I’ve never actually considered running a marathon – much less prepared for one – but I understand from people who know about such things that before you attempt to make it 26 miles you schedule some shorter distance runs to get yourself in condition. And so I’m thinking that my 36-hour trip to Capitol Hill and back might just qualify as a “wind sprint” in preparation for the General Convention Marathon looming now just a week away.
It was a terrible time to be away – no question about that. We were in final edit on our “Voices of Witness” video -- which is premiering at General Convention -- and my absence from the production team at a moment’s notice was problematic, to say the least. And not only was it Pentecost and Youth Sunday at All Saints Church, we were also launching an historic inter-faith peace initiative with noted author and columnist James Carroll here to present a major paper critiquing American foreign policy from a Christian perspective using the war in Iraq as a case study. But wait, there’s more – Archbishop Desmond Tutu was “stopping by” to give his blessing and be with us for worship at the 11:15 service. Even by All Saints standards it was a Big Ol’ Sunday – and I had to leave in the middle of it all to catch a plane that would get me to Washington in time to be part of the first-thing-in-the-morning “No on the FMA” events on Capitol Hill.
Flew to DC. Tried to convince my body that it was time to go to bed when David Letterman hadn’t even started yet in Los Angeles. Tried to convince my body it was time to get UP when the alarm clock and body clock were in definite disagreement. Dressed in what I hoped was Capitol Hill Appropriate (suit, collar and pearls … part of my strategic plan to debunk the myth that lesbians can’t accessorize) and headed off to “the hill.”
And I would be a big fat liar if I said I didn’t stand on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, looking down that long expanse of the Mall to the Washington Monument with its echoes of gatherings, protests and movements past and get all choked up. What a privilege to stand on that historic ground and bear witness to the freedom this great nation of ours holds as sacred trust by speaking against this shameful, exploitive attempt to write discrimination into our Constitution. How proud was I to stand at that podium and give voice to the 250,000 postcards sent by Americans all over the country urging a “No” vote on an issue that is (in words I happily borrow from +Gene Robinson) a weapon of mass distraction.
I was there as part of the HRC (Human Rights Campaign) contingent and after organizing our sign carriers and getting our postcards arranged in baskets by state-of-origin we arranged ourselves in front of the dozen-or-so cameras that had arrived to cover the press conference. My job was to speak – in three minutes or less – from a faith-based perspective on the issue at hand. Here’s what I said
I am the Reverend Susan Russell, an Episcopal priest and pastor from All Saints Church in Pasadena, California. I am here today representing people of faith who oppose writing discrimination into the Constitution in the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment. As an Episcopalian I have taken vows to respect the dignity of every human being and as an American citizen I have pledged allegiance to a flag symbolizing liberty and justice for all. The Federal Marriage Amendment violates both of those principles and so I believe it is imperative that people of faith opposed to legislating inequity step up and make their voices heard in this critical debate.
We have heard a lot about Christian moral values in the marriage debate and as a pastor I want to say that moral values are of deep concern to me. I am deeply concerned by the shocking lack of moral leadership offered by those who would focus the energy, resources and attention of this Congress on writing discrimination into the Constitution while the war in Iraq continues, the Gulf Coast reels from Katrina’s after effects, the AIDS pandemic worsens in Africa and genocide continues in Darfur. These are the moral issues my congregation wants Congress to be considering – not a Federal Marriage Amendment which is clearly a political move to bolster sinking poll numbers.
My son is serving in the U.S. Army on active duty. Last October I sat in the bleachers in Columbia, South Carolina as he graduated from boot camp and heard all those brave, young soldiers swear to "defend the Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic." It never occurred to me that a few months later I myself would be on the steps of the U.S. Capitol to defending the Constitution from those willing to exploit it for political gain. My son and his colleagues preparing to be deployed to Kuwait deserve better than that. America deserves better than that. And that’s the message we’re here to bring to Congress.
From there we went to the Senate office buildings to deliver baskets of postcards to the senators. My assignment was one of my own senators -- Senator Diane Feinstein -- and it was just a little surreal to be trooping through the office corridors with news cameras and still photographers click-click-clicking away – recording our every move. Senator Feinstein’s staff graciously received the postcards we brought and I brought back with me a mental picture of the earnest young staffers answering the phones in her Washington office tracking calls coming in from constituents – calls that were coming in fast and furious while we were there on with our “special delivery.”
And then back to the airport and the flights taking me back to L.A. where I’ll barely have time to pack and head back to the airport for Columbus. Was it worth it – this wind sprint to Washington in a week I didn’t have time to go? Absolutely. I have to count it “worth it” whenever we have the opportunity to put a face on the values we hold highest – whenever we have the chance to give voice to the voiceless – to do the speak truth to power thing.
Waiting to board the plane at the Washington airport I got a call from a reporter in Houston working on his “getting ready for General Convention” story. It was in talking to him that I was able to see the events of the last 36 hours both as preparation and prelude for the challenges we face in Columbus.
The exploitation of gay and lesbian families in the game of partisan American politics is what we went to Washington to protest. Writing discrimination into the Constitution is antithetical to our core American values and I believe it is critical that we hold to account those in this country would use the issue of marriage equality as a wedge to further polarize and divide a nation looking for ways to come together to solve the many very real problems we face.
The exploitation of the gay and lesbian baptized in the game of global Anglican politics is what we go to Columbus to prevent. Just as writing discrimination into the Constitution is anathema to us as American citizens so perpetuating the marginalization and oppression of ANY child of God must be anathema to us as Christians. We must hold to account those in this church who would use the issue of the full inclusion of gay and lesbian people into the Body of Christ as a wedge to further polarize and divide the Communion when we should be looking for ways to come together to solve the many very real problems we face.
Just as we said “No” to the Federal Marriage Amendment we must say “No” to any resolution that would place the burden for the unity of the Communion on the shoulders of a percentage of the baptized. Our vocations and our relationships cannot be used as bargaining chips to secure unity for some at the price of justice for all.