Fair warning to you who are about to read this: It’s written with an “R” rating. It’s not sugar-coated, mealy-mouthed or any of the other indirect, passive-aggressive things you might expect from a pastor. In fact, I’m feeling quite aggressive.
Maybe I’m about to exercise my “aggressive liberty”. Now, if that term doesn’t make sense to you, read on to find out what was done in our names yesterday under the Gold Dome – which is a place that still apparently can be stuck disappointingly on stupid.
Let’s start with the Rev. Bryant Wright. He’s stuck on stupid for sure. But before I go into that, allow me refresh you on how the Urban Dictionary defines “stuck on stupid”: In a prolonged state of being completely clueless or too high to think straight. A second definition is: a person who cannot learn, a fool who repeats their mistakes time and again, a person who constantly screws up.
A bracing definition to be sure, but what happened yesterday in the state Legislature was just as bracing to me – and also hopefully to you. If you’re not sure why, keep reading.
You see, our fine General Assembly was witness yesterday to a “lesson in morals” sermon offered as the opening devotion – or invocation – to their session by a certain Rev. Bryant Wright, senior pastor at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church and a former leader of the Southern Baptist Convention, who took that opportunity to denigrate the TLGB (transgender, lesbian, gay, bisexual) community in the context of showcasing his support for the “religious liberty” non-issue that our fair Legislature apparently now likes to treat with the same perennial faux solemnity that the Christian-identity crowd has lovingly lavished on my other favorite example of seriously misguided Christianity-under-attack thinking: The never-ending fight against the never-declared “War on Christmas”.
AJC statehouse reporter Aaron Gould Sheinin reported via columnist Jay Bookman that the following came directly from Rev. Wright’s lips yesterday:
“It is just one example of what our culture is going to increasingly see as an issue of erotic liberty versus religious liberty,” Wright said. “We’re liable to see this with our military chaplains in the years ahead if they in good conscience believe they cannot perform same-sex weddings and could be kicked out of the military.”
That looming threat, he said, is a reminder of lawmakers’ role in making sure government is “protective of its citizens against evil and is working for the common good.” Religious liberty, Wright said, is a “foundational aspect” of the U.S. Constitution and is for the “common good and welfare of man.”
He urged legislators to remember the nation’s heritage “even though a majority of your constituencies have embraced erotic liberty over religious liberty.”
Erotic liberty?!? I really thought I’d heard it all, and then yesterday was a new day for me, and not in a good way.
Just what in all of God’s green earth does “erotic liberty” mean? And why, in particular, is it cast in opposition to so-called religious liberty? Is Rev. Wright saying that TLGB relationships are void of anything but sexual pleasure? Is he trying to impart that he sees TLGB sexual appetites as being so wildly out of control that sex is seriously all that they are about?
Please tell me people erupted in laughter yesterday in the Gold Trailer. Please.
But I suspect that’s not what happened – in fact I know it without even asking – and that’s just so sad at this late date in our evolution as a civilization. I also can’t decide if I’m more horrified at the thought that Rev. Wright earnestly believes what he said, or that he doesn’t actually believe it but said it because that’s his role as he sees it. Do you get where I’m coming from on that point? Because this is the age of hyperbole, and it’s becoming harder and harder to determine where the line between the real and the exaggerated actually lies anymore.
Maybe Rev. Wright and his ilk need to return all the videos that have been rented from Southern Nights or Inserection as “research material” and understand this: My partner and I have been together for 33 years. The amount of time we’ve spent in “erotic liberty”, I’m afraid, barely tips the scale compared to the amount of time we have spent in practicing “religious liberty”.
And of course, by “religious liberty” I am sure Rev. Wright meant: Going to worship services, leading bible studies, advocating for the abandoned in society, seeking housing for the homeless, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, spending time visiting the sick or imprisoned. Does the good Reverend’s definition of “religious liberty” include going to court alongside parishioners, or advocacy for the disenfranchised? Does it also include being a moral compass on race relations, immigration issues, or on unfair banking practices that cause people to lose their homes and livelihoods?
Because if that isn’t the good Reverend’s definition of “religious liberty”, then I really have no idea what it was God called me to be as a minister thirtysomething years ago, now working 60-70 hours a week, 50 weeks of the year. Or is he just stuck on stupid? (And by now I’m guessing you can tell that I’m being rhetorical with that particular question.)
But let’s humor Rev. Wright on one of his other points – i.e., that in the years ahead, if military chaplains in good conscience believe they cannot perform same-sex weddings, they could be kicked out of the military. Where in the world is he coming from on this? It was not that terribly long ago that military chaplains in good conscience would not perform interracial marriages, or interfaith marriages – yet when the military wisely (and perhaps, dispassionately) recognized that all human beings are created equal in the eyes of God, they adjusted for what would best serve their readiness objectives – an adjustment that just happens to be in tune with a higher moral law.
But Rev. Stuck-on-Stupid conveniently glossed over that and in doing so insulted everything America is actually about. And he did it in our state Legislature. Are you angry yet?
How exactly is his marriage, his religious practice, or his ability to preach on Sunday affected because a TLGB person is allowed to express their love, get married, or enjoy the ability to have a job? You can guess my answer: It’s because he’s stuck on stupid.
Please make a note dear Reverend, as perhaps I’m the first person to share this breaking story with you: Most of the country, most of Christianity, most of Judaism and many other faiths – in other words, the majority – are no longer stuck on stupid. The majority is no longer with you.
So what does that mean for Rev. Wright? It means he’s stuck in the past. He’s stuck in a past model of Christian religiosity that has been used to subjugate women, people of color – and really anyone who might have been inconvenient to the patriarchy at any given time. He’s willing to beat that tired old drum of denigrating a minority that he mistakenly thinks is a despised outlier.
Worst of all, he does it in the name of the God of love and the Jesus of redemption – and in the very city that was the capital of a civil rights movement whose members grew up hearing similarly mealy-mouthed broadsides lavished on them by the Rev. Wrights of their day. With the film “Selma” poised to make a fine showing at this year’s Oscars, what a sad day for Atlanta, the capital of the American civil rights movement, that Rev. Wright was given an audience by the state of Georgia just blocks from the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. It’s almost surreal when you think about it. It’s like we just don’t learn, ever.
Once you recognize all that, I think you’ll agree with me that calling the good Reverend “stuck on stupid” is really quite nothing compared to the sad truth of who he actually is and how much he sincerely gets it wrong. Rather than being stuck on stupid, I do believe we followers of Jesus are called to be stuck on love – and the Rev. Bryant Wright is decidedly, sadly and regrettably not stuck on that. He is the outlier, not TLGB people or the people who love them.
And by the way, would you like to guess whose side the God of love and the Jesus of redemption are on? But there I go again with rhetorical questions.
Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church and Editor-in-Chief of Whosoever, Rev. Paul M. Turner (he/him) grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He was called to Atlanta in 1994 to pastor All Saints MCC. Five years later he founded Gentle Spirit Christian Church. He lives in Decatur with his husband Bill, who he met in 1982 while living and working in Ohio and legally married in 2015.