The defeat of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance reveals how easily issues of human freedom can become knotted up with confusion, caricaturization, and complexity. The issues of civil and religious liberty are creating a cauldron of contention in our nation, and elsewhere in the world, which should give us all pause.
To see the defeat of H.E.R.O. as a “victory” is to lose sight of a trend in our society that has the potential to further divide us and to create ideological justification for words and actions against singled-out persons and groups which history teaches us can turn terrible in ways we might never imagine.
As a child of the ’60’s and a witness to racism as it was expressed in my home town, and as I saw it playing out across the nation, I was shown in no uncertain terms that discrimination in any form is not only sub-Christian, it is sub-human. As a young man, I took my cues on matters of equality from the likes of Gandhi, E. Stanley Jones, Martin Luther King Jr, and Dorothy Day. And I will forever be glad that I did.
As much as I care about the ecclesial dynamics of discrimination currently playing out destructively today, this blog is about the social dynamics, although the two arenas can never be separated. If the foundation of societal civilility crumbles, the church will fall along with it. We are only as good as we are kind, whether on the street or in the sanctuary.
The “gods of this world” (check out the Seven Deadly Sins for examples) have blinded us to what Jesus called “the weightier matters of the law,” summed up in the two great commandments. Whether in State or Church, when our foundational ethos is defined by anything other than the way of love, we become people who are, in fact, less than we profess ourselves to be. The gap between appearance and reality is the classic definition of hypocrisy.
We need a H.E.R.O–a human equal rights ordinance– one that makes “e pluribus unum” more than an inscription on our coins and “In God We Trust” more than a slogan to hide the fact that we really trust in ourselves. We are not a generation in need of “rights,” we are a people in need of compassion.
We have the testimony of the “great cloud of witnesses” (ancient and modern) if we will look to them for wisdom and guidance. In my tradition, John Wesley sided with the “less-than” people of his day even when the Church ignored them and opposed his application of holy love to “people like that.” His witness is multiplied many times over, going all the way back to the One who said, “as you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to me.”
When will we ever learn? When will we ever learn?