Greater NW Pride: Justice
Yesterday, I spent over an hour in the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, Georgia with my partner and his family. In this sacred space, I was reminded of the complex story of the particular city where I was visiting, namely Atlanta, and the general area known as “the South,” as well as the contemporary events of civil and human rights around the world today.
The first floor of the Center reminded the viewer of the 1940s through to the 1960s, and the segregated South. There were exhibits reminding the viewer of Emmett Till’s murder, the non-violent sit-ins at Woolworth lunch counters throughout the South, segregated public schools, Freedom Riders, the bombing of churches in Birmingham, Alabama, in which four young girls were killed, bus riders who sat in the front of the public buses, and the rise of Martin Luther King, Jr., Dr. King’s assassination, the Southern Christian Leadership Council in fighting racism and poverty, and the Poor People’s Campaign.
On the top floor of the Center was a large exhibit on modern civil and human right concerns around the world. The exhibits spotlighted LGBTQ+ rights and abuses in Russia and Nicaragua; restrictive religious freedoms and movements in the Middle East; disability rights; sexism; poverty; racism; the refugee crises; and the rise of nationalism around the world, as well as those people who were speaking truth to power around the world.
There were quotes sprinkled throughout the exhibits that spoke to today’s world with as much impact as they made when first spoken in the 1950s and 1960s. “When an individual is protesting society’s refusal to acknowledge his dignity as a human being, his very act of protest confers dignity on him” by gay civil rights activist Bayard Rustin.
“There never was a moment in American history more honorable and more inspiring than the pilgrimage of clergymen and laymen of every ace and faith pouring into Selma to face danger at the side of the embattled Negroes,” by Martin Luther King, Jr.
“We can’t allow ourselves to be seen as people who are something less than human,” by lesbian Russian activist Anastasia Smirnova.
And finally, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere…Justice too long delayed is justice denied…to delay justice is to be cowardly and unjust,” in Letter from a Birmingham Jailby Martin Luther King, Jr.
On the eve before the Traditional Plan takes effect in the United Methodist Church (UMC) on Jan. 1., 2020—a Plan that is harsh in its treatment of and attitude towards LGBTQ+ clergy and our allies—visiting this Center was the right thing to do. It was profoundly important to go through this exhibit and remember that the current injustice that has been propagated by the UMC since the 1970s, and will continue to be promoted into the foreseeable future, must be named and we must not be silent. The names of the continued policies of the UMC are unjust. Inhumane. Indignity. Evil. Sinful.Not of God.The discrimination that was (and is) woven in the American South between the races is the same kind of thread of discrimination that is a justifying a similar discrimination that is now set between those of us who are LGBTQ+ and those who are not LGBTQ+.
In the last year, when facing this injustice in the UMC earlier this spring, I had the opportunity to go to the national Anne Frank memorial in Boise, Idaho, and was reminded what acts of justice looked and sounded like. It helped to see, hear, and feel what discrimination looks and sounds like. Now, on the eve of the continuing injustice in the UMC, I had this chance to be reminded of what injustice looks and sounds like when touring this Center in Atlanta. Discrimination is still vile and not of God in Christ.
The struggle for justice and equality for LGBTQ+ and our allies in the UMC continues today and into our future.
To my friends in the UMC: if you get a chance to go to one of the civil rights memorials and centers in this country, go, see, listen, reflect on what others have done in the name of justice in this nation and the world in the past, and what we can do today to change the world (and church) in which we live. After leaving these stories of injustice addressed justice and act on this ongoing injustice in the UMC through groups like Reconciling Ministry Network. Let us continue to work together as a group and not as individuals. Speak and write out the name of all acts of injustice in worship, in fellowship, and in educational opportunities. Strategize about upcoming elections in General Conference in 2020 to undo the damage of 2019. And remember: this is a long pilgrimage or marathon, and not a sprint, or a short joint. Rest up when need be and practice self-care.
And at the end of the day, justice delayed is justice denied. So, let us work for justice, which is what love looks like in public (Cornel West), which will win in the end, and we know love is of God.