, they are asking for a “religious exemption” to avoid complying with “Obamacare.”

Supreme Court Hears Arguments In Case Challenging Affordable Care Act
Outside the Supreme Court last month

Fallacy #1. The Greens believe that life begins at conception and because both contraceptives prevent embryos from implanting in a woman’s uterus, the Greens claim they will be “complicit in abortion.” Whenever you think life begins, it is difficult to understand how stopping a sperm from reaching an egg makes you an abortionist.

Fallacy #2. The Greens also believe that the contraceptive devices they oppose will cause abortion even after fertilization has taken place when real (not religion based) science proves the opposite. The contraceptives in question will not work (not abort) after the sperm and the egg are comfortably settled in.

It is difficult to believe that the Greens are sincere in their effort to “protect their employees” from “abortion on demand.” Three months after they filed their lawsuit, the Hobby Lobby 401(k) employee retirement plan held more than $73 million in mutual funds with investments in companies that produce emergency contraceptive pills, intrauterine devices, and drugs commonly used in abortions.[i] Sincere or not, this is another fallacy-based attempt by the religious right to undermine rights and protections guaranteed all Americans.

Warning: Exodus is finished but the ex-gay movement has just begun

Chuck Phelan, our Soulforce Board Chairperson, and I met with Alan Chambers at the last Exodus Conference. We thanked him for closing Exodus and for admitting exgay tactics don’t work. We delivered a letter from our ED, Dr. Cindi Love suggesting a list of actions we recommend he take next. This blog is my response to the Exodus closure.

Celebrate the headline Exodus International Closes Down. Thank Alan Chambers for his confession that “ex-gay therapy” does not work and for his apology for the “pain and hurt” it has cost so many of us. I saw Alan issue his apology at the last Exodus conference. He was sincere and contrite. Even if you don’t trust Alan’s motives, you have to admit that his confession and apology are a giant step forward in undermining the credibility of those who continue to hold out the false promises made by the ex-gay movement.

On the other hand we should not allow ourselves to believe that the ex-gay movement died with the closure of Exodus. Quite to the contrary, Alan’s apology provoked ex-gay loyalists to hunker down, ride out the storm, re-organize and re-emerge with an even more militant commitment to their beliefs that that homosexuals can and must be cured.

The Exodus (ex-gay) faithful are uniting under a new name, the “Restored Hope Network” (RHN) currently being organized by Anne Paulk. Anne admits proudly that this will be an ex-gay ministry. In her online testimony she describes the RHN “cure” for homosexuals in these words: “Jesus got hold of me and that was the end of my homosexuality.”

The Board of Reference of this old/new nightmare among us includes the same-old fundamentalist leaders whose names are associated with decades of biblical misuse and scientific ignorance: Matt Barber, Robert Gagnon, Joseph Nicolosi, Leanne Payne, Janet Parshall, Matt Staver and 11 other mega-church pastors and right wing organizers. The terrible suffering caused by Exodus and the failure of its ex-gay therapies flows directly and indirectly out of the false teachings of these fundamentalist Christian leaders.

These hard-core ex-gay promoters really believe that those who “give in” to their homosexual “temptations” will find “their lives ruined and their souls damned.” My worst fear is that the more than 250 ex-gay ministries located in the U.S. and 17 other countries that were once associated with Exodus will sign up with the Hope Restored Network instead of following Alan Chamber’s example.

Let’s not kid ourselves. These local ex-gay ministries know that their ex-gay therapies do not work and that they personally are responsible for suffering and even death.
The real difference between Paulk’s “Restored Hope Network” and Chamber’s “Reduce Fear” organization is their ultimate goal for practicing homosexuals. The old word “cure” is out. “Change” is in. Consider the “Restored Hope Network” as the hard-core “changers” who are committed to the failed methods of Exodus and “Reduce Fear” as the soft-core “changers” who practice “change” light.

At the recent Exodus “Freedom Conference” Alan’s own testimony inadvertently described “change” light. The first step for the soft core “changers” is to admit that that they cannot “cure” you, that no matter how hard you try your homosexual feelings will still exist.

Alan also admitted quite openly that he still “struggles” with homosexual desire and in deciding not to “act on those desires” he describes the second step towards soft-core “change.” Alan and the other soft-core changers don’t describe homosexual acts as sin (that’s the hard-core way) but they do cling to the old notion that God’s will for sexual relationships is limited to one man with one woman.

It’s very likely that Chamber’s “Reduce Fear” ministry will offer loving counsel to those who struggle against their homosexual orientation. It is also likely that they will help churches organize small groups for dialogue (not unlike AA’s group meetings) and publish new materials for soft core “change” that emphasize mercy and not judgment.

But just beneath that loving, non-judgmental surface there remains – whether spoken or not – the belief that “change” is still the ideal outcome. Alan’s “change” will not call for homosexuals to become heterosexuals but for sexually active homosexuals to become self-accepting but celibate lesbian or gay persons.

For those who choose not to remain celibate or for those who fail at celibacy “Reduce Fear” will hold up as an example Alan’s loving relationship with his wife Leslie. Soft core “changers” will teach that sexually active lesbian or gay persons should enter into “traditional” opposite sex marriages or into a relationship with an opposite sex fellow “struggler.” This sounds a lot like the Apostle Paul’s unfortunate advice that “… if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion, (I Cor. 7:9).

Here’s the problem. Alan Chambers and Anne Paulk are only different in degree. As long as “change” is involved in a ministry to homosexuals it remains an ex-gay ministry. Hard-core change demands that our natural homosexual orientation be “cured” or at least “denied.” Soft-core change asks gently and lovingly (not demands) that we live unnatural lives by refusing to be the person’s we were created to be.

Alan Chambers and his wife Leslie are obviously in love. It is perfectly appropriate for Alan to decide that being married to a heterosexual is worth holding his homosexuality in check. But it is not perfectly appropriate for Alan to set himself up as an example on which to build an entire ministry.

If his “Reduce Fear” ministry would say, “It’s ok to accept your homosexuality as a gift from God. It’s ok to be in a loving homosexual relationship. If that’s your decision ‘Reduce Fear’ will support you in every way.” Then they could also say, “But if you decide to struggle against your homosexual orientation in order to stay in a loving relationship with a heterosexual spouse, we will support you in that decision as well.”

As long as Alan Chambers even infers that not accepting your homosexuality is the better way he has not ended his ex-gay ministry. He has just re-organized it as a kinder, gentler form of Exodus. I’m afraid that one day he will have to confess that his new soft-core change methods didn’t work either and apologize again for the suffering and death he and his ministry have caused.

Jesus Was Lynched

NOTE: This book review was awarded FIRST PLACE by the Los Angeles Press Club in their National Entertainment Journalism Award…Critic On Line.

Jesus Was Lynched
By Mel White

Original Review:
Posted on Dec 23, 2011

“The Cross and the Lynching Tree”
A book by James H. Cone

For more than 40 years I’ve been moved and provoked by the writings of James Cone, Union Seminary’s distinguished professor of systematic theology. While reading his newest book, “The Cross and the Lynching Tree,” however, I felt grief and anger on a whole new scale. I felt grief for the nearly 5,000 African-American men, women and children who were lynched between 1880 and 1940, and anger that during that 60-year holocaust, white preachers, evangelists and theologians didn’t even notice. No author has ever made me more ashamed to be a white American Christian and at the same time no author has ever given me a more dramatic example of the sustaining power of the cross.

All my life I had been taught that the cross was at the heart of my Christian faith. It has been a long time since I was deeply moved by it. “The Cross and the Lynching Tree” helped me experience the cross on a far more visceral level. Cone says it simply: Jesus was lynched. He makes the connection between the crucifixion of Jesus and the lynching of African-Americans. He explains why understanding that connection is vital to understanding the meaning of the cross:

“As Jesus was an innocent victim of mob hysteria and Roman imperial violence, many African-Americans were innocent victims of white mobs, thirsting for blood in the name of God and in defense of segregation, white supremacy, and the purity of the Anglo-Saxon race. Both the cross and the lynching tree were symbols of terror, instruments of torture and execution, reserved primarily for slaves, criminals, and insurrectionists—the lowest of the low in society. Both Jesus and blacks were publicly humiliated, subjected to the utmost indignity and cruelty. They were stripped, in order to be deprived of dignity, then paraded, mocked and whipped, pierced, derided and spat upon, and tortured for hours in the presence of jeering crowds for popular entertainment. In both cases, the purpose was to strike terror in the subject community. It was to let people know that the same thing would happen to them if they did not stay in their place.”

During his decades of research, Cone found, incredibly, no sermons, lectures, books or articles by white preachers, evangelists or theologians linking what happened on the cross to what happened on the lynching tree—not even when lynching was at its peak.

Cone is particularly saddened that Reinhold Niebuhr, perhaps the most influential theologian and ethicist of the 20th century, “failed to connect the cross and its most vivid reenactment in his time.”

Cone, who is black and grew up in segregated Arkansas, is rightfully aggrieved when he describes the silence of Christian leaders during and after the lynching years. “To reflect on this failure,” Cone warns, “is to address a defect in the conscience of white Christians and to suggest why African-Americans have needed to trust and cultivate their own theological imagination.”

Story after heartbreaking story, Cone walks us through those tragic and shameful years when thousands of black Americans were dragged from their homes and families, raped, tortured, disemboweled, castrated, burned and/or hanged by white Americans. Often those same white Americans were quoting Scripture while silhouetted by flaming crosses. Here are just two of the stories Cone tells to illustrate the horror of the lynching tree:

In 1918, when a white mob in Valdosta, Ga., couldn’t find Haynes Turner (who was guilty of nothing more than being black) the sheriff arrested his wife instead. Mary Turner was eight months pregnant. When she insisted that her husband was innocent, she was “stripped, hung upside down by the ankles, soaked with gasoline and roasted to death. In the midst of this torment, a white man opened her swollen belly with a hunting knife and her infant fell to the ground and was stomped to death.”

In 1955, Emmett Louis “Bo” Till, a 14-year-old African-American from Chicago, was kidnapped from his grandparents’ Mississippi home because (or so the rumor went) he had dared to whistle at Carolyn Bryant, a 21-year old white woman, and moments later said “Bye, baby” as she left a local store. At 2 a.m. Bryant’s husband and his half-brother dragged Till to a barn where one of the boy’s eyes was gouged out. He was tortured, beaten beyond recognition, shot in the head, tied to a heavy gin fan and dropped into the Tallahatchie River. The two men were arrested, tried and found not guilty of the crime.

Cone documents in grim detail the unimaginable mental and physical suffering black Americans experienced during those lynching years. But instead of giving up on God, those who suffered embraced their Christian faith with new zeal. Cone turns to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to help us understand how great suffering, paradoxically, can lead to even greater faith. In his “darkest hours” during the Montgomery bus boycott, King’s own experience of suffering lead him to conclude that we do not know what we truly believe or what our theology is worth until “our highest hopes are turned into shambles of despair” or “we are victims of some tragic injustice and some terrible exploitation.”

Cone summarizes the mystery of faith that grew stronger during the lynching years: “Black faith emerged out of black people’s wrestling with suffering, the struggle to make sense out of their senseless situation, as they related their own predicament to similar stories in the Bible. On the one hand, faith spoke to their suffering, making it bearable, while on the other hand, suffering contradicted their faith, making it unbearable. That is the profound paradox inherent in black faith, the dialectic of doubt and trust in the search for meaning, as blacks ‘walk[ed] through the valley of the shadow of death.’ ”

“The Cross and the Lynching Tree” also explores the connection between faith and art, through the music, poetry and prose of those who suffered. Cone asks: “How did ordinary blacks, like my mother and father, survive the lynching atrocity and still keep together their families, their communities and not lose their sanity?” He answers that question simply: “Both black religion and the blues offered sources of hope that there was more to life than what one encountered daily in the white man’s world.”

There was no opportunity for black Americans to protest, let alone defend themselves from the violence that permeated their lives. In public, where a black man could be lynched for looking a white man in the eye, they had to play the subservient coward. But on Saturday nights, by singing the blues in the privacy of their “juke joints” where the whole community gathered to dance, drink, clap, stomp and “hollar,” these “cowards” expressed their courage and their determination to overcome.

Those nights brought a measure of joy and a lot of relief to black Americans. To the white man all that “noise” must have seemed tribal and orgiastic. But if those same white men had been capable of truly listening, they would have realized that the poetry of the blues was in fact restoring the souls of black Americans and renewing their determination to resist despair.

As a child, Cone remembers hearing the blues echoing at night from “Sam’s Place” near his home in Arkansas. The author recalls tapping his feet and moving his body to the sounds of B.B. King’s “Rock Me Baby” and Bo Diddley’s “I’m a Man.” There is no question, however, that Billie Holiday holds a special place for the author. In 1939, on the stage of New York’s Café Society, Holiday sang “Strange Fruit,” the first of many songs that would help mobilize the civil rights movement. Time magazine called “Strange Fruit” “the best song of the century,” and Holiday “history’s greatest jazz singer.” The song was written by Abel Meeropol, the white Jewish communist who later adopted the two sons of convicted spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg after their execution. “Strange Fruit” was inspired by an appalling photo Meeropol saw of a lynching in Mississippi:

“Southern trees bear strange fruit, Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black body swinging in the Southern breeze, Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
Pastoral scene of the gallant South, The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh, Then the sudden smell of burning flesh …”

On Sundays a different kind of music was heard. Cone uses the familiar spiritual “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen” to show how the black poetry of those lynching years reflected both suffering and certainty. The spiritual begins with a mournful lament but ends with an almost inexplicable shout of praise: “Nobody knows de trouble I’ve seen. Nobody knows my sorrow. Nobody knows de trouble I’ve seen … Glory Hallelujah!”

Black poets and musicians brought hope in times of despair. They were not blind to the fact that white Christians were in large part the cause of their suffering. With scathing sarcasm, black poet Walter Everette Hawkins called lynching “A Festival of Christendom” alongside the festive days of Christmas and Easter:

“And so the Christian mob did turn from prayer to rob, to lynch and burn.
A victim helplessly he fell to tortures truly kin to hell;
They bound him fast and strung him high. They cut him down lest he should die
Before their energy was spent in torturing to their heart’s content.
They tore his flesh and broke his bones and laughed in triumph at his groans;
They chopped his fingers, clipped his ears and passed them round as souvenirs.
The bored hot irons in his side and reveled in their zeal and pride;
They cut his quivering flesh away and danced and sang as Christians may … ”

In spite of their anger at white Christians, they spoke of Jesus’ life and death with increasing reverence. Black poet Countee Cullen writes, “How Calvary in Palestine, extending down to me and mine, was but the first leaf in a line of trees on which a Man should swing … ” Cone points out that in this poem Cullen is claiming “that Christ, poetically and religiously, was symbolically the first lynchee,” and by this close association with Jesus “turned lynch victims into martyrs.” Cullen wrote, “The South is crucifying Christ again,” and this time “he’s dark of hue.” According to Cone, Cullen and many of his fellow poets and musicians could not help but see “ … the liberating power of the ‘Black Christ’ for suffering black people.”

“Ordinary blacks” survived those lynching years, Cone says, because their Jesus too had been lynched. He too had suffered exactly as they were suffering. They were not alone when they walked into the valley of death because Jesus walked that way before them. “Jesus walked this lonesome valley,” a spiritual begins, “He had to walk it by himself. Nobody else could walk it for him. He had to walk it by himself.” African-American Christians were absolutely certain the Christ who died on a cross understood their suffering and would see them through it.

Cone understands that although black art and music helped foment the civil rights movement, “ … the blues and the juke joint did not lead to an organized political resistance against white supremacy. But one could correctly say that the spirituals and the church, with Jesus’ cross at the heart of its faith, gave birth to the black freedom movement that reached its peak in the civil rights era during the 1950s and 1960s. The spirituals were the soul of the movement, giving people courage to fight, and the church was its anchor, deepening its faith in the coming freedom for all.”

Cone makes it clear that the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s—with spirituals as its soul and the church as its anchor—saw an end to segregation but not to white supremacy. At its heart, “The Cross and the Lynching Tree” is a powerful indictment of white supremacy, past and present, and a challenge to white Americans to have “the courage to confront the great sin and ongoing legacy of white supremacy with repentance and reparation.”

The lynching of black Americans is still taking place in the 21st century.

Cone targets America’s criminal justice system “ … where nearly one-third of black men between the ages of 18 and 28 are in prisons, jails, on parole or waiting for their day in court.” Cone continues: “Nearly one-half of the more than 2 million people in prisons are black. That is 1 million black people behind bars, more than in colleges. Through private prisons and the ‘war against drugs’ whites have turned the brutality of their racist legal system into a profit-making venture for dying white towns and cities throughout America. … Nothing is more racist in America’s criminal justice system than its administration of the death penalty. America is the only industrialized country in the West where the death penalty is still legal. The death penalty is primarily reserved, though not exclusively, for people of color, and white supremacy shows no signs of changing it. That is why the term ‘legal lynching’ is still relevant today. One can lynch a person without a rope or tree.”

I am a white American. What questions should I ask myself about living in a nation still permeated by white supremacy? What questions should I ask myself about living in a mostly white neighborhood, attending a mostly white church and hanging out with mostly white friends? Cone states unequivocally that Jesus calls us to confront white supremacy. “I believe,” Cone writes, “that the cross placed alongside the lynching tree can help us to see Jesus in America in a new light, and thereby empower people who claim to follow him to take a stand against white supremacy and every kind of injustice.”

“The Cross and the Lynching Tree” also transcends the topic of lynching and the suffering of African-Americans. Cone asks his readers to see all suffering and oppression in light of the promise of the cross. Therefore—and please forgive this personal aside—his “every kind of injustice” includes the injustice faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. What was Matthew Shepard’s death but a lynching? All the elements are present. Shepard was harassed, kidnapped, driven to a remote country area, robbed, pistol-whipped, tortured, tied to a fence and left to die. Brandon Teena, a 21-year-old trans man who was raped and murdered, is just one example of dozens of forgotten trans people who are lynched every year. And in some ways Tyler Clementi, Jamey Rodemeyer and all the other gay teens and young people who have committed suicide because of bullying and harassment are lynching victims.

My son once asked me, “How can you still be a Christian, Dad, after what the church has done to you?” Suddenly we’re back to the same mystery we encountered with black Christians during the lynching years. Cone quotes the Apostle Paul to describe this mystery: “St. Paul said that the ‘word of the cross is foolishness’ to the intellect and a ‘stumbling block’ to established religion. The cross is a paradoxical religious symbol because it inverts the world’s value system with the news that hope comes by way of defeat, that suffering and death do not have the last word, that the last shall be first and the first last.” I believed that Jesus was with me during the attacks by Bible-quoting Christians, during the disappearance of most of my old friends and clients, and during the aversive therapies, the electric shock and the exorcisms by well-meaning Christians who tried to rid me of the “demon of homosexuality.” And in my lowest moments when I genuinely longed for death, I knew that Jesus would walk with me through that valley as well.

Black Americans were victims of white Christian bigotry as gay Americans are victims of straight Christian bigotry. Please don’t think for a moment that I am comparing my suffering or the suffering of the LGBT community to the suffering of African-Americans during the lynching years. I am not. But in the struggle between faith and oppression, and sensing Jesus’ presence during my own suffering, I feel solidarity with my African-American family whose faith in the “old rugged cross” was the key to surviving the lynching tree.

Here is the danger: To say that Jesus stands with me in my suffering is far too simple. My redemption doesn’t come that easily. There’s something in the cross that says this is not just about my “salvation” but about the “salvation” of all those who suffer injustice and inequality. The cross warns and welcomes. It warns me that if I confront white supremacy, homophobia or injustice of any kind, I could end up being lynched. And the cross welcomes me to that great company of the committed who believed its promise that “death is not the end but the beginning of life.”

Cone reminds us that “ … it takes a special kind of imagination to understand the truth of the cross. … The Gospel of Jesus is not a rational concept to be explained in a theory of salvation, but a story about God’s presence in Jesus’ solidarity with the oppressed which led to his death on the cross. … What is redemptive is the faith that God snatches victory out of defeat, life out of death and hope out of despair, as revealed in the biblical and black proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection.”

Playing the Anti-Muslim Card

On the weekend of Sept. 14-16, 2012, while President Obama and Secretary Clinton struggled to put out fires ignited by a crude, anti-Muslim video made in California, just minutes from the White House high-profile “holy terrorists” were stoking those same flames with anti-Muslim rhetoric.

Gathered at the Values Voters Summit at the Omni Shoreham Hotel was a collection of America’s most infamous Islamophobes: fundamentalist Christian Americans who are using “the Muslim threat” as they once used “the gay threat,” to raise money, mobilize volunteers, and scare the American public into voting Republican on Nov. 6, 2012. These “holy terrorists,” who see themselves as called by God to “champion traditional values” and “protect America,” are the real threat to our nation’s relationship with Muslims at home and abroad (and the real threat to the future of our democracy, as well).

If you ever wondered who the Christian right would blame for undermining “traditional values” once the “gay threat” was found to be a hoax, now it’s certain. Here’s the list of gay bashers turned Muslim bashers who sponsored the Value Voters Summit: the Family Research Council (Tony Perkins, President), the American Family Association (Tim Wildmon, President), American Values (Gary Bauer, President), the Heritage Foundation (Ed Feulner, President), Liberty University (Jerry Falwell, Jr., Chancellor), and Liberty Counsel (Matt Staver, Chairman).

These are the most powerful fundamentalist Christian organizations in the country, whose leaders are trusted by millions of Americans. At this moment, they share this primary goal: to find ways to defeat Barack Obama and purge Washington, D.C., of the “liberal, godless, socialists” who are “undermining traditional family values” and “steering the nation towards total ruin.” It looks like anti-Muslim rhetoric will be a favorite tactic of the Christian right to see their goals reached in 2012, just as anti-gay rhetoric was used to confuse voters in 2010. In her speech at the Value Voters Summit, Michele Bachmann demonstrated how “holy terrorists” will play the anti-Muslim card: “What we’re watching develop before our eyes today are the direct consequences of this administration’s policy of apology and appeasement across the globe.”

Here are examples of the hate speech fundamentalist Christian leaders use when describing the so-called “Muslim threat” in their current political tirades. They are typical anti-Muslim statements taken directly from leaders of the two most powerful sponsors of the Value Voters Summit. The Family Research Council and its spokespeople have claimed that Islam is not, and should not be, protected under the First Amendment; that there shouldn’t be any mosques in America; and that Christians must go on the offensive against Islam. The American Family Association and its spokespeople also assert that Muslims have no fundamental First Amendment claims; that they should be banned from building mosques and even deported from the U.S.; and that Muslims are inherently stupid as a result of inbreeding.

It all sounds so familiar. “Holy terrorists” on the Christian right are simply replacing the word “gay” with “Muslim” in their fundraising appeals while making the same false claims against Muslims that they made against LGBT Americans. The only problem is that those “holy terrorists” on the right are still waging war against LGBT Americans, as well. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Family Research Council has claimed that gay rights activists are “sick, vile, incestuous, violent, perverted, and a danger to the nation.” The American Family Association has warned that homosexuality is “immoral and leads ultimately to personal and social decay.”

Matt Staver, the president of Liberty Counsel, another sponsor of the Value Voters Summit, is the newest star in the Islamophobic firmament. As Dean of the Law School at Liberty University, Staver has replaced Falwell as Liberty’s spokesman for all things phobic. Just days before the Value Voters Summit Staver’s Liberty Counsel action (fundraising) email announced that “radical Muslims” had declared war on the United States.

Staver was raising funds to send his Patriot’s Handbook of Political Action for Pastors and Churches to the 158,182 churches in America “that the ACLU, People for the American Way, and other radical groups have attempted to silence on the key issues of the day.” Those who have seen Staver’s Handbook report that it explains how pastors can influence the coming election without breaking the law.

Then he announced (in words straight from Senator Joseph McCarthy’s playbook), “Our government MUST be purged of the radical influence of the Muslim Brotherhood and other jihadist Islamic organizations!” He also wrote, “I am asking you to [petition] key Members of Congress to get behind Rep. Michele Bachmann’s and the National Security Five’s call for intense investigations into the growing influence of radical Islam inside our nation…”

Like the other VVS sponsors, Staver, too, continues to use anti-gay rhetoric to stir up his support base. At the Values Voter Summit he blasted “those who want to destroy the natural definition of marriage.” He warns that the goal of the LGBT movement is “sexual anarchy”; that it undermines the family; that it is a direct assault on freedom of religion and freedom of speech; and that it threatens the future of Western civilization.

On Friday, Sept. 15, it was announced that the Coptic Egyptian immigrant who produced the inflammatory anti-Muslim video was under “intense questioning” by federal authorities, while at the same time high-profile fundamentalist Christians with millions of gullible supporters were free to whip up an anti-Muslim and anti-gay frenzy at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C.

But here’s the good news. In November 2010 the Southern Poverty Law Center named the Family Research Council and the American Family Association “hate groups” because of their “dissemination of false and demonizing propaganda about gays and lesbians.”

I’m hoping that before this election other major organizations sponsoring the Value Voters Summit, like Matt Staver and his Liberty Counsel, will also be labeled “hate groups” for the lies they tell in their campaign to demean and dehumanize LGBT and Muslim Americans alike. On that day, we stop everything to celebrate. Until then, we have no option but to confront and condemn the Christian right before they elect themselves a president by hating Muslims like they took the House by hating gays.

Compare and contrast the Republican and Democratic Party Platforms on LGBT people. These 375 words will blow your mind.

The 260 words below (from the Republican Party Platform) make it clear. If they are elected, we could lose every gain we’ve made.

The 115 words below (from the Democratic Party Platform) make it clear. This President and his Party are fully on our side at last. DONATE! VOLUNTEER! VOTE FOR OBAMA!

The 2012 Republican Party Platform on Marriage Equality

Defending Marriage Against An Activist Judiciary: A serious threat to our country’s constitutional order, perhaps even more dangerous than presidential malfeasance, is an activist judiciary, in which some judges usurp the powers reserved to other branches of government. A blatant example has been the court-ordered redefinition of marriage in several States. This is more than a matter of warring legal concepts and ideals. It is an assault on the foundations of our society, challenging the institution which, for thousands of years in virtually every civilization, has been entrusted with the rearing of children and the transmission of cultural values.

A Sacred Contract: Defense of Marriage: That is why Congressional Republicans took the lead in enacting the Defense of Marriage Act, affirming the right of States and the federal government not to recognize same-sex relationships licensed in other jurisdictions. The current Administration’s open defiance of this constitutional principle – in its handling of immigration cases, in federal personnel benefits, in allowing a same-sex marriage at a military base, and in refusing to defend DOMA in the courts – makes a mockery of the President’s inaugural oath. We commend the United States House of Representatives and State Attorneys General who have defended these laws when they have been attacked in the courts. We reaffirm our support for a Constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. We applaud the citizens of the majority of States which have enshrined in their constitutions the traditional concept of marriage, and we support the campaigns underway in several other States to do so.

260 words

The 2012 Democratic Party Platform on Marriage Equality

Freedom to Marry. We support the right of all families to have equal respect, responsibilities, and protections under the law. We support marriage equality and support the movement to secure equal treatment under the law for same-sex couples. We also support the freedom of churches and religious entities to decide how to administer marriage as a religious sacrament without government interference. We oppose discriminatory federal and state constitutional amendments and other attempts to deny equal protection of the laws to committed same-sex couples who seek the same respect and responsibilities as other married couples. We support the full repeal of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act and the passage of the Respect for Marriage Act.

Just 115 words

You Stupid Son of a….

Almost every morning I walk the beach to Starbucks, buy a café mocha, sit on a bench at the end of the pier and watch the totally unpredictable performance of the Pacific Ocean and all its creatures, above and below the surface of the sea.

One of the stars of the show is an old brown pelican who waddles around the wharf chasing after every freshly caught fish. Sometimes a sympathetic fisherman will toss his catch of the day in the pelican’s direction. Other times the bird is ignored and after a quick protest screech he whirls about indignantly and waddles off to try his luck again.

To start with I am in awe of pelicans in general. How they plummet from such heights without breaking apart on impact is truly a sight to behold. From tip to tip, the wingspan of this old bird must be at least six feet. I can’t even imagine the intricate combination of feathers, bones, tendons and muscles that keep him airborne or the compact and comfortable way those wings fold up against his body.

This morning, the old pelican sat on a railing of the pier watching the fishermen and tolerating the occasional tourist who just had to snap a close up of this calm and curious creature. He fears no one. This is his pier and he stands guard over it like a cranky old watchman.

Today my meditation was interrupted by a 13 or 14-year-old boy who approached the pelican with a fishing pole in hand. Neither the old bird with feathers nor the old bird with a café mocha suspected for a moment that the kid had evil in mind. Suddenly he swung the sinker at the end of his fishing line towards the pelican and as the poor, unsuspecting bird spread his wings to fly, the kid’s line found its mark. Picture it. The pelican writhing on the pier trying to free himself; the kid yelling proudly, “I caught him;” and old Mel running toward the pelican yelling at the kid “You stupid son-of-a b…!”

Never in my life have I called anyone “A stupid, son-of-a b…!” Never! I’m with Soulforce. We advocate nonviolence as the best solution to conflict. Calling that kid a “stupid son-of-a b…!” was an act of violence against him. And as you could predict, almost immediately my violence led to the threat of violent retaliation. A rather muscular 18 or 19-year-old rushed up to me, put his fist up to my face and yelled, “What did you call my cousin?’”

At that moment, I was feeling the kind of rage that I’ve not felt since my last visit to Rome to confront the holy terrorists in the Vatican who call LGBT people “intrinsically evil” and “objectively disordered.” My sympathetic nervous system kicked into flight or fight mode and I was about to punch the 18 or 19-year old when I heard myself say: “You’re right. I shouldn’t have said it…!’” Looking back it was a very wise decision. I’m 72. Need I say more? But my anger blinded me to reality. I wanted to hit someone, anyone and my anger surged further when the kid’s protector yelled, “Then apologize!”
I just stood there watching the pelican writhing on the pier. There was only way to end this confrontation and help free the bird. “OK, I’m sorry,” I said angrily. “Now let’s free the bird.”

Suddenly, the pelican freed himself, extended his wings and flew away. I don’t know if the kid’s thoughtless prank crippled the bird in some permanent way. I don’t know if the pelican will ever return to his pier to waddle after the fishermen and pose for the tourists. I just turned my back on the boys and walked away, fighting back my anger, wondering if I would ever again see that magnificent creature.

After about twenty steps I decided to return to the scene and yell at the kid “I’m calling the park ranger to report you.” Immediately I realized it was an angry, empty threat, another move towards violence and another step away from reconciliation. For twenty five years I’ve taught that the ultimate goal of nonviolence is reconciliation. Could I calm myself enough to practice reconciliation with this kid and his cousin?

I believed Jesus when he said “Love your enemy.” I believed Gandhi when he said “Your enemy was created by God as you were created and thus your enemy is your brother in need of reconciliation.” I believed Dr. King when he said, “Our primary responsibility in life to help create the ‘beloved community’ where we – all of us – can live together in peace (even with our enemies).”

The kid was ignorant. He did a stupid thing but he wasn’t “a son of a b…!” His Parent was my Parent. He is a member of the human family, my family. He is my brother, my son, my grandson. My first response taught him about anger. Now I had a second chance to teach him about love.

As I approached the boys, I smiled sheepishly and said, “I’m sorry I let my anger get the best of me but I need to tell you why. That pelican is the mascot of our pier. He’s practically a pet. And when I saw him trapped in your line I just lost it.” For a moment I was silent, looking directly at the kid. Then I said, “You did a stupid thing but you aren’t stupid. I’ll bet you never do something like that again.” He nodded quickly.
The older cousin stood staring at me unsure how to respond when I looked directly at him and said, “Have a great day. Hope you catch some fish.” Somehow those simple words disarmed us both.

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow


By: Mel White | The News & Advance
Published: April 15, 2012 Updated: April 15, 2012 – 6:00 AM

On Palm Sunday, April 1, Gary Nixon and I celebrated 30 years together. Ten of those years have been spent in beautiful Lynchburg. In recent months, however, we’ve made the painful decision to sell our home and return to California.

On the surface, we are leaving Lynchburg to spend our final years close to our children and grandchildren, but just below the surface is our growing fear that gays and lesbians are no longer welcome in Virginia. It seems that even after his death, Jerry Falwell Sr.’s antigay rhetoric is winning the day.
We first visited Lynchburg in 1999 when 200 of our Soulforce friends and supporters spent an amazing weekend with 200 of Jerry’s staff and student leaders. Gay Christians came to Lynchburg from across the nation hoping to help him understand that “… the research is clear. Homosexuality is neither mental illness nor moral depravity. It is simply the way a minority of our population expresses human love and sexuality, (American Psychological Association).” That weekend, covered by 183 media crews, made headlines across the nation.

In spite of our visit, Jerry continued his unwarranted and untrue attacks against lesbian and gay Americans. So we moved to Hill City in 2001 and rented a four-room house directly across the street from the church on Thomas Road. We hoped that by our daily witness, he and his congregation would see that gay people do not have, as he claimed, “a godless, humanistic scheme for our nation — a plan which will destroy America’s traditional moral values”; and that we are not planning “the complete elimination of God and Christianity from American society.”
When The News & Advance announced our permanent move to Lynchburg, we thought our new neighbors might not be happy to see an “out” gay couple move into their neighborhood. Quite to the contrary, when protesters did gather on our sidewalk, several of our neighbors ignored the “God Hates Fags” signs, walked through the noisy, nasty crowd and welcomed us with buckets of fried chicken, deep dish apple pie and sweet tea. From that moment we have loved this town and its welcoming and affirming people.
I first met Jerry Falwell in 1986 when he hired me to ghostwrite his autobiography, “Strength for the Journey.” I liked him immediately. I even found myself defending him when he was attacked unfairly. On the night that Jerry died, Anderson Cooper and Larry King both asked me to appear on their programs to respond to the atheist intellectual, Christopher Hitchens, who described Jerry as “an ugly charlatan,” “a little toad,” “a giggling and sniggering huckster” and “an evil old man.”
That night I found myself on network television defending the man who called me a “pervert who abandoned his wife and children to join this deviant lifestyle.” In fact, my family and I have maintained a loving, committed relationship that was demonstrated clearly when my son, Mike, and I appeared on two seasons of CBS’ “The Amazing Race.”
Jerry never told the truth about me, but the night he died I had the opportunity to tell the truth about Jerry. He would be missed. He had been a good pastor to his congregation at Thomas Road and a good chancellor to his students at Liberty University. But I also expressed my grief that Jerry had died before he apologized to my sisters and brothers for his antigay rhetoric just as he had apologized for his racist rhetoric in the 1950s and ’60s.
During our first five years in Lynchburg I thought we were making a slight difference, that thousands of other gay and lesbian individuals and couples who lived in loving, committed relationships were changing Virginia’s political landscape.
I felt certain that organizations like Equality Virginia and Open and Affirming Churches like First Christian in Lynchburg were helping their fellow Virginians understand that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Virginians live healthy, happy and holy lives just like heterosexual Virginians.
Then on Nov. 7, 2006, 57 percent of Virginia’s voters ratified an amendment to the state Constitution that wasn’t content to limit marriage to one man and one woman. The amendment, sponsored by Del. Bob Marshall and Sen. Steve Newman, went on to prohibit the creation or legal recognition of any relationships of unmarried individuals “that even approximates the design, qualities, significance or effect of marriage.” Of all the states with constitutional amendments prohibiting marriage equality, Virginia became the most strident and mean-spirited.
More recently, the state Senate passed legislation allowing private adoption agencies to deny gay and lesbian couples the right to adopt (when 80,000 American children go un-adopted every year). And just weeks ago, both houses of the General Assembly approved “conscience clause” bills that would allow state-funded child placement agencies to discriminate against lesbian and gay couples who are willing and able to provide foster care as well.
The General Assembly may be the oldest legislative body in the Western Hemisphere, but in recent years it has certainly not been the wisest. Members of the Senate and the House of Delegates are still making laws based on the antigay rhetoric of Jerry Falwell. And like Jerry, our 23rd District senator, Steve Newman, and his colleagues refuse to consider the facts.
Census data shows that there are at least 270,000 American children being raised by same-sex couples: “Numerous studies over the last three decades consistently demonstrate that children raised by gay or lesbian parents exhibit the same level of emotional, cognitive, social, and sexual functioning as children raised by heterosexual parents, The American Psychiatric Association.”
When the Assembly makes laws that deny lesbian and gay Virginians the right to adopt or provide foster care they are denying hundreds, perhaps thousands of Virginia’s children, the right to home and family.
During our 10 years in Virginia, we’ve watched this great state turn against its gay and lesbian residents. Not only are we denied the rights and protections of marriage, our relationships are no longer safe here even when “protected” by wills or powers of attorney.
And when the General Assembly denies lesbians and gays the right to adopt or provide foster care, they are implying that we aren’t capable of being loving and trustworthy parents and even worse that we are a threat to children.
With a great deal of sadness and a real sense of failure, Gary and I are leaving this beautiful city and the wonderful new friends we’ve made here. We thought that in 10 years our witness would have helped in some small way to change Virginia for the better. In fact, it’s gotten worse. And though we are genuinely sad about leaving Lynchburg, it’s much easier to move knowing that members of the Assembly, the governor and a majority of the voters of Virginia have spoken. Gays and lesbians are not welcome here. What a loss that will be in professional, personal and financial resources for the people of Virginia.
I’m thankful that there are thousands of Virginians (native and transplants) who know that God created gay people and loves them exactly as they were created. One day, through their witness, truth will prevail. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
We are driving down Rivermont Avenue one last time, but the city is ablaze with the brilliant blossoms of red buds, dogwoods and cherry trees and even as we drive away from Lynchburg we are remembering that with the spring hope is always born again.