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Decently and in order: An Epitaph?

Today,  June 12th, makes it one year since the Pulse Nightclub Attack. I heard the news on the road, in North Dakota, driving from NY to Portland for our 222nd General Assembly.

Much of the two weeks that followed is a blur. Hopes dashed that this horrific event would stir the prophetic, pastoral and loving voice of the PCUSA left me with a sense of betrayal. My relationship to the church changed at that GA. I’m still trying to figure that out.

Instead of writing much more, I turn to an interview that was given by my friend and colleague, Rick Ufford-Chase. I love this man; his heart for justice and love; his deep faith and leadership – he has always been there for our queer community and for me.

In the interview that follows Rick talks about the Matthew 25 Overture (full text of interview here) that passed at the 222nd General Assembly.

Here is the first section of his interview, in which he talks about the parable of the bridesmaids and the missed moment of kairos at the 222nd General Assembly in the defeat the overture calling the church to an admission of harms done and healing for the queer community, poignantly offered just days after Pulse.

Rick….

“First we have the bridesmaids with their lamps. From this story we get the wonderful choral piece that we sang as a hymn, “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning.”

Five are wise and five are foolish. The foolish didn’t bring extra oil. When they go to get it, they miss the party. There is an urgency about showing up. We have to be ready when the moment comes.

Henri Nouwen told this story in his book the Wounded Healer.

A Rabbi who came across the prophet Elijah and said to him:
“Tell me—when will the Messiah come?”
Elijah replied, “Go and ask him yourself.”
“Where is he?” said the Rabbi.
“He’s sitting at the gates of the city,” said Elijah.
“But how will I know which one is he?”
The Prophet said, “He is sitting among the poor, covered with wounds. The others unbind all their wounds at the same time and bind them up again, but he unbinds only one at a time and binds it up again, saying to himself, “Perhaps I shall be needed; if so, I must always be ready so as not to delay for a moment.”

That is one way to keep our lamps trimmed. What is another?

There are moments that come in our lives that require of us courage, character, and fierce love. These are moments in which we are summoned to decision and action. These are moments when we realize what is at stake. We decide if prepared, if our lamps are trimmed and burning, out of love and faith. If not prepared, we respond out of fear.

Laurence Leamer has written a new book, The Lynching: The Epic Courtroom Battle that Brought Down the Klan. It is how Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center took the Klan to civil court for a murder and lynching of a man in Alabama in 1981. Dees showed that the United Klans of America, even as it didn’t commit the actual murder, nevertheless, ordered it done. It was the first time a hate group was found culpable for the actions of individuals it inspired.

In the research for this book, Leamer discovered new things about Alabama Governor George Wallace. Wallace created an atmosphere of hate that ultimately contributed to this lynching because he cynically used integration for his own purposes. Later in life Wallace said he would be going to hell because of his actions. Wallace knew that integration was going to happen. Yet, at his first inaugural address, he said these infamous lines to applause,
Segregation now, Segregation tomorrow, Segregation forever.”

He used fear and hate to further his own career even as he knew that integration was inevitable.

He could have made a different choice. At that moment of decision, he could have been the one to shepherd the people of Alabama to accept integration. He could have been like de Clerk of South Africa, and bring an end to a racist and unjust system. Because his lamp was not trimmed and ready, because it was not full of love and trust, he backpedaled into fear and hate because it would get him support from those who were filled with fear and hate.

My friend, Ray Bagnuolo, of That All May Freely Serve, an LGBTQ advocacy group in the Presbyterian Church, said the church had an opportunity to make a decision for justice at this General Assembly, and failed. It had the opportunity to speak truth and reconciliation for the harm that the church has done to the queer community over these past decades from our wrong theological views and the violence and hate that resulted because of those views.

We had the chance, Ray said, in the week that followed after the horrific mass slaughter in Orlando, in which a self-loathing person murdered gay people because they were gay…

we had the chance, said Ray, for the church to take a clear stand and to start a national conversation about the hateful rhetoric against the queer community, rhetoric that comes from the church’s damaging theology and faulty biblical interpretation.

Sadly, our lamps were not trimmed and burning. We did not possess the courage. We did not speak from truth or love. We did not recognize the moment. We acted out of fear. We were afraid of angering those who still affirm the rhetoric that calls the queer community sinners and sick. That rhetoric creates an atmosphere of violence. We had the chance to name it and to begin healing. We missed the moment. We missed the arrival of the bridegroom.

Decently and in order… failed. Again.