Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Of Rolexes and False Prophets

Of Rolexes and False Prophets

On occasion, on a day of exceptional clarity and humility, it is possible to see one’s own holy judgment.  It happens when I catch myself in a lie and again when I refuse to forgive someone who betrays me.  But most recently it happened when a very slight, but very real internal smile fell upon my heart at the robbery of one of Detroit richest clergy members.  With sincerity I tell you, the smile only came after I learned he was physically well, bruised but not broken.  However, when the dust cleared and all that was left was a press conference, the smile was real.  I lay before you my confession:

The Detroit Free Press reported that the Rev. Marvin Winans was robbed at a gas station in Detroit by a group of young men, all in the light of day.  A clearly unashamed act of violence and perpetration of ugliness, the young men did what they could to destroy their victim’s ability to hold on to his possessions, much less his dignity.  At the loss of his 2012 Infinity, Rolex watch and a wad of cash, he was left as a Biblical traveler on the side of the road.  Finally, a person who recognized his celebrity invited him into her car and carried him to his church home.  Ironically, the new church home, a reflection of his lost Rolex, is not yet completed due to years of financial backs and forth.  When the final bricks are laid, it will be an honor to the Winans name.

Perfecting Church and the Rev. Winans are part of a theological movement known disparagingly by its critics as prosperity ministry.  An extra-biblical theology, prosperity roots itself in a particular kind of American capitalism, the kind that made slavery profitable and women’s suffrage a threat.  (Women tend to vote for policies that help the poor more often than men do.)  This particular brand of capitalism, endorsed by slave owners and prosperity ministers alike, upholds a false theology that claims God blesses through wealth.  In fact, it often, even usually does not matter how that wealth is obtained.  As long as one has it, one is blessed by God.  Rich people are blessed.  Poor people have yet to receive their blessing.  Your blessing is achieved while becoming a slave to the pursuit of more stuff. 

Prosperity ministry relies on self-absorption and the orientation of life toward the acquisition of material goods, such as Rolex watches.  When a person’s core value is the acquisition of wealth, it makes sense that people who do not have wealth, will do whatever they need to get it.  The Rev. Winans recently lived through the obvious result of his own preaching.  While I certainly do not know the circumstances of the young men who perpetrated this crime against the reverend, it can safely be assumed that they wanted what he had.   They wanted their blessing too. 

The pastor showed his own self-absorption by hoping his robbery will be a sign for the city to turn around, and that even the governor is calling him to assure it.  A glaringly noticeable absence in his public comments is recognition of the suffering of others, beyond his own person, of the hundreds who have been victims of crime in Detroit this year alone. 

Prosperity ministry contrasts itself with a theology of the cross which stands in the hope of the giving of oneself.   Most importantly, the theology of the cross stands in the giving of God, that God gave up everything to save the people.  Accordingly, Christians are called to give of themselves in their time, their possessions and their wealth in the pursuit of love and justice for the world, and value the same things as Jesus.   Namely, we are called to value people over material goods. 

Life in Detroit is hard, yet rich with the opportunity to touch lives with words and actions.  Life in Detroit is the holiest ground for a true gospel of the cross.  The only way to see the amazing life of the city is to give up oneself.  Selfish living is the beginning of the emptying of hope. 

When pastors, preachers and politicians speak about the downfalls of our city from the cowardly built walls of ex-urban security, they expose the idiocy and selfishness of their own selves.  When the true prophets of large churches climb into the pulpits they will encourage the members of their vast, upper middle class congregations to move their lives to Detroit.  They will encourage their membership to pay Detroit taxes, to build and rebuild neighborhoods and become the holy population base necessary to have a thriving city that truly loves its own people.  Unfortunately, so far we are only hearing the pompous and impotent cries of holy men (almost always men) rallying around the useless cries of lost moral values.  The word justice, other than for the return of their Rolex watches, never crosses their lips.  A true prophet however, would move his or her wealth blessing into the city, and leave its profit as a prophetic witness to the struggle of equity for the poor, and the young men who no longer see hope in wealth.  

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Gay Christian Money

Perhaps the only symbol more recognized by Christians than the cross is the dollar sign.  Purists are filled with angst when we mention such realities, but those of us on the ground understand that without money good things are much harder to accomplish.  Without money we are not able to support staff, whether pastors or ministers, administrators or youth mentors who do good things.  Finances supply food programs, educate preschoolers and provide assistance to the poor.  Buildings that serve as gathering spaces, shelters for the lost and outcast take funding to operate.  Good things happen with money.  Money is not bad, nor is it good, but is a tool to do good or bad in the communities we serve. 

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Giving USA estimates that $101 billion was given to religious organizations in 2010.  It is an astounding number that represents the power of religion in our culture.  The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community is represented in that $101 billion.  In fact, if we very unscientifically assume that about ten percent of the church and its tithing members are from the lgbt community, more than $10 billion dollars comes from our pockets to the church.  Add to that number the giving of allied heterosexual families, and the dollars may be staggering.  $15 billion?  $20 billion?

In the Christian tradition we give because God calls us to give of ourselves.  Whether we take the Biblical mandate of ten percent, or another figure, we do it because we know that giving is a sign of faith.  Giving is an acknowledgment of a wider group of believers that is bigger than the simple individualistic relationship of me and God.  Traditionally, tithing was intended to support the outcast and the weak, literally the widow and the orphan. 

Why is it then that so many lgbt people and our allies are tithing to churches that do no such thing when it comes to our community?  We are tithing to churches that seek to “re-program” us, isolate us, condemn us, or give us phony platitudes such as “Love the sinner, hate the sin.”    Many of us live in the closets of our own churches, supporting the very institution that would prefer we did not even exist, and in some cases actively pursues policies and practices that try to eradicate us. 

Unfortunately, every day, I am fighting you.  As an out Christian Lutheran and Episcopal clergy person I am abused every day by you.  Your tithe to your church that condemns lgbt people is being used against me, and millions of other people, including you.  You are, however, my brothers and sisters, so let me make some suggestions.

Like you, I need to give of myself.  Tithing is not a habit, but a deep part of our beings, a way of showing gratitude, even on the days when it is hard to find something for which to be grateful.  Do not stifle your tithe, but send it somewhere else.  Send it to Christian congregations that are working for full inclusion, not only of lgbt people, but of women, and people of all income levels, races, and cultural backgrounds.  Many of us exist!  Your church might pretend that we are as rare as a snowball in hell, but we are here in a much larger abundance than you may imagine.  Open your eyes to the powerful spirit of inclusion that is around you, preaching to you and teaching you love in the strangest of places.  If that does not work, google us. 

When you need to be in that church, even if every week, with your mother or your grandmother, we know you need to be there.  Coming out is a process only you can know is right for you.  (Ten years ago I was closeted and in the pulpit.)  Please, however, stop tithing in that place.  Take a dollar bill and put it in a bright clean envelope, and place it in the offering place, but send the tithe to us.

If for some reason sending that tithe to an inclusive church does not suit you, find a community organization that does good things, that shelters lgbt people who are abused, or that supports youth or elderly members of our community.  Even send it to the campaign office of the president of the United States.  After all, in these past months, he has done more to teach God’s love for the lgbt community than your church ever will.