Headlines: Trump Administration Asks Supreme Court to Legalize Workplace Discrimination Against Gay Employees (TIME.COM August 25, 2019)
It is a dicey time in the U.S.A for faith folk and for Gay folk. Our society is in a great transition and none of us are sure of where its arc will bend. Recently Dr. King’s words have been reprinted and have been stuck in my mind, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” I pray almost daily that such is true. These times are testing that view. I suppose such has been tested from as long as we have clawed our way out of caves. Much of what we call “The Old Testament” is made up of Prophets that spent time speaking truth to power seeking that moral arc that bends towards justice.
Regarding this issue of Title VII. “Constitutional Originalism” holds that we should adhere to the original ideas and concepts of the writers of the Constitution. In that same vein, there’s a like and kind perspective that says that laws like Title VII should be valued as it was written, when it was written, and remain in that 1960’s context. Such was a response by conservatives to my TIME.COM post on Facebook. That the Justice Department is simply trying to insure that the word “sex” is not broadened and only refers to cis-gender.
I was asked if I thought that this will have any major impact on anything. Yes, it may well on the LGBTQ+ community as a gateway interpretation that restricts rather than liberalizes Constitutional and Federal protections. Depending on the issue, you may want a more liberal and less literal interpretation of the law such as the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Second Amendment in 2008 with District of Columbia v. Heller. Or you may want a more restrictive fundamental interpretation. The law can be swung many ways. But the moral arguments can’t really be swung in so many ways. The question is who is the moral authority? Is it the court? Is it religion? Is it the compass of humanism which may swing howsoever the culture decides? Who is the moral authority of right and wrong?
Within each world religion a careful study will ultimately lead to a moral center. In general, that moral center is the same or similar in each iteration. For Christians it is worked out in the several forms of what we call love, reconciliation and sacrifice. The same, at its core, is true of the three Abrahamic religions. Humans have value; humans must value humans; such is divine expression. Much of the other clutter in our faiths are simply modifiers to these core ideas of moral value.
We, as a society must seek to add this type of thinking, behaving, and believing in its most fundamental way back into our spiritual center. Humans have value. If this is a fundamental core value or moral truth then what party you belong to, how you interpret the law, or how you understand economics should always be filtered through that central moral arbitrator, “Humans have value; humans value humans.” I am sure beyond a shadow of a doubt that Dr. King and the other great prophets, imams, rabbis, sages, shamans and theologians would generally agree.
An effort to restrict the dignity of any human being abridges this moral core.
That said, we are in that moral arc and it does bend, though slowly, in directions that do celebrate diversity and inclusion. So here is another headline that I want to mention:
‘Long past time,’ Anglican priest says of permission to perform same-sex marriage, CDC News Newfoundland and Labrador 9-30-2019
As some may know (and most don’t care), the Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal Church is a part, has struggled over the past few decades with full inclusion. First it was women at the altar, then it was Gay priests, then it was Gay marriage. The denomination globally is still to some degree bickering. The Anglican Church in Canada had a national vote on full inclusion for marriage. It failed. But it did provide for individual Dioceses (subdivisions) to allow same-sex marriage and for individual churches to apply to their Bishops to do them.
That arc of moral rightness can find its seeds in the oddest of places. I am going back about 20 years to a time when the ordaining of openly gay persons in relationships was the hot button in the Episcopal Church. Yes we fought like cats and dogs over it. Often it was ugly, really, really ugly. I was just entering seminary. The one that I chose, not knowing much about church politics, turned out to be one of the most conservative Anglo Catholic seminaries in the U.S. The faculty was generally orthodox but the students, most much younger than I, were very conservative and generally at the very least misogynistic and homophobic as were their cultish Bishop leaders. [Note: those Bishops have now departed our company and set up their own little club.] But there I was.
My Seminary Dean was not a jovial man. He was austere to many of us. Having been in the Navy, he reminded me of a boot camp chief. He pushed us. I did not get to know him well. But I did not go to seminary to pal around with the dean but to be formed and to learn, and I did. The curriculum was tough and foundational. But the culture was sometimes toxic in its student population and its hard right leanings. In short, a mixed bag especially if you drank the student body kool-aid.
Now let’s go forward two decades. I look up my neighbor from Seminary, a Canadian who returned home to Newfoundland. I also look up that austere dean. The dean now lives in upstate New York and has a small church and a couple of great dogs. He wanders around the universe in his kayak with his dog(s). His FB posts are absolutely filled with liberal ideas and ideologies that remind me of the old Anglo Catholic Socialist movements at the turn of the 20th century. WHO KNEW?! He’s not a Trump fan. Likewise, the Canadian is now the outspoken prophet that has lined up his church to be the first to begin doing same-sex weddings in Newfoundland. The arc when finding its center in all of us will indeed swing.
The Rev. Jonathan Rowe, my Canadian friend, said, “”It’s not just time to act — it is long past time. Now is the time for us to start making up for our failures in the past, and we’re excited about being able to move forward.” He went on to say that it was a matter of principle before pastoral considerations. That is finding the arc of morality. That’s putting good faith and theology before simply being a nice pastor. In short, “humans have value; humans value humans.”
A conservative priest that I know who has steadfastly opposed same-sex marriage has now reversed his position. I like this priest, though we agreed not to speak of this issue; he has been supportive of mission in so many other ways. His solidarity with the poor is deep. But his arc was moved by a close family member who came out. The center of his arc of moral compass said, “Do you love the child or the doctrine?” His moral arc decided rightly that he chose love of person. So, while he has had a major shift in his life, his moral arc found its true center when it was made personal.
I say all of this to observe that the most unlikely of times, places, and persons can find this center that I am writing about. No one should be completely written off, though some are a bit harder to hold out hope for. Some may never find that arc of moral center. But some unlikely candidates will, because they will see that “humans have value; humans value humans” and that is the center of true faith.