Better Isn’t Good Enough

I have a confession to make: while I have long seen myself as a good, progressive activist, I’ve not been very much of one within my own community lately; well, since moving to Canada. I can give a litany of excuses – “my vote is in the US, and it’s hard to get involved in a place where I can’t impact change at the ballot box”; “my heart is still in the States, that’s where I direct my energy”; or “I’m still learning the ins and outs of Canadian politics; it would be presumptuous of me to come in here and say this or that needs to change”. But if I am honest with myself, the real reason I haven’t been a strong activist here is that things just seem so good. I’ve found it hard to stir up that activist passion within me for issues related to where I live. I mean, here, north of the 49th parallel, we have so many of the things I worked/marched/advocated for in the States (universal health care, same-sex marriage, good schools, etc.), that it’s been hard to kindle that fire in my belly.

Recently some friends tried to engage me in a campaign to raise the minimum wage for tip-based servers in Alberta from $9.15 an hour to $9.85, and I heard myself saying, “In the States, if we got a minimum wage for anyone that was over $9 an hour, we’d be doing a happy dance and declaring ourselves victorious.”

My friends countered, “But the cost of living is so high here in Edmonton…”

I interrupted to say that in Chicago and New York the cost of living was even higher. I told my friends what I just confessed to you, that it was hard to get worked up over Canadian issues when so many things were so much better here. One friend’s reply struck me deeply, “Just because it’s better, doesn’t make it just.”

Just because it’s better, doesn’t make it just.

My friend is right, you know. And as I look around, I see it. We have a single payer health care system, but while it’s better than anything I ever encountered in the US, it’s still far from perfect. And there are people, often immigrants and people of color who slip through the cracks. We have same-sex marriage, but LGBTQ youth are still being bullied in schools here, just like they are south of the Canadian-US border. There are many good policies in place to protect the rights of all people. But during the provincial elections this spring, I saw how close Albertans came to electing a party that would roll back, or at least impede, the very protections which make things “better” here. Things may be “better”, but we have yet to achieve full justice. And we clearly still have a lot of work to do to change the hearts and minds of people here, otherwise we will never know the justice we desire and to which we are called. As I have thought about my friend’s words in light of my faith, I realize, that we are not called to do better; we are called to do justice.

I think a lot of our churches are content to do better, rather than continuing the difficult task of working for full justice. Even some of our Open & Affirming ones.

Our O&A congregations have done the important (and often difficult) work of becoming Open & Affirming. Oh, what a joy it is to attend General Assembly and to see all of the new O&A congregations honored at the GLAD banquet! To announce clearly and boldly to the world that their congregation is welcoming of all people is vital to the mission and ministry of the church. I don’t want to diminish the necessity of becoming O&A, and making that proclamation is certainly better than not doing so. But is it enough?

Is it enough to declare to be Open & Affirming as a congregation, when our denomination still refuses to take a stand, or even to address the issues relating to the full inclusion of LGBTQ persons within the wider Church?

Is it enough to extend a warm welcome to all people within your community, when the same-sex couples who sit in your pews cannot stand at your alter to be legally married in your state?

Is it enough to say, “Y’all come”, when the hatred, the prejudice, and the resounding “You’re not accepted here” voices in our world continue to devastate the lives of LGBTQ youth?

I don’t think so. Don’t get me wrong, being O&A is better than not being O&A. But I have come to believe that better simply isn’t good enough. Our faith does not call us to do better. Our faith calls us to do justice.

Now, I know that many of our O&A congregations are out there petitioning their school boards for anti-bullying curricula, marching on their state houses for marriage equality, demanding our denomination live into its vision to be a “movement for wholeness in a fragmented world”, and working for true justice in myriad ways. But I also know that there are those congregations, like this individual expat living in Canada, who have settled for merely better. So it is to those congregations – and to myself – that I am saying: better isn’t good enough. Let’s get busy working for justice.