I've got a lot to say about the just-completed Clergy Call to Justice here in Washington DC ... where 296 clergy from 48 states gathered to pray, preach and lobby for justice for LGBT Americans here in our nation's capital. But for starters, here's what I said when I had the privilege to be one of the speakers at the interfaith celebration at Mt. Vernon UMC on Monday night.
The Tide Turns One Wave At A Time
What an honor, delight and privilege it is to be part of this Gathering of Gratitude ... of this great cloud of witnesses! And if this is what “Left Behind” looks like then may I just say we’ve been left in very good company indeed! And it’s a good thing because, my brothers and sisters, we have some work ahead of us.
It’s easy to make light of last week’s example of what I’m calling “Eschaton Abuse” and others “the Rapture-that-Ruptured.” Yes, we can roll our eyes at yet-another End of the World prediction gone bust -- but what I want to say tonight is that we cannot dismiss the damage that is done when the airwaves are dominated by voices of judgment claiming to speak for the God of justice. We cannot ignore when the core values of our faith traditions – love, peace, justice and compassion – are hijacked by those who want to turn the clock back … not move the kingdom forward.
But here’s one thing I know: The tide turns one wave at a time. And the tide is turning.
It’s turning in this country of ours as we watch poll after poll now show that for the first time marriage equality is supported by a majority of Americans. It’s turning in our denominations and congregations as we watch bars to ordination and blessing finally fall in some places and begin to be challenged in others. And so we stand tonight in the tension of so much to be grateful for … and SO much work left to do. But we stand knowing that the tide turns … one wave at a time ... and that we’re also standing on the shoulders of those who have led us thus far on the way.
We know their stories from the particularity of our own traditions – mine is the Episcopal Church. I grew up in a church where girls couldn’t be acolytes. Women couldn’t be ordained. And LGBT wasn’t even in the vocabulary, much less on the agenda. And I was inspired by those who were agents of changing all of that. I remember like it was yesterday the moment when Bishop Barbara Harris in put her hand on mine -- in the cocktail lounge of the Red Lion Inn in Ontario California in 1992 -- and she said “I want you to remember that the power behind you is greater than the challenge ahead of you.” And her words are as much for us tonight as they were for me that day.
Because behind us is the power of the arc of the moral universe that we have been promised bends toward justice. And justice -- Bishop John Hines famously taught us -- Justice is the corporate face of God’s love. The arc of the universe bends toward that love ... and so doing justice is an integral part of what we do as people of faith created in the image of the God of love and compassion. We do justice because of our faith … in response to our call … as part of our vocation ... as part of our historic response to making God’s love tangible. And some of us have been at this arc bending stuff for a VERY LONG TIME.
And so tonight I want to nominate someone as a poster child for this work we’ve been called to do. She’s spiritual ancestor for many of us and her story is found in the 18th chapter of Luke’s gospel. We know her as the Persistent Widow … the one who went again and again demanding justice and who eventually got it from the unjust judge. Not because she warmed his heart. Not because she changed his mind. But because she wore him out.
And so we -- like her -- come back again and again. Yes, we want to change hearts. Yes, we pray to change minds. And yes ... if it what it takes is making a way where there is no way by wearing away the injustice we're gonna keep on comin' back. Just like she did. And the arc will bend. And justice WILL roll down.
Do you have your list of persistent widows? I have mine: Louie Crew … who in 1974 called Grace Cathedral asking about a ministry to gay people ... and when they laughed at him he started one. The deputies who stood up at our General Convention in1991 and said “you’re not talking about an issue … you’re talking about us.” George Regas who blessed the first same sex couples at All Saints Pasadena in 1992 ... twenty years ago in January. And Ed Bacon who led us in marrying 46 couples between June and November in 2008. Walter Righter. Carter Heyward. Michael Hopkins. Gene Robinson. Mary Glasspool. My list could go on and on. And so could yours.
As so as we stand tonight on their shoulders in the tension of so much to be grateful for … and SO much work left to do … let’s remember that the tide turns one wave at a time ... but first we have to make some waves.
And like the Persistent Widows who went before us, that’s what we’ll do when we head to Capitol Hill tomorrow. As we do so I want to leave you with some words Bonnie Anderson – the president of our Episcopal Church House of Deputies – offered after her visits to Capitol Hill last week:
It is tempting to believe that a church with our membership cannot influence the course of legislation. Those who disagree with our political choices say so all of the time. But last week a legislative assistant told me that he loves it when faith-based organizations come to Capitol Hill. "It brings us good luck," he said.And so tomorrow, my brothers and sisters, we are the people of God who are going to be speaking up. We’re going to speak up for Family Values that value all families and for a Protect Marriage Movement that protects all marriages. For safe schools. For equal employment.
Well, I don't think it is luck. I think that what faith-based organizations bring is moral courage. We reinforce the notion that it is essential to speak up with passion and commitment for all of those neighbors whom we strive to love as deeply as we love ourselves. I saw a lot of people with heart in those Capitol Hill offices, but they need encouragement. I met people who are bringing all that they are, and giving everything they've got, to the task at hand. They need to see the rest of us doing the same.
The soul of America is at stake … The people of God need to speak up, now.
We’re going to speak up for an America that is true to its core values of liberty and justice for all because we are speaking up for our core faith values of love, justice and compassion.
When we stand on the Mall in the shadow of the Capitol dome – when we troop through the halls of Congress -- bringing moral courage to our legislators and their staffs – we’re going to do it all aware of the deep privilege of doing this work … and also aware of the long list of Persistent Widows we take with us … on our hearts, in our memories, in our stories.
And with gratitude – deep gratitude – for being part of the tide that is turning one wave at a time … as we take our place in the arc of history that bends toward justice … and we are claim our call to make justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.
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