"Unapologetic Theology: A Christian Voice in a Pluralistic Conversation" is the title of a book by my beloved theology professor and friend, the late William C. Placher. It is also now the title of this blog, a place where I hope to add a Christian voice -- God knows, not "the" Christian voice, but "a" Christian voice and not just any old voice, but a distinctly Christian voice -- to the pluralistic conversation going on about just about everything.
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Irresponsible to be Silent
A sermon preached June 19, 2016
The Rev. John Ohmer, Rector
The Falls Church Episcopal, Falls Church, Virginia
(“Dear Lord: Carry your word into the most protected parts of our hearts.”)
Today I don’t have a traditional sermon. I certainly don’t have a sermon about Father’s Day, but now that I’ve mentioned it, happy Father’s Day. Today, instead of a traditional sermon, I feel led to share some things that have been on my heart this past week.
I’ve been your Rector here since August of 2012. Those of you who have been here a long time know that my preaching style is almost always “expository,” a fancy word that simply means you take a passage of scripture, and having studied it during the week, you show – or expose – its meaning and relevance as best you can, and then you sit down, trusting Holy Spirit will be hard at work simultaneously translating for each of you what you need to hear on any given Sunday.
One of the implications of this style of preaching is I tend not to preach “topical” sermons, and I don’t preach “politics from the pulpit.”
Part of the reason, by the way, I don’t preach politics from the pulpit comes from the fact that my first real job out of college was working on Capitol Hill for 2 ½ years, and I was briefly assigned to a presidential campaign, and I worked as a lobbyist/issues person for a year, then as a press secretary and speech writer back in Indiana, involved in a statewide campaign.
Even as an entry-level legislative aide, I developed, and have kept, an appreciation for the fact that most issues are complex and nuanced. And that more than one person can be correct on an issue. And that even if someone is wrong, at least it’s possible to be honestly wrong.
I also realize there are lots of experts in this very congregation: editors, writers, legislative directors, policy wonks.
It strikes me as presumptuous and naïve for preachers to try to tell you what, specifically, to think or how, specifically, to take action on a particular issue.
So I promise not to stand up here and offer a particular specific solution to any particular political problem, saying that "we must all go out and support HR1234” as the way to address this particular problem. In fact, I’ll go further: when it comes to political problems we face, I promise not to offer any solutions whatsoever.
But is that – being too political, weighing in too often on social justice issues – really the side of the cliff I’m in danger of falling off of?
Here’s what I wrestled with this past week: is my silence from the pulpit and in my weekly e-news messages sending an inadvertent message of indifference?
Last week I said there are so many times we find ourselves in a situation where we witness a wrong, and we know it has to be made right, but out of fear that we come across as judgmental, out of a fear that we’ll offend,
we get cold feet…
we go into our conflict avoidance mode,
we decide to wait it out,
not because we’re being patient, but because, if we’re honest, because we don’t want to rock the boat: we lack the courage to speak up, speak out, say something.
But then along comes something like what happened exactly a week ago Sunday in Orlando – except there hasn’t been “something like” what happened there, it set a new horrible modern American record.
Picture a Venn Diagram, with three circles:
And the overlap part is a perfect storm that seems irresponsible to be silent about.
Sure, we offered prayers during Prayers of the People last week. For some of you, that’s enough. I get that: you don’t come to church to hear what you hear all week long.
Especially when we add to that Venn Diagram the fact that we’re in a particularly toxic presidential campaign,
and add to that our culture -- especially inside the Beltway -- of shaming and blaming, of polarization, divisiveness, and name-calling -- that we’re all tired of and want a respite from...
...well, it is any wonder that out of a fear that I’ll offend, that I get cold feet...
That I go into conflict avoidance mode,
I decide to wait it out,
not because I’m being patient, but because,
if I’m honest, because I don’t want to rock the boat: I lack the courage to speak up, speak out, say something.
Well, I’m not asking you to agree with me, and again I promise not to offer any solutions, but surely it is possible to tell the truth, but tell it in love.
Besides, as the Gospel reminds us today, Jesus – and the Body of Christ the Church, you and I – have power over that which would "corrupt and destroy the creatures of God." And the power to bind and to loose the evil powers of this world begins by naming them: Legion, for they are many -- not by pretending they aren’t there, or by looking the other way.
And here is the truth in regard to gays, guns, and Latinos. (Guns first, then Latinos, then gays).
Guns: I was going to say that our culture has a gun problem, but even to say “our culture has a gun problem” is politically charged, because it sounds like I’m advocating specific stances about which people of good will can honestly disagree.
So I won’t say we have a gun problem: I’ll say something we can all agree on, and that is we have a violence problem in our culture.
We glorify violence.
We have violence as entertainment in the movies and on television.
But here’s the thing: our violence problem is exacerbated by the fact that it has become too easy for someone intent on killing innocent people to kill lots of them very quickly.
I don’t know, and won’t pretend to tell you, what must be done about that.
But something must be done about that.
Latinos: our culture also has a racism problem. It’s a racism problem that goes all the way back in this nation’s history: As we will acknowledge later this fall in a series of events, and with the placing of a new marker, historical evidence points to the conclusion that our historic church was built by slave labor -- race-based slave labor. And the legacy of racism is with us today. It’s just aimed at different minorities in different decades.
I don’t know what the solution to racism is.
But I do know this: that demagoguery and fear-mongering feeds racism, and it is not Christian behavior to support anyone running for political office who spouts demagoguery and fans the flames of fear-mongering.
Gays: it’s easy to point fingers at other people, without realizing we have three fingers pointing right back at us.
I regret to say that in this very church, and from this very pulpit, year after year in the 1980’s and ‘90’s, words were spoken and a theology (sociology) was preached that caused harm and hurt to gays and lesbians. That may or may not have been the intent, but intent does not equal impact, and harm and hurt to gays was the impact. Although I was not here, and although this church is now unapologetically an ally of gays and lesbians, I repent of the harm that has been done here, and I resolve to be more outspoken whenever the dignity of a gay or lesbian person is not being respected.
As a Facebook post by Alex Drakeputs it, in part,
Here's the thing you need to understand about every LGBT person in your family, your work, and your circle of friends: We've spent most of our lives being aware that we are at risk. …
When you hear interviewers talking to LGBT folks and they say "[what happened in Orlando] could have been here. It could have been me," they aren't exaggerating. I don't care how long you've been out, how far down your road to self acceptance and love you've traveled, we are always aware that we are at some level of risk.
... When I reach to hold Matt's hand in the car? I still do the mental calculation of "ok, that car is just slightly behind us so they can't see, but that truck to my left can see right inside the car". If I kiss Matt in public, like he leaned in for on the bike trail the other day, I'm never fully in the moment. I'm always parsing who is around us and paying attention to us. …
Over the last few years, it started to fade a little. It started to feel like maybe things were getting better. A string of Supreme Court decisions. Public opinion shifting to the side of LGBT rights. Life was getting better. You could breathe a little bit. … This weekend was a sudden slap in the face, a reminder that I should never have let my guard down, should never have gotten complacent... because it could have been US. … Those little PDAs you take for granted with your spouse. They come with huge baggage for us. Every single one is an act of defiance, with all that entails.
So do me a favor. Reach out to that LGBT person in your life. Friend, co-worker, or family. Just let them know you are thinking of them and you love them. That will mean the world to them right now. I promise you.
To admit we have a violence problem exacerbated by guns,
to admit we have a racism problem,
and to admit we have a long way to go toward full acceptance of gays and lesbians,
is not political.
It is speaking the truth -- I hope, in love --
that Orlando can be a wake up call to all of us
to do a better job of keeping our baptismal promise
to respect the dignity of every human being.
 The full post is https://www.facebook.com/alexdarke/posts/10157060081000422
For Lent, I was thinking of doing the typical fasts: fast from Facebook and take up reading, fast from petty vices like overindulging in sweets and alcohol and take on moderation, yada yada yada.
But I'm re-thinking that this year. What I'm fasting from this Lent is discouragement. That means cutting back on what is so often the source of discouragement, which is a tendency to gorge on, or dwell on, bad news.
(Let me be clear: that does not mean giving up news or otherwise burying my head in the sand: it means staying informed while finding ways not to get pulled into a downward spiral of feelings of numbness and helplessness; it means giving up unproductive feelings like hopelessness and resignation and taking on visible behaviors like giving encouragement and taking action.)
It means making visible -- here, on my blog, and even on Facebook -- the good.
Because the problem is -- to paraphrase the community organizer Rich Harwood -- a lot of times we see "good news stories…
So for Lent, I was thinking of doing the typical fasts: fast from Facebook and take up reading, fast from petty vices like overindulging in sweets and alcohol and take on moderation, yada yada yada.
But I'm re-thinking that.
Now one of the things I'm thinking about fasting from during Lent is discouragement. That means cutting back on what is so often the source of discouragement, which is a tendency to gorge on, or dwell on, bad news.
That would mean taking on encouragement: to make visible -- even on Facebook -- the good.
Because the problem is -- to paraphrase the community organizer Rich Harwood -- a lot of times we see "good news stories" as being quaint -- they are tossed in at the end of the news as an inspiring story, or put in the style section. But stories of good things happening -- people coming together to do things, is not a touchy-feely, feel-good story, but something affecting real change.
So for starters: I'm inspired by the leadership example of…