By: Paul P. Jesep*/TRT Columnist—
You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Two steps forward one step back.” It originates from a story about a frog making a very difficult journey up the wall of a slippery well. For every two steps the little critter was able to move, it slipped one step back. In the aggressive efforts to scale back LGBTQ rights since January, I’ve stayed focused on the one step net gains.
Long time readers of this column may recall I’ve underscored it’s not just about legal protections, but changing hearts and minds. Changing someone’s perceptions and attitudes requires a very different approach.
In my opinion, setbacks occur, in part, when there’s a failure to engage and educate organizations and individuals who feel threatened by the LGBTQ movement.
As LGBTQ individuals and the collective community manage the anxiety generated by hostility and legal and cultural setbacks, everyone must identify and take comfort in success stories that suggest civil and human rights are still moving forward.
A July article in the Religion News Service noted “… a prominent group of Christians” have had a change of heart on LGBT issues. “These popular Christian writers,” the piece observed, “have publicly broken from the traditional hardline position against same-sex marriage.” In several cases, its cost these Christian activists financially and caused some to be isolated from their religious communities.
In September, the First United Methodist Church of Austin, Texas, announced it will no longer solemnize weddings until they can be performed for both straight and same-sex couples. The national church forbids the marriage of same-sex couples.
More than 90 percent of the Austin congregation voted to stop holding weddings until the love of all couples could be celebrated. It’s a remarkable act of defiance. It’s an example of speaking truth to power. Although pastors are prohibited from solemnizing same-sex weddings, they will not be stopped from attending same-sex weddings performed by other religious leaders.
The Rio Texas Conference, which the church is a part of, did not denounce the position. It issued a statement noting that there will be a review of, “ … every paragraph of the Book of Discipline concerning human sexuality … ” The intention of the review will be to, “ … explore options that help maintain and strengthen the unity of the church.” In 2019, a commission will report its findings on handling the conflicting views on same-sex marriage.
In October, students at a Maine high school voted Stiles Zuschlag, a transgender peer, homecoming king at a football game. Not long before receiving the honor, Stiles had been asked to leave a private Christian school in New Hampshire.
According to the academically accomplished teen, the Maine school, “ … took on my burdens as if it were their own, and they made me a comfortable person here. They made sure I was safe and happy … ”
In the Judeo-Christian tradition, there is a belief that each person can be an instrument to further the Creator’s goodness in the world. The Giver of Life acts through individuals to fulfill a divine plan where truth, justice, empathy, compassion and, most importantly, love triumph over fear, darkness, insecurity, ignorance, and indifference. Clearly, that was evident in Maine.
Make no mistake I’d be delusional if I didn’t acknowledge the vicious, terrible things unravelling in the country today. It would be dishonest to readers and myself if I didn’t acknowledge the anxiety and unsettled feelings I have.
I’d also have no reason to get out of bed in the morning, if I didn’t have hope. Nurturing my personal faith helps remind me goodness and justice will prevail. Sometimes faith is a bit like the brave frog trying to climb the slippery wall of a well. Keep moving forward even if you have doubts and setbacks.
*Paul is a corporate chaplain, seminary trained priest, and lawyer in greater Albany, NY. He’s also author of, “Lost Sense of Self & the Ethics Crisis.”
In a previous column, The Rainbow Times erroneously identified Rev. Jim Mulcahy as transgender. The publication regrets the error.