In 2005, as an American Baptist pastor and Maine State Representative, I stood on the floor of the Maine House and offered the following testimony in favor of passage of the Equal Rights law for Maine citizens with a different sexual orientation from mine:
Loving Our Neighbor:
Mr. Speaker; Men and Women of the House… I stand before you today wearing two hats that are of paramount importance to me. The first is that I am a professing Christian and a pastor and am sworn to render to God the things that are God’s… The second is that I have been elected by the people of District 83 and am sworn to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s… The question that I face with this bill, therefore, is whether these two allegiances—to God and to Caesar—are in conflict with one another…I think they are not. In fact, the easiest thing that I have to do today is to vote in favor of this bill. And I intend to do that when the vote is taken, Mr. Speaker.
We do not have to look very far to know that gays have been singled out by the Christian right as a symbol of the evil in our culture. They need protection, it is sad to say, from people of God—people who enjoy exclusion from income and property tax laws while collecting signatures to restrict the rights of others.
We Christians are commanded to love God with all our hearts, all our minds, and all our strength. We also are commanded to: “Love our neighbor as we would want to be loved.” When the crowd asked Jesus, “Who is our neighbor?” They were told effectively, ‘Your neighbor is that person on the side of the road of life who has been robbed of dignity and beaten by the system.” Do we cross to the other side of the road to avoid that person? Do we defer the treatment of that person to the public referendum process or to a poll? Or do we lead by example— bind up the wounds and provide an opportunity for justice to prevail? Maybe our neighbor is a throwaway kid who is being unmercifully teased at school. Or maybe—just maybe—our neighbor is a gay person who is subjected to an undercurrent of rejection because he or she is different.
The third part of that love thing is the toughest of all. “Love your enemies. Do good to those who despise you. Pray for those who hate you.” When asking “Who is our enemy?” We hear from the Scriptures, “Your enemy is of your own household.” Imagine that! Our enemy is not the person who is different from us. Our enemy is someone who thinks the same, looks the same, and perhaps believes the same as do we. Paraphrasing the words of Pogo, “We have met the enemy, and they are us.”
Tribute to Sen. Margaret Chase Smith:
There was a time in our history when our nation was consumed with another kind of witch hunt…the hunt for the communists among us. On June 1, 1950, a brave lady from Skowhegan, Maine, GOP Sen. Margaret Chase Smith, rose to the floor of the United States Senate to put a stop to this national madness. Her words could help guide us today…
Those of us who shout the loudest about Americanism in making character assassinations are all too frequently those who, by our own words and acts, ignore some of the basic principles of Americanism: The right to criticize… The right to hold unpopular beliefs… The right to protest… The right of independent thought… The exercise of these rights should not cost one single American citizen his reputation or his right to a livelihood…nor should he be in danger of losing his reputation or livelihood merely because he happens to know someone who holds unpopular beliefs. Who of us doesn’t?
And with those words, Mr. Speaker, I rest my case…
No Winners or Losers:
There are no winners or losers in debates like this. Put simply, to believe in God is to know that our God is supreme and fully capable of reforming and empowering His Church to live in society through a mission of sacrificial love. Left largely in the dustbin of redemptive hope, however, is the command of discipleship among Evangelicals, the most self-conscious wing of the Christian Church, where for all too many, Jesus is Savior but rarely worshiped or followed as Lord.