Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The day after Amendment One: Diary of the depressed

It’s the day after the passage of Amendment One.  It’s 12:25 pm, and I’m sitting in my normal chair at the Bean Traders on Ninth Street.  I’m surrounded by people I love and respect. Being here makes it easier for me to unleash all the emotions coming after the passage of an amendment rooted in bigotry and ignorance.

North Carolina’s state constitution will define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.  After expending so much personal energy into defeating the amendment, I’m left drained, confused and overcome with a sense of loneliness.  This was a battle regarding theological claims.  It pitted the Biblical literalist against people like me – those willing to consider the actions of Jesus against the message of an apostle named Paul.

The clash has left me with massive battle wounds.  As an African American pastor of a Baptist congregation, I have challenged people to be more compassionate and loving when in the company of people who love a person of the same gender.  The way I function as a spiritual leader forces me to ponder what it means to love people beyond conditions.  I’ve asked readers of my blog and column to see the humanity in everyone they meet.  I’ve begged members of the congregations under my leadership to see the face of God in every face they see.

The passage of the amendment leaves me broken due to the assumptions of its passage.  If most people living in the state refuse to accept the possibility that people of the same gender can love one another in ways common to their own relationship, I’m left outside the normal culture.  In the minds of many, I’m a heretic of the Church.  My teachings are not endorsed by the majority within the state.  Sadly, many who share my hue agree with the passage of Amendment One.

It leaves me struggling to locate a people willing to consider an alternative to the message of exclusion. Where do you go when surrounded by people unwilling to consider the implications of the laws we create to sanction hatred?  How do I continue to function as a heterosexual offered privilege denied those I love?  How can I get married in good conscious while people I care about can’t do the same?  How do I stand and listen to messages regarding how we are created while people I love grapple with suggestions of how they are sinners viewed as deplorable in the eyes of God?  How do you listen?  How do you continue to serve?

The vote in favor of the amendment serves as North Carolina’s collective shout against people like me.  We are few in number.  We are black, heterosexual, ordained, part of a mainline tradition and forceful in spreading a message of love while standing in the fire of hatred. We have no community to endure with us as masses walk away. We have no rainbow love to hold hands with us after we’re forced out of work and cry because our calling is under attack.  We’re left alone.

But, does any of that matter?  Isn’t this what it means to walk in integrity?  Doesn’t leadership demand walking in the darkness with those who can’t find the light?

My ache is because we didn’t need this drama.  North Carolina didn’t need to vote on placing an amendment in the constitution to validate the homophobic ways of those who refuse to take the time to listen to the voice of God beyond what they assume is found in the Biblical text.  The need to make a point transcended the message of love.  We didn’t need this fight.  None of us needed to experience this trap of division.

That’s why I can’t stop crying. 

I’m reminded that my tears don’t belong to me.  This was not about my right to love and get married.  Wait a minute.  Maybe it was about me.  Maybe that’s what so many have lost in this discussion.  It’s about all of our rights to love and be free.  It’s about our right to stand free from the control of others.  My tears are stirred by something deeper than a vote.  They are about freedom.

For me, I seek a place to be free to express my spirituality in a way that lifts me beyond my own thoughts regarding what it means to be me.  I need to be connected to Gaea, the great Mother Earth.  I need messages that reflect how I am connected to a world beyond my knowing.  I require the love of my friend, Rabbi John Friedman, a Jew.  I need to be cradled by the strength of Joy Mickle-Walker, a Buddhist, and Naomi Quinn, an atheist.  I seek a world that bounces in the pride of a collective tune made possible by a desire to be more than what divides us.

I few tears began to flow.  “My generation gets it Carl,” my friend Laura Lazarus told me just before I took my seat to write.  “In 20 years, people will look back at this and laugh at us.”

Surrounded in the comfort of diversity, I exhaled.  New breath after the sting of isolation.  I’m not alone.

Shana, a barista at Bean Traders, says we should celebrate Durham in all of this.  Maybe she’s right.  We should seek love among those willing to be love.  My hope has always been to find unconditional love in the Church.  I’ve sought to teach love by being love. 

If I’m a heretic, I’ll continue to love all I meet.  Even if those in the Church reject the message of love.  In standing with those rejected, I become the rejected.  Isn’t that the message of the faith so many say forced them to vote in favor of the amendment?

If I have to stand alone I will carry this cross.  It reminds me of that song we sing during worship – “no cross, no crown”.  My cross is my love for those seeking freedom, my crown is the sprinkles of love they give when those in the Church turn their backs.

The victory is in the love.


  1. I'm with you on this, brother. Welcome to the North Carolina Taliban effect. In the past our society has used biased half-truths and untruths to 'justify" a course of action that is prejudicial to others. Often these justifications had narrowly defined or out of context bibilical references that had nothing to do with the teachings of Jesus. Those that voted for Amendment One should remember that one day they may not be in the majority, and the gate swings both ways.

  2. I am with you as always. It puzzles me that there are but a few leaders of the ecclesia that rahter follow the teachings and minsitry of Jesus over the mandates of the apostle Paul. One is God and the other tried his best to follow God. I went to bed and woke up this morning hurting within. Not because I support or oppose the heart of the otherside's argument, but rather I was hurt becuase now it has been place into the constitution that one person's religious beliefs, whether it is the majority or just a sect, is now a law. Next, all other religions will become outlawed in the land. Can you imagine? Paul himself had undisclosed issues that he struggled with when He stated it was better to marry than to burn with lust. But wasn't it Jesus who said that during the harvest, God will separate the wheat from the tare? I guest Ultra conservatism states that God was working too slow for them. They had to take this matter in their own hands. That being so, Dr. Kenney, tell me why they don't have the same fighting spirit when it comes to fighting oppresion, class warfare, poverty, injustice within the justice system, or even fair financial practices? Why is it that those who hide behind the mask of Christianity rather to separate than unify? Ok even if I use the words of Paul to the church in Ephesus; "the mystery of God's will which He purposed in Christ is to bring heaven and earth together in unity under Christ (eph 1:9-10). Paul said the will of God is to bring unity therefore if the ultra conservatives are not fostering unity, thing they are outside the will of God. Jesus puts it best for us to remember; Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

    Almighty God, Creator of humanity, sustainer of life, you and you alone are Sovereign. By the power of your Holy Spirit, heal our land. Give us more love and compassion to do you will so that we can bring you name glory. In Jesus Christ our Lord we pray. Amen.

  3. Thanks, Carl. Good thoughts, and well appreciated.

  4. Wow...this article is awesome, it made me go deep within my heart and soul to answer to my own spirit about the questions you posed, and the points you made....."soul stirring" leaves me saying "Lord have mercy"

  5. Thank you for this. I feel your heart. The passage of Amendment One is disturbing as it continues the trend of using religion (one group's beliefs) as the foundation for law and writes discrimination into law.
    I am compelled as an elder to continue bushwhacking a path to equality. Instead of anger I choose to be inspired.
    Thank you again friend.

  6. I have taken several days to consider and analyze my varied feelings about all of this. As disappointed and surprised as I was at the outcome, I realize that regardless, as a believer, I still feel extremely conflicted about my choice. I have not yet quite discovered why that is. I saw so many signs in opposition to the amendment, received so many e-mail (and I don't even know how they got my information), I never anticipated a 3-to-1 vote to the contrary. What is more, even though I expect the amendment to be overturned in a decade or less, I still have my personal reservations about the reality of the actual condition -- if truth be told -- even though I pride myself in being an open-minded individual. Nevertheless, I still had to vote my conscience; and equality for everyone prevailed in my estimation in reference to legislation.

    Yet the matter raised many pertinent questions. Over a dozen are shared in my Black Planet Group called INTERFAITH CORPORATE PRAYERS FOR WORLD ISSUES
    I invite anyone to share your thoughts there.

    To Pastor Kenney, I wish to emphasize that you are not actually alone. There are a few other pastors as well as church members elsewhere who share your viewpoint. As difficult as it seems to be right now, LOVE must prevail. Last, what comes to mind is Jesus' statement to "render unto Ceaser the things that are Ceaser's and unto God the things that are God's." That is a clear cut acknowledgment of the need for separation of church and state as I would interpret it. In a recent TV interview, Dr. Joseph Lowery of SCLC stated that these same pseudo-Christians do not give the same energy toward fighting against adultery, which is also Biblical in teachings. He stated that the exact words said by Jesus are in red in the Bible, and there is nothing in those words that refers to the definition of marriage. So we need to concentrate on the red letter concepts, because those were the direct quotes from Jesus. I have always believed Dr. Lowery to be a very wise preacher and leader. And those words meant much to me.