January 2008. I'm watching Barack Obama speaking in the Ebeneezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the Sunday before Martin Luther King Day. To a largely black audience, televised to an even larger audience, among whom had to be most of the black population of North America, a week before the South Carolina primary when he would need every black vote in the state.
And then, midway through a pretty good speech, in a couple of stark paragraphs, he took them to school.
“If we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that none of our hands are entirely clean,” Obama said to applause. “If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll acknowledge that our own community has not always been true to King’s vision of a beloved community.
“We have scorned our gay brothers and sisters instead of embracing them,” he continued. “The scourge of anti-Semitism has, at times, revealed itself in our community. For too long, some of us have seen immigrants as competitors for jobs instead of companions in the fight for opportunity.”
Then yesterday, having made a journey of his own, he had this to say:
"At a certain point, I've just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married."
I see a long, hot summer ahead with the airwaves full of the religionistas. We will, of course, hear much ado from the Religious Right. That's to be expected. I'm afraid we'll also hear return attacks from what I like to think of as my side. Telling the RR's in no uncertain terms just what they think of them and their silly religious ideas. Religionistas all of them. It will not be a battle either side can win.
Obama won that South Carolina primary. I don't think black voters will have too high a hump to get over supporting him in this election either. But we may have just thrown cold water on any hopes of persuading a portion of the white churched population that Democrats have their best interests at heart. And that's too bad. Especially for Democratic candidates in contested districts.
Oh, well. It was probably too late anyway. Unfortunately, that ship has long since sailed. But I don't think it had to be. Tanya Luhrman published a recent OpEd piece in The New York Times suggesting ways in which my side of the aisle can reach out. I think it's well worth reading.
I think it's time we realize that what we are fighting is not, actually, religion, but fear. And the way to deal with fear is not with ridicule, but with compassion. Here's my take:
In the last 10 years, we have experienced not only 9/11, but also an economic meltdown. And the cherry on the top of that cake is an aging population that sees the future in a changing demographic, a current black president, and gay men raising children down the street.
I empathize with them. They are so very, very afraid. How can one not feel their fear? The world they thought they knew is slipping away. And night and day they are ridiculed on every TV channel except Fox News. They are easily manipulated by those who would take advantage of that fear. Who ramp that fear up to the highest possible point on the Richter Scale of mobthink.
No wonder people in North Carolina are sleeping easier tonight. They probably truly believe that there will be no gay married people on their block. And that's a straw in the winds of change that they think they can hold onto.
These are people who are being left behind in more ways than they have been told. There are many of them who could have opted for their better angels. But too many of "us" told "them" they were stupid and not worth listening to. Listening does not mean agreeing. Listening means taking their concerns seriously. Listening isn't ridicule. Neither is disagreement.
President Obama's coming out as a gay-marriage advocate will be fodder for the religionistas on both sides of the aisle. I'm coming out for listening, for understanding, for refusing to use ridicule.
And for not backing down an inch.