Sacred Paths – No-Complaints Campaign Turns Its Back to Injustice

Gay Pride may be a time for celebration, but it would not be happening unless a lot of people complained years ago. Now a shallow, silly, yet far-reaching campaign is urging everyone to stop complaining.
On June 28, 1969, the Stonewall riots in New York marked a saving, transforming moment in the way LGBT folk related to the oppression against them.
Like Gandhi who used the Salt March to protest the British rule that forbade Indians to make salt by evaporating ocean water, and like Martin Luther King Jr., who provoked confrontation when nego atiations failed to remedy injustice, Richard Leitsch, president of the New York City chapter of the Mattachine Society, organized a “sip-in” in 1966 to test the rule against bars serving groups of three or more homosexuals.
This background and many other factors led to the Stonewall resistance, sometimes called “the hairpin drop heard round the world,” involving 2,000 gender nonconformists fighting with 400 police officers. One result was the formation of the Gay Liberation Front, which inspired similar complaints in Canada, France, the United Kingdom, Australia and elsewhere.
The following year, perhaps 10,000 men and women paraded from Greenwich Village to Central Park. Since those complaints, many American cities have created Gay Pride observances and the rights of LGBT people have advanced greatly.
So I regard the “no-complaint” movement, no matter how well-meaning, as anti-gay. It is also anti-black, anti-peace, anti-women, and anti-justice in general.
It has no religious legitimacy. The Hebrew prophets were complainers. Jesus frequently ragged on the rich exploiting the poor. Muhammad confronted the selfishness he saw in his own society. One of the things I love about the Jewish tradition is its normalization of complaining, even arguing with God.
I am embarrassed that no-complaint bracelets–five million so far distributed throughout the world–come from a well-meaning, but insufficiently thoughtful Kansas City congregation.
Although needless complaining is not very helpful, this bracelet movement justifies thinking of religion as “the opiate of the people.” Get the churches to get people to shut up about what’s wrong with our political system, for example, and you can run the country the way you want.
Would we even have a country except for complaints? By far, most of the text of the Declaration of Independence is a list of complaints and grievances.
The “no-complaints” movement is immoral not only because it disallows mentioning social ills but also because it suggests that religion is merely a personal thing. The New Age narcissistic focus on oneself sometimes closes the mind and heart to the needs of others, a bliss-ninny approach to the life of the spirit. This approach is popular, and its narcissism is illustrated in an astonishingly insipid song, often sung in churches with the best of intent but with obvious grandiosity, self-absorption, and self-aggrandizement. The song’s first line is: “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” Why can’t it begin with George Bush?
Do you think this song, which fails even to hint of injustice, would have moved Gandhi’s or King’s followers to the corrective protests that challenged iniquity? Do you think folks at Stonewall were singing this song and wearing no-complaint bracelets?
Instead of the narcotic of that song massaging me the individual, the song that transformed America was “We shall overcome.” That’s plural. This song was an inspiration because it recognized the evil of the situation and the good that comes from folks working together.
The original seven deadly sins are extravagance, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride. Complaining is not on the list.
No, truth and justice are spiritual values. It is a religious obligation and a citizen’s duty to complain when injustice exists.
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The Rev. Vern Barnet, D.Mn., does consulting, teaching and writing for religious and educational organizations here. His Kansas City Star column appears each Wednesday.

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