Psalm 43 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Prayer to God in Time of Trouble
Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause
against an ungodly people;
from those who are deceitful and unjust
For you are the God in whom I take refuge;
why have you cast me off?
Why must I walk about mournfully
because of the oppression of the enemy?
O send out your light and your truth;
let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy hill
and to your dwelling.
Then I will go to the altar of God,
to God my exceeding joy;
and I will praise you with the harp,
O God, my God.
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.
I had a totally different scripture and focus for today’s sermon, but then I went to this month’s LGBTQ and Pride event on Wednesday night. And two Juneteenth events – a concert on Friday and a dinner on Saturday sponsored by our local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). These are two blessed events that share the same month. These are two blessed events that have helped me confront my own ignorance and bias and lack of understanding of the depth of ongoing injustices against God’s children because of sexual orientation and the color of one’s skin. These are two blessed events to help us see how we’re doing in God’s world with the command to love one another as God has loved us as our guideline. The question is: How are we doing?
The PBS viewing of Lavender Scare kicked off the week for me. I learned that with the U.S. gripped in the panic of the Cold War, President Dwight (I like Ike) Eisenhower deemed homosexuals to be “security risks” and vowed to rid the government of all employees discovered to be gay or lesbian. I did not know this.
Over the next four decades, the longest witch-hunt in American history, tens of thousands of workers would lose their jobs or be denied employment because of their sexual orientation. The Lavender Scare is the first documentary to tell the story of this little-known aspect of American history
Based on the award-winning book by historian David K. Johnson, the film examines the tactics used by the government to identify and fire homosexuals. This documentary takes audiences inside interrogation rooms where men and women were subjected to grueling questioning about their personal lives, and it presents first-hand accounts from both the victims of the purges and the officials who directed them.
Archival material shows how the fear and suspicion gripping the country of the Red Scare, the supposed threat of Communist infiltration of American society during the Cold War encouraged the anti-gay hysteria that swept the nation in an era in which The New York Times used the words “homosexual” and “pervert” interchangeably, and public officials warned that homosexuality was a dangerous, contagious disease. It even depicted and built on the misbelief that all pedophiles were gay.
While the story is at times infuriating and heartbreaking, its underlying message is uplifting and inspiring. Instead of destroying gay men and lesbians, these actions had the opposite effect: they stirred a sense of outrage and activism that helped ignite the gay rights movement.
In 1957, at the height of the purges, a Harvard-trained astronomer named Frank Kameny became the first person to fight his dismissal. His attempts to regain his job evolved into a lifelong fight for the rights of homosexuals. Enough was enough. I highly encourage you to watch this important work. (Source: NPR)
Next was the PFLAG and Pride event that was held on Wednesday evening and began with the showing of a documentary about the Stonewall riots of 1969 where a group of people had decided they, too, had had enough bad treatment in their lives for being lesbian or gay or bi-sexual or transgender and considered to be just outside of the realm of being seen as “normal” within the dominant culture.
Following the viewing there was a panel discussion. One of the words that kept coming up during these conversations was “intersections”. We recognized the intersection for the LGBTQ community with the Black community as many black men and women also stood up for human rights and equal rights – whether they were gay or not. One of the panelists that evening was Dr. Bobbie Green who is the president of the Las Cruces NAACP. Dr. Green mentioned how she loves intersections and how she prays for them since this is how connection and understanding and growth happens in communities and in the world.
The image on our cover of the various and diverse strands of life can and do interconnect. At this intersection we can move toward diversity and unity, or as seems to be happening in our country, unfortunately, the move toward diversity and division. Intersections.
Then on Friday night the NAACP sponsored a Juneteenth Concert. That too reflected diversity through the various musicians and songs present as well as a beautiful mix of a diverse audience. Dr. Bobbie Green was host and MC and the entire program was to celebrate our unity through diversity and diversity in unity and how that leads to hope. Randy Granger was one of the musicians, as was Karuna.
This is all well and good, but I confess I really wasn’t aware of Juneteenth, what it signified, and its history. Another intersection in my life where ignorance meets knowledge, and denial meets reality.
So, a little history lesson for us this morning. “While Juneteenth has become the most prominent Emancipation Day holiday in the US, it commemorates a smaller moment that remains relatively obscure in our history. It doesn’t mark the signing of the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, which technically freed slaves in the rebelling Confederate states, nor the December 1865 ratification of the 13th Amendment, which enshrined the end of slavery into the Constitution. Instead, it marks the moment when emancipation finally reached those in the deepest pats of the former Confederacy. Word of slavery’s end traveled slowly, and for those who were largely isolated from Union armies, life continued as if freedom did not exist.
This was especially the case in Texas, where thousands of slaves were not made aware of freedom until June 19, 1865, when Union Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston and issued an order officially freeing them. Their celebration would serve as the basis of June 19 – or Juneteenth – a holiday celebrating emancipation in the US. Juneteenth also represents how the intersections of freedom and justice in the US has always been delayed for black people. The decades after the end of the war would see a wave of lynching, imprisonments, and Jim Crow laws take root. What followed was the disproportionate impact of mass incarceration, discriminatory housing policies, and lack of economic investment. And now, as national attention remain focused on acts of police violence and various racial profiling incidents, it is clear that while progress has been made in black America’s 156 years out of bondage, considerable barriers continue to impede that progress.
According to one article, those barriers may remain until America truly begins to grapple with its history. Karlos Hill, a professor of African and African-American studies at the University of Oklahoma and the author of Beyond the Rope: The Impact of Lynching on Black Culture and Memory, wrote; “Juneteenth is a moment where we step back and try to understand the Civil War through the eyes of enslaved people.” I believe this is one of the most important intersections for us as a country – the intersection of white history and black history – where the telling the story of the Civil War has been done exclusively through the eyes of the Confederacy and not through the eyes of those enslaved.
Juneteenth is a moment where we step back and try to understand the Civil War through the eyes of enslaved people. Juneteenth is a moment where we bring to the fore these divided histories on remembering this era. – the intersection – who gets to decide what that history means, 156 years later. Hill notes that: “as a nation, we haven’t done that work. Our nation and our culture has not really acknowledge the trauma of 4 million enslaved people and their descendants. It hasn’t acknowledge the impact this institution has had on this country and continues to have on this country.” (Source: Facebook)
Certainly, this is a complex issue that impacts us today. Bryan Stevenson who is the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice initiative has argued; “that in order for us to move beyond slavery, its legacy, and the trauma it brought, we have to acknowledge the ways in which slavery generated massive amounts of wealth for white Americans, and how the narratives used to justify slavery are still connected with narratives that are used to oppress African Americans today. He argues that unless we acknowledge all of this, we are going to continue to face the consequences of this legacy.
Both the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots and the 156th anniversary of Juneteenth reflect the fact that the intersections of justice and unity has not yet happened. But these events give us hope that they will. Perhaps it is up to us and those who follow to ensure that this intersection does not get derailed.
Last week Chuck Harper shared words of wisdom from his father: “He drew a circle that shut me out – Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout. But love and I had the wit to win: we drew a circle and took him in!” (Edwin Markham; From the poem Outwitted). This is another intersection: recognizing those on the margins and widening the circle to include all.
And I share from another important voice – that of Pauli Murray who wrote: “I intend to destroy segregation by positive and embracing methods . . . when my brothers try to draw a circle to exclude me, I shall draw a larger circle to include them. When they speak out for the privileges of a puny group, I shall shout for the rights of all (human)kind.” Pauli Murray (1945)
How is it that I have never heard of this remarkable woman? What enclosed circle have I been traveling in?
Anna Pauline “Pauli” Murray (1910–1985) was an American civil rights activist who became a lawyer, a women’s rights activist, Episcopal priest, and author. Drawn to the ministry, in 1977 Murray was the first African-American woman to be ordained as an Episcopal priest, in the first year that any women were ordained by that church.
Murray struggled in her adult life with issues related to her sexual and gender identity, describing herself as having an “inverted sex instinct”. She had a brief, annulled marriage to a man and several deep relationships with women. In her younger years, she occasionally had passed as a teenage boy. A 2017 biographer retroactively classified her as transgender.
At the front of the civil rights movement, alongside such leaders as Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, but lesser known, was Pauli Murray, an outspoken woman who protested discrimination on the basis of race and sex. Another intersection. Her work sheds light on the long struggle of African-American women for racial equality and their later fight for equality among the sexes. Murray’s life and work certainly widens the circle. (Wikipedia)
And finally, I share this little nugget as seen on a Welch Church sign that speaks of the intersection of faith and action: “At the end of the day I’d rather be excluded for who I include, than be included for who I exclude!” (Facebook)
May God bless all the intersections of our lives as we continue to learn and grow and struggle and understand and are challenged about what it means to be a disciple of Christ in this world today. Amen.
Copyright DMC 2019