Grand Divisions

Tennessee Equality Project seeks to advance and protect the civil rights of our State’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons and their families in each Grand Division.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Identity Politics: Reactions to an Evangelical Manifesto--Part 2

Though only 20 pages long, An Evangelical Manifesto summarizes a wealth of cultural, political, and religious conflicts in its effort to offer a way forward. The sub-topics are endless. One of particular interest to the GLBT community will be the discussion of identity politics, which is named explicitly as a concern.

There are grave dangers in identity politics, but we insist that we ourselves, and not scholars, the press, or public opinion, have the right to say who we understand ourselves to be. We are who we say we are, and we resist all attempts to explain us in terms of our “true” motives and our “real” agenda. (p. 4)

My first thought when I read those sentences was that it could have been written by a GLBT activist responding to anyone in the mainstream culture and especially to those opposed to the equality movement, particularly with respect to the word “agenda.” How many times have we heard others scream about the “homosexual agenda?”

I think the parallels are instructive. Just as the public is no doubt baffled any time a group renames itself—in our case with at least the four letters G, L, B, and T in some order, the wider public is confused about the meaning of Evangelical. And I think Evangelicals are on the right track in taking a moment to define themselves. The media in Tennessee, for example, have been quick to adopt "GLBT" coupled with the more familiar and general word “gay.” If Evangelicals continue to press their point, they may achieve some public clarity about who they are.

Evangelicals see the way through the problematic aspects of identity politics by affirming a particular allegiance with a transcendent quality.

In a society divided by identity and gender politics, Christians must witness by their lives to the way their identity in Jesus transcends all such differences. (p. 13)

So the question that the GLBT community will be asking is, Does that mean you’re going to declare a truce in your legislative initiatives against our community? The authors give a clue to a maybe.

We have no desire to coerce anyone or to impose on anyone beliefs and behavior that we have not persuaded them to adopt freely, and that we do not demonstrate in our own lives, above all by love. (p. 16)

I take that to mean at bare minimum that there would be no attempt by these kinds of Evangelicals to reinstitute sodomy laws. But what about active opposition to the existing and emerging rights of GLBT people? Will Churches and individual Evangelicals begin to urge the Family Action Council of Tennessee to stop trying to restrict our adoption rights in the Legislature? Will they stop serving as the organizers of efforts to put same-sex marriage bans on the ballot of states across the country? And will they stop opposing hate crimes laws that cover sexual orientation and gender identity?

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