From Orange County I flew back to Chicago for about 10 hours and headed with Brenda, my wife, to Washington, DC for some congressional and international diplomatic meetings, as well as the National Prayer Breakfast (NPB). Even writing that makes it sound super official, and it’s still kind of strange I was asked to be a part of it all. Quite an honor.
Many of the people and committees that we met with knew I am somewhat of a small-ish public figure who has a blog that more than a couple people read. Thus quite a few of them specifically asked me to not make any names or content of the private meetings public. So I am going to do my best to talk about each of them in as much detail as would not get me red flagged, in trouble or cause them to never trust me. 🙂 I’ll overview everything in a day-by-day order:
Morning: We flew in to DC really early that morning and immediately met with a great friend (who we also stayed with most of the time), and super HIV/AIDS advocate on the Hill, Brad Ogilvie, who is founder of the Mosaic Initiative and now works for the William Penn House. Brad’s main thrust is prevention and Knowing Your Status. I believe in Brad and his work so much—and for those of you who are straight, white, upper class type folks; why is it important for you to know your HIV status? Because if testing is just the norm, the power structures make it easier for those under the hierarchy of privilege and power to feel comfortable getting tested as well because it is those minority (ethnic and social) communities in America that spread the disease quicker than any other. As Brad says, the highest infection rates and the most danger come from those who don’t know if they’re positive. And yes, because of Brad I got tested. And no, I’m not positive. The example has been set…
Bren and I then went to the landmark Hilton Washington where the week long NPB events took place. We met with the intern assigned to us for the week, who gave us our itinerary, showed us around, introduced us to a few folks and then we hit the ground running with meetings right from the start.
Afternoon: We first met with a few African diplomatic liaisons to the United States where I had an opportunity to communicate an American evangelical perspective about the Uganda legislation. It was a very productive meeting in which I garnered quite a bit of insight. The one major take-away that I can say is that David Bahati, the man who presented the Anti-Gay legislation to the Ugandan government, feels backed into a corner by not only the back-lash from the States, but also taken by surprise how his own Ugandan government has started to side with America. He feels it’s a lose-lose for him either way; so he’s plowing ahead because he’s got nothing more to lose at this point. I think many American’s interested in this legislation look at Bahati as an anti-gay hate monger…I now see him more as a man who thought this legislation would sky-rocket his political career because no one would pay attention to it; overestimated his posture and is now clawing for anyone to join his side to keep his coveted influence that seems to be slipping through his fingers. And unfortunately, in some circles it’s actually working more than any of us would like to admit. This doesn’t seem to be a gay issue for Bahati, but rather a political stance to gain more influence. The sad part is that all of the crazies who do want to kill gays and lesbians are coming out of the woodworks making this guy some type of hero. And he’s riding it out as long as it can go to try and save face—recoup the damage this legislation has caused. Some folks close to him say that he feels if he wins this battle, he will regain the pre-legislation respect he lost. Sad story with the gay community caught in the middle as, literal, target practice.
Evening: Bren and I had the very unique privilege to have dinner with the infamous Wayne Besen. To say Wayne is a gay activist really doesn’t do him justice. In many of the conservative circles I run in, Wayne is looked at as an extreme enemy for how hard he constantly fights against everything conservative Christian; especially considering how much mainstream press he receives. I can’t tell you how many times I was warned to not meet with him. But that’s the point of building a bridge, right?
Wayne was also one of the organizers of the American Prayer Hour—a GLBT organized Anti-National Prayer Breakfast event held around the country. In light of me specifically being in DC for the National Prayer Breakfast, invited by its organizers, this dinner could have turned sour really quick. Yet it was not only a cordial dinner; but I have to give Wayne a lot of credit because he answered every single question I had with blunt honesty—and I did the same for him. And at least from my end, I respected the heck out of the fact that neither of us held up any barriers or walls of skepticism or distain that could have ended with us saying a whole lot of nothing; just talking around every elephant in the middle of the room. It was quite a freeing conversation, and for some odd reason I felt I could be up front and honest without having to be scared how every word out of my mouth was going to be used against me. We shared some laughs, and some serious moments. We disagreed on our ‘medium of engagement’ in regards to the culture war, but in the end it was a great first meeting, something we can hopefully build upon to see what systemic differences can be made between our communities. He’s a key player in this whole culture war, and has been for quite a while. It was exciting to have a few hours to interact with him on a very civil and productive level. As with many social media type people, they are a lot more nasty behind a keyboard than they are in real life. I was very intrigued by our time together, as well as very encouraged that one of the ‘most well known anti-conservative’ people was genuinely interested (at least from my take on things) in potential future dialogue. I’ll be honest though, sitting there at the table with him I kept thinking:
“This is nuts! How many conservative national figures have ever sat down with this man, broke some bread, and had an actual conversation about life and faith and sexuality? The answer is probably none. Amazing how God works.”
That is only the start to a crazy week filled with similar type moments.