Saturday, July 18, 2009

We're All Bastards

I watched the movie Milk last night and it set off a chain of thoughts and emotions running through me.

It r
eminded me of a story I read about a Baptist minister and civil rights activist in the 1960's named Will Campbell:

On one of the Freedom Rides, Campbell was challenged by newspaper editor P.D. East to sum up the Christian faith in 10 words or less.

Campbell replied, "We're all bastards, but God loves us anyway."

Not long after, a good friend and fellow activist, Thomas Coleman, was shot & killed by a
police officer named Jonathan Daniel. After the shooting, Campbell was devastated, but P.D. East wouldn't leave him alone, challenging him on his definition of Christianity. He demanded Campbell to answer whether both Thomas Coleman and Jonathan Daniel-- the victim and the murderer-- were bastards. Campbell feebly replied that they were.

"Which of those two bastards did God love the best?" asked P.D. East

This question changed the course of Campbell's life, when he realized that God loved the bigoted, wrong-doing Ku Klux Klan members just as
much as He loved the victims of the bigotry. He left the civil rights movement, and began ministering to white supremacists, sharing God's love & hope to the very people he had been fighting against.

As I lay in bed last night, with scenes from the Gay Rights Movement still flashing through my mind, the story of Will Campbell returned to my memory. After watching Milk, I felt saddened, offended, heart-broken, inspired and confused. What stood out more than anything to me was the hurtful, defensive words coming from Christian's mouths, as they crusaded for morality.

This past year was an echo of the culture clash that happened during the movement of the 1970's in San Francisco, and I had an interesting vantage point from where I stood.

I grew up in a Christian home, in conservative Orange County, and yet I live in one of the most liberal post-Christian cities in the nation. I work for a conservative Evangelical Christian organization, yet the people I work with are much more passionate about justice and human rights than moral purity. During the elections, I walked on campus at SFSU and saw endless amounts of posters and campaigns calling out for people to "Vote No on Prop 8"; when I returned home, my inbox was filled with emails from Christians telling me God's will for the elections. It was interesting, standing with one foot in each world, listening to each group talk about the other.

After watching Milk last night, images replayed themselves like home movies. I thought of Christians picketing the funerals of gay men who had died of AIDS; of half-naked men on Easter posing for the Hunky Jesus contest; of the angry emails demanding that Christians stand up with God against "the gays", and angry gay men pouring hot coffee on Christian students; of teary-eyed gay students crumbling as I apologized for the church rejecting them, and wide-eyed youth group kids learning about sexual purity. I thought of Jesus speaking with compassion on prostitutes, and side-stepping political issues to get at the heart of the matter.

And I think Will Campbell was right: the real heart of the matter is that we're all bastards, but God loves us anyway.

I closed my eyes and saw a group of people on either side of me. On my left were the drag
queens, celebrating the Hunky Jesus contest on Easter. On my right were the Christian activists demanding morality, without love. Tears came to my eyes as I saw myself taking a hand from both sides, feeling their skin against mine. We're all bastards, but God loves us anyway.

I've never been one to be deeply involved in politics. I admit that a lot of it is simply over my head, and much too time-consuming to keep up with. But the anger & polarization a
re what really turn me off. The thought of reaching across both lines-- to the Christian world I am a part of, and to the gay community that I live in sounds dangerous, frightening... and beautiful.

After P.D. East heard Will Campbell's answer to his question, he responded, "You've got to be the biggest bastard of us all... because damned if you haven't made me a Christian, and I'm not sure I can stand it."

Campbell used to say, "I'm pro-Klansman because I'm pro-human being". He explained that being pro-Klansman is not the same as being pro-Klan, and being capable of making that distinction might be the only hope for civil discourse. So my goal is to be able to say that I am both pro-Gay, and pro-Fundamentalist. Taking sides is one thing, standing in the middle is another, but reaching across the line is something completely different.

Reconciliation-- both to God and to man-- was the purpose of Will Campbell's life & ministry, and I hope that someday, someone could say the same of me.


hanagrace said...

Reading this brought tears to my eyes, thank you for your honesty and being willing to write on this topic, I wholeheartedly agree with your point of view. :-)

Carolyn R. Boin said...

"Taking sides is one thing, standing in the middle is another, but reaching across the line is something completely different."

I was just passing through and that line made my day.

-Carolyn, Malaysia.

Christine said...

Thank you, Carolyn :)