God, Sex, and Politics
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Statesboro
October 18, 2009
Rev. Jane Page
Some of our most valued members cringe when they hear me or others talk about “God” from this pulpit. And they have shared that discomfort with me. I have also been told that others are uncomfortable when I talk about sex or include a comment (or a dance) that may have sexual connotations. And certainly we’ve heard complaints that our services are sometimes “too political” – even though we are careful not to endorse candidates or political parties from the pulpit.
SO – when I first began to think of sharing today about my involvement with the October 10-11 weekend activities related to the March for Equality, I thought, “Oh my…. I’ll have to be careful and not say anything about “God” or “Sex” or “Politics.” But then I thought – “No, I’m not sure I’ll be able to present the sermon that I may feel led to share – without talking about those topics. So when I had to turn in my sermon title for the October Newsletter, I decided to just put those three words right up there in the sermon title – “God, Sex, and Politics” – and then anyone greatly offended by those topics would know about it before hand and could choose to stay home.
But – YOU folks were forewarned and came anyway! And yes, I am going to talk about God and faith in this sermon – and yes, some of my remarks may have some sexual connotations, and yes – this sermon leans a little on the need to be politically involved to make a difference in the world. But this sermon is REALLY about LOVE!!
“Standing on the Side of Love” was chosen by our UU association as the name for “a public advocacy campaign that seeks to harness love’s power to stop oppression.” Although it is sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Association, all are welcome to join.
Now when the call went out for the March on Washington, the folks at our National Advocacy office invited UU’s to march together. Greg and I were there to represent you in the March and at other UU activities.
One of the best experiences I had was worshipping with other Unitarian Universalists at the 9:30 service at All Souls Unitarian Church. Most of the folks there were in their bold yellow “Standing on the Side of Love” shirts, preparing to leave for the metro and the march immediately after the service. In addition to some wonderful singing, we heard our new UU president, Peter Morales. And Peter talked about God. (So here comes the God part of this sermon!) Peter reminded us of the theology presented by the writer of 1st John. Now, those of you who been coming to this church for some time know that I do bring out the Bible now and then here at the UU Fellowship of Statesboro. We Unitarian Universalists draw inspiration from many sources. And although I do not view the Bible in the same manner as many of my more traditional religious friends, I have not thrown the baby out with the bath water. And neither has Peter Morales. Perhaps because I translate the word “God” as the Power of LOVE – for me – God is LOVE, these verses Rev. Morales quoted from 1st John ring true.
1st John 4:8 reads: “The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”
1st John 4:16 reads: “God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him.”
This is really the ground of all great religions. Before we UU’s ever voted on “the interdependent web of life,” there are those who have been telling us that we are one – we are connected. The Buddhists even go so far as to say that our separateness is an illusion. We are connected. And if we are connected in LOVE, then we are connected in the Divine – some say – in God. And if we get that, then we have compassion for all – because we are one. John Kennedy expressed this in a speech in Berlin when he said, “Ich been ein Berliner.” After September 11, 2001, many around the world stated, “We are all New Yorkers.” When our brothers and sisters are denied equal rights, then we are all gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered. And we shall march together till there is equality for all. For when we let LOVE connect us, we create something holy.
And we created something holy in that worship service last week at All Souls in Washington as we stood together and sang – and we created something holy when we marched to the capitol and sang and chanted. We created something holy when we did not fear the counter protestors and let our voices of love ring out.
Now just as we connected in LOVE with others marching in Washington and here at this service today, – we have to have empathy for that protestor with his bullhorn that tried to convince us of the error of our ways. He was acting out of ignorance, out of fear. But gradually love will overcome. Now what is it that he fears?
Well, he fears what he doesn’t know or maybe what he does know. And you know – I’m using “know” not only in the common usage for something learned – but in “the biblical sense.” – like when Adam knew Eve. Yeah – here’s the sex part!
Now I know that sexuality and sexual expression can be used in bad ways. We can use sex to hurt people and to take advantage of those who are vulnerable. But that’s not what we are talking about here. We are talking about a loving, joyful expression where there are no victims – just lovers. And I’m here to proclaim from this pulpit that loving sexual expression, whether hetero, homo, or uno – is a good thing!
Lots of folks talk about homophobia – but I think in our country we also just have a complete sexuality phobia. We get so hung up about it. Who’s sleeping with whom? And – did you see who she was kissing?
And you hear things like – well that’s just not natural? Who decides what’s natural?
As most of you know, I was raised here in my mother’s beauty shop in Statesboro. And these two women moved to town in the 1950’s and both of them were my mom’s customers. Well Statesboro was a pretty small town then and folks were kind of talking a little bit. One of the women later told me that they built a house and invited all the church folks and community folks to come to an open house and tour the place. And they all came – cause they were curious. Then after that tour, they were totally accepted – because you see folks came through and saw that they each had a bedroom. Oh, so then they were viewed as “just good friends who never married and decided to share a home together” – and so they were okay. And some of you know that as long as you can let folks, even family members, pretend that you and your partner are just best friends, then everything is okay. But heaven forbid that you might express your love and friendship in some physical way! That is what they fear and hate! Psychologists and sociologists have some academic explanations for this. But I’m going to tell you a personal story that helps me connect and understand folks who are so homophobic.
Now I’m not proud of this story – but it helps me have an understanding of others. In the summer of 1962, when I was 11 years old, my parents took us on a vacation to New York City. And we rode the subway out to Coney Island. I looked out on the beach and I remember seeing an interracial couple sitting on a beach blanket and he put his arm around her and they kissed. They weren’t making out or anything, they just kissed. And I literally felt sick – my stomach turned and I had a terrible, nauseous feeling. Of course that act that I saw was very strange for me and went against everything that my society had taught me. And my own body reacted in a physically sick way when I saw it. Now some folks would say – that I felt sick because what I saw was “unnatural.” But it doesn’t make me sick today. I enjoy seeing folks of all races and ethnicities kiss each other. Unless it’s the flu season – kissing is good. But I had never even seen an interracial couple before – never considered the possibility. Really. I had been taught by my society that black people and white people were to remain separate in almost every way – so it didn’t seem right to me. Of course, over time – things did change, thanks to the civil rights movement and our courts. And I did get to know African Americans and understood our unity – not our separateness.
NOW – that understanding is what is happening in America because so many courageous gay folks decided to come out – be open, let folks know them AS gay or lesbian – instead of those best friends that decided to share a home together. And if some folks still react with fear or hatred or they say it’s unnatural --- then they are just like me and my family members, standing on that beach at Coney Island. We were not evil people – We just didn’t know any better.
Now we have a President who is the child of a couple whose marriage was not recognized in 21 states at the time of his birth. But folks have come a long way since then. (Well – some have.) And we will continue to make progress. But we can’t just sing and pray our way there! Okay – here comes the Political Part!
This past Sunday, Greg and I joined perhaps 200,000 other folks in a march that was conceived just 5 months ago and posted on a blog. The fact that this march happened is somewhat of a miracle because many gay rights groups initially opposed it, indicating that we needed to put all our efforts toward various state battles. But I know a little about the “states right” argument from growing up in the South during the 50’s and 60’s. And I know that some states, like my own beloved Georgia, would never make the decision for equal rights for all back then – and will not make it now. For us, it must come at a national level through national legislation and enforcement by the courts. While I support the various state level efforts, I’m aware that we must not rest till we have equal rights for all in all 50 states. And that includes marriage for all – not some substitute – but marriage. Some say, well all you need really is to have the right legal paperwork to have the rights you need. Paperwork helps – but it’s not enough. My economist husband would probably rather I present you with lots of numbers and data projected on this wall to support this. But instead, I’m going to share a story. This is the story of a family from Washington State on vacation in 2007.
Janice Langhen and her partner Lisa Pond were taking their adopted children on a Caribbean cruise that was especially for gay families. Before the ship left the dock, Lisa, a healthy 39 year-old, suddenly collapsed. She was rushed to Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami.
Janice shared this: The kids and I, hauling a week’s worth of luggage for five, arrived just before the ambulance carrying Lisa. I tried to follow the gurney into the trauma bay but was stopped by the trauma team meeting Lisa and told to go to the waiting area. I did as I was told and a short while later a social worker appeared to inform me that I was - and I quote – “in an anti-gay city and state.” He explained that this meant that I would not be allowed to see Lisa or make decisions about her care without a Health Care Proxy. I asked for his name and fax number and within 20 minutes I had contacted close friends in Olympia, WA who raced to our house, found all our legal documents including our Durable Power of Attorney, Living Wills and Advance Directives and faxed them to the hospital. I never imagined as I paced that tiny waiting room that I would not see Lisa’s bright blue eyes again or hold her warm, loving hands. Sitting alone with our luggage, our children and my thoughts, I watched numbly as other families were invited back into the trauma center to visit with their loved ones. (http://thelpkids.com/national-media-awards/)
A doctor finally spoke with Janice telling her that there was no chance of recovery. Other than one five minute visit that was arranged by a Catholic priest at Janice’s request to perform last rites, and despite the doctor’s acknowledgement that no medical reason existed to prevent visitation, neither Janice – who provided the hospital with a medical Power of Attorney document — nor their children were allowed to see Lisa until nearly eight hours after their arrival. Soon after Lisa’s death, Janice tried to get her death certificate in order to get life insurance and Social Security benefits for their children. She was denied both by the State of Florida and the Dade County Medical Examiner.
At a speech to the family equality council, Janice said:
I believe with all my heart, that at the hour of Lisa’s death, no one should have been able to deny our children and myself the ability to say goodbye to Lisa and let her know – if only by holding her hand – that she was so loved. That should not be a privilege in our country but a basic human right of every family regardless of how they define themselves. If you remember nothing else from tonight, I hope you have come to understand that even with legal paperwork it is a reality that someone can leave this earth completely alone even though their loved ones are just 20 feet away. (http://thelpkids.com/national-media-awards/)
I’m sorry folks – but we can not depend on our state governments to make the changes we need to make. We can keep trying, of course – but our political efforts need to reach to the national level. The Unitarian Universalist Association realizes the need for public advocacy and that is why we have this “Standing on the Side of Love” campaign.
We UU’s have been strong advocates and allies for those who have been oppressed for years – so why this special name and effort. Well folks, we feel like this is a time of great hope and possibility. There are folks in some powerful positions in our nation and world who can make a big difference. And yet, simultaneously, LGBT individuals are threatened by acts motivated by fear and hate.
As Unitarian Universalists, “we believe that no one should be dehumanized through acts of exclusion, oppression, or violence because of their identities. In public (and political) debates over immigration, LGBT rights, and more, religious people stand on the side of love and call for respect, inclusion, and compassion. This ‘Standing on the Side of Love’ campaign is our attempt to counter the fear and sometimes even hate that often is promoted by those who identify as people of faith.” (http://www.uua.org/socialjustice/ssl/)
Even though I’ve promoted a national agenda today – I know there are things we CAN do right here in Statesboro, Georgia. For example, some of our folks have been reaching out to our campus Gay, Straight Alliance – and they know they have allies here at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Statesboro. Others are attempting to assist students at Statesboro High School to get a Gay Straight Alliance started there. As people of faith, we are here to stand with LGBT people on the side of Love. The Apostle Paul said that “Love is Patient” – and we agree ….. to a point. But this revolution has been building for 40 years – and we finally have a window of opportunity to make REAL change.
Now is the time to end “don’t ask don’t tell.”
Now is the time to repeal “The Defense of Marriage Act.”
We need a SUPPORT for Marriage Act – for Everyone!
Now is the time for out Congress to pass legislation that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Now is the time for our Congress to finally pass “Hate Crimes” Legislation.
Now is the time for us to elect officials that will be supportive of EQUAL RIGHTS FOR ALL!
And now is the time for People of Faith to STAND UP for folks like Janice and her children and let them know we are there standing with them – standing for hope, for fairness, for equality – standing on the side of love!
YES WE CAN!!