Big Gay Sunday

Rev. Chris Jimmerson
August 20, 2017
First UU Church of Austin
4700 Grover Ave., Austin, TX 78756
austinuu.org

Our mission begins with “we gather in community.” As we prepare to celebrate and participate in LGBTQ Pride week and activities, we’ll examine how our common purpose begins with a concept of community that values all of us as our truest, full selves. This will be the first in a series of sermons on the elements of our mission.


Call to Worship

WE ANSWER THE CALL OF LOVE
By Julia Corbett-Hemeyer

In the face of hate,
We answer the call of love.

In the face of exclusion,
We answer the call of inclusion.

In the face of homophobia,
We answer the call of LGBTQ rights.

In the face of racism,
We answer of justice for all races.

In the face of xenophobia,
We answer the call of pluralism.

In the face of misogyny,
We answer the call of women’s rights.

In the face of demagoguery,
We answer the call of reason.

In the face of religious intolerance,
We answer the call of diversity.

In the face of narrow nationalism,
We answer the call of global community.

In the face of bigotry,
We answer the call of open-mindedness.

In the face of despair,
We answer the call of hope.

As Unitarian Universalists, we answer the call of love –
now more than ever.

Reading

LET US MAKE THIS EARTH A HEAVEN
By Tess Baumberger

Let us make this earth a heaven, right here, right now.
Let us create a heaven here on earth
where love and truth and justice reign.

Let us welcome all at our Pearly Gates, our Freedom Table,
amid singing and great rejoicing,
black, white, yellow, red, and all our lovely colors,
straight, gay, transgendered, bisexual, and all the ways
of loving each other’s bodies.
Blind, deaf, mute, healthy, sick, variously-abled,
Young, old, fat, thin, gentle, cranky, joyous, sorrowing.
Let no one feel excluded, let no one feel alone.

May hate and warfare cease to clash in causes
too old and tired to name; religion, nationalism,
the false false god of gold, deep-rooted ethnic hatreds.
May these all disperse and wane, may we see each others’ true selves.
May we all dwell together in peace and joy and understanding.

Let us make this earth a heaven.

Sermon

This coming week, the Austin-area lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer community (or the LGBTQ Community) will gather for a number of LGBTQ Pride events, culminating in the annual Pride parade Saturday evening. Lots of straight friends and loved ones will also join in the Pride activities.

For many years now, our church has been participating in these Pride events, and for two of those years recently, we have held a “Big Gay Sunday” service to celebrate and give context to that participation.

So, earlier this summer, already knowing I would be in the pulpit on this date and that it would be Big Gay Sunday, I was at our Unitarian Universalist annual General Assembly earlier, and seeing it on display at a booth in the exhibit hall, I had no other choice than to purchase this big gay rainbow stole to wear for this momentous occasion.

And this is a time for celebration. Yet, I cannot help but feel an eerie sense of this strange juxtaposition between what happens when many souls come together at LGBTQ pride and what we witnessed last week in Charlottesville, Virginia and to lesser degree yesterday in Boston.

Next weekend, people will come together for the Pride parade, where they will proclaim universal love and acceptance – the valuing of each and every person claiming the fullness of our own, individual identity.

People will celebrate inclusiveness and the forming of community. They will uphold the beauty of how our differences blended together allow each of us to shine more brightly, so that together we form that famous pride rainbow that will be on display on flags everywhere. There will be beautiful colors and sometimes-flamboyant outfits. There will be dancing and music and laughter and joy.

We will recognize that progress has been made – oppression can be overcome. Though we are not nearly all the way there yet, and progress has come at a heavy price sometimes, our demands for justice have been and continue to be worth it. Contrast that with what we saw with the white supremacist nationalist groups last week in Charlottesville.

This so-called “Unite the Right” event could not have been more different than LGBTQ pride.

Well, except for the guys carrying Tiki torches straight out of the “on sale now” rack at Pier One Imports. As Betty Bowers, who claims to be America’s best Christian posted on Facebook, “when fascism comes to America it will be carrying Polynesian party accessories”.

They also carried Nazi flags on the streets of an American city, waving them next to their confederate flags, bringing together two symbols of two of the worst, most murderous episodes in recent human history.

Some dressed in paramilitary gear, and many carried semi-automatic weapons, pepper spray and other armaments.

The white nationalist protesters chanted misogynistic, racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic slogans.

“Blood and Soil”, they chanted – a phrase borrowed from Nazi Germany that idealizes a master race rising up out of white, rural, farm life.

“Jews will not replace us,” they chanted.

“White lives matter more.”

“F-You, Faggots.” Only they used the actual f-word that I will not say in this sanctuary.

Violence broke out, and, despite the claims of Mr. Trump that there was blame on all sides; the white nationalists instigated that violence.

A 20-year old man drove his car into a crowd of peaceful counter protestors, injuring 17 people, killing Heather Heyer, who was only 32 years old.

My heart breaks. I struggle with understanding. I struggle with holding these two events occurring so closely in time with one another, each seeming to take a sense of pride in such opposite directions.

  • LGBTQ Pride seeking inclusive community, while a white nationalist movement glorifies exclusion, along with religious, racial, gender and sexual identity tribalism.
  • A celebration of something worthwhile gained through a hard fought movement for justice versus outrage over the perception privilege lost because of the human rights gains of others.
  • Solidarity and equality juxtaposed with authoritarianism and hierarchy.
  • And the list could go on.

I think it is important to note that this rise in authoritarianism and race-based nationalism is happening not just here but throughout the world. So, I it is an existential threat to humanity and our world.

Certainly, it is a threat to those of us who are among its targets. So, I am feeling a need for the sense of love, acceptance and belonging inherit in our upcoming LGBTQ Pride week. I am feeling grateful for my Unitarian Universalist faith and this church that I so proudly serve.

Our faith was likely the first to perform a same sex union in the late 1950s! We were among the first denominations to ordain gay ministers. Though we were much slower to ordain transgender ministers, we were still one of the first faiths to do so historically. Unitarian Universalists have long been amongst the most vocal supporters of LGBTQ rights and marriage equality.

This church has been an LGBTQ welcoming congregation for several decades now, as are 95% of our congregations with at least 150 members. The Welcoming Congregations Program is a Unitarian Universalist curricula that helps our churches learn how to be welcoming and inclusive places for people who identify as LGBTQ.

If you have never experienced what it feels like to be excluded from your family or a community simply because of who you are, it is hard to describe what it feels like to find a community where you are welcomed and included. After feeling rejected by and never really a part of the religion of my childhood, when Wayne and I first found First UU Church of Austin, the only way I can describe what it felt like to me is that it felt like coming home, only to a religious home that I had never had before.

In fact, Wayne and I used to joke that being gay at this church almost seemed to be an advantage. People would be like, “Oh, you’re gay. That’s great! Wanna be on the board of trustees?”

I think that one of the ways that we do the work of ridding ourselves of the prejudices and sense of supremacy we have all been taught in one way or another, is to do the spiritual work of expanding who it is we are able love and love with equality, like the Welcoming Congregations program has helped so many Unitarian Universalists to do.

And that brings me back to the folks in the white supremacist nationalist movement.

I do not think that responding in kind to the violence, hate and intolerance will help us understand or much less have any chance of persuading anyone. Nor do I think it will help us resist this harmful ideology.

In fact, I think we likely need the opposite. We need that sense of love and compassion I was just discussing. As Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. put it, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Earlier this week, the founder and editor of a conservative political journal who had been an avid Trump supporter, wrote an editorial in the New York Times in which he stated that given the events of the past several months, he now greatly regrets that support.

I was disappointed to read the comments by progressives on the editorial, in which many of them lambasted him and attacked him personally. What makes us attack even those who seem to be transforming their worldview in a way that we might be better off supporting?

At a recent public forum here at the church, Bruce Naylor, one of our congregation members put forward a concept he called the “Warrior Brain” that has helped me make sense of what we have been witnessing, as well as our own temptations to respond in kind sometimes.

Bruce theorizes that warfare had, at least at one time, as we moved from hunter gatherer, nomadic, tribal groups into agricultural city states, an evolutionary advantage, because at least for some groups, it eliminated the competition. Warfare then shaped our brains and was passed on through successive generations.

Bruce says that our warrior brains drive us toward an “us versus them” ideology. It focuses us on winners versus losers and loyalty versus traitors. Our warrior brain offers us no empathy for the enemy. In fact it dehumanizes our perceived enemies. It uses deception as a tactic. It fills us with anger. It pushes us toward tribalism. It makes us most comfortable when there is an authoritarian leader and a hierarchal organization of society.

Sounding familiar?

Recently, though, I had lunch with Bruce and another of our terrific church members, Peter Roll, and we theorized that we likely would also have inherited what we are calling our “Aquarius brain”.

Remember that old song, “This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius”. Sure wish that would happen just any time now.

As the development of agriculture allowed humans to evolve into larger and larger city-states and then nations, we would have seen a survival advantage from cooperation and greater inclusion, as well as greater and greater specialization.

The Aquarius brain that would have been shaped by this would move us toward empathy, reason, compassion and inclusion. It would lead us to value difference rather than fear it. It would move us toward favoring more democratic organization of social groups and influence us toward loving with equality. This is sounding much like that juxtaposition I was struggling with earlier, isn’t it?

Now, these are very broad descriptions of the Warrior and Aquarius Brains concepts. If you want to learn more, look for the Science and Religion First Sunday Seminars that will begin this October.

I think these concepts can be very helpful as a framework for understanding, at least in part, what we’re witnessing in our country and our world. We all inherited both a warrior brain and an Aquarius brain. Some of us likely have a biological predisposition toward one or the other, and our cultural environment likely drives us toward more often engaging one or the other. But it’s not just the white nationalists that can fall into warrior brain mode. We do too.

Here is why I think we have to know this.

The stakes are high very right now. I don’t assume to know what candid Trump really meant by “make America great again”, but I do know what his white supremacist nationalist followers mean, because they have told us.

It means going back to a time when women were to be barefoot and pregnant. It means going back to a time when anyone without Lilly white skin was to remain subservient or risk there very lives – a time we unfortunately have never really entirely left behind.

It means going backwards so that Jews and Muslims become fair game to be scorned, degraded and attacked.

It means going back to a time when those of us with non-conforming sexual and/or gender identities were to remain hidden deep within our metaphorical closets at risk for our very lives.

Those are the stakes, and I think that if we engage our warrior brains now and respond with hate toward the hate, violence toward the violence, then the opposing ideology will have already won, because we will have already given in to it.

We must instead proclaim our ideology of love, inclusion and equality at every opportunity we can show up to do so.

So when we go to Pride events this coming week, we are not only celebrating. We are also uplifting and singing out a clear message.

We will not go back.

We will not go back.

We. Will. Not. Go. Back.

My friends, I will not go back. In my lifetime, I have tasted something greater than when it started, and I will not give up the greater equality and the opportunity to be legally wed with the person who is the love of my life.

And the only way I know to resist going back is to demonstrate more love in my world. To contrast and juxtapose that love with the opposite of it that is being expressed so frighteningly these days.

I must find ways to shut down my warrior brain and, as Dr. King said, drive out hate with love.

I must find a way to love even that young man that drove his car into a crowd of peaceful protestors, though still loudly condemning what he did and opposing the ideology that compelled him to do it with every fiber of my being.

I know this will not be easy. Empathy comes hard in situations like this. I try to imagine what misery lies behind such actions. I know it is not possible to live a life that is happy and full with a heart filled with such malice, and perhaps that is a seed from which some amount of empathy might grow.

I’m fear that if we give up on even one human being, we give up on all of humanity.

So, we must find a way to go on loving even when it is difficult, because it may be our best way to resist the existential threat of rising global authoritarianism and racial-ethnic supremacy.

We must find a way to go on loving for ourselves and those who are dearest to us, because the alternative is an entire society and perhaps an entire world constantly locked in warrior brain.

The Buddha said, “In this world, hate has never yet dispelled hate. Only love dispels hate. This is the law, ancient and inexhaustible.

So, during LGBTQ Pride this coming week, may we love with a great fierceness. May we put that love into action, building and expanding communities of love, acceptance and belonging in all of the days that follow.

Amen.

Benediction

Now, as you go out into our world, carry with you the love and sense of community we share in this sacred place.

Carry with you a mind open to continuous revelation, a heart strong enough to break wide open and a peace that passes all understanding.

May the congregation say, “Amen”, and “blessed be”.

Go with love.


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