Monday, July 27, 2009

Straight Ally Seeks Christian Ally For Friendship, Activism

I've been obsessing over my blog to the detriment of the rest of my life, including my health. So during the last few days I've made a conscious effort to return to my historical pursuits. I've spent some pleasant hikes listening to The History of Rome podcasts, picking up where I left off with Marius and Sulla. This morning I picked up another dropped thread: an actual honest-to-goodness paper book about my favorite subject, the Spanish Armada of 1588. I hadn't gotten three pages when, on the train this evening, I found something that practically screamed "Meet Adam and Steve!" Here's the excerpt, from pages 60-62 of Felipe Fernández-Armesto's The Spanish Armada: The Experience of War in 1588.
Not every army chaplain exhaled pure Counter-Reformation spirit. The Franciscan Fray Antonio de Granata, for instance, who had done six years in the job by 1588, was an unregenerate pre-Tridentine figure, who sang profane songs to the sound of his lute, conducted bogus and prurient visitations of convents, extorted gifts, wore furs and gold chains, and battered his denouncers. He claimed at his trial for these offences to be a martyr who spoke the truth and converted sinners. His persecution, he suggested, was 'to force me out, and my Franciscan brothers with me and replace us with Jesuits. But St Francis will punish the persecutors of his order.' He may have been voicing a genuine Franciscan anxiety. Certainly, the Jesuit mission in the army was growing more important, as the need for a more active evangelization of the men became increasingly felt among their commanders. The new, evangelically aware orders of the Counter-Reformation, of whom the Jesuits were the most conspicuous and dynamic, were attracted to the army for the same reason as they felt drawn to the slum-ringed boom towns like Seville and to the dense, servile native populations of the New World. Rootless masses were at once an easy and urgent target for their ministry. Commanders interested in the spiritual welfare--or, at least, concerned for the dogmatic instruction--of their men seem to have recognized the Jesuits' special gifts. In 1587, Parma's call for a central Jesuit mission to the Army of Flanders was answered by his personal confessor, Thomas Sailly. Within a generation, the Jesuits could claim to have enhanced the morals and galvanized the strength of the corps of chaplains as a whole.
Reminded of how the Jesuits were successful because they focused on the "rootless masses", anxiety welled up in me at the thought of all the evangelical Christians currently peddling hatred to folks full of fear and despair and anger. That's a high-yield operation; how can I ever compete with that? Answer: I can't--at least not just by blogging. I need to keep my eye on my ultimate goal: to move on to outreach. That scares the crap out of me for several reasons: I have no idea how to do it; I'm not great at confrontation; and I'm an agnostic!

Speaking of despair, I felt my mind inclining in that direction as I made my way west through Manhattan for a walk along the Hudson. But as my feet got going, my mind got going too. (I love how that works.) I thought of the websites that Grace found for me when I was looking for Biblical quotes about nature for my letter to the editor about the Link Trail. In particular, Fund for Christian Ecology came to mind. I'd been impressed with their expressed goal of "...reaching the Evangelical and Conservative Christian churches with a scriptural message of environmental stewardship." That sort of outreach can't be easy, and I admire anyone with the courage to do it. When I thought of this in the context of Meet Adam and Steve, I realized that these are the type of people I need to be talking to! After all, I doubt I'll be very effective at outreach by myself; can you imagine me walking into a church and saying "Well, you should know I don't believe in God, but listen, I still think... where are you going?" To do Christian outreach, I'd better enlist the help of Christians. To be an ally, I need... allies!

So I called and left a message with Bernard Daley Zaleha, President of the Fund for Christian Ecology. A long, rambling message. Bugger. I need to get better at dealing with answering machines. That's OK, though; it felt good to make a start. and it got me rolling. Now that I'd recognized my need for Christian advice and Christian allies, a plan started to coalesce. I thought back to some potential resources I'd skipped right past in my frenzy to get daily faces, such as The Church of St. Luke in the Fields and the Society for Ethical Culture. Then there are the gay and gay-friendly Christian bloggers I've met through Twitter such as @Tahlib and @strt_notnarrow. And let's not forget Steve, who is a Triangle Speaker. I need to talk to all these people to get advice and help in strategizing.

I can't pursue all these contacts in one night, but I did get started: I left a message with the Reverend Caroline Stacey, Rector of St. Luke's. This message was a bit less rambling than the previous one, I'm happy to say. Then I sent her an e-mail. So hopefully I can get rolling with the Christian connection soon, so that I can hit the ground running on the day when I feel ready to start outreach.


  1. Thanks for the mention. This is what being a Triangle Speaker is like, (feel free to send me an email or twitter DM if you want more info about it):

    We make it known to the community at large, that we are available to speak, and what we are about, but then the churches, schools or groups need to contact us and ask us to speak. We do not go hunting places down to speak, the place needs to express an interest in hearing about our story or it won't work.

    Our panel consists of a trained moderator and a few panelists, usually one gay, one lesbian, one transgender and one straight ally. Then when we are before the class/congregation, the moderator has to read a disclaimer. 'We are not there to convert, or suggest anyone try any lifestyle. We are not there to advocate any lifestyle, religious or political viewpoint. We are simply LGBT people who are going to share our individual stories and nothing else.' Just a simple disclaimer. All you need to complicate things is one disgruntled person screaming you have an agenda.

    Because there are 4 or 5 of us, we get about 3 minutes to tell our life story. This is very practiced because each engagement usually lasts an hour. The panelists have about a quarter hour to introduce themselves, state their purpose and tell their individual stories. After that, we open to questions, which is the main purpose and the majority of the time. People who are undecided or ambivalent towards equality, often just need to learn about us and our situation. An overly hostile person will probably be silent, but cannot be won over.

    We practice for those three minutes, to talk about things that we know will generate questions. Coming out, wanting children or marriage, how parents and siblings deal with our orientation, these are the most common questions, but transgenders always get the most questions overall. It's the least known minority group.

    Practice helps you to learn the best way to tell your story to get questions. These are straight people, many of who don't know a gay person real well, maybe distantly. They are more interested in how your family dealt with you coming out, than with how you dealt with coming out. You learn your audience.

    We can answer questions, but cannot advocate a political viewpoint. It can make it difficult when talking about our families and things like Prop 8, but we can talk about how it affects us though.

    Triangle Speakers has been around since 92 (or 96?) and has found that this type of format works best. You can't win a hostile crowd, only an interested but undecided one.

    During the last 5 minutes, there is a simple questionaire to fill out (for school speaking engagements) which asks for feedback. It's simply used for feedback and in order to better present our stories.

    That is the basis of the process. Feel free to email or contact me anytime, Hugh, if there's any way I can help more.

  2. You are on your way networking with Christians who are confronting the heresy of gay exclusion and homophobia. You don't have to invent the wheel. A good agnostic follows the love. Key words for churches are: "welcoming" and "affirming." Flying a rainbow flag is good too.
    Pflags make good allies as well.

  3. Steve, I am sorry that it took me so long to respond. I thought of it twenty times, but never when I was at a computer.

    I'm shocked, and even more impressed, that Triangle Speakers only does outreach by invitation. I am very interested in getting involved. I will be contacting them.

  4. Thanks Joe, and again I'm sorry it took so long to respond. I do intend to contact PFLAG.