Monday, April 04, 2011

My Homily at the Worship Service Celebrating the Religious Institute's 10th Anniversary

"The Religious Declaration debuted as a full page ad in the New York Times in January 2000, surrounded by the names of 850 endorsers. Since that time, more than 3500 religious leaders from more than 50 faith traditions from every state and 12 countries have endorsed its message that faith communities must break the silence about sexuality and be truth seeking, courageous and just.

As might be expected, the religious right was not amused – indeed six months after it was published, Focus on the Family’s Citizen Magazine ran a cover story called, “Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing” about the Religious Declaration, with a side bar about my decision to go to seminary they titled, “The High Priestess of Immorality.”

Ten years ago, Rev. Dr. Larry Greenfield and I had lunch upstairs in the Refectory to talk about what we might do next with the Religious Declaration and its network of endorsers. We sketched out the goals of a new organization on a napkin – to grow and support this new network of religious leaders committed to sexual justice – to help faith communities, including congregations, seminaries, and denominations become sexually healthy and responsible communities – and to bring a progressive authentic religious voice on sexual justice into the public square. A fellow student came up and asked what we were doing so intently. We looked at each other and said, “Perhaps creating history.” I don’t think we could have imagined today.

It was a time to act and a time to build. Victor Hugo wrote centuries ago, “There is no greater power than an idea whose time has come.” The time for a new multifaith movement on sexuality and religion had come.

There has always been deep hunger for a greater understanding, a greater acceptance of the relationship of sexuality, spirituality, and faith. We need only think of the eroticism of the young unmarried couple in the Song of Songs, the voices of Julian and Jovinian resisting calls to celibacy, the ecstatic poetry of the saints, even Augustine’s plaintive cry in the Confessions, “Give me chastity, but not yet.”

It is a hunger that continues today. As a minister I know that many people of faith are seeking to understand how they can act morally and still embrace their sexuality. They want to be good and they want to be sexual. As a man in his thirties said to me with tears in his eyes last year, “I’ve been taught I can either embrace my sexuality or my religion. Not both. Can you help me?” A newly married 24 year old Southern Baptist asked me, “Rev. Debra, my whole life I was taught that sex was a sin. And now that I’m married, I’m supposed to forget all that and just enjoy myself. It’s killing me not to be able to do that with my husband.”

I know that many of us experience brokenness about our sexuality – a brokenness that is often suffered in silence in our faith communities. Some of us were sexually abused as children; some of us have been forced to have sex against our will; some of us struggle in abusive relationships; some of us struggle with how to improve sex and intimacy and some of us have given up on love and sex completely. We are so grateful to the seminaries and denominations who are working with us to assure that future religious leaders have the training they need to help with sexuality issues.

Unitarian Minister Theodore Parker first said, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." The past decade has seen more and more faith communities making a commitment to sexual health and justice. Ten years ago, no woman led a denomination; today at least five do. Ten years ago, only the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ had welcoming organizations promoting the full inclusion of lesbian and gay persons. Today, Jewish, Muslim, Roman Catholic, evangelical, and every mainline Protestant denomination have a welcoming organization. During the past decade, more and more denominations are ordaining openly gay and lesbian, and in some cases transgender, clergy persons, with the Presbyterian Church (USA) poised to become the latest this year.

A vivid display of change came in the mail this week. Have you seen the cover of this week’s Christian Century? Sex a Sacramental View is the cover headline. Even for the Christian Century, sex sells. The lead article proclaims the need for, “a rich, candid, ongoing ecclesial conversation about sex as both an earthly pleasure and a heavenly treasure, a feast and a gift, a delight and an honor and therefore a breathtaking responsibility.” It’s hard to imagine this cover story possible a decade ago.

Sexual justice issues are moral issues that demand a public progressive religious response. Our commitment to the most marginalized and our understanding that it is because life is so precious, we must do everything possible to make sure it is not created carelessly means that we must support contraception and sexuality education. Our commitment to the moral the moral agency of women means we must articulate that abortion is always a moral decision and that each woman must have the right to make that decision without government interference. Our theological commitment to the dignity and worth of all persons and our understanding that sexual and gender diversity is part of God’s blessing, means that we must stand up for full inclusion of GLBT persons. We must articulate that the sin is never sex but sexual exploitation. The sin is not homosexuality but homophobia and heterosexism. The sin is violence and discrimination against women and GLBT persons. The sin is when any of us, whether heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual, make sexual decisions that exploit others.

Today the Religious Institute enters its second decade with a renewed commitment to assuring that in the next decade, all faith communities will be sexually healthy, just, and prophetic. In a few minutes, we will ask you to join your voices and your hearts to affirm that you will stand with us as members of our Faithful Voices Network.

Robert Kennedy Jr. wrote (and I have changed his pronouns a bit!) "It is from …diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time people stand up for an ideal, or act to improve the lot of others, or strike out against injustice, they send forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."

Today, may we remind ourselves that we can be those ripples of hope. It is time to speak, time to act, time to build, time to rejoice, and time to recommit ourselves together to creating a world of sexual and spiritual wholeness and hope."

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