Wednesday, November 20, 2013

"I Will Never Be Silent Again": Pastor Frank Schaefer to United Methodist Church Court

Rev. Frank Schaefer

"I will never be silent again," United Methodist pastor Frank Schaefer told the church court that tried him for officiating at the wedding of his gay son. (And, as an aside that's not really an aside, isn't it amazing that Jesus so decisively excoriated the legalism of the scribes and pharisees, while churches that claim him as their founder have ended up with intricate judicial mechanisms that place people on trial--as if the scribes and pharisees and not Jesus founded the Christian movement?)

"I will never be silent again." Words that change the world. Words that would quickly change the world if all the "innocent" bystanders in the world chose, all at once, to stop being silent. To stop pretending that we do not see the bloodied bodies in front of us.

Silence is complicity, the old aphorism goes. We can't hide behind our unspoken words when injustice abounds while our mouths remain firmly shut. We become part of injustice through our silence.

All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing, Edmund Burke tells us. Opening our mouths and raising our voices creates a solidarity that moves against the grain of unjust institutions within the societies (or faith communities) in which we live. 

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends, Martin Luther King, Jr., declared. One of King's biggest problems as an activist, as someone trying to call attention to the human effects the draconian system of legal segregation had on people of color, was his liberal "friends." They were the people who counseled him to go slowly, to avoid speaking out, to turn away from confrontations. They did not intend to pay any price at all for their supposed "belief" in equality and justice.

It is the silence that frightens me so in the evenings and at night, Anne Frank wrote from her family's hiding place in Amsterdam. She wasn't explicitly writing here about the kind of complicit silence that makes injustice abound in a society. But she might as well have been, since it was precisely that kind of complicit silence that created the conditions that forced her family to go into hiding.

In their introduction to Andrei Voznesensky's Antiworlds (London: Oxford UP, 1967), Patricia Blake and Max Hayward say that Russian leader Khrushchev denounced the Manege museum's exhibition of modern art in 1963 with scatological abuse, equating the painters’ work with homosexuality, for which one could be imprisoned for ten years.  The object was to silence and humiliate artists and writers, Blake and Hayward tell us (xiii).

They wanted to silence the voices of love, but the words of the resurrected, repeated in a thousand echoes on the infinite horizon, tirelessly hammered upon their minute brain: Julia Esquival, "Three Songs for My Mother," Threatened with Resurrection, trans. Maria Elena Avecedo, et al. (Elgin, Ill.: Brethren, 1982).

And so why do I hear Rev. Schaefer's words--I will never be silent again--with gladness of heart this morning? Because, in speaking out, he makes it harder for injustice to abound in the world in which we live today. Because, in speaking out, he gives hope and strength to others. Because, in speaking out, he makes solidarity with others so that one small voice soon grows to a loud crescendo calling for justice.

Because, in speaking out, he exposes the lies and cruelty of institutions that continue to try to crush the humanity of members of a targeted minority group. And, finally, because, by speaking forth, he helps to release the power of resurrection for which so many of us hunger and thirst so keenly.

The photo is an AP photo that I find in a number of news articles about Rev. Frank Schaefer and his UMC trial, including this AP article in The Guardian.

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