Monday, October 25, 2021

Acting as an Antidote to the Virus of Homo/Transphobia

The nature of a virus is to produce variants in order to survive. According to the CDC: "The best way to slow the emergence of new variants is to reduce the spread of infection." This wisdom applies not only the COVID-19 virus that continues to prey upon our global human family in general, but to the virus of homo/transphobia that continues to prey on our LGBTQ+ siblings in specific.

And today heavy on my heart is the news of a particularly virulent variant of that virus rearing its ugly head in the nation of Ghana.

If you missed the memo, CNN does a good job of summarizing the situation in this October 8, 2021 feature exploring the connections between the U.S. far-right influence on the draconian anti-LGBTQ legislation pending in Ghana.
[Gay activists] denounced the claim that homosexuality is a Western import or that LGBTQ activists were out to recruit and convert straight Ghanaians. "The same people they claim to have brought homosexuality to Africa are the same people who told them to have this hate they are using against us. There have always been queer Ghanaians. The anti-LGBTQ "family values" coalition have long been a loud presence in Ghana, but it was never organized or particularly strategic. That changed when a US group promoting those same "family values" organized a conference in Accra in late 2019 -- just before the Covid-19 pandemic hit. The U.S. right-wing people were here and after that there was a rush to push legislation." 

Once again we see that toxic religion mixed with right-wing politics create the perfect Petri dish to incubate new and ever more virulent variants of the virus of homo/transphobia that puts the lives of LGBTQ+ people at risk. Toxic religion is arguably the Patient Zero for the spread of this particular virus variant -- a variant that has evidently spread to the Anglican Church in Ghana.

In an October 20th feature in The Living Church Kirk Peterson reported that Anglican Bishops in Ghana have endorsed the legislation. From the TLC feature:

“The support of the church for the Anti-LGBTQI Bill is borne out of the belief that the practice is unbiblical and ungodly. We see LGBTQI as unrighteousness in the sight of God and therefore will do anything within our powers and mandate to ensure that the bill comes into fruition. Leviticus 20:13 clearly declares that, a male lying with a fellow male is an abomination and punishable by death."

These reports have sparked a call for Anglican leaders in general -- and the Episcopal Church in specific -- to stand up and speak out for God's LGBTQ+ beloved who find themselves in harm's way as the virus spreads. 

So what are we to do? If "the best way to slow the emergence of new variants is to reduce the spread of infection," how can we be agents of change in reducing the spread of infection of the toxic religion that feeds, waters and fertilizes the demonization and scapegoating of LTBTQ+ people in the service of political agendas committed to division and polarization? 

We start by standing up and speaking out as people of faith -- refusing to allow the Good News of the Gospel be hijacked as a weapon of mass discrimination against LGBTQ+ people. We start by continuing to offer a rebuttal to the rabid rhetoric of the religious right.  

And this morning -- at the opening session of our Episcopal Church's Executive Council -- President of the House of Deputies (PHOD) Gay Clark Jennings did exactly that. Hear these words from her Opening Remarks;

According to news reports, the House of Bishops of the Anglican Church in Ghana has endorsed a draconian anti-LGBTQ law now awaiting a vote in the Ghanaian parliament. This is upsetting and particularly regrettable in light of the 2005 commitment of the primates of the Anglican Communion to stand against the “victimisation or diminishment” of LGBTQI people.

For our part, in 2015, General Convention passed Resolution A051, which commits us to stand with our LGBTQI Anglican siblings in Africa, and that our churchwide offices, including the Office of the Presiding Bishop, “be directed to work in partnership with African Anglicans who publicly oppose laws that criminalize homosexuality and incite violence against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex people.”

I expect that it has not yet been possible to understand exactly what has transpired in the church in Ghana, and what kind of risk our LGBTQI friends and allies there are now facing, but we must commit ourselves to standing with them in whatever ways we can. I hope that it will be possible for us to discuss this matter at this meeting with the goal of hearing a full report and taking action in keeping with Resolution 2015-A051 at our January meeting. Mission Beyond, I believe that this is in your portfolio.

"We must commit ourselves to standing with them in whatever ways we can." 

Those ways will emerge in the days and weeks ahead: the ways we can work to reduce the spread of infection; the ways we can live out our baptismal promise to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being. But in the short term, here are two things we   can do:

  • The first is urge our representatives on Executive Council to act on the PHOD's charge this morning. Here's a link to the Council roster. Reach out to any members you know. If you don't know any of them, use your social media platform to write an open letter to Council and tag people who do. Make some noise!
  • The second is to thank President Jennings for her leadership and willingness to stand up and speak out -- once again -- on behalf of God's LGBTQ+ beloved. Go thank her on her Facebook page ... you'll be glad you did!

Ready. Set. GO!

Sunday, October 10, 2021

On Prophets & Crocuses & Queers


“On Prophets & Crocuses & Queers” — Sermon preached at All Saints, Pasadena on “Dodger Blue” Sunday (October 10, 2021) with thanks to Jim Naughton, Rose Hayden-Smith, Rabbi Abraham Heschel, +Fred Borsch … and of course, Jesus! === "God of the stand-up triple, the backdoor slider, the stolen base and the 3-6-3, we thank you for the ordered enchantments of the game of baseball. For the snap of a split-finger fastball in a catcher’s mitt and the arc of a white ball against a blue sky, we praise you. For the green of the grass and the throat of the crowd, we glorify you. For the grace and grit, the speed and strength, the skill and savvy of those who take the field, we give you thanks. Creator God, teach us to play fair; to cheer excellence whomever exhibits it, to root for teams worthy of our affections and keep us ever mindful that no matter what the umpire says, in your love, we are always safe at home. Amen." Yes, it's a bit of an indulgence for this died in the wool, second generation, life-long baseball fan to start by giving thanks for the gift of baseball. But my hope is wherever you find yourself on the continuum of baseball fandom, the words of my friend and colleague Jim Naughton are a window into not just the love of a particular game -- or a particular team or a particular playoff season -- but a celebration of all those gifts that give delight, bring joy and offer respite from all the challenges and struggles that surround us. And so I want to begin this morning with a moment focused on gratitude. Just a moment to pause -- to close your eyes if you choose to or not if you don't -- and call up what it is that gives you delight, what it is that brings you joy, what it is you're thankful for this morning. We'll get to the challenges in a minute ... and Lord knows there are plenty of them ... but just for now ... breathe in gratitude for all the blessings of this life ... and breathe out anxiety for all the challenges of this life. And just for a moment be mindful that no matter what anyone says in God's love we are always safe at home. And it is that knowledge -- that sure and certain conviction -- that nothing can separate us from the love of God -- that is the core of the faith we share as followers of Jesus ... the radical rabbi from Nazareth who wasn't always all that welcome in his own hometown. The Gospel this morning tells us that story according to Mark. Mark tells us "they were offended over him" as he preached to them in their synagogue. Luke tells the same story but with a little more graphic detail: "When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff." It turns out a prophet is not only without honor in their hometown -- sometimes a prophet is in danger in their hometown. And little wonder. Speaking truth to power is never popular with the powerful because it just about always involves asking those with power to recognize the usually unexamined privilege that comes with that power ... and it's just a hop, skip and a jump from there to examining that privilege and to being asked to share that power. But that's how change happens -- healing happens -- transformation happens. And since tomorrow is National Coming Out Day I have a quick story as an example. I came out in the National Cathedral in on the 4th of July in 1996 ... but that's not the story I'm going to tell. The story I'm going to tell is about when I came home and met with my then Bishop -- Fred Borsch -- to break the news. Fred asked me two questions for which I've always been grateful -- "how can I help?" and "how are your boys?" And then shared something with me -- which I've never forgotten. He told me he believed the voices, stories and experiences of gay and lesbian people were going to be a gift to the church because they were going to challenge the unexamined sexuality of most straight people ... and while those weren't always going to be easy conversations to have, they were going to be critically important in order to heal the church of the homophobia that infects it and to liberate both the oppressed and those participating in the oppression ... whether they're aware of it or not. "And that includes," he said smiling, "old bishops like me!" I look back today at how far we've come since that July 1996 afternoon in the bishop's office ... recognizing how far we have yet to go ... but also grateful for how far we've come ... and for the prophets on whose shoulders we stand as we continue to do this work we have been called to do. And this feels like a good point to pause for a little refresher course on the job description of the prophet ... something I learned in seminary from Rabbi Abraham Heschel in a book called ( .... wait for it) The Prophets: "The prophet has a two-fold job description: to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable." The prophet has a both/and job description because we live in a both/and world – and yet we live in a moment when our discourse is dominated by those insisting on simplistic either/or solutions to the complex both/and challenges that face us – a time where the polarization that divides us is as pandemic as the coronavirus that infects us – a time when science is argued to be antithetical to faith and a time when wearing a mask to prevent the spread of a deadly disease has been polarized into a partisan political statement. And it is in just such a time as this that we are all called to the work of the prophet to serve as antibodies to the pandemic of polarization by living into the both/and call to afflict the comfortable and to comfort the afflicted. I know. Seriously. It sounds exhausting, doesn't it? Because it is. And most of us don't feel very much like prophets. At least I know I don't. But like it or not, it is the work we have called to do. When I went off to seminary -- a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away a friend and choir colleague sent me off to seminary with a poem she had copied out on a piece of notebook paper. I kept it folded up in my prayer book and read it over and over and over again ... and I managed to find it yesterday to share with you this morning. It was entitled simply "Crocus." * "It takes courage to be crocus-minded Lord, I'd rather wait till June like wise roses when the hazards of winter are safely behind and I'm expected and everything's ready for roses But crocuses? Highly irregular knifing up through hard frozen ground and snow sticking their necks out because they believe in spring and have something personal and emphatic to say about it Lord, I am by nature rose-minded Even when I have studied the situation her and know there are wrongs that need righting affirmations that need stating and know that my speaking out might even rock the boat Well, I'd rather wait till June Maybe things will sort themselves out and we won't have to make an issue of it Lord, forgive Wrongs don't work themselves out Injustices and inequities and hurts don't just dissolve Somebody has to stick their neck out somebody who cares enough to think through and work through hard ground because they believe and have something personal to say about it Me Lord, crocus minded? Could it be that there are things that need to be said and you want me to say them? OK. Then I pray for courage. Amen." So let us all pray for courage ... each and every one of us ... no matter how "rose-minded" we are ... to ask God to send us into the boats that need rocking, to tell the truths that need telling, to work through the hard ground that needs breaking through. Courage to work to end violence in all its forms and who pray for both victim and perpetrator as we seek healing and wholeness for absolutely every member of the human family. Courage to speak up to end the politicization of public health policies. Courage to afflict those who are so comfortable in their unexamined white privilege that they are blind to the systemic racism that surrounds us and make us people who amplify the voices of those who have endured generations of oppression, marginalization and discrimination. Courage to learn from climate scientists what we must do to be stewards of this fragile earth, our island home and make us people who reject the false narrative that we must choose between science and faith Finally and most importantly courage to claim the resurrection promise, that is the foundation of our faith: trusting that absolutely nothing can separate us from God's love; and that no matter what anyone says in that love we are always safe at home. Amen"

===== *It Takes Courage to be Crocus Minded" by Jo Carr and Imogene Sorley