Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Arizona, Uganda...What a Mess (pastoral letter eblast sent Feb 26, 2014)

"Love and Truth will meet; Justice and Peace will kiss."
Psalm 85

What a mess. Arizona has passed an anti-gay bill that would allow businesses to deny service to people they perceive to be gay as long as they claim they are doing so as an act of religious faith. I hope, as do justice-seekers everywhere, that the governor of that state will veto the legislation.

Other states have tried to pass similar measures. One wonders how justice, equality, fairness, and non-discrimination can have a religious exemption! I recall Archbishop Desmond Tutu once saying, "If God, as they say, is homophobic, I wouldn't worship that God." How I wish more religious leaders shared (and voiced) that sentiment!

While we watch with equal parts hope and horror to what is happening in Arizona, we also watch with devastating despair (but also with outrageous optimism that the situation can be redeemed) the dehumanizing law in Uganda making homosexuality a crime. If as a matter of ontology one is gay or lesbian, that person can be arrested and incarcerated. To add to the suffering, a tabloid has published the names and photos of 200 people it has identified as being gay (and I know at least two of them). Gay and lesbian persons have been told they have no right to exist and they will be denied human dignity and compassion in their own land. It rends the heart. 

A British newspaper recently reported that 2.5% of the world's gays and lesbians live in countries where they can be executed simply for being who they are, 40% live in countries where they are targeted (and can be in some way punished) for the "crime" of being lesbian or gay, and 44% of the planet's gay inhabitants (187 million people) live in countries where they are not criminalized per se, but where they are also not afforded equal protections under the law (and that includes the Queer folk who live in the United States where marriage equality is not yet nationwide). Almost 87% of the world's same-gender loving people live where they are not treated as if they are full citizens of their native lands, and almost 43% of the world's gay people live where they are not treated as if they are fully human.

Colonization (of lands by imperial governments and of souls by missionaries from the same imperialist nations) has left a devastating legacy all over the world, and Victorian era homophobia is part of that shameful legacy.
Religion at its best brings people together to explore spirituality and celebrate human potential; at its worst it is used as a weapon to dominate, control, and wound people.

Religion was very much a partner in the atrocities of colonization. Again, I call on the wisdom of Desmond Tutu who has shared this story, "When the missionaries came to Africa, they had the bible and we had the land. They said, 'Let us pray.' We closed our eyes and when we opened them, we had the bible and they had the land." 

The seeds of intolerance were planted among people whose resources were robbed by colonizing forces; when the colonized nations regained their autonomy, many of them were left without their natural wealth and were burdened with values that were not indigenous to them. The harvest of those seeds too well sown is now painfully abundant.

So, while we work for justice in Arizona and other areas of the U.S. still hostile to the LBGT community, we must also be mindful of the pain caused beyond our borders in places that are duplicating the prejudices that Europe and North America exported to them, prejudices which even now are stirred by American evangelists who teach "zero tolerance" for homosexuality but then want to appear shocked when laws are passed to imprison or kill gay people.

Yes, we must speak out against the soul crushing actions recently taken in Uganda. Quoting Archbishop Tutu one final time, "If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor."  But let us not be xenophobic or allow ourselves to feel in anyway superior as we express our concerns. What has happened in Arizona is happening in other parts of the world, perhaps "amped up" quite a bit, but we are all part of the human family and we all must share this one world, and in some very real ways, "our" society at various times has contributed to the injustices that we now see in other places; let's do hold that in our thoughts as we work and pray for healing in and among all nations. 

It's complicated. It's a mess. But what matters most now is saving lives and reducing the burden of oppression.

This is my prayer: May the Good in and around us, which is known by countless names, lead us in the ways of healing, peace, and justice. May religion ill used be redeemed; and may those who use religion as a weapon have a change of heart. As we think of those who live in fear or danger because religion has dehumanized and demonized them, let us pause in this moment to affirm their sacred value and to wish them safety and well-being. And may those of us who continue to march under the banner of religion never again use it as a tool of oppression. Amen.  

With hope, always,
 Durrell SIg
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins
Senior Minister 

Less than an hour after this eblast went out, the governor of AZ vetoed that state's anti-gay bill. Let's now hope the veto isn't over-ridden and let's continue to focus our efforts on bringing hope and healing to Uganda.

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