June has been an emotional month, a difficult month, a month of celebration, and, sadly, of tragedy. Sitting here, after having just returned to Columbus from a weekend in Cincinnati, celebrating their city’s Pride festival, my heart is filled with a breadth and depth of emotions. The deaths in Orlando still feel fresh and painful. Yet, it was encouraging to see Pulse Night Club open its outdoor spaces over this past weekend to hold a Latin-themed event. In Cincinnati, a city known to be traditionally more conservative than my current home city of Columbus, I feared that the police presence would not be what it needed to be. To my surprise though, the police were there in heavier numbers than I have ever seen at Cincinnati Pride. Cincinnati is such a wonderful place to visit right now. The energies of support for the LGBTQ+ are rising there, in the home city of Jim Obergefell, and I could not help but reflect on the sacrifices made by Jim, his late husband, John, and the other plaintiffs who, thanks to their willingness to share their stories, paved the way for us to be able to celebrate the one-year anniversary of Obergefell vs. Hodges yesterday.
During my time in Cincinnati, I was also able to devote energy to the work of inclusion within our faith and political systems. My weekend began at an interfaith service at a Cincinnati church. I was there as a volunteer for Equality Ohio to encourage people of faith to sign onto The Ohio Faith Coalition. Through the service, I was able to connect with folks from a variety of faith backgrounds, people faithfully serving out of the deep beliefs of their faith and believing that their faith tells them that God loves everyone, a message that is seldom heard from those most vocal in faith circles. On Saturday, I also represented Equality Ohio, signing people up to support the political efforts to end legalized discrimination of LGBTQ+ folks here in Ohio. Having these conversations and hearing people share personal experience of discrimination reminds me that this work is so vitally important.
|Alex Shanks and I at the Equality Ohio Pride Festival Booth in Cincinnati 2016
(Photo Credit: Adrienne Michelson)
During a lunch conversation with a friend over the weekend, I commented at the irony of both my previous faith context inside a very conservative, evangelical view of Christian believing and my current, more progressive, mainline Christian perspective. So often, we like to focus on the ways in which those two points of view are different, but, in many ways, they are the same. Both see the text of the Bible as sacred. They see truth in the words contained on those pages. They may come from different understandings of the authors and the various influences that impacted the writings of those authors, but they each see those words as sacred in different ways. Also, both are, in many ways, biblical literalists. Now, a more conservative me may have taken a more literal view of Romans 1:27 and a more nuanced view of Matthew 25:35 (Yes, I’m going to make you look them up.), and a more progressive me would now take a more reversed perspective on both of those scriptures. I now see that the surface understanding of the condemnation of homosexuality that is claimed by some in the first chapter of Romans really is so vague that we can’t determine much of anything from it conclusively, and, even if it were a clear-cut condemnation, we do not have the right to hold the biblical writers to a higher understanding that their cultural context gave them the ability to comprehend. Also, I am ashamed to say this, but in my previous faith understanding, while I would have acknowledged that Jesus called us to feed the hungry, I would have felt the need to qualify that mandate by insisting that they go through proper channels and seek help through organizations that my church appropriated funds to because we did not want to take on the burden ourselves of determining who we felt had a legitimate need and who was just “using the system.”
I share these reflections for a reason. This year, during Annual Conference, the yearly gathering of clergy and lay people from West Ohio to elect officers and set policies and legislation for our own conference, the same friend that I had lunch with in Cincinnati this past Friday commented that he could not imagine the old me, and, yet, I can assure you that I existed in that context and in that way of thinking. This understanding and awareness of the shift that has taken place in me opens me up to the possibilities that I see in others. When I look at the tragedy in Orlando, when I look at the emergence of support in city’s like Cincinnati, when I see the joyous faces of same-sex couples who have been married within the past year because of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell vs. Hodges, I see hope. I see pain as well, but there is hope. One scripture that I see and hear both conservative and progressive voices use is John 1:5: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” Of course, there would be disagreement over what represents light and darkness, but those are questions that they must each wrestle with for themselves. For me, it says one thing. In the ultimate scheme of things, the battle between the light and the dark has been settled and, to paraphrase, “Love Wins!” Past tense. It is finished.
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