In Praise of Good, Straight, White Men

I suppose I have wanted to write this for nearly 25 years, before there were  blogs. Now that I have the opportunity, I want to take it.  My family and I have just come back from seeing “42” — the movie about Jackie Robinson’s rise as the first African-American player in Major League Baseball.  But, as much as it is a movie about Jackie Robinson, it is also the story of Branch Rickey and the God of Methodism and Baseball. 

When I was in seminary, the world was in a weird, but not good place. Ronald Reagan ran the country and divided us into White and everybody else, rich and everybody else, men and everyone else, and — with the AIDS epidemic — straight and everybody else. As he and his generation defined it, the only way to be a “Real American”, one had to be rich, white, male, and straight — plus Capitalist and Colonialist and a few other things as well. Liberal was a bad word.  One had to hate the Russians, Communists around the world, and anybody who had a problem with his policies. We defined “us” as “not them” and we did it in a big way.

The problem is that many of those who “weren’t us”  believed that all of us heterosexual, while males believed what Reagan did.  New theology popular at this time, liberation theology, said — in all it’s various forms — that “the powerful never give up power willingly. It has to be taken — often by force”.

That meant that women thought men wanted to oppress them. Gay, bi-sexual,trans-gendered folks believed that “straights” wanted to oppress them. Black folk and Hispanic folk believed (or were taught, anyway) that White folks sat around all day planning ways to oppress them.  Gone were the days of “radical” men, it was a crime to be a liberal .  But more than that, people on the left were divided into camps who believed they couldn’t talk to each other — or, if they were smart, shouldn’t. 

This year marks the return — at least in the movies — of the Good White Male who disproves the notion that people in power won’t give it up.  First, there was Lincoln, and now there’s Branch Rickey. For years, there has been the “Buddy movie” that said that, as long as it was funny in some way, Blacks and Whites could work together. The implication that it was possible to work together, as long as we could pretend it wasn’t really happening or shouldn’t.  Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy didn’t like each other and weren’t supposed to be working together, but they could respect each other. Maybe that was the best we could get.  

This year, in films, Tommy Lee Jones breaks the rules by being in love with and sleeping with a Black woman in Lincoln. Of course, Lincoln, also freed the slaves. Now we are treated to Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey, owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Maybe there’s a trend. My wife and I spent the last few weeks watching an old show called The Guardian which has a straight man who could care less that a colleague is either gay or bi as the other man’s character struggles with his sexuality. 

The fact is that there have always been people in power who have given it up.  Some men had to vote to give women the right to vote. One king had to give up power so that the Magna Carta could be signed (though I don’t remember how willing he was), One white man had to allow Jackie Robinson to play baseball, but there were millions who welcomed him.  Christians for centuries have been allowing women to be a part of  religious life. Jesus — a man — talked to women all the time and modeled for us the rightness of this.  There are plenty of heterosexual men and women who support gay marriage. 

Today, there are still millions of Straight, White, Male Christians who don’t act on that piece of Biblical history and won’t ordain women. There are straight Christians (I assume they are straight —  I don’t look in their bedrooms either) who spend more time hating LGBT folks than loving Christ. There are still racist men and women everywhere. We call them wrong  where I’m from.  And there are lots of people where I’m from. 

I understand the pressure to maintain the status quo. I understand the ignorance of power that infects us all. I understand lots of cultures and ideas — because I want to

What it takes for that desire to take root can be experience, or it can be the teachings of something bigger than ourselves. In Branch Rickey’s case, it was God and Baseball. For Lincoln, it was a belief in democracy, and a unified America.  For men who gave women the right to vote, it was the sense of equality as a good thing.  For me, it was the sense of right-and-wrong taught in Sunday school. When I saw (in Junior High) White gang members causing all kinds of trouble and Black non-members getting in trouble for it, it was easy to see which group I wanted to hang out with — the good ones.  My mother and father had gay friends for as long as I could remember. My mother and father had Black friends as they worked together at the factory. Like President Obama, my mother raised me on one salary — hers.  Why on earth would I believe that women were inferior or that gay folks shouldn’t be at my house or that all Blacks were lazy? I wouldn’t and I don’t.

I’m a pacifist. Why would I believe that it’s ok for a man to hit a woman? Why would I believe it’s ok for a woman to hit a man? Or either gender to hit either gender? Where did I learn my pacifism? I learned it from a Black man who learned it from an Indian man. 

I believe that all human beings are created by God. Where did I learn that? From another bunch of White men who treasured all people (Hi, Gordon, Bob, Peter, Charlie). I work with truckloads of clergy who take it as an issue of faith  that all people are worthy of their attention and that God can call anyone to ministry — that list is way too long to do here).

My brother is not clergy and he believes in openness to all people. A former member of my Youth Group from New York sees and hates racism, classism, and sexism enough to quit his job over it in a tough economy (Hi, Derek!). I couldn’t be prouder of him. My friend Ron, not a Christian, participated in Occupy protests because he believes in fairness and good health care for all.  

There are a lot  of men who care for women in every race, religion, and creed. There are a lot of White men who care for non-whites. There are a lot of men who are “straight but not narrow”. Believe in them, because they believe in you unless given cause otherwise.

As time goes by, there are jerks in all of those categories who make the news. As long as you say “that’s the way they are”, you make it seem like it’s not a choice. Racism, sexism, heterosexism, violence, oppression, sin of every kind — these are all choices. I know this because there are men who choose not to do it every day.  And even when they don’t do the right thing, they know what it is. 

Let us look for a community that welcomes good people. Let us build a community of everyone who wants to build a community. Let’s believe in the chance for communication between people who “shouldn’t” get along. Let us believe that it’s wiser to trust each other than to not when someone offers help. And when we see that there are more people in that circle than we knew, let’s invite those who believe in hate  because they haven’t experienced love.  Let’s build our hope instead of giving into our hate. Allow me to act as though you’re human and God-created and worthy of my time. believe me, you will be doing both of us a favor.









People In Your Neighborhood — Patti

One of the joys of belonging to a church is that you meet people you wouldn’t normally get to meet. While Sunday morning is still one of the most racially segregated times of the week in America, South Church in New Britain is a real mix of people of all colors, classes, ages, denominations and ethnicities.

One of the joys of belonging to an Open and Affirming church is that you get to meet more , as they sing on Sesame Street, “people in your neighborhood”.

Patti is one of those people from the “neighborhood” that is South Church. She is a deacon, she sings in the choir. She used to be a teacher (maybe still is?). She continues to grow as a person — recently she went back to school — she’s now a pastry chef and married. Patti — after years with one nice woman, married a spiritually feisty younger woman this year and they seem to balance each other out really well.

When my wife and I joined South Church, Patti was one of the first people at South Church we met, and the distinguishing thing I noticed was her haircut that screamed “I’m a lesbian”. Of course, the pink triangle button added to the impression, but it was mostly her haircut that made me assume she was gay.

That said, because I have trouble with names in the early stages of meeting someone, Patti became “that nice lesbian”. If we were talking about her after church, I’d say to my wife, “you know, the nice lesbian whose-name-I-forget really gets our kid. I guess she works with Special Needs kids and she absolutely treasures our younger daughter. Says she’s really bright and creative”. This is a good thing to hear when your child has you at your wits end. Children aren’t always easy, but Patti said it more than once just to make sure we got it. (We like to think our children are brilliant, but every once in awhile, it was nice to be reminded of it when they were getting into things or running around at the speed of light).

Patti is — like many people in churches — remarkable but not spectacular about it– and that’s what makes her special. She’s not a public figure like a politician. I don’t know her political views, though I could guess. She’s not on the news, changing the discourse on public policy with the pundits. Instead, she is one of those people who changes your life in small ways, building people up until they believe in themselves and others. She is the person that always gives a hug if you ask for it, but will also tell you the truth if you ask her for it — the kind of person that slows down a screaming child with a big hug.

So, on her birthday, here’s to Patti and all other people who just make life worth living — the people you meet in your average Open and Affirming neighborhood.