I’m not a “media hog.” I really don’t go looking for ways to get noticed, quoted, published, but it’s not been uncommon recently for a local television station reporter to show up seeking a voice from “our perspective.” It didn’t take long to figure out that there aren’t a lot of people speaking that perspective! In this “city of churches,” with almost 800 Christian pulpits to choose from, I can count my like-minded colleagues (who are willing to offer a public opinion) on just a few hands.
So, with all the hoopla over HB2, the quickly-infamous North Carolina state law, which has been called the “most extreme in the country” by one national media outlet (and “Hate Bill 2” by some of its opponents), I was not surprised to open my email on Monday and find a request for an interview. Amy was going to be unavailable, so I responded to CBS News that I would be glad to give an on-camera response.
On Wednesday morning, I came dressed to play the part, re-opened the email, and realized that I would not be talking to CBS — but to The Christian Broadcasting Network. I probably don’t need to tell you that I’m not a regular opinion writer or talking head for CBN, but ….
It was a wonderful experience.
The reporter, Heather Sells, and her cameraman, Malcolm, were cordial and engaging. We spent an hour together, about 30 minutes in recorded dialogue. Heather’s questions never made me defensive. She was cordial and inquisitive. She listened and responded, albeit with a detectible bit of curiosity, but with a generous spirit.
When she arrived at our place, she had just completed an interview with a transgender man, a clergy leader in a local community of faith. When Malcolm had tucked away all his gear, they headed to Charlotte’s First Baptist Church, and from there she was to speak with two other clergymen. I am pretty sure the answers from last three pastors sounded nothing like mine.
By the time you read this, I will already have made my national television debut (!), and as I type these words I’m achingly curious about what 15-second clip her producer will choose to air, and how it will make me (and “my perspective”) sound, though in a friendly follow-up email she thanked me and indicated her intent to “respectfully portray all the voices in this debate.”
As I wait and wonder, though, the experience has given me an opportunity to reflect on the company we keep and the voice we offer.
I am the son of a Southern Baptist pastor, so while the other little boys were planning to be firemen and professional football players I had my sights set on preaching, “Like my daddy.” I was enamored with all-things-church, and I idolized my father and his colleagues. I didn’t know it then, but as I look back on those years, I recognize that all who stood with my father, all who represented the “Christian voice” I knew looked just like him. There were no women in his cohort of ministers, no African-Americans. There were no gay pastors of course, and no one in my small hometown could pronounce the word “transgender.” In my father’s broader circle of influence there were no rabbis or imams, no Baha’i leaders or Hindu priests. I wouldn’t have known a Unitarian or a Wiccan if one had slapped me in the face!
In no way am I being critical of my father. He and my mother modeled the very best of inclusion in their theology and, more importantly, in their Christian practice. Who I am today undoubtedly grew from the seed of openness they planted, even unknowingly, in their little preacher-wanna-be. But their world, a product of time and place, was pretty monochromatic, homogenous.
When I stand with my peers and colleagues, friends in ministry and comrades in the cause of social justice, I am often aware of how diverse “my group” is, and how different it looks from that of so many other Baptist pastors. Growing up to be just like my daddy never looked like this in my mind!
Now, I can’t imagine it being any other way.
In world that is shrinking every day, our contact with the “other” will only increase, and learning to see myself in the eyes of sisters and brothers, black and brown, Christian and non-Christian, gay and straight and transgender — must be the way of our future. We cannot afford to pretend to be monochromatic, to stand in arrogant isolation, ever again.
And I think of the voice I have had a chance to offer. It’s not that I believe I have any deep wisdom or unique, revealed insight — just that I represent a community of faith that encourages its ministers to offer a “voice, crying in the wilderness.” It’s a tremendous blessing. It’s challenging, fulfilling ministry.
There just aren’t enough of us offering it.
So, wherever you are, whoever you are, stand up, and speak out, please. In every church in America, I truly believe there are voices of dissent, voices of compassion, voices of reason and clarity — hearts that resonate with the call for justice and equality, for beloved community and for blessed diversity — just longing to find their voice. I’m grateful for all the friends, beautiful and wonderfully strange (just like me), who are helping me to find mine.
I hope you will find yours, because you never know when someone is going to show up and ask you to share it with the world.