Monday, March 19, 2012

pondering two very different pastors

Yesterday, Pastor Nancy came down from the altar - stood at floor level with the rest of us - and gave this fiery sermon.  She was wearing one of those clip on microphones, but you couldn't tell.  Her voice, strong and passionate, resonated off the walls of the small sanctuary, not from some speaker.  

I confess, I had a fleeting thought of, "Wait - is she really going to use the sermon time to talk about this?" But a smile crossed my face, as that thought was quickly replaced by visions of Martin Luther King, Jr.  Later in the service, she said, "I've been ordained for over 30 years - not once have I used a sermon to tell people how to vote. But this is different - this is not a partisan issue, this is about justice." Read on to the end - you'll be surprised to learn which pastor would agree with her!

From one wilderness to another

 March 18, 2012 Numbers 21:4-9

It all started in the wilderness. That’s where they coalesced as the people God chose. That’s where they learned to live in relationship with each other and with God. Now they were people who shared a common story and a common purpose. And it happened while a generation was getting its act together, wandering in the wilderness. It wasn’t always pretty. But it never is when people are stripped of their idols, when they can no longer cling to what once brought them security and their defense mechanisms no longer work.
When I think of the wilderness, I always think of a thick forest teaming with wildlife. But in Biblical times, the forest was synonymous with the desert. It was a desolate place where finding food and water was a daily challenge. The perfect place, really, for God’s people to learn to trust him.
There’s a peculiar wilderness account in Numbers 21 that talks of faithless people being bitten by poisonous snakes and the cure God provides. It’s so peculiar that at first it may seem to have little to do with us. But any wilderness story deserves a closer look. Because the wilderness of Moses’ time wasn’t by any means the last wilderness God’s people have traveled. In fact, our path has repeatedly been forged through the wilderness. And, although the circumstances that bring us there may change, the task of the wilderness for people of faith is always the same. It’s the place where we learn how to trust God.
Martin Luther walked through the wilderness. So did the Europeans who first came to this country to escape religious persecution. And our ancestors who endured the War-Between-the-States. And those who marched in the streets for women’s rights, and for civil rights. All of them made a way through the wilderness.
Today, we’re living through a wilderness time as people of faith in North Carolina. Last week, I saw a photo online of a woman who was at a protest. She was holding up a sign that said, “I can’t believe I’m still protesting against this *stuff*” [paraphrased]. Many of us feel this way about the fight for equality for people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. We’re so over it that we can’t believe it’s still such a big deal to so many people around us. Although we may have moved on from the wilderness, in our minds, we’re still very much in the midst of it. It’s all around us; we can’t escape it. We’ve been reminded of that by the proposed Amendment to the state constitution that the people of North Carolina will be voting on May 8.
Bringing this amendment to a public election came to us in an underhanded way. It’s my prayer that the people of North Carolina will have enough sense to put an end to this nonsense. And I have to believe that if they are presented with the facts, that’s exactly what will happen.
Here are some of the facts.
The amendment reads as follows:
Constitutional amendment to provide that marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.
People who have been led to believe that they will be voting on gay marriage are going to be surprised when they step into the voting booth and actually read Amendment One.
Constitutional amendment to provide that marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.
This says nothing about same-gender unions. What it says is that the only people in domestic partnerships with any legal rights in the state of North Carolina are couples consisting of one man and one woman who are married.
Now, that certainly affects same-gender couples. In the state of North Carolina, there are approximately 27,000 domestic partnerships between same-gender couples. So, that’s a lot of people.
But there are over 200,000 domestic partnerships between opposite gender couples who are unmarried. That’s a huge amount of people.
No doubt you know couples who are living together without benefit of marriage. They may be opposite gender couples who have chosen not to marry for any number of reasons. Or they may be same-gender couples who haven’t had any choice in the matter. Not legally.
If the amendment passes on May 8, none of these unmarried couples will have legal rights.
Legal rights, like what?
• Like child custody and visitation rights that seek to protect the best interests of children. You and your partner have parented a child together, but because you’re not married, only one is legally the parent. Suppose you split up. Too bad for the child who can be cut off from the parent who was never legally recognized.
• Like invalidating protections against domestic violence. You’re being abused? Sorry, unless that man is your husband, we can’t help you.
• Like interfering with end-of-life arrangements such as wills, trusts, and medical powers of attorney. If you’re not married, you have nothing to say about it.
• Like invalidating partner benefits currently offered to same-sex and opposite-sex couples who aren’t legally married. In Mecklenburg County, along with many other parts of the state, it would become illegal to offer partner health benefits even if the employer wanted to continue them.
• This would also take away the courts’ power to enforce private partner benefits.
It sounds crazy, doesn’t it? And it’s a craziness that extends beyond the borders of North Carolina. In fact, we’re the last remaining state in the South that hasn’t passed a law like this. They’ve all been a bit different in their wording. North Carolina’s is the vaguest and it opens the door for more damage. But all of these laws come from the same place, when you come right down to it.
They come from a place of hatred. And isn’t that the ultimate wilderness we’re called to travel through as God’s people? The wilderness of hatred?
This is not a case of liberal vs. conservative. It’s a case of extremists trying to control the masses with fear. It’s about imposing their homophobia on the rest of us. If you ask them why this amendment is necessary, they will tell you something about how people who aren’t allowed to legally marry in North Carolina will go to another state to marry and then think they can come back here and have all the rights of married people.
Now, I know some of you have done that. You’ve gone to another state to marry. And what has that done for you in North Carolina? Absolutely nothing. Because here’s the deal. It is already illegal for gay folks to be married in North Carolina. If that’s what some people are afraid of, it’s already been done. The amendment is redundant.
It’s both unnecessary and extreme. Really. An amendment to the constitution? This is so wrong that it’s hard to know where to begin. How can it be appropriate to write discrimination into the founding document of our state? And how can it be appropriate to bring such a decision, one that would impact so many of our citizens, gay, straight, children and adults, in such a damaging way --- how can it ever be appropriate for a majority to vote on the rights of the minority?
North Carolina has a rich heritage in that regard. It was one of the last states to sign the United States Constitution because North Carolinians were holding out for a Bill of Rights to be in place. They were concerned about protecting the rights of the minority. This anti-gay amendment would be the first time that our state has amended the constitution in order to discriminate against specific individuals. Amendment One flies in the face of our state’s tradition.
And all of this is happening at a time when our leaders should be worrying about the economy and jobs. It’s bringing division among people when we should be pulling together. It’s a distraction that is keeping us from the business we need to be about. This shouldn’t be happening right now. Or any time. We shouldn’t be voting on this. It’s a grave injustice and just plain wrong.
This is a wilderness time for us. And it’s beyond discouraging.
But there’s something to be learned from the story of God’s people in the first wilderness. Theologian Phyllis Tickle offers some insight into Numbers 21 worth considering.
“What the story recognizes is that all of us are going to be bitten—painfully bitten—in this life. Most of us learn that truth fairly quickly just from experience. But, according to the story, it is not the being bitten that we in this imperfect world can do anything about; it is only the how we respond to being bitten that we can control. When we look up, usually we are saved by that very act of faith for it is when we look down and struggle with what is tormenting us that we most often empower it by the very attention we are going to give it."
Surrounded by poisonous snakes, they had every reason to despair. The only cure was to look up.
That’s how God’s people make their way through the wilderness. It would be so easy to look down but we look up instead. We look up and see a God of resurrection who saves us from despair. We know that evil will not prevail. Hatred will not win the day. Darkness will not overcome the light. We look up.
I don’t know how the vote will go on May 8. But for God’s people, that’s almost beside the point. We will emerge from this wilderness. If not sooner, then later. As Theodore Parker once said, and Martin Luther King, Jr, after him, “The arc of the universe always bends toward justice.” That’s the direction we’re always headed as God’s people. History bears that out. This will be no exception.
No doubt, when we have finally emerged from this wilderness, another one will be ahead. It’s the way it always works for God’s people. We travel through the wilderness. It’s the only way to get from one place to the next. Scotty can’t just beam us into our new reality. We have to do the hard wilderness work. And we continue to move forward by looking up.
Pastor Nancy Kraft
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church
Charlotte, NC 

Well put!  And guess who agreed with her...  Someone who, years before, had actually condemned Dr King's involvement in what he referred to as the "civil wrongs movement".  This pastor later apologized for having said things like, "If Chief Justice Warren and his associates had known God's word and had desired to do the Lord's will, I am quite confident that the 1954 decision would never had been made. The facilities should be separate. When God has drawn a line of distinction, we should not attempt to cross that line." 

That pastor not only changed his mind about segregation, but he also said this, 
"I may not agree with the (gay) lifestyle, but that has nothing to do with the civil rights of that part of our constituency... Civil rights for all Americans, black, white, red, yellow, the rich, poor, young, old, gay, straight, et cetera, is not a liberal or conservative value. It's an American value that I would think that we pretty much all agree on." 

Who said that? The late Reverend Dr Jerry Falwell, my childhood pastor, who had seemingly begun to soften his position late in life.  Mel White says that if Jerry had lived longer, the gay community would have gotten an apology from him the same way the black community had decades before.  Mel has more reason than anyone not to believe that, but he does - and I've always liked that about him.  

Based on this quote, it seems he was right.  In fact, and I certainly cannot speak for him, but based on this quote, if Jerry Falwell were alive today and if he were a citizen of North Carolina, one can conclude that he would vote NO for Amendment 1 on May 8.  

The question is, will his "followers"?  Like Mel, I want to believe the best about people.  I want to believe that if they know the facts, they'll vote NO.  I want to believe that they'll actually read the words before they punch in their answer.  I want to believe that they will think.

But even if they don't... I'll stand with my brothers and sisters, as we remind each other to Look Up.

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