Friday I was at Jamie’s school, at the end of the year “Special Friends Day” program & lunch, talking to a mom I had not really talked with much before. I told her I am a pastor. She said, “Oh, I heard you were a lobbyist.” I laughed. “Well, the last couple of weeks I guess I have been.”
I’ve been what you call a citizen lobbyist. Week before last I went to Columbus for Equality Ohio’s Lobby Day. And this past week, I joined 275 clergy from about 30 faiths in 48 states. We represented the Human Rights Campaign to lobby the United States Senate and House of Representatives. We worked on three main issues: Anti-bullying, or Safe Schools legislation; Employment and Housing non-discrimination, and Respect for Marriage which is the legislation to repeal DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law that defines marriage as between one man and one woman).
Now, of course, you know that I am not a professional lobbyist. I am your pastor. I am trained in theology and pastoral care. I have experience in communications, both public speaking and the written word, but I am not a politician, nor am I a political operative (that’s Kurt by degree & experience).
However, I am a citizen. I am a community leader. And I was reminded while I was in D. C. that the House of Representatives is called The People’s House. We live in a democracy. And so regular citizens, like you and me, when we know about a particular situation, and when we are passionate about it, are given the opportunity to go speak to the leaders of our government. I have written letters to Congress before. I have called them on the phone and let my opinions be noted as “for” or “against” something. But this time, I went there. I looked them in the eye. I told some of YOUR stories, OUR stories, to put a face on what some of them would prefer to keep at arm’s length.
Why did I do that? I went to Columbus and to Washington, for one reason: because I am a follower of Jesus. And Jesus calls us to speak the truth to the principalities and powers, even when they do not like it.
Now some of the people I visited are with us. They vote with us every time. Those visits were easy. We just said “thank you for your support.” Then we talked about how we can work together. It would have been really easy just to go visit the people who are our supporters.
But I went to see some of our adversaries too, some BIG adversaries. Do you know about the line of succession? You know, first, there is the President, then the Vice President, and third in line is the Speaker of the House of Representatives? Well he happens to be from Ohio. His name is John Boehner. He has not been particularly friendly to legislation to protect the rights of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender persons. So I had the privilege, along with two other clergy and a staffer from the Human Rights Campaign, of going to talk with one of Speaker Boehner’s Legislative staff on Tuesday.
The Congress was in session that day, so most all of our meetings were with staff rather than the actual legislators, but that is okay. It is to be expected. That is the way this is done, but the legislators depend upon their staff to keep them informed about what is important to the citizens they serve.
So here is how that conversation went down. We told some stories to “Darryl.” There was an article in the Blade about me going to do this. Thanks to that my friend called me to tell me about her son. He’s the same age as Jamie: 8 years old, 2nd grade. He goes to school in Toledo and gets called “gay.” He cries for 2-3 hours when he gets home. He’s in therapy. Next year he will go to another school because he has been so traumatized. When his mom heard I was going to DC she called to tell me his story and to thank me. But the truth is, just sending him to another school is not the answer. He will never be the same due to an event in THE SECOND GRADE.
We have to change the culture, where kids (and their parents) think it’s ok, and think it’s funny to call someone gay. And our lawmakers have to change the laws.
We saw this in the 60’s during the Civil rights movement about race. It took people working from all angles. Clergy and community leaders worked to change the culture. Regular Citizens worked too.
At the same time, the law makers changed the laws. And over time, it became no longer socially acceptable, for the most part, to treat black people, or people of any race, as second class citizens. We don’t tolerate racism in this country. We have legal protections against racial discrimination. But there was a time when we did not have it. And citizen lobbyists had to go to Washington, to speak the truth to power.
We told other stories in the last couple of weeks. About a transgender man who can’t rent an apt, even though he has a job and pays his taxes, because when they do a background check they find out he used to be female. About a mother whose 4th grade children, twins, had their teacher ripped out of the classroom, there one day, gone the next, because he was outed as gay on the 6 o’clock news. Never mind he was one of the best teachers in the school district.
So we told these stories to the staffer of the Speaker of the House. He listened intently. And then he told us, ever so politely, that as compelling as our stories might be, that legislation to provide safe schools, and prevent bullying, and to protect people from losing their jobs and their housing are not a priority for his boss.
He explained that they are very busy over there in Washington. They have to prioritize what they can spend their time on. They were elected on a platform of particular things that said they would accomplish. The main one was the budget, and it is taking so much time they just won’t have enough time for our legislation.
I said, “So what you are saying is these things just aren’t important ENOUGH?” He looked at me kind of sheepishly, smiled and said, “I knew you were going to come back to that,” and basically said that was the situation. Sigh.
It took awhile for the gravity of this conversation to sink in. Because you see, he was polite. He was respectful. He listened to us. He said they just don’t have time to deal with all the legislation. But by the time I slept on it, and flew home, but by the time I hit the Detroit airport, I was really angry.
Because you see, I realized, that the Speaker’s staffer was trying to hide behind the budget, in order to say they don’t have time to deal with the concerns of the people who fund that budget and whose lives are affected by that budget.
But we are all citizens, and so are all supposed to have a voice. That is why I went to Washington, and that is why I will continue to speak out. But I want to tell you why there is such clarity in my voice, and why the passion runs so deep when I talk about these things.
I saw my friend Mary while I was in DC. She used to live behind us here in Toledo, and now she lives in Maryland, outside DC. She drove me to the airport on Wednesday morning. She asked me how I became so passionate about speaking out for the rights of LGBT persons. She said, “Is it because you have a sister who is a lesbian?”
“No,” I said, “If you’ll remember, my sister did not come out, until long after I got involved in this work.” It’s because I am a follower of Jesus, and Jesus always takes the side of the oppressed. EVERY TIME.
Over and over and over and over again in scripture – just read it. Jesus goes out of his way to find the people that are being left out, pushed aside, overlooked, and beaten down. He lifts them up. He looks them in the eye. He treats them with dignity. He demands that the rest of the world treat them with respect EVERY TIME, HE DEMANDS.
If we are going to follow Jesus, then this is what we have to do to. EVERY TIME. All means all. “Whoever is on the outside,” Jesus says, “Then draw the circle wider.”
This is what Jesus says to do: "The next time you put on a dinner, don't just invite your friends and family and rich neighbors, the kind of people who will return the favor. Invite some people who never get invited out, the misfits from the wrong side of the tracks. You'll be—and experience—a blessing. They won't be able to return the favor, but the favor will be returned—oh, how it will be returned!—at the resurrection of God's people." (Luke 14:12-14)
All means all. Say it with me, “ALL MEANS ALL”. Here at The Village – this is our calling – to reach out to the people that Jesus calls us to include – whoever it is. There are all kinds of misfits out there (and in here) – depressed people, poor people, people with kids whose lives are messed up, rich people who are consumed with their stuff, hateful people who have no friends and who want to change – but no one will give them another chance. Just think of all the ways people have messed up their lives. Just think of all the ways we draw lines to exclude people in our world. Jesus says: there are NO LINES. ALL MEANS ALL!
So, as followers of Jesus, we are called to stand up for the outcast. When we are given the chance we need to speak the truth to power. But we can also be like Jesus, all by ourselves every day. That is the challenge of our scripture for today. Who do you know who is left out? What can you do to bring that person inside this circle? or to extend this circle to include that person? We are followers of Jesus and followers of Jesus change the world – one person at a time.
I want us to be really concrete as we think about this today. Who do you know who needs the love of Jesus? Look at that person’s face in your mind right now. What can you do to extend the love of Jesus to that person this week? Maybe you have invited them to church many times and they have not said yes yet. Maybe inviting them to our concert at the Old West End Festival is just the thing. Who can turn down free food and good music? Maybe you want to do something to change the world but you don’t know what to do. Come down with me to St. Mark’s church this afternoon to serve food to hungry people. That is one good place to start. Just sitting down with someone, eating a meal you served them, looking them in the eye, and treating someone who had to come to a free meal at a church, can change the world.
It is just that simple. We follow Jesus, when we pay attention to the people around us who are hurting and when we DO SOMETHING. So let’s DO SOMETHING. Let’s stand up for the oppressed, and let’s love the outcast. Just as Jesus loves us! Amen.
If you want to be a part of a community where ALL MEANS ALL, look, there are many out there. But if you can’t find one closer, we’re at the corner of Monroe & Central in Toledo and out in our community the rest of the week. Come, help us draw a bigger circle. There is always room in our circle to make it bigger.