Sounds Like ‘All Lives Matter’ To Me – An Open Letter to John Pavlovitz

Hello, John.

I address you as a fellow Christian, a fellow pastor, a fellow blogger, and a person who is also very supportive of LGBT persons.

I have always enjoyed and continue to enjoy reading your blog entries. You are entirely unafraid to discuss issues of faith and action which are ignored in many church circles. Your willingness to explore the place of doubt and uncertainty in Christian faith is a breath of fresh air in an all-too-often stale religious atmosphere.

There’s one area, though…

While you’ve been very explicit and untiring in your support of the LGBTQ community (I tend to say the LGBT+ community, as the categories of sexual and gender identity keep increasing, making for a potentially unwieldy acronym!), you’ve made the decision to not embrace the label ‘LGBTQ ally’. You appear to have best described this in your blog entry[1], ‘Thoughts On The Gay Community, Humanity, And Why I’m Not An LGBTQ Ally’[2], where you have written:

I really don’t like to think of myself as an LGBTQ ally. I’m a pastor. I’m a Christian. I’m an ally for all people; I just consider LGBTQ people, people. Sadly that is still a novelty in The Church and that is why these labels remain relevant. As a straight man, that doesn’t mean I ever believe that I can speak for someone who is gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender with regard to their sexuality or their story, but I can try to speak what I believe is the heart of God for all people and make sure that they are fully represented in that all-people advocacy. I can and do fight for the rights of LGBTQ individuals to have a place at the table, where their voices are as heard and respected and valued as anyone else’s, but that doesn’t mean I can make them all happy, nor should that be my goal…

Until we see all humanity from the perspective of God, all our labels will be problematic and ultimately incomplete. On some level I understand the usefulness of these terms, and as a straight pastor supporting LGBTQ people I realize that I am in a position of speaking my support for many whose voices have not been represented or heard. I take that honor and responsibility very seriously but at my core I am working hard toward a Church where such distinctions are unnecessary…

More recently, you published a meme/poster on your Facebook page at the time of IDAHOT, which someone shared on the page for another group I’m a member of. It showed the rainbow and a quote from you: ‘I’m not an LGBTQ ally. I’m an ally for all people. I just consider LGBTQ people, people.’[3]

Believe me, I understand your perspective. I, too, am concerned that LGBT+ persons be considered full members of the human family, including of spiritual communities. As a person who is pastoral leader of an LGBT+ affirming congregation, I’m very explicit in making that clear wherever I go and in whatever I do.

And yet, this emphasis of yours on saying ‘I support everybody’ and ‘I just consider LGBTQ people, people’ is beginning to sound like ‘All Lives Matter’ to me – uncomfortably so. I understand you may bristle at this comment, and may even be tempted to discount the rest of this letter out of hand. I would understand that, but I hope you’ll read on.

Of course, you know, probably better than I, where ‘All Lives Matter’ comes from – it’s basically the ‘white privilege’ response to the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, which began in reaction to the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin, and exponentially grew after the killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson MI and Eric Garner in The Bronx NY.[4] So many writers and commentators have eloquently and accurately criticized this meme for its inappropriacy. One of my favorite critiques is the one by Bill Maher: ‘There are people [who] say…the phrase should be ‘All Lives Matter.’ I disagree. That implies that all lives are equally at risk, and they’re not.’[5]

To paraphrase Hamlet, ‘Here’s the rub’. The very fact is that in many places around the world – even in the United States, ‘land of the free and home of the brave’, where marriage equality has been recently won after many years of struggle – LGBT+ lives continue to be under attack. Kim Davis tried to deny same-sex couples the right to receive marriage licenses.[6] Alabama has been another state where the battle over same-sex marriage licenses has been drawn out.[7] And, of course, there are the infamous ‘bathroom bills’ circulating within various states.[8] In one state, the fear has been stoked to the degree that students are being encouraged to carry weapons into bathrooms to assault anyone whom they don’t think should be in there[9].

And if you’re wondering about the situation in the place where I live, South Korea – well, I suspect you can guess. Just last year, the Korea Queer Culture Festival – Seoul’s Pride Festival and Parade – had to go to court to be allowed to go on without interference from the CCFs (conservative Christian forces) or onerous regulations by local police (see my blog posts from May and June 2015). There hasn’t been a moment’s peace since then, though. Ministries and municipalities have been pressured to rescind anti-LGBT discrimination rules (see ‘the OWEED Vortex’, 20 October 2015[10]). A ‘homosexual healing school’, dedicated to the chicanery known as ‘conversion/reparative therapy’, has been established (see ‘Steps Back, Steps Forward’, 30 January 2016). People associated with these forces have been trying to shut down dialogue between the National Council of Churches in Korea and a well-known film director and LGBT-rights activist[11]. And now that the 2016 KQCF has been given permission by Seoul City Hall to set up in Seoul Plaza, CCFs have decided to hold a festival on the three previous days – one can only wonder if they’re planning a ‘heaven no, we won’t go’ on midnight of Friday, June 10th![12]

The response of most national government ministries and agencies has been useless. They have continued to say, almost in chorus, that they can speak about human rights only in the most general terms, and that speaking about any particular group is engaging in preferential advocacy for that group. Some of the recent appointees to these groups have openly sought to appease the CCFs through statements and actions (see ‘The OWEED Vortex’, 20 October 2015).

In the midst of this, it seems to me that saying ‘I just consider LGBTQ people, people’ simply doesn’t cut it. It’s just not enough. To me, that has about the same strength as one of the latest English-language slogans of the Korean Ministry for Gender Equality: ‘Just Equality’. Yeah…just equality, as in ‘you’re only equal. If we try to do anything else, that will be showing preference, and we can’t have that!’

As I look throughout history, there are countless examples of groups having to advocate for their rights to be considered full members of their local and national communities, and by implication, of the human community. The civil rights movement for people of African descent is a classic example. Josiah Wedgewood stood up for abolition by designing the medallion that had the piercing question, ‘Am I Not a Man and a Brother?’[13] Frances Dana Gage’s recording of Sojourner Truth’s speech of 1851 resonated with the question, ‘Ain’t I a woman?’[14] When sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee went on strike in 1968, their rallying cry was an emphatic answer to Wedgewood’s question: ‘I AM A MAN!’[15] And let’s remember – one of the primary areas where the civil rights movement waged its battles was toilets, bathrooms.

My point is that one of the primary thrusts of the civil rights movement, from the birth of abolitionism to the ‘Back Lives Matter’ movement today, is the forthright assertion, at times stated aggressively (and necessarily so), is that African-Americans deserve to be considered as ‘people’, ‘fully human’, and no less than fully human. Moreover, the support of those from the ‘privileged’ segments of society was vital – be it Josiah Wedgewood’s medallion; or Frances Dana Barker Gage’s and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s writings about Sojourner Truth; or the numbers of white people who were willing to march, protest, and die, if need be, along with African-Americans to guarantee full inclusion in American society. Through their words and actions, they did not say ‘We just view African-Americans as people’. They proclaimed ‘African-Americans ARE PEOPLE!’ They were allies, in word and deed.

It seems to me that we’re in a similar watershed moment, be it in South Korea or in the United States. Those of us in the sexual majority – and as a cisgender heterosexual male I know I’m part of that majority – need to take a clear stance and say ‘LGBT+ people ARE PEOPLE!’ To do that, I have to lay aside my white heterosexual privilege and visibly stand with the LGBT+ community in this country – even if it means I get yelled at or poked in the chest by conservative Christians; even if it means I have to endure a three-minute ‘death stare’ from a young security guard who should know better about encountering his elders (see ‘Fighting Season’, 16 April 2016); even if it means putting my job at risk, which I do every time I take a public stand for the rights of LGBT+ persons in this country. I’m an ally, and proud to call myself one.

I also realize that, as Christians, we have to address the ‘faith’ aspect of this issue, too. At times throughout history, Christians have had to highlight certain sub-groups and say, ‘They belong, too.’ Throughout church history, we’ve had to connect the words ‘good’ and ‘gentile’; ‘good’ and ‘black’; ‘good’ and ‘woman’; and even ‘good’ and ‘gay’. Yes, it’s within the context of the declaration that in ‘putting on Christ’, there is no longer division between people based on gender, ethnic identity, or status (Galatians 3:23-29) – but let’s remember that this declaration was brought about by a specific circumstance out of which arose a specific question about specific groups of people: ‘Can Jesus followers of Jewish and non-Jewish heritage share in table fellowship?’ Part of Paul’s answer was (and is), ‘Through baptism, gentiles are full members of the Christ community, just like Jewish members are!’

I don’t expect to change your mind on the conclusions you’ve reached, John – I have great respect for the position you’ve taken, even if it’s one that I cannot embrace for myself. Perhaps what we might be able to agree on is that, instead of saying ‘I just think LGBTQ people, are people’, we can say and write with conviction, ‘LGBT+ people ARE PEOPLE, and deserve to be treated AS PEOPLE – NO LESS!’ That might be a good common meeting ground.

May God continue to richly bless your ministry, your writing, and your activism.

In Christ,

Craig Bartlett

Pastoral Leader, Open Doors Metropolitan Community Church, Seoul, Republic of Korea

[1] Just to let you know, I put in footnotes for my general readership, to show that I seek to be as thorough and accurate as possible in my research and writing. It’s the scholar in me!

[2] Pavlovitz, J (2015, June 8) ‘Thoughts On The Gay Community, Humanity, And Why I’m Not An LGBTQ Ally’. In John Pavlovitz: Stuff That Needs to Be Said [online]. Accessed 19 May 2016 at http://johnpavlovitz.com/2015/06/08/thoughts-on-the-gay-community-humanity-and-why-im-not-an-lgbt-ally/.

[3] Pavlovitz, J (2016, 17 May). #‎internationaldayagainsthomophobia #‎IDAHOT2016 [Facebook, online]. Accessed 19 May 2016 at https://www.facebook.com/john.pavlovitz/posts/10156939105700113.

[4] A good summary of its history can be found at Day, E (2015, 19 July) #BlackLivesMatter: the birth of a new civil rights movement. In the guardian [online]. Accessed 19 May 2015 at http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jul/19/blacklivesmatter-birth-civil-rights-movement.

[5] In Hanchett, I (2015, 21 August). Maher: The Phrase Shouldn’t Be ‘All Lives Matter’. In BREITBART [online]. Accessed 19 May 2016 at http://www.breitbart.com/video/2015/08/21/maher-the-phrase-shouldnt-be-all-lives-matter/.

[6] A good summary of her involvement can be found at ‘Kim Davis (county clerk)’, in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia (Wikimedia Foundation; last modified 24 May 2016) [online]. Accessed 24 May 2016 at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kim_Davis_%28county_clerk%29.

[7] Again, Wikipedia provides a good summary of the struggle: ‘Same-sex marriage in Alabama’, in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia (Wikimedia Foundation; last modified 12 May 2016) [online]. Accessed 24 May 2016 at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Same-sex_marriage_in_Alabama.

[8] A good opinion piece – with a bias, yes, but still a good distillation of the issues (IMHO) – is Fae, J (2016, 12 May), ‘Bathroom bills’ are an attempt to eliminate transgender people from public space’. The Telegraph [online]. Accessed 24 May 2016 from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/05/12/transgender-bathroom-bills-dont-have-to-be-enforced–bigots-will/.

[9] Rider, R (2016, 10 May), RSS board: high schoolers will be allowed to carry pepper spray. Salisbury Post [online]. Accessed 24 May 2016 at http://www.salisburypost.com/2016/05/10/board-amends-policies-to-allow-pepper-spray-shaving-razors-on-campuses/.

[10] These citations refer to entries in my blog My Hue in the Rainbow: Reflections of a Straight Leader in a ‘Gay’ Church [online], at https://myhueintherainbow.wordpress.com/).

[11] Kim, N R, Paek, S H, and Ahn-Park, Y (2016, 27 April), NCCK Conversation Seeks to Listen or Advocates Homosexuality? The Kukmin Daily [online]. Accessed 24 May 2016 at http://www.kukmindaily.co.kr/article/view.asp?page=4&gCode=7000&arcid=0010569958&code=71111101.

[12] Kim, B E (2016, 17 May), Queer festival continues to face hurdles. The Korea Times [online]. Accessed 20 May 2016 at http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/nation/2016/05/116_204934.html.

[13] In ‘Josiah Wedgewood’ , in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia (Wikimedia Foundation; last modified 6 May 2016) [online]. Accessed 24 May 2016 at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josiah_Wedgwood.

[14] Sojourner Truth Institute of Battle Creek (n.d.) ‘Ain’t I A Woman?’ [online] Sojourner Truth Institute [online]. Accessed 24 May 2016 at http://www.sojournertruth.org/Library/Speeches/AintIAWoman.htm.

[15] In ‘Memphis Sanitation Strike’ , in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia (Wikimedia Foundation; last modified 13 May 2016) [online]. Accessed 24 May 2016 at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memphis_Sanitation_Strike.

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