Monday, February 23, 2015

Four Quarters and Four Bullet Points For Equal Rights

This is the speech I gave at the February 21st "Celebrating Love, Calling for Rights" Rally in support of Marriage Equality for all Alabamians

Thursday before last I spoke at a marriage equality vigil outside the Probate Court House. Looking for a parking place shortly before the event, I drove into a lot without realizing it was reserved for certain businesses. I asked the attendant if he could give me change so I could park by one of the meters. He took my dollar. Handed me four quarters. I thanked him.

But before I could drive off, he pointed to my clerical collar –a signal I get in grocery stores from strangers who are just about to go suddenly theological on me. This (pointing at my clerical collar) is actually the international symbol for: “I see you’re a minister. Let’s talk about one of life’s most important questions right here in toilet paper aisle.”

Sure enough, the parking lot attendant said he wanted my opinion on something. When he added he was sure we held the same opinion on the topic, I said as sweetly as I could, “Maybe not.”

“What do you think about this gay marriage stuff?”

The tone of that question was, as Anne Lamott says, “enough to make Jesus want to drink gin straight out of the cat dish.”

I worried he’d ask me to return his four quarters.  Would I sell my soul for four pieces of silver?

“I support gay marriage,” I answered breezily.

“But the Bible’s against homosexuality," he informed me, as if I’d never heard THAT one before.

I looked at my watch.  I had time to hit just four bullet points that explain why straight pastors like me and churches like mine care so much about LGBT rights.  Each bullet is a sermon in itself—a sermon being my basic verbal unit of measurement. I’ll share just the bullets now, but if you want the longer version, catch me in the toilet paper aisle of the grocery store. Here's basically what I said.

1. The Bible never condemns the actions of loving, faithful same-sex couples. Nowhere does the Bible say, “Jane and Mary have lived lovingly together for 20 years. They are therefore doomed to hell.” Most or all of the six or seven verses used to clobber LGBT folks are actually speaking against things like gang rape or temple prostitution.

2. The Bible sometimes condones things we now consider immoral and condemn things we no longer see as wrong. The Bible is not a science book or history book or rule book. The Bible is a library of diverse theological writings--from songs and stories to sayings and sermons. There’s inspired wisdom in the biblical tradition, but truth has also been expressed outside the Bible. My denomination likes to say that "God is still speaking.” Humans keep learning new things, and those new insights help us live better lives.

3. Jesus said nothing about homosexuality. Not a word. But Jesus did consistently stand with those his society marginalized, stigmatized, scapegoated. What he did talk about was Love: the greatest commandment that eclipses all others. Love God, neighbor and self.  When in doubt, love. Judge Roy Moore should build a monument to that one commandment.

4. Religious leaders are sometimes wrong—I say as a religious leader.  Recall how often religious authorities have—kicking and screaming until the end—changed their positions on major moral questions of the day. Let’s think for ourselves, friends. Cultivate an honest inner life. Trust that God—divine love and truth—can speak to and through you. And take heart that “the times they are a ‘changin’.” You have more straight allies and gay-supportive clergy and churches than you might think—even in our city. Even evangelical leaders are changing their opinions in support of LGBT rights. This is, to use a Jesus-y phrase, “good news”—because it’s primarily a religious argument that is prejudicing the people and preventing equality. We must work to heal the wounds of spiritual violence committed in the name of God.

I’m here wearing this clerical collar because if I’m silent, if my church is silent, others like the parking lot attendant will wrongly assume I support prejudice and hate.

I’m here to support good marriages. A good marriage is a hard enough project of love, commitment, honesty, and forgiveness for straight couples. Harder still, I imagine, for those living in a culture where you have to hide your relationship or feel antagonism because of it. Surround yourself with friends who will support your healthy union and call you to your highest commitment. Believe that God blesses your love.

Hear this blessing for us all:
May God’s love guide us and may we know our own belovedness.

Local news covered the event this way:


  1. Love the one statement: The Bible is a library of diverse theological writings--from songs and stories to sayings and sermons. So very true. We miss the Spirit in the writings if we only focus on the finite world of the words themselves. Wonderful response. Thank you for being a voice of love and reason.

  2. Ellen: Thank you for your open and articulate testimony on behalf of the UCC and other Christians who take Jesus' words and actions to heart.

  3. Bruno--so good to hear from you! Thank you for your affirming response.

  4. I've shared this with Changing Attitude in the UK. Working for full equality within the Anglican Church.

  5. Anne, I am honored you would like to share this address with Changing Attitude. Blessings on the work being done for full inclusion and equality in the Anglican Church.