Romans 12:2 (NRSV)
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
I’m chuckling about this now, but when I chose the word awaken as my guiding word for this year, I envisioned myself as a gentle earth mother who has spiritually awakened and walks deeply and contemplatively through life. Instead, God seems to be leading me to awaken in a different way- to a greater awareness of the injustices and troubles around me- which has awakened my heartbreak and even outrage at times.
Earlier this month, Jim was invited to speak with other clergy at a press conference on behalf of Fairness, WV. This organization is working to pass a bill that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s housing and employment non-discrimination statutes. Because Jim believes in and advocates for equal rights and justice for all LGTBQ people, he was delighted to have the opportunity to speak. He was then invited to join the Fairness WV team! We are excited to help where we can.
But now we are becoming more aware of all the obstacles ahead. Now I am hearing more of those hateful remarks, uninformed judgments, outright lies, and over-exaggerated fears, from folks who have incomplete or immature understandings of the Bible, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Hearing people say these things about the dear, good people I know and love sickens me to my core. I have been aware of these issues for quite some time and worked for inclusion and equality in the Lutheran church years ago, but hearing these accusations anew has been painful.
I’m sad that the objectors of the Fairness Act claim that their faith is what they are upholding, when I believe that it is fear. I’m sad that they believe God would judge them for treating everyone fairly and equally while withholding their own personal judgments of others. I’m sad that they don’t feel the love of our God who loves us all, commands us to love everyone, and tells us to treat others as we would treat ourselves (one can find these verses in the Bible beyond Leviticus).
We- myself included- are tempted to close our minds to that which makes us uncomfortable. We come to just enough understanding about an issue so that we feel either justified or affirmed, and then we have no desire to learn anything more. We stagnate happily in our “rightness” because learning something new or different might make us uncomfortable again. I do this with opposing political views. I generally read articles that support my position instead of learning more about other viewpoints. If anything, reading the opposite view may give me a better understanding and starting point for future conversations. We may be content in our stagnation, but when we use our closed and misinformed minds to divide or judge others, we are compounding the wrongs in our world.
- If one truly wants to use the Bible as a source of authority on this issue, one must understand what the Bible really says about sexual behaviors. One must take the time to read insights from scholars, research the culture of the time, learn how the Bible was assembled, and study scientific evidence about sexual orientation. We cannot stop short once we read a few verses which seem to uphold our judgment against others. There are SO many other verses that contradict these.
- If one truly wants to claim a right to religious freedom, one must also uphold all of the Constitution and its amendments. We cannot stop short once we read the First Amendment alone, but also read and apply the equal protection clause in the 14th Amendment:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
We all must keep learning and growing in our understanding of issues- and of one another. This awakening has been difficult, but it doesn’t compare to the challenges and injustices our LGTBQ family members and friends have endured. Then there are the many others who are also suffering, held captive by injustice. Jesus tells us to help ALL of the oppressed- the widows, orphans, refugees, immigrants, poor, imprisoned, sick, suffering, people of color, and any who are marginalized. We have much to do.
May I continue to be awake and aware, may I continue to learn and grow, and may I continue to be heartbroken and angry about the unjust ways we treat others. Most of all, may I continue advocating for justice, equality and relief for all who are marginalized while growing in my understanding of the issues we face. My words and actions may not enlighten the closed-minded. But may my words and actions help others to know that they are loved, that they are not alone, and that there are friends who will advocate, support and journey with them. Just like God does.
Awaken me, God, to all that I must see, to all that I must learn, to all that I must do. Amen.
Photo credit: taken from napavalleykid.com