Curiously, it has often fallen to the U.S. military to take the lead in changing the society’s patterns of discrimination, even as churches sometimes lag. After World War II, the military took up the fight against racial bias. Today, the target is bigotry against gays, as Rev. Howard Bess notes.
By the Rev. Howard Bess
A great milestone was reached this past month when “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was officially ended. The military services of the United States are now leading the nation in implementing the end of discrimination against gay people.
With their new freedom, men and women are sharing their stories about serving their country with honor while hiding their sexual identity. Thousands of young people will continue to come out of their closets to tell their stories.
This past week, I read in Time Magazine the story of Lt. Karl Johnson, a gay Air Force Pilot. As I read of the injustices and pain that Lt. Johnson had endured to serve his country, I was both sad and angry.
My mind went to the thousands of young people who have been discharged from the American military because of their sexual orientation. My mind went to those, who like Lt. Johnson, endured the discrimination and continued to serve with honor.
I am embarrassed that the primary force behind gay discrimination has been my fellow Christians. Clergy, churches and denominations have been leaders in the denial of acceptance and human rights of our gay neighbors. Many clergy have known better but succumbed to the pressure of the pew.
I find myself both sad and angry that the U.S. military is operating with a higher ethical standard than Christian churches.
I was impressed with the maturity of Lt. Karl Johnson. In the telling of his story, his focus was not on the indignities that he and others had suffered. The focus was on the new day that was being ushered in. He was putting the past behind and looking forward to his new day as an Air Force pilot.
I consider the proclamation of the new day to be central to the Christian message. Sometimes we refer to it as the experience of being born again. Embracing born-again theology means that we believe none of the negatives of the past need determine our futures.
In the third chapter of Paul’s letter to the Philippians he writes “one thing I do, forgetting what is behind, I strain forward to what lies ahead.” He goes on to insist that it is this perspective that marks maturity.
Paul described the goal of his future as the “high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” As long as he kept his focus on that goal, the hurts of the past did not matter.
The dynamic of which Paul wrote does not change the past. He had been jailed, beaten and treated shabbily by many. He does not show any bitterness about what has happened to him. He believed that the past had no power over him because he was focused on the future.
“One thing I do, forgetting what is behind, I strain forward to what lies ahead.” It is a message that is good for individuals, communities, nations and the world.
The Rev. Howard Bess is a retired American Baptist minister, who lives in Palmer, Alaska. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.