This week was “one of those weeks” in the life of a pastor. You’ve prayed on it and you’ve got a direction in mind and then bam! Something comes along that tosses those plans like leaves in the winds and demands a response of its own. So you pray harder and you struggle and wrestle with it because you know your worshipers may not like what you’re being moved to address and you know some may even become so offended, they stop worshiping with you altogether. For this particular pastor, that all gets compounded by the fact that she’s trying to build a new community of worshipers and she’s limited right now to doing so online only.
Suffice it to say, some of the wrestling Spirit and I did over this week’s message was worthy of a WWE cage match. In the end, she won (Spirit always wins) by reminding me why it matters, even when it seems like “it” couldn’t happen here.
And then someone reacted negatively to a post I shared to UGUMC’s story on Facebook. Now understand, I’m not saying one should only react positively to things they see. I’m just sitting here as the pastor (and poster) contemplating what it was about the post that made the person hit the “angry” reaction and I’m pretty sure I can narrow it down to one or two things: 1) It was a quote from a specific political figure that 2) suggested other faiths may be as right as his. And if I’m right about what caused the angry reaction, brothers and sisters, we have some work to do to get ourselves right with God.
I was raised for the most part in relatively small communities on the high plains (with one side-trip to the midwest for a few years). Diversity was not an issue because the communities were, by and large, not diverse. It would be the late 80s before I moved to a city (Knoxville) of any size and that had any significant diversity of race, religion, cultures, or lifestyles. My knowledge of people of color was limited to Hispanic migrant workers and to those few African-American, Middle Eastern, and American Indian students that attended the colleges I attended.
The first year I lived in Knoxville, an African-American family that had purchased a new home had a cross burned on their lawn. I will never forget that. I’d grown up thinking that kind of thing had stopped in the 60s when television was still mostly black and white. When I first moved to Knoxville and was looking for housing, my step-dad told me to be sure and look on a certain side of a specific bridge here in South Knoxville because that bridge was the line that the black folks knew not to cross. When I first moved to Knoxville and was looking for housing, asking about certain addresses would often be answered with, “It’s pretty dark over there.”
The warnings were not limited to race, by the way. I got warned not to go to certain communities or down certain roads because they were unfriendly to any strangers and you’d likely get shot because the people living in them were so “country.” I learned quickly just how clannish certain neighborhoods and areas were and how, no matter how you tried, you would never be fully accepted in those neighborhoods. And, where mobile homes were often a way of life where I’d grown up, a way to have a home and not a factor in your social status, here in East Tennessee they were a strike against you. It didn’t take long to learn that a lot of my life I would have fallen into the category of “trailer park trash” just because of where I had lived.
There were no openly gay people where I grew up, not even where I went to college with one exception and he had made the decision to transition surgically from female to male before I ever met him, so … to me … he was only ever himself. Knoxville, to a limited degree, and to a much larger degree a year spent in the Northeast, introduced me to the LGBTQ community – the real community filled with real people.
The only religions I knew growing up were Protestant or Catholic. There were no synagogues or mosques where I grew up, and there were relatively few Protestant churches to choose from … nothing like the plethora of choices one finds here in Knoxville and this area.
In 2007 when a certain individual was running for President, I witnessed stuffed toy apes hung by hangman’s nooses in trees in the front yards of homes in rural Blount County, TN. In 2013, I had to arrange for a bodyguard for my then employer because a party to the case he was trying was an active, self-declared member of the Aryan Nation … in Blount County, TN. Frequently over the last 12 or more years, the KKK has been actively present in Knox and the surrounding counties.
Which all brings us to this week, to today, and to why the message I delivered this morning to a most likely mostly white, mostly conservative, rural East Tennessee community was on the incidents in Kenosha, Wisconsin, a community 625 miles away and why I will continue to bring up and speak to injustices.
Because, while the same specific events may not (yet) have occurred here, the root issue to those events (in this case, racism, excessive and wrongful use of force, gross disparity in treatment and adjudication of the law based on race, to name a few) can and does happen here … right here … in this place I call home and in this place I’ve been called to preach the Good News.
Because the laws and protections passed and provided through local ordinances, state legislation, federal law, and the Constitution of the United States matter and effect us unless we speak up and speak truth to power.
Because silence is complicit.
Because God created each and every single one of us in His image, knit each and every single one of us together in our mothers’ wombs and knew who we were going to turn out to be and that does not stop Him from loving each and every single one of us equally, something we are called to do as well – to love one another as we are loved.
This church cannot and will not endorse any candidate or any party. But this church can and will speak out when any of God’s children created in God’s image are the victims of injustice.