Rev. Ken Hutcherson, an African American minister in Redmond Washington, has been an outspoken opponent of equal rights for gays. On Martin Luther King Day, he was asked to speak at a civil rights assembly held at Mt. Si High, a public high school near Seattle. He was booed by a teacher, and controversy erupted resulting in the school apologizing to Mr. Hutcherson and considering sanctions for the teacher.
Last spring I visited a series of mega-churches to better understand their appeal, how they are reaching out to young people and how they are serving the needs of their communities. One of the churches was Antioch, Mr. Hutcherson’s congregation.
While I was there, Mr. Hutcherson’s sermon was about gender roles, essentially sanctifying traditional stereotypes. At various points he acted out a woman cooing over a poopy diaper and a man calling his child to jump off a table, then pulling his arms away and kicking at the child to get up. The gist was, “What are you gonna do? God just made us that way.” He derided a biblical character for raising a weak soft son (who in the story died in her arms). At one point he said, “God hates soft men.” and at another, “God hates effeminate men.” But the quote of the day was this one: “If I was in a drug store and some guy opened the door for me, I’d rip his arm off and beat him with the wet end!”
My companions and I squirmed. Around us teens and adults and even small children, laughed at an image most would find shocking and ugly coming from a teacher or even a neighbor. But in this case, it slipped by the moral guard because it was coming from a messenger of God.
Civil rights are ideals, rooted in our shared humanity, our inborn sense of fair play and compassion. If someone is an advocate for his own tribe, however oppressed, and yet he cannot see the basic humanity of others, then he is not an advocate for civil rights. Human rights transcend tribalism, and Dr. Martin Luther King articulated this beautifully: “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”
If we are to teach our children to honor Dr. King, they need to understand the ideals for which Dr. Martin Luther King stood and died. They need to understand how these ideals apply equally to both Palestinian and Jew, to Christian and Buddhist and Atheist alike, to an Afghani woman or a gay parent, to the wealthiest aristocrat and the humblest beggar who walk this planet.
Valerie Tarico, Ph.D.
Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington
"We are each other’s business; we are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s magnitude and bond.” American poet Gwendolyn Brooks