by Rev. Dale Azevedo, Sr. Minister
I Am Troubled
Last night, I went to bed troubled.
I have two rules at bedtime:
- Don’t look at your church email before going to bed.
- Don’t read the news before going to bed.
Doing either of these tasks before going to bed rarely, if ever, ends well.
And of course, I periodically break these rules. Last night I broke the latter. I read the news. And the result was predictable. I was deeply upset.
The news item that triggered me was an AP report on Governor DeSantis expanding the Parental Rights in Education Act, which is more commonly known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. That bill greatly restricted schools and educators from discussing sexuality and gender issues with students in kindergarten through third grade. This report indicated that DeSantis is working with the state Board of Education and state Education Department to expand the bill to also cover grades 4-12.
How can schools not cover sexuality and gender issues with teenagers in this day and age when teen suicide and mental health issues are only increasing year over year. Gender and sexuality are, and have always been, at the forefront of teen stress and mental health (even when all those issues were still tightly locked away in the closet).
I don’t understand how such a large portion of our population chooses to deny that queer folk exist and always have. Ostracizing them, despising them, or discriminating against them does nothing to make our society a better, healthier place. It only causes pain, suffering, and historically, violence.
Of course, none of this is new. The news article told me nothing I didn’t already know or haven’t experienced in my life. Humanity is hell bent on alienating and dehumanizing the sections of our own population that are most vulnerable. It is our human condition. It is our sin. This goes for racism, antisemitism, Islamophobia, sexism, and anti-immigrant sentiments that are all prevalent in our midst.
What set me off last night wasn’t that this was new. It was my feeling of impotence.
I feel incapable of enacting change, of making a difference. I have spent my life trying to make the world a more loving, more compassionate place. And it’s only gotten worse.
That is why I was so upset last night. I cannot impact what is happening in Florida. I cannot impact what is happening on a national scale. I cannot impact what is happening globally. Now, I know there are those who disagree with that fatalistic attitude, but I wouldn’t have listened to you last night. It all just felt hopeless.
This morning I woke up with a thought. In my fatalism I thought, “I can’t make a difference in the big picture. I’ve been trying my whole life and things are only worse than when I began. I can only impact my immediate sphere of influence. What difference does it make if our church is a safe place for society’s outcasts or downtrodden when the world is still so hostile and violent toward them?” And that’s when it hit me:
Our church IS a safe place for some of society’s more vulnerable people. Our church NEEDS TO BE a safe place in the midst of the harsh and challenging world. If the world isn’t going to change for the better, we need to double-down on our efforts.
Is having rainbow doors outside church enough?
Is having LGBTQ+ leaders and teachers in our congregation enough?
Is using inclusive language and celebrating God’s amazing diversity in our community and with our children enough?
Or is there something more we can be doing to live out our identity as an Open and Affirming congregation? Is there more we can do to alert the broader community that we ARE a safe place for those who feel vulnerable? Is there more we can do to live out this calling MORE FULLY in our actions and not just in our words?
There must be.
And maybe the time is now to do it.
I Am Going to Take Action
This is what I am going to do:
- Last spring Racquel and I discussed starting a support group for parents of trans children. Do you know we have at least 3 families in our church whose children self-identify as part the trans community? Yet somehow 10 months have passed and nothing has happened. Today, I am committing to exploring this idea further and see if there is a healthy and effective way we can move forward in supporting families with trans children.
- Did you know there is only one nonprofit organization in Rhode Island specifically dedicated to meeting the needs of LGBTQIA+ youth? It’s named Youth Pride Inc. Today, I am committing to reaching out to Youth Pride Inc. to see how we might be able to partner in this vital ministry. They have resources and leaders that I (we?) can learn from.
- We don’t have an Open and Affirming Team anymore. That team came together and performed incredible work helping our church grow into being the welcoming church we now are. But they disbanded years ago. Today I am committing to reestablishing an Open and Affirming Team in the church that will seek to explore new ways we can be truly Open and Affirming in our faith community in all the glory that designation stands for. If you are interested in joining me in this endeavor, fire off an email to me.
What does any of this have to do with Jesus?
I almost didn’t write this blog. I had another blog already in mind that focused on our recent explorations into overhauling the governance structure of our church. That one would have been easy to write. This one felt “wrong” because it doesn’t directly focus on Jesus, or faith, or church. It focusses on the lives of LGBTQ+ youth.
But in the end, I decided to go ahead with this blog. Because, to me, this IS at the core of our faith. How many times does God command the Israelites care for the most vulnerable in their midst? More than I can list here. How many times did Jesus stop what he was doing to help those in need or care for someone who was hurting? It is the heart of his ministry! In Bible times, these folks were the disabled, the widows, the children, the sick, the immigrant, the foreigner, and the poor. It’s amazing that 2000-3000 years later these groups are STILL at risk. Only the designation has now grown to include those of different faiths, different skin colors, different sexual orientations, or gender identities. Anyone we can put down, anyone we can count as “other”, anyone we can blame for society’s ills (except ourselves), we demonize and subjugate. God doesn’t stand for that. Jesus wouldn’t accept that. And yet so many do it in His name.
So, in the end, to me this IS a matter of faith. This IS a matter of church, and God, and Jesus. Because it is what God calls us to do.
And so, I will do.
Breaking the Rules
I said at the start that anything good seldom comes from breaking my bedtime rules. It appears I was wrong about that. If I hadn’t broken my rules last night this blog wouldn’t have happened. If I hadn’t opened up the AP app last night, I wouldn’t be taking these actions. But I did. And I am.
So, maybe I was wrong. Maybe something good did come out of breaking the rules. Maybe the Spirit was at work then…and is now…