“The things which are most important don’t always scream the loudest.” Bob Hawke
Religious voices that use holy scripture to demean our neighbors will not continue to be the loudest voices in our city. Chattanooga will know that all persons of faith are not like that.
I commit today to make my voice louder.
This spring, the City Council of Chattanooga first considered an ordinance for city employees to receive domestic partner benefits and add a statement of anti discrimination to our city charter.
I was supportive. I went to meetings. I spoke to council members one-on-one and encouraged people to contact their council representative.
But with all that support, I didn’t speak out much publicly or from the pulpit for multiple reasons. Some of those included people’s expectations of a pastoral leader, denominational expectations, the balance of church and politics.
To be honest, as a gay man and minister, I did not want to be a target.
Before, during and after the city council passed the ordinance, I heard the hatred, negativity, and at times vile words and actions that came from those using the name of God and Holy Scripture to substantiate their words.
These same individuals, organizations, and houses of worship then succeeded in blocking its full passage by placing the ordinance on the ballot. It deeply concerned me that these were the voices of faith that our city most often heard.
My heartbeat and one of the passions of my faith community is to connect people who have been hurt by religion and have had a house of worship door closed in their face. Our church is a safe place for people on a journey toward God.
So I put myself in the place of those very individuals our church hopes to reach.
I asked myself these questions. The answers I knew from thirty years of faith and personal identity struggles. What if I had been hurt by religion, if I wasn’t part of a faith community, and I heard all these negative voices representing God on vital social justice issues for our city? Why in the hell would I ever look to God or the church for answers?
This last question was the final question. What if in speaking out others might find a shorter and less painful path in coming to terms with their LGBT identity, their faith and a God who loves them? I became deeply disturbed and convinced that our city needs more voices. Louder voices. More responses to vital issues rooted in God’s love and more responses exemplified by the life of Jesus.
I asked forgiveness for playing it safe. I made the commitment that this time I wouldn’t stand on the side quietly in support, but that when opportunities arose I raise my voice, take responsibility, and get my hands dirty.
I made the choice to be a louder voice, and I joined with the YES Chattanooga campaign.
With crossing the road, there is a cost. As with the Samaritan man, who crossed the road for the wounded, advocating for those discriminated against and the marginalized comes at a price.
The known costs of the Samaritan were inconvenience, personal risk and money. Increasing my voice has come a cost. Because of my public stance and louder voice, my church has been called Satan’s church. I have been told I shouldn’t be a minister and that I am simply not a Christian.
Raising my voice and crossing the road also cost me something deeper—being public and vocal drove a wedge between me and my parents. You may say that is a too high a cost high for an ordinance, particularly one that did not pass on the ballot. You may say it is not worth it. But I maintain it is.
It is worth it because these are spiritual issues that go much deeper than politics, government policy, fiscal issues or party line. These issues are a matter of social justice. They are a matter of loving our neighbor!
These issues matter to God and they ought to matter to us. These issues ought to matter to the point we move from belief to action, we sacrifice and take responsibility for our neighbor, all our neighbors.
Even after the ordinance failed to pass on the ballot in Chattanooga,voices of faith seeking to stop LGBT progress continued. This past week, a prominent pastor expressed his opinion revolving around the concept of loving the sinner and hating the sin. In response, I remembered my commitment to make my voice louder and issued a statement through my church.
Christian voices for LGBT equality are growing and becoming louder than ever.
I doubt theological differences will end soon, but the negative voices will no longer lead the conversation. We must not allow the negative religious voices to overshadow the truth.
It is important that we do not quiet our faith, but broadly proclaim how we understand scripture and how we view God. It vitally important,and it makes all difference in how we view ourselves, how we view others and how we seek equality and justice.
Our city deserves responses to this issues, and our city deserves voices to counter the negative and distorted views of God. Our city deserves to see Christ in our actions and hear Christ in our voices.
Our neighbors deserve responses that are rooted in love.
We have been given a moment in time. An opportunity for equality and justice, and opportunities to bring hope and transformation. We must speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves and be engaged in the issues in our city and world. We have Kingdom work to do.
With loud voices may we move from belief to action; let us go where social justice calls. May we live into the Chinese prayer, “Lord build thy Kingdom, beginning with me” one day and one person at a time.