To speak out

There is a poem that has been attributed to Martin Niemoller, a pastor during the 1930s. At first he was supportive of Hitler’s rise to power–but when Hitler insisted that the state was supreme over the church, Niemoller became the leader of a group of German clergymen opposed to Hitler. Following the war, he became a leading voice of penance and reconciliation for the German people. The poem is a poetic paraphrase based on several speeches he gave…and I think it is well for us to think of it today:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.

It has been far too easy for many of us who claim to be Christians to not speak out on what we see as injustices…because they have not directly impacted us personally. But there is also a poem by John Milton that–I think–says something similar:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

When I was a teenager, I remember watching the Civil Rights marches on television. I could not believe the cruelty of “good Christians” who honestly believed that it was against God’s will to Negroes to want the same human rights as they had…the rights to good education, housing, transportation…freedom from fear of lynching…freedom to fall in love with anyone they chose–and to marry that individual. I marveled at the courage of many of those young people my own age as they confronted snarling dogs, fire hoses aimed at them, people spitting at them and beating them–and yet turning the other cheek…not returning violence with violence.

Today I am dismayed at what I see and hear from many more who consider themselves good Christians–and yet who are willing to deny their LGBTQ brothers and sisters the same human rights they want for themselves. I hear many of the same arguments I heard years ago, only now applied to another group of people who are “not us.” I know there are many who honestly struggle with what they have believed God says and the desires of the LGBTQ community to find a spiritual home where they can also worship God and be fully accepted–not just tolerated. I can understand that struggle.

What I have difficulty with is the harshness of those who say that gays should be killed…or sterilized…or imprisoned just for being who they are or for having fallen in love with someone of the same sex. I have known too many people who have struggled with their own sexuality and with how they have been taught to see themselves by the church…and seen them leave the institution they have loved–and the institution denied their giftedness.

I cannot imagine what many have gone through. I have heard the voices that say sexuality is a choice–and yet I don’t remember ever making a conscious choice to fall in love with someone of the opposite gender. It’s simply part of who I am. Can I not accept that as being true for someone else?

I have heard others say that homosexuality may not be a choice…but choosing to act on it is, and so to be accepted, LGBTQ individuals must live in celibacy. How can we be so cruel? Some may make that choice for themselves–and that is their choice. But we are created with a need to be connected with each other, with a need to nurture and to be nurtured. How dare we demand that some must choose to live that way because we do not understand?

I have also heard “love the sinner but hate the sin.” That sounds good–but how can we separate the two? I know there are some aspects of life in which that can be done–it is fairly easy to separate the sin of murder from the one who does the deed. But when we are talking about something that is such an intrinsic part of who we are–our sexuality–how can we separate that into two distinct parts? I can’t.

I empathize with those who are struggling with understanding. I’ve been there. But I’ve also come to know that the God I worship is a God who is okay with our struggle–but who also calls us to stand with the marginalized…with those who are too often seen as “other than”.

There are too many laws being passed–not just in this country, but worldwide–that put members of the LGBTQ community outside the walls we have built to protect ourselves, and it is time to say “Enough!” We are all brothers and sisters, and while we will never all think alike, we must be willing to talk with each other…to struggle together…and to find ways of worshiping in full acceptance with each other…and to let God’s holy spirit work within us to bring healing and reconciliation.

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