Saturday, January 10, 2015

Complicit: Silence = Death

It's about going forth...

In my opinion...

Leelah Alcorn’s suicide may not be the last for a long time to come. I remember the day Matthew Shepard was murdered. "Surely now," I thought, "everyone would see the violence of the teachings of twisted religious dogma. Churches and communities of faith will have to change now," I prayed as much as I thought.

I was wrong about Matthew’s death ending the complicity of some religious communities in hate crimes and violence.  We have made progress - and the reality is that even as we move forward - we have yet to overwhelm the insipient teachings that hasten the advance of such tragedies.

Unless we drown out misdirected dogma with the power and practice of love by us who know better - we are complicit in our silence. Love drowns out fear. It’s that simple. It's has always been that simple. And it has always been excruciatingly hard to do. Love is the message that fills the New Testament - yet we embrace it just so far. We criticize others for their literal interpretations of sacred texts, yet we fall short ourselves of prophetic witness. We both end up in the comfortable middle, while folks like Leelah and Matthew and others pay the dearest of prices.

This week's reading of the Gospel brings us to the River Jordan and the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. (Mark 1:4 -11)

"I have baptized you with water;" says John, "but he [Jesus] will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." (Mark 1:8}

It occurs to me that it’s a lot easier to take the water. It occurs to me that many people prefer to hang out with the old ways, with the “John teachings” – all of which we acknowledge but profess to have taken to the fullest of levels with the advent of Jesus. Still, we are halting in our embrace of discipleship; too often we wait until enough of others have made the way clear and safer to follow.

That’s how it seems to me. When we sidestep the discipleship we say we herald, we become complicit in the absence of change and the violence that seeks out such vacuums with a vengeance.  

Some of us have intimately known this dressed-up violence as the exclusionary teachings we've experienced in our denominations, communities and families. It is why welcoming communities of faith need to carry the message of hospitality and radical love without ceasing: 

"God and we welcome you in all the ways God has created us all." 

"God and we welcome you in all the ways God has created us all." 

What makes us so timid?

What if Leelah Alcorn or her family had heard that? What if Matthew Shepard's murderers had been taught that? 

Here’s what I know. Nothing about the teachings of Jesus would ever be part of -  in any way - teachings or practices that produce violence toward others. If you want to argue that, perhaps it is better to move on at this point.

The portrayal of God in the Old Testament is the God The Baptist still knew best, but he knew Change was coming.  And Change was Jesus. Jesus that summoned up Abba, the parent and guardian God who loves all. Jesus that affirmed the Greatest of Commandments. The same commandments to love God and one another that we seem to set aside most quickly, when fears takes hold and comfort or safety becomes threatened. 

Are we disciples of John or Jesus? Are we disciples of the old or the new?

The problem we face has its roots in the careful institutional conflation of God and church for too many centuries. Such conflation creates and empowers the most fundamental of all wishful thinking: "that if the church says it is so – then God says it is so, for God and church are one."

Who might that benefit more than others? 
How close might that come to idolatry at some point?

So, which is it? When we are confronted with decisions based on love or judgment is it church dogma and teachings or God's love that is the final arbiter? Can it ever be both and still send someone out into the wilderness alone and marginalized?

I know my bias. I was brought up a Roman Catholic; I grew up loving the church and God. I was taught they were one and believing that nearly took my life. Finally in my thirties, I came to know the difference. I walked away from a church I knew was wrong. In the process I came to find the God that made and loves and all.
Slowly, I was able to see the role of the church as helping communities to live into the teachings of Jesus, struggling as disciples, together – regardless of how uncomfortable, unpopular, or messy the struggles might be. I came to know the joy and courage of others who had gone before, knew that God loved us all and that the church needed to change, even in the face of personal or professional risk. These were Presbyterians who led me back to church, and there are countless others waiting for what I was so blessed to receive.

Friends, we cannot forget how violence and fear are out to turn us inward and away from change at every opportunity. Nor can we forget that we have made strides with much, much more to do. The tragedies we speak of remind us of this and more. We cannot become tired or despairing.

Or timid....

Yes, the path is formidable: the road of discipleship is in direct opposition to fear. Recognize any obstacles to discipleship as fear-based at one level or another. Recognize any conflation of God and church as an inherently violent response to God and one another. And know the joy of loving like there is no tomorrow!

This love and discipleship requires being part of the change we want to happen. It requires personal and national leadership that embraces and announces the changes that have taken place at the highest of levels, in our denomination and others. There is great joy in the Good News and the witness we have to offer each other and the world, as we move profoundly forward. We have been baptized to make a difference - not wait for one to happen.

In response to the political silence surrounding the AIDS crisis in 1987, Act Up (A Coalition to Unleash Power) was formed. It's slogan was: "Silence = Death." It is a slogan well to remember in choosing our paths of discipleship.