I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. I believe that even amid today's mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men. I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive good will proclaim the rule of the land. "And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together and every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid." I still believe that We Shall overcome!
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech, December 10, 1964
Near the conclusion of his State of the Union speech, President Obama spoke about his hopes for our country and he talked about how he was “inspired by those voices of fairness and vision, of grit and good humor and kindness that have helped America travel so far. . . . Voices Dr. King believed would have the final word — voices of unarmed truth and unconditional love.”
He talked about how he sees those voices “everywhere I travel in this incredible country of ours.”
“I see you,” he said. “I know you’re there. You’re the reason why I have such incredible confidence in our future. Because I see your quiet, sturdy citizenship all the time.”
And then he listed the places and the ways and the people in whom he sees these voices of unarmed truth and unconditional love:
“I see it in the Dreamer who stays up late to finish her science project, and the teacher who comes in early because he knows she might someday cure a disease.
“I see it in the American who served his time, and dreams of starting over — and the business owner who gives him that second chance. The protester determined to prove that justice matters, and the young cop walking the beat, treating everybody with respect, doing the brave, quiet work of keeping us safe.
“I see it in the soldier who gives almost everything to save his brothers, the nurse who tends to him ’til he can run a marathon, and the community that lines up to cheer him on.
“It’s the son who finds the courage to come out as who he is, and the father whose love for that son overrides everything he’s been taught.
“I see it in the elderly woman who will wait in line to cast her vote as long as she has to; the new citizen who casts his for the first time; the volunteers at the polls who believe every vote should count, because each of them in different ways know how much that precious right is worth.”
It was a moving moment.
As a pastor, and specifically as a United Methodist pastor, I found my attention focused on that vignette of the son “who finds the courage to come out,” and the father “whose love for that son overrides everything he has been taught.”
Sadly, the Christian church generally and United Methodists specifically, have too often been responsible for teaching fathers and mothers to reject their gay sons and daughters.
There is language in our United Methodist Book of Discipline which is supposed to mitigate that rejection, but when we tell people that homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching,” some amount of rejection is inevitable.
Bill Ziegler was a great United Methodist preacher, whom I was blessed to have as a mentor and friend. He was a tireless advocate for social justice and for the inclusion of LGBTQ persons in the church and in the culture. Whenever we debated an issue like this, he would always caution us to remember, “this is a human being you’re talking about.”
For Bill, it was always personal.
In our debates about how we deal with the “issue” of sexual orientation in the United Methodist Church, we often talk as if we have forgotten that this is about human beings. We are debating the inclusion or exclusion of human beings.
In the end, it’s not about polity, or doctrine, or the Book of Discipline. In the end, it’s not about the authority of scripture (though on that score we can be reasonably certain that love wins), it’s about human beings.
Over the centuries the church has often fallen short of what it ought to be as the Body of Christ in the world. That’s not because the church is more fallible than other institutions or communities, it’s because our expectations are so much higher. But this is a mistake we need to correct.
Unarmed truth and unconditional love need to have the final word.
We need to be the community that gives the son “the courage to come out,” not the institution that teaches the father that he cannot accept who his son is.
This is about human beings and we need to get it right.