Voices from New Virginia Blog

Good News of Great Joy for ALL the People

Rev._Steve_Hyde.jpgby Rev. Steve Hyde, Pastor (pictured, right)

Ravensworth Baptist Church, Annandale

Dec. 22, 2013

A couple of weeks ago, I officiated at a wedding for two men, Richard and Mark. For me, it was a Peter the Apostle and Cornelius the Centurion moment.

In the 10th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, an angel appears to Cornelius--a Roman centurion--and tells him to summon Peter to his home in Caesarea. Peter is in Joppa, and while the messengers are on their way, the unsuspecting apostle goes up to the rooftop to pray. His message from heaven arrives in a vision, as Peter falls into a trance and is given a clear message that he is not to consider unclean what God considers clean.

Peter’s arrival at the home of Cornelius sets the stage for one of the most dramatic moments in the New Testament. For Peter to step across the doorstep of Cornelius and enter the home of a Gentile is momentous. We might wonder, “So what’s the big deal?” But in that time and place, for a Jewish man (and an apostle at that!) to enter the home of a Gentile was huge. What happens next is a milestone in the history of the church. The lights come on in the heart and soul of Peter, and standing in the living room of a Gentile, he says: “Now I see that God shows no partiality, but that in every nation the one who reverences God and does what is right is acceptable to God!”

Acts_10-34-35.pngWhile Peter was speaking the Holy Spirit fell upon everyone in the house, and “the Jewish believers who had come with Peter were absolutely amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit was being poured out on Gentiles also. Then Peter exclaimed, ‘Could anyone refuse water to these Gentiles being baptized--those who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did ourselves?’”

two_men_on_wedding_cake.jpgWe are not told exactly what this experience was like for Peter, but my guess is that once the lights came on for him, there was nothing half-hearted about his baptism of a room full of Gentiles. I think he may have been surprised by his own whole-heartedness. What would have seemed taboo to Peter such a short time before was now an occasion for great joy.

As I see it, marriage equality is about joy and justice. Most of us have heard by now what is intended to be a clever and funny observation that God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. But it’s not funny if you happen to be Adam and Steve, excluded from the joy of marriage while in a deeply committed relationship marked by love and fidelity. I cannot imagine what it would have felt like 44 years ago to be told that Jean and I could not be married, and for a sizable percentage of the population to assume that our exclusion from the joy and benefits of marriage was okay.

joy-with-white.jpgMore people are saying “Now I see!” when it comes to marriage equality. I crossed that doorstep some time ago, but walking into the house is not the same as doing the baptism. What I want to report is something other than the joy of Richard and Mark as they spoke their vows to each other. I want to report the joy I felt looking into their faces, and the faces of their friends and family as I said: “Richard...Mark...repeat after me.”

On the wondrous night of the first Christmas, the message from the sky and from the lips of the angel was: “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.” The joy is not complete, and justice has not arrived...until it’s for all the people.


The Symbolic Statement for Equality by Richmond City Council

By Rabbi Gary S. Creditor (right)

November 1, 2013; Richmond, Virginia

Rabbi_Creditor.jpgThis past Monday night I listened to language that was laced with hatred, venom and vituperation.  It could have been used at many early junctures in American history. It was fortified with theological certitude over what God wants. And it was spiked with threats of eternal damnation. If I was somewhere else other than the chambers of the City Council of Richmond I might have feared for my life. Personally, I have not heard such language in a very long time. The issue that attracted such diatribes was the proposed ordinance that, at such time that the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Virginia permits, partners in same-sex marriages of employees of the City of Richmond would receive equal benefits as all others.  The ordinance had three sponsors on the City Council. It needed two more votes to pass.

Sometimes it is hard to imagine that we live in the year 2013 or even better, 5774.

I wonder whether fellow citizens have paid attention to the development of society.

The arguments voiced harkened back to the denial of civil rights for African-Americans.

The positions espoused could be used to subjugate any segment of society that was different than the speaker.

Torah.jpgI was stunned but not really surprised. I did want to shout “Oy veys meir!” But I didn’t.

The vote of five to four by which it ultimately passed was partial vindication for the experience of the evening. 

I am proud that a colleague in the ministry, when his turn to speak came, publicly noticed me in the audience in support of the ordinance. There were too many speakers to fit into the thirty minute allotment. But with my appearance and the whitest kipah I own on my head, I was easily identified. It was important personally and for our religious community to be present so that my position could be acknowledged.

 If I had the podium and more than three minutes to speak, these are the points I would have made to the City Council.

1. God has not spoken to me recently, so I don’t know what God wants. It is vital to come with humility and not with certitude. We have a holy text that has historical narrative, specific laws that surely reflect an earlier time and place, and a theology about humanity. One speaker cited the Book of Leviticus and would have been very pleased if, based on that text, LBGTQ population would all be put to death. I would have asked the gentleman: What about unruly children? What about Sabbath desecrators – regardless of Saturday or Sunday? What about adulterers? If you are going to cite the Bible for killing one group, then at least be consistent and kill them all!? I wish the absurdity of that statement to be apparent. I don’t deny the verse in Leviticus. I just don’t apply it, and I certainly can’t imagine that this is God’s absolute last word on the matter and that He - or She – [that would have caused the speaker an apoplexy] wants me to commit murder. I have to work very hard to believe that I know what God wants.

Leviticus_19-18.jpg2. I would have asked the Council members: what are the two most important verses in the Five Books of Moses? And I would have referred them to the same Book of Leviticus where it states that we should love our neighbor as ourselves [ed., Lev. 19:18]. On a previous Shabbat I have explained that the Hebrew word usually translated as neighbor really means ‘the other.’ And The Torah doesn’t restrict this verse just to men and not women, young and not old, Israelite and not foreigner. The second most important verse comes from Genesis where it says that “these are the generations of Adam.” It refers to all  humanity, implying that the Divine design is to have a varieted humanity that looks different, sounds different, talks different, is different and yet are all related to each other. Those who are LBGTQ are just as much related. And if Leviticus commands us to love each other, meaning to take care of each other, be considerate of each other, see to the welfare of each other, then it means that we should love them too.

Worship_the_Lord_in_the_Beauty_of_Holiness.jpg3. Judaism expounds the view that our understanding of anything and everything evolves, even as a core bedrock values are eternal. So I would have asked the Council: What is the most important value of all? Is it democracy? Capitalism? Conservativism? I would recommend to the Council that the most important value of all is that of holiness, the holiness of each and every person, of the air, of the land, of life itself. Holiness is the reflection of the Divine in all of creation. It adheres to all that is with no distinction. There are no restrictions to holiness. It can be found in all. It can be found in everyone that stands in relationship to something other than themselves, and even in the relationship of one to one’s own self. It can be found in all segments of society, the straight and the LGBTQ alike.

From all of this it is preeminently clear to me that the granting of spousal benefits to gay employees of the City of Richmond, at such time as we change the constitution of the Commonwealth, was and is the just and righteous thing to do. This is what I believe God wants of us. I commend my Council member, Mr. John Baliles for voting in the affirmative. I wish the other members had made it unanimous.

rainbow_flag_in_front_of_the_Supreme_Court_June_25_2013.jpgYet I have one further comment. Several Council members said that this was “only” symbolic, and as such, was inappropriate for the Council to do. I would suggest that they consider the inherent power of symbolic statements. What is the difference between a sign and a symbol? The answer is that a sign points only to itself or a limited action or moment. A stop sign does nothing more than indicate that a car at that place stops before proceeding. It has no greater message. A flag is a symbol for it indicates history, evokes devotion, galvanizes action, stirs emotions, and points to the past and to the future. Symbols, symbolic actions, symbolic statements have great power and meaning. It was and is worthy of the City of Richmond to make symbolic statements for they reveal what we think of ourselves and what we dream for the future.

shabbat.jpgWith its particular history, it is right and dutiful that the City of Richmond to have stepped forward in the extension of rights and benefits for the partners of all of its employees. Now all we have to do is change the Constitution.

Shabbat Shalom.

Is the Rainbow Enuf?

POFEV logo for webBy Rev. Dr. Robin Gorsline, POFEV President & CEO

September 20, 2013

[Robin Gorsline wrote this blog as part of a series of reflections on LGBT liberation and the Rainbow Flag in anticipation of a September 24, 2013, interfaith Pride Service "The Many Voices of LGBT Pride" at Congregation Beth Ahabah in Richmond.  You can link to Robin's other reflections on the colors of the Rainbow Flag at Robin's personal blog here.]

This is a difficult post, because in a short space I am attempting to tackle a complex set of topics: color as in visual perception and art, color as in skin color and race and racism, color as in history of a people, and probably one or two other things.

Rainbow flag 8 colors 1978In our spiritual observance of LGBT Pride this Tuesday at Congregation Beth Ahabah, we will center ourselves on the eight-color rainbow flag that was originally designed and sewn by artist Gilbert Baker in 1978. That vibrant palette had two colors no longer in use, hot pink and turquoise, as has been noted in this space in prior posts. Also, indigo has been replaced by a more basic blue.

Over the years, however, I have been troubled by a color that was never included, namely brown. My distress has several foundations. First, as you may know from prior posts on the rainbow, I like color. And although brown is not a bright color it signifies much that I love: earth, of course, fall leaves, monks’ habits (especially the Franciscans), and wood. Jesus is so often portrayed wearing earth tones, and if we showed him accurately his skin would be that dark olive of the Middle East that is part green and part brown–no blonde, he! It also signifies for me, and many others, a whole people, or peoples, people whose skin color is not like mine. We often call some of them “black” people, but most of those are more accurately brown. And then there are Hispanic peoples who are so often shades of brown (and some Native American people may appear to be more brown than red).

When I see brown, I see the ground of being–even though according to experts, brown is not its own color, but rather a mixture of red, black and orange. It is officially considered a shade of orange. Check this out for more about brown. Oh yes, one more thing: many of us run after a “tan” each summer, wanting to look brown as a nut.

Hitler's brown shirtsI also know, that like the pink triangle and the yellow star of David, the Nazis, and their counterparts in Mussolini’s Italy, appropriated brown as the color of their uniforms. Once again, something beautiful and loving was turned into a symbol of hate and violence. So, as always, it is complicated.

But for me, part of the complication has been this: Are “brown people” included in the rainbow? One response is to say, well, of course, there is no white in the rainbow, and no black, so the absence of brown signifies nothing about race or racism. It sounds reasonable, and as a straightforward logical point of view it is.

But for those of us who are “white” (of course, most of us are not truly white–its more that we are not “black”), it is important to remember that it is people who look like us who created this rainbow flag–and I don’t just mean Gilbert Baker. White people have long held most of the leadership positions in the LGBT community, and until fairly recently, it was white people who always seemed to be pictured in groups of LGBT people. Context matters.

For-Colored-Girls who have considered suicideAnd I remember in the 80′s picking up a copy of a ground-breaking book, the book of a play called, “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf,”by Ntozake Shange, a major poetic and drama voice among African American women. The play was produced off Broadway in various locales and finally, on September 15, 1976 at the Booth Theater on Broadway,

It is not enough to say that this play is powerful, it knocks your socks off. It was an early venture in what was known as “women’s theater,” at a time when that usually meant “white women’s theater.” It still, forty years later, catches you–the rhythms, the insistent truth-telling, the images.

One thing in particular caught me: there are seven parts in the show, seven ladies: one in yellow, one in red, one in green, one in purple, one in blue, one in orange . . . . and, yes, one in brown.

And here’s another thing: the show begins with the lady in brown.  Here’s part of her first speech:

I can’t hear anythin

but maddening screams

& the soft strains of death

& you promised me . . .


sing a black girl’s song

bring her out

to know herself

to know you

but sing her rhythms

carin/struggle/hard times

sing her song of life

she’s been dead so long

closed in silence so long

she doesn’t know the sound

of her own voice

her infinite beauty

she’s half-notes scattered

without rhythm/no tune

sing her sighs

sing the song of her possibilities

sing a righteous gospel

the makin of a melody

let her be born

let her be born

& handled warmly

Let her be born . . .  maybe the rainbow, our rainbow, is enuf, but then again, are we not yet engaged in giving birth to ourselves, to our community, too, and don’t we want to be sure none are left, none are stillborn, none are cast away or cast out?  So maybe we need a bigger rainbow? I know mine is bigger than six, and even than eight.

“Celebrating the Many Voices of LGBT Pride” means, for me at least, making sure the “brown” voice is heard.  Join us Tuesday night as we attempt to celebrate all the voices (and no doubt we will fall short–but making the effort is important).