It’s an all-ages service today, and I want to begin with an all-ages story that happens to be true: And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, illustrated by Henry Cole.
And that is one beautiful story … a sweet story … a story that pretty much hits the nail on the head about love … the preciousness of love no matter where it happens or two whom, whether penguins or people.
But this book, since being published in 2005, has topped the American Library Association’s Ten Most Challenged Books List. A parent complains that it is anti-family, or pro-homosexuality, or goes against the Bible, or something else, and a library director moves the book to the nonfiction section where, it is said, the book is less likely to “blindside” anyone. Or the book is completely removed from the library, and a memo comes out explaining why: “First, it is a picture book that focuses on homosexuality. Second, we did not feel that such information was vital to primary students. Next, we did not believe the book would stimulate growth in ethical standards, and the book is too controversial.”
Wow. So when did an appreciation of diversity become irrelevant and “not vital” to primary students, some of whom may have two daddies or two mommies? When did growth in mutual understanding or compassion become separate from a growth in “ethical standards”? And when did controversy become a sign that indicated something unworthy of exploration in an educational environment?
Just want to lift up a quote from a sign outside a New York City restaurant: “If you don’t like gay marriage, blame straight people. They’re the ones who keep having gay babies.”
I mean: COME ON!!!!
The situation with the book, however, is actually quite mild, compared to the intensity of the ignorance, the cruelty, the prejudice, the violence that’s out there. We know it only too well. This past Monday was the 15th anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard, and I’m not going to get explicit about that because this is an all ages service. But I will say that on this 15th anniversary, Fox News contributor Sandy Rios made the horrific claim that the story of the 1998 anti-gay hate-crime murder of Matthew Shepard “wasn’t true,” and is “a total fraud,” and a “fairy tale” used as “propaganda” by LGBT activists. Part of a long-term plan by liberals (and you know who you are!) to create a society that is accepting of gay people.
It’s just ridiculous. It’s amazing, where people can go in their heads when confronted with something that does not conform to their sense of the way things ought to be.
Tragic, above all, when we remember what’s at the core of the whole thing, which the picture book illustrates so well:
They bowed to each other. And walked together.
They sang to each other. And swam together.
Wherever Roy went, Silo went too.
That’s what we’re really talking about. Committed love relationships between mature adults who have chosen to be together. Something infinitely sweet. To cherish and be cherished is the most amazing thing in this world, and every day, people suffer and even die from the unfulfilled longing for it, gay and straight. Whenever we see such cherishment in the world, we all ought to stand up and cheer, we all ought to stand back and behold the miracle that is worthy of the name God. We all ought to. Whether in penguins or in people—whether straight or gay or transgender—it is God made manifest. It is holy. It is the Sacred, it is the Mystery, it is the Divine.
Let me tell you about Glennon Doyle Melton. She’s a parent who wants her children to know that whoever they love, that love is ok, they are fundamentally ok even if it’s just like the love of those two penguins at Central Park Zoo. “And I better make sure,” she says, “that my children know beyond a shadow of a doubt that in God’s and their father’s and my eyes, they are okay. They are loved as they are. Without a single unless. Because the kids who bully are those who are afraid that a secret part of themselves is not okay. To that end,” she says, “I wrote this letter to my son” [and I’m quoting from just a part of that letter]:
Whoever you are, whoever you become, you are loved. You are a miracle. You are our dream come true.
Chase, here is what would happen in our home if one day you were to tell your father and me that you are gay.
Our eyes would open wide.
Then we would grab you and hold you tighter than you would be able to bear. And while we were holding you, we would say a silent prayer that as little time as possible passed between the moment you knew you were gay and the moment you told us. And we would love you and ask you one million questions, and then we would love you some more and finally, I would rush out to buy some rainbow T-shirts, honey, because you know Mama likes to have an appropriate outfit for every occasion.
Back in June, when the Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8, I received a call from a reporter who wanted to know about Unitarian Universalism’s stand on gay rights. What does Unitarian Universalism have to say about it?
Here’s what I said, in a nutshell.
First: I said what I said a moment ago, about how committed love relationships, whether between penguins or people—whether straight or gay or transgender—is God made manifest in this world. Unitarians believe in love. We stand on the side of love. (If I was talking to the reporter today, I’d probably also say something extremely tacky about members of Congress, how maybe they aren’t getting enough love in their lives—THAT’S why it’s such a mess in Washington.)
But now my second point to the reporter: I talked about how Unitarian Universalists have been supporting gay rights for a long time now. Gay rights as human rights, human rights as gay rights. We were saying that long before Hilary. As just an example: in 1970, the Unitarian Universalist Association passed a general resolution urging people to immediately bring an end to all prejudice against gays and lesbians and bisexuals. In that same year it also called for lifting of the ban prohibiting gays and lesbians folk from serving in the U.S. military. Then, in 1996, “transgender” was added to the name of the UUA’s office overseeing all of this: the Office of Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Concerns.
As for here at UUCA, I talked about our UU Lesbian and Gay Community from the early 1980s, how it was a powerful voice in Atlanta advocating for understanding and acceptance. I have a stack of newspapers from those days, and it’s amazing, all the things this congregation has done. Our current Interweave group was formed in 1994. We kicked off our initial Welcoming Congregation process in 1995, putting us on a path of becoming far more proactive around celebrating (vs. just tolerating) diversity. So much more I could say here….
I said all this, and then I told that reporter a third thing: how I sincerely believe that we Unitarian Universalists are far more faithful to the Hebrew and Christian scriptures than our so-called Bible-based opponents are—the Jerry Falwells and the Michele Bachmanns and the Sandy Rioses… Out of the seven passages in the entire Bible (Old Testament to New) that supposedly condemn “homosexuality,” none seem to actually talk about committed love relationships between people of the same sex. Scholars will tell you that the passages are probably talking about ritual forms of sex that occurred in the religions outside of Judaism and Christianity, and Jewish and Christian leaders wanted their followers to stay far away from it. Stay pure. But what we’re talking about today isn’t a religious ritual you can put on and take off like a clothes: we’re talking about identity, what people are born as, how the manner of one’s loving flows out of that so very naturally. A completely different thing! We UUs, I told that reporter, are the ones who are doing the Bible justice, and not those who thump it constantly like crazy!
And that reporter: she sounded kind of stunned when I told her all this. As if she couldn’t believe that a church like ours actually existed. As if it amazed her that you could be a person of faith and affirm that LGBT people are as normal and as beautiful as a fall day.
It continues to be so painful to hear of the ignorance and cruelty and violence out there surrounding this issue. It is so hard, as a straight but not narrow ally, to hear our UUCA Board President say that the outside world tells her that her family of choice doesn’t count or shouldn’t even exist. That is so hard to hear. One of my best friends in all the world—my prayer partner—is gay, and the thought of anyone saying or doing hateful things to that beautiful soul…. Terrible!
But I find consolation in something. Comfort. I do. It’s in what Harvey Milk said: “Bust down those closet doors once and for all, and stand up and start to fight.” We can do something about the hate, the prejudice, the violence. It gets better as we make it better.
It’s books like And Tango Makes Three that remind us of the essence of what’s really going on. Love. Letting love happen. Letting God happen.
It’s parenting like that of Glennon Doyle Melton. “Whoever you are,” she says to her child, “whoever you become, you are loved. You are a miracle. You are our dream come true.”
And maybe we have ourselves never heard such words addressed to us. Maybe we have, and we are the lucky ones. But I’ll tell you this. Unitarian Universalism is a religion that never stops saying words like that to its children, who are all of us. “Whoever we are, whoever we become, we are loved. We are a miracle. We are a dream come true.” That is what our religion says to us. That is what our church is all about.
That is why we are marching today.