At last night's Academy Awards America met the God to whom many progressives pray--the God who is justice and love.
Anyone who believes that all of God's children are created in God's image is likely celebrating the acceptance speeches of both Sean Penn, who won Best Actor for his portrayal of gay activist Harvey Milk, and Dustin Lance Black, who won Best Screenplay for the Milk script. Though Penn's taunt of shame on the anti-gay protesters who greeted ceremony-goers will likely be the more talked-about of the two, Black's speech was the more extraordinary.
"If Harvey had been alive today," Black said, "I think he'd want me to say to all the gay and lesbian kids out there that have been told that they are less-than by their churches, their government or their families that they are beautiful, wonderful creatures of value and no matter what anyone tells you, God does love you..."
Leaders in the LGBT community will rightly laud Black for his courage in taking the gay rights cause to the airwaves during his 45 seconds on Oscar night. But what struck me was his religious language--and his implicit claim of self-agency in interpreting the voice of God as he hears it. This is exactly what leaders of the religious right--and all leaders of authoritarian religions--fear more than any other trait of religious liberals: the belief in one's own conscience as the voice of a living God.