One of the most meaningful moments of my life happened in June. During National LGBTQ Pride Month. On June 26, 2015, I was in New York City with our high school students and some other adults when my cell phone pinged. The notice was alerting me to “Breaking News.” The Supreme Court of the United States had just ruled in the landmark civil rights case of Obergefell v. Hodges. In that ruling, it was held that the right of same-sex couples to marry on the same terms and conditions as opposite-sex couples, with all the accompanying rights and responsibilities, is guaranteed by both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
It was especially meaningful to be with our St. John’s high school students. Our youth reflect the spiritually progressive faith perspectives of our congregation. We have been ordaining LGBTQ persons to serve as deacons in the life of St. John’s for years; not because these are LGBTQ persons, but because these are actively faithful models of Christian influence and spiritual integrity among us. These are persons who follow Jesus in servant faith. Later that day, I was able to say to some of our youth, “Today, some of your relatives and friends and many other persons you may meet one day found a new depth of freedom. They have been living with limitations that have imprisoned them. These LGBTQ persons have not been able to be citizens in the full expression of freedom. But, today, the Supreme Court announced a ruling that changes some laws and introduces a new way of living for many Americans.” Then, I added, “I hope you will always remember where you were when this decision was announced.”
Through the day, in many places around New York City and over digital communications, a variety of voices were expressed about the Supreme Court’s ruling. It is good to practice words like “love one another” and “walk humbly with God.” On June 26, 2015, this nation practiced another important truth: pursuing liberty and justice for all requires that we pursue liberty and justice for each. On that day, we were caring for our national soul.
That evening, one of the youth came to me with these words: “I called my cousin today. He and his partner are now planning to be married. He met you a couple of years ago and he wanted me to ask if you would be willing to officiate their wedding.” “Yes, please,” I said. You see, St. John’s had already adopted a “Marriage is Commitment” position. Ministers were granted total freedom to perform weddings in the sanctuary or anywhere else for LGBTQ persons. Our process included several forums for conversations about theological perspectives, scripture passage interpretations, cultural biases and wedding customs and language. We studied the history and meaning of marriage and weddings with special attention given to how marriage is about commitment.
Beloved readers, during that week in New York City, our students participated in an interfaith immersion exploration. We served communion to a homeless community in Harlem, toured the Jewish Holocaust Museum and the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, met with persons from various faith traditions, took lunches to persons living with AIDS, worked on a rooftop vegetable garden used in an urban food project through Rauschenbusch Ministries and served in soup kitchens built on top of underground tunnels used as part of the underground railroad in the 1800s. Their world was enlarged. Yet, it is my hope that they will always remember one more moment in that week.
You should know that when my cell phone pinged announcing, “Breaking News,” we were riding on the Staten Island Ferry passing directly in front of The Statue of Liberty. Although I could not read the quote by Emma Lazarus from the middle of New York Harbor, I recited the words in silence: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free.” I stared at the Mother of Exiles in that moment and noticed her torch lamp seemed to touch some people with a new warmth. And, by the way, as I stared at Lady Liberty in that moment, I noticed she was smiling.
info: Rev. Dennis W. Foust, Ph.D., is Senior Minister of St. John’s Baptist Church located at 300 Hawthorne Ln., Charlotte, NC 28204. For more on the church and his ministry, visit stjohnsbaptistchurch.org.