Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama crossed paths at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania, last night. They were there to be called to task by people of faith on issues like climate change, human rights and torture, poverty, genocide in Darfur, and the AIDS crisis. Just think about that -- it's a brilliant progressive strategy to reclaim the religious narrative about politics that's been obsessed with abortion and homosexuality for far too long.
I grew up in a large, conservative Presbyterian church in Knoxville, Tennessee. Now I work for a nonprofit in San Francisco, but my big sister is still on the youth ministry staff at the church I grew up in. Over the last few years, my sister has told me about a miracle that's unfolding in her church: they're realizing that social, racial, and economic justice aren't "liberal" causes -- they're moral problems that should call people of faith into action. And it's not just happening in my sister's church -- there's a movement, an awakening, all over the country, that's being pushed and organized by leaders like Jim Wallis, Shane Claborne, and Rob Bell.
So far, so good. But there's one really big problem -- this progressive movement of Christians still doesn't support us LGBT folk. They think that we're confused, misguided, and living in sin, and they believe that some people are better than others because of their sexual orientation.
The great irony of last night's "Compassion Forum" is that it was held at a college with an explicit policy of discrimination against LGBT people. Don't get me wrong -- Faith in Public Life, the organization that convened the forum, is on the right track in pushing for these conversations to take place. But neither the church nor the country can really move forward on social justice while they still treat us like second class citizens.
Clinton and Obama have both made lukewarm claims about their centrist policies on LGBT issues. In the last couple of weeks, Obama took some heat from Philadelphia Gay News for refusing to speak to the LGBT press. And now, just three days after he gave a token interview to The Advocate to redeem himself, he appears on an anti-gay college campus to talk about "compassion."
Just who, exactly, are the targets of this alleged compassion? Are we talking about compassion for the straight victims of war and torture, for straight people who are living in poverty, for straight people suffering from genocide in Darfur, and (if you hadn't guessed where I was heading yet) for straight people with AIDS? That sounds silly, doesn't it? But last night's forum was held at a school that I wouldn't even be allowed to attend as a gay Christian man. That's discrimination. And my Mama taught me that discrimination and compassion don't go together.