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Sunday, January 15, 2012

A Beloved Vision

Presented by Rev. Diane Teichert with Don Mitchell, Worship Associate, Erica Shadowsong, DRE, and the Choir


READING

From a 1963 Question and Answer forum at Western Michigan University, after a speech there by Dr. King called “Social Justice and the Emerging New Age.”

Question: Don't you feel that integration can only be started and realized in the Christian church, not in schools or by other means? This would be a means of seeing just who are true Christians.

King: As a preacher, I would certainly have to agree with this. I must admit that I have gone through those moments when I was greatly disappointed with the church and what it has done in this period of social change. We must face the fact that in America, the church is still the most segregated major institution in America. At 11:00 on Sunday morning when we stand and sing, “In Christ there is no east or west,” we stand at the most segregated hour in this nation. This is tragic. Nobody of honesty can overlook this.

Now, I'm sure that if the church had taken a stronger stand all along, we wouldn't have many of the problems that we have. The first way that the church can repent, the first way that it can move out into the arena of social reform is to remove the yoke of segregation from its own body. Now, I'm not saying that society must sit down and wait on a spiritual and moribund church as we've so often seen. I think it should have started in the church, but since it didn't start in the church, our society needed to move on. The church, itself, will stand under the judgment of God.

Now that the mistake of the past has been made, I think that the opportunity of the future is to really go out and to transform American society, and where else is there a better place than in the institution that should serve as the moral guardian of the community. The institution that should preach brotherhood and make it a reality within its own body.

Source: http://www.wmich.edu/~ulib/archives/mlk/q-a.html

SERMON

 “Sunday at 11:00 am is the most segregated hour in this nation,” Dr. King complained. “This is tragic. Nobody of honesty can overlook this… The church should preach brotherhood and make it a reality within its own body.”

He had a vision, of the church as a Beloved Community. It was inclusive, it was integrated, and it preached brother and sisterhood, economic justice, and peace.

I come to you with good news today. American churches are not as segregated as they were in 1963.

Some churches are culturally integrated because of immigration; for others it is intentional.

Some faiths proselytized in Asia, Africa and/or Latin America and, therefore, when people from those continents came to the United States, they looked to worship in the tradition that they knew at home. That’s why the people whose cars jam the parking lot at the Roman Catholic church in my neighborhood are as many or more Latino as white.

And, closer to here, immigration is how the nearby church on Powder Mill at Riggs Road, can proudly proclaim on its website: “Adelphi Presbyterian Church… is like a preview of the Kingdom of Heaven, woven together by people from different racial and cultural backgrounds, including people from Asia, Africa, Caribbean Islands, and good old blacks and whites. We are white collar, blue collar, professors, students, parents and foster parents, young and old, male and female.”

But, other churches have been intentional about their integration.  In fact, Time magazine reported a year ago, “Among Evangelical churches with attendance of 1,000 people or more, the proportion with one-fifth or more minority participation has more than quadrupled, from 6% in 1998 to 25% in 2007.” Some of the country's largest churches are included: the very biggest, Pastor Joel Osteen's Lakewood Community Church in Houston (43,500 members), is reportedly split evenly among blacks, Hispanics and a category containing whites and Asians. (“Can Megachurches Bridge the Racial Divide?” by David Van Biema, Time, Monday, Jan. 11, 2010).

Being multicultural is great, but there is a problem with these churches. Last Sunday night, on Oprah’s new show, Pastor Joel Osteen told her that homosexuality is a sin. The Adelphi Presbyterian Church website description (did you notice?) included all kinds of people except gay and lesbian people. And the Roman Catholic diocese here bussed hundreds of people to Annapolis last April to protest equal marriage.

What would Dr. King say about this? Are these the kinds of integrated churches he had in mind when he envisioned an alternative to the “most segregated hour in America, 11:00 on Sunday morning”?

I think not! Horribly, he was assassinated; so we will never know for sure. But we do know that his widow, the late Coretta Scott King, came out as early as 1998 for gay rights and in a 2004 speech quoted in USA Today (March 24, 2004), she declared, "Gay and lesbian people have families, and their families should have legal protection, whether by marriage or civil union. A constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages is a form of gay bashing, and it would do nothing at all to protect traditional marriages.”

Dr. King had a vision, of the church as a Beloved Community, and I believe it included all of us, gay and straight. It was inclusive, it was multicultural, and it preached compassion, economic justice, and non-violence.

We can be that church! We can be a Beloved Community! In the woods near where I-95 and the Beltway meet, this is where GLBT-friendly and multicultural meet, with a message, a faith that is SO needed!

It’s so POWERFUL: 

We are all one (that’s Unitarian) and we are all loved (that’s Universalist).

We are one. We are loved.

Ours is a message, a faith that should cross all borders and boundaries! I love our faith! I want to share it, spread it, and multiply its power.  And I just know that all kinds of people will embrace it, if we get it - and ourselves - out there… and invite more kinds of people in here!

Ours is a message, a faith to build on – like the choir just sang – “like a rock upon which we can stand…for freedom, for justice, against hatred and greed, for peace in all places of conflict and war, showing compassion for those in need, respecting all people for who they are.”

But it’s also a message, a faith to build a life on, for each of us, day to day. It’s about hope. It provides comfort and courage in times of trial and tribulation: We are all one. And, we are all loved.

We are one, we are not alone, and we are intricately and amazingly connected not only to each other but also to all that lives and even all that is. We are one.

Plus, we are all loved. We have each other, and the spirit of life is within and all around us. “Spirit of life, come to me, “ we sing… “come to you, come to all of us.” It means we are loved, lovable, and capable of loving. We are loved.

With an inclusive vision of who we want to welcome and a great message of hope to share, then how can we move closer to Dr. King’s vision of a Beloved Community right here at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church?

I want to suggest two pursuits this morning, for now. One is individual and the other is collective.

First, I’d like to refer back to the ending of Don Mitchell’s Chalice Reflection. I got to read it in advance several times and you only got to hear it once, so I’ll repeat the parts to which I refer. I found it both moving and insightful.

He said, “Modern culture does not require that we even know one another." I digress to expound on that. Modern culture permits a friendly tolerance. Many of us toil in culturally mixed workplaces and live in culturally mixed neighborhoods, and might actually know our co-workers and neighbors of a different race or culture than our own well enough, for example, to invite them to worship or to dinner, or well enough to ask if they would sign a card in support of the freedom to marry for gay and lesbian couples and engage in the conversation that ensues, whatever it is. But there is something about modern culture that makes us reticent to issue the invitation or ask the question.

“Modern culture does not require that we even know one another," he said. Then he went on to talk about how coming to know someone special in a love relationship re-opened him to both joy and pain, and how he learned not to fear the pain of being vulnerable. He grew in his ability to deal with rejection and negative judgment in the context of that relationship. Over time he opened himself to attending and then to committing himself to this church, which involved overcoming his fear of reaching out to others. Now he feels he can be himself here. And he is eager to learn about how others make meaning of this life we live.

Here is why this struck me in the context of this congregation’s desire to be intentionally multicultural: Because he learned to handle his fear of rejection and negative judgment, he came to feel safe to be himself in that relationship and then this church, and is now more able to take risks in getting to know other kinds of people.

So, the more multicultural his church/our church becomes, the more it is a setting where he can do that. Likewise, the more we are all able to safely take those risks, and recover from our mistakes with grace, the more likely it is that the congregation will become increasingly diverse, because our openness will be evident.

His experience speaks to the kind of inner work each person, whatever their identities (and we all have multiple identities – ancestry, gender identity, family roles, available resources, abilities, theology, etc.), must do if we are to thrive in a multicultural congregation. We each must grow in our ability to handle our fear of rejection and negative judgment, whether our fear causes us to withdraw or whether it causes us to lash out, so that it doesn’t prevent us from being ourselves and knowing others.

That’s one piece of the individual inner spiritual work we each may need to do as we move closer to Dr. King’s vision of a Beloved Community right here at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church.

Some of the collective work is organizational work and that will be the subject of our leadership forum here tomorrow, on the holiday established in honor of Dr. King. The event is called “Moving Forward: A Leadership Forum on Intentional Multiculturalism” and you wouldn’t be turned away if you show up, even if you have not registered, as long as you are willing to help lead.

But some of the collective work is spiritual. It requires us to use our imagination, our shared imagination.

For example, what can we imagine for Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church in response to these questions and suggestions posed by Rev. Rob Hardies, minister of All Souls Church, Unitarian in Washington DC? That church, which spawned our congregation back in 1954 on the University of Maryland-College Park campus, now includes about one quarter people of color.

“With whom are you in relationship and solidarity? Take on social justice issues that draw you into relationship with communities of color.

 

Who’s on your staff? To build multiracial multi-cultural churches, we must have multiracial multicultural staffs.

 

Who’s up front in the pulpit? When folks walk into church on Sunday mornings, they look around and ask, “Are these my people?” 

 

What are you singing, and how? Music is crucial to our congregational culture. Your culture won’t change if your music doesn’t. Bring together a music team that is musically multilingual.

 

What stories are you telling? What readings are you sharing? From which cultures and traditions is the wisdom coming? Draw on diverse sources.” (From “Willing to Be Changed by What We’ve Started” by Robert M. Hardies in UUWorld, Winter 2011 and at minnslectures.org).

Even more of the collective work is spiritual. It requires us to use our imagination, our shared imagination. How big is our faith? Big enough for the Beloved Community? I say YES:  we are one, we are loved! That’s big enough for everyone!

Let us imagine a faith that is joyous and deep enough to raise our spirits when they droop, to spur our courage when it falters, to open us to the transforming power of love, which casts out fear and connects us deeply one to another.

Let us imagine a faith that draws all souls, not just some souls, into a Beloved Community here, big enough to be the rock on which it stands.

Let us imagine a faith that erases reticence, issues invitations and asks important questions. Let us imagine a faith that moves us to get our message of hope out there… and invite more kinds of people in here!

Let us imagine a faith that turns each of us, this community, our country, and the world around!

HYMN: Harry Bellefonte’s calypso song “Turn the World Around.”

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