Friday, June 14, 2013

“Let Justice Roll Like a River and Wash All Oppression Away”

With a mixture of relief and deep joy, parishioners from St. George’s Episcopal Church in Glenn Dale gathered in our sanctuary on the evening of November 7, 2012 to celebrate the passage of Question 6—the ballot initiative in Maryland that affirmed the right of same-sex couples to marry. We had planned a service to be entitled “The Arc of Justice.” Win or lose, we would come together in prayer. 

Terry Doyle, right, at his
wedding to John Rebstock, left
The title had been inspired by the insight of Theodore Parker: that the moral arc of the universe, though long, bends toward justice. We had intended to gather to console if we lost, or to claim victory. 

As the choir sang the refrain to the anthem for the evening, “Let justice roll like a river and wash all oppression away,” I realized why our advocacy for civil marriage equality had been so spiritually transformative—for myself as well as for others at St. George’s. 

It was not simply a matter of winning or losing, though the stakes were quite high for the couples in our parish who have been denied marriage equality. Rather, our advocacy had begun the cleansing of oppression that was now underway—and continues. 

As we mark Pride Month this June, I reflect back upon our efforts on Question 6. They were begun a year ago, as we prepared ourselves with Scripture study and prayer. We hosted a dramatic reading of the play “8” about the ballot initiative in California, which Bishop Mariann participated in as a reader. We networked with Marylanders for Marriage Equality, from whom we learned how to conduct a phone bank at our church and to do door-to-door advocacy in our neighborhoods. Some of us also staffed polling places in efforts to make one last appeal to voters to vote Yes for Question 6 on Election Day. 

Yet, what distinguishes spiritual preparation for advocacy is the awareness that we live our lives in a spirit of hope, mindful that we are heirs to God’s promise of liberation and justice. We are also witnesses to the cross and, as such, cognizant that suffering is redemptive, and that ultimately the love of God prevails. 

So, as we gathered that evening in November, we spoke with the joy of victory. And at the same time, we consoled one another, cleansing the pain that we had absorbed—the rebuff or scorn when our appeals were expressed to unwelcoming ears, the humiliation of having to ask others for rights, fear of losing, and anger about rude treatment we had gotten in some situations. 

And we sang: “Let justice roll like a river and wash all oppression away. Come, O God, and take us, move and shake us. Come now, and make us anew that we might live justly like you.”

Terry Doyle is a member of St. George's, Glenn Dale. This blog is part of a Saturday series on LGBT and faith topics in honor of LGBT Pride Month. Share your thoughts and reactions on Facebook.