Monday, February 23, 2009

Thank God for Giving Us Harvey Milk

I didn’t watch the Academy Awards last night, but I did read some of the reports this morning. And one of the acceptance speeches caught my eye. Dustin Lance Black won the Oscar for best screenplay, for the movie “Milk,” a story about Harvey Milk, California’s first openly Gay elected official. This is part of his speech:

“When I was 13 years old, my beautiful mother and my father moved me from a conservative Mormon home in San Antonio, Texas to California and I heard the story of Harvey Milk. And it gave me hope. It gave me the hope to live my life, it gave me the hope to one day live my life openly as who I am and that maybe even I could fall in love and one day get married.”

(He chokes up, audience begins to applaud.)

“I want to thank my mom who has always loved me for who I am, even when there was pressure not to. But most of all, if Harvey had not been taken from us 30 years ago, I think he’d want me to say to all of the gay and lesbian kids out there tonight who have been told that they are less than by their churches or by the government or by their families that you are beautiful, wonderful creatures of value and that no matter what anyone tells you, God does love you and that very soon, I promise you, you will have equal rights, federally, across this great nation of ours. (Wild applause from the audience.) Thank you, thank you, and thank you God for giving us Harvey Milk.”

He speaks of those “gay and lesbian kids . . . who have been told that they are less than by their churches.”

A few weeks ago I received an email from a woman who wanted to know whether her gay son would be accepted in our church. She knew that many churches would tolerate him, and some would maybe even love him, in spite of believing that he should not be who he was. Would we in Dustin Lance Black's words, be telling him that he was "less than?" Or would we really accept him as a whole person? It is sad and even shameful that she would feel that she had to ask the question. But the truth is that this is an issue on which the churches have failed miserably.

At our best, the church has been at the forefront of the great social movements in the United States and across the world. This leadership has never been unanimous. We have always had people who wanted the church to go backwards. But in spite of our internal conflicts, we have moved forward. We led on abolition. We led on labor reform. We led on women’s suffrage. We can’t even imagine the Civil Rights Movement without the Black Church. But on homosexual rights, we have been captives of our culture.

Our kids deserve better. Whether they are gay or straight, they deserve better. Years from now, we will look back and be ashamed.


  1. Reform is happening throughout the country. Methodists have taken the helm in California. Sixty-two ministers have put their positions within the church at risk because of their beliefs and their support of gay rights. Our church's leadership is not on the fence with regard to the issue of homosexuality. Homosexuality is neither contagious or more dangerous than driving a car. The basis of determining whether a gay person is qualified to be a good or bad pastor seems to be leaning towards the stereotypical. If that is the case then lets examine their supposed profile. Gays are overly sensitive. Gays are unafraid of their feelings. Gays tend to be compassionate especially with the downtrodden and less fortunate. Gays are well dressed and clean cut. Gays are very social and friendly. Gays believe in freedom of choice and expression and fairness and equality and... Seems to be a dangerous profile. Our children need to become even more aware and able to co-exist in this modern world or suffer the ignorance of our oppressors of yore. Or to push the point a bit further, fight a no win war in a far away land for a price too great to bear.

  2. The opposing viewpoints on this issue rely on a series of assumptions.

    1. There are assumptions about what it means to be gay. Is it an “unnatural” lifestyle which is chosen or is it how some people are born and therefore how they “naturally” form emotionally meaningful relationships with other people?

    2. There are assumptions about translations and the language of the Bible. The NIV mentions homosexuality by name NRSV does not. There is some debate about what the “sins of Sodom” are.

    3. There are assumptions about what the Bible is. Even if we can agree on language, there are some that see the Bible the inerrant word of God. Personally I see it as a collection of authors who were inspired by God but are still subject to their own prejudices and cultural limitations.

    I think someone changing just ONE of these assumptions is tough. Changing your mind on all three requires a major shift in thinking.

    The vast majority of the Bible points to accepting those who are cast out, seeking justice for the oppressed, loving your neighbor, and showing compassion without invoking superiority. Although there are some hateful people out there, I think the majority of those people who are against gay rights are good people who just do not have someone close to them who is gay. They haven’t seen the pain that the judgment and rejection can bring. A disproportionate amount of homeless youth are gay kids who did not feel loved at home. The Church should realize that it is responsible for some of that.

    The Christian obligation is clear. We are called to accept people as they are without the condescending, “love the sinner and hate the sin.”

    Although the portion of Black’s speech about “churches” stings a bit, the truth needed to be said. On the upside, Black still talks about God in the context of understanding and love.