From the media’s impression, it’s pretty easy to think that all faith communities are against LGBT people and the struggle for equality. But in reality the religious debates are just as diverse as the ones going on elsewhere, with opinions changing just as rapidly as any other segment of society. Texas Leftist takes a look at one Houston church that is affecting this change while enlightening hearts and minds. As they would say, “traditional worship for contemporary people”.
Like most teenagers, I was not only excited to have my first full-time job, but proud to know that I had reached a significant milestone in my life. I didn’t have to rely on my parents for every want and need anymore. By having a job, and making my own money, I was able to contribute (in a very small way) to the household income, even if it was just by asking them for less spending cash directly. The minimum wage was a staggering $5.15 per hour back then, and I thought was really living the life by getting hired at $5.25. A full 10 cents higher!! I’ll never forget going to pick up my first paycheck of thirty-two dollars and fifteen cents. No great sum by any measure, but being my sum it was great to me.
I’ll also never forget the first time I worked the day shift at my job… a Sonic Drive-In in my hometown of Benton, Arkansas. Unlike the boisterous teenagers that ruled the store at night, Sonic’s day crew was very different. Most of them were older women who were at the store all day, working as many hours as they possibly could. I remember times when I would practically beg for extra hours, and asked my manager if I could work on Saturday mornings. She would always say “not unless you’re called in.” When I asked why, and was persistent, she would say “because they need the hours more.”
I didn’t understand it very well back then, but now those situations make a lot more sense. My managers weren’t being mean. They knew that the adult crew’s hours were truly a need, and not just a teenage want. As David Cooper and Dan Essrow of the Economic Policy Institute explain, the experience most Americans had with minimum wage work in their teens does not reflect the reality of those trying to survive on those wages. A full one-third of all persons working for minimum wage are over the age of 40. That means they aren’t just working to earn money for Friday night, but are struggling to support their families and put enough food on the table so that everyone can eat. They are trying to stem the tide of a constant stream of crises… hoping the car will run until payday, praying for their child to not get sick because they can’t afford to go to the doctor, praying that the lights will stay on until the end of the month. What seems to be petty annoyances to most in the middle class are a full-blown catastrophe to those making minimum wage.
No better place to witness these struggles than the Lone Star State. According to the Dallas Morning News, Texas is “king of the crop” for minimum wage earnings. Of the 3.6 million workers making the federal minimum, 452,000 of them are Texans. And though Texas is still one of the cheapest places to live in the United States, it may not be that way for long. The cost of living in cities like Austin has risen rapidly, with the state’s other big metros not far behind. Adding insult to injury is the fact that poor Texans continue to be denied vital assistance with healthcare, thanks to Governor Perry and Attorney General Abbott’s refusal to expand Medicaid. Despite what many say to the contrary, Texas’ working poor are struggling just like those in other states.
As we enter a new year, it’s time for the country to get out of that ‘teen mindset’ on the minimum wage, and start finding the reality around us. Sure, the minimum wage is probably higher than when most of us were in high school. The problem with that? Everything else is too.
Did you hear it? There’s a quiet revolution overtaking the music industry.
If you’re trying to guess what Texas Leftist chose as the most significant event in music for 2013, here’s a hint… it ain’t Beyoncé. But I can guarantee you that what Beyoncé did was partly in response to this. Without Delay, the definitive moment in music was…
This is a list of the Grammy nominations for album of the year. By this point, few people are surprised to see Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ smash hit album The Heist listed as a nominee. But we often forget that how they managed to get there represents a transfiguration of the music industry as we know it. The duo produced the album head to toe, front to back, as unsigned artists. The single Thrift Shop broke records by becoming the first song by an unsigned artist to reach number 1 on the Billboard charts since 1994. The single did this largely independent of the music industry’s traditional infrastructure… endless marketing/promo tours, heavy reliance on regional radio stations, and lengthy contract obligations. Instead, fans promoted the duo’s album by social media, which allowed it to go viral outside of the industry’s careful, calculated pre-destiny. Much to the envy of signed acts, the back end reward is just as significant. Being the sole writers, artists and producers means Macklemore and Ryan Lewis reap what they get in record sales, and the profits go directly to them. They also set their own touring and promo schedules.
As evidenced by Beyoncé’s decision to follow in Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ footsteps by ditching industry convention for social media, The Heist was a true game-changer, and pop music as we know it may never be the same. Who knows if this trend will continue, but to go from minor league tours to seven Grammy nods in one year? Let’s just say it takes some serious Wing$. This is without a doubt the most significant event of 2013 for music.
After the blogosphere’s sudden realization that next year’s City Council will have just two female members, Texas Leftist decided it was time for a more in-depth look at diversity in Houston’s municipal government, with some invaluable help from Charles Kuffner. And surprisingly, we’re not as diverse as we appear to be.
“What the Duck?!” asked PDiddie at Brains and Eggs. The reality show quacks opened a new front in the culture wars, and just in time for Christmas! While everyone quarreled about it on Facebook and Twitter, the US Senate quietly re-authorized the federal government to continue detaining Americans indefinitely. The real outrages again get supplanted by the fake ones, as the USA! USA! hurtles toward Idiocracy.
Located in the heart of the city, St. Paul’s United Methodist Church sits right next to Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts. The church is a large neo-gothic structure that echoes the grandeur and imposition of Europe’s most impressive Cathedrals. Whether driving by, or riding the Metrorail, people always seem to notice St. Paul’s. The congregation, with an average weekly attendance of over 1,100 members, is growing strong… attracting many young families.
During the advent season, one special tradition of St. Paul’s is to have a family start church service by lighting the advent candle, and reading part of the story of Christmas. One of the families the church chose this year was a same-sex couple… Greg Grant, his partner Ajay and their young son. As a mainstream Methodist church, St. Paul’s is not allowed to conduct same-sex weddings, or ordain openly LGBT ministers. And of course, being in the state of Texas, other LGBT discrimination abounds via the state-level Defense of Marriage Act, and a lack of other civil protections. Asking one family to read a few bible verses and light a candle isn’t going to correct any of these issues, at least not immediately. However it does show one example of the type of quiet leadership that is going on in churches like St. Paul’s. Today, many LGBT people are loving, giving, committed members of their religious communities, even if you wouldn’t know that from turning on the TV. While the media’s conversation about church seems to always be dominated by fringe forces like the anti-gay community (think Westboro Baptist church), churches like St. Paul’s have moved far away from that extreme characterization. To get more insight about this, I spoke with Reverend Tommy Williams, Senior Pastor of St. Paul’s UMC in Houston…
Texas Leftist: In reference to LGBT equality, St. Paul’s is not a Reconciling congregation, yet the church is supportive of equality and has many LGBT members. Do you feel that it is important to have this stance as a mainstream church?
Rev. Williams: Yes, absolutely. That is part of the beauty of St. Paul’s… it is a bit of an outlier in Methodism, but it is itself “big tent”. The congregation has a wide diversity of opinions on equality, but has very much committed itself in culture and values to a radical welcome of everybody. I think that a lot of congregations could embrace that sort of culture, even if they choose not to affiliate with an official movement. If congregations have differing opinions about the particulars of marriage, ordination, and other sub-issues within the broader scope of human sexuality, they should all be able to commit to a radical welcome of those persons and opinions. This allows us to be in conversation with one another, to be sharpened and matured in our faith and understanding of who God has created us to be. We can only have those conversations if everyone is at the table. I think that all mainstream congregations, whether they carry a particular affiliation or not, should be committed to that ethos and value.
Texas Leftist: As a Senior Pastor of a prominent church, how do you balance all of those opinions?
Rev. Williams: I think someone like me has to be committed to listening. And by that I mean really listening… not just lip service to it, but sitting down with people of various opinions, and bringing respect to that conversation. I try to grant everyone that same respect up front. As a person of faith, I understand that even if I don’t agree with another person’s views, they do deserve to be heard. They are genuinely wrestling and struggling to figure things out, just like we all are. Listening and granting each person with dignity is really important in my role. Sometimes I think it’s appropriate for Senior Pastors and churches to take very particular, public stances on certain issues. But other times it’s actually not helpful. It can compromise one’s ability to lead the whole congregation. In those instances, more can be accomplished through one-on-one relationships, and helping others to gain understanding over time. That applies to myself too… we all are learning and growing on these issues.
Texas Leftist: And you’ve just alluded to what I was going to ask about setting good examples. Each Sunday during advent at St. Paul’s, we’ve had a family start the service by lighting one of the advent candles. I noticed that these have been different types of families as well… a husband and wife with young children, adult children, and on the first Sunday of advent, a same-sex couple with their child was chosen. Instead of preaching some specific opinions on what the congregation should believe, it simply showed another example of what makes a family. Even beyond that, it was done without any fanfare or debate… but they were represented as a normal family, just like everyone else. Given how most churches are so sensationalized in the media (mostly portrayed as right-wing, anti-gay groups), was it ever a worry to you that others would be offended? Did you receive any negative comments after that Sunday?
Rev. Williams: I haven’t heard a single negative response from having Greg and Ajay do the candle lighting… not at all. I prepared myself for that a bit, but no one was upset. I really do think that the best way for us to be “the church” is to lead by example, have a continual conversation, and show mutual respect for one another.
What’s happening at churches like St. Paul’s is remarkable simply because it is so normal. It is a congregation that has moved past the extreme rhetoric of equality in the abstract, but is showing how different types of people get along in real life. In my opinion, churches like this one are the future of the Christian community. As the movement for equality continues, the most important progress isn’t going to happen in Congress or in a courtroom. It’s happening around us right now. And during this holiday season, it’s something that we can all be thankful for.
An important note on reconciling congregations…
I had to edit the original characterization of these churches, simply because I was misinformed on the nature of the movement. Most in fact do not disobey the Methodist book of discipline, but simply are working to change attitudes and rules within the church. My original impressions of the Reconciling movement were based mostly on knowledge of a few congregations, and not on official research.
It’s been quite interesting to see what amounts to a ‘minor freak out’ going on in the blogosphere right now. Suddenly, people are starting to realize that the Houston City Council isn’t as diverse as they expected it to be? And, particularly from a gender perspective, will be even less so in 2014. The Council, which currently has four women holding office, will be down to two in the new year.
My response to this… where was the concern before??
The truth of the matter? Houston City Council isn’t “diverse” right now… it’s still no where near parity to our actual city’s population. Four women on council is better than two, but still admittedly short of the 8 needed to be fully reflective of an even gender split. For a city that is over 40 percent Hispanic, Council is very much under-represented in that regard with just two Hispanic members. Not only will Council be losing 2 women in 2014, but it will also be flipping back to ‘majority white’ for the first time in nearly a decade. In a true reflection of the city’s racial makeup, the largest representative group should be Hispanic.
Those are just snapshot observations, but to truly understand the make-up of council requires a broader understanding. Given his expertise on all things Houston politics, I asked Charles Kuffner of Off the Kuff for some history on the subject.
Basically, Districts B, D, H, I, and K have been people of color barring anything strange. That’s five of eleven, or four of nine pre-redistricting. If District F is a non-Anglo, that will give you six of eleven (or five of nine), so you then need only two At Large members to be people of color to have parity.
Since 2003, District F has been represented by MJ Khan, Al Hoang, and now Richard Nguyen. During that time, there have been at least two minority At Large members every term except one, in 2005, when Ronald Green was it. So that was the last election that Houston had a majority Anglo Council. And [technically] Addie Wiseman, who served in District E from 2001 through 2007, was half Hispanic, though she never really identified as Latina.
In 2001, District F was represented by Mark Ellis, so three minority At Large members were needed, but there were only – Gordon Quan and Carroll Robinson. Annise Parker was also an At Large member, if that helps. However, Sylvia Garcia was Controller, and of course Lee Brown was Mayor, so I’d give 2001 a pass. In 1999 there were three minority At Large members – Quan, Robinson, and Orlando Sanchez, plus Parker, Garcia, and Brown. In 1997 there was Sanchez and Robinson At Large, but Martha Wong represented District C, so once again parity was achieved.
Interestingly, 2005… the last time City Council was majority white, was also the only term that it was majority female… 8 women to 6 men served. So by both measurements of race and gender, 2014 will be an anomaly as the most majority male and majority white Council in the 21st century.
That’s the data. But it’s important to frame all of this as an anomaly… simply a result of how the 2013 elections turned out. There were a fairly diverse group of candidates on the ballot, and certainly there is no reason to believe that the decision of voters had anything to do with race or gender. Nor does the lack of diversity serve as any indication that these Council Members will not serve the people of Houston fairly. But perhaps it should cause the city’s political community to take another look down the pipeline to make sure that people from all backgrounds remain interested and motivated in city government. That’s the only way to really ensure that the decision-makers in government truly reflect their constituents in as many ways as possible.
And one more point…
Before you go away and decide that local government is suffering from a loss of diversity, don’t forget that District I set an historic milestone in 2013. Council Member-elect Robert Gallegos will be the first openly gay Latino male to be elected in the city of Houston, and one of a handful of GLBT elected officials statewide. Here’s more from Lone Star Q…
Gallegos’ victory makes him the only openly gay Latino city council member in Texas. It also gives Houston two out council members, in addition to lesbian Mayor Annise Parker. Out Councilman Mike Laster was elected to a second term in November. Together Gallegos and Laster are two of only four openly gay city council members statewide — along with Joel Burns in Fort Worth and Scott Sherman in Pearland, according to the Victory Fund.
So even in a very odd election year, Houston City Council still finds ways to make progress.
“In a unanimous decision on Thursday, the state’s highest court declared state marriage laws unconstitutional and upheld New Mexico county clerks’ decisions to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
The state Supreme Court will now define “civil marriage” as the voluntary union of two persons to the exclusion of all others. In addition, all rights, protections and responsibilities that result from the marital relationship shall apply equally to both same-gender and opposite-gender married couples.
Writing for the court, Justice Edward Chavez said that “barring individuals from marrying and depriving them of the rights, protections, and responsibilities of civil marriage solely because of their sexual orientation violates the Equal Protection Clause under Article II, Section 18 of the New Mexico Constitution. We hold that the State of New Mexico is constitutionally required to allow same-gender couples to marry and must extend to them the rights, protections, and responsibilities that derive from civil marriage under New Mexico law.”
The ruling makes New Mexico the 17th state to fully legalize Same-Sex marriage. Approximately 34 percent of the United States population now lives in states of federal districts with full marriage equality.