How do you encapsulate a day like today? This day, when by
some coincidence of fate or of providence, two moments in the long struggles to
ensure that the ideals of freedom and equality upon which this nation was
founded were available to all, just happened to converge. It does not seem
right, somehow, to talk about today’s marriage equality ruling without talking
about Charleston and President Obama’s eulogy of the Rev. Clementa Pinckney,
with all of the deep sadness mingled with a glint of promise that just maybe
equality will advance once more.
For the last seven years, through accident of history, the
struggles of racial equality and LGBT equality have found themselves
intertwined, the highs and lows in contrast with one another. In 2008 the
country did what so many never dreamed possible and elected a black president,
but that same night the joy was tempered by the passage of Prop 8 in California.
Two years ago, we celebrated as the Supreme Court overturned the Defense of
Marriage Act, but at the same time mourned the gutting of the Voting Rights
Act. Each time a step forward in equality for some, a step backwards for
others. Joy and sadness, justice and injustice, mingled together.
I can only try and imagine the whiplash that African
American members of the LGBT community had to have felt. A nation lurching
towards equality, but never quite able to get on the right track for everyone
Here we are again. I haven’t written about Charleston
because I’ve been unable to find the words to express the depth of the pain and
tragedy, how people who have suffered such loss due to pure unbridled hatred
can show such immeasurable grace to someone so evil. How can you write about
the fragile, budding hope that the nation might be moving forward; the promise for
the future that is shown when a flag whose demise so many thought they would
never live to see is nevertheless falling across the south, but the change was
sparked by the blood of innocents?
And now, unlike in 2008 and 2013, for a fleeting moment our
nation has managed to get something right in the fights for both LGBT and
racial equality. In 2013, SCOTUS gutted the Voting Rights Act before turning
around and expanding LGBT equality. This year, when faced with the same
opportunity to gut the Fair Housing Act, the court did the right thing and
upheld the disparate impact analysis of race discrimination as constitutional. We
were standing on a precipice and we stepped back from the brink. This year it’s
not a step forward for one group’s equality and a step backward for the other.
That brings us to today. Either one of the stories today, President
Obama’s eulogy in for Clementa Pinckney in Charleston and the Supreme Court
ruling for marriage equality, would be overwhelming moments in history on their
own. To have them both in one day is almost too much to process.
By the time the Supreme Court ruled this morning, marriage equality
felt inevitable, but it took so much blood, sweat and tears to bring us to this
point. So many people who fought so hard for equality who didn’t live to see
this day. We talk about how quickly the fight went, just forty-six years from
Stonewall to marriage equality, but so many generations lived and died having
to keep their lives and relationships hidden away.
Then, this afternoon President
Obama gave one of the most redemptive, prophetic messages on grace that I have
ever heard. That’s not something you expect to hear from a politician, but
there it was, a powerful message of a grace that does not wallpaper over our
transgressions, but that transforms us.
“As manifested in the
salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings. Grace — as a nation out of
this terrible tragedy, God has visited grace upon us for he has allowed us to
see where we’ve been blind.
He’s given us the
chance where we’ve been lost to find out best selves. We may not have earned
this grace with our rancor and complacency and short-sightedness and fear of
each other, but we got it all the same. He gave it to us anyway. He’s once more
given us grace.
But it is up to us now
to make the most of it, to receive it with gratitude and to prove ourselves
worthy of this gift.”
This country is so very divided, and the culture wars seem
Race was the first front in the American culture wars, a
battle that has been waged over the centuries, one that split the nation in
half, and divided our churches and denominations to this day. LGBT rights are
just the latest front in the culture wars, falling along the same old regional
and denominational battle lines as the fight against slavery and Jim Crow. The
same churches that split over slavery, that supported segregation, that lined
up to fight for Bob Jones University in their Supreme Court case over
integration and interracial marriage are the ones who lined up in opposition to
marriage equality. Is there any surprise then that over the last decade the two
fights have seemed so coincidentally intertwined? They’re both questions about
whether we’re going to do justice and love mercy, and for too long the white
evangelical church in America has lined up on the wrong side of the fight.
That’s why whenever I look back on this day I’m not going to
be able to separate President Obama’s words in Charleston from what happened at
the Supreme Court today. As a Christian, I believe that God can use Obama’s
prophetic words today to give us a way forward out of the culture wars, whether
the old battles we’re still fighting over race or the newer ones over LGBT
equality and women’s rights. Grace, that deep, overwhelming grace, the kind
that gives people the power to both seek justice and forgive through their
pain, is a transformative force. Are we going to allow it to transform us, or
are we going to continue on in the muck?
I want to close this with another quote from the president’s
“What is true in the
south is true for America. Clem understood that justice grows out of
recognition of ourselves in each other; that my liberty depends on you being
That — that history
can’t be a sword to justify injustice or a shield against progress. It must be
a manual for how to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, how to break the
cycle, a roadway toward a better world. He knew that the path of grace involves
an open mind. But more importantly, an open heart.
That’s what I felt
this week — an open heart. That more than any particular policy or analysis is
what’s called upon right now, I think. It’s what a friend of mine, the writer
Marilyn Robinson, calls “that reservoir of goodness beyond and of another kind,
that we are able to do each other in the ordinary cause of things.”
That reservoir of
goodness. If we can find that grace, anything is possible.
If we can tap that
grace, everything can change. Amazing grace, amazing grace.”
These last few weeks have been incredibly emotional, but
tonight I am hopeful that through God’s grace we can move forward together as a
nation, seeking justice and showing mercy.