Category Archives: lgbt rights
Somewhere this week, possibly tonight and if not Saturday, Amendment 14F to the Presbyterian Church (USA) Book of Order (constitution) will secure the requisite votes to confirm the change to our definition of marriage to be between two persons. Some will celebrate and some will mourn, some will gloat and some will gnash their teeth. Many really won’t care.
I will celebrate.
I will celebrate because God’s covenants are always bigger, broader, and deeper in the promotion of life and love than we like to let them be…
I will celebrate because I believe the primary call of the Gospel is to let the oppressed go free. Oppression exists in so many ways – but none more insidious than the forcing of the other to adhere to a dominant cultural norm. Such dividing walls must be brought down.
I will celebrate because people I know and love will be embraced by the church I know and love and their love will be acknowledged as being lived in God.
I will celebrate tonight – I hope – because I am here at #nextchurch2015 with so many who worked so hard to let this justice and blessing roll down. And there is no greater gift than watching history happen with the people who made it happen… Even if just a microcosm of the larger whole.
I will celebrate because footsteps into the future should be celebrated and appreciated and marked for remembrance.
And then we will continue the work because it isn’t done. The work of listening to the anger and pain of those who do not see God in this. To the anger of pain of those who saw God in this long ago… and this is so so late. The work of loving the walls away, and building up the communities whose seems are stretched by the messy work of being transformed out of our comfort zones. The work of continued listening and openness to transformation, and setting aside oppressive norms and hurtful assimilation. The work friends are doing – and being arrested for – even now back in Idaho as we continue to seek to #addthewords and protect LGBT friends and neighbors from discrimination and oppression. The work of promoting life and love for all people.
I will celebrate, and I hope you will too:
Celebrate life; celebrate love; celebrate each other.
Anytime Facebook gets momentum on profile pictures being changed for advocacy reasons it creates tension. Last time I experienced this with the red equal signs for marriage equality and I, after a FB exchange, blogged about why I did it, here.
Yesterday, again with marriage equality, the denomination in which I serve – The Presbyterian Church (USA) – made way for marriage equality through two efforts: one immediately allowing pastors to use discretion and perform same-gender marriages, and the other a constitutional change to the definition of marriage affirming its traditional understanding as between a man and woman but also changing to two persons to recognize a larger understanding of marital covenants. Then a lot of Presbys took FB profile pics by storm changing our seal to some version of rainbow.
(Image compliments of Adam Walker Cleaveland here)
Today I heard (indirectly, but I heed her voice) from another person who didn’t appreciate the “rainbowing” of the PC(USA) seal which she felt sent signals we weren’t meant to send. I respect her views, she is one of the most passionate disciples I’ve ever met and I really wish I could move her to my current church because I miss her presence and her wrestling with God’s word. And her views are shared by many. She spoke respectfully and gave voice to frustration – thank you for that. I should be held accountable, its why I do church – affirmation and accountability. So I am grateful for the opportunity to again be reflective about my choices. Everyone recognizes that not all of us celebrated this change. Is it crass to celebrate when that causes further pain? What about those who have been oppressed and chased from the church by our silence or outright denial of their committed relationships, can we not be happy for them, with them? How can we give voice to pain, celebrate joy, and still struggle to live together with common cause in Christ?
It isn’t easy. We are still figuring that out. But because I think I should have to stand up for why I choose to be “seen” in support of marriage equality and not just do “picture advocacy” here is my response about why I rainbow sealed:
I appreciate your thoughtful reflection. I think your reflection speaks for a lot of people, and it needs to be said. I do not wish to debate the right and wrongness of it – God knows how often I’ve been wrong. But I do wish to speak for myself of why I have a rainbow seal
I see the rainbow seal as appropriate precisely because I am pro gay. Because called to love my neighbor, the stranger, the alien, and the outcast, I am pro humanity. I am pro people who have been denied love and care, particularly by the church. I’m pro being in a church that is trying to cease to be an oppressive force which it has been (and always will be because we see through a glass dimly). I am pro people in their diverse particularity. If you cannot be pro black, pro woman, or pro gay. I do not think you can say you are pro human. Being pro human without supporting people in their particularness is generic and – I’d say – meaningless.
“If God is for us, who can be against us?” God loves people in their particularity, this is incarnational theology, and I endeavor to do the same, something at which I do fail, but today I celebrate with a strong sense that the church in which I serve has opened its arms a little wider and loves a little deeper. And when I walk in the Boise Pride parade tomorrow I will do so proud of our church for its stance.
So yes, for today and tomorrow my seal will be rainbow. It could be, and should be all colors and no color and whatever it takes to remind us that God is God of all people, of many covenants, of steadfast love and faithfulness who tends to hang out with the people forced to the margins by the dominant narratives of our corporate life but endeavors to gather us all in celebrating our uniqueness while creating a wholeness and unity in an Acts 2 kind of outpouring of the Spirit. Today’s rainbow may feel like the scandal of particularity (ala Israel itself) to you, and that should be – because that is the way of our God who lifts up those who need lifting, and at one time or another that is all of us.
In the deep and wise words of Bob the Tomato, “Remember kids, God made you special and God loves you very much.”
——UPDATE, only one hour later 🙂
I didn’t get this in oiginally and wanted to do so but I’m not a really a disciplined and polished writer, I’m just jotting down my thoughts and reactions so let me get this in now. On the question of the rainbow. I never knew the genesis of the rainbow in support of LGBTQ neighbors until today (or I don’t recall knowing this) when I read this article from Slate. However, I have always thought of the rainbow in terms of the rainbow covenant which is God’s reminder to God’s self not to destroy again. It is a deeply theological affirmation of all life, and of love for God’s creation. Under the rainbow we are reminded that God holds life sacred – our lives, all lives. I think that works for me too.
This is part of an ongoing series on the Holy Spirit section of the PC(USA) Brief Statement of Faith. Today’s installment:
“To work with others for justice, freedom, and peace”
Doesn’t that sound so nice? It’s almost like the combination of a group project in school with the wishes of the stereotypical Miss USA, “I wish for world peace.”
But when the rubber meets the road we struggle to play well with each other, and peace isn’t any easier. What is peace? What gets us toward peace? And what do we do when two or more groups are at odds with each other cannot agree on who gets peace and at whose expense?
These are timely questions as right now the 221st General Assembly is happening in Detroit as the Presbyterian Church (USA) discerns matters of policy and polity. The elected commissioners are quite literally trying to work together for justice, freedom, and peace. But there are some very challenging questions before them: particularly the matters of the definition of marriage and justice for same gender peoples who have been denied the right to marry, and in the matter of potential divestment of three companies deemed to be have no interest in being in dialogue with us about their continued profit from the illegal occupation of Palestinian lands by the state of Israel.
On both these subjects we have strong disagreements about what is justice and what is peace. We struggle with freedom in the midst of unity, and how to work together with such strongly held and opposing views.
And then I went today to my preachers bible study where we read about Hagar having a covenant from God (Genesis 21) to be God’s people also: none of us has unique status in the eyes of God, or maybe it’s that we aren’t uniquely chosen by virtue of the fact that we all are uniquely chosen. So how do we check our privilege at the door? A question made harder by the fact that most of us get defensive at the suggestion that we even have privilege. And how do we help our neighbors check their privilege at the door… particularly when that is an offensive enterprise.
Then Jesus walked in for the Gospel text in Matthew and announced that he comes not to bring peace but a sword… to set us against each other… and that to gain our life we must lose it. (Matthew 10)
How do we work together for justice, freedom, and peace?
I don’t know… but I have some ideas.
We have to let go of our life. We have to let go of our self-interest both as individuals and as corporate entities. We have to let go of the idea that we should secure our safety and well-being at the expense of others.
We have to be humble. We need (I think I heard this somewhere) to love our neighbors just as much as we love ourselves… and vice-versa. And… we have to have the humility to imagine that we are at least as wrong in some of our ideas as the people we disagree with. No-one is really setting out to be mean. No-one is seeking the badwill of all other people. Our disagreements are heated exactly because we each think we are seeking what is good and right. For a moment… let’s imagine that about half of what we think is wrong, and about half of what “the other” is saying is right.
We have to be willing to be offensive. This is hard because I don’t think that means offending people for the sake of it. We ought not to SEEK to be offensive, but we cannot be afraid of it either. Seeking peace as a ‘not rocking the boat’ is not in fact peace, it is asking those who are not currently protected by the dominant narrative to be quiet so we can pretend that all is well.
We have to trust each other. We have to trust each other enough to stick in relationship long enough to get past the offense, the defensiveness, and the monologue-slinging to actually listen, hear, and relate to each other… for it is only if we can stay in conversation this long that we begin to actually do the work together towards peace part.
We have to admit that we won’t succeed. We are seeing through a glass dimly. We all are. We will not achieve peace, or perfect justice, or grant pure freedom to all people. We just won’t. These are guiding lights – like the North Star. We pursue them, not in the idea that we are capable of reaching them, but in the hope that we move ever towards them… and that in our fractious discernment and yearning for goodness the Spirit of the Lord is actually present.
“In a broken and fearful world the Spirit gives us courage… to work with others for justice, freedom and peace.”
Thanks be to God.
This is part of an ongoing series on the Holy Spirit section of the PC(USA) Brief Statement of Faith, Intro found here
- In a broken and fearful world the Spirit gives us courage to pray without ceasing: here
- To witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior: here
- To unmask idolatries in Church and culture: here and here
- To hear the voices of peoples long silenced: here
- To work with others for justice, freedom, and peace: see below
- In gratitude to God, empowered by the Spirit, we strive: forthcoming
- To serve Christ in our daily tasks and to live holy and joyful lives: forthcoming
- Even as we watch for God’s new heaven and new earth, praying, “Come, Lord Jesus!”
“to hear the voices of peoples long silenced”
This blog post is part of a continuing series on the Holy Spirit section of the Brief Statement of Faith of the Presbyterian Church (USA), but also connects with a larger justice issue in my home state of Idaho (and throughout all our communities around the world). I am grateful for Ty Carson’s willingness to add a “silenced voice” to this post. Ty’s full story is heart breaking; Ty’s courage is inspiring.
“to hear the voices of peoples long silenced”
This line tugs at my heart. Power pervades our lives. The power of government, power of privilege, power of personality, power of physical presence, power of role and status… so many power dynamics. All of these power dynamics silence people who lack that power, sometimes very intentionally, sometimes without thought, and sometimes entirely unintended. And yet the silence is still forced, the hurt is real, injustice is still done. We ignore power dynamics to our detriment, but even more so the detriment of those silenced and cast aside. When we ignore those voices we become complicit in the hurt… we join the ranks of perpetrators.
Just as we unmask idols; we must hear the silenced, we must unmute their voices and open our ears and hearts to their pain.
Hearing the voices of people’s long silence has long been our calling – prophets speak on behalf of “the widows and orphans,” and God pays particular attention to how we treat “the least of these.” And yet the Church can struggle with its own power problems… and cause much hurt. Think of all those the Church, intentionally and unintentionally silence out of fear or control or to for our comfort’s sake. We silence prophets as well as Israel ever did. We must listen to the voices we have cast aside. We must set aside our defensive responses to truly hear those voices, and not just listen to them. And we must strengthen them and lift up the voices that society casts aside. We do not simply hear them for changes in our hearts – but we hear them and lift them up for the transformation of our communal heart. We are in the business of building up people… all people. This is the heart of “good news” in Jesus Christ, and the love of God which casts out all fear.
And there are so many silenced voices
- People who don’t think like us, people with different truths. Conversation across faith beliefs, and political ideology grows harder every year as we choose to listen to only those who will reinforce our own truth.
- Minority populations in faith, culture, race, and origin who have had to learn the hard way that “freedom” is quite a bit more free to those who fit the look, feel, and expectations of our normal.
- Outsiders to our institutions who we may profess to invite in but who we do not welcome enough to change who we are so they have a place at the table.
- Recent events in Santa Barbara remind us that women’s voices as equal to men is still not a reality. Women are still treated as objects on our streets, and machismo definitions of what it means to be male and the entitlements therein continue to silence and degrade gender relations.
This list could go on at great length, but in the midst of these silenced voices I am immediately drawn to a particular population that has quite visibly been silenced. I have become involved with advocacy on behalf of Idaho’s LGBTQ population who desires to have their rights protected as equal under our constitution. The Add the Words campaign has sought for 8 years to get the four words (sexual orientation and gender identity) added to Idaho’s Human Rights Act. For 8 years the legislature has been unwilling to even have a hearing on the idea. Voices silenced. So silenced that this year the protestors advocating for these changes did so by covering their mouths in mute testimony to our silenced friends. This change isn’t about granting our LGBTQ friends and neighbors special rights – but the same rights that the majority of us take for granted. This is a protecting people with the basic right to freedom and safety from abuse. This is about ensuring that they can be who they are in their gender identity and/or sexual preference without fear of being kicked out of housing or losing their job – in other words that they can be free in a nation that claims to hold freedom among the highest of virtues. This is about helping to create a tomorrow in which no more youth seeking to be who they are in their own hearts feel so silenced by an unloving and unaccepting and unsafe society that they take their own life.
This isn’t an issue. These are peoples… long silenced. So let me introduce you for a moment to one such voice, Ty Carson. I met Ty through the Add the Words movement. Ty spoke a moving testimony at our Service of Healing and Hope through the Interfaith Equality Coalition and when I saw that I was to write today on, “hearing the voices of people’s long silenced” it met up perfectly with Ty’s continued work. So without further ado. Meet my friend Ty.
My name is Ty Carson. I am a parent of 3 beautiful children. I was born in Silverton, Idaho. Growing up in the Boise Schools I experienced bullying, physical violence and fear daily, while teachers and administrators stood silent. These classroom and playground experiences instilled a fear and shame inside me that still haunts me today. As an adult I have been verbally attacked in bathrooms, locker rooms, and local restaurants, just because I entered the room. I believe that adding these four words (sexual orientation and gender identity to the Idaho Human Rights Act) will be the beginning to changing the para-dime that ignoring discrimination is okay in schools and businesses. Being silent in our families, in our schools, in our communities and in our government is toxic and it hurts. Until the Governor and the Idaho State Legislature say that it is wrong, the message they are sending is that it is ok to discriminate in our state.
81% of Idahoans believe it is wrong to discriminate against gay and transgender people in Idaho. 81! And yet still our government is silent and will do nothing – still our voices are silenced. To these wonderful friends and very important allies that make up that 81% I invite you to come see a new documentary film of the Add the Words struggle; see the film and be inspired by a chance to really see and “hear” the gay and transgender community!
Filmmakers Cammie Pavesic and Michael D Gough have teamed up with Sean Small, MDG films and Quicksand Productions to produce their second film together, Add The Words. This documentary has 2 intentions; 1. To tell the story of this epic 8 year long battle of adding the words sexual orientation and gender identity to Idaho’s Human Rights Act; and 2. To tell individual stories of those directly affected by Idaho lawmakers not including the four words. Idaho ranks at the top for suicides in the 50 states and many of these can be linked to “Gay bullying”.
I believe that this film has the ability to touch everyone who takes time to go see it. So EVERYONE grab a friend, inspire a neighbor, invite someone who makes you nervous and go see a film about WHO we did this for and WHY we did it!!!
Silence in the face of injustice hurts. End the hurt, end the silence, listen – and hear – your neighbor’s story.
“hear the voices of peoples long silenced”
For more information about these events you can go to these places or “inquire within”:
Add the Words Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/addthewords
Add the Words Website: http://www.addthewords.org/
Add the Words Documentary News Story and Video: http://www.boiseweekly.com/CityDesk/archives/2014/05/30/watch-a-trailer-for-documentary-on-idahos-add-the-words-movement
Add the Words Screening at Egyptian Theater, buy tickets here: http://sa1.seatadvisor.com/sabo/servlets/TicketRequest?eventId=896285&presenter=EGYPTIAN&venue=&event=
Interfaith Equality Coalition (faith communities dedicated to support equality for LGBTQ neighbors) Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/interfaithequalitycoalitionidaho
Two quick reflections on tonight’s federal court judge decision in Idaho throwing out the ban on same gender marriage (story here).
1) One small step; one giant leap. The Governor’s statements aren’t a surprise and remind us that the entrenched conservatives will fight this to the end and then probably even more. (Much like they will continue injustice beyond the grave.) This is still a small step towards making this state open to marriage equality and full rights of LGBTQ persons. Life will not be safe in Idaho for these neighbors tomorrow just because of this decision. And yet… this is still a vital and major leap towards the day when that will no longer be the case. “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:78-79)
2) In both Revelation and the apocalyptic visions of Daniel 7 “the Beast” is actually easily “defeated” by God. However, in the Beast’s “death throws” it continues to plague the world. It seems to me at this point the injustice of refusing to defend LGBTQ persons as equals under the law, and to recognize their marriages as binding under the State is dead. Its death throws are still horrific. Its death throws still cause real and tragic consequences. But know this: this injustice is dead. We just won’t all admit it yet, and often this is the most dangerous time for the victims of such injustice.
Just last night I was part of an Interfaith Service of Lament and Hope for another year (after many years) of failure to get Idaho’s legislature to Add the Words (sexual orientation and gender identity) to the Idaho Human Rights Act. As much pain as we heard in that service… I was struck by how palpable the hope was also. So many lives lost, so many more people willing to put their lives on the line for – and in – love. At the end we passed out stones. We reminded ourselves that these stones weren’t weights to carry – like the world gives… shame, guilt, oppression. And we reminded ourselves they weren’t weapons to be thrown. That would be the way of intolerance and hate. These stones reminded us that throughout history and in all our faith traditions the “corner stones of justice” have been rejected, and yet these same cornerstones have become the building blocks of a better, safer, more just future. (Psalm 118, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.) We carry these stones with us now. And we commit ourselves again to be the those who dedicate our lives to paving the way for that future… today. And to let love and compassion for all people be our cornerstone.
Update: I was reminded of an older post on why I support marriage equality. If you missed it back then you may read it here.
The following poem (of sorts, I’m not good at rules) was inspired by a Facebook group called Stand-up with a Selfie that has people take selfies with their hand over their mouth in what has come to be the calling card of sorts for the Idaho, Add the 4 Words campaign calling the Idaho legislature that will not give us a hearing to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the Idaho Civil Rights Act. Its not calling for special rights, just basic human rights. And they won’t even hear it.
So I watch these picture scroll of so many people, standing in mute testimony to Add the Words. And I find these words coming to me, and I share them here with you (one last bit, each picture has with it the words – Its not about me, but it is):
Its not about me, but it is
I’m not without predisposition;
My comfort zone and my people-like-me-ness.
I’m not without standards;
My desires to draw lines and my tribal nature.
I’m not without fears;
My drive to demonize and my closed ears to tears.
I’m not without brokenness, finite love, and limited grace.
But it’s not about me.
But it is.
I do not wish to be offensive
Or even defensive.
I do not wish to rock the boat, but…
it’s not about me.
But it is.
If we are all one human family.
A great big tree of unity and diversity.
I have to realize that I am no more true to it than you are it.
And my fears and tears and standards and walls and…
Well… well , its not about me. And, it’s not about you.
But it is.
It’s about me and you, different and the same.
Despite all the fears and the tears,
The walls I built, and the otherness you bear.
You and me, we are vitality.
A spark of life that desires to be free.
And it should be.
Free to be you.
Free to be me.
Free to be alive and thrive and not hide.
It’s not about you.
And it’s not about me.
But it is.
One human family.
I’m not without my predispositions.
But it’s not about me.
And they aren’t me.
And I can be free of me, so
You can be free of me, so
We can free, You AND Me.
Its not about me… but it is.
If you have been around me for very long at all this won’t come as a surprise to you because you’ve probably heard me say it.
I’m a strong introvert and something of an academic. I grew up happily playing in the sand by myself during recess. I read books by the light of my closet until 2 am every night. (Unless my parents caught me and made me go to sleep.) I started out college as a secondary education / math major. I then changed to Philosophy with the intention of going to seminary and on from there to do PhD work… still teaching but at a different level. I was on the road to stay true to who I think of myself as being: an introvert who prefers to only know and hang out with a small very close group of friends and have esoteric debates just for the sake of it.
Then very early on in seminary my plan went all amuck. I felt called to have the kind of conversations I love in school rooms… in the church. I felt called to walk with an entire community – rather than a small group or classroom through conversations of faith that were hardly esoteric but real and on the ground rubber meets the road theology. Stints as a missionary in the Philippines and hospital chaplain exacerbated that – they forced me more out of my introverted and academic shell.
I preached about that in my former church and people said, “No way you are an introvert… you talk so much!” (I do, guilty as charged.) But I’m an expressive introvert. I need alone time but in a small group of people I’m quite capable of thinking out loud and ad nauseam, and then needing to take a nap to “recover.” So yes, I’m an introvert. But how, they asked, did you feel comfortable preaching in front of 450 people? Well it’s a journey. You do not step out of a closet where you were reading and immediately jump in front of a crowd with all eyes on you. One step at a time. God found me and God challenged me. God challenged me to do what I was meant to do for a living, not what I was good at. God challenged me to go far outside of my comfort zones, to walk in cultures I hadn’t experience, and to people I didn’t know. And I’m still not good at it – but I’m better. I have been stretched and once stretched I did not return to where I started.
So why am I saying this? I’m saying this because earlier today I put on my clergy robe and stole and accompanied a friend (I would likely have not gone if it wasn’t for her, thanks Marci – friends do that for you) to the House chambers of the Idaho State legislature where we sat silent in the gallery with many others. Sat a silent vigil to let them know that we would not forget that they would not let us speak to why we believe it is essential that Idaho seek to protect the basic human rights of our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender neighbors. Now I don’t even like to call myself Reverend or Pastor (let alone Rev. Dr., I’m just plain Andrew in my congregation) because this shy introverted academic starts feeling all pretentious when I do so. So what was I doing in full religious professional get up at the capital being a strong (?) advocate for social justice? This isn’t me… is it? Truthfully I’m not a good one. But I’ve stopped being willing to be silent in the face of injustice for the sake of keeping the peace. That kind of peace isn’t worth keeping. So I’m out from my own closet. I’m out to add my voice to others who are out of their closet, and many others who aren’t yet. I don’t do it because I’m comfortable doing so… I do it because my discomfort in being a social advocate is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING in comparison to the fear with which my brothers and sisters are forced to live their lives because their very humanity is put in question. I do it because God says to me, “Yes you are your brothers – and your sisters – keeper.”
Does it come natural? No. Am I good at it? No. Am I trying? Yes. Because the world can’t afford not have us all try our best to put our voices forward for those who have had their voices stripped from them. Have I offended some of my friends and companions along the way? I’m sure of it. And no I am not proud of that. I wish there was another way. On top of being an introverted academic (and not doing a good job of either of those these days– thanks be to God) I’m also a people pleaser. But my frustrating and challenging journey with God keeps taking all the things I say that I am… and challenging them. It’s why I call this blog Wrestling with Discipleship. Like Jacob wrestling with God… I have come out limping. And I think I am the better for it. God took my names for myself and gave me a new one. I didn’t get here overnight, and I’m not anywhere near where I might one day be. Who knows where God may take me, what God may do through me, and what I might help to make come about in this world. I hope… I hope its light. Not light for me – but for those around me. That I may not limp alone… but that we might limp together – no longer quite who we imagined ourselves to be at the beginning.
I know I will not always be right (thus the limping), nor will I always correctly interpret why God has chosen to make me limp (thus the need for others to journey with me, and make me go where I wouldn’t otherwise go). But this much I think I do know. The world is a better place when we are willing to open ourselves to encounters that change us and move us and challenge us than it is when invest in armor to protect ourselves from whatever (or whomever) may come our way.
Thank be to God.
A collision of three occurrences over the last three days:
- On Saturday in a conversation of Presbyterian colleagues some offered a need to have a clear and coherent theological identity. The most extreme version that got offered was a call to have a core belief that made it easy to say who belonged among us and who did not based on their agreement with that common core belief statement.
- A coke commercial that I originally found a bit banal (and then realized was still prophetic) offering America the Beautiful in many of the diverse languages (and images) you will find spoken in our country – and then a reaction of some strongly against that notion because “people should speak English here.”
- Two blocks from my church office this morning a group of advocates gathered (and I am sad that I was not with them this morning) in silent protest on the steps (and inside, many of whom were arrested, updating my post already here is an article on this mornings protest) of the State Capital building to “Add the Words, Idaho” asking the legislature to add the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the Idaho Human Rights Act thereby protecting our LGBT neighbors from discrimination and the insecurity of knowing that who they are at the core of their being could be held against them in livelihood and liberty.
(This picture is from a few weeks ago when I joined friend and collegue Marci Glass as part of the “Add the Words, Idaho” Rally also on the steps of the Capital. Here is a sermon I preached the next day that reflected on this experience among others.)
All three of these cause the same reaction to me. Whether we are talking about the church or the country I love, we are not the Borg (sorry folks – Star Trek reference, a race of aliens that forced all civilizations to become a part of their collective consciousness). We do not – or should not – seek to assimilate the world. We are at our best when we celebrate diversity. We have admirable ambition when we seek to protect the minority and their right to be a part of us without having to become “like us.”
There is a particular insidious narcissism that we can name as either Exceptionalism or Zionism that seems to think who we are is the best, and the best we can offer is to convert – assimilate – the other into the exceptional reality we already have. (This narcisissim is made worse because we also add fear – we fear those not like us, the twin emotions of fear and superiority create a very dangerous blend) Whether it be our brand of Spiritual Truth or the particular expression of our national identity, we are sure the best one can be is what we have to offer.
What I love about my understandings of both the United States and the Presbyterian Church is that I believe it is central to who we are that we DO NOT have a cookie cutter look of what is central to who we are. We do not seek to melt away differences to become uniform, but we seek to bring connection to very diverse perspectives, cultures, and expressions of liberty, truth, goodness… whatever. We are in the business of building bridges across divides and not in removing those divides.
Is this harder than assimilation? Absolutely. It is easier to sell a clear product. It is easier to offer an existence in a group of people who think, look, and act similarly along similar goals. It is easier to have a common language, currency, and worldview. Life without the need for translation is easy…
But I also think that is a sad reality – and ultimately rather boring. I am reminded again that in the first creation story of Genesis God did not say let “me” make “Adam”. God said, “Let us make humankind in our imagine.” Singularly we do not reflect God. Together we do. Even God wasn’t singular in the story. Creation was meant to reflect a rich diversity of goodness. I am similarly reminded that our nation is not a democracy where the tyranny of the majority rules, but a Republic whose role is as much to protect the minority from the majority as anything else.
We are not Borg. We do not assimilate otherness – we celebrate it. And this does take work. Work at overcoming fear, and expanding our boundaries, and finding common bridges across differences that are their own blessings.
I do not want to think I can only gather in God’s name around a single sentence of clear Truth – what a small God that world is. I love that my kids go to school with kids whose first language isn’t English because the realize the world they live in every day is VERY VERY SMALL compared to the rich diversity of all creation. And forcing other people to live in fear of their safety because we don’t like who they are or because we think who they are somehow threatens our way of life? That is terrorism.
We are not Borg – we do not assimilate – we celebrate. Thanks be to God, and thanks be that we live in a country that aspires (in its better moments) to let us.
Today Facebook is full of red and pink equal signs. They are posted in solidarity for marriage equality. I posted mine and knew that it would cause some people I love sorrow. People who have strongly held views on marriage that will see my solidarity as wrongly placed.
I am not the strongest voice of advocacy. I am one of those people who come off very neutral and don’t particularly wish to offend people. (Okay I have my offensive moments, but generally I don’t wish to be the cause of those moments.) Usually in such moments of solidarity I will stick with the token action that makes me feel good because it is some token support but also flies under the radar.
When I posted the red and pink equal sign I knew that this might just be more than a token sign. I represent a church, and speak as a pastor and such signs have ripples. But this much I know from my own writing. I do not think unity or community based on staying silent on issues of justice has any value. So while I speak for myself alone, and not my church which has people of diverse opinions, I felt the need to speak more than simply a token sign on this day when marriage equality is being debated in court rooms, office spaces, and homes around our country.
Before I precede a few more words, I do not speak this from a pulpit; I wish it to be dialogue in which I do not hold all the power. I’m fallible and not invested with any special knowledge. In fact that is, in many ways, exactly my point. I have no special knowledge, and to all who know the mind of God with certainty I can only respond… I wish that were so for me, but I find myself having to discern and in such discernment clarity is never as easy as I would hope. But to sit here and not speak because that is easier, or less offensive – is actually offensive to me. So here is what I have said, and wish to say again about marriage equality:
I don’t really want to argue about it. We can all call up scripture and laws and ideas that support our various sides. But legalism is hardly a good master – in theology and in other places. Because I speak as a follower of Jesus it is on these grounds that I come to my position of solidarity for the rights of gays, lesbians, bisexual, and transgendered people to form committed relationships… no not even just that, to be married in the greatest sign of committed love our culture knows.
I believe God created in love and for the sake of love and to deny love hardly seems in keeping with God’s intentions. God also created a covenant people in Israel and yet God moved beyond the single definition of “the right way to live” and in Christ Jesus, as Paul tells us, we moved beyond distinctions like Male and Female, Jews and Gentile, Slave and Free… to recognize the whole community of God in all its rich diversity. Jesus even got called on having too small a world view when he said he only came to the Jews. There are narrow times of inclusion in our scriptural history – but I do firmly agree with the many people who will note that the moral arc of both history and scripture is towards inclusion and justice.
To my mind this challenges us to move beyond what is “right” in “my book” to recognize that God’s book is bigger than any one of us can imagine. I respect that people see this differently. I fully claim that to do this means I choose some of God’s voice over other of God’s voices in scripture and I can understand how some do not agree with me, but all of us are making these kinds of choices – scripture does not have a single voice. And again and again scripture bends towards loving all people free of our decision that we are right and they are wrong (regardless of what particular things we are measuring). In fact Jesus tends to want to hang out with those we presume are wrong, and call to account for their lack of love the people who are sure their appointed way is righteous.
I do not know God’s mind in all things. Knowing that I would err in discernment I would rather have to account for why I was too loving of God’s creation, than not enough.
I will recount one more memory. It was in Merida, Mexico for a Columbia Theological Seminary month long trip as part of an Alternative Context trip. We visited our partner seminary there. It was an awkward meeting. It was awkward because while we were there to share our bonds of mission and love of Christ they were also very clear that the women among us were in error. Those women had wrongfully heard God’s calling on their lives. Women were not called to be pastors. That was clear for them, biblically clear.
It was spiritually deflating to encounter people passionate about Jesus who were also passionate about denying acknowledgement that God might in fact call a woman to ministry. Parse that action as you will, it denies the full personhood of my female colleagues. They were less than.
I do not believe God thinks anyone one is “less than.”
Sin or not, following in God’s way or not, we are all God’s creation. God loves us all, calls us all, desires love for us all. It is not good that men or women should be alone. Genesis says this in the same story people will quote to deny marriage equality. We are all picking and choosing which part of the story to listen to… and I, for myself and my hope for the world, will pick what I see as the part of love. Let us not deny it for anyone, let us not think that some of our brothers and sisters are “less than” we are. Let us not presume that our own ways are so righteous that we are in the place to throw stones, to cast down, to set people beyond the walls of our community. And yes, many will say that are not doing that… but when you reserve a privilege for those who are “right” and deny it to those who are “wrong” than you have drawn a line and made it a wall.
No more walls.
Nothing separates us from the love of Christ Jesus… no more walls.
To those of my friends who will think I’m caving to the pressures of society. To those who think I have strayed from biblical mandates. To those who are sure and clear where I am not. I still love you, and endeavor to respect you. But I say this not to cave in, or betray, or stray… I say this because I believe God is love, and God desires no more walls around love. And such belief requires I act in concert with those desires.
No more walls.