A Transgender Naming Ceremony

The following is a Transgender Naming Ceremony that I developed with a member of my congregation.  There does not seem to be many Transgender naming ceremonies out there in the Unitarian Universalist sphere so we both agreed it would be important to put this one out there for others to use and adapt.

 

A TRANSGENDER NAMING CEREMONY

 

Minister:  The tradition of naming people is as varied as there are countries.  In the US it is typical that a person would be named by their parents at birth and that name would follow the person all the days of their life. But that is not the way it works in many countries around the world and it does not always happen here that way either.

For example my Grandfather was born James Millard but he was always called Millard.  His son, a junior, is called Jim.  But my Grandfather’s brother, born Frank, was called Jim. My cousin, Robert Craig changed his name to Robert Avery when he was 13 in order to be a junior and then adopted the name Avery.  [The celebrant may substitute their own family’s naming story examples.]

Some children are given new Christian names at confirmation and then will go by that name from that point on. Some have names that are only used by the family and their formal name is used only by those outside of the family. Still others adopt a nickname by which they are forever called. Names are not always cast in stone at birth. Some Native American tribes do not name their children until some attribute is discovered about the child.  And the name might change again when the child becomes an adult.

And in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures names would change as the person was transformed and embraced their true identity. Abram became Abraham, Sarai became Sarah, Jacob became Israel, Saul became Paul all to indicate a new person in relationship with their god.  Today, we are celebrating the adoption of a new name that reflects a truth that has been hidden but is now revealed.

 

 

Poem:  “how to love a person” by AJ Tigarian[i]

just press your palm to their palm

warm and full of possibility

skip across their soul like

a flat stone flung from the river’s edge

and then sink into them

come to rest amid the silt and debris

wiggle your toes in the particles

of everything they are

you don’t have to do anything different

you don’t have to try harder

you don’t have to re-mold yourself

into something that makes you

somehow less you

and neither do they.

stand beside them

as they meet their true self

let them introduce you to their “me”

as they find it, one bit at a time

or all at once.

gather up their tears, their smiles,

their joys and their discomforts

when they can’t carry them anymore

remind them where they’re going

go along with them, whenever they ask

witness their struggles and triumphs

open your heart and your arms

press your cheek to their cheek

and love them more when the sun rises

than you did when it set on the day before

 

 

#211 / #212 We are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder/ We are Dancing Sarah’s Circle

[Sing one verse from We are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder then one verse from We are Dancing Sarah’s Circle using the same key. In the Unitarian Universalist  hymnal Singing the Living Tradition there is a key change between the two songs.  In We are Dancing Sarah’s Circle, we substituted “sisters, brothers, all” with “We are Dancing On” for two reasons:  The first and primary reason is to be inclusive of people of  all gender and non-gender identities and second to be parallel with the call in the first song to be climbing on.]

 

 

Minister: By what name shall you be known? [ii]

Partner or Family member[s]: The name shall be ________.

______: My name shall be ______.

Minister:  May the community respond by repeating—Your name shall be ______.

Minister: Bear this name as a reflection of your true self.  Share this name as a reflection of Mercy.  Offer this name as a reflection of Justice.

 

Created and Celebrated in a service led by Rev. Fred L Hammond of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa, AL on 9 March 2014  ©

 

[i] “how to love a person” © by AJ Tigarian. Printed here with permission.  Permission is granted by the author to use this poem in other naming ceremonies with acknowledgement of the author.

[ii] This last section is a wildly loose adaptation from a section of a naming  ceremony written by Lutheran priest Nadia Bolz-Weber http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nadiabolzweber/2012/01/liturgical-naming-rite-for-a-transgendered-church-member/    While there is sufficient changes in wording of the final three sentences to stamp my name to it, the origination of the idea is unmistakably the Rev. Nadia Bolz Weber’s. And at Rev. Nadia’s site, credit is given for the naming ceremony there as being adapted from one used by Episcopal Priest Michele Morgan. There is a genealogy of adaptations going on here.

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The Past, The Present, The Future

How well do you know your American History?  I am most referring to the formation of this republic that celebrates the 4th of July as its birthday.  Who were these people?  There has been a barrage of history revisions over the last few decades by people who want the founders of this nation to look more like them and less like the radical and liberal people that they were.

It is said that History is written in the view point of the victors and this is true about our history as well.  If the British had succeeded and squashed the rebellion of the colonists, we might still be called the United States of America but we would be placing Benedict Arnold on our currency and not George Washington or Benjamin Franklin.  These men would have been placed as footnotes in the pages of history as rebels, as anarchists, as terrorists because that is how they were viewed by King George.

There is a push by the religious right to claim the founding fathers as one of their own and not recognize that the founding fathers were as diverse politically and religiously as we are today.  These people have this idealized perspective that the founders were harmoniously united in not only in what strategies to take in seeking their liberty but also united in their vision for what was to become the United States of America.

Nothing can be further from the truth.  So who were the founders of this nation?  Looking at the two highest offices of this nation and who filled these posts during the first six administrations, we find that of the eleven individuals filling these positions, four were Unitarian, three were deists[i] [ii] [iii] [iv], three were Christian, and one apparently was agnostic[v].  The three who were Christian were not evangelical Christians[vi]; they were Episcopalian[vii] and Presbyterian[viii].

The four Unitarians were:  Our first Vice-president and second President, John Adams[ix]:  Our second Vice-president and Third President, Thomas Jefferson[x], Our Sixth President, John Quincy Adams[xi] and his vice-president, John C. Calhoun[xii].

Thomas Jefferson was born in Virginia and during that time, if you were born in Virginia you were automatically Anglican (Episcopal).  That was the colony recognized religion, any other faith was considered reprobate. We claim Thomas Jefferson because he espoused Unitarian views.  He was mostly influenced by the writings of Rev. Joseph Priestly founder of the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia.  And depending on the historian you speak with, the first or second Unitarian Church in the nation.   Jefferson attended this congregation whenever he was in Philadelphia.  He believed that reason was the arbiter of faith.  During his presidency he removed all the passages in the New Testament that were supernatural or miraculous in nature. This testament is now known as the Jefferson Bible.   He also believed that someday everyone in the Americas would be Unitarian.

But even those who did claim the Christian nomenclature were not like the conservative Christians today who seek to create the kingdom of God here in the USA.  They were firm in their stance on religious liberty.  Vice President Elbridge Gerry, also one of the signers of the Constitution wanted the first amendment to read: “No religious doctrine shall be established by law [xiii].”   No, the Christians of the revolution and the birth of this nation were liberal in their theology, tolerant of other religious beliefs, who knew the dangers when religious authority blends with governmental powers.

While Thomas Jefferson is given credit for the concept of building a wall of separation between church and state in his letter to the Danbury Baptists, he is not the only founder who espoused such ideals.  James Madison said:  “The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries. [xiv see footnote]”

Thomas Paine, in his book The Age of Reason, and a person who was raised Unitarian said, “Persecution is not an original feature in any religion; but it is always the strongly marked feature of all religions established by law.”

In the treaty of Tripoli of 1797, then President John Adams stated in Article 11, “The government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion.[xv]”  There is some speculation that the Arabic version of this treaty does not contain Article 11 but nevertheless, the English version does contain it and it was the English version that was ratified by the Senate.

While Unitarians and Universalists were a small minority faith during the founding of our nation, we were influential in ensuring and building upon the freedoms that we enjoy today.  Unitarians and Universalists that followed these founding parents of our republic added their voice towards freedom.   Judith Sargeant Murray pioneered women’s education.  Theodore Parker penned ideas of justice and democracy that would resound through the ages and be quoted by President Abraham Lincoln and Rev. Martin Luther King. Clara Barton established the American Red Cross.  Rev. Olympia Brown and Susan B. Anthony and others fought for the women’s right to vote.  Jane Addams founded modern day social work. Mary White Ovington was a founder of the NAACP. On these shoulders we stand today.

From the founding fathers of this nation to those who marched side by side during the civil rights era, these are our religious ancestors; some by nomenclature and others by their insistence on religious liberty from governmental control.  Our 5th principle, “the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process,” has its beginnings in the hearts and actions of these revolutionaries quest for freedom and democracy.   We echo their desire for liberty and justice for all.

Today we have history revisionists, like David Barton, who claim that all of the founding fathers were not only Christian but fundamentalist Christians.  Fundamentalism developed in the early 20th century pertains to the literal reading of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures through an evangelical Christian lens.  Fundamentalist Christians were not even at the table in 1776.  Congregationalists, Episcopalians, Quakers, Unitarians, Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Methodists were but not Southern Baptists, not Pentecostalists, not Latter Day Saints. It is these last three groups who are seeking to revise history.  But they were not there; they did not even exist as an expression of faith. Their faith expression did not develop in this nation until later in American History.  Mormons developed in the early 19th century, Southern Baptists after the civil war, and Pentecostalists in early 20th century.

Barton takes quotes out of context from Unitarians John Adams and John Quincy Adams and quotes from Deists such as James Madison and twists them to his revisionist history.  Barton has gained influence in recent years and has been given platforms by Tea Party gurus Glenn Beck and Mike Huckabee[xvi].

He has been a consultant on the Texas Board of Education Social Studies curriculum.  This is our present reality as Unitarian Universalists.    Almost 240 years after our radical and revolutionary founders declared their independence not only from monarchical tyranny but also religious tyranny, our nation is once again facing the specter of religious tyranny.

We are hearing Barton’s revisionist history being quoted by judiciaries in Alabama and in the US Supreme Court.  Judge Roy Moore recently declared that the first amendment is only to protect Christians.  When judges sworn to uphold the constitution declare a religion to be supreme, the very fabric of our nation is being torn asunder.

Here is some history to place his statements into context.  Several years ago, Chief Justice Moore was removed from his office for refusing to obey a court order to remove his stone monument of the Ten Commandments from the Rotunda of the Alabama Judicial Building.  A few years later, he is voted back into office as Chief Justice.  The State legislature then seeks to pass a bill that would make a constitutional amendment allowing such displays in public buildings, including schools and court houses.  It passed the house but died in the Senate.    I guarantee it will resurface again because separation of church and state is being systematically dismantled in Alabama and in the Federal Government.  In Alabama, this is a non-partisan dismantling.

Earlier this month, the US Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision, a decision divided between the Christians on the court and the non-Christians on the court, that opening prayer at a town meeting is constitutional.   The courts majority did not see Christian prayers as being coercive.  Judge Scalia “suggested that there’s no harm in a little “subtle” pressure on those who don’t choose to pray in public places at taxpayer expense.[xvii]”  Of course he would think that, he has religious or Christian privilege in this nation.  It is no coincidence that three of the four judges in dissent were Jews.  They have lived under Christian privilege in this nation their entire lives. They recognize its coercive forces upon their daily lives.

Regardless of where one lives but perhaps most especially in the south, Christian privilege holds sway over non-Christians.  Ask our students if they are excluded in school events because they are not Christian and the answer sadly is yes.  Ask them how often they are told by their peers they are going to hell because they do not accept Jesus as God and the answer is frequently.

I know many have joked that when moving here from another town or state, the first question asked after introducing yourself at work is; “Where do you go to church?”  The assumption is that you must be Christian.  If you are not, then something is not right and in their mind it wasn’t asking the question.

We see Christian privilege rearing its head in the Hobby Lobby Case which the Supreme Court may soon rule on.  If corporations are given the right to ignore federal laws based on religious beliefs, then this is another form of coercion on their employees to conform to their employers’ religious beliefs.  This court case extends further than a sincerely held belief albeit erroneous that contraceptives are abortifacients and therefore violates ones religious practice.  A company could publicly state that it is against their religious beliefs to hire gay or transgender people[xviii].  It is already legal in Alabama simply by its absence in law to fire an employee for their sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation.  If this court rules in favor of Hobby Lobby, it would give legal teeth to enable other religious beliefs to be acted upon such as the refusal of hiring members of the LGBTQI community.  We are already seeing conservative Christians demanding a right to discriminate against sexual minorities in communities throughout the south.

This is our present reality in this country. And Unitarian Universalists across the country are involved in these issues as part of our campaign to Stand on the Side of Love.

In 21st century America to protect our ability to the right of conscience and the use of democratic process we are called to become advocates and be active in the community arena.  We are still a rather small faith in this country.  We may never reach Jefferson’s vision of all of America being Unitarian.  But the followers of our faith from this nation’s infancy until now have proven to be consistently on the forefront on issues of justice.

From the earliest days of this republic, Unitarians have spoken up and influenced the direction this nation needs to go. We have consistently sought to bend the arc of history towards justice.

Not everyone of us is able to take the initiative to speak up especially when we are alone in whatever setting we find ourselves.  But we can match our behaviors to our values.  We can listen before we speak.  We can emphasize in our presence the honoring of others inherent worth and dignity. We can seek to say the kind word of encouragement instead of the criticizing word.  And when others notice that our behaviors match our words, and they ask us about our lives.  Then we can state, I am a Unitarian Universalist and we believe to be gentle with one another.  Or we believe that loving our neighbor as ourselves is not just a suggestion.  Or we believe that everyone has worth and dignity.

In our own small way we will be joining those who have gone before us and paving the way for those who come after us to live in a community of peace, liberty and justice.  May it be so. Blessed Be.

Sermon delivered to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa on May 25 2014 (c) by Rev. Fred L Hammond.

[i] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Washington_and_religion

[ii] http://www.vqronline.org/essay/religion-james-monroe

[iii] http://www.adherents.com/people/pm/James_Monroe.html.

[iv] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Madison

[v] http://www.adherents.com/people/pb/Aaron_Burr.html

[vi] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_D._Tompkins

[vii] http://www.god-and-country.info/EGerry.html

[viii] http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/generic/VP_George_Clinton.htm

[ix] http://uudb.org/articles/johnadams.html

[x] http://uudb.org/articles/thomasjefferson.html

[xi] http://uudb.org/articles/johnquincyadams.html

[xii] http://www.famousuus.com/bios/john_calhoun.htm

[xiii] http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/amendI_religions53.html

[xiv] http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/James_Madison   In preparing for this sermon to be posted on this blog, I realized I had not posted my source for this quote from James Madison. In searching for a source, discovered that while this quote has been attributed to James Madison, no credible source has been found. This site lists the quote as misappropriated.

[xv] http://candst.tripod.com/tripoli1.htm

[xvi] http://www.pfaw.org/rww-in-focus/barton-s-bunk-religious-right-historian-hits-the-big-time-tea-party-america

[xvii] http://dallasmorningviewsblog.dallasnews.com/2014/05/supreme-court-misguided-if-it-thinks-public-prayer-isnt-coercive.html/

[xviii] http://mediamatters.org/research/2014/05/23/9-right-wing-media-myths-about-the-hobby-lobby/199439

Dangerous TImes

If you received a phone call from Unitarian Universalist Association President Peter Morales or Moderator Jim Key asking you to assist Ugandan gay refugees to flee that country into South Africa or the United States, would you say yes? Would you say yes, if it meant you had to volunteer your time and depend on whatever resources you could raise? Would you say yes, if it meant leaving your 2 year old daughter and 5 year old son behind?

These are dangerous times to be gay in Uganda and Gambia. Now to my knowledge, Peter Morales or Jim Key has not asked anyone to go into Uganda to assist the Unitarian Universalists there in helping sexual minorities and those suspected to be sexual minorities in fleeing the country.

But such a phone call occurred for Rev. Waitstill and Martha Sharp prior to World War II. They were asked to go to Czechoslovakia to provide support to the Unitarians of that country. The Unitarians had already been making inroads for an underground network but now there was a need to have someone or someones to move people through that network to safety.

Some background. The Rev. Norbert Capek had established the largest Unitarian congregation in the world in Prague with 3800 plus members. Unitarianism because of its inclusivity as a creedless faith became a safe refuge for Jews in Czechoslovakia. In 1938, the Munich Accord gave Germany the region of Czechoslovakia known as the Sudetenland. Refugees were being tortured and shot by the Nazis as they fled for Prague. When the Sudetenland fell to German control in 1938, the American Unitarian Association sent ‘commissioners’ to assess the needs of the refugees and the Prague church.

The phone call came to the Sharp’s towards the end of 1938. When Waitstill questioned why them; he was told that 17 people were asked first. Waitstill asked if his understanding was correct that 17 people were asked and said no to this request to assist Unitarians and refugees in Czechoslovakia. Would you be one of the 17? It is a very hard question to answer.

Rev. Waitstill and Martha Sharp were distraught over what was happening in Europe. ‘These were our friends’; Waitstill would state later and something needed to be done. While reluctant to leave their two young children, the Sharps set sail for Prague on February 1st 1939, on March 15th the Nazis marched into Prague. The Sharps escorted Jews out of Prague and across Germany to freedom in England. They were followed by the gestapo. They burned their notes and documents to protect the people they were helping. They found their offices ransacked and furniture thrown onto the streets. And when they left in August 1939 to return to the States, they discovered afterwards that they were days away from arrest by the Gestapo.

The following year, they were called again by Unitarian President, Frederick May Eliot, to go to Paris to set up offices to assist people escaping Europe. Unfortunately, when they left for Europe this time, France fell to the Germans before they arrived. They moved their office to neutral Portugal. From Lisbon, among the many tasks they undertake, they managed to arrange for the escape of some 29 children and 10 adults to leave Nazi-occupied Europe to the United States. It was while they were in Portugal that the flaming chalice became a symbol for their official documents. The Sharp’s work combined with the founding of the Unitarian Service Committee ensured the rescue of 3500 families from Nazi controlled Europe. The Sharp’s became known as the ‘Guardian Angels of European children.’

Waitstill and Martha Sharp were posthumously honored as Righteous among the Nations by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority in Israel. Of the more than 20,000 non-Jews who risked their lives on behalf of Jews during the Holocaust, only four Americans have received such distinction to date.

Flash forward to February 1965. These were dangerous times to be in the south. Jimmy Lee Jackson had been shot in attempts to stop the beating of his mother by police during a non-violent protest in Marion, AL over the arrest of a Southern Christian Leadership Conference leader. There was outrage over Jackson’s death and a march was planned to carry his coffin from Marion to the capitol steps in Montgomery in protest of his wrongful death. This march was re-routed to begin in Selma and as the marchers crossed the Edmond Pettus Bridge they were brutally beaten by Alabama State Troopers. The horrendous force used by the police christened this day as Bloody Sunday. The next day, Martin Luther King, Jr. issued a call to clergy from across the nation to come to Selma, AL to join them.

One young Unitarian minister, James Reeb in Massachusetts heard this call. He had been working as a community minister in the inner city of Boston. While the issues facing people of color in Boston were not the same as the issues facing those in the Deep South, the core roots of the issues were the same: institutionalized racism. James Reeb spoke with several people about leaving for Selma that day. He was reminded of the dangers but he decided this is where he needed to be. He tucked his children into bed and caught an 11 PM flight for Atlanta and then another plane to Montgomery. By morning, he was joined by some fifty other Unitarian Universalist ministers who also answered the call.

The day of the march, there was an injunction against it and Governor Wallace was not going to lift it. The question was clear, obey the injunction or obey the moral call? King announced his decision to the people who assembled: “I’ve made my choice this afternoon. I’ve got to march. I’d rather have them kill me on the highway than butcher me in my conscience.” (Mendelsohn, 1966)

King led the march over the bridge where they were met by State Troopers who told them they could proceed no further. Could they pray, King asked? So there were prayers for those injured on the previous Sunday and prayers for those who caused the injury, the very police standing there blocking their passage.

King explained the reasoning for what happened to those participating: “We decided we had to stand and confront the State Troopers who committed the brutality Sunday. We did march and we did reach the point of the brutality … and we had a prayer service and a freedom rally. And we will go to Montgomery next week in numbers no man can number.” (Mendelsohn, 1966)

Later that evening, James Reeb with the Reverends Orloff Miller and Clark Olsen went for dinner at an integrated diner not far from the gathering place. As they left Walker’s Café, they hear four white men calling them the infamous derogatory slur. They quicken their pace, and Clark turns around just as he sees one of the men swing a club or a pipe as if aiming at a baseball.

James Reeb is struck down. He is incoherent and in pain. The ambulance gets a flat tire just outside of Selma. They wait for another ambulance. The police surround the second ambulance and question them. They refuse to provide escort. The nearest hospital that will treat him from Selma is Birmingham. His injuries are too great; he is removed from life support and dies two days later. His death became the lightening rod President Johnson needed to pass the Voting Rights Act.

In the eulogy that Martin Luther King gave he attempted to answer the question of not who but rather what killed him. He states: “James Reeb was murdered by the indifference of every minister of the gospel who has remained silent behind the safe security of stained glass windows. He was murdered by the irrelevancy of a church that will stand amid social evil and serve as a taillight rather than a headlight, an echo rather than a voice.”
The truth is what killed James Reeb is the same that killed 6 million Jews and 3 million political prisoners and homosexuals in Germany. It is the same that created the genocide in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, and Darfur. It is the same for threats against sexual minorities in Uganda and Gambia—where homosexuality is seen as a worse threat than hunger, disease, and abject poverty.

If you received a phone call to act on behalf of justice, would you answer yes? These are also dangerous times. Every generation has to answer the call before them. The Sharps and others answered the call in the 1940’s. Reeb and other clergy answered the call in the 1960’s.

And closer to home it is the same people who stand by indifferently as people’s rights are eroded away under the guise of religious freedom in Mississippi to allow businesses to discriminate against sexual minorities or here in Alabama to allow nurses and doctors to refuse to treat a woman who has an abortion, regardless of reason.

There really is no difference between the death sentences for being gay in Uganda and refusal to sell to a gay person in Mississippi. It is only a matter of degree of the indignity suffered. They are rooted in the same ignorance, the same intolerance, the same hatred against humanity’s diversity.

And while we can easily point to the atrocity of what is happening in Uganda or in Syria or in Ukraine as being dangerous times, it is harder, much harder to point out what makes living in America today as also living in dangerous times. We are like the frogs in the pot of water with the water slowly increasing in temperature and when it hits boiling it will be too late for us to jump out.

What makes this time dangerous is the very eroding of the values that we have based this nation upon. The Supreme Court has made it easier to undermine the protections of the voting rights act. The Supreme Court has ruled money equals speech. The Supreme Court has weakened the Affirmative Action mandates. Alabama passes legislation that allows medical personnel to discriminate against patients whose choices offend someone’s religious doctrines. Mississippi passes legislation that allows businesses to discriminate against sexual minorities under the false guise of religious freedom. Yet we remain passive like those frogs in tepid waters. The Democratic process is a core principle to our faith yet we take it for granted and assume it is safe from harm.

I see a lot of feigned outrage in society today. People outraged that the owner of a sports team declared his bigotry. People outraged that a sheriff in New Hampshire called the President the N word. People outraged over the racist remarks of a rancher. A group of students up in arms over the denial of admittance to a sorority on campus but not one ounce of outrage when the student government refuses to officially integrate the Greek system. Feigned outrage over one person’s slight not one protest over the institutional racism that sways power over others. Hypocrites! We as a nation are more concerned about the blatant surface appearances of racism than the hardcore insipid reality of it that courses through our veins. Symbolic rage while the system churns on its racist oppressive policies unabated.

These are dangerous times. We don’t need to travel across the world or even across the country to address it, the call is right here in Tuscaloosa.

Sixty years ago this month we commemorate the anniversary of a major integration victory that declared that separate is not equal in education. Central High School became the pride of post Brown v Board of Education. It was fully integrated with successful students of all races. The school district proclaimed that they were successful for a generation in integration and therefore no longer needed the court mandated integration ruling. Tuscaloosa claimed they would continue integration without being told but Tuscaloosa lied. Tuscaloosa voted to build two high schools and then gerrymandered the district to not only racially but economically segregate Central. The students in Central High School are being prepared not for a better life but for a life of continued poverty and very likely for prison. Central’s top students are not even able to qualify on college entrance exams.

We live in a nation where 1 in 3 black males born today will spend time in prison. We live in a nation where 1/3rd of black students between grades 7 and 12th grade are suspended or expelled from school. Tuscaloosa because of gerrymandered district lines has created a disproportionate number of whites and middle class blacks to attend the wealthier North Ridge and Paul Bryant schools. Central High is 99% black and predominantly poor. 80% of their students qualify for the federally funded school lunch program. Tuscaloosa’s 2012 Demographic study for a school district that told the Supreme Court that they could ensure integration of all of their schools, does not even mention the racial or economic breakdown in this report. Tuscaloosa has lied again. Where is the outrage over this injustice? But keep one pledge out of a sorority and we are up in arms over the indignity.

These are dangerous times not because of the potential of loss of life, though if we continue on this path of oppression it could result in this, but because of the loss of our moral compass as a people.

I never quite understood the scripture verses where it states that our fight is with principalities and powers, until now. It is not the spiritual warfare against demons as our Christian siblings believe, but rather against those human made systems that rob humanity from reaching its full potential. Racism is a power and the system in which it flourishes is the principality.

The principalities and powers of yesterday included fascist governments. Today they include the superficial righteous who parade their holy scriptures with no true understanding of the words or the spirit of love those scriptures contain. They hide behind the feigned outrage over the symptoms of racism while encouraging the real forces of racism and oppression to press on unfettered and unaccounted.
It is up to us to answer the call even in the midst of these dangerous times to call out the false outrage and point towards the heart of the matter. Even to do this takes courage because the temptation is to go with the flow and join the chorus du jour but this is the task before us to root out injustice where ever it grows. From east to west, north and south, we are called to speak to our Unitarian Universalist principles in a nation that has forgotten the true meaning of our founders’ words of inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and which are echoed in the words of our pledge: liberty, and justice for all.

The only way these words can become true in America is if we seek to ensure that our neighbor, regardless of their creed, race, sexual / gender identity or class has at their disposal all the resources necessary to reach their full potential. When my neighbor does not have the resource then I become the poorer for it.

This is the call that the Sharps answered. This is the call that James Reeb answered. They went to ensure their neighbor is treated the way they would want to be treated. This is the way of love. This is the mantle that is laid down before each of us. Will we pick that mantle up in these dangerous days? I pray that we will in our own way and according to our own conscience.
Martha Sharp is said to have asked her grandchildren, ‘What important work are you going to do for the world?’

 

Dangerous Times was delivered to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa, AL by Rev. Fred L Hammond 18 May 2014 (c)

Alabama Rally for Secular Government

I was asked to speak at the Alabama Rally for Secular Government that was held on May 3rd at the state capitol in Montgomery, AL.  The following is what I said.

 

In 1801 the Danbury Baptists wrote to President Thomas Jefferson a letter in which they stated:
“ Our sentiments are uniformly on the side of religious liberty: that Religion is at all times and places a matter between God and individuals, that no man ought to suffer in name, person, or effects on account of his religious opinions, [and] that the legitimate power of civil government extends no further than to punish the man who works ill to his neighbor. But sir, our constitution of government is not specific. Our ancient charter, together with the laws made coincident therewith, were adapted as the basis of our government at the time of our revolution. And such has been our laws and usages, and such still are, [so] that Religion is considered as the first object of Legislation, and therefore what religious privileges we enjoy (as a minor part of the State) we enjoy as favors granted, and not as inalienable rights. And these favors we receive at the expense of such degrading acknowledgments, as are inconsistent with the rights of freemen. It is not to be wondered at therefore, if those who seek after power and gain, under the pretense of government and Religion, should reproach their fellow men, [or] should reproach their Chief Magistrate, as an enemy of religion, law, and good order, because he will not, dares not, assume the prerogative of Jehovah and make laws to govern the Kingdom of Christ.”

This letter could have been written today about the Alabama State government which has consistently assumed “the prerogative of Jehovah and make[s] laws to govern the Kingdom of Christ.” This state has passed theological resolutions as to when personhood begins and then passed laws against women who violate their doctrinal belief. This state has constitutionally defined marriage which prevents minority religions to have their marriages recognized by the state. This state continues to allow religious discrimination against gender and sexual identities that do not conform to their doctrinal belief of what constitutes as acceptable expressions of humanity. This state has passed legislation that favors the religious beliefs of a judge enabling that judge to parade his doctrinal beliefs on a statue to shame the rest of Alabamians who do not share his faith. This state house passed a bill that would mandate that religious prayer be taught in the classroom.

Alabama you are in violation of this most sacred right of America—the rights to individual religious freedom –when you codify one religion as being supreme over the rest as you have done with your passage of bills that reflect a specific form of Christianity. You have torn down the wall of separation between church and state and have violated what it fundamentally means to be American.

The separation of church and state is to ensure that all people regardless of their religious persuasion are able to live their lives free from coercion to adhere to one specific belief system. I do not want the children of my church to be taught doctrines that violate my faith’s values that all people are entitled to a free and responsible search for truth and meaning; doctrines that violate my faith’s value of a right of conscience; doctrines that violate my faith’s values of justice, equity, and compassion in human relations. Alabama with the passage of these laws, bills, and resolutions has determined that my faith, Unitarian Universalism, and its values are not respected here.

I call upon all of you listening today to write your legislators and tell them that you will not idly stand by and watch American values of religious freedom be destroyed by the passage of bills that reflect a state religion. I call upon all of you to call and insist that a wall of separation between church and state be preserved so that all people will be free to follow their conscience in matters of faith and not fear legal retribution should they decide to make decisions that violate another’s religious practice.