"The young man said to him, “I have kept all these; what do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:20-21)
Last night, a friend was staying the weekend and we settled down into a long discussion about gender identity, politics, and media representation. At some point, I made the comment about how much our American culture has changed since the mainstreaming of Lesbian and Gay high school students in the show Glee. My friend acknowledged that Glee had done some good things, but it was still problematic. He pointed out that up until recently, the character who is cast in a wheel chair wasn't actually an actor who had lost the use of his legs. And now there is a trans character on the show but other characters constantly get her pronouns incorrect and no one calls those people out.
We went on to discuss Macklemore and his song Same Love which has recieved national attention. My friend said that the LGBTQ community was vocally asserting its disapproval that a straight white man was making millions on the plight of the LGBTQ community. We listened to a rewrite of the song by Angel Haze, a gay female hip-hop artist of color whose rewrite highlights the violence and oppression faced by the LGBTQ community in powerful lyrics.
Our conversation settled on the show that's all the rage these days, Orange is the New Black, a TV show that is about a white middle class women who is sent to prison and the women she meets there. The show features a trans women played by Laverne Cox, a trans actor. While being one of the few film pieces to cast a trans women in a trans women role, the show still has huge issues, casting a women of color as the white women's "side-kick" among other things...
Throughout this conversation, my friend, who is trans himself, remarked that he was tired of people saying that we should congratulate these shows/songs/etc for the "revolutionary" work they are doing to mainstream LGBTQ experience because by lifting up the baby steps that these media pieces are doing without critically thinking about the whole picture, we are in essence exonerating this media of all the other problems in which it is engaging.
As I tried to understand my friends position, I found myself thinking "well... at least the media is trying! Can't we give them something for that?"--obviously not getting what my friend was saying. In worship this morning, I came across the passage above in Matthew, when a rich man comes to Jesus and says, well I've done all these things that the scriptures tell me to so, isn't that enough to get into heaven? Jesus says no. Go back, try harder, and come back and see.
I can imagine a lot of well meaning Americans in the same situation, coming up to Jesus and saying, "I've taken anti-racism worships, I've educated myself on LGBTQ issues; I'm a feminist; I've changed my behaviors to address classism... Isn't that enough?" And Jesus would reply..."Ultimately God will determine whether you can get into heaven, but as I see it, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle than a human with any kind of privilege (male, straight, cis-gendered, white, wealthy, etc) to enter the kingdom of heaven. But don't stop trying... you just have a lot of work to do, go, relinquish your pride and come back and follow me."