Monday, June 29, 2015

Why I Am an Ally: A Personal Reflection. Why I care.

“Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.”[1]

            The past few weeks have been an emotional roller coaster for me, and for a lot of people, in terms of what’s going on in our nation and the world.  I have been mourning the loss of nine lives of African-Americans while they were studying the Bible and praying together at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC.   Last Friday the Supreme Court ruled that it is legal for all Americans to marry the people they love, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation.   We’re also learning that  at least 5 predominately black  churches have  been burned in the past week or so, with at least 3 determined to be arson..  This has all affected me deeply.
            I think it’s important to understand the particular sensitivities and passions that are a part of who we are as persons.  So I’ve given this a lot of thought.  As I was growing up in rural Pennsylvania, a variety of influences worked together to instill in me a strong sense of fairness and compassion.  In the early 1970’s, I married an African-American man, which would have been a felony in some states until 1967 when the Supreme Court ruled that restricting the freedom to marry solely on the basis of race violates the central meaning of equal protection under the law.  My son is biracial and identifies as African-American.  I have family and friends and brothers and sisters in the Christian faith who are persons of color.  Because I care about people whose everyday lives are impacted by prejudice and injustice, I need to care about this. 
            I have family members who are gay.  There is deep pain,  sadness and regret over a broken relationship. Loving parents lost a beloved child over words that were said years ago.  
            Over the years I have become friends with LGBTQ persons.  I have heard their stories and have come to appreciate their paths to self-acceptance and understanding and living with integrity, as who they were created to be.    Because of my growing awareness, I am very intentional when I choose words.  I say “sexual orientation” rather “sexual preference” or “lifestyle choice” to reflect my understanding that they do not choose to be attracted to persons of the same gender, any more than I could choose to be attracted to another woman. 
            I have known a number of LGBTQ persons who have been in long-term, committed, mutually fulfilling relationships.  A  former neighbor was the first person to cross the street and welcome me to the neighborhood when I moved here. He and his partner were fairly private, but casual conversations gave me insights into their life together, as an older couple who had been together for several decades.  When he was diagnosed with cancer, his partner cared for him throughout his illness until he died, as any loving spouse would. 
            I am privileged to have LGBTQ friends who are persons of faith.  Some of them are among the kindest, most loving and compassionate, gentle persons I know.  All of them are like all  the rest of us humans, with individual strengths and weaknesses and quirks.  Their sexual orientation or identification is just one part of who they are.
            Since moving to Dearborn 18 years ago, I have been involved with interfaith work and have become friends with people in the Muslim and Arab-American communities.  I live in east Dearborn, so my relationships with neighbors are interfaith as well.  I am grateful for the relationships I have in the community, for the graciousness and hospitality I have experienced.  Because they are my friends and neighbors and colleagues, I need to care about them.
            In my training to be a chaplain and a pastor, one of the questions I was taught to ask is “Where is God in this?”  Another is, “What kind of a God do we worship?”
            As a Christian, I see myself as a follower of Jesus, who I believe “came to live among us, full of grace and truth.”[2]  Near the beginning of his ministry, Jesus went to the synagogue on the Sabbath and was given the scroll of Isaiah, and he read, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ He rolled up the scroll… and began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”[3]  With many others, I regard this as Jesus’ mission statement, one that guides my sense of mission.
            Jesus made it clear what is most important for those who follow him.  People came to Jesus and asked him, “What is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”[4]  In a related passage in the gospel according to Luke, a lawyer wants to justify himself, so he asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”  Jesus responds by telling the parable of the good Samaritan, in which the person seen by society as unacceptable is held up as an example of a good neighbor.[5]
            I see practicing unconditional love as one of the most important parts of my life of faith, and it is a test of my faith:  “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars, for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. Those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.”[6]

            So why am I an ally to those who are marginalized or oppressed?  Partly because I care about people I know.  But the main reason is because it is an integral part of my faith.   I believe my Christian faith calls me to love and respect each person I meet as a child of God.  God created them and loves them, and I need to love them too—even if I don’t think they’re very likeable, even if I feel uncomfortable around them, even if they make choices that are different from mine, even if they are bigots.  My faith teaches me that it is not my job to judge.
            As a white person, I need to care about systemic racism in our society.  I need to care enough to commit myself to do what I can to change things. 
            As a follower of Jesus, who reached out in love to those who were considered sinners or outcasts in society, I need to care about those in our society whom some others may judge as sinners. 
            As a person of faith committed to promoting greater understanding and cooperation between people who are different, I need to do what I can to combat prejudice and stereotyping. 
            In the upcoming political campaign cycle, there are sure to be candidates who try to gain votes by promoting divisiveness and fear of various groups.  This is a time of significant changes in our society, and people who think they can promote their agenda by exploiting peoples’ fears will surely do so.  We’ll all hear rhetoric about how we need to fear the loss of religious liberty and about Muslim terrorists in our communities.   I am committed to do what I can by sharing accurate information and thoughtful reflections. 
            In this time when so much is changing, a lot of us will be struggling.  Change is hard.  We won’t all agree about everything.   But we can all commit ourselves to be respectful  and constructive, as we work together to build a society in whch we have “liberty and justice for all.”

            As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “We must learn to live together as brothers [and sisters] or perish together as fools."

Fran Hayes
June 29, 2015

[1] 1 John 4:8
[2] John 1:14
[3] Luke 4:16-21.  This is a quote from Isaiah 61.
[4] Matthew 22:34-40; also Mark 12:28-34.
[5] Luke 10:25-37
[6] 1 John 4:20-21.

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