Last Sunday, several volunteers responded to a call from Pastor Todd to speak about how they are thinking about liberty and equality in light of all the recent events, including legalizing gay marriage and continuing racial injustice.  Dori, Sandi, David and Peggy (we are only using first names here on the web) responded and shared some wonderful perspective on where we have come over the last 40 years.  You can listen to the whole service by clicking above or you can read the text below.  The audio begins with the scripture lesson of the day being read by Barbara.

Dori

The Supreme Court’s decision to make marriage equality the law in every state led to immediate celebration, but it also led me to think about what came before.

I was born to a devoutly Catholic mother and an agnostic father.  In order to be allowed to marry my mother, my father had to promise to leave the religious upbringing of any children strictly in her hands.  (Hmm, I sense a theme in my family of being attracted to ‘inappropriate’ people.  I can hear my father chuckling.)

I went to Catholic school until I went to college.  I got a great education and made lots of friends, but school and church taught us that people who were attracted to members of the same sex were condemned to hell.  I spent a lot of time afraid, both of being found out and of going to hell.  Like many gay teens, I might not have been able to stand up to the pressure of such disapproval from every authority figure in my life, but God was still speaking to me long before I was in the UCC.  One day while I was wondering how I could have become such a horrible person, two things came to me:  God had made me as I was, and God does not make mistakes.  These tenets of faith were enough to hang my hope on.  I still had to hide who I was, which was very hard, but I knew God was not numbered among the ones who hated me.

Coming to college was like being set free.  I still couldn’t come out to everyone, because in 1973 that just wasn’t done, but there were safe spaces and I found friends who could accept me for who I was.  A new friend cautiously told me he was gay.  I’m sure he had wondered and worried what my response would be, and I know he didn’t expect me to throw my arms around him in relief and say “Me, too!”

Finding Sandie in 1975 was a blessing.  It still wasn’t easy being a lesbian, but being in a committed relationship made the difficulties easier to bear because being apart would have been much worse than anything society could do to us.

Many of the nearly 40 years we’ve been together have been spent with friends who didn’t know we were a couple, because they were conservative Christians who would shun us if they knew.  And some of them have, no matter how long they knew us, how close we had been, or how many Sunday school classes we had taught.  Finding a balance between what we believed and who we were has been a long road.

When we left a conservative Christian church to lead a more authentic life, we went to a UCC church.  The minister and the congregation were very confused by us, since we spent our first several Sunday services silently crying in the pews from the relief of being able to worship as ourselves without fear of condemnation.

Even as University employees, we’ve faced discrimination from people who knew we were a couple.  Several supervisors have denied us advancement or increases in salary because of our love.

But things were slowly changing.  There was less fear and more openness and acceptance.  When I called my brother to ask if he would be in our wedding, he said “Well, it’s about time you made Sandie an honest woman!”  I had to remind him that it hadn’t been legal very long.  Some family members do not speak to us, and some we wish wouldn’t.  One person in my family said something vicious to Sandie while they were alone in my parents’ kitchen.  She didn’t know that my Dad was standing behind her.  Although we had never ‘come out’ to him, he said “Sandie has been a member of this family longer than you have.  I consider her my daughter; she is always welcome in this house.  If you can’t keep a civil tongue in your head, you know how to find the door.”  Most members of both families accept us and love us.

When I mentioned to co-workers that Sandie and I were going to get married, they threw us a shower.  I had never hoped to be married.  I had certainly never envisioned a future where friends would celebrate that marriage with a shower.

And now the Supreme Court has extended recognition of our marriage to all 50 states.  We no longer have to worry about traveling to states where we would not have any say in medical emergencies.  We could move and not have to worry about benefits.  A new day has come.  Not everyone welcomes that new day.  There are posts on Facebook stating that the new legislation should allow them to marry their dogs.  Others recommend fleeing the U.S. before God rains down judgment on the country for our lack of morals.  Where do they think they’re going to go?  Canada?  They had marriage equality before we did.  They’d better like colder weather; Russia is still an option.

Young people give me hope.  Although they don’t fully appreciate these changes because they didn’t live through the darkest times, they have a completely different view.  Our nieces and nephews sent congratulations after the Supreme Court decision and put rainbow filters on their Facebook avatars.  The majority of young people believe that this equality is just and fair.  What a wonderful thing.

We still have a long way to go for full rights for many people: LGBTQ, black, poor, and immigrants, just to name a few, but having seen how far we’ve come, I have hope that things will continue to improve.  We shall overcome…

 

David 

“Race Testimonial”

I was very moved by recent events, especially the Charleston, SC killings in a church by an apparent white supremacist.

Race has been so intertwined with American history from the very beginning and it is still a difficult subject for all of us.

My first real awareness of race was when I moved from New York to Jacksonville, Florida in 1952 at the age of 12 and saw in the park in the center of the city water fountain signs reading “Colored” and “white.”  Being curious, I couldn’t resist trying the “colored” fountain when no one was looking: sure enough it was the same water.

In graduate school in Chapel Hill, NC, I witnessed and occasionally participated in civil rights demonstrations and boycotts to integrate restaurants and movie theaters.  In my first job in 1964 in eastern NC I came out of a meeting at a small rural African-American church only to find outside two white men in a car with a KKK decal – they had been following me –rather frightening.  A few months later out of curiosity I went to a KKK rally where the Imperial Wizard from Alabama banged the Bible on his outdoor podium and railed against miscegenation.  I found this degree of hate frightening and horrifying.

The following year I was spending every Wednesday evening at NAACP rallies in Jacksonville, Florida, rotating among the major African-American churches, always ending with singing the very moving “We Shall Overcome.”  I was often the only white person present.

Two years later I was hired as the first director of the new Jacksonville, Florida Community Relations Commission, established to improve race relations in that very Southern city.   Our city commission worked to stop block-busting tactics by greedy Realtors, promote fair hiring practices, integrate the public schools, and improve relations between the police and the community.   I took the police captain responsible for community relations to a week-long training institute at Michigan State and brought in outside experts to train the local force.  One of my roles was to hear firsthand accounts of police abuse of citizens of color.   Once I stopped what was called a “race riot” in that city following an incident of misguided police tactics.

My heart cried out when I heard this past year from Ferguson, MO, and Staten Island, and North Charleston.   I have seen tremendous progress in many areas, but realize we still have a long way to go.   Tears still flood into my eyes when I hear “We Shall Overcome” sung after these tragic events, recognizing the racism still residing in our society but also the grace so many also demonstrate.   I too believe in the quotation that President Obama frequently cites, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

I turn 75 this week and feel ready to “hang up my spurs,” but I know there will be people in this church and others continuing to work to bring the Kingdom of God here on this earth.  Let us follow the admonition of the Prophet Amos, “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

 

 Peggy

Sunday, July 5, 2015

These past few weeks have been like a roller coaster ride, up and down: gladness, sadness; despair and hope. The seeds of both poles have been with us for a long time. There have been times I have wanted to weep, and times I have been overcome by joy, not only now, but through the years.

I was born in 1932 in a small southern town, Sherman, Texas, near the Oklahoma border. My early childhood was clouded by racial tension I felt but did not understand. Two years before my birth there had been a lynching of a black man in Sherman. He had been accused, possibly more rumor than truth in the accusation, of raping a white woman. He was put in jail, then supposedly for his own safety locked in the court house; a white mob stormed the court house, set it on fire, and the black man was burned to death. His body was hung from a pole. There ensued further racial riots in which black businesses were burned, arson being a preferred method of violence, both then and now.

We white people could defend on a personal level those black retainers who served us. It was told that my great uncle Uke sat on his front porch with a shot gun in his lap saying “I’ll shoot anyone who comes after George”.

My beloved Aunt Elizabeth, my mother’s sister, talked about niggers, ranting against their uppity ways. My Grandmother Critz, my mother’s mother, believed with fervent conviction that only colored people could cook and, therefore, should be confined to the kitchen. This was in Little Rock where my mother attended high school, the very same high school where, years later, Johnson sent in the National Guard to quell riots and potential riots over the high school’s being integrated. It was in Little Rock that I first noticed a sign above the water fountain in a department store: it read “Whites Only”. It was only one of many such signs throughout the South.

Where was the church? I do not remember, either in church or elsewhere, anyone’s saying that something was amiss. As small children we sang “Jesus loves the little children … red and yellow black and white they are precious in his sight … ” but that particular sentiment seemed to refer to the larger nebulous scheme of things rather than to doing love on this earth. Or to seeking a just world where we all have opportunity according to need and to potential.

My Sunday School in Dallas introduced me to pain in a rather more pointed way when I was eleven or twelve. We took Christmas presents to a small black church set in a dusty yard which was literally on the other side of the railroad tracks, just outside the city limits. It had no sanitation, was heated by a pot-bellied stove. Water came from a hand operated pump near the front door. The church was called Record Crossing, the crossing referring to the railroad tracks. We were there to attend their Sunday evening worship service, but that seemed to center around Us, our beneficence. There was something terribly wrong about it, and I was ashamed. We went two separate years that I know of, but then someone in our church complained that the experience was upsetting us and that was the end of that.

Since then we have lived through a civil rights movement and a voting rights act. African Americans have long since been able to sit where they like on a bus, but there are still many challenges against their right, as citizens, to vote. And the legacy of economic inequality, a far too present reality left us by slavery, is with us still.

The shootings in Charleston have elicited public outrage over what, just a few years ago, would have been noted and then forgotten. The Confederate flag has been removed from many state buildings: it has been acknowledged that it is not merely an historical relic but has constituted a celebration of our racist past. In these few weeks the Supreme Court has spoken out against discrimination in housing. There is a momentum rising up against racial justice not seen in recent years.

And something else quite personal to me. In the past few weeks marriage equality has been legalized. Unthinkable in 1954. When I was twenty-two I fell deeply in love with a woman, twenty-eight years my senior, who became my life’s partner for thirty years until her death in 1984. In our first several years together our relationship had to be explained as my being her secretary. Secrecy was necessary because of potential fall-out to our careers, at least so it seemed to us. We could not hold hands in public, we could not kiss, but more importantly we could not acknowledge the reality of our love to our friends, though of course many assumed it, accepted us, and for them we were grateful. I never spoke with my parents about my sexual orientation. They loved me and would have taken things in stride, but part of me was ashamed and afraid, though I knew my choice was right and good. Part of oneself sees herself as others see her. Shame boxes us in: it is a devastating emotion.

I know of a number of pastors who left the ministry because they could no longer bear the weight secrecy imposed upon them. Had they come out, they would have been forced to resign. Others stayed within secrecy’s bounds but lived with the awareness that at any point someone could take them to an ecclesiastical court, and that would be that.

The evolution of public approval culminating in laws legalizing same sex union has brought many of us to our knees in gratitude.

The list goes on, what has happened in these weeks. The Supreme Court has upheld universal health care. Had it been in affect in 1961 my father would not have been wiped out financially by my mother’s devastating illness and death. Now my nephew can get adequate coverage for his daughter, my great niece, who was born with only three chambers to her heart. My brother, whose capacity for full-time work was compromised by illness, frequently went without his medication because he could not afford it. With Obama Care he can.

Discussions about mental illness, the death penalty, and gun violence have not been limited to cable news and the New York Times. A president has talked about grace. A Pope has written an encyclical about climate change, and has made issues concerning the roots and effects of poverty a priority. Closer to home, the mayor of Northampton has vowed to abolish homelessness for veterans here within the year.

And we have witnessed beauty in the faithfulness of those who have been deeply wounded but can say from their hearts and from their faith, “I forgive you”.

Something in these weeks feels new.

And yet there has been a terrible backlash. It is as though the opponents of those things which we hold to be good are behaving like threatened animals who, when cornered, fight back with desperate ferocity, fighting to hold on to the lives they have lived. Does the measure of their resistance mean that we are in a new place, that perhaps for now we are steps ahead of where we were? I pray that this is so.

As a society we have had many pluses in the eighty some years I have been talking about, and there have been many set-backs. It is good to celebrate our victories, or, rather, God’s victories, because I believe with all my heart that it is the God spirit that pushes us on, uses our anger, gets under our skin until we rise up for justice. As Protestants we celebrate the empty cross, the triumph; Catholic crucifixes remind us of the suffering that we cause. Maybe we should acknowledge both more truly, let ourselves feel more deeply, and work unremittingly toward the good that lies ahead. Weeping and rejoicing are part of it all, but they are not enough.

I pray that God will grace us with the will and the courage to plot, plan, strategize, and work toward what we know to be God’s kingdom on earth.

Thanks be to God who gives us the victory.

~ Peggy