Friday, November 7, 2008

Walking the Talk

the "Jumping Broom" covered in
ribbons of blessings
As I experienced the wild frenzy of media coverage and discussion around this year’s powerful and important election, I was struck by how important it is to walk carefully and truthfully as an Interfaith Minister.

Fortunately, I live a very diverse life, and I am in community and relationship with a variety of different people. As the heat turned up during this election, I started to hear how people really felt. Their morals, religious beliefs and ethical ideas came more often in conversation, blogs and e-mails.

Sometimes I was surprised at the things I heard or read. The majority of the time, I could easily respect those who had different ideas from my own. I could see why some women resonated with Sarah Palin or thought that offshore drilling in Alaska was a good idea, even though I didn’t agree with them. I could hear the fear behind the words of a woman who refused to vote for Barack Obama because he was a black man. It made me sad, more than angry.

My most challenging moment arose when I encountered the first of my (many) acquaintances who planned to vote “yes” on California’s Proposition 8. For those who don’t know, this most recent election included a proposition that proposed to eliminate the rights of same-sex couples to marry in California. In May 2008, the California Supreme Court ruled that statutes that limit marriage to a relationship between a man and a woman violates the equal protection clause of the California Constitution. As a result of that ruling, same sex marriage was recognized as valid and legal in California. Proposition 8 (which passed by only 4%) now means the legality of all those marriages is in question.

This past summer, I was able to officiate at four same-sex wedding ceremonies. In some cases, the couple had been together over 10 years. Several couples had a child together. Each ceremony was incredibly full of love and celebration. Everyone present was so joyous that these couples, who up until this summer have legally been treated as second-class citizens, were now being treated equally and were able to bless and legalize their unions under the authority of the state of California.

In one ceremony, we included the "jumping of the broom" ceremony. The broom was tied with ribbons of blessing for the couple. This ritual of jumping the broom has been used by both African-American slaves and Roma (also known as gypsies) to honor life commitments and marriage ceremonies for hundreds of years. Both groups of people were also not recognized as equal human beings in their culture and societies. This particular couple decided, along with vows and their ring exchange, to jump the broom in honor of the decades that they were not allowed to marry each other with the legal recognition of our state.

Here is a quote from my sermon about the broom, from the ceremony:

Jumping the broom is a tradition that was started in cultures in which certain groups of people, were not allowed to legally marry, due to ignorance, discrimination and cruelty.

Joyfully, today’s ceremony is legal in the state of California, and [our couple] also wanted to honor the fact that this very act of uniting together in legal matrimony has been illegal for so long. This
jumping of the broom, honors those 9 years spent together, and the commitment they have already made, as well as honoring this delightful day when all of you can witness them in their holy promise to each other.

It breaks my heart to hear that this ceremony and all the other lesbian/gay ceremonies that have been performed this year, are no longer legal.

Many of the people I spoke to, who decided to vote “yes” on Prop. 8, did it for religious reasons. Their scripture, pastor, and/or church leaders told them that marriage should only be between a man and a woman.

This whole experience lead me to this question: What is the role of a spiritual leader when it comes to political decisions?

As an Interfaith Minister, I feel strongly that all people have a right to express their faith, exercise their right to worship, and talk about it anywhere and any way that they like. In fact, I think it is
essential that those who practice an Interfaith life (whatever that may look like) should invite dialogue between faiths and hold that space for others who may have a hard time hearing views that are different from their own.

I am also angered that someone’s spiritual faith could lead to actions that alter a state’s constitution to deprive a group of people of legal rights. This is the first time in the history of our state's constitution that a human being’s rights were taken away. “Separate but equal” has been used before, with segregation in the South. We have finally abolished that ridiculous paradigm, only to re-enforce it in a
different way. Whether you are gay/lesbian or not, you are hurt by this attack on civil rights.

I realize that I am a spiritual leader who is expressing her political views. I would never tell someone how to vote. I always tell everyone to vote with their hearts.  But is there a difference between my speaking up to oppose Prop. 8 and the pastor who tells his flock to vote “yes”? I currently do not have an answer to this question.

On the one hand, I believe that religion and politics should stay separate. It is what this country was founded on. Our country is far too diverse for any one faith to hold us all. That is, in fact, why I
decided to become an Interfaith minister.

On the other hand, civil rights are being violated by this ruling. As a spiritual person, shouldn’t I fight for what I believe in and help make this a better world for all? I am not basing my views on any written testament; I am basing it on what feels right and true in my heart, as a loving human being. Yet is that enough of a difference?

I am still sitting with this important discernment. I am thankful to have such a diverse group of friends, family, co-workers and community, through which I can be exposed to new ideas and new ways of thinking. It keeps me good and honest, as an Interfaith minister, to hear and understand ways of thinking that I not only don’t practice but don’t agree with either.

I have had many spirited dialogues in-person and on-line with people who do not agree with me. I try to always speak from my heart, use “I statements”, and be respectful of the other person’s views. It is a powerful and important role, to hold the space in these dialogues and help others understand that we cannot force our wills onto others. We must listen in the same way that we wish to be heard, hopefully finding common ground somewhere in the middle.

No matter what your point of view is, I ask of everyone reading this today to hold that sacred space in your dialogues and communications. Such deep and respectful listening can transform our world.

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