Monthly Archives: October 2014

An Ally Every. Single. Day.

Back in February, I “came out” as it were as an “open and affirming” chaplain. It’s had an interesting effect on my ministry. Over the last few months, after leaving the prison and going to my mid-career Army chaplain school, it’s been revealing just what that means for me.

1. It means being an ally every day – for example, yesterday, when I took this picture in front of the Circular Church in Charleston, SC, one chaplain made a comment about the “interesting colors.”

God is still speaking

I replied by saying how cool it was that when this church said they welcomed everyone, they meant it. Another chaplain made a comment about the size of the church, something like, “Well, no wonder they are dying since they left the truth” – or words to that effect. I gently questioned if he was saying that there were not conservative churches dying across the country? Then pointed out that this church, unlike many others, had been around since the 1600s.

 

Progressive Church

Conversation quickly moved on.

I’m not a quick-witted person; I wish I had zingers that I could throw out there, but I’ve realized that the best way to advocate for others is to simply tell the other story, counter the embedded narrative and to do it in love.

2. It means being gentle and allowing people to grow in their time. Not everyone is ready for their theology to be drastically confronted. To be clear, I am much harder on chaplains than any other group since they, of all people, should understand treating others with dignity and respect – and should be able to handle having their theology questioned. Sometimes, I’m gentle in poking holes in arguments or reflecting what a statement might sound like to an LGB* Soldier – other times, I just lay it out there and watch the sparks fly.

Either way, I try valiantly to couch all advocacy in love.

But bullying – that I confront. There is too much to loose.

3. It means saying it out loud. I’ve talked to more chaplains about this subject than any other. Saying, “Well, look. I’m open to everyone, if they would just talk to me, reach out to me, they would find that I’m a loving and caring individual.”

That’s not enough.

And it’s not going to happen.

Here’s the thing: when dealing with those who have been battered and bullied by theology and churches for this long – we need to be clear and direct about how we, as clergy, will interact with them. If you are truly welcoming, then say it and be specifically inclusive. Let people know who you are welcoming to, and how you will treat them when they come to you. Put up signs. Make statements.

Sign

4. It means being an ally for everyone. I have found that it’s not just LGB* Soldiers that need an ally – I try to use my limited status, power, and responsibility as an Army chaplain/officer to be an ally for all minority groups I come across. Minority faith groups need intentionality. Women, other ethnicities – it means separating from a joke, even the well meaning ones – because joking from a position of power and majority sounds an awful lot like bullying.

It means saying something.

And that is where it’s actually the hardest.

I think the most important lesson I’ve learned about being an O&A chaplain is this: being an advocate for others requires more than just big statements and signs on my door, it means taking the small opportunities to talk to others, challenging assumptions, and lovingly letting others know:

You are welcome here.

By the way, this blog inspired me to write this morning. Good thoughts.

*I say LGB since the Army has yet to allow Trans Soldiers to serve openly, though it’s looking at the problem.

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Billy Graham Library, A Mechanical Cow, and what unintentional prejudice looks like

Facepalm.

It was a total facepalm moment.

There I was, staring at the silly mechanical talking cow that was introducing me to the farming history of Billy Graham. It was a protestant chaplain field trip to the Billy Graham Museum, Charlotte NC. The opening exhibit is a full size talking cow that praises God and Billy Graham. Its four minutes of “halleluah-indnt-God-great-praise-Jesus-this-is-where-Billy-was-born” talk.

In the best stereotypical “Aunt Jemima” black woman voice I’ve heard… ever…

It’s the only distinctively black voice in the entire museum. The only one. Every other voice I heard was distinctively Caucasian. Mostly, who you hear speak are narrators and Billy Graham but they are all serious and they are all white.

The only levity in the whole place is the silly praising talking cow, in the barn, behind the fence. It’s meant to be funny, bring a smile, and appeal to the kiddos.

And it’s the only black voice.

In 2014.

Celebrating a man who worked diligently (at least that is certainly what the museum said in its various exhibits) at working toward reconciliation and bringing diversity to the world.

For what it’s worth, I seek to understand Billy Graham in the world in which he was raised, I give him great credit as a person who worked for and actually achieved reconciliation and diversity across the American religious landscape.

It’s what makes the decision to make the only person of color voice the silly, talking cow even worse.

And then there was the prayer.

Before we went in, an older man who works for the library wanted to pray for the large group of Army chaplains who was about the tour the museum. In his prayer, he passionately prayed for male chaplains who bring the gospel to male Soldiers. I know he didn’t mean to exclude the female chaplain who was there, I’m certain that he didn’t intend to exclude all the female Soldiers in the US Army – but he did.

This is why we, as Christians and certainly as chaplains have GOT to be more intentional about inclusive language. We need to name everyone.

I’m certain that the library didn’t intend to be prejudicial when they chose the black voice for the talking cow, I’m sure that when they respond to the letter I’m sending them, that they’ll talk about Billy’s dedication to diversity and reconciliation.

It just highlights how blind we white men tend to be when it comes to minorities. We are just unaware of who we leave out and what prejudice looks like.

We’re better than this.

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Filed under Army, Chaplaincy, Two Pastor Family