A Word in Response, in Love, and in Hope

I try really hard not to get into arguments with pastors and other spiritual leaders. I know how tough the road is, and I know I don’t need others getting in my business so I know they don’t need me getting in theirs.

But sometimes I cannot stay silent.

Bishop Darryl F. Husband, Sr. has caused me to speak up. If you do not recognize his name, check out his op-ed piece in the Richmond Times-Dispatch for May 30, 2012 http://www2.timesdispatch.com/news/rtd-opinion/2012/may/30/tdopin02-richmond-pastor-upholds-traditional-marri-ar-1950775/

Now, this is dangerous territory for me, speaking up to disagree with an African American pastor. I especially try not to meddle in the affairs of other religious bodies. But Bishop Husband has presumed to speak disparagingly not only of LGBT folks, but also to cast the President of the United States into outer darkness. Now, I am not endorsing President Obama here–this is my personal blog, but I connect it to the church I serve, and we don’t endorse candidates through or at church–but he is my president, our president, and when someone makes specious claims about him I certainly can join other citizens in objecting.

Besides, Bishop Husband makes claims about the calamity of marriage for all that simply defy logic.

I hardly know where to begin. But let me start with his claim that the President has little regard for the church and its leaders. This is utter nonsense. Bishop Husband begins to sound like the Vatican: disagree with us and we simply cast you aside. You are not a person of faith, if your faith does not coincide precisely with ours. I understand the militant regimentation of the Vatican, but I find it hard to reconcile with the free church tradition of which Bishop Husband is part. This president, like others in the past, regularly consults with religious leaders of all stripes. He worships God with little fanfare but with what seems to me to be sincerity. That he disagrees with Bishop Husband and others is a matter of conscience to be respected. Nor does it make much sense to claim that President Obama let his true heart unfold in public view as a way to gain votes. I hardly see this working that way so far!

Then there is the usual business of scripture. How sad that people continue to read their own prejudices into what they so piously claim is the Word of God. Nowhere in scripture can Bishop Husband prove to me that God sustains his claim that the only valid human relationships are those that produce children.

And what of his claim that that the president “seeks to weaken the voice of the once only free voice in our society (the African-American pastor)?”  Bishop Husband has convinced himself that the age-old authority of a pastor or priest or rabbi or imam to marry whom he or she deems fit will somehow disappear if same-gender-loving couples are eligible for legal marriage. This did not happen when the U.S. Supreme Court wiped away ugly anti-miscegenation laws and validated inter-racial marriage (see Loving v. Virginia, 1967)–but that did not stop white supremacists from making the claim Bishop Husband now echoes. I wonder if he remembers who his ancestors are in this business of denying marriage to those brought together by God in love?

I tell you that there is one way that Bishop Husband–and other clergy who deny the sanctity of marriage granted to same-gender-loving couples, and others they judge to be beneath their care–is damaging not only the pastorate but the larger church–and that is by persisting in denying the unfolding revelation of God. God keeps showing us new truth about love, and asks us to let go of control so that God’s love can touch all. But so many resist. There are consequences, as Bishop Husband says. But they are different than what he sees.

When couples from churches where pastors refuse to marry them for reasons of their sexuality and gender come to me, I always tell them I will not consider marrying them until they have asked their pastor to do so–because I want to be sure they show proper regard for their particular Shepherd’s Assistant (that is what we pastors are, not shepherds, but Assistants to the One Great Shepherd of Us All). They sadly come back to me with the report of rejection, usually judgmental and harsh, sometimes only distant and cold. I grieve at the loss of respect and affection which comes over these good people, and their sense of being left to wander without the leader they so clearly love.

I could go on, but this is already too long.

Bishop Husband is right about one thing. “Standards of living are important.” And I am grateful that President Obama has joined many other faithful people in recognizing God’s truth as it unfolds, claiming the standard of love, as Jesus taught, as the one true standard–generous love, not stingy, my-way-of-the-highway sort of love, but abundant love that touches and redeems all.

In that spirit, I not only speak up to offer an alternative view to my brother I also reach out to him in Christian love, to encourage him to be open to God’s continually unfolding revelation. I know he and I can meet there, with the Lord we both love so much.

Can’t We All Just Pray Together?

Memorial Day is a strange holiday.

It began as a way to honor Union soldiers who fought and died in the Civil War. It was not much observed in the South for a long time, for reasons that seem clear. It was originally called Decoration Day, because it was a day to decorate the graves of those who had fallen. Later, it came to be a day on which to honor all the fallen in all wars.

Now, of course, it mostly marks the beginning of summer.

But we are in the midst of national observances of the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, and so it seems Memorial Day might take on new significance. But somehow I doubt that this will happen. We are not much into history these days, or so it seems to me.

I remember in my hometown in Michigan we had a Memorial Day parade to the local cemetery. It was often very hot. I was in the high school band and our woolen uniforms, mostly meant for the fall football season, were very hot and itchy. Inevitably, at least one band member fainted at the cemetery each year. And at least one member of the American Legion post unit that marched had already had too much to drink. He passed out, too.

At this Memorial Day, we are a nation fraught with division and a fair amount of gloom. Everything is about the economy, we’re told, and such good news as there is rarely manages to push the bad news out of our consciousness. We barely speak to each other across political lines, each side sure that success for the other one will be catastrophe. Soldiers are coming home from wars, but there is little celebration.

I admit to being puzzled about our predicament. For the first time in my lifetime, America’s courage and energy and ingenuity seem to be failing us. Some point fingers at Washington, the President and the Congress. They of course, point figures at each other. My guess is that there is enough responsibility to go around, and it belongs to all of us.

However, something’s got to give. Once again, I am thrown back on prayer. Can’t we all just pray together?

Glory Hallelujah!!

Glory Hallelujah! That’s my first reaction.

Thank you, Mr. President. That’s my second reaction.

It’s about time. That’s my third.

In 2004, when we began annual witnesses for marriage equality in Richmond, I confess it did not seem likely that our president would endorse the cause. What a difference eight years make!

It’s not just a different president, or a different party in the executive branch. It is a different country, one that is becoming more different every day.

Despite the vote yesterday in North Carolina, polls consistently show a growing number of Americans support the right of same-gender couples to choose legal marriage. That’s really the issue, the right to decide for ourselves whether to be married or not–as opposed to the right of the state, or a certain portion of the electorate, to force its choice on us.

The day is coming when this will be seen, as are many other civil rights issues, as one of those “Duh!” moments. Why did it take so long, young people will ask.

In reality the gains we have made are, compared to some movements, coming in lightning time. But of course, just because President Obama says it is his opinion that “same-sex couples should be able to get married” does not make it so.

We have a hard and long struggle ahead of us. And it will be up to LGBT folks, and our friends, allies, and family, to carry the cause across the finish line. I am grateful the President referred to his faith in coming to his decision. It is a faith issue–an issue of whether we can trust God’s creation of human beings or whether we have to cast aside a part of God’s creation to fit human rules of who is fully human and who is not.

I am clear the right to marry will happen, not because of the President, but because God wants justice for all. As Dr. King said, the moral arc bends toward justice. Always, even when sometimes it is hard to see.

So the President has helped to bend the arc a bit more. There will be no going back (even as there will continue to be setbacks like North Carolina).

This is worthy of celebration. Praise God! And it is time to keep working. Praise God!

The Power of Two Women

All day I have been praying for love and justice to triumph today in North Carolina. The vote on Proposition 1, which would, if adopted, place a ban on same-gender-loving marriage in that state’s constitution (similar to what we endured in Virginia in 2006), is said by some to be close. Others claim that the vote will be strongly in favor of the amendment.

As I prayed this morning, I remembered Patience and Sarah. They were not North Carolinians but New Englanders. But their story reminds me of why we continue to fight for the right to marry.

Actually, they are fictional characters from a novel of that name that has inspired many, mostly women I suppose but also men like me.  The novel is historical fiction by Alma Routsong (pen name Isabel Miller), and tells the story  of two women in Connecticut in 1816 who fall in love and decide to leave their homes to buy a farm in another state or territory and live in a Boston marriage.

A bit faded, but the message is still clear, “A Pioneering Love Story”

Although it is fiction, Routsong’s novel is based on a real-life painter named Mary Ann Willson who lived with her companion Miss Brundage as a “farmerette” in the early 19th century in Greene County, NY. Routsong said she came upon Willson’s work in a museum in Cooperstown and was inspired to write the story after reading the description of Willson and Brundage.

Jonathan and I were present for the premiere at Lincoln Center in 1998 of an opera by Paula Kimper based on the novel. We were very moved, by the music and the story. We were pretty poor in those days in New York but bought t-shirts anyway to commemorate the event.  I still have mine–full of holes and frayed edges. Someone took Jonathan’s at a laundromat in Brooklyn a couple of years later.

While working at home today, praying off and on, I decided to wear the shirt. It is my personal witness for same-gender love and marriage.

No matter the outcome in North Carolina, I know the day is coming when all the Patience and Sarahs–and tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of other loving people–will be free to marry (or not–right now we have no freedom to choose, that is what the fight is truly about).

As long as I live, I shall not forget these women, and so many others throughout human history who have loved, and those who love today, against the rules.

I feel certain Jesus would be proud of all of them.

Nothing Sweeter

Christian spiritual life requires discipline.

At least, that is what I keep reading from various authorities, and what I am experiencing in my own life. It is not possible, for most of us at least–certainly for me–to grow spiritually without regular, preferably daily, focus and effort.

This effort takes time. Prayer needs to be more than slap-dash, grabbing a few seconds or a minute to say “Thanks, God!” It is not that quick prayer is not good. It is good to be in conversation with God throughout the day. Often, that conversation can be a quick word or two, or even just a nod of the head toward God.

But that cannot be all there is. Spiritual health requires investment.

If you want to lose weight, for example, you need to adjust your eating habits. That takes time and concentration. And you want to exercise. That takes time and concentration, too. Most of us who have set out to lose weight know it is a journey of ups and downs, and we know that success comes when we stay focused on regularly achieving the ups.

Spiritual health is like that as well. Habits need to be adjusted, and new muscles need to be used.

Daily prayer is essential–it may start out at a couple of minutes, but if it is regular–try for the same time each day, for example, in the same place–it grows into 5, 10, 15, 20, 30, 60 minutes over time. The more you do the more you will be able to focus. In fact, there will come a time when you don’t pray that you will feel the loss. Your day will not be as good and you know it is because you did not use time to pray.

What is the point of this discipline? It is not to say that we do it–that is spiritual self-righteousness–nor is it just to help others. At base, it is to build a relationship with God, the relationship God wants to have with you.

There is nothing sweeter.