Love Builds a Bridge

Love Builds a Bridge
Rev. Douglas Taylor
February 16, 2014

Yesterday my 21 year-old son sent me a message on facebook in anticipation of my sermon today.  It warms my heart to think he is paying attention.  The message was a picture of a church roadside sign that read “God says homosexuality is in” and there were two guys grinning in the foreground holding a letter “s” from the sign board.  In other words, the sign originally said “God says homosexuality is sin,” but these young men had stolen the “s” so the new message is that God says it is “in”

As a parent, I hope my values are transmitted to the next generation.  When I am at my best I hope these values are not merely a parroting of my values but a deep reflection and acceptance of what I hold dear.  I hope what I have projected into the next generation is not merely the conclusions I have reached, but the terms by which I reach those conclusions.  I don’t want my kids to be comfortable with homosexuality because their parents are; I want them to see the deeper value of acceptance and non-judgment at the heart of any particular political or social issues in the news today.  I want them to recognize the best qualities of love in the conversation.

It is a particular sort of love that I want to focus our attention on this morning. I know Valentine’s Day just happened and everyone was talking about romance and relationships. But the love I want to raise up is suitable for all of us, whether we have a date or a partner or a spouse or any of that. 

Carter Heyward, a lesbian feminist theologian, teacher, and priest in the Episcopalian church offers this on the topic of love:

Love, like truth and beauty, is concrete. Love is not fundamentally a sweet feeling; not, at heart, a matter of sentiment … Love is active, effective, a matter of making reciprocal and mutually beneficial relation with one’s friends and enemies. Love creates righteousness, or justice, here on earth. To make love is to make justice. (Our Passion for Justice)

Or as philosopher and activist Cornell West succinctly said, “Justice is what love looks like in public.” 

The song we just offered, “Same Love” by Macklemore, Ryan Lewis, and featuring Mary Lambert, has become a popular radio song.  Ben Haggerty (that is Macklemore’s real name) wrote the song as a statement in favor of same-sex marriage.  The cover of the album shows his uncle John with his partner Sean. 

Marriage equality is a current news story.  Same-sex Marriage has become the legislative flash point for GLBTQ issues in our country and in Unitarian Universalism these past few years.  Back in 2005 in a sermon on marriage I stated that it was only a matter of time before marriage equality was the law of the land.  These things take time but it certainly seems like the tide of cultural acceptance is rolling in.

Two weeks back Tabernacle United Methodist church hosted Rev. Frank Schaefer into their pulpit.  Rev. Schaefer was defrocked last year for officiating at the marriage of his son several years back.  There was a trial and everything; his ministerial credentials were revoked by the council.  The United Methodists have been wrestling with GLBTQ issues but at the last General Conference they upheld the language that disallows the officiating at same-sex marriages.  Schaefer was in town to preach at Tabernacle, a Reconciling Congregation – that is akin to our ‘Welcoming Congregation’ as a formal designation welcoming people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. 

Rev. Steve Heiss is minister serving that congregation.  Rev. Heiss has issued a public letter to his congregation and to his bishop stating that he has officiated at several same-sex marriages and has no intention to cease the practice.  Rev. Heiss will probably be brought to trial and be defrocked as well.

As a Unitarian Universalist clergy I have no such concerns for the same-sex marriages I have officiated.  Unitarian Universalism went on record in 1970 with a resolution against the discrimination of homosexuals and bisexuals.  There was an official resolution in 1984 affirming the practice of conducting services of union for gay and lesbian couples, and another one in 1996 supporting full marriage equality. 

But in many ways, marriage equality is not the pinnacle of LGBTQ concerns in our society.  I recall conversations with people who were frustrated with the marriage equality focus, not because they didn’t agree with same-sex marriage or because they did not wish to marry their partners, but because there were many other issues of importance that were getting no attention.  Marriage Equality became a wedge issue during recent election seasons, and by some interpretations even a distraction tactic.

But marriage equality, I believe, has come to represent more than just the freedom for same-sex couples to marry.  In many ways Marriage Equality seems to be akin to the voting rights act of the 1960’s.  The point of the civil rights movement was not to win the vote for people of color.  The point was to stop the legal violence and dehumanization.  The point was to get society to see that no matter the color of your skin, all people deserve equal treatment.  But a galvanizing focus of that was the push for the voting rights act.  The voting was literally valuable, but it was also symbolically valuable – voting is about agency and having a voice and power.  The 1960’s voting rights act was about more than voting.  Similarly, the point of marriage equality may not merely be about the freedom to marry.  It is the legislative focus for the effort to change the culture at large; to get people to pay attention to the violence and the dehumanization of gay and lesbian people, of bisexual, transgender, queer people.  Most of society is still coming to terms with just the G and the L parts of the GLBTQ acronym. 

Charlotte and I participated in a fascinating interfaith lunch conversation with local Christian clergy last week.  The conversation ranged from war and peace, through politics and popes, and finally into sexual orientation.  Homosexuality was the topic which then dominated the bulk of our interchange that afternoon.  We talked about how different denominations handle the topic, we talked about Rev. Hiess and Frank Schafer; we spoke of weddings and family members and colleagues. It was wonderful to hear our liberal Christian colleagues speak so affirmatively for the full inclusion of gay and lesbian people in the worship life of their congregations.  

There were different guesses as to how long it would take for society and the different religions to come to terms with marriage equality and the full participation of gay and lesbian people in the church.  But these colleagues seemed to echo the general sentiment of Macklemore’s song. “I might not be the same, but that’s not important.”  “Strip away the fear and underneath it’s all the same love.” People are getting much more comfortable with the conversation.  Marriage equality is approaching ‘normal.’

In a slightly different though related topic, a week ago (Feb 9, 2014) football player Michael Sam announced publicly that he is gay.  This is news as he is the first professional football player to make such an announcement prior to retirement.  Dale Hansen, a local Dallas Texas Sportscaster, offered a remarkable commentary on the news. He said,

It wasn’t that long ago that we were being told that black players couldn’t play in our games because it would be uncomfortable. And even when they finally could it took several more years before a black man played quarterback, because we weren’t comfortable with that either. So many of the same people who used to make that argument and the many who still do are the same people who say government should stay out of our lives but then want government in our bedrooms. I’ve never understood how they feel comfortable laying claim to both sides of that argument.

Hansen then quoted Audre Lourde in that commentary: “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” 

What Loure was lifting up is not that our differences ‘don’t matter;’ she wanted our differences acknowledged but not judged. She calls for our differences to be acknowledged and celebrated.  Audre Lorde was a black lesbian feminist at a time when it was hard enough just being black, or lesbian, or a feminist.  She understood about differences and the loss and silencing that occurs when we say our differences don’t matter. 

One way to look at our differences is to say they matter a lot; they matter so much that they are insurmountable barriers. Another way is to say our differences do not matter at all; indeed we are all the same deep down. A third way to look at it all is to say our differences matter a lot and we can celebrate our differences together. 

In considering all this news from the past few weeks and the conversations I’ve had, I’ve been thinking about this point made by Audre Lourde.  Thinking about my conversations at lunch with other clergy, thinking about the words of Macklemore’s song and how popular the song has become, thinking about the courageous stance of Rev. Steve Hiess, thinking about the same-sex weddings at which I have officiated, and thinking about this young football player having to explain what it will be like in the locker room – thinking about all this I am reminded of the of love. And justice is what love looks like in public.  

And this is what I think is so elegant about the push for marriage equality:  It puts love into the conversation.  Too often people get bogged down thinking about what homosexuality means in the locker room or the bedroom.  But the bigger point is relationship, it always has been.  The point is the love.  Seeing the conversation as one about love helps people to make that first step.

Macklemore says “It’s the same fight that led to walk-outs and sit-ins, human rights for everybody there is no difference.” Justice is what love looks like in public.  Like the voting rights act, the legislative push for marriage equality is worth it both literally and symbolically.  In the literal sense, it matters for couples to receive equal protections and rights whether they are a same-sex couple or an opposite-sex couple.  In a symbolic sense, it matters because we’re talking about love and reminding everyone that we’re talking about the basic human relationship between people.  Love is patient, love is kind.  Love is bigger than our differences; and love can help build the bridge between those differences such that we see that our differences do not matter and beyond that to see that they do matter in a way that can be celebrated.

Love finds a way when laws are blind and freedom banned.  Put your trust in that concrete form of love that looks like justice, listens with patience and reaches out across our differences with kindness.  Love is patient, love is kind.

In a world with out end
May it be so.