Tuesday, January 22, 2019

God's Voice Conference, Compensation, and the Conservatives' Funding Crisis

Robert Oscar López
Dear Colleagues, Friends, Allies, and Anyone Else Who Cares,

On February 22-23, 2019, in Oklahoma City, a conference will take place called "God's Voice." You can peruse the website for this conference at http://www.godsvoice.us. I served as a committee member for this conference and also intended to speak at the event. Early versions of the conference website list my name. 

I will not attend the conference as a speaker or as an organizer. I do not serve currently on the planning committee. I would prefer not to comment on this change but some people have questioned what my withdrawal from God's Voice means.

We have, perhaps, a teachable moment on our hands.

Four planners still serve on the committee--Janet Mefferd, Tom Littleton, Stephen Black, and Peter LaBarbera. They are good people. I support their work and agree with the vast majority of what they say. 

I encourage people to attend the God's Voice Conference. If they offer you a chance to speak at it, I would recommend that you take the opportunity and go.

But some have asked me to explain further. 

The conference will attract its own controversy because of the subject matter (a "biblical response to the queering of the church"). Also because of who the organizers are (people know them as fighters who do not back down.) 

Because of the controversy, a few people want me to disown the conference or disavow the people on the committee. I will not do that.

I withdrew from God's Voice due to a problem that needs more attention within our conservative and Christian movements. Quite simply, I cannot afford to go. 

For the last eleven years I have been heavily involved in both conservative and Christian causes. I sustained financial losses to defend them. My wife and children have paid the price for what has amounted to my "donation" of uncompensated labor.

Conservative activists and leaders have expected me to risk my family's sustainability by traveling and dueling over political questions. Since 2008 they have pressured me to take public stances that alienate colleagues and isolate me within my field. Then the backlash comes. I find myself abandoned and forced to clean up the mess.

Most in the pro-family movement ignore, minimize, or dismiss the toll this takes on families like mine. They often expect me to swallow the loss, anger more people I need as professional allies, and as one person told me, "shut up and back off." 

For years I went along with this. But I noticed that when their financial support is at risk, they will turn into compromisers and placaters. Recently allies asked that I refrain from scrutinizing or publicly questioning certain churches about their problematic practices. They wanted to protect the financial viability of ministries that would go under without the churches' support.

To which I finally asked, "what about my going under?" Many conservative and Christian leaders fail to step back and consider the sacrifices and risks that their foot soldiers take to work on their projects. Often they hide money and call in favors to protect their funders, even when they loudly call out others for selling out.

I cannot judge people for needing to feed their families. I will not judge them. But I need to feed my family too. I have to stop doing things for free which hurt my wife and children. In an ideal world, Christian activists would see this and understand it. But we do not live in an ideal world.

Tom and Janet have heroically sought to expose the financial corruption that undergirds and makes possible the "queering of the church." Queer subversives have made inroads into the churches because of money. Many people in the conservative and Christian world played tricks with their money in the past. They have financial secrets, especially debts. They need bailouts, which often come in the form of secret or "dark" money with strings attached. 

I stood up and fought for the truth in the last year because I believe truth deserves a fight. Dallas police officers physically removed Tom Littleton from the Southern Baptist Convention at the same event where Vice President Mike Pence spoke, where the Southern Baptists dealt with a firestorm over the firing of Paige Patterson, and where my resolution supporting reparative therapy got rejected whereas the convention passed countless resolutions affirming threadbare social-justice issues or thanking rich people. I wrote about these affairs when they were radioactive. 

Seeing power games this dangerous, a smart detective knows to follow the money trail.

Like most Christian denominations, the Southern Baptist Convention finds itself desperate for money. Churches are losing members, particularly white people. They need to do special outreach to people of color to save themselves from dissolution. They need to play up to wealthy foundations. The typical family foundation is a big pot of money that began when Grand Pappy, who struck it rich somewhere, became a Baptist. Typically a Grand Pappy found Jesus in the post-Civil War days of robber barons and plucky inventors. As his generation died off, later generations changed the family lineage. Among the great-grandchildren, some liberal descendant who partied for four years at an Ivy League school and has lots of gay friends now decides who gets the money. 

I smelled this game long ago. I once wrote a novel called The Melville Affair. It remains unpublished. One of the main characters, Austan Melville, was an heir to a Texas oil fortune and a flaming gay socialite living in Manhattan. Austan's ancestor was Baptist preacher "Habakkuk Magpie" who changed his name to Melville when he saw a rack of library books dedicated to Herman Melville. Habakkuk and his son Rufus wanted respect from the world at large so they took the surname Melville and started a charitable trust. 

Austan, a great-great-grandson of Habakkuk, was the favorite of his grandmother. She had no idea about his sexual antics. Everyone in the family covered for him until she died and left Austan in charge of the family foundation. 

Austan uses the money to gather an entourage of cloying pornographers producing "art" that really amounts to photographs that demean young Latino boys and display them for profit. The main protagonist in Melville Affair, Dodson Silva, falls prey to Austan Melville's seduction. Austan throws him away when he realizes that Dodson sees the racism and hypocrisy in his family's cultured veneers. 

In Melville Affair, three rich white families complicate life for the ensemble cast of Latino characters affected by their schemes. The Melvilles are one family. Another, the Buckleburns, are old Yankee aristocrats who ended up on the right side for hundreds of years. Then the Turtleshells, a shady media dynasty with a fake name, descended from Andreas, refugee fleeing the war-torn Balkans in the late 1940s. 

Anglo money ends up toxic to poor Latinos trying to get ahead in the creative arts. Latino characters like Evelyn Morales, Oscar Coronado, Richie Rosas, and Angélica Crespo get entangled in conflicts they did not choose. They try earnestly to share their talents with the world and get dragged into the nightmares of nonprofit foundations, political action committees, and media megaliths controlled by these wealthy white people behind the scenes.

I wrote Melville Affair first in 1998 as "the Latino Bronze Age" and kept developing it until it reached its final form in 2008. I mention this to say I have noticed the problem of Baptist money for a long time--long before I had any idea I would ever be Southern Baptist, live in Texas, or have anything to do with debates about Mike Pence or Tom Littleton.

Southern Baptists must walk a tightrope and not fall down on either side of the wire.

If they openly affirm homosexuality and trans politics, they will lose more Christians, who will exit the churches. 

If they play hardball and stick to the scripture on sexuality issues, they will lose the Melvilles and Buckleburns whose money they need to keep going. 

So they invite and honor Mike Pence, the former governor of Indiana and VP of the USA. He vetoed the religious freedom act that would have protected many Christians from persecution similar to what I suffered. Of course Pence had to do that back then, to protect his career. And Southern Baptists had to invite him to speak at the convention, to protect their careers. They had to sink my resolution, to protect something somewhere too.

Tom and Janet have done important and courageous work to expose these financial corruptions. For that reason, the God's Voice conference matters. It will do important work.

But my situation differs. For a whole decade I gave my pound of flesh to pro-family causes. I will continue to fight for them as I can. But we cannot ignore the quandary of how Christians are going to make a living. We cannot simply attack and attack and expose and criticize. 

To present at God's Voice, I would have to sacrifice a great deal. I would have to spend my money and time. Instead of attacking people whose money comes from questionable places, I want to work with people to build something sustainable that I can get behind. I do not need to be on a stage and on the radio fighting battles on a dozen fronts.

I choose this way because I know the reality of my family's needs. But others who can make the sacrifices necessary to attend and support an effort like God's Voice should absolutely do it.

Irregardless, we all have to figure out how people in our movement can support themselves on terms they can live with.

By the way this transmission is worth listening to, by Joe Goodson. https://www.facebook.com/CentralTexasCCC/videos/309052693050258/