Sunday, January 9, 2011

The price: Arizona and More

This is an excerpt from a sermon delivered this morning at Jan Hus Presbyerian Church and Neighborhood House. I had to write something about the terrible tragedy in Arizona and make it part of this morning's worship. It is, I think, exactly where it belongs.  [Excerpt follows] Full sermon posted later.

...but before I go any further, a disclaimer: I don’t believe that the pulpit in a congregation is a place for political debate. Policy issues, yes; politics, no. It is one thing to mobilize people for or against a policy and quite another to galvanize folk behind a particular politician or party. Not every cleric sees it that way.

So, this is about policy and practices that have led us to another horrendous and violent tragedy in Tucson, Arizona. A horror, yesterday, in which an individual on the fringe with anti-government tendencies, and in his early twenties, entered a supermarket center, where Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was meeting with her constituents. The individual approached the congresswoman and fired, continuing to spray bullets into the crowd. Six people died, 13 are injured, with the Congresswoman, herself, in critical condition. He is in custody and a potential accomplice is being sought.

Last year, following Congressman Giffords vote in favor of health care reform legislation, her office in Tucson was vandalized. The 40 year-old-congresswoman, had this to say at that time:

“This is a situation where people really need to realize that the rhetoric of  firing people up really has consequences.”

Our prayers are with all those caught up in this terrible tragedy. My prayers are also that the practice of politicians and media in promoting or discounting policy decisions through lies, derision, misinformation, bigotry and deception cease. Just stop.

Just as our actions of following the teachings of the Gospel in the Spirit in which they were intended somehow brought us and others here, the deception that had become part of the policy making process in this country is producing the opposite results that anyone – from any party or any agency – could ever – should ever condone.

For a very long time, I have charged this and other denominations with being complicit in the violence toward the LGBT/Q community because of the practices of exclusion and bias in refusing full participation to gay people. The policies of a church that prevent people from being members feed a segment of the population with an endorsement for their hatred and an added impetus for a Second Amendment remedy or worse.

When Matthew Shepherd was murdered in October 1998, I was sure, hopeful that people would wake up about the violence foisted on people who were marginalized, in general, and gay people in particular. It’s taken a long time and there’s still more to go. Some changes? Yes.

You are sitting in a church this morning, one of the few in the country, who would call an openly gay person to serve as its minister. So, the fact that I serve here in the temporary position of Stated Supply Pastor as a gay man is something that would not happen in the great majority of the 11,000 Presbyterian churches in this country, simply because I am gay.

Still, I hope that the tragedy in Arizona stays in the media long enough for us to change. It will take a while. That’s no reason to give up, in fact, it’s the opposite.

This compartmentalization of people, marketing of lies and fear, elevated hyperbole toward outcomes of particular decisions – in religions and governments, alike, has to stop.

Just as we, this morning, are not well pleased with the viral hatred that has shown its ugly self once again in Tucson, let us not lose heart. Instead, let us call this church, our temples, our places of worship, our government, and all others to a higher standard of justice and equality for all.

Surely, both God and we will be well-pleased in however we can help that to happen.

May the slightly modified words of Isaiah be words that can be attributed to us, as well:

“Here are my servants, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon them; they will bring forth justice...”