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A Tipping Point: Some Reflections on the Recent U.S. Elections

In social change movements there is often a moment known as the tipping point. This is the stage where enough momentum or critical mass has been generated that change becomes nearly inevitable. Many see the recent US elections as a tipping point for lgbt equality in the US as voters approved marriage equality in three states (Washington, Maryland and Maine) and defeated a hostile constitutional amendment barring same sex marriage in Minnesota. The constitutional amendment in Minnesota was placed on the ballot as a cynical attempt to encourage conservatives to turn out for the election by appealing to fear and an obsession with anything gay. The morality of a political strategy that willingly scapegoats a whole group of citizens for cheap political gain is staggering, but it has been quite effective in the past. It is encouraging that this strategy has finally backfired and will probably not be employed in the near future. It is also encouraging that the GOP Southern Strategy that has exploited white anxiety and animosity towards people of color is finally proving inadequate in the face of shifting racial and ethnic demographics. How these changes will impact the Church of the Brethren and the Mennonite Church remains to be seen. Leadership that is attentive to social shifts must be increasingly aware that our denominations cannot continue along the same paths upon which we have been merrily traveling. Young adults are less tolerant of homophobia. More lgbt people are out, challenging negative stereotypes. SCN congregations and allies are finding their theological voice and enacting change. The lgbt community is stronger and more confident of our inherent dignity and worth. The church’s complicity with lgbt oppression is eroding its moral authority at an accelerating pace. In response, I look for leadership to revive old strategies of “dialogue” and “listening” as an attempt to manage conflict and slow meaningful change. While such calls will be seductive to progressives who swoon at any call to “dialogue,” I hope that we are able to step back and critically assess our options. Certain processes that may have been helpful twenty five years ago, may be less adequate now, and may even function to inhibit rather than encourage transformational change. After all, there comes a time when talk becomes a distraction and concrete action is required. One key factor in any assessment should be an analysis of who bears the primary burdens of vulnerability and risk. In the past, this has been borne almost entirely by the lgbt community as we have bared our souls and shared our stories, often at great personal cost. Enough stories and information has been shared so that the church can no longer claim innocence about the harm and suffering that it has caused to lgbt people and our families. It is right that we expect a more mutually shared risk, particularly on the part of denominational, district, conference, and pastoral leadership. Finally, this past election reminds us not only of the dynamics, but also of the tremendous possibilities of a more diverse and varied society and church. The color of our skin, our gender identities, our cultural background, ages, sexual orientations, abilities and experiences, all reflect the beautiful depth of God’s image. This calls upon us to examine the biases that we bring because of our privileges, even as we recognize the gift and beauty that our queerness offers. The tipping point for lgbt equality in the United States and in Canada has probably passed. It is my hope and prayer that our denominations recognize this stirring of God’s spirit and make haste to embrace its goodness.

Carol Wise, Executive Director

December 21, 2012

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