Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
(This is from my quakerqueeries.blogspot.com posting):
Last night a friend was telling me that one of his colleagues – a gay man – just proposed to his companion. With the recent approval of same-gender marriage, this is great that people can do this. It’s a true celebration of the achievements of the gay rights movement and the progression of society. But when I heard that the happy couple wants to have a big bash wedding and reception at the Newseum (rental alone is in the 10’s of thousands), I had to give pause. Earlier in the day, I heard a news story from Maryland about some legislative snags in a bill to approve gay marriage in that state. A legislator from Montgomery County stated that this issue is about civil rights. I have to say, when I put these two items together, I’m not as passionate about the cause.
The issue for me is not about marriage. If we in the gay community are going to consider our cause a part of the larger civil rights and social justice movement, we should also be challenging each other in extending compassion and consideration to others. Personally, I’m not speaking up for gay rights so that wealthy gays and lesbians can have 6-figure weddings, and I don’t call that progress. To me, it’s just a gay form of greed, selfishness and conspicuous consumption and these are at the real basis of any true civil rights issue, in my opinion.
It saddens me to see a segment of our society that know what it is to be marginalized acquire rights and then gleefully spend while forgetting that there are those who continue to be marginalized. To celebrate that greed and materialism transcend race, color and sexual orientation is no celebration at all. It’s a slap in the face of those still in need, and until we get serious about the underlying issues and connections, there will be no true equality.
I also think it's sad to see this kind of conspicuous consumption from anyone, especially those who ought to have more compassion. But to me it doesn't really matter as far as civil rights are concerned. If someone has a right to get married, then they have that right whether they do it in a socially conscious way or not. But don't lose heart! I know there are gay and lesbian couples in many parts of America (wherever they can) celebrating marriages in a quiet, simple, joyful way.
I agree that there is a problem of class inequality in our society, and globally. I also know that for those who have been denied access to social and cultural rites and rituals, the YES of a vivid and conspicuous marriage can have a lot of meanings. It can be its own coming out, and this can mean large celebrations that cost a lot of money.
I also think that, though ideally folks who have been marginalized will stand in solidarity with others, we know this is not the case. It is not simply the experience of oppression that makes us brothers and sisters, compatriots and F(f)riends, or aware of our shared humanity. I think there is a deeper healing that needs to happen before we can wake up to our interconnection, and move into remedying inequalities and disconnection with our very lives and choices. This is something that not many folks get the chance to do.
The advent of the right to marry in some states does not heal the hurt of homophobia and heterosexism, just as school de-segregation and an African American President do not end racism. I hope that we will be able to wake up as lgbtq people to the reality of our mutual dependence, just as I hope that for all people. Singling out lgbtq folks for their conspicuous consumption might be holding these people to a higher standard then the rest of the world who has has been conspicuously consuming for a lot longer and with more freedom to do so. I want to know, what do we need to heal from heterosexism and homophobia as people, and assumedly in this setting, as people of diverse and common faiths? And how do we connect to others over the long arc of justice?
Sounds like you are doing great work in the world. I am grateful for your service and bridge building work. I think a lot of these categories are generally meaningless, as we inhabit many spaces and identities in our lives.
It is absolutely okay to challenge your community! Thanks for sharing your perspective and I hope you are rattling some cages with your energy for connected change. I also think it's important to notice that we are all in different places on our sexuality/spiritual/justice journeys, and it is pretty impossible to know another's heart.
Thanks again for posting something I could respond to! It's hard to know when to write, but your posting really spoke to me of these bigger questions around healing from homophobia and heterosexism. Thanks for such a thought provoking posting!
Dear Friend Brad,
I have joined this discussion group in order to sit with you to consider this question. I confess to being alarmed by the question.
On the face of it, speaking as a citizen of society-at-large, I see no problem with people having ostentatious ceremonies if they like, as long as they have the money to spend. I find them offensive and wasteful, but there are no laws regarding such foolishness. As Quakers in Religious Society, however, our testimony of simplicity argues against this kind of waste, and we are certainly correct to consider whether opulent weddings pass the test of walking in the Light.
But to ask whether a certain group should be called out for such foolishness, and doubting whether allowing them civil rights is progress? This pains me greatly. This question calls forth Jim Crow laws and literacy tests.
We are called upon to love our brothers and sisters--our neighbors--as ourselves. We cannot do it if we are judging whether our brothers have the same legal rights to be foolish.
Yours in the Light, Paula
I appreciate the weight of your comments, Paulsa. Two thoughts; about the consumption, if we lived in silos I would agree, but the world has limited resources. Just because one can afford to consume as much energy as he/she wants, doesn't mean it won't impact on the rest of us.
As for the second, in my case, as a gay man, I'm looking not at "them", but "us" (really,we all are "us"). Plus, I am only reflecting my feelings. I have spoken out about waste of opulence in general; I just don't see more opulent celebration as a sign of progress in these times.
Dear Friend Brad,
There is no question that we overconsume as a nation. I am in full agreement with your position. As a Quaker and an environmentalist (and a bunch of other "ists"), I am not and never will be in unity with waste and greed. That is not what I am holding up to the Light of the Eternal Truth.
My feelings concern the horrific crimes of exclusion visited upon any member of our society who is not straight, white, and male, wealthy or not. I am "us." We must not impose a litmus test on anyone based on values, especially on any one group, even when we are part of that group. I hope that because I am not a gay man, I am still welcome to point out what I consider a grave flaw in the question.
Yours in the Light, Paula
p.s. I do appreciate your solidarity with the marginalized. There is nothing in my distress that is contrary to this position.
Thanks, Paula. Just to help me as I try and communicate (and struggle with these issues), in what I wrote, did you seeme calling for a litmus test? I know my passions sometimes blur the logic, but what I try to do is challenge those with whom I share the most in common (white, gay middle class, educated) on values, social justice, etc., recognizing that it is harder to accuse me of being a homophobe than someone else. "You wouldn't understand because you're not black/female/gay or whatever" is where conversations often break down. I am not at all for litmus tests, and I certainly think gays can have as big a bash as anyone; just don't ask me to consider this as progress while we dance around what I think is the biggest issue of our times, and that is the class divide. There is a book I read, "The Problem with Diversity: how we learned to love diversity and ignore equality" that has deepened my sensitivity to this. I don't know what or if there are answers, but as a Friend, I find I have a calling to keep seeking; conversations with all of you help immensely. Thanks.
Brad -- while I agree that weddings should be sensible and that 6-figure weddings are a bad idea -- I think this is true regardless of whether the couple being married is a same-sex couple or an opposite-sex couple.
As for holding people accountable to this ideal -- it needs to be done uniformly --- to hold gays and lesbians more accountable to this than heterosexuals is already discriminatory.
And to see two gay people having an extravagant six-figure wedding as a reason for withdrawing enthusiasm for the cause of supporting same-sex marriage. For starters, this is a severe punch below the belt -- as nobody to my knowledge thought of revoking a straight couple's right to marry because their wedding was too extravagant.
But furthermore, this punch below the belt also hits in the cross-fire many *other* gays-and-lesbians who hold much simpler, humbler weddings -- who are losing your support for their rights because some other gay couple that they may not know do something (however wrong) that straight people do all the time!!
Equal rights with strings-attached isn't equal rights.
I guess we will have to agree to disagree. I think that greed, opulence and self-indulgence provide cover for and divert energy and resources from deeper challenges in our world. I celebrate gay marriage; I celebrate hetero-marriage. I am not for self-indulgent extravagant spending. However, these are my personal beliefs. I respect yours as well. Thanks,
Thing to remember --- if marriage equality is *not* achieved, these people won't be denied a marriage license because they're opulent rich people who waste their money on extravagance rather than on more worthy things. No. They will be denied a marriage license because they are of the same sex - period. Opposite-sex couples who are just as opulent and wasteful will still be allowed to have marriage licenses ---- and *other* same-sex couples who are far more humble and God-serving will *not* be allowed to.
Lessening your support for marriage equality because of their extravagance doesn't punish them for being extravagant. It punishes them for being gay.