I felt deep sadness when I learned that the United Methodist church had further excluded LGBTQ people at its recent convening in St. Louis. I have lots of gay religious friends who have shared with me the deep deep pain that they feel when a community that speaks of nurturing the whole of you (including your soul, about which the rest of our society rarely speaks) rejects an essential part.
But as I read the many press accounts that contained powerful testimonies of LBGTQ American Methodists and saw pictures of them and their allies draped in rainbow colors, I couldn’t help but note the relatively buried references to the ‘global church’ and the many African and Asian Methodists at the General Conference who voted to further exclude gays. Come to think of it, I rarely saw these Africans and Asians pictured, and I didn’t find much of an explanation of their perspective in mainstream American press accounts.
I’m not in search of an explanation because I’m wondering about my general view on LGBTQ equality and inclusion – I believe everybody belongs.
But I am interested in learning about the world, including the texture of perspectives that I disagree with, especially if those perspectives are held by people who live in developing world nations about which I know little.
As I was chewing on this, something occurred to me. Perhaps the progressive media outlets that I read were uncomfortable showing pictures of people of color rejoicing at their rejection of gay equality. The optics are very troubling, and they cut against several of the core tenets of diversity progressivism and intersectionality theory.
Diversity progressivism as a paradigm rests on the belief that your favored identities will hold your preferred views. We are accustomed to hearing calls to listen to people of color, follow the leadership of minorities, and center the marginalized when it comes to a whole range of issues: which political candidates to support, what curricular changes to make on college campuses, how the police should operate.
Equally, we are convinced that the bad things in the world emanate from the identities we don’t like. White cops beat black people. Men sexually harass women. Rich owners underpay poor laborers.
But the world is far more complicated than any worldview.
My guess is that there were not that many progressive American Methodists calling for us to listen more closely to the voices of people of color at the General Conference in St. Louis. That’s because, to be blunt, most of the black and brown people in that special session held conservative views on matters of sexuality in the Church.
So what do you do when you like someone’s identity but not their politics? When the packaging you prefer does not contain the prize you desire? When the subaltern speaks and you do not like what she says?
I believe the perspectives of those Africans and Asians were so poorly covered in center-left publications because stories about white people chanting from the floor about the injustices being perpetrated by the people of color who are speaking from the microphone are deeply unsettling. We have been reared on images of the civil rights movement. Peaceful black protestors marching for justice while hate-filled white people sick dogs on them and scream racist epithets.
It would have been so much easier if the principal opponents of LGBTQ inclusion in the Methodist church were all rich, white, male, arrogant vulgarians. People who looked, talked and acted like Donald Trump.
But the truth is Trump is a cartoon villain come to life. He is exactly what we diversity progressives imagined the bad guys would look like. And the intellectual mistake we are making is to believe that the views that we consider retrograde will forever come wrapped in packages that are easy to disdain.
Two more heretical thoughts.
The first: Bravo to the United Methodist Church for its attempt to create something along the lines of a global, multicultural, democratic community. It is much more complicated and infinitely harder than current progressive sloganeering would have you believe. (Have the Will Trade Racists for Refugees shirts been seen in your community? They have in mine.)
Finally, an interesting intellectual challenge for diversity progressives: explain the reason that the overwhelming number of African and Asian delegates voted against LGBTQ inclusion without resorting to racist and colonialist tropes, by which I mean things like, “They were duped into this by white people” (it denies people agency) or “Just wait fifty years and their views will be inclusive like ours are” (it assumes Western ways are the end of history and the zenith of civilization).
For that, we diversity progressives might have to actually listen to the perspectives of people with whom we deeply disagree, and even find hurtful.