Last week I posted about my experience as a lesbian mom on The American Family Outing (AFO) visit to Lakewood Church. This week I wanted to share my friend Gil Caldwell's experience of the AFO visit to The Potter's House Church in Dallas. The Potter's House is led by Bishop T.D. Jakes, the man Time magazine called "America's Best Preacher." The 30,000-member, predominantly black church is known for its ministry on issues like HIV/AIDS prevention and domestic violence.
By way of introducing Gil, I'd like to say that one of my favorite things about being a queer activist is the chance to know and learn from my elders. And of all the elders I've had the luck to work with, Rev. Gil Caldwell is one of my very favorites--and it ain't just because I'm a Media Director and he's a wry and witty straight clergy ally who writes the material for at least one good op-ed before breakfast every morning! As a 74-year-old African American activist, Gil's analysis of the connections between oppressions like racism, sexism, and heterosexism is radical at any age.
Paige: Gil, what motivated you and your wife, Grace, to participate in the American Family Outing visit to The Potter's House?
Gil: Grace and I have been aware of Bishop T. D. Jakes and The Potter's House for many years. We have watched via television the services and have been drawn to the preaching of Bishop Jakes because of his ability to "tell the story" as we sometimes say about black preaching. Beyond his preaching, his "Woman, Thou Art Loosed" writing and programming has been of interest. There is a liberation motif at the heart of this emphasis that is applicable far beyond the biblical and cultural limitations imposed upon women.
Our participation in the American Family Outing was also shaped by our belief that neither church nor society has fully comprehended the reality of family for LGBT persons.
Paige: What were your biggest expectations and apprehensions prior to the visit?
Gil: Our expectations, (really hopes) were that coming together as families, same-gender led or male-female led, we would experience a Pentecost-like moment when despite our differences, we would "hear" each other and we would "speak" to each other, in ways that gave evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit. My apprehensions were that again, I would be with black brothers and sisters who despite their proclamations of Christian faith, would allow the historical and cultural prejudices against same gender couples and LGBT persons to intrude upon their faith commitments.
Paige: To what extent were those expectations and apprehensions realized?
Gil: The spiritual depth and strength of my American Family Outing colleagues was so evident to Grace and me and to those whom we met at The Potter's House that the hospitality of our hosts took on an authenticity that I do not think they expected. Any person or group can be taught to be good hosts, but I felt our hosts discovered within themselves a depth of hospitality that challenged their "learned" negative attitudes about same gender couples and LGBT persons. They may have initially been on "good behavior" with us, but I felt that some of them "let go and let God" in ways that challenged their assumptions. It is difficult to make a person or a group of persons "invisible" and less than when one allows the Spirit and human fairness to take over.
Paige: What was it like to be there as straight allies?
Gil: I have likened the "straight allies" reality of Grace and myself to that of those white persons I got to know in the Civil Rights Movement who lived lives of solidarity with those of us who are black, in their words and their deeds. I believe that allies must never pretend they know what it is like, if they are white, to be black, or if they are straight, to be gay.
Allies can sometimes allow their acts of solidarity to be acclaimed in ways that make them heroes or heroines, when in fact we are seeking to be present with and for those who are the real heroes and heroines, and nothing more. As a 74-year-old African American activist for racial justice, I have rejoiced in those persons who were not black who dared to "walk their talk" about racial justice. I am therefore compelled to "walk my talk" about religious and civil rights for LGBT persons.
Paige: What do you hope will come out of this meeting?
Gil: Our hosts indicated a willingness to be in further conversation with us. I take them at their word. I believe that if there are subsequent meetings, the authenticity of our conversations, shaped by the moving of the Holy Spirit, will accomplish much. Bishop T. D. Jakes has been used by God in significant ways. I am convinced that if he can "let go and let God," he has nothing to lose and everything to gain if he leads in creating new understandings of the non-judgmental love of Jesus as it applies to LGBT persons and all persons.
Hopefully historians will one day write that when the Amerian Family Outing of Soulforce met the people of The Potter's House in Dallas led by Bishop T.D. Jakes, a Pentecost moment took place and something new was birthed!
Read a news account of this meeting.
Sponsor a family on The American Family Outing.