On Being Made Blind

My last post on NALT almost had more page views than the entire blog up to that point. I don’t know where everyone came from, but thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts. That post was also probably the only time I will ever post something that timely. The thing that caught my attention today, for example, is already five days old.

This morning, an article from the New York Times opinion blog slipped over from my reading into my prayer in a way that I thought was worth sharing. The article is George Yancy’s Walking While Black in the ‘White Gaze’. It’s a bit long, but merits your attention. I don’t think it says anything particularly original, but it is a very good primer on the omnipresent violence of racism and its effects on persons of color. He explains how the mere fact of a black body is seen by white people as threatening and offensive. This “white gaze” inflicts violence on black people by even when it does not lead to physical violence:

Black bodies in America continue to be reduced to their surfaces and to stereotypes that are constricting and false, that often force those black bodies to move through social spaces in ways that put white people at ease. We fear that our black bodies incite an accusation. We move in ways that help us to survive the procrustean gazes of white people. We dread that those who see us might feel the irrational fear to stand their ground rather than “finding common ground,” a reference that was made by Bernice King as she spoke about the legacy of her father at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

The white gaze is a vision that determines what it is seeing before the object is even fully in sight. The awful story of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman is only a particularly egregious and fatal example. Trayvon never had any chance to be anything to Zimmerman other than a threat and a criminal. As soon as he saw black, Zimmerman’s brain made Trayvon into a criminal. The white gaze kills.

It goes without saying that the white gaze is a false vision. It is a distortion of vision that is the baggage of history with which we white people are born (everyone is born with the baggage of history. Read Romans 5). So as I was praying this morning, this piece came into my mind, and I felt myself led to reflect on John 9:39: “And Jesus said, ‘For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind.'” I remember that this verse puzzled me in my youth, and was something I continued to struggle with as an adult. Like the Pharisee who responds to Jesus a few verses later, I wonder why anyone who can see perfectly well would want to be blind.

But what if my vision is false? It is a distortion. It kills others by constraining what they can be, and it thus it kills me and constrains what I can be. If that is the case, then what Jesus says about blinding those who see is not a threat, but a promise of deliverance.

I believe that God’s promises are there for us to claim them. And so I claim this one. Lord Jesus, blind my false vision. Deliver us all from racism, both victims and perpetrators. In your name, I ask for your true vision. I ask this for myself, for my whole country, and for the whole world.

An Ally, but not “NALT”

I imagine that if I were Dan Savage, I would also get sick of Christians coming up to me after talks to tell him “we’re not all like that,” as is related in this HuffPo piece that I’ve been seeing on facebook (stop that, people. It doesn’t always have to be about us!). And I suspect that this NALT video campaign might do some good. If the message anyone has taken away from Christianity is anything other than “God loves you and we love you,” then we need a do-over. We need to be sure you hear this, and hear it from us. In fact, please excuse me while I go scream it at the top of my lungs in every room of this library.

………

Having now caught my breath and sneaked back into the library, I must now tell you why I nevertheless cannot participate in the NALT campaign. It largely has to do with the way it’s been framed. This particular action of making a video is presented as the litmus test for whether any given Christian is on the side of the oppressed or the oppressor. Savage says as much:

Make a Not All Like That Video. If you don’t take that step, speak up, then know that your silence allows the Tony Perkins and Pat Robertsons to speak for you and to continue to do real harm not just to LGBT young people but to Christianity itself. (From the linked article)

My friend Madison (to whom the hat tips for bringing this to my attention in the first place) has said most of what needs to be said in response:

It reminds me a little bit of conservative Christians who demand that Muslims denounce extremist Islam, all while the fact that many Muslims do denounce extremism on a regular basis and their denunciations are simply ignored by those who demanded the denunciations in the first place.

Madison is not equating the two things, which would be wrong. Christians have a privileged status in America that Muslims do not, and the silence of the privileged has a different moral status than the silence of the marginalized. Still, it is wrong to equate declining to make a video with silence. For one thing, some of us don’t do videos. More importantly, as Madison also says, it is not as though GLBT Christians and their allies “have…been quietly wandering through that [oppressive church] environment. We’ve been kicking and screaming,” but have been largely ignored by the dominant voices within and outside of the church.

But what is most important for me (so if you’re only going to read one paragraph, read this one) is that my understanding of Christianity does not permit me to define myself over and against other Christians. “We” are not all “like that.” Who are “we”? Who are the they who are “like that”? I identify as an ally of GLBT persons, and may God grant me the grace to be a better one. But I am also the chief of sinners. I am not as free from the sins of homophobia and transphobia as I would like to think that I am, either in my heart of hearts, or in the institutions in which I participate. And even if, by God’s grace, I were free of those particular sins, would it be spiritually safe for me to pat myself on the back and say “God, I thank thee that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this homophobe”? Personal and institutional heterosexism grieves God, and it grieves me. But I cannot dismiss other Christians as being “like that,” and comfort myself with the delusion that I have no part in their sin. No. God be merciful to me, a sinner.

To any GLBT persons who happen upon this blog, I am sorry that we have hurt you and continue to hurt you. I pray that God will give me the grace to be your ally in more than name. But as a Christian, I am only allowed to define myself in terms of the God I am for, not the other Christians I am against.

Know, however, that the God I am for is for you.