Saturday, May 02, 2009

Sermon at Equality Forum 2009 Interfaith Service @ Christ Church, Philadelphia

“Patience isn’t all it’s cracked up to be” – by Susan Russell [May 3, 2009]

Grace to you and peace – and what an absolute joy it is to be here with you at Christ Church today as part of the celebration of the Equality Forum 2009!

As an Episcopalian, it is a double delight to be invited to preach here at what is arguably the “mother ship” of my particular family of faith – the American incarnation of an Anglican ethos that had to figure out what to do with itself when we quit being part of the Church of England.

It has been a journey for us – and one we’re still on -- but it is wonderful to be here tonight with all of you in this historic place. For there is a deep sense of history here -- a history of faithful commitment to the American ideal of “liberty and justice for all” that practically leaks out of the pores of this historic church planted so squarely at the epicenter of what was the crucible of our American Revolution.

Or at least our first one. For it turned out that even a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all are created equal has had to have some other “revolutions” over the years to turn that proposition into practice – to erase what I’ve come to think of as the * after the “all” in “liberty and justice for all” attached to a laundry list of exceptions.

We’ve been whittling away at that list for the last 200+ years and clearly we have made much progress from those days when “all” meant “all white men who owned property.” Yes, progress has been made – but the struggle continues. And this week we have gathered here in Philadelphia to focus specifically on removing the * after “all” that is followed by “except for those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.” And this evening -- for this interfaith celebration of our commitment to that work -- I want to frame my message around the words of two great faith leaders of our age: one a Roman Catholic religious named Sister Joan Chittister -- and the other a rabbi named Abraham Heschel.

Their work and witness offers a powerful, faithful response to those voices – and you know who they are -- who tell us we need to be patient. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Look how far we’ve come since Stonewall. Progress is being made. Harvey Milk would be so proud. Marriage – in IOWA, for heaven’s sake – who’dve thought it? Maybe if you just slowed down a little … backed off a bit … exercised a little more patience. Or not.

I myself have found patience to be a vastly overrated virtue. And so did Abraham Heschel.

“Patience,” said Rabbi Heschel, “is a quality of holiness that may become sloth in the soul when associated with the lack of righteous indignation.”

And what do we have to be righteously indignant about? How much time do you have? Since I’m from Los Angeles, can I start with Miss California?

Miss California whose answer to the question about whether same sex marriage should be legal in the Untied States included the statement, “I think it’s great that we live in a land where you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite marriage.”

And then went on to say, “And you know what, in my country, in my family, I think that I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman. No offense to anybody out there, but that’s how I was raised. Thank you very much.”

So here are some follow up questions I’d love to get the chance to ask:

Did she miss the part where "Americans" actually don't get to "choose same-sex marriage or opposite marriage" -- that is, unless they live in Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut or Iowa? (Or maybe Maine, New Hampshire and New York ... depending on how the next couple of weeks play out?)

Does she understand that because we do not get to "choose marriage" same-sex couples are denied 1138 federal rights that "opposite marriage couples" are automatically granted?

And did she forget the part about how in this land – in her country -- we've got some core values called "separation of church and state" and "freedom of religion?"

That means that the answer she gave Matt Lauer -- "For me it was being biblically correct" – scored some points on the conservative blogs but flew in the face of those core values of American democracy. Those would be the core values that are intended to protect Miss California’s right to believe whatever she wants to about what the Bible says about marriage. They are also intended to protect the rights of those who of us who read the Bible differently (or not at all!) from having Miss California -- or anybody else inflict their theology on our democracy.

What they do not protect us from -- any of us -- is being offended by that which is offensive. And Miss California offended millions of gay and lesbian couples, their friends, families, co-workers and neighbors – and continues to do so as she speaks in opposition to marriage equality from an increasingly national platform.

“Patience is a quality of holiness that may become sloth in the soul when associated with the lack of righteous indignation.”

There is a lot to be righteously indignant about – and not just in California. And what I’ve been wondering is if maybe -- just maybe -- the very public struggle for marriage equality has not done for systemic homophobia what Hurricane Katrina did for systemic racism -- exposed it to the harsh light of day in a way that it can no longer be either ignored or denied. And I’m wondering if we can’t claim that reality and mobilize around it.

Because here’s the deal: a fear-based campaign doesn’t work unless people think there’s really something to be afraid of. We may think it’s ludicrous to imagine that the institution of marriage which has so far survived Mickey Rooney, Elizabeth Taylor and Britney Spears (not to mention Henry VIII with his six wives and Solomon with his many!) is going to be “threatened” by a few thousand same-sex couples wanting to live happily ever after. But remember, a “phobia” is – by its very definition -- an “irrational” fear: so there’s no point trying to use logic to overcome it.

Homophobia is – and continues to be – both an external and internal challenge to liberty and justice for all in this nation. And it is a challenge we must meet head on if we are going to fully live into the promise of “Yes, We Can!”

But how? Where to start? What to do? That’s where I turn to my other voice of inspiration – Sister Joan Chittister – who famously said, "We are each called to go through life reclaiming the planet an inch at a time until the Garden of Eden grows green again."

And no matter who you we are – or where you find yourself on your journey of faith – there is an inch with your name on it: an opportunity to speak truth to power, to challenge homophobia, to channel that righteous indignation into positive action. Not long ago, I received an email from a constituent, saying he did not believe we should be supporting the Prop 8 protests, suggesting that “instead of making a big to-do about it, we should instead prove that we are worthy of marriage.” He didn’t ask me for a response, but I gave him one anyway: What a pack of lies we've been told that WE -- citizens of these United States and members of this church have to "prove that we are worthy of marriage." Let me put that in theological terms: HOOEY!! I'll get back to you when I'm a little less lit about this.

Well, it’s been a couple of weeks since that email exchange and I’m not a bit less “lit” about the idea that we have to “prove we are worthy.” In a word:

No, We Don’t -- No, We Don’t -- No, We Don’t

We do not have to prove that as citizens of these United States we are entitled to anything less than the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness we claim as foundational values for all Americans.

We do not have to prove that as people of faith that our relationships are any less whole, holy and blessed than those of our heterosexual brothers and sisters.

What we can and will prove, however, is that the kind of attack against our civil rights we’ve seen in California is not just about same-sex marriage that impacts a small percentage of American citizens -- but about core American values that impact us all.

What we face in this struggle are forces willing to abandon historic, foundational principles of equal protection, separation of powers and the sanctity of an independent judiciary in order to achieve their narrow, bigoted, theological goals. I believe it is nothing less than the slippery slope from democracy to theocracy and we are at a defining moment in that struggle as we work in California to challenge Proposition 8 and throughout this great nation to secure marriage equality, to end work place discrimination and to move forward hate crime legislation … just to name a few inches that are on the reclaiming list today!

People of faith have a unique role to play in that work. My boss and the rector of All Saints Pasadena, Ed Bacon, frames that work this way when he says: Faith in action is called politics. Spirituality without action is fruitless and social action without spirituality is heartless. We are boldly political without being partisan. Having a partisan-free place to stand liberates the religious patriot to see clearly, speak courageously, and act daringly.

It has been said that excellence is the result of caring more than others think is wise, risking more than others think is safe, dreaming more than others think is practical and expecting more than others think is possible. And tonight we stand on the shoulders of those who have led us thus far on the way by caring more, risking more, dreaming more, expecting more.

It is our privilege now to continue to move this nation we love further forward on that arc of history we are told bends toward justice. For as Walter Wink has written, "History belongs to the intercessors who believe the future into being."
My sisters and brothers, the future is ours to believe into being. It is long past time for people of faith – all faiths! – to step up and say that no longer will the Religious Right own the microphone labeled “Traditional Values.” We are here tonight to claim and proclaim the traditional values of our God and of our nation – to say that loving our neighbor as ourselves means we pledge ourselves to liberty and justice for all – with NO *!

We are here tonight because for too long religion has fueled the fires of bigotry and discrimination in the name of the God who created us all in God’s image. We are here tonight to “Just Say NO!” to those who are determined to write their theology into our constitution. And we are here – in this historic place -- to say that we stand on the firm foundation of our Founding Fathers who declared us a nation dedicated to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” AND our ancient prophets who called us to make “justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.”

These ARE traditional values – they are OUR traditional values – and we claim them tonight as we commit ourselves to channel our righteous indignation as we fight for them – an inch at a time -- in the days, weeks and months ahead! God bless our struggle and God bless America! AMEN!


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

It's a great pulpit to preach in, isn't it? I remember it well from 1997 - I think I sweat off 5 pounds in nervous perspiration. And, this was a great sermon, Susan. As always.

LGMarshall said...

If Miss California, Carrie Presean, had espoused Hindu beliefs on Marriage (they're in agreement with 1-Man & 1-Woman), do you think you would have had such a problem with her?

My guess is that you wouldn't have. Because you would have respected her faith's teachings. What if she espoused Muslim beliefs... or Orthodox Jewish beliefs? It's curious that Christian beliefs don't get the same respect as other Religions -- even in the US.(Yes, I know a religious Muslim girl, or a religious Jewish girl wouldn't be in the contest.) Makes me think of the Freedom that our Christian faith allows us. (Even the freedom to appear foolish to many).

For the message of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those of us who are being saved, it is the power of God.

Pat Klemme said...

Brava! Thanks for renewing my spiritual commitment to work for fairness. It would have been electrifying to be present for your spoken words in that hallowed historic site.