My history teaches me that ideally religion and justice are part of one another. My history teaches me that we can–we must–teach our children the contours of justice and the interruptions of injustice from their earliest years on. My history teaches me that, while the work may seem endless, that does not relieve me from my own piece of the work.
When I was a child, one of my favorite “picture books” was my father’s People’s Park, the history of a protest in Berkeley, California in the late 1960′s. I listened to my parents talk about marching for Civil Rights with Julian Bond, opposing the Vietnam War, supporting early civic recycling efforts, and fighting for reproductive rights and the Equal Rights Amendment.
I learned about Roman Catholic religious sisters and Maryknoll priests who risked and gave their lives in the service of the poor. I learned about the Berrigan brothers and their struggle for peace and justice. In our household, religion and justice were never separate. My parents taught me the value of liberation theology and the preferential option for the poor. I grew up knowing a person of faith is a person committed to everybody’s well-being.
Those early lessons have stayed with me throughout my life. When I came out as lesbian in 1990, I also marched in my first protest, worked to add “sexual orientation” to my university’s non-discrimination policy, and urged the inclusion of bisexual and transgender members in the previously “lesbian and gay” student association. At eighteen, when many of my friends were sickening and dying of AIDS, I began work with people living with HIV, and my largely white world changed forever. I worked with people of color, with those recently released from prison, people using injection drugs, and sex workers.
On this early foundation in sexuality education and advocacy work, I built a lifetime of concern for justice. I designed a fundraising program to assist people with HIV/AIDS in West Virginia. I wrote and taught sexual wellness courses. I became a multicultural communication educator early in my career and for twenty years I have worked towards standing in solidarity with oppressed communities and people.
Relationship is the core of my justice ministry and of my ministerial identity. I dedicate myself to building relationships among congregants, discovering justice issues within the congregation, learning from communities outside our walls, and speaking publicly on behalf of love . Whether the relationships are with other people nearby, with far away communities, or with Earth who holds us every day of our lives, it is relationship that grounds everything.
As a minister, I am one leader among many in the congregation. My work is to empower others. To allow us to discern together where we will turn our hands to the work. To hold our vision of Beloved Community up for us and the communities around us to see.
I have experienced the most profound changes in my own heart–and, I believe, helped change others’ hearts–by daring to be close to people different from me. By taking risks. By making mistakes and asking for help. And perhaps most importantly, by asking questions and listening to the answers. By seeking out the people who know–the climate scientists who can share real information about what’s happening to Earth, the people at the Spanish-speaking clinic across the street who are undocumented, the queer Black colleague who has risked relationship with me–and listening closely to what they have to share…this is key.
I believe that as a person of some privilege, it is important for me to be in solidarity with those not obviously similar to me. I need to stand in solidarity with trans* people, with immigrants—whether with documentation or not–with people of color, and with those whose disabilities are more obvious than my own, to name a few. My role is not to thrust my “help” and judgment upon leaders of oppressed communities but rather to hear and support them. I need to learn about historical and contemporary oppression — how things change and how they stay the same.
Ultimately, justice is the public expression of love, the fulfillment of our longing for Beloved Community. Justice brings more love into this world and allows us to welcome others and be welcomed ourselves. By working for justice, we are transformed within and without, and we transform the world.