This week, John Shore, Wayne Besen, and Evan Hurst (with an endorsement from Dan Savage) launched a campaign that is called, in short, NALT or “Not All Like That.”
The campaign, with the supposed goal of changing the conversation between LGBT individuals and the church, encourages LGBT-affirming Christians to record videos (ala It Gets Better) to say that Not All (Christians) Are Like That – “that” being the homophobic, anti-gay crusaders that have come to define much of evangelicalism on the national scene.
I get it. It’s coming from a place of wanting to reconcile a current great tension in American politics. Their hearts are – kind of – in the right place, because love should be the center of the Christian discussion and all too often we’ve been characterized by hate. I totally get wanting to take back your church for love.
However, this particular campaign seems to come off as half-cocked, and doesn’t have enough follow-through to do anybody any real good. I’ve raised several of the following questions on Twitter and in comments on both John Shore’s blog (where I got called a “troll” and a “PC Apologist”) and on Slacktivist’s blog. I have not, however, heard back from any of the members of the campaign itself, so I’m hoping they give the compiled criticisms here some consideration.
First, where’s the diversity? The leadership of this group seems to be white, cis men. Where are the people of color? Where are the trans* individuals? Where are the women - women of color, transwomen, women of different socioeconomic backgrounds, women with disabilities?
You see plenty of diverse people submitting videos to the project, but these user-submissions aren’t a good barometer of whether or not the movement itself prizes diversity. The lack of inclusion has the danger of re-entrenching power structures that deny intersectionality – as Dan Savage’s own career shows is possible. Savage has quite the reputation for transphobia, misogyny, and racism throughout his advocacy. His failure at intersectionality appears to be leaking through this project – at least through the leadership team – which is enough to make me cautious.
Second, what about LGBT Christians? As my Twitter-friend Fr. Shay pointed out, it seems like there is no acknowledgement that LGBT people exist within the church. Indeed, the project seems dependent on setting up LGBT folk and Church folk as two separate groups. And, as a result, NALT creates confusion about their audience.
Traditionally, “we’re not all like that” is a defense mechanism hailed at marginalized people when they discuss their experience with an oppressive group. A black person says something about “white people” and the chorus of brogressives chimes in “we’re not all like that!”
In other words, if the audience is nonbelievers who are LGBT, “we’re not all like that” isn’t the best way to reach out – indeed, it’s a refrain they’ve heard many times before and which functions as oppressive more often than not.
But if the audience is other Christians, then where does that leave LGBT Christians within the church? The simplification inherent within this campaign – two distinct camps of Christians and LGBT people – lends itself to much confusion as to whom it is directed. John Shore’s blog post on the subject seems to be pointing outward, to LGBT folk who have either left the church or see the church as an enemy. Fred Clark’s post seems to direct inward, but then his video explains things that people of “his tribe” (in itself questionable phrasing) would already know. And going back to Shore, in the “about” page on the NALT website, he says that “it’s time to speak up and be heard” – which begs the question: by whom?
This is a campaign that manages to re-center the oppressing group, and that's never good.
Third, what action is being taken beyond the videos? This is a criticism that plagued the It Gets Better Project as well, considering that the only tangible result seemed to be videos by celebrities made for good press. I don’t doubt that the videos helped some people feel better about their lives – that’s not what I’m saying. What I am wondering is where the tangible, hard work to actually change oppressive elements comes in. Posting a video online isn’t actually that brave, as the act itself distances you from your antagonists. You can turn off comments, ignore FB trolls, and never actually deal with the hard work that comes with challenging and changing oppressive norms within your environment.
LGBT youth are at a high risk of homelessness. Trans* individuals get murdered and assaulted at rates higher than any other people group in the US. Many LGBT individuals are living in food and shelter insecure situations. In many states, you can still be fired from your job for being gay or trans*, and many trans* individuals in particular with struggle with homelessness, poverty, and hunger.
How does NALT help change that reality? How does watching a video online create a tangible difference in the life of a transwoman who just got fired from her job for being trans*? How does a trending topic change the life of the lesbian who just got kicked out of her parents’ house and now has to live in a shelter?
Making a video and posting it would take me a couple of hours and I could feel like I’ve “done something,” but it doesn’t make me an ally if it doesn’t translate to action. And there’s literally no built-in mechanism to encourage action here. In terms of tangible, quantifiable results, this appears to be about as effective as changing your FB profile picture to a cartoon character to “fight childhood abuse.”
While I appreciate, in some respects, the desire to shift the conversation away from the stalemate it's currently at, this particular campaign seems to be all flash an no substance. It is, ironically, the height of slacktivism. I don’t care if you say you’re “not all like that.” Words don’t really matter here. Actions do. Let’s see some receipts, guys.