Testifying to Love - Why I was arrested
I grew up in a small Episcopal Church in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley where that tiny mid-century A-frame building on a hill and its odd mixture of congregants became for me as a gay person an oasis of encouragement, love, and support. When most other churches were campaigning for prayer in schools, we were learning about what we could do to end apartheid in South Africa, other churches encouraged their flock to listen to James Dobson while we were invited to listen to the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. There at St. Paul's on-the-Hill, as a young acolyte I first heard about how faith compels us to stand with those pushed to the margins, and to work for justice. Yesterday was not the first time I’ve been arrested seeking to bear witness to a faith that calls us to honor the dignity of every person --- it is not likely to be my last.
How did I end up in the street? I prayed and felt inspired. On Monday night, I was part of a group led by the Reverend Roland Stringfellow, coordinator of the Bay Area Coalition of Welcoming Congregations that organized an interfaith prayer vigil at Grace Cathedral on the eve of the Supreme Court's decision. The first part of the event was filled with beautiful and moving
words and music from various people of faith, towards the end things got more explicitly personal and political. A gay couple stood up and spoke nervously for the first time of how inequality and homophobia were affecting them in the workplace, in how they accessed health care (one of them is disabled) and paid their taxes (they would save over $4,000 a year if they were counted the same as a straight married couple). The couple shared that they rarely came anywhere near places of worship, but this event encouraged them to speak up even in a church. As they spoke I thought of how my beloved Matt and I had moved from Virginia to California three years ago to be in a more supportive context for our relationship. Next Kip Williams a passionate young organizer with the group One Struggle, One Fight spoke about their plans for the next day if the Supreme Court upheld Prop 8 and then invited those in the faith community who were willing to risk arrest to stand. There was an uncomfortable pause, and a few people stood up, and I found myself standing up to join them. In some ways it was like an altar call, we were being invited to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. At the close of the service I was asked to invite the gathered congregation to spend time praying and lighting candles throughout the cathedral. Here’s what I said,
On behalf of the Bishop, clergy, and staff of Grace Cathedral I want to thank you all for coming tonight. As we move out from this sacred circle, I invite you to wander amidst the many chapels, windows, murals and icons of this holy space --- a place where so many individuals, couples, and families have found solace, inspiration and strength for their journey, struggle, and work for justice. Light a candle; say a prayer for all who will be affected by tomorrow¹s decision. Remember that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, generations of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons who like us struggled to find hope, as you walk past the UN mural pray for our LGBT brothers and sisters throughout the world who share our yearning for liberation, as you walk past the icon of Mary Magdalene of the 1st century and Martin Luther King of the 20th remember our solidarity with women, people of color and the poor, as you look up to the windows containing the images of scientists like Einstein and theologians like Martin Buber remember all those who were persecuted for seeking and speaking the truth as they experienced it, this Memorial Day let us also remember the many glbt persons who have served this country --- may we discover in the courage and perseverance of all these persons reason to continue our work for justice and equality.The saints who dance with us around the altar at communion, in the icons, murals and windows of our churches to me are not static but are moving. I experience their presence as continually inviting us to make the gospel real now in our time, in our lives. We are forever invited to join them in movements for justice and equality --- movements that testify to love. While the Supreme Court’s decision yesterday was bad news for so many, the willingness of people to stand up for the faith and hope that is within them, to testify to the love they know is real and true is a proclamation of the good news.
And now a final blessing,
The blessing of the One who liberates the oppressed, who blesses all the families of the earth and whose name is love be upon you and remain with you always. AMEN
Yesterday, on the march from the Castro neighborhood to Civic Center I was joined by an Iraq war veteran, a young Latino man named Joseph carrying an American flag and wearing his badges of honor. He was arrested yesterday as well. When I took my spot in the large circle of a 150 or more in the street outside City Hall I found myself sitting next to David a 19-year-old transgender man who works at the grocery store in my neighborhood. When I stood up to stretch my legs I saw Brendan, a 20 something lay person from St. Gregory’s of Nyssa dancing in the circle to music provided by a visiting folk band on the sidelines. Across the circle was Rabbi Sydney Mintz from Congregation Emanu-el, a synagogue with strong ties with Grace Cathedral and Buddhist Nun Jana Drakka sitting near Episcopal Deacons Anthony Turney and Nancy Pennecamp. Down the way from me was Reverend Dawn Roginski from St. Francis Lutheran Church where the Morning Prayer service prepared us for the day’s work. In the paddy wagon on our way to the county jail, I learned more about Kip Williams, who said when the day started they were praying they would have at least 30 people willing to risk arrest, now there were so many more. We learned how Kip’s first act of civil disobedience was at a nuclear weapons manufacturing facility in his home state of Tennessee and how his diverse community of faith helped him in coming out. Others in the wagon talked about Paul Farmer and his work in Haiti. Each of us in some way seemed to get that what we were doing was linked, inspired, and related with the wider movements for human rights and justice. As we were led out of the wagon and into our designated holding areas I caught glimpse of a young tall African American man, whose hair standing straight up reminded me of photos I'd seen of Bayard Rustin. Rustin is someone far to easily forgotten, a gay, African American, man of faith who helped organize the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and advised the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. on the nonviolence of Gandhi.
LGBT people of faith in San Francisco and throughout the world would do well to remember our connections to other movements --- and gain inspiration, courage and strength for our contemporary struggles. There are many causes, and concerns worth our time and energy --- may we each discern with God's help our place in the dance and testify to love.