Movement for Justice: Changing the Story

By The Rev. Jacqueline J. Lewis, Ph.D.
Senior Minister, Middle Collegiate Church, New York, NY

Thank you, God! What a joyful day. I am so excited about the historic Supreme Court rulings for marriage equality.

When I began advocating publicly for gay rights, my parents wanted to talk to me about “What the Bible says…” They are Christians, and their faith and the Bible sustain them. Even so, they stand back from some of what it says. They know that the Bible was used to justify slavery. They know the Bible has been used to prevent women from leading congregations. They understand that texts have contexts and that God’s Word is a Living Word. “What the Bible says…” isn’t the only thing that guides their lives. Like many of us, guided by the ethic of love, they listen for the “still-speaking” Word.

They also listen to testimony, to the ways the still-speaking Word moves in the real lives of people. In a recent visit, Mom and Dad asked me about John and Jimmy. My parents had been present at Middle Collegiate Church a few years ago when we celebrated John and Jimmy’s 20th wedding anniversary. Their union had been blessed in the 1980s at Middle Church as sacred. You could see the joy and love John and Jimmy shared on their faces as they marked their anniversary. My parents, contemporaries of John and Jimmy, connected to a relationship that weathered decades, was rooted in their faith, and blessed by their church. John and Jimmy felt called to marry in a church before the state legally granted them the right because they were drawn to what the Bible says about relationships. God blesses the life partnerships human beings make; when we find our “help-mates,” God smiles.

That testimony, and others like it, moves my parents, opening their hearts and minds. They tell me, “We are not sure we always agree with you, but we are so proud that you are working for justice and for all of the couples in your church. We know God loves everyone, and you do, too.” They are on a journey; they are changing.

Our stories are changed by the testimony of others. John and Jimmy’s story is changing my parents’ story. We are changed by the movement of time, by new understandings, and by the still-speaking Word. If this were not true, my ancestors would still be obeying masters, and my female justice-seeking voice would be silent.

The U.S. Supreme Court rulings today are a testimony to the ways time and personal stories change our understanding. The decisions are part of an ongoing narrative of change in the movement for justice. It took time, but Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat changed the story of segregation in the south. It took time, but Martin Luther King’s inspired speech helped us all to dream dreams of reconciliation. It took time, but the court ruled it is unconstitutional to deny married same-gender couples federal benefits and the court paved the way for California to allow same-gender marriages. Congregations and religious leaders who testify for marriage equality change the story. We do it because we hear the still-speaking Word shout into our hearts: Now is the time for justice.

God still speaks, using real people to testify to what love and justice look like. Stories told with courage, compassion, and commitment to truth; stories told with vulnerability; stories laden with the values of the Beloved Community — they are powerful tools for movement building. Stories are powerful tools for changing the minds of parents, co-workers, and friends. They are powerful tools for healing the world and creating a more just society.

And, let’s keep it real, sometimes our stories are not welcome. People reject us and our stories. Prophets and ordinary people have been killed for testifying to God’s vision of a Beloved Community. They have been killed for telling their stories, for living their stories. Those tragic stories that blow our minds with the cruelty and pain also enrage us and make us rise up and shout, “No more of this violence, not on my watch.”

The Supreme Court rulings today are an important episode in the human story. And the movement for justice continues. This movement is an ongoing narrative, with a beginning, middle, and an end. We don’t know how long it will take for justice to fully come. We do know that any important story has plot twists and turns, moments of joy and feelings of defeat, episodes of both conflict and deep collaboration. Those of us who believe in freedom must hope for this ending to the story: that love will govern all hearts, and there will be justice for all.

Martin Luther King, Jr. often said, “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Together, we are writing a new story. We are engaged in a movement of prophets, justice-workers, dreamers, and storytellers. Our testimonies of our own transformation are transforming the greater story, changing the human story. Testimonies are changing my parents’ heart. We are bending that arc with our relationships. Relationship by relationship, story by story, we will one day glimpse love, liberation, and justice for all people. We will, in fact, be free.

 


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