University Congregational Church
Sept. 20, 2020
Be the Bridge: The Power of Truth
Galatians 3:25-28 & John 8: 31-32
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died this week, directed the influential Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union during the 1970s. In this position, she led the fight against gender discrimination and successfully argued six landmark cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. Ginsburg took a broad look at gender discrimination, fighting not just for the women left behind, but for the men who were discriminated against as well.
She wrote the brief for Reed v. Reed, in which the Supreme Court extended the protections of the Fourteenth Amendment to women. In 1972, she argued on behalf of a man who had been denied a caregiver deduction because of his gender.
• As amicus she argued in Frontiero v. Richardson, in 1973, which challenged a statute making it more difficult for a female service member to claim an increased housing allowance for her husband than for a male service member seeking the same allowance for his wife. Ginsburg argued that the statute treated women as inferior, and the Supreme Court ruled 8–1 in Frontiero’s favor.
• The court again ruled in Ginsburg’s favor in Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld, where Ginsburg represented a widower denied survivor benefits under Social Security, which permitted widows but not widowers to collect special benefits while caring for minor children. She argued that the statute discriminated against male survivors of workers by denying them the same protection as their female counterparts.
• Ginsburg filed an amicus brief and sat with counsel at oral argument for Craig v. Boren, which challenged an Oklahoma statute that set different minimum drinking ages for men and women. For the first time, the court imposed what is known as intermediate scrutiny on laws discriminating based on gender, a heightened standard of Constitutional review.
She realized that in order to have equal rights for women, she needed to address the inequity faced by both genders – and argued for men and women whenever she saw disparity. It was a wise decision and her reputation grew from this representation. Her Hebrew faith had taught her well – we are all children of God. Male and female – we are created in God’s image. Imago dei. The apostle Paul also taught this truth in our traditional word for today:
But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:25-28
This is the 2nd sermon in our series about Being the Bridge, built around LaTasha Morrison’s book “Be the Bridge; Pursuing God’s Heart for Racial Reconciliation”. The power of truth is our theme for today. Morrison writes about the truth of being a racial minority and what that entails in American society. She writes of the feelings of social isolation – what it feels like to be the only (or one of the few) black persons in her neighborhood, in her office, in her church, and in her social circles. She wonders aloud about how she much she should acclimate to white culture to fit in and make others comfortable with her. She has become aware that she will be judged accordingly.
She writes, “They’d prejudge me by how I spoke and dressed and whether I allowed micro-aggressions to pass without comment. If they judged me more assimilated, more controlled by the majority-culture narrative, I was more accepted. But if I pushed back with my own cultural stories, with more factual recitations of the truth, and if I wore my hair natural or enunciated words a certain way, I’d be judged according to their racial bias and prejudice. The more I embraced my ethnic identity, the greater the chance I’d be rejected – seen as unsafe, angry, and likely to make trouble. That there are these two perceived types of minorities – assimilated or non-assimilated – has caused so much division in communities, among other races, and within the majority culture.”
When our church and College Hill United Methodist, through the Greene Lecture Series, brought columnist Leonard Pitts to Wichita last year, one of the things he said that stuck with me was that race was a social and political construct. He suggested that if he held up a photo of a person and asked the gathered group to identify the race, we might be able to do so, and we might not. The reason is that race is not always discernable by sight. Some people’s skin tone is not indicative of their racial heritage. Eric and I came face-to-face with this truth when we traveled in South Africa. Accustomed to recognizing only a few racial heritages in the United States, we learned that in Africa, there are at least 9 races… and among those – the black tribes understand that there are many racial divides between the tribal people. Nonetheless – 9 races. They do not see race as something you discern by looking at a person or speaking to a person.
If race is a social and political construct, it is important for us to understand that since we are all imago dei (made in the image of God), that no group of people can adequately display the fullness of God without another. The truth is that it takes every one of us gathered together to bring God into wholeness. And yet, Sunday worship is one of the most segregated times of the week!
As Morrison reminds us, this does not suggest that we become totally color-blind. Some aspects of our gender and racial identity are important. We do not need to blend together into an indistinguishable throng of humanity. There can be unity in our diversity. We want to recognize the image of God in one another. We must love despite, and even because of, our differences. We want to celebrate and affirm one another in our uniqueness!
My mom tells a story about me when I was a child. I was about 3 years old and we were at the grocery store shopping. I had not been exposed to many people of color. As we were going down the aisle, there was a very large black woman pushing a cart at the other end of the aisle. I said to my mom, “Mommy, look at that lady.” My mom glanced and saw the lady, and assumed that I was either going to mention her size or her color and tried to quiet me. As three-year olds tend to be, I would not be shushed. “Mommy, look at that lady!” I repeated. This time, my mom and the other lady exchanged rather pained looks with one another. My mom whispered to me to be quiet and turned the cart around to leave the aisle. “But Mom…” I said. “Be quiet”. We left the aisle and the issue was dropped.
As luck would have it, a few aisles later, we were back in the same area with the same woman. This time I would not stay quiet. “Mommy!” “Look at that lady!” “She has a purse just like yours!!!” Both my mom and the lady let out audible sighs of relief and laughed. The obvious to them had not been spoken. The obvious to a child was unexpected and lovely.
Unfortunately, not all the stories are lovely. Most of them are written out of our history books. But the minority voices in our communities know them. Our black, brown, and native brothers and sisters know those stories. And it is important for us to learn them too. Those stories are a part of our history and written out for our comfort. When we learn the atrocities of some of those stories, we may understand some of the angst and fear held by some in those communities. That is the truth Morrison writes about… the truth that will set us all free. As Jesus said to them, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” John 8: 31-32
As part of the family of God… no, as part of imago dei – the image of God – we must listen to the voices of those in the margins. The native, the black and brown, the children, the women, the imprisoned, the orphaned, the homeless, the widowed, and the impoverished. Their lives are also imago dei. Once we sit and listen to their stories and open our eyes to their histories, we will know. We will truly know God.
Morrison, Latasha. Be The Bridge: Pursuing God’s Heart for Racial Reconciliation. Waterbrook, 2019
Penguin Random House LLC