A response to ‘Stoning of Sally Kern’

She attempted this with failed legislation and through complaints to the Metropolitan Library Commission, which led to a series of heated public meetings.

Take note of what this action signified: A public library is supposed to represent and serve the broad public. Materials are to be freely available and easily accessible. We live in a diverse, pluralistic society, and public libraries reflect that. Kern rejected this democratic ideal. She wanted to limit the access to information, deny adequate representation to a segment of the population, and use the public libraries to promote one viewpoint.  This has remained her pattern.

On the handful of occasions that Rep. Kern and I have met, including our 2008 appearance together on “Flashpoint,” we have treated one another politely and with respect — although during our debate, she did often interrupt me, and in 2009, she voted against entering my prayer in the House Journal when I was chaplain for the day.

My arguments with her are not personal. While a leader in the Oklahoma City LGBT community, I always encouraged people to treat Rep. Kern with respect and not engage in the hostile responses that she indicates she has received. I have not read Rep. Kern’s new book, “The Stoning of Sally Kern: The Liberal Attack on Christian Conservatism — and Why We Must Take a Stand”; I am responding to excerpts quoted in Oklahoma Gazette.

A new narrative is emerging in America, and Kern illustrates it: Some conservative Christians are presenting themselves as an oppressed minority, despite all evidence that they remain politically and economically powerful. On the one hand, this minimizes the experience of genuinely oppressed minorities, those of us who do not live with the full legal recognition of our civil and human rights, who can still be fired from our jobs or lose our housing because of whom we love. We also live daily with the possibility of physical violence, and many LGBT persons have experienced actual, not metaphorical, stonings. I, too, have received hate mail and threats on my life, but I’ve generally shrugged such things off and chosen to a life of joy, not one of fear and victimhood.

Kern’s claims of victimhood come during a genuine cultural shift.  The latest Gallup poll revealed that now 53 percent of Americans support marriage equality for lesbians and gays. Now all but one mainline Protestant denomination ordains openly gay ministers. But this cultural shift has not come about through any secret plots or conspiracies, as Kern indicates. As anyone who has lived during the past 40 years knows, the LGBT civil rights movement and the backlash against it have been very public and openly debated in religious denominations, local churches, state legislatures, Congress, the media and the wider culture. This is the democratic process in a diverse, pluralistic society.

And that, to return to my opening story, is the thing that Kern actually opposes. She perceives gay people engaged in the democratic process as a bigger threat than terrorism. Her rhetoric is harmful not because it is “offensive.” Her rhetoric is harmful because she describes her fellow, free citizens engaging in their democratic rights and responsibilities as a “threat,” “war” and an “impending surprise” like the attack on Pearl Harbor. It is all the more harmful because she is elected to represent even those people she labels this way.

Kern needs to learn that America is diverse.  She needs to learn that her fellow Americans are not a threat to her. She needs to learn to live with those who disagree with her, and even more so now that a majority of Americans support the full civil rights of LGBT persons.

Jones, former Gazette columnist and Oklahoma City pastor, is now senior minister of the First Central Congregational Church in Omaha, Neb. He holds a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Oklahoma.

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