Monday, April 18, 2005

David R.

My name is David R. I am a lifelong member of the United Church of Christ, having wholeheartedly embraced Christian discipleship beginning during confirmation class in my early teens. My faith has carried me through many times of personal struggle. I am a lay leader both in my home congregation and in my local Association of the United Church of Christ. My faith in God informs not only my participation in the life of my congregation and denomination, but my career, my civic involvements, and, yes, my political beliefs as a Democrat.

I was not always a Democrat. I grew up in a non-churchgoing but conservative family, and was confirmed in a rural UCC congregation that was and still is quite conservative. The pastor had little use for what he called "the social gospel." But we had a lay minister in the congregation who preached in the pastor's absence from time to time--and invariably his text was Jesus's parable of the sheep and the goats as recorded in Matthew 25. The lay minister's sermons reminded me that Jesus's test of discipleship was not orthodoxy of belief, but concern for "the least of these"-- that as we feed (or do not feed) the hungry and clothe (or do not clothe) the naked, we follow (or do not follow) Christ. The sermons of that lay minister have stuck with me, in a way that my childhood pastor's ruminations about the Second Coming have not.

My transition from Republican to Democrat began in my college years, when I attended a UCC church near campus in which the pastor, the college group leader, and many of the student members engaged in regular discussions of nonviolence and hunger issues, and saw this as part of their path of discipleship. While I did not at that time share these priorities, I learned to respect those who did. The transition accelerated in my 20's, when I came out as a gay man in the late 1980's, and spent much of the next several years in hospital rooms and memorial services, as friends and acquaintances, one after another, died of AIDS. Many of these friends and acquaintances died alone, estranged from or abandoned by families of origin, disowned by their faith communities, and cut off from their partners and "families of choice" due to the hospital visitation policies of the time. I could not reconcile what I saw happening to my friends with the heartless rhetoric about God's judgment coming from conservative churches, nor could I remain in a Republican party that tried to justify death-dealing policies with glib rhetoric about "God's will".

As a Democrat, my political priorities are in line with the values of my faith. The same Christian beliefs that lead me to volunteer at my church's food cupboard also motivate me to support legislation to increase the minimum wage, provide food stamps, and otherwise create a safety net to keep people from starving. The same Christian beliefs that lead me to welcome strangers at church and visit or telephone those who are sick and shut-in also motivate me to support social policies that are inclusive and supportive of people who are vulnerable and marginalized. The same Christian beliefs that motivate me to forgive others on a personal level and occasionally to visit those in prison, also motivate me to work for policies that gives offenders a chance at rehabilitation. The same Christian beliefs that lead me to sing hymns such as "For the Beauty of the Earth" also lead me to support environmental policies that maintain the beauty of the earth.

And yes, I'll say a word about gay marriage, since it is a hot-button topic today. My partner and I have been together now for nearly 16 years. We've been through some very difficult circumstances together, especially during our first decade together, and have come through the stronger for the experience. At the inception of our relationship, my partner was extremely hostile to the church, reflecting the hostility he had always experienced from organized religion. As time marched on and our relationship progressed, he began to drop in at church occasionally. After my current congregation voted to become Open and Affirming, his occasional visits became more frequent. Several years ago he joined my congregation. Within a year thereafter our pastor blessed our union with a covenanting ceremony, with most of the active members of the congregation in attendance. Far from being a stumbling block, our relationship and our faith commitment have been mutually supportive.

In short, my Democratic political affiliation is not in conflict with my faith, nor is it a substitute for faith, but it is one way in which I attempt to act on my faith.

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