Without freedom, no one really has a name. --Milton Acorda
When looking back on these early years of the 21st century, we will remember the handful of people who made decisions to act in conscious defiance of the status quo -- to say out loud the names and needs of those who have been denied freedom and, in doing so, to break the yoke that denies them liberty.
President Barack Obama joined that handful on May 9, and I am grateful.
Those of us who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, our families and allies will never forget the moment when our President took his official stand supporting marriage equality, when he took his chance to be better and to make the lives of all Americans better.
No one can predict how much political capital President Obama will gain or lose as a result of his courageous effort to support our freedom to marry. What we can foresee is that he will end his service as president knowing that he did the right thing today in the context of his faith and in the context of his responsibility as the leader of the free world. I believe history will affirm his leadership.
I am grateful and encourage those who have waited so long for this moment to express gratitude to our President and to continue the skillful work of non-violent resistance that has created the fertile ground in which our freedom can rapidly grow.
If you don't have a specific organization where you can volunteer or give your support, we invite you to join us at Soulforce, home of The Equality Ride. There is much work to be done. Our first President, George Washington, said, "Liberty, when it begins to take root, is a plant of rapid growth."
Now is the time to fertilize and water what President Obama has planted in our midst.
I believe that one of our biggest challenges remains in the cloisters of denominations and mega-churches that deny ordination and marriage to LGBT people and in their public statements that LGBT people's lives are incompatible with Christian teaching. And, by extension, we must work to systematically deconstruct this destructive language in the policies and practices of denominationally affiliated and non-denominational colleges and universities where LGBT students experience stigma and exclusion.
There are 211 of them in the United States alone. One of them, Patrick Henry College, was established in 2000 by the Home School Legal Defense Association. It is interesting to discover that this newly minted college sent more graduates to work at the White House in the Bush administration than any other college in the nation. This statistic is extraordinary in view of the Statement of Biblical Worldview that students and faculty to which they must adhere. In 2006, half of the faculty resigned rather than sign it. Needless to say, if you are gay at Patrick Henry, it is best to keep quiet.
I believe that it is our responsibility to offer students at these colleges the opportunity to consider alternative ways of thinking about the Bible and homosexuality. Our Soulforce college symposium and delegate programs make it possible for these young adults to experiment with new ideas and ways of thinking about the Bible and what they have been taught about LGBT people.
Our Equality Ride bus tour across America opens up the doors of these colleges even in the face of deep resistance and, sometimes, arrests for nuisance offenses like trespassing. We believe that the price is small to pay in order to create dialogue within their campuses.
I don't know if President Obama even knows that Soulforce or the Equality Ride exists, but today, in my heart, he is a Rider. He has made a door in the wall of religious bigotry that I believe inhibits the prosperity and reputation of our nation. And that's what Soulforce Equality Riders do.
Some will criticize our President for taking too long to make up his mind to do the right thing. I do not plan to join any nay sayers. The work of non-violent resistance has taught me that people change their minds over time, in stages. I did not come out of the closet overnight and my family did not adjust to my truth overnight. It takes grace on all sides.
And, I believe that once we know our own truth, we are responsible for telling it in ways that raise awareness, provide information, educate, create dialogue and, sometimes, to use the tools of non-violent civil disobedience to illuminate injustice.
Many advocates and activists in the LGBT movement have helped create the kind of environment in which President Obama could recognize and deeply understand the lack of fairness that LGBT people experience as citizens. I am grateful for all of these persistent witnesses to the truth.
I am thankful for the President's family, friends and staff who have encouraged him to think deeply about his accountability to all of the citizens in our country. I understand and deeply appreciate how difficult it has been for him and many others to reconcile their respective anchor or core religious beliefs and the question of marriage equality. I know how much push back is in store for them.
I appreciate and commend those ministers and people in the pews who may not be fully reconciled, but are willing to agree to disagree while still securing our basic rights as citizens of the United States and as human beings. I am grateful for the courageous denominations and churches whose leaders and congregants have thoughtfully and persistently worked through their fears and come to embrace LGBT people as full members of their Communions.
As a minister of the Good News, I understand the period of discernment that President Obama has undertaken to decide what it really means to live out his life and his Presidency in a democracy and as a disciple of Jesus. I once had to discern my calling and it did not happen over night. It is even fair to say that I resisted my call at times. If God really does see our individual struggles, I think God may well have called me "wishy-washy" or a "flip-flopper." I am grateful for God's patience with me.
I think President Obama has demonstrated that he is deeply aware of what it means to be a disciple of Christ--a life long learner open to the revelation of the Spirit that was promised to us by Jesus upon his departure from earth.
I believe that President Obama has signaled all Americans at the tense and strident intersection of religious bigotry and the lives of LGBT people that it is time to move beyond our history of exclusion and discrimination that has so bitterly divided neighbors and people in the pews.
I believe he has sent a message of affirmation and inclusion to the next generation of young Americans who struggle to envision a future in which they can freely love whom they choose.
Young people who may have thought of taking their lives because they believed there was no full life ahead for them now know that our Commander in Chief has said that they deserve that life.
President Obama took a risk that he did not have to take. In doing so, he joins the ranks of my heroes -- Abraham Lincoln, John Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, Rosa Parks, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Rev. Troy Perry, Rev. Dr. Mel White, Frederick Douglass and Mahatma Ghandi and, indeed, my own family members who stood with me during my own coming out process and loved me all the way.
Ghandi said, "Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony."
No matter what comes, my guess is that at a soul-deep level, President Obama is a happier man today. My prayer for him is that he can hold on to the memory of this day and let it strengthen him and his resolve.
Follow Rev. Dr. Cindi Love on Twitter: www.twitter.com/SoulforceLove