Saturday, March 30, 2013

Our Saturday Moment

By Garrett FitzGerald
Originally posted on Holy Saturday, 2012

A few years ago, I was privileged to join several of my colleagues from the Harvard Divinity School on a human rights fact-finding trip to Honduras. The country had been shaken some six months before by a coup d'├ętat, and the situation, for many, remained desperate.

The stories we heard during our time in Honduras haunt me still. Stories of murder committed with impunity, of systematic rape used as a weapon to silence a resistance movement comprised mostly of women, of the targeting of the nation's prominent LGBTQ leaders for assassination, of hands shattered by police batons to ease the process of identifying protestors, of property destroyed by arson to make way for foreign developers, of a world seemingly beyond the reach and the hope of justice.

But despite the black despair with which one might expect to meet such conditions, hope - hope for a better world, hope for true peace, hope for justice - remained.

As Holy Week draws to a close, I can imagine no greater analog to the pain and the hope shown us in Honduras - and felt so keenly by all those who labor for justice in this world - than the shock, the aching, gnawing despair, that must have marked the Saturday after Jesus' death for his earliest followers.

Our own Holy Weeks end with the sure promise of Easter Sunday, the glorious fulfillment of a promise made to a broken world. We know that the altar will not have to remain bare for long. We know that the story does not end with the sealed tomb, and that death does not have the final word.

But on that Saturday, the friends, family, and early followers of Jesus had no such assurances. Everything they had believed, everything they had worked for, everything they had risked their very lives to achieve must have seemed in that moment, on that endless, agonizing Saturday, to hang in the balance. And in a world still so full of suffering, it can be so, so difficult not to give in to that same sense of loss and despair.

Time contracts, time expands. Easter Sunday will come and go, but Good Friday has not yet ended. The cross remains occupied, even as we continue to sit with the anguish and uncertainty of our own interminable Holy Saturday. The scandal of Christ crucified everywhere persists in the pain and suffering of our sisters and brothers the world over, and we stand mute witness to the crucifixion of our planet itself, victim to our greed and indifference. The presence is the promise, but what if the presence cannot bear the wounds of this world after all? The light, we fear, is leaving us.

But in the darkest depths of our own Saturday moment, we find still shining the pinprick of hope, our own longing for the fulfillment of a promise whose name we dare not even breathe, for fear that its own audacious weight might snuff it out forever.

Carmen Manuela del Cid, a feminist theologian and community organizer from Honduras' industrial capital of San Pedro Sula, confided to our group during a visit that is was this promise, the promise of a world redeemed in God's own time, that sustained her. The government is armed with guns, with batons, with the weapons and tools of repression and fear. "But we," she told us, "are armed with Utopia."

The dream of a world made anew, of the advent of the Kingdom of God, of a promise fulfilled, sustains us and provides us the anvil against which we continue to hammer the injustices of the present. For us, for now, true justice, true peace, and the true promise of Easter Sunday remain a horizon deferred. But the power of the promise remains.

For all those who labor for justice in this world, God bless you, keep you, and sustain you through the darkness of your Saturday moments.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Language of the Left: Liberal, Progressive, and Radical

By Garrett FitzGerald

Since got off the ground about two years ago, we've had a number of questions about our decision to use the term 'progressive' as a descriptor for most of the site's political and religious leanings. 

According to scholar Dan McKanan, perhaps one of the foremost authorities on the Religious Left in the United States, the history of the Left and Left-leaning movements in the US may be considered in large part the story of the uneasy truces and tensions between elements that McKanan terms "radicals" and those which he characterizes as "institutional liberals." Per McKanan:
American radicals, or the Left, if you like, I see as people who embrace the core revolutionary principles of liberty, equality, and solidarity, and are willing to fight for those values even at the risk of existing institutions...Institutional liberals are people who also cherish the values of liberty, equality, and solidarity, but who think that those values are already embodied fairly well in our political structures, and are thus willing to extend those values only if they don't endanger existing structures.
These terms are obviously porous and contain plenty of room for overlap, as a radical position on one issue (the adequacy of the US Constitution, for example) does not necessarily preclude  broader institutional commitments (such as to participatory democracy as a whole).

The sort of progressivism with which much of our work here at is concerned inhabits a space between these two extremes; it is not as urgently revolutionary as some historical articulations of our country's rich radical traditions - be they political or religious - yet it recognizes the patently unsustainable nature of many of our social, political, and religious institutions and the status quo they uphold. In this way, progressive religion remains committed to the just reform of existing religious and political systems, even as it seeks alternative forms and formulations of both. 

Whether being employed within the context of a given social movement or whether claimed as a broader personal position on matters of church or state, McKanan's taxonomy of the Left  - and the situation of progressivism within it - points to deep-rooted value judgments whose implications go beyond the rhetorical markers with which we position ourselves on religious and political spectra. In this sense, both as religious and as political beings, the question of our self-description as liberal, progressive, or radical hinges upon the extent of our investment in current religious and political systems and institutions,  and our corresponding (un)willingness to see them overturned in the pursuit of a more just world. 

The importance of the political and religious labels with which we self-identify goes beyond mere semantics. These terms represent a statement of posture toward institutions whose very existence impacts the ways in which we define the world around us, and whose normative impact on our ways of thinking and being in the world necessarily shapes our actions if and when we decide that the world must be changed for the better.

So when considering the ways in which we label ourselves as religious and political beings, we must return as often as we can to these fundamental questions which underlie our commitments.
  • What religious and political institutions do we consider invaluable in bringing about a more just world? 
  • What religious and political institutions do we view as actively preventing the creation of a more just world?
  • What religious and political institutions would we be willing to part with, at least intheir current incarnations, if it meant furthering the work of justice through the realization of new forms?
I hope to explore this conversation further in the coming months.  I will admit that at first blush there are certain institutions and norms in place which I do feel represent very real hope for the furtherance of justice in this world, and I credit that fact in large part for my historical hesitancy to throw in completely with the radical tradition as described above. This conversation within and across the spectrum of the Left is not new; as mentioned above, in many ways the history of the Left's successes can be written as the management of this very tension. But the time has come to bring this conversation with us into the 21st century and take a good long look at the religious and political systems and institutions to which we are party, and to ask ourselves which ones truly hold hope for a more just future, and which ones must be consigned to the dustbin of history.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Tibet on Fire

By Joshua Eaton

Over 107 Tibetans have set themselves on fire since February 2009 to protest Chinese rule. Thousands more have demonstrated in the streets. Thousands have been arrested, detained, and disappeared. And it all has a long and complex backstory: land grabs, forced resettlement, language restrictions, religious repression, and more.

That’s a lot to take in. To make things worse, the news about Tibet is scattered across so many sources, most of which are little known and hard to find. 

Tibet on Fire is a new journalism platform that aims to fix those problems by bringing the news about the crisis in Tibet together in a way that helps make sense of it. We've already begun the task of collecting and verifying information about what’s going on in Tibet from news sources, NGOs, Tibetan and Chinese blogs, government sources, and social media. 

Here’s some of the information we’ve collected together, which we’re constantly updating:

A detailed list of every Tibetan self-immolation from February 2009 to present

A comparison of the different lists of self-immolators published by NGOs and journalists

Now we need to hire a developer so we can build the tools necessary to present all that information in a meaningful way: interactive maps, timelines, visualizations, infographics, videos, images, custom Twitter searches, English translations of Tibetan and Chinese news sources, and more.

Here are some examples of what we’d like to do:

Everything on Tibet on Fire is free and available for anyone to copy, use, and share through a Creative Commons license. We want media organizations, journalists, and activists to use our content and to share it with others.

But none of this can happen without your help.

If you’re a web developer, a programmer, a graphic designer, or a fundraiser who would like to help out, please contact us.

And, whoever you are, please consider giving to our online fundraising campaign.

Joshua Eaton is a writer on Buddhism, politics, and culture. His full bio and more of his writings can be found at his website,

Friday, March 1, 2013

What is Reproductive Justice?

By Rev. Darcy Baxter
Originally posted 2/15/13 at and in the Spring 2013 issue of UU World.

“I know this is going to sound crazy,” I said into the phone. “But it’s the only thing I can think of right now. There is a Unitarian Universalist church 100 miles from you. Give them a call.”

This was not the typical advice we gave to women calling our national abortion hotline. Melissa lived in a big midwestern state. She had little money, two kids, and an unplanned pregnancy. The closest abortion provider was over 500 miles away. Even though Melissa was enrolled in Medicaid, both federal and local government forbade using tax dollars for abortion services.

Things were looking pretty bad for Melissa. And in that moment of desperation, a moment all too common among my hotline experiences, I told Melissa to go to church.

“I am really not kidding. Call them,” I said to Melissa. “Tell them you just talked to this abortion hotline and the counselor you spoke to was Unitarian and told you to call. It sounds crazy, but this church is not like a lot of other churches. It is part of our tradition that we support women like you. Maybe there is a doctor in the congregation. Maybe someone in the congregation knows somebody.”

After I hung up the phone, another counselor peeked over the cubicle divider and looked at me kind of strangely. “Did you just send that woman to a church to get help with an abortion?” “Yes. Yes, I did.”

Every couple of years at the Unitarian Universalist Association’s General Assembly, congregational delegates choose a social justice issue for our congregations to engage with over a period of four years. The UUA provides resources and a study guide for congregations. Each congregation then decides how it will act on that issue.

In June 2012, the General Assembly voted to make reproductive justice our Congregational Study/Action Issue for the next four years. (Learn more at In the months leading up to this vote, we had reason for concern. Scandal engulfed the Susan G. Komen Foundation over its decision to withdraw cancer-prevention funding from Planned Parenthood because Planned Parenthood also provides abortion care. Political battles broke out over contraception coverage under President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, including accusations by Roman Catholic bishops that mandatory insurance coverage of birth control violates the religious liberty of some religious employers—even though 98 percent of women in their congregations have used contraception.

These political battles were just another round in the culture wars. For at least thirty years, if anyone in the media was talking about cultural issues while invoking morality, religion, or values, they were preaching the evils of abortion and the sin of homosexuality. Religion meant socially conservative. Religion never meant socially progressive.

Yet that day on the phone, in the midst of the culture wars, I did not think twice about sending Melissa to the closest UU congregation. I did not think twice about urging her to go to church. Why?

I did not think twice because church was the only place my parents could send me to get a high-quality comprehensive sexuality education. I did not think twice because while I was growing up, my minister told stories of being part of the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion, a pre-Roe v. Wade network of Protestant and Jewish clergy who connected women with safe abortion providers. I did not think twice because Unitarian Universalists, Jews, and Buddhists have been even more supportive of legal abortion than those who identify as religiously unaffiliated. I did not think twice because the Roe v. Wade legal case was forged in the basement of First Unitarian Church of Dallas, Texas.

When it comes to the culture wars, we Unitarian Universalists have clearly claimed our ground. We are “Standing on the Side of Love,” especially for same-sex marriage. I’m proud of the rainbow flag that flies outside my church. But it has been nearly twenty years since our denomination has claimed any significant ground regarding reproductive issues. What does it mean to “stand on the side of love” when it comes to decision-making about our bodies, sexuality, and families?

I have heard it said that most Unit­arian Universalists know our First Principle (“the inherent worth and dignity of every person”) and our Seventh Principle (“respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part”). And then there is some stuff in between.

These two principles are the best known because they speak to something we know deep in our bones and yet struggle with—that we are individuals and that we are part of community. We are both “me” and “we.” Do we conform or speak up? Belong or stand out?

And this brings me back to Melissa. Technically, Melissa had the legal right, as an individual, to have an abortion. But for Melissa, and many like her, there is little or no community enabling and supporting this kind of decision. There is no “we” within which this “me” can flourish.

While Melissa theoretically had a right, in practice she did not have access to the means that could make that right a reality. Reproductive justice is both a concept and a movement that calls on us to focus on a woman’s lived realities and the complex interdependent web of circumstances that must exist for her to exercise what we call “rights.”

Yes, of course women need legal rights to abortion. But we need a lot more than that in order to make an honest-to-God choice.

To be truthful, even if Melissa had access to an abortion, I do not know if she would really have had a choice. I’m not so sure Melissa would have been considering an abortion had she known she would have the basic resources to raise her child well. The number one reason cited by the women I counseled for having an abortion was money. What would have given Melissa a real choice? The guarantee of good childcare, a safe neighborhood, quality healthcare, and a good education for her child.

And these issues do not affect only women who are struggling economically.

While I worked as a chaplain on a birth and neonatal intensive care unit, I spent time with many educated and professional women who were having children later in life. For them to end up on my unit meant they had encountered complications, often connected to their relatively “advanced maternal age.” I have to ask: Did they really choose to have children later in life? How much choice do any of us have in a society that provides so little support to parents and families, in a society where you might not be secure enough to start a family until you are well into that advanced maternal age? Unless you are one of the fortunate few who has financial security early in life, our choices today are quite limited.

Or perhaps you have watched The Business of Being Born. Maybe you have read one of many articles questioning the rate of Cesarean sections to vaginal deliveries at hospitals; articles that examine the increased likelihood of a Cesarean section at for-profit versus non-profit hospitals, that explore how a Cesarean birth can bring in twice as much revenue as a vaginal delivery. We all rely on social systems and their professionals to lay out our options, whether the system we rely on is a hospital or Medicaid. But how much choice do we actually have?

For many activists and advocates today, the pro-choice movement has focused too much on legalized abortion and not enough on actual access to abortion services; focused too much on the right not to have children and not enough on the right to have children. Many communities of color carry with them a history of government abuse and intervention in their reproductive lives, including forced sterilization, discriminatory foster-care enforcement, and forced abortions for incarcerated women. Reproductive freedom requires much more than a legal right to abortion. In order for a person (of any sex or gender) to live with dignity, a matrix of rights, resources, and relations must exist.

The reproductive justice movement was created by a coalition of women of color to promote the right of all women to have children, not to have children, and to raise their children in safe and healthy environments. In 1984, the National Black Women’s Health Project was founded with two goals: to more effectively address reproductive health issues in African-American communities, and to advocate within the mainstream (predominantly white) pro-choice movement for a broader agenda that includes the concerns of women of color. Over the next ten years, other women of color created reproductive justice organizations, such as the National Latina Health Organization, the Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center, and Asians and Pacific Islanders for Repro­ductive Health. Following the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, Egypt, the women involved with these organizations coined the term “reproductive justice” to name their work, ideas, and aspirations. In 1997, the SisterSong Women of Color Reproduc­tive Justice Collective was formed, bringing together sixteen organizations advocating for the reproductive and sexual health of women of color. SisterSong has been instrumental in promoting reproductive justice and in building support for it, as a conceptual framework and movement-building political strategy.

Reproductive justice emphasizes that everything is connected, and therefore insists we refuse to isolate or pit important social issues against each other. Instead, reproductive justice advances these rights across the interdependent web of social justice issues. As the advocacy group Forward Together puts it in their “Strong Families” initiative, reproductive justice calls on us to work towards a world where every person and family has the rights, recognition, and resources to make decisions about their gender, their bodies, and their sexuality; where every person, family, and community has what they need to flourish.

So, what would engaging with reproductive justice look like for your community or congregation?

Let’s say your congregation has been particularly active in supporting LGBTQ equality and same-sex marriage. How could you engage with reproductive justice and LGBTQ issues?

Forward Together’s “Reproductive Justice Lens Toolkit” offers these observations: All LGBTQ parents must battle with the lack of social support for their role as parents. Whether interacting with schools or social services, parents often mask their sexual orientation or gender identity to prevent discrimination against their children. The lack of legal recognition and protection for non-biological children, or legal bias against transgender parents, can result in parents losing custody of their children. Many LGBTQ couples raising children are people of color, making them more likely to experience discrimination. From bullying in schools to physical assault on the street, people who are perceived to be LGBTQ are targets for attack and harassment. Because of stereotypes and bigotry, LGBTQ people face disproportionate barriers to employment, housing, education, and healthcare.

How does reproductive justice fit in? It fits in everywhere. Whether you focus on bullying, parental rights, or antiracist education in social service agencies, any organizing you do to address these injustices will help women, children, and families.

I recently facilitated a workshop on Unitarian Universalism and reproductive justice for a congregation near me. During the question and answer section, a number of congregants expressed confusion and seemed overwhelmed. Reproductive justice seemed “unfocused” and “too broad.”

“Isn’t it more effective to focus on one issue at a time?” one person asked me.

My answer? “Well, apparently not.”

The singular focus on abortion rights these past forty years has not secured access to abortion or women’s reproductive freedom. If anything, abortion is more inaccessible today than it was forty years ago. If anything, families are more vulnerable.

It comes back to our First and Seventh Principles—to the tension of the “me” and “we.” Reproductive justice calls on us to resist focusing either on the inherent worth and dignity of every person or on the interdependent web of existence. Reproductive justice is about holding both at the same time. We are all people with inherent worth and dignity who cannot thrive outside of the interdependent web of existence.

All of us are many things at once, even though we often feel a need to hide or highlight one part over another. For me, religious community is about a place of connection and interconnection. It is about building a space where all parts of us can show up, where we do not have to be singular, tidy, and complete. Religious community should be a place where each of us can be our multiple, messy, in-process selves.

As I was about to get off the phone with Melissa, she had one more thing to say.

“There was a big blizzard.” She paused for a long moment. “There was a big blizzard and my pills were out in the truck. I was exhausted and just couldn’t bring myself to go get them. That’s how I got pregnant.”

Reproductive justice centers us on connection, community, and the messiness of lived realities. But reproductive justice is also about humility. Particularly when it comes to women, sexuality, pregnancy, and families, many of us slide into a distant and judgmental stance. “Well, Melissa was just being lazy. How irresponsible of her.” Perhaps you think she did not deserve help with an abortion. Or maybe you think she definitely needed an abortion because she was clearly irresponsible.

Such judgments are understandable. This is emotionally charged stuff. Counseling hundreds of women and serving as a minister, I’ve heard plenty of stories. So many of us work hard on presenting ourselves as tidy and put-together. But I’ve spent too much time with the messy, complicated realities of our individual lives, our relationships, and our families to put much faith in these sorts of ap­pearances, to believe these sorts of swift judgments.

“You know, Melissa,” I told her, “I think a lot of us would not have made it out to that truck. Life is hard. We are not perfect. We all do the best we can.”

Many of us in UU congregations are professionals, trained and paid to be experts. We are supposed to know what is best. But I think if we Unitarian Universalists really embrace reproductive justice—honoring the spirit, experiences, and struggles from which it came—we will not be the experts. Instead, we will cultivate our unknowing, our curiosity, and our compassion—not only for others but also for ourselves. We will practice experiencing difficult emotions and being in our bodies, because these issues run deep. We will challenge our habits of hubris, control, and over-management. I believe doing reproductive justice can move us from our protective and isolating postures of individualism and perfectionism toward behaviors of beloved community, where our messy, multiple, and in-process selves are welcomed, nurtured, and loved.

I wish I knew what happened to Melissa. But I do not. I do not know if she called that church or what happened if she did. But I do know what my hopes are—for Melissa, for Unitarian Universalism, and for you. Let this reproductive justice work be a way for us—all of us—to nurture our practices of justice and care in our shared, messy, lived, and interdependent community.

Rev. Darcy Baxter currently serves a Unitarian Universalist congregation in Hayward, CA, directing their family ministries program. A long-time reproductive justice activist, she is currently a member of the Center for American Progress' Faith and Reproductive Justice Leadership Institute and a Regional Organizer for the California Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. To learn more, visit

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Bob Jones University Fails to Extend G.R.A.C.E. to Victims of Sexual Abuse

By Becky Garrison
Originally posted 1/23/13 at Truth Wins Out

On December 12, 2011, Christopher Peterman organized the first student-led protest in Bob Jones University’s (BJU) history. A month prior, Peterman launched a Facebook page titled “Do Right BJU” to mobilize alumni, former faculty, staff and students to protest BJU’s refusal to remove Board of Trustees member Pastor Chuck Phelps after he failed to take proper measures in reporting a child rapist in his New Hampshire church. Since Phelps resigned from BJU’s Board a few days before the scheduled protest, the group shifted its focus toward raising awareness of additional sexual abuse allegations involving both male and female victims that came to light in the wake of the New Hampshire trial.

According to a telephone conversation with Peterman, he noted that while Bob Jones ensured the protesters they would not face expulsion; they made his last semester of college a living hell. “My every move was tracked. When they expelled me nine days before graduation for 'disrespect and insubordination,' they told me I needed to repent and return back to God." The rights of those victims seeking justice against their abusers did not factor into these conversations.

On November 8, 2012, BJU announced they hired G.R.A.C.E. (Godly Response to Abuse in a Christian Environment) to conduct an independent investigation into numerous allegations of sexual abuse both at Bob Jones University and Bob Jones Academy which teaches children from preschool through the 12th grade.

As reported by the Associated Press, “School officials said the investigation was prompted by heart-breaking revelations of sexual abuse in both secular and Christian organizations, but isn’t in response to any specific claims of abuse at the school.” This claim by BJU conveniently ignores such public events like the protest launched by Peterman, as well as media reporting that cites BJU as having 9 incidents of forcible sex offenses reported in 2011, a number that is significantly higher than any other institution in the area.

In a statement issued by G.RA.C.E. founder and executive director Basyle Tchividjian, “In retaining GRACE to conduct this third party investigation, the leadership of Bob Jones University/Academy has pledged to honor the integrity and independence of the investigative process and to cooperate fully with the GRACE Investigative Team. Bob Jones University/Academy has also agreed that GRACE will publish its Final Report to the public on the GRACE website and the Bob Jones University website.”

Initially, Christianity Today reported on this story citing statements from Tchividjian and Bob Jones University without mentioning reported news stories of sexual abuse committed by those affiliated with BJU. They amended the story on January 23, 2013 to include some of these stories.

However as of this date, BJU has yet to honor their aforementioned pledge. Other than posting a link on January 10, 2013 via their website announcing a confidential survey from G.R.A.C.E’s that victims can complete and a brief blurb in their promotional magazine BJU Magazine (see snapshots here and here), BJU has not contacted any faculty, staff, current or former students, or alumni to inform them of this investigation.

Despite BJU’s inability to practice due diligence, a growing number of victims have filled out this survey. Those who have been victimized either as a child or an adult by anyone affiliated with the BJU community can add their voice by completing this survey prior to April 30th.

Further developments relating to this case will be noted as they arise.

Image: via Truth Wins Out
Becky Garrison is a panelist for The Washington Post's On Faith column and contributes to a range of outlets including The Guardian, The Revealer, American Atheist magazine and Religion Dispatches. Her books include Roger Williams' Little Book of Virtues (forthcoming) and Red and Blue God, Black and Blue Church, and Ancient Future Disciples: Meeting Jesus in Mission-Shaped Ministries.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Legacies of Justice: Roe v Wade and MLK

By Rev. Darcy Baxter

Opening Words from the “Honoring Legacies of Justice: 40 Years of Roe v. Wade” public service, held in Oakland on Sunday evening, January 20th.

Working on a national abortion hotline is how I learned to pray.

Back around 2004, when I worked on the National Abortion Federation hotline, we receive hundreds of calls from women who did not have the financial resources to access the abortion-care they needed. Our job on that hotline, as my supervisor at the time put it, was to be real with the callers. Being real with the callers meant saying something like this:

“I hate to have to tell you this, but there is very little support out there. You need to raise as much money as you possibly can. Who can you ask for money? Even 10 or 20 dollars helps. Do you have any jewelry you can pawn? Anything else of value? Are there any odd jobs you could do quickly that could help you raise some cash? I’m so sorry, you deserve so much more but this is the reality. You need to scrap up as much as cash as you can. There are some abortion funds out there, but usually they can only help with $50 or $100. Oh and are you only 4 weeks along? This is going to sound strange, but usually the price for an abortion stays the same until you are around 10 or 12 weeks long. I hate to have to tell you this, but if you are only 4 weeks along, that means you have 6 weeks to raise more money. Because there is so little money out there, the abortion funds focus on women who are close to that 10-12 week mark. I’m so sorry. I wish I could tell you something different, but this is the reality we are in.”

After having this conversation with a couple hundred woman, you can imagine that a white, WASPY middle class girl like myself, a young woman who had been blessed with access to education and healthcare most of her life, started dealing with a deep sense of despair and powerlessness.

How could I keep going without turning into a cynical, bitter human? And I had it good in life!

It was around this time that I wrote what I now call my first prayer. And, gosh, I hate to admit this--- the prayer rhymed. I actually do not remember what the exact words were. But I posted it in my cubicle and I began to silently recite it to myself after calls. Talking to friends now who worked on that hotline with me, there is debate as to whether what I wrote was a prayer or a poem—at the time, we definitely called it a poem. My supervisor shared it with the other counselors and shared how I had developed this practice to help me deal with the inevitable challenges of working on the hotline.

This gathering here, this service, is like that poem/prayer. Call it what you will, but what matters most is the function a gathering like this can serve in sustaining us in our vital work for making justice, compassion, and safety a lived reality for ALL people.

Those phone calls, that small cubicle in a small office on Massachusetts Ave in Washington DC was a big part of why I decided to go into ministry.

And it was in that cubicle, on that phone, that I got schooled by the women who honored me with their stories. Life is not simple. It’s messy. It’s full of violence and violation, grief and desperation, as well as love, joy, laughter.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. also believed in the necessity of messiness, believed in the need for us to tolerate messiness, to embrace messiness.

An excerpt from his 1963 Letter from a Birmingham City Jail:

Over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Klu Klux Klanner but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers the absence of tension to the presence of justice.
“More devoted to order than to justice; who prefers an absence of tension to the presence of justice”

I don’t know about you, I have been part of too many groups and organizations where this has indeed been the case.

In a well-known book that you may have heard of, entitled “The Bible,” the number 40 is a significant one. In the Noah’s Ark story, how long did it rain for? (40 days and 40 nights)

And when Moses climbed up the mount to receive the ten commandments, how long was he up there? (40 days)

After fleeing Egypt, how long do the Israelites spend wandering in the desert before reaching the promised land? (40 years)

How long did Jesus spend fasting in the wilderness? (40 days)

My hope for the reproductive health and rights movements is that these past 40 years have been OUR time wandering in the desert.

I am so ridiculously grateful for the women and men and people who worked so tirelessly to legalize abortion. My life has been full of the blessings of legalized birth-control and abortion. I cannot really imagine what it was like before Roe. This is the gift that those who came before have bestowed up on us. In our strides toward freedom, Roe v. Wade is a huge landmark. The sweat and tears, the hard labor of making legalized abortion a reality—my friends, this is indeed worthy of deep honor and respect.

And, in that cubicle, on the phone in the small office on Massachusetts Ave in Washington DC, I also learned the brutal inadequacies of Roe v. Wade and of a prochoice movement so focused on keeping abortion legal that we may have rendered ourselves less effective countering our opponents’ disturbingly successful efforts at making abortion inaccessible (though still legal) for so many people. For 37 years, our representatives in congress have voted to renew, every single year, the Hyde Amendment, which denies abortion coverage for low-income women enrolled in government insurance programs like Medicaid.

Baptized by the pain, anger, sorrow, exhaustion, courage, and strength of those women and people on the other side of that phone line, I learned first-hand the gross inadequacies of a singular focus on defending Roe v. Wade. Women and their families needed so much more than abortion-care. People needed child-care, health-care. We need neighborhoods secure from gun-toting racists who will shoot a black boy wearing a hoody and carrying some skittles. We need communities free from toxins that poison our children and loved ones. And the idea of “privacy” enshrined in the Roe v. Wade decision? The idea that it’s “none of my business”? Well, I do not believe that will get us to that dreamed for reality that Dr. Martin Luther King called beloved community—a state of being where all people, all families, all communities have what they need to thrive and flourish, to have what they need to make the hard decisions and the easy ones.

These words, this critical reflection—it comes from a place of love, honor, and respect. The fact I can stand before you today and say these things is because of the people who have defended Roe so heroically. I will never be able to express my gratitude for those who have come before. I will never be able to appreciate what it took, the pain, sacrifice, and dedication that it required to get to where we are today.

And, one thing I know about us human beings is that we are messy and imperfect. Even with the best of intentions, we hurt people. We get scared, and act out of fear. Our grief, rage, and despair can overwhelm us. There is so much unnecessary pain, suffering, and poverty in this world. And we must keep on keeping on.

And so, we must write poems.

We must bear witness to the messiness of our living and refuse to oversimplify, to resist being seduced by tidiness and tyrannical order. We must learn to swim, play, and dance in the tensions of justice, in the messiness.

And that is why we gather today. To bear witness to the tensions and the messiness.

Witnessing does not just mean seeing with one’s own eyes in a legal sense; it also has the religious connotation of testifying to that which cannot be easily seen. Witnessing fundamentally transforms the ones who witness. As witnesses, we are taught and transformed by the truth-telling courage of the testifiers. Today, we will be blessed by the stories and testimonies of six people who have dedicated their lives, in different ways, to creating justice in this world, to making reproductive freedom a lived reality for all. Their stories are only part of a much great whole.

So now, I invite you into a space of witnessing. A place where we can hold and experience all the joy, sorrow, pain, and promise of our messy living. A time to be together and listen, a time to be surrounded and immersed in beauty, a time to let the ever unfurling truths 

transform us. 

Rev. Darcy Baxter currently serves a Unitarian Universalist congregation in Hayward, CA, directing their family ministries program. A long-time reproductive justice activist, she is currently a member of the Center for American Progress' Faith and Reproductive Justice Leadership Institute and a Regional Organizer for the California Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. To learn more, visit

Friday, January 18, 2013

Christianity after Louie Giglio

By Becky Garrison
Originally posted 1/16/13 at The Washington Post

Louie Giglio arrives at the 54th Annual GRAMMY Awards held at Staples Center on February 12, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.
Louie Giglio (Jason Merritt - GETTY IMAGES)
Upon initial glance, the Rev. Louie Giglio presents himself as a compassionate evangelical conservative with a ministry focusing on doing good not damning others. He isn’t calling for a day of prayer to save American from the evils brought forth by the Obama administration in the spirit of Governor Mike Huckabee. Nor is he hosting a presidential inaugural prayer breakfast that bills itself as a non-partisan inter-denominational event even though the lineup reads like a who’s who of the religious right. And no sane Christian would participate in Terry Jones’ pre-inauguration burning of effigies and images of President Obama.

But what these individuals share in common is that they base their belief that “homosexuality is a sin” in large part by citing select Bible verses that theologian James Allison deems the “clobber texts.” This method of biblical analysis could be found in previous eras when similarly minded church leaders used a very small smattering of Bible verses to condemn women and people of color as inferior beings. Now, anyone who espouses such outdated thinking gets called out on the carpet, and rightly so.

According to a Washington Post poll, between 2006 and 2012, the percentage of all Americans who support same-sex marriage has climbed from 36 to 53 percent. Along those lines, megachurch pastor Rick Warren delivered the invocation in 2009 despite his public views against gay rights, and President Obama did not support marriage equality publicly until the closing months of his re-election campaign. Following Obama’s re-election and the growing support for marriage equality, religious conservative stalwarts like Dr. James Dobson admit they are losing the battle on this issue especially among young evangelicals.

Ross Murray, Director of Religion, Faith & Values for GLAAD, reflects on this cultural shifting:

“I had hoped that Pastor Giglio was able to “evolve” much like our president did on the issue of LGBT equality. From reading in between the lines of his recent statements, that is not the case. He found that his main issue was elsewhere, working to end human trafficking. That’s an issue I can support. I think it is to his credit to not stake his ministry off of opposing LGBT people, but to do something that helps society. And I continue to hope that he will listen and learn from LGBT people and eventually come to the understanding that we are all children of God.”

Furthermore, this fracas signifies a trend in progressive evangelical circles where leaders like Giglio, Warren, and Jason Russell, co-founder of Invisible Children and producer of the KONY 2012 video sensation], champion civil rights in Africa while forming alliances with clergy working against LGBT rights in African countries. Similarly, Sojourners President Jim Wallis cites a document signed by 46 religious leaders that condemns persecution against LGBT people in Uganda but fails to denounce their teachings that fuel this anti-gay violence. Also, evangelist Tony Campolo compares the theology of his Red Letter Christian (RLC) group with that of the Family, host of the National Prayer Breakfast even though religion scholar Jeff Sharlet’s research connects the Family to the “Kill the Gays” bill in Uganda.

Therein lies the elephant in the room -the one that needs to be taken out of the closet. In mainline and more liberal religious settings, one finds the rise of an ecclesiology that embraces LGBT people in all aspects of the church’s rites including ordination and marriage. Central to this development is a refutation of “homosexuality” as a “sin” and an embrace of a more incarnational theology that views all of humanity as created good in the image of God. This worldview embraces the myriad of discoveries from science, psychology, theology, and other disciplines that inform changing attitudes toward LGBT people.

Hopefully, the media can stop presenting evangelicals voices as the sole representatives of Christianity because the reality of the faith at the grassroots level proves to be much more multifaceted. 

Becky Garrison is a panelist for The Washington Post's On Faith column and contributes to a range of outlets including The Guardian, The Revealer, American Atheist magazine and Religion Dispatches. Her books include Roger Williams' Little Book of Virtues (forthcoming) and Red and Blue God, Black and Blue Church, and Ancient Future Disciples: Meeting Jesus in Mission-Shaped Ministries.