Sunday, August 23, 2009

The original "don't ask, don't tell".

There are few policies as innately hypocritical and fundamentally
cruel as “don’t ask, don’t tell”. 
It is disheartening that President Obama hasn’t acted to overturn
it.  The idea that we could deny a
man or a woman the right to die for their country because they happened to be
born gay or lesbian seems to go against everything that we claim to stand for
as a nation.  Don’t ask, don’t tell
promotes the very kind of “passing” that became a painful option for light
skinned African Americans or that forced Jews to gentrify their names to get
ahead in business or in Hollywood. 
It is an invitation to deception whose byproduct is often unbearable
self-loathing.  It is a basic civil
rights issue.

But we shouldn’t blame Bill Clinton or the generals for this
disgraceful charade.  They were
merely following what they learned in the house of God.  If any institutions have been guilty of
fostering don’t ask, don’t tell it has been religious ones across all
faiths.  The inevitable result of
this misguided practice is the wrenching unwinding that has been taking place
in numerous denominations over the past years, last week in the decision of
the Evangelical
Lutheran Church in America’s general national assembly to allow gays and lesbians
with “publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous same-gender relationships” to
serve as official ministers.  Thank
you Lord.

is fully expected that the decision, whose language in itself evidences a
continuing hypocrisy that I’ll come to later, will lead to the kind of schism facing the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians.  It might be different had they not
embraced don’t ask, don’t tell for so many years, in effect casting a blind eye
on what was there for everyone to see. 
What these churches are going through is reconciling reality with myth
and what they are painfully discovering is that half measures are not progressive but

In the Episcopal case, it was apparently
okay to have gay priests, even when not widely acknowledged, but not a gay
bishop.  High visibility makes a huge
difference, an opening not of the priest’s but of the church’s closet door.  In the other two, it was alright for
those in committed relationships to carry the burden of ministry but not the
title – a kind of system analogous to “wetback illegals” who do all the work
but at much reduced compensation and little if any psychic reward.  “I’m not really a minister but I play
one on TV.”  In their story on the
Lutheran vote, the NY Times quotes San Francisco’s Rev. Megan Roher, “To be
able to be a full member of the church is really a lifelong dream”.  She is in a committed same-sex
relationship and serves in three Lutheran congregations (think wetback) but is
not officially on the church’s roster of clergy members.  What was truly poignant was when she
added, “I don’t have to have an asterisk next to my name anymore.”  Asterisks, you will remember, are
applied to the suspect or drug induced misbegotten “records” of millionaire
athletes, a symbol of shame.  Note the
shame in that case transcends the individual in discrediting the sport (institution) and its

open secret of all religious orders is that being gay or lesbian is in fact the
very natural way for a segment of the population and aspiring to religious
leadership is as natural to them as to their heterosexual counterparts.  And of course, the institutions and the
pretending minority members have joined in playing the game, but not with the
same handicap.   Don’t ask,
don’t tell is just another form of blackmail in which both the perpetrator and
the victim are forced into an unholy partnership, but the first holds all the

back to that “publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous” formulation.  Notice that there is no mention of
marriage, which in itself bespeaks both inequality and a continuing disingenuousness. 
I entered the rabbinate single though I left the pulpit married.  During those early days no one ever
suggested that the only kind of relationship I could have was publicly
accountable, lifelong and monogamous. 
This is not to suggest that synagogues or churches necessary want their
clergy living in “sin”, but somehow “normal” relationships between a man and
woman are accepted as, well (to borrow language from my friend Doug Smith)
“just the way we do things around here”. 
They are judged by an entirely different standard.  I suppose there is an element of don’t
ask, don’t tell in these situations, one equally as hypocritical, but you and I
know it’s not quite the same. 
Perhaps clergy living with someone of the opposite sex in other than the
sanctity of marriage would face criticism or in some cases the loss of a job,
but it would fall into the category of being thought of as a “bad boy”, a
second or third level sinner. 
Being a “bad girl” of course falls in an entirely different category,
but as Gail Collins likes to say, “I digress”.

Don’t ask, don’t tell is a charade that discredits the military and
those who risk their lives for us on the field of battle.  Don’t ask, don’t tell in the church
makes some wonder what other hypocrisies are afoot under God’s roof.

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