I never really thought I would be writing about the Rev. Dr. Jerry Falwell.
So much has been broadcast and written about him in the past few days, that at times I barely recognized the man.
Having been privileged to serve at several memorial services, it has often been the case that when those gathered speak about the one who has died, they frequently find out information they never knew about the individual. So, I am not surprised that we are finding out many things we never knew about someone as public as this man, especially as the special reports and editorials continue. We are learnng more about his faith, relation to his family, and other honorable qualities he exemplified, and I join with all who know the sting of loss and the promise of eternal glory, including the Falwells and their friends and followers. I share this time in prayer for them and all those who are navigating the sacred space of letting go of someone they loved.
It is true for me, though, that those with the bully pulpit (in religious or public life) who have spoken out against gay people from whatever their convictions may be -- these individuals have been responsible for spreading hatred and violence. Have we forgotten that in the last few days?
What is more disconcerting is that individuals with a wide following and even universities established in their names - leave behind them legacies that gain fervor in seeking to honor those who have passed.
Would it surprise anyone that the next one to step into the position left vacant by Dr. Falwell's passing would exert their authority as a leader of the moral majority on the backs of gays and the protection of the family? Certainly there are other examples of this, most recently in the succession of Pope John Paul II. A simple Internet search of recent days makes that very clear.
On many occasions, I have sat and spoken with those who some might call my enemies. I really don't feel that I have enemies. It may be true that I do, but I look at everyone as a brother and sister with respect and love. I am called to do that as an imperfect follower of the teachings of Jesus. However, when I finish my conversations with those who were intent on changing me or condmening me, however charming, public, well-known, or powerful they might have been -- it was always clear to me that they were wrong in their position that we (the LGBT community) were somehow "less than" or a "second-class" because we were gay. How could we feel otherwise?
When these same folk used their influence to marginalize us and galvanize others to do the same, they were not only wrong -- they had become dangerous. When someone like a Dr. Falwell cited us as a contributing factor to the destruction at Ground Zero or threats to the family - we have a responsibility to love such people and then speak out strongly and transparently to let folks SEE us and know us, as best we can.
Probably the greatest damage of the teachings of zealots is that they use the fear they condemn to dominate and quiet those they wish to exclude. The fear and the repercussions that are real or imagined from such campaigns and pograms force gay people more deeply into the closet. We become represented by an out few and a blessed group of supporters. We hear others speaking about and for us -- rather than our speaking about and for ourselves. We reinforce that we have something to hide, by hiding ourselves.
I believe that until we grow into a community that is willing to take risks across a broad spectrum to address these systems doing their best to controlling our lives, we will be ineffective in meaningful change during anything that looks like our lifetimes.
So, the answer for many of us is that we walk alongside those who wish us silent, waiting to be recognized and admitted into their hearts and voices. We join in the throngs who see someone like a Dr. Falwell as worthy of being honored for his work against us, as helping us in our own movement. Really?
Early AIDS activist goup "Act-Up" had as their slogan: "Silence = Death." If we really want to make a difference, we all need to find ways to end the silence. Let's not be quiet about those who seek to destroy us in life or in death. There is no honor in their actions for us, nor is there any gain in our silence.