Singing for our Lives

On June 27, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Singing for our Lives Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins LGBTQ Pride Sunday Let there be peace among us and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression; and now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. Since marriage equality in this country, the Religious Right has beefed up […]

Singing for our Lives
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
LGBTQ Pride Sunday

Let there be peace among us and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression; and now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen.

Since marriage equality in this country, the Religious Right has beefed up their attacks on the dignity of LGBTQ people. Laws have been passed in Mississippi, Alabama, and Texas and proposed in other Bible Belt strongholds to allow discrimination against LGBTQ people in the name of religious freedom. They cite a few bible verses as to why they believe their hatred or fear of Queer people is justified and even righteous, but that technique was used to keep women out of ministry, to justify slavery and child abuse and even the divine right of kings. Just because the Bible says a thing doesn’t mean we can’t change how we understand and apply it. In fact, compassion and justice will demand that we challenge oppressive readings of scripture, especially when people are being hurt by those readings.

I can deconstruct the handful of bible verses, and there are only about half a dozen passages, that are used to terrorize same-gender loving and gender non-conforming people. And, I can point out many more places in scripture where same gender love and gender non-conformity are featured and even blessed. But I’m tired of playing biblical tit for tat. If the Bible is your reason for being cruel, or if you need a bible verse to motivate you to be kind, your brokenness is clinical and needs more help than any bible verse could possibly provide.

Violent religious rhetoric that is used to dehumanize and demonize LGBTQ people is what emboldens the less stable among us to do terrible things. Preachers of prejudice and hucksters of hate are what led to the AIDS crisis being ignored by our government for most of the 80s. False prophets and pugnacious priests must share the blame for Matthew Shephard’s murder, for Harvey Milk’s assassination, and for the slaying of the Pulse 49. But there are so many more victims.

I was serving a church in TX, when I got a phone call from a young man I didn’t know. He called to complain about his mother. He said, “My mom has come out as a lesbian.” I told him that must have taken a lot of courage for her, and that she probably really wanted him to try to understand and be happy for her being able to live out her truth. He said, “I don’t care that she’s a lesbian, but does she have to be a dyke?” I asked, “Do you know what a lesbian is?” He assured me did, and even liked his mother’s new partner. But she didn’t just come out and take a partner. She stopped wearing make up. She shaved her head. She started wearing tank tops and combat boots. I said, “Well, those wouldn’t be my fashion choices, but if they make her happy, what’s the problem?” He said, “She was never like that. I miss my mom.” Ahhh. There it is.

I explained that she might have been dressing to meet others’ expectations before she came out, or she might simply be experimenting with her new found freedom trying to find ways to express herself authentically now, or that she may just have happened upon a look that she liked and it was okay to change fashion directions. I assured him that with or without hair, with or without muscles shirts or combat boots, she probably loved him dearly and would feel even closer to him if she knew that his love for her couldn’t be diminished by how she wore her hair, or whether her companion was female or male. He said he felt better and would try to work through it.

I later met his mom. She was a kind person. And her new partner turned out to be her life partner. They were together until she died from cancer only a few years ago. They had to have been together over 20 years, and only death managed to separate them. Her son must now be in his 40s, and I bet he’d love to have her back, with any kind of hair or wardrobe. As we heard in the choir anthem this morning: “All things being even, here’s what I believe in; nothing matters more than love.”

In the 90s, in my chaplain days, I was summoned to a nursing home where a young man was dying. His mother was a member of a fundamentalist church that had taught her son that because he was gay, he would be rejected by God and sent to spend eternity in hell. For being gay. For being attracted to pecs instead of breasts, for finding 5 o’clock shadow charming, for wishing to be held in arms that might be hairy. Really? For that, a God would damn someone for all eternity? A human with a heart wouldn’t damn someone for all eternity for that, and if God isn’t as good as nice people no wonder fewer people have much time for God.

Of course, the fundamentalists have badly mishandled God’s PR…I still believe that God is love and genuine love, mutually shared is never a sin. But that was not the message this young man had grown up hearing. And now, he was in the final stages of AIDS.

His mother called me. She was guilty for passing onto him a faith that condemned him, robbed his joy, and stole his hope and his dignity. Now he was immobile in a nursing home bed, too sick to live and too afraid to die. He was terrified of meeting this God that hated him simply because he was wired to be attracted to men instead of to women. It’s as ridiculous as believing God would damn someone for preferring broccoli to carrots. But this young man’s fear was very real.

His mother just wanted him to have a moment of peace before he died. She wanted him to not spend his final moments in terror. So I visited him. And I told him his mother loved him so much. She wanted him to be comfortable and to know he was loved. And I asked him, “Do you believe your mother loves you?” He said yes. I asked, “Do you believe she wants you to be happy, and that nothing could make her not love you, and that you’ll be part of her for the rest of her life?” And he said, “Yes.” And I said, “The prophet Isaiah, from the Bible, wrote this: “Like a mother comforts her child, so will God comfort you.” I told him that I believed that God loved him at least as much as his mother did, and that God would love him forever. I could see the tension start to dissipate. His body relaxed. And that night, he died.

I believe that God is an omnipresent Love that will never and can never let any of us go. I wouldn’t want to spend eternity with any other sort of God. I certainly wouldn’t want to spend eternity with a God who would reject someone because they preferred broccoli to carrots, or liked both equally (as some seem to do). I would rather be damned for love than spend a single moment in a heaven that required hate. But I don’t believe anyone is damned, and I certainly don’t believe anyone will be damned for mutually shared love.

I’m tired of the Bible being used like a weapon, and I’m tired of God’s name being used in vain to make people hate themselves, and I’m tired of people being afraid that God’s love isn’t for them.

In the reading from the Psalter this morning, we see the psalmist tired and afraid and singing for his life…singing prayers to give him comfort and courage and strength. I, too, get tired, and angry. Sometimes I’m scared. I’m also hopeful. I’m determined. I’m motivated. And I know who I am, who we are. And so, today, my prayer, my affirmation, is a familiar song…if you know it, sing it with me:

“We are a gentle, angry people and we are singing, singing for our lives. We are gentle, angry people and we are singing, singing for our lives.
We are justice seeking people and we are singing, singing for our lives. We are a justice seeking people and we are singing, singing for our lives.
We are gentle, loving people and we are singing, singing for our lives. We are gentle, loving people and we are signing, singing for our lives.”

And God hears our song, and sings it with us; and this is the good news. Amen.

(C) Durrell Watkins 2017

By God’s grace I am what I am.
I give thanks for who I am.
I give thanks for God’s all-inclusive and unconditional love.
Alleluia!
Amen.

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