Thinking 2 steps ahead

Theologians, ministers gather at Brite for ‘Beyond Apologetics’ discussion on LGBTs’ future role in religious communities, efforts

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor nash@dallasvoice.com

Joretta Marshall and Stephen Sprinkle
Joretta Marshall and Stephen Sprinkle

FORT WORTH — Where do we go from here? That’s the question at the heart of a project called “Beyond Apologetics: Sexual Identity, Pastoral Theology and Pastoral Practices,” an ongoing symposium with its next installment set for Thursday, Oct. 7, at Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.

The event will feature six scholars and pastors, representing five different schools, talking about new ways of thinking about ministry with LGBT people after the battle for acceptance is over.

“Originally, this project was organized to do two things,” explained the Rev. Joretta Marshall, openly lesbian pastor of theology and pastoral care and counseling at Brite and co-director of the project.

“The first thing was to bring scholar practitioners together for conversation to try and answer the question, ‘What would we be talking about if we didn’t always have to focus on gaining acceptance of TLGB people” in churches, Marshall said.

“We want to go beyond defending TLGB people in the churches and start figuring out what those next conversations will be about. For instance, I am hopelessly involved in the United Methodist Church. It is in my blood and in my bones. But there is still a debate within the UMC over whether we [LGBT people] should be welcomed into the church. We want to get past that so that we can work on transforming the world, on bringing justice to the larger community.”

The second piece of the equation, Marshall said, was equally important: “Educational institutions should make a difference in the places where they live. We wanted to invite the community in to participate in these discussions and to let them know that Brite is a place where we talk about these things.”

For the Rev. Stephen Sprinkle, the openly gay associate professor of practical theology and director of field education and supervised ministry at Brite, the idea that a theology school in Fort Worth, Texas is host to such a discussion, is an amazing accomplishment.

“We’ve never had a gathering of LGBTQ scholars of faith in Texas before. Not like this,” said Sprinkle, one of the six speakers participating in the Oct. 7 discussion.

“This is the first meeting of its kind here, but it won’t be the last. That was the experience that we had in Oklahoma” last February when the first discussion in the project was held at Phillips Graduate Theological Seminary in Tulsa. He explained that the project was first conceived as a partnership between the two sister seminaries — Phillips and Brite — and six speakers participated in a public event held at Phillips that followed the same format to be used at Brite.

The whole idea, Sprinkle said, is to plan for the future and prepare pastors, churches and the public for the day when LGBT people are already part of the church and can truly give their own unique gifts to its efforts.

“We are thinking two steps on down the road. We’re thinking outside the box, to use the cliché. The question is, if we are not having to constantly think about creating space enough for the LGBT community to be accepted, then we can think about how to move the LGBTQ community into a richer, more whole position to contribute to the church’s work.”

The term “apologetics” refers to advocacy, Sprinkle explained. In thinking “beyond apologetics,” he continued, “what we are saying, as LGBT scholars, is that congregations and nonprofits already have everything they need in order to include LGBT people. They already have the know-how, the theology. We believe the arguments for inclusion have already been made, and made very well. The question now is, what do we do to take things to the next stage of development?”

In his part of the discussion, Sprinkle will focus on his work in documenting anti-LGBT hate crimes and in advocating for the passage of hate crimes laws that include protections for LGBT people. He used his own work and its future direction as an example of the focus of the project overall.

“We argued for years and years for a hate crimes law. We’ve got that now. But the reality is, we are still being killed. So what are we, as an LGBT community, going to do to understand who those dead are to us? How will that shape our identity?” Sprinkle said.

“We have to move beyond being just a loose association of people with a variety of concerns on a variety of issues to become a real people that remember and honor our dead. That is what a community does,” he continued.

“African-Americans can list their people who died in lynchings. Jewish folk have never forgotten the 6 million lost in the Holocaust. Japanese-Americans remember those who died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But we as an LGBT community seem to have a hard time even acknowledging that members of our community are still being killed. So what I am trying to do is to think down the road about how we can strengthen this community by remembering the thousands who were murdered because they were just like us.”

Another member of the project — although one who won’t be at the discussion next month at Brite — is Darnell Moore with Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. He is, Sprinkle said, “one of the most dynamic and most original thinkers I have ever seen.”

Moore’s focus, Sprinkle said, is finding a new way to think about coming out.

“People are often afraid to come out because it compromises them and they are vulnerable. What Darnell says is that it is time that we begin to invite people in, really invite them in, and have something to invite them in to. What would it really mean to say to the majority culture all around us, ‘Stop being tourists in our lives. We will share with you what we have, but you have to come to us.’

“Now we’re talking! Now we’re really thinking!” Sprinkle continued. “From now one, there won’t be just one National Coming Out Day a year. There won’t be one day of silence in the schools. From now on, the LGBTQ community can be seen as a powerhouse of innovation and creative thinking. We approach that already in the arts and entertainment. But we don’t seem to be secure enough or understand ourselves well enough to be confident doing that in other spheres.”

For Marshall and Sprinkle, the idea that such new ways of thinking are being birthed here in Fort Worth is reason for celebration, and for hope.

“I came here in 1994, and I was open and out [as a gay man] from the time I first showed up,” Sprinkle said. “But it has been a fight. Then when we decided to invite Joretta [to join the faculty] and she accepted, I knew we were turning a corner.

“This project represents a new era at Brite. Fort Worth is the reddest of the red in a red state. And here we are, co-hosting this powerhouse event, this first-of-a-kind academic gathering of people of faith, right under the nose of the Southwest Baptist Theological Seminary!

“It’s unbelievable in a way,” he said. “I still have to pinch myself to believe it’s real. But it is real. And it is a sign that the time is right to take these next steps.”

……………………………

‘Beyond Apologetics’

The Beyond Apologetics Project will hold a public symposium Thursday, Oct. 7, beginning at 7 p.m. in the Robert Carr Chapel at Texas Christian University, 2855 S. University Drive in Fort Worth.

The event is free and open to the public.

Scholars and pastors presenting their preliminary work at the discussion will include Duane R. Bidwell of Claremont School of Theology and co-director of the project; Kathleen Greider of Claremont School of Theology; Benjamin Reynolds of Chicago Theological Seminary; Jeanne Hoeft of St. Paul School of Theology; David Mellott of Lancaster Theological Seminary and Stephen V. Sprinkle of Brite Divinity School.

Other participants in the Beyond Apologetics Project are John Blevins with Emory University; United Church of Christ minister Malcolm Himschoot; Joretta Marshall of Brite Divinity School; Darnell Moore of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey; Jason Hays of Brite Divinity School; Cody J. Sanders of Brite Divinity School; and Leanne Tigert of Andover Newton Theological School.

For more information e-mail j.marshall@tcu.edu or cody.j.sanders@tcu.edu, or go online to BeyondApologetics.wordpress.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 17, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Letters • 07.30.10

Perception of weakness

In the article “Letter criticizes FBI’s handling of Terlingua attack,” (Dallas Voice, July 23), the Rev. Stephen Sprinkle of Brite Divinity School makes a very profound statement.

He said, regarding the victim of the attack, “I think he was targeted because he was perceived as weak and vulnerable.” He went on to elaborate that what mattered was the “perception” that the victim was “different.”

This is strikingly familiar to the story, several months ago now, of two men attacked in the Oak Lawn area by those wielding baseball bats (“Community outraged over assault,” Dallas Voice, May 21).

It was the “perception” of their vulnerability that more than likely made them the target of those who attacked them. But something made them stand out in the minds of their attackers.

It is the perception of being vulnerable that is really the issue here. It does not matter so much if someone is perceived to be “gay” so much as they are perceived to be “prey.” What was it that made them stand out in the predator’s/predators’ mind(s)?

The more we ask these questions of ourselves, the more we initiate those skill sets that allow us to think like a predator instead of prey.

A person’s gender, age, race, religion or sexual orientation are really superfluous to the issue at hand. What matters is the “perception” of vulnerability — period.

And there isn’t always safety in numbers. As the two men attacked recently will attest, four attackers still outnumber two victims, let alone if they have weapons.

I just spoke to a man in Uptown last week, late 20s and very physically fit, who was attacked by two men while on business in Atlanta. His level of fitness afforded him nothing when faced with two assailants when he was admittedly a bit “tipsy” leaving a nightclub, separated from his two friends and distracted by the new female friend he had just met inside. His two assailants knew he was vulnerable for several reasons.

Until we all ask those internal questions that only the individual can ask and then seek out the advice and training to help us fill in those gaps of vulnerability, the stories involving predator and prey will continue to be a recurring theme in our print and news media.

Jeff McKissack, speaker/instructor
DefenseByDesign.com

……………………

TO SEND A LETTER  | We welcome letters from readers. Shorter letters and those addressing a single issue are more likely to be printed. Letters are subject to editing for length and clarity, but we attempt to maintain the writer’s substance and tone. Include  your home address and a daytime telephone number for verification. Send letters to the senior editor, preferably by e-mail (nash@dallasvoice.com). Letters also may be faxed (214-969-7271) or sent via the U.S. Postal Service (Dallas Voice, 4145 Travis St., Third Floor, Dallas TX 75204). All letters become the property of Dallas Voice.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 30, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Working together to make history

There is work still to be done to get DART’s policy where it needs to be, but Tuesday’s vote was a big first step toward victory

Cece Cox andRafael McDonnell Guest Columnists

The North Texas LGBT community made history Tuesday night, June 22. The Dallas Area Rapid Transit board of directors unanimously voted to expand its nondiscrimination protections to include gender identity.

Never before in our area has a governmental body unanimously voted to expand LGBT nondiscrimination protections. In fact, we believe that the nature of the vote was a first statewide.

This could not have happened without an impressive and inspiring collection of groups and people working with Resource Center Dallas, all working towards the same goal of inclusion. The list includes Equality Texas, Transgender Education Network of Texas, LULAC 4871, GEAR, Equality March Texas, Lambda Legal, Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance, North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce, Collin County Gay and Lesbian Alliance, Out&Equal DFW Council, Stonewall Democrats of Dallas, HRC DFW Steering Committee, GET EQUAL NOW, and Dallas Transgender Advocates and Allies.

Among the people who deserve special thanks for their help are Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert and the Dallas City Council, especially members Linda Koop, Dave Newman, Delia Jasso and Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Pauline Medrano.

Former council members Chris Luna and John Loza delivered impassioned remarks at Tuesday’s meeting, as did the Rev. Steve Sprinkle with Brite Divinity School and Rebecca Solomon with Bank of America.

At the heart of this story, though, there are two heroines. One is the unnamed transgender employee of the transit agency dubbed Ms. T-DART. The other is her friend, Pamela Curry. Without Ms. T-DART coming forward about her workplace treatment and DART’s intervention in her genetic marker change case, and without Pamela giving voice to the story, the nondiscrimination provisions may not have been expanded.

Admittedly, the language that the DART board adopted isn’t perfect. Work remains to be done. DART can only create an inclusive workplace if its culture matches its policies, which requires commitment, time and effort.

We will hold DART to the board’s intent, and continue to work with the agency as it drafts language for its policy manual reflecting the wishes of the board.

More than three months ago, Resource Center Dallas recognized the story of Ms. T-DART as an opportunity to offer resources to DART staff, who, in turn, worked with their board. From our experience providing cultural sensitivity training to corporations and public entities such as the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, we know learning and understanding happens when solid relationships are built between communities and when those communities truly listen to one another.

More often that not, people and organizations act out of a lack of understanding rather than malice.

Even before this week’s board vote, DART staff took an important first step toward understanding inclusion when it worked with Resource Center Dallas to provide training to some of its staff.

We applaud DART for addressing what it means to have a workplace that values all employees, including those who happen to be transgender, bisexual, lesbian and gay. Understanding its own diverse employees will aid DART in recruiting and retention, and in serving its diverse public in north Texas.

The efforts to change DART’s policies highlight two important additional issues for the LGBT community.

First, these debates would not have even happened if a fully inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act was the law of the land. The bill is pending in Congress, but is in danger of becoming a casualty of election year politics. As a community, we need to force our lawmakers to act on our concerns.

Second, recent events point out the need for LGBT people to serve on boards, commissions and in government to effect change from the inside.

It was 15 years ago this week that DART first expanded its nondiscrimination policy to include sexual orientation. It took two board votes, amid opposition from at least two groups.
This time, community engagement through calls, letters and e-mails to the DART board and Dallas City Council members led to a unanimous vote.

We all should be proud of our willingness to speak out for justice and to work together. While work remains so that DART’s policy fully reflects the board’s expressed intent for protections based on gender identity and expression, we remain hopeful that the impressive collaboration of GLBT community and DART leadership will accomplish just that.

Cece Cox is associate executive director of GLBT community services for Resource Center Dallas. E-mail her at ccox@rcdallas.org. Rafael McDonnell is strategic communications and programs manager at RCD. E-mail him at rmcdonnell@rcdallas.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 25, 2010.

—  Dallasvoice

A couple of Fort Worth notes

For all my fellow Fort Worthians, here are a couple of events happening this week in Cowtown (and you folks from Dallas are welcome to come on over, too!).

• Tarrant County Gay Pride Week Association is staging a fundraising show Sunday, Jan. 31, starting at 9 p.m. at Best Friends Club (on Lancaster at Beach Street). Anyone interested in performing should get there early to get in the line up, and everyone is invited to come and watch the show and support TCGPWA. Photographer Robert Whittaker will be there with his backdrop and lights, starting at 8 p.m., to shoot pics of those who want them. And on top of everything else, Raymond Gill and Mr. GPW 2010 Scott Wasson Conger will be there celebrating their birthdays.

• On Tuesday, Feb. 2, beginning at 11 a.m., Brite Divinity School presents “a special celebration of worship and community,” featuring Bishop Yvette Flunder, senior pastor of City of Refuge UCC in San Francisco and presiding bishop of The Fellowship, a trans-denominational fellowship of 60 primarily African-American Christian leaders and laity who seek to promote and celebrate the radically inclusive love of Christ, particularly on behaf of LGBT people.

Bishop Flunder will preach on “The Both and God” at 11 a.m. at University Christian Church, 2720 S. University Drive in Fort Worth.  The service, which is part of Brite’s weekly chapel service and the school’s observance of Black History Month, will include readings and scripture, preaching, Holy Communion and music.

—  admin