Saturday, March 24, 2012

This is not a time for silence

A number of clergy in the area have been preaching against Amendment One. I’m among them. And since we have been called to task regarding our tax-exempt status, I feel a need to respond. Never in my 33 years of ordained ministry have I publicly discussed how people will cast their ballot in the voting booth. Until now.

I never suggest which candidate people should vote for, nor do I endorse a particular party from the pulpit. Most of the people who know me are aware of where I stand, but it’s not fair to use the pulpit to impose my political agenda on others. My feelings about this have nothing to do with Holy Trinity retaining its tax-exempt status. It’s just the wrong thing to do as a religious leader. It’s a misuse of the authority I’ve been given, and it would undermine the trust that my congregation has placed in me.

But Amendment One is different. It’s a not a partisan issue, it’s a justice issue. It’s not a political issue, it’s a moral issue. Furthermore, Amendment One was initiated by a small group of people with strong religious convictions, and it continues to be fueled by people of faith. To allow that group to speak without responding is, in essence, to agree with them. As a person of faith, it would be irresponsible for me to remain silent. I think of the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. who said: “In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

I once heard the writer Reynolds Price speak before a group of pastors. When it came time for questions from the audience, one person asked him why he wasn’t connected with any church because he was obviously a deeply spiritual person. He told us that his opinion of the church changed back during the Civil Rights era. In all the churches he attended, including Duke University Chapel, never once did he hear a preacher mention the injustice that was going on all around them. Their silence spoke volumes.

As I heard Price tell us this, I remember feeling righteous indignation toward those preachers who had been silent about the injustice of racism when it was their time to speak. And yet, I can’t judge them too harshly, because it wasn't until many years later that I first stepped into a pulpit, so I don’t know how I might have responded if I had been in their shoes. It wasn't my time. But I do stand in a pulpit now, on a weekly basis. This is my time. And I have no doubt about how I will respond. I will not be counted among those who keep silent. I must speak.

I realize that I'm living in the Holy Trinity bubble, and things are different for me than they are for many of my colleagues. If I remained silent about Amendment One, my congregation would be very disappointed in me.

For many other preachers, speaking out against Amendment One takes a great deal of courage. People have such strong feelings about sexual orientation that the issue has torn congregations apart. A lot of clergy have decided just to ignore it rather than get everybody all riled up. Okay. I can understand that. Sort of.

But here’s the thing. This Amendment isn’t really about whether or not it’s okay to be gay. Nor are we voting on whether or not we think gay people should be allowed to marry. (That’s already been decided by the state of North Carolina, and the answer is “no.”) It’s important that people know the truth about what we will be voting on. What we will be voting on is whether the only people in domestic partnerships who will be granted legal rights in our state are people who are married.

We’re talking about legal rights like: child custody and visitation rights that seek to protect the best interests of children, protections against domestic violence, end-of-life issues, and health benefits for adults who live together but aren’t married. Why should committed couples who are unmarried, for whatever reason, be denied the rights others take for granted? If that’s not discrimination, I don’t know what is.

When some are being treated unjustly, how can we stand in our pulpits and pretend like it doesn’t matter? How can we remain silent when our listeners will be voting on whether or not it is acceptable to discriminate against a group of people? Frankly, I would be very disturbed if I were part of a faith community right now that isn’t openly confronting Amendment One. This is not a time for silence.

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