Monday, June 19, 2006

Letter from the Birmingham Convention Center, cont.

I walked into a deli at lunch time today and wound up in line in front of a past moderator of GA. He served as moderator of the 1978 GA which passed what became the definitive guidance to the church on homosexuality.
He expressed a profound hope that the PUP report, if passed in its entirety, might help the church twist free from the reified opposition in which we've been locked these past 30 years.
I share that hope, even though I long for a day of justice upon which true peace is built; a day of equality upon which unity is based; a day of compassion of unsurpassed purity. The PUP report is not the end which many of us desire -- the final removal of G-6.0106b from the Book of Order. Still, it may just be a means toward that end.
Being in Birmingham, many of us are reaching to the Civil Rights Movements for historical analogies. With respect to the rights of GLBT folks we are not yet in Birmingham. We are closer to Montgomery and the bus boycott. That movement laid claim to an ultimate aim of ending racial discrimination, but it did not ask for the end of all legal discrimination. Rather, it asked initially for a simple change in the relationship, in the social arrangements between black folks and white folks in the Jim Crow South. Literally, it asked for a new way of being together on the bus.
The PUP report does not ask for the end of legal discrimination in the church, but it does ask for a new way of being together as church. Just as Montgomery did more to change social space than it did to change legal space, the PUP report could do more to change ecclesiastical space than it does to change constitutional space in church orders. It's a slim reed, indeed, but it's the only one to grasp at right now.
As we stood in line in the deli, I noticed that many of the folks around us wore red bagdes that read "juror." They were on their own lunch break from trials in the nearby justice center. Somewhere in that complex, I think, is the Birmingham City jail from which Dr. King wrote his famous letter. At one table in the deli, three young African-American women wearing the juror badges were enjoying their lunch. In 1963, when King was jailed here, jurors who judged any case in Alabama were always all white. (Indeed, they were also all men, because it was against the law for women to serve on juries in Alabama in 1963, too.) Defenders of the Jim Crow South grounded their positions in scripture (as did those who opposed recognizing the rights of women).
But today, Birmingham, Selma and Montgomery claim their places in the history of an expanding dream of justice and equality. The beloved community is as yet unrealized. Racism, homophobia, patricarchy remain facts of life here and around the world. Nevertheless, the simple act of standing in line in a downtown deli in Birmingham today gives me hope that the justice arc bends ever closer to that day when black folks and white folks, Protestants and Catholics, Jews and Gentiles, women and men, straight and gay can gather together around one table -- and please, make it a New York deli instead of a Birmingham one! Oy!
Whether or not PUP emerges will likely be determined tomorrow. It escaped unscathed from committee but was chased by a minority report that will haunt us in the morning. For an extended report, see the GA news. We are sure to enjoy a long day of parliamentary procedures. Robert's Rules do not the kingdom usher in, I am certain.
The Spirit of Pentecost is not decent and in order. Maybe tomorrow the church of Jesus Christ will not be either.

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