Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Sweating on the Side of Love

A few weeks ago I preached a sermon on the admonition in 1 Peter to “be prepared to give an account of the hope that is within you.” I didn’t particularly want to bother with that on the Metro ride to Capitol Hill this morning. So I carried my tie-dyed stole with its People of Faith for Equality Virginia pin carefully folded in my camera bag and I left my shirt collar open.
It’s a typical hot and humid late June day in DC, and the heat was excuse enough to leave off the clerical paraphernalia until the last moment. Walking across 1st Street toward the Supreme Court I slipped in the tab collar, donned the stole and made my way into a group of colleagues singing, “we shall not be moved.”
As a board member of People of Faith, I’d been asked to join in leading prayers in front of the court while the crowd waited for word to come down on the two major marriage-related cases. Last night on Facebook, a friend saw that I would be at the court today, and asked that I remember in prayer those in the great cloud of witnesses who did not live long enough to see this day. When my time leading the prayers circled round, I asked the crowd to shout names of such witnesses. As the chorus of names rose over the steps I recalled the story of David Sindt, who stood on the floor of the Presbyterian General Assembly in 1972 with a sign that read simply, “is anybody else out there gay?” With that gesture, he launched the GLBT justice movement in the Presbyterian Church. David died of AIDS in the mid 1980s.
Wearing clerical garb and leading prayers on the steps of the court will out you as a person of faith. Reporters from Huffington Post, The Nation and a couple of others asked me, in effect, to give an account of the hope that is in me. As I tried to answer their questions, I kept thinking of that great cloud of witnesses, and the long, long struggle for justice that they launched and led for many years.
So many of them kept the faith and kept faith with the faith. They truly are the mothers and fathers of a movement that, despite what some suggest, is deeply rooted and grounded in faith. Perhaps the most striking aspect of the huge crowd gathered this morning was the clear and overwhelming presence of people of faith. Catholics, Baptists, Unitarians, Presbyterians, Jews, Anglicans and others, as well, held signs proclaiming that the God we worshipped in song, prayer and presence this morning is a God of love and justice.
Personally, it was profoundly moving to stand with sisters and brothers with whom I’ve been privileged to struggle over the years. When People of Faith for Equality Virginia was launched we were fighting a losing battle against the Marshall-Newman amendment to the Virginia Constitution to bar same-sex marriage. When the amendment passed in November, 2006, with 57 percent of the vote, the sanctuary of the church I serve in Arlington was filled with anger and lament. Few of us believed that we would see the Defense of Marriage Act struck down in less than a decade.
In striking down DOMA and dismissing the Proposition 8 case, the court did not create a national landscape of justice, but the majority certainly widened the circle of who is included when we declare that “all are created equal.” As Martin Luther King, Jr. was fond of saying, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Today, we bent the arc a little further toward that day when all means all.
The mission statement of the wee kirk I serve includes the phrase “We welcome all* to gather at table at Clarendon Presbyterian.” The asterisk is defined as follows: “All means all: all races, ages, genders, gender-identities, orientations, classes, convictions and questions.
We close our Sunday worship joining in a simple refrain written by our music directors, Dan Chadburn and Tom Nichols. Tom and Dan were married in DC on Valentine’s Day this year. Their personal stories were on my mind this morning, too. Incredibly gifted musicians with hearts for ministry, each of them longed for years to be able to be in music ministry fully as themselves, fully able to share with the church their remarkable gifts.
Earlier this month, a member of the church posted this little bit of sweet awesomeness: their three-year-old daughter singing Tom and Dan’s refrain. Sydney’s parents, Grant and Gillian, joined the congregation when Gillian was pregnant with Sydney. Each of them had grown up in the church, and they came to Clarendon looking explicitly for a congregation in which they could raise their children to worship the God who loves all* of God’s children, including those who happen to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. (*All means all: all races, ages, genders, gender-identities, orientations, classes, convictions and questions.)
We are creating the church that David Sindt and so many others dreamed of for Sydney and so many others who will continue to bend the arc in the years to come. We are creating a nation in which, step by step over the yearning years, all looks increasingly like all. Standing on the steps of the court today as we moved a step closer reminded me that we are a people of hope.
So, despite the heat and humidity and the mass of sweaty bodies, I kept the collar in and the stole on for the Metro ride that carried me back to old Virginia, where the work of love continues until the arc of justice bends the whole world round.