Siblings in faith, I deliver these words in the spirit in which they were written; in the Spirit of Life and Love. Happy Pride Sunday! A festival of remembrance and resistance; a festival of “I will be seen!” and “We will never forget!” As we celebrate this holy day of Pride, the liberative work of love and justice is still in progress. But don’t worry; it has been at work since the beginning of humanity. Once in a while, as an act of spiritual resistance, we choose laughter over weeping, turn up the music and dance as if our lives depend on it. Pride is a festival of love and it is a festival of justice. Justice was demanded 50 years ago at Stonewall, justice was delivered four years ago by the supreme court. Justice is still overdue for queer lives broken and taken.
Many a prophet have said that the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice. But what is this “justice” with a gravity capable of influencing the course of humanity? Some synonyms are “fairness, equity, egalitarianism, impartiality, objectivity, neutrality, right-mindedness, trustworthiness, incorruptibility.” With so many aspirational definitions, we easily forget that justice is complicated and messy. And it is different in every culture and every age. Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth is as old as Babylon and is still alive and well today, and so is the first Century Palestinian Jewish call to love those who persecute you and turn the other cheek when harmed.
We have many tools at our disposal to help our discernment. Distributive justice seeks only the proper dispersal of goods in transactions. Punitive justice seeks to punish offenders for wrongs committed. Retributive justice wants restitution. Social justice attempts to bend society toward equity and equality. Restorative justice focuses on the complex needs of both victims and offenders. But when injustice happens, which one do we choose?
If I am driving down the road and somebody makes a mistake and hits my car, I would like them to pay for the damages. Certainly, that’s fair. But what if it’s a family that is scraping by with children to feed and medical bills to pay? Or what if it’s a tech executive driving a Tesla? Or a person who is living out of their car? There are so many “what if’s” justice quickly becomes complicated and messy, and let me make it messier. What if it is a drunk driver? Or a woman who has just escaped from an abusive home and is in crisis? What if my son is in the back seat of my car and is killed? Friends, the narrative of justice is rarely a dualistic, right vs wrong, one size fits all episode of Law and Order.
In our first reading we heard the story of the holy night at Stonewall. Here is a narrative of oppression and violence by the very system that is supposed to dispense justice. Still, was the riot just? Is it justice when violence is payed back with more violence? Is it justice when violence is payed back with the destruction of personal property? Narrative and context matter. For too many years to be queer was to be a criminal. Just as it used to be illegal for women to vote. Or for people of color to drink from water fountains labeled “white only.” Was it a riot or was it a rebellion? Which brings to light that laws are only as flawed as the community who creates them. The power of moral justice, when righteous, can supersede and challenge unjust legal codes and civil law.
Friends, I quote from Rev. Theodore Parker: “look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. But from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.” And to orient my conscience toward the kind of justice I want to see in the world, I look to our Unitarian Universalist faith.
We are a people who believe that justice should uphold the inherent worth and dignity of every person. It strives for equity and compassion in human relationships. Our justice holds diversity and the capacity for nuance and growth. It seeks to balance freedom with responsibility, is democratic, and respects the conscience of both individual and community. Our justice promotes peace, and takes into account a holistic view of life and creation as intrinsic parts of human flourishing. Siblings in faith, this is the kind of justice that continues to bend the arc of the moral universe. It is this kind of justice, a queer justice, a justice that is able to contain multitudes, uplifts complexity, and restores the human person, that when found, evokes a response of singing and dancing, of hips swaying and hymns announcing “let justice roll on like a river, and righteousness like a never-failing stream.”
Which is why Pride is such a raucous, joyous celebration. Because queer justice is human justice. Its victory over adversity is a holy call to jubilee. It is an eruption deep within the human spirit that, when witness to injustice, refuses to accept a universe that turns a blind eye to suffering. We curious mammals have a proclivity for creating newness in the world: we make powerful love manifest through our blood, sweat, tears and relationships. And when we reap the fruit of such arduous labor, our only response can be one that celebrates life lavishly. Certainly, today we celebrate Pride Sunday! Because it is a victory of the human spirit over those who say, “You’re too loud,” “Too liberal,” “Too politically correct.” “Too flaming.” “Too ghetto.” “Too emotional.” “You’re moving too fast.”
Often times, these are the same voices who believe bootstraps are a proper response when “life isn’t fair.” It’s a finger-wagging magical wand ingrained in childhood. Growing up, when I felt that someone or something had delivered me an injustice and I would scream “it isn’t fair!” I would inevitably hear from an adult, “Well, life isn’t fair.”
I understand the point; not getting my way is not necessarily injustice. But arguing to be recognized as person with worth and dignity is not the same as throwing a tantrum because I didn’t get cookies after dinner. Yet some hear the call from the margins, “We are suffering and dying! Help us!” as flippantly asking for “wants” rather than standing up for “needs.”
Now that I am grown with a child of my own, I agree—life isn’t fair. Because in my experience life shrugs at such metaphysics like fairness and equality. I can’t distill its finest points into atoms of compassion or electrons of generosity. Our universe goes about its clockwork business of laws that govern energy and matter. It leaves the messy business of humanity to us.
Perhaps because life isn’t fair, and that rubs my spirit the wrong way, I look toward the heavens and say “Hold my beer.” And commit to bringing fairness into the world. Just as I have the power to make love real, I also have the power to make justice real. Because isn’t that the point of all this? Our governments and institutions and civil society and churches and laws and constitutions and covenants are all human creations that attempt to bring some kind of justice into the world. And if the arc of the moral universe does bend toward justice, then that arc was fashioned long ago by humanity and it is our literal bodies lending weight to its completion.
Through the lens of human history, we know about many of those beautiful human bodies who refused to accept that “life isn’t fair.” Prophets have been nailed to trees for standing up and demanding justice. In our own tradition it was holy bodies seeking religious and spiritual freedom against a world who would burn them at the stake for heresy. There were the mighty bodies of abolitionists who risked life and limb in opposition to the injustice of slavery. There were the resilient bodies of suffragists who demanded women have full agency in the destiny of their communities. There were the prophetic bodies of civil rights activists who gave their lives for freedom. And among them all, there were the holy, mighty, resilient, prophetic, beautiful queer bodies of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, fluid human beings. We are filled with Pride!
At the Stonewall Inn fifty years ago when the queer community stood their ground against state violence and demanded the system uphold their inherent dignity and worth, their bodies bent the moral arc of the universe and human destiny would never be the same. Let me uplift our own victories as a people of faith. In 1863, our tradition was the first to recognize the ordination of a woman to the ministry. In 1969, we were the first major denomination to ordain an openly gay minister. In 1988 we were the first to ordain an openly trans minister. Our tradition, with a justice rooted in our covenanted principles, has been at the front of movements of freedom since our founding. In the celebration of the holy day of Pride is our own call to celebration as a people of faith, love and justice.
Celebration is necessary for a people who are committed to bending the arc of the moral universe. Without joy and laughter and fun, we will succumb to the temptations of futility and despair. There is a destructive lie in the mantra: “How can I laugh and enjoy myself when so many are suffering.” Especially in a country with concentration camps on our southern border, trans people of color being murdered, and ecological apocalypse at our doorstep. Of course my inner critical voice tempts me into despair, as if the only way I can be in solidarity is to suffer in solidarity.
No. A queer love and justice rejects all attempts at dualistic, fatalistic thinking. A queer love and justice is able to hold the human reality that we can experience joy and mourning simultaneously. Which is why we are a gentle, angry people who sing. Which is why we are a justice-seeking people who sing. Which is why we are young and old together and we sing. Because we recognize that our joyous singing and celebration are acts of holy resistance against the cultures of death that would refuse dignity and worth to all our beloved siblings. Certainly today, we celebrate Pride!
But just because we celebrate Pride, does not mean we are absolved of our sins and responsibilities. Yes, I recognize that “sin” is a loaded word for our post-Christian faith. And I believe a queer love and justice invites us to acknowledge our sins; it asks I take responsibility for the harm I cause other people regardless of intentionality; that I admit to my very human failings in the form of phobias and prejudices and anger and hate that creep in due to my insecurities and fears of difference, otherness, and the unknown. Yes, my siblings, I have sinned; against you and against the Earth. I commit, with your loving guidance, to being better.
It is only through the painful process of humility and vulnerability that I find forgiveness for the harm I do to my siblings and to the Earth. Some believe that by leaning into vulnerability I make myself weak, powerless and deficient. But that is not what qualitative researcher Dr. Brene Brown finds in her years of studying vulnerability. Her data suggests that something queer happens when I choose curiosity and possibility; I become stronger than I could possibly imagine; that my letting go of my sins makes space for the difficult penance of transforming my heart, mind, body and spirit toward an orientation of love and justice. And when this happens, is it not a cause to celebrate?
Siblings in faith, we have so much to celebrate today. We celebrate the freedom to love. The freedom to be seen. The freedom to laugh, and sing, and dance for victories won and victories yet to come. Our joy is a sacrifice on the altar of the Spirit of Life and Love in praise for the strength and resiliency to stay the course and not lose our humanity in the process. Today we celebrate the conversion of hearts and minds toward a beautiful, sensual, queer, love and justice which has oriented the arc of the moral universe from the very beginning.
Pride Sunday is a call to repent and hear the good news: love and justice will emerge victorious! We will emerge victorious! Because of the beautiful, sensual, queer bodies who lend their weight to the transformation of humanity. Let us go out, in humble solidarity, and refuse to accept the despair of the cultures of death. Instead, we go from this church with joy in our hearts and laughter in our bellies, to engage in the spiritual resistance of Pride. Amen, and hallelujah!