"Note: I captured as best I could the words I spoke on Tuesday evening. I did not have an actual manuscript prepared but chose to address a few points."
Thank you for the opportunity to speak.
I only have a few points to make tonight.
I have worked to understand the situation of men and women who identify as LGBT. Specifically, last month I gathered a group of men and women to discuss sexual orientation and child welfare. This was an opportunity to listen and understand many people's situation in this regard. With that said, I want to make clear because of my Christian perspective, I understand these behaviors to be sinful. I think it is important to make that clear.
Listening to what has been said already, there is a presupposition here that we can end discrimination. We all discriminate. We discriminate on the basis of many things. We just heard an ordinance on soliciting in which a man stood up in support of the ordinance to prevent solicitors from coming to his door. Mayor, you and the city council will vote on this immediate ordinance and you will discriminate on the basis of a yes or no vote. We all discriminate.
We need to have a larger discussion on what human rights actually entails. Before we identify on the basis of our sexuality, ethnicity or anything else that we choose to divide us, we must remember that we are intrinsically the same. We are intrinsically the same because we are all made in the image and likeness of God. Yet we are different in our day to day. We need to have a larger discussion on human rights.
As I read this ordinance, including this provision only seeks to divide us. It has already been reported that there has been no report of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. If this provision is included, can the economically poor be included? What about political affiliation?
I have another recommendation, can the ordinance simply read the city will not discriminate against human beings? This recommendation acknowledges all of us as humans and does not divide us.
End of Message to Conway City Council
MY REFLECTION ON THE EVENING.
At the end of the meeting, I had several people-on both sides of the issue- come up to me and thank me for my words. One older gentleman stated, "Young man you stood between both groups. I appreciated that." The most common question I have received is, "Do you support or disagree with the ordinance. My answer is Yes. I support the substance of the ordinance and I disagree with its approach. The substantive support of the ordinance is on the ontological basis that we are all human beings made in the image and likeness of God. All employers should conduct employment practices on the basis of the employee's quality of work. When an employer negatively impacts a person's livelihood on basis other than his or her quality of work, it is dehumanizing. This leads to my disagreement with the ordinance. The city either needs to include all types of groups- economically disadvantaged, political affiliation, etc.-or consider the most accurate and affirmative statement that the city protects its employees from negative employment practices outside of issues related to work responsibilities. Lastly, I contend that not to include all other types of groups is discriminatory and therefore the ordinance lacks equality in its treatment of city employees.
The presupposition of ending discrimination is a noble idea but not possible. I propose that discrimination is a morally neutral behavior that exists in all human beings. Discrimination when used appropriately, selects the appropriate house for your family, participates in making the correct business decision, saves Soldiers and Law Enforcement in difficult situations, and even assist employers in choosing the best possible hirer. At the same time, we can not ignore the terrible consequences of discrimination which dehumanizes individuals, groups, and nations. We have seen it with Nazi Germany, Jim Crow South, Rwandan genocide between Hutu and Tsui, and Muslim extremism that targets Christians and Jews. This is part of our human experience and no human law can change that.
During the meeting, explicit or implicit statements were made that the LGBT movement represents an extension of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950's and 1960's. I will probably lose some folks here but the LGBT movement is not an extension of the Civil Rights Movement in two regards. One, LGBT persons have not experienced on a systematic level the deprivation of economic, social, political, and in some cases existence as Blacks did during that time period. While I will admit there have been isolated cases of discrimination and loss of life (Matthew Shephard comes to mind), this narrative fails not only on this regard but also an ecclesial one as well. The Civil Rights Movement was grounded in the local church. The movement was heavily populated by ministers, saturated with biblical language, and gathered much of the time in the churches. I am willing to be corrected but the national and local LGBT movement is not grounded in any faith tradition but it is grounded in humanism. Are there pockets of LGBT advocates which originate from faith traditions? I will certainly agree those exist, but to make the assertion that the LGBT movement is an extension of the Civil Rights Movement is disingenuous at best.
Conway has an approximate population close to sixty-thousand persons. The city council I believe is to represent the interest of the citizens. I have lived here going on eight years and on the basis of my observations, conversations with people, and decisions of the city; the traditional values and beliefs of the city are gradually changing. The testimony of several from the night are a testament to this possibility. "The city needs to progress." "We have waited since 1969." As I sat there in the room, I asked what does a more progressive Conway look like in the next ten years?
I completely sympathize with those in the LGBT community but I worry that they and supporters of the community are in danger of becoming the intolerance which they decry in other persons. My question to these men, women, and transgender, "What does a progressive Conway look like? Who and what ideas are included? Who and what ideas are included in this progressive Conway? I honestly would like to hear answers.
I was pleased to see a number of pastors in attendance but I was displeased that only a few of us spoke that evening. In a city that is heavily populated with local churches this was an opportunity for the communication of loving and wise theological reflection. We talk about loving our city and all those other "cool reach our city" evangelical statements; here was that opportunity. Pastors in our city need to consider providing their congregations with a loving and reasonable model to discuss social issues in our current period. It is the context in which our people live outside of Sunday gatherings, community groups, etc.
So there you have my summary of the ending. It is an interesting time to live in Conway and it presents an opportunity for loving, robust, and honest engagement. My hope is that we remember that we are all citizens of this city and as such we should pursue peace with one another.
If you ever have the blessing to meet Aaron; it is an experience. Aaron enjoys life and through the very expression of his smile, Aaron reminds you that God has indeed put good things in our creation. Aaron is a strong husband and father. He enjoys using his gift of music to inspire and set the mood for couples.
What does it mean to be a husband?
Ironically after seeing my parents split at the age of 6, it made me want to be the best husband that I could be. Kinda crazy thinking for a 6 year old but I remember it like it was yesterday. After the divorce was final, I went into the bathroom by my room, closed the door, sat down and prayed to God. I made him a promise that I would save myself for marriage if He promised to send me a wife that would never leave my side. Lord knows, I failed on my promise but God still had my request on His To- Do List. He was faithful even when I was not faithful. (Insert praise break). So to me, being a husband means that I will always be available to the gift that God has given me; emotional, physically and spiritually. I will be gentle with my wife’s heart and feelings. I will be faithful. I will protect her. The more that I think about it, really words can’t fully express what it truly means to be a husband. I mean, there’s 7.2 billion people in this world and God saw it fit to pair us together to live and die together. So as a husband I am to protect the heart of my wife that God has lend me.
What does it mean to be a father?
Being a father is something that is kinda hard for me to describe. I tend to think about what being a GOOD father is based off my memories of what I wished my father was like when I was a kid (He is a GREAT father now by the way). So being a father to me means being the biggest cheerleader for my sons. It means always having their back. It means standing by their side and always being a good Godly example leading in the front of them and blazing the path for them to follow. It means being vulnerable and admitting when I have made a mistake. It means celebrating all their successes and teaching them how to overcome their short comings.
What is the example you are seeking to set for your children?
I desire for my sons to follow and trust in Christ, to believe in themselves and stand for what is right. Therefore I try to set those examples and make my work visible to them so that they can follow the appropriate path. I want to set an example of hard work, patience and faith.
What contributions are you making to your city?
I currently work as the Event Coordinator/Marketing Director for Global Kids- AR/jUSt (Just Us). We as an organization focus on transforming urban youth into successful students as well as global and community leaders. Using interactive and experiential methods to educate youth about critical international and foreign policy issues. Last year we raised over 40K through crowd-funding, special events and corporate sponsorship to send 8 unprivileged children to Costa Rico for this experience. We are looking to do the same this year and also start jUSt afterschool programs in several communities across Central Arkansas.
What do you desire as a legacy? I want to be remembered as a very fashionable man that had fun doing God’s will.
What is your hope for African American Men?
With 50% of all African American marriages ending in divorces, I hope that we as African American men start understanding our value in our household and in turn lower that rate amongst black families. When we change that, we can make a positive impact in our communities and ultimately change the world.
What is the example you are seeking to set for your children?
I seek to be a spiritual leader and positive male example to my children. I want them to know that there is a positive male figure -in their household and society- who they can learn from, seek guidance, and admire. I would like for my children to know that they can do and become anything they want to be and I will support and help them along the way.
What contributions are you making to your city or community?
I am an Arkansas native who serves our country as a Warrant Officer in the United States Army National Guard but my greatest contribution is being a Christ follower. In addition, I enjoy assisting in furthering the health of our city as a CrossFit level 1 trainer.
What do you desire as a legacy?
The legacy I would like to leave would be more of an idea of what I valued, the way I treated people, and how I served others. I want others to think of my legacy as one of a peacemaker, who served his family, community, and others around him for the greater good. A legacy of a person of action.