First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out–Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.
-Pastor Martin Niemoller (post WWII)
I don’t remember when I first heard this quote, but throughout my life it has spoken to me in different times and places, so much so, that it has become the foundation for everything I try to do in my life. Years after Martin Niemoller was said to have written the quote above, Martin Luther King Jr. expanded on the concept to say, ” Our lives begin to end, the day we become silent about the things that matter.”
Silence. It was overwhelming the morning of May 30th, 2004 in a rural southern town. A young man lay broken and bleeding on a loading dock, beaten so badly, that he would never regain conciousness. Beaten so badly, that his family would be forced to watch him suffer in a hospital for two weeks before he died from injuries sustained in a beating that can only be described as a hate crime.
Silence. It would be the theme that surrounded the investigation for months and years to come, into the circumstances leading to Scotty’s murder. Not just passive silence, but active silence. Silence that required the intervention of powerful people in the community to protect the men that saw fit to kill another man because he didn’t fit their definition of ‘mainstream’. Silence that required the destruction of evidence. Silence that would assure the lack of witnesses. Today, almost 8 years later, the silence still smothers Scotty’s friends and family.
This story of silence is not unique to this rural southern town. If you do google search for Gay hate crimes, you will find stories like this in every state in America. People cheering on family members while they beat gay men to death, even today, in 2012. But, I’m here to tell you another story of silence: Silence of the church. I’m not talking about churches like Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, VA. I assure you that Thomas Road is not silent about gay issues in this country. While they may not advocate violence, they do not condemn it, and they will surely teach that being gay is the eighth deadly sin. It is churches like the Disciple’s Church in this rural southern town that are silent. You see, I grew up in this Disciple’s of Christ church. I was so proud, as a young member of this church, that I could tell people that, ‘my church has a woman as a preacher’: In a town where she would be the only female minister on the interfaith board. This disciple’s church, stood up for her rights as a female minister. But even today, that church, like most disciple’s churches in the United States, remains silent on gay issues.
I have heard many people in disciples congregations, throughout the United States, say, “We don’t need to say we are Open & Affirming. We have gay members that prefer to stay in the closet. They know we love them.” “This issue will divide the church.” But, it is that small town DOC church that breeds the silence that protects Scotty’s killers today. That’s right, most of the members of the group that beat Scotty to death grew up in that small town DOC church. Most of their parents still attend worship on Sunday morning. Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not suggesting that, in anyway, the other members of that DOC church are to blame. Some of the best people I know, are members of that church. A lot of those members would take action if they had the proof that remains silent in the minds of those involved. I am simply asking the question, “Does our silence about gay issues, as a denomination and individual churches, breed the kind of silence that would make it ok to prevent kiillers from coming to justice?” Or does it, at the very least, make us reluctant to stand up in the face of unpopularity. “Our lives begin to end, the day we become silent about the things that matter.”
“This issue will divide the church.” Yes it will. Simple as that. It has divided the church in the past and will continue to do so until we take a stand one way or the other. I challenge all of you that read this to take a stand against the silence. Make the Disciples of Christ church, what it has been for so many people in the past: A place for us to say, “God has made us all in God’s image and we not only welcome you, but we affirm you as a full and active member of the body of Christ, just as you are. You are safe here from the silence.”