Expanding: Lee Schubert, Ocean Grove, and Reinhold Niebuhr

The Irony of American History by Reinhold Niebuhr, words that I have quoted and more often paraphrased, "Most of the evil is not done by evil people, but by good people who do not know that some of what they do is not good." Niebuhr in these words sought to point out the contradictions that we who believe we have avoided doing the "not good," in fact in response to some persons and issues, we are less-than-good. How then do we continue to expand our hearts and minds? Lee and Jane Schubert, spend their summers in Ocean Grove, NJ, a Methodist-related community that is governed by the Trustees of the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association (OGCMA). When the state of New Jersey approved civil unions for same sex couples, the Trustees decided that those unions could not be conducted in Ocean Grove, even at those locations that were "public" places. As a result of this resistance an organization called Ocean Grove United (OGU) came into being to challenge the decision and actions of the OGCMA Trustees.

This past summer, I was with Lee and Jane Schubert and many others as OGU conducted a silent vigil to protest the presence of Kirk Cameron who was to speak at a camp meeting event. This after Cameron had said in an interview on CNN that he condemned "homosexuality" and marriage equality for same sex couples. We could not understand how, with the significant presence of lesbians and gay men in Ocean Grove, Cameron would be invited to speak.

Marilyn and I of Truth in Progress have known Lee, who is Caucasian, for a number of years and have been impressed by his commitment to the rights of LGBT persons and his support of those of us who through our organizations are advocates of LGBT rights. We wanted to interview Lee for TIP, and I had the opportunity to do that on his porch in Ocean Grove.

Many years ago I first read in, I believe ,Lee enjoys the many attributes of Ocean Grove; it is nestled on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, it has a wonderful beach, a host of wonderful restaurants, and the Ocean Grove "Great Auditorium" hosts some of the finest choral and organ music that can be found anywhere. Year-round residents as well as the summer visitors to Ocean Grove create a warm community that is comparable to any oceanside community. Lee and Jane, in their presence in and enjoyment of Ocean Grove, manifest what it means to "be in, but not of" the resistance to gay rights that some of the leaders of the community exhibit.

There is one aspect of our conversation that I want to highlight. Lee and I share what it means to expand our understandings of injustice beyond what has been our initial priority. When I first met Lee at a Reconciling Ministries Network strategic planning meeting in 2002, he did not agree that there was a connection between LGBT equality work and race-related issues. Over the years though, we kept the conversation going between the two of us and at times with the Rev. Traci West, an African American theologian. Because of those discussions, he has come to see the need to connect the two justice issues.

I have been a long-time exponent of racial justice and have expressed that commitment through my actions and support. Lee has been a long-time exponent of gay rights, and he too has expressed that commitment through his actions and support. I, in time expanded my commitment to include the justice struggles of gay persons, and Lee, in time expanded his commitment to gay rights to include the justice struggles of black persons. I do not in this article, have the time to share what this expansion of our commitments to justice has meant to me and I believe to Lee; but, it is the commonality of our respective justice journeys that creates an unspoken bond between Lee Schubert and Gil Caldwell.

This type of long view of dialogue and thought are the manifestation of what Truth in Progress is about. TIP exists to explore the intersections of racism, heterosexism and religion. Lee and I talked a bit about religion. Jane is a gifted and committed musician who expresses that commitment in her choral participation. Lee and I, while not singers, have found in music, a quality that touches the depths of our spiritual journeys. Lee and I talked about how there have been moments when we, like John Wesley, had our hearts "strangely warmed" as we have been emotionally moved by music.

For reasons I cannot completely explain, as Lee and I talked in Ocean Grove, the song "Nature Boy" came to mind. There was an emotional moment in my life when I said I wanted the song sung at my funeral. The song says, "we talked of many things," and then as I remember it ends with these words, "The greatest thing, you'll ever learn, is just to love and be loved in return."

I did not mention this to Lee, but as he and I talked, I felt that because of Lee's journeys and my own, he and I understood the importance those words had for the two of us. Lee and I have known what it is to be sometimes misunderstood, sometimes mistreated by "good people" who do not realize how hurtful and harmful their "not goodness" can be. But he and I have learned how to love them, even when their love of us is conditional.


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