Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A White Pastor's Letter to His White Church About Ferguson


As always, I'm proud to be your minister.  I'm proud for many reasons, but especially for the fact that you encourage me to speak my mind to you.  You don't always agree with me--nor should you--but you never censor me.  For that fact I am grateful, especially as I offer my thoughts to you about the events on the other side of our state in Ferguson, MO.

Do you ever wonder about the name of our church?  I do.  Often.  We are called Country Club Congregational United Church of Christ, because we were simply Country Club Congregational Church before our denomination, the United Church of Christ took its present form in 1957.  (Apparently no one was bothered back then by a really long church name.)  Originally we were Country Club Congregational Church formed in the 1920's when real estate developer J.C. Nichols created the "Country Club District" in what was then one of the first suburbs of Kansas City.  

We have much to thank J.C. Nichols for in Kansas City in terms of beautiful neighborhoods.  Our own church sits on its beautiful position at the confluence of West 65th Street and Linden Street, because Nichols designed the neighborhood of Armor Hills and decided it would be pretty to have a church there.  He was right.  Even though his "Country Club District" had no country club in its boundaries, the name spoke to an aspiring middle class with dreams of living like those who enjoyed such luxuries.  

There was a ugly side to the "Country Club District," however, since only white people could live in it.  The original covenants for neighborhoods like Armor Hills had racial exclusions that stated, "none of the lots hereby restricted may be conveyed, to, used, owned, nor occupied by Negroes as owners or tenants."  (I've been told the covenants still contain the language, because removing it would entail exorbitant legal costs.  Such restrictive zoning was outlawed long ago anyway.)  This "country club" was only open to whites.  (Read more about J.C. Nichols restrictive racial covenants and their effect upon housing nationwide here.)  

Do you ever wonder where the expressions "East of Troost" and "West of Troost" come from?  They come from the era of segregation in Kansas City.  Troost Avenue was the dividing line.  Through the decades of desegregation, Civil Rights, the collapse of the Kansas City, Missouri schools and more the language of "East of Troost/West of Troost" survives.  I'm told by some older African Americans who are native to Kansas City that they still don't feel comfortable coming to Brookside.  

The words "Country Club" in our church name have a history--a history that has an ugly side to it.  I share this bit of history with you to point out that our city's racist past affects our present in ways we may not even realize.  

We are an overwhelmingly white church in a neighborhood that within our church's lifetime excluded all African American people.  We literally bear the history of racism in our church name.  We claim to be a "Peace with Justice" church, and if we really mean that, we should learn a lesson from the history of our church's name: we walk around every day not realizing how the history of racism affects our present.

The history of racism has a lot to do with what has gone on in the last few months in Ferguson.  If you think African Americans in St. Louis are just upset about Michael Brown, then you need to learn a bit about St. Louis history.   The tensions surrounding race in Ferguson and other "inner suburbs" in St. Louis County are the result of what economist Richard Rothstein calls "a century of discriminatory policies at the local, state and federal level."  Zoning and housing policies systematically limited where blacks could live and suppressed real estate values of property they were allowed to own.  The wealth generated over generations by whites due to increased property values was not shared by blacks.  The net result is generational black poverty.  Rothstein says:

"As we know from a lot of recent research, intergenerational income mobility in this country is quite low. If you're born into a low-income family, the chances are very, very great that you yourself will have a low income. We don't have nearly the kind of mobility that is mythical in this country.

"So after a century of policies which denied African-Americans access to jobs that pay decent wages, the likelihood is that their children and their children's children will still be paying the price for those policies that held their parents and grandparents behind for so long."

Ferguson's more recent history shows a disturbing disparity between how it treats its black and white citizens.  A recent Washington Post article detailed how the small municipalities in St. Louis County--like Ferguson--have their own municipal courts and derive as much as 40% of their annual budgets from citations and court costs largely from low-income black residents.  Mother Jones Magazine recently laid out some of the disturbing facts about Ferguson's city government and police tactics:
  • In a town that is 60% black, the mayor and police chief are white and there is only one black member of city council and only one black member of the school board.
  • In 2013 in Ferguson, 486 black people were arrested while only 36 white people were arrested.
  • In 2013 in Ferguson, 92% of searches and 86% of car stops involved blacks.
  • Despite the fact that police stops are of black people, white people stopped in Ferguson are more likely to have contraband (1 in 3 whites, 1 in 5 blacks).  
Combine Ferguson's lousy history when it comes to race with nationwide statistics on how blacks are treated by law enforcement and a disturbing picture emerges.
  • From 2009-20013 "black people were about four times as likely to die in custody or while being arrested than whites."    (source: Mother Jones)
  • Another study says that blacks are "21 times" more likely to be shot dead by police than whites.  (source: ProPublica)
The death of Michael Brown at the hands of a white police officer was merely the spark that ignited a powder keg of localized and national racism.  This is why questions of whether or not Michael Brown was a thug or a good young man miss the larger point.  This is why the differing witness accounts of the struggle between officer Wilson and Michael Brown miss the bigger picture.  This is why the media's focus upon looting and arson rather than the hundreds and thousands of peaceful activists in and around Ferguson ignores the real story.  Ferguson is only the local eruption of a nationwide anger over how African Americans feel about being the targets of a long history of oppression--oppression that continues today.

If you need more convincing about the systematic racism in our nation that continues to affect African Americans today, I refer you to the excellent article in The Atlantic by Ta-Nehisi Coates: "The Case for Reparations: Two-hundred fifty years of slavery.  Ninety Years of Jim Crow.  Sixty years of separate but equal.  Thirty-five years of racist housing policy.  Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole." 

We are an overwhelmingly white church that claims to also be a "Peace with Justice" church, so we should be aware of our social location.  The way we view the world may be very different than how African Americans view the world.  A recent article in The Atlantic presented polling about Ferguson demonstrating the dramatic differences in perception between blacks and whites:

More than three-quarters (76 percent) of black respondents say that the shooting is part of a broader pattern, nearly double the number of whites who agree (40 percent). Similarly, a Pew Research Center poll found that overall the country is divided over whether Brown's shooting "raises important issues about race that need to be discussed" (44 percent) or whether "the issue of race is getting more attention than it deserves" (40 percent). However, black Americans favor the former statement by a four-to-one margin (80 percent vs. 18 percent) and at more than twice the level of whites (37 percent); among whites, nearly half (47 percent) believe the issue of race is getting more attention than it deserves. 

The Atlantic article goes on to explain why this difference in perception exists.  White people "self-segregate" themselves and their social networks are almost entirely made up of white people.  

Overall, the social networks of whites are a remarkable 91 percent white.* White American social networks are only one percent black, one percent Hispanic, one percent Asian or Pacific Islander, one percent mixed race, and one percent other race. In fact, fully three-quarters (75 percent) of whites have entirely white social networks without any minority presence. This level of social-network racial homogeneity among whites is significantly higher than among black Americans (65 percent) or Hispanic Americans (46 percent). 

Given the history of racism in our country (and our city) and given that most of us white people surround ourselves with people with the same experiences as ourselves when it comes to race, how can we claim to understand what is going on in Ferguson?  How can we understand "black rage" if we don't know any black people?  How can we understand the experience of black people with law enforcement and the criminal justice system when we do not have relationships with black people?  How can we talk about Ferguson, when we have not listened first to black people?  

In an effort to listen to African American voices about Ferguson, here are some that I found powerful.

Carol Anderson, associate professor of African American studies and history at Emory University in The Washington Post: 

"When we look back on what happened in Ferguson, Mo., during the summer of 2014, it will be easy to think of it as yet one more episode of black rage ignited by yet another police killing of an unarmed African American male. But that has it precisely backward. What we've actually seen is the latest outbreak of white rage. Sure, it is cloaked in the niceties of law and order, but it is rage nonetheless.

"Protests and looting naturally capture attention. But the real rage smolders in meetings where officials redraw precincts to dilute African American voting strength or seek to slash the government payrolls that have long served as sources of black employment. It goes virtually unnoticed, however, because white rage doesn't have to take to the streets and face rubber bullets to be heard. Instead, white rage carries an aura of respectability and has access to the courts, police, legislatures and governors, who cast its efforts as noble, though they are actually driven by the most ignoble motivations."

Toure, co-host of "The Cycle" on MSNBC in The Washington Post: 

"when there's a black victim involved, the information takes a different and predictable turn: The victim becomes thuggified. This is an easy leap for many minds, given the widespread expectation of black criminality. If you become nervous when you see a young black male approaching on the street, it is not hard to convince you that a kid who was shot was not one of the "good ones," that he was scary and maybe did something to deserve it. Information wars thrive on America's empathy gap - the way some people struggle to see any kinship or shared humanity with strangers who don't look like them. . .

"But when individuals arrive in the court of public opinion, or in a court of law, the burden of being a perfect victim in order to receive justice is impossibly heavy. It doesn't allow for human fallibility. Is there any information from your past that could make you look bad? Any photo that, taken out of context, could portray you as someone you don't recognize?

"Most of us have something in our pasts we would not want revealed. And for black Americans, those facts too often are used to suggest that victims of injustice don't deserve justice, because they weren't some sort of credit to their race. In a nation where police often approach black communities with a dragnet, stopping and frisking everyone, marking as many black men as possible with a record, it would be hard to find a black male who looks like an angel.

"But it doesn't matter whether Brown was an angel. He was young and growing and human, and he made mistakes. That's okay. The real question is not: Was Brown a good kid? The real question is: How are police officers supposed to treat citizens? 

". . .Michael Brown was not perfect. But few of us are. And that does not speak to whether we deserve to die."

Brittney Cooper who teaches gender and women's studies and Africana studies at Rutgers University in Salon.com:

"We are talking about justifiable outrage. Outrage over the unjust taking of the lives of people who look like us. How dare people preach and condescend to these people and tell them not to loot, not to riot?  Yes, those are destructive forms of anger, but frankly I would rather these people take their anger out on property and products rather than on other people.

"No, I don't support looting. But I question a society that always sees the product of the provocation and never the provocation itself. I question a society that values property over black life. But I know that our particular system of law was conceived on the founding premise that black lives are white property. "Possession," the old adage goes, "is nine-tenths of the law."

"But we are the dispossessed. We cannot count on the law to protect us. We cannot count on police not to shoot us down in cold blood. We cannot count on politics to be a productive outlet for our rage. We cannot count on prayer to soothe our raging, ragged souls. . .

"Violence is the effect, not the cause of the concentrated poverty that locks that many poor people up together with no conceivable way out and no productive way to channel their rage at having an existence that is adjacent to the American dream. This kind of social mendacity about the way that racism traumatizes black people individually and collectively is a festering sore, an undiagnosed cancer, a raging infection threatening to overtake every organ in our body politic. . .

"Nothing makes white people more uncomfortable than black anger. But nothing is more threatening to black people on a systemic level than white anger. It won't show up in mass killings. It will show up in overpolicing, mass incarceration, the gutting of the social safety net, and the occasional dead black kid."

Jamelle Boule staff writer for Slate.com:

"More troubling is [Officer Darren] Wilson's physical description of Brown, which sits flush with a century of stereotypes and a bundle of recent research on implicit bias and racial perceptions of pain. In so many words, Wilson describes the "black brute," a stock figure of white supremacist rhetoric in the lynching era of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. . .  That image never went away; it lingers in crack-era stories of superpowered addicts and teenaged superpredators, as well as rhetoric around other victims of police brutality. "Jurors in the Rodney King beating trial were warned early on that the black motorist was not on trial," notes a March 29, 1993 wire story on jury deliberations, "Yet they have heard King compared to a 'monster,' a 'Tasmanian devil' and a man with 'hulk-like strength.' "

". . .  Add to this what we know about implicit bias-that most people perceive blacks as more violent and dangerous than other groups-and you have a Darren Wilson narrative that reads like a textbook case of racial projection.

"Indeed, it's worth noting the extent to which Wilson's story echoes George Zimmerman's account of his confrontation with Trayvon Martin. Like Brown, Martin is aggressive; he approaches Zimmerman's SUV, circles it, and threatens him. When he tried to escape, Zimmerman said, Martin punched him in the face, knocked him down, and began beating him on the sidewalk. Like Brown, Martin threatens Zimmerman-"You're gonna die now"-and like Wilson, Zimmerman shoots him, fearing for his life.

"It's the fear that's most striking. Wilson was trained, armed, and empowered with the force of law. At almost any point in his confrontation with Brown, he could have called for backup and won control of the situation. But, he says, he was too gripped with terror to do anything but shoot. The same was true for Zimmerman, and the same was true for Michael Dunn, the man who killed Jordan Davis in a Jacksonville, Florida parking lot.

"Maybe Wilson is telling the truth. Maybe-like Zimmerman and Dunn and all the others-he faced a powerful black "demon" who wouldn't stop and had to be killed. But this would be an incredible coincidence, or more likely, evidence of some terrible, criminal pathology among young black men. Which is to say, I doubt it's true.

"Instead, consider this: Maybe Wilson was an ordinary police officer with all the baggage it carries. Maybe, like many of his peers on the Ferguson police force, he was hard on black teenagers. Maybe, like many Americans, he was a little afraid of them. And maybe all of this-his fear, his bias, and his training-met Michael Brown and combined to create tragedy.

"If so, the lesson of Wilson is that he isn't unique. That his fear is common. And that the same forces that drove Wilson and Brown to confrontation can-and will-drive another Wilson and another Brown to another confrontation with the same deadly results."

And if all these words by African American writers along with those of your white pastor weren't enough, if you think the grand jury that chose not to indict officer Darren Wilson was a fair and transparent process, I encourage you to read the critique of how St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCullough handled the grand jury by this white former public defender.

To sum up, Country Club Congregational United Church of Christ is an overwhelmingly white church with a white minister and together we have a limited perspective on the African American experience.  When we look at the events in Ferguson, we have to do our homework, do a lot of listening and do a lot of praying if we really want to be a "Peace with Justice" church.  We get to decide which parts of our church name are more important to our identity.  Do the words "Church" and "Christ" matter more to our identity than "Country Club?"

Grace and Peace

Chase
    

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Recommended Reading: 11-1-14 edition

Each week (more or less) I send out an e-mail to my congregation with my thoughts including stuff I've read over the past week that I want to pass along.  Here's what I sent out on Nov. 1.  
  • I shared last week a link to a series of columns by Baptist evangelical ethicist, David Gushee, on his change of mind re: LGBT people.  He's made headlines in more conservative circles by laying out his reasons for no longer believing homosexual behavior is sinful.  His post on the passage in Romans chapter 1 and the way it is often linked with the creation accounts in Genesis by critics of LGBT people should provide any who are interested with plenty to consider.      
  •  As we continue to grow and change as a church, we will continue to experience growing pains.  Here's a blog piece I wish I had written on the subject: "A Growing Church is a Dying Church." I offer a hearty "Amen" to this piece.  What do you think?
  • As I've mentioned before, I really like the TV show The Walking Dead, although I have to record it and watch it during daylight hours--too gruesome and scary at night.  Here's an interesting piece that uses The Walking Dead's central dramatic question  (i.e. just how far will you go to survive?) to ask questions of our fears about Ebola, ISIS and other things we are afraid of in this media-generated culture of fear.
  • In my last "Thoughts" I shared a link to religion scholar Reza Aslan's response to the hyperbolic criticisms of Islam by New Atheists like Sam Harris and Bill Maher.  I found this piece interesting which points out that not only is the New Atheist critique of religion ridiculous but Aslan's response trivializes religion.  It's worth thinking about whether we consider religion to be just a collection of bad/good ideas, empty shells that we bring our own cultural biases into or something more?
  • AlterNet has begun a series on the struggle for LGBT equality in Kansas.  The first story in the series explains why we have so much farther to go beyond marriage equality when it comes to Kansas' twisted laws that discriminate against LGBT people.  CCCUCC folks--this is why it is important to actually show up at rallies and protest this crazy stuff sponsored by the Religious Right.
  • Do you know what is killing A LOT more people in the US than Ebola or ISIS?  Guns.

Recommended Reading: 10-22-14 edition

Each week (more or less) I send out an e-mail to my congregation with my thoughts including stuff I've read over the past week that I want to pass along.  Here's what I sent out on Oct. 22.  

I'm ready to officiate seme sex weddings WITH marriage licenses

I'm a little behind in posting this, but I was interviewed a little over three weeks ago by KSHB-TV Channel 41 re: the decision by a Johnson County, KS judge to have the county issue marriage licenses to same gender couples.  Of course, the state of KS immediately appealed the decision and put a stop to it, but the court of appeals which serves KS has already said bans on licenses for same gender couples are unconstitutional.  It's only a matter of time before marriage equality in KS happens.  When it does, I will be proud to sign those licenses when I officiate those weddings.


Friday, August 22, 2014

Recommended Reading 8.16.14 edition

Each week (more or less) I send out an e-mail to my congregation with my thoughts including stuff I've read over the past week that I want to pass along.  Here it is for last week:

Recommended Reading

I spent a lot of time this week glued to coverage of events in Ferguson, MO.  Here are some of the things I read that were meaningful to me:
I was deeply saddened by the news of Robin Williams' suicide this week.  Here are some things I read related to this awful event that I want to pass on:
Here are a few more things I read this week that I recommend: I posted my August 3 sermon "Wrestling With God" on the church web site.  It's a sermon about the story in Genesis where Jacob wrestles with God.  This sermon deals with struggling with God as we struggle with ourselves.  Often the greatest blessings God provides to us only come after an emotional and spiritual struggle.  Just as God gives Jacob a new name (Israel), so also God can replace the negative names we have been given (loser, worthless, failure, etc.) and replaces them with a new name: beloved. 

Okay, add this to your list of Christmas gifts for your pastor.  I must have this for my shelf of tacky Bible things! 

Grace and Peace,

Chase

Friday, August 8, 2014

A Boat Seems Small in the Middle of a Storm


 When I was in Israel this past June, I saw the so-called "Jesus Boat," a boat that had been used during the time of Jesus on the Sea of Galilee.  It's not likely that Jesus actually used this boat, but it is the kind of boat Jesus' disciples used for fishing and the kind of boat mentioned in the Gospels.  It is located in Kibbutz Ginnosar on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and it was discovered in 1986 by two boys who lived at the kibbutz (communal farm).  The water was low and the boat which had been preserved in mud on the bottom for over 1900 years was exposed  Through a complex excavation and over a decade of preservation, the boat was saved.  Now for a nominal fee and a walk through the gift shop you can see the boat that sailed 2000 years ago.
 

I've written before about my impressions of the Sea of Galilee.  It's not a sea but a lake and it doesn't match our Great Lakes.  Yet, because of the lake's geography it can be a treacherous place.  It is surrounded by mountains--not like the Rocky Mountains or the Alps but ones that would take a morning to hike up.  There are canyons that split these mountains and when storms come winds whip through those canyons and down on the lake.  The water can get very choppy and storms can get violent. 

When I saw this ancient boat, the same kind Jesus and his disciples would have used, I had a new appreciation for the stories in the Gospels that mention storms on the Sea of Galilee.  The boat is 27 feet long and 7 feet wide, but standing next to it, the boat didn't seem that big.  It seemed to me that once you put a mast on it along with oars (see the model pictured below) any more than 4 men would make it pretty crowded.  It certainly wouldn't offer any shelter during a storm.




Sunday I'm preaching on Matthew 14:22-33 which is Matthew's account of Jesus walking on the water out to the disciples who were on such a boat on the Sea of Galilee in the middle of a storm.  I wish I had a way to project these pictures of the "Jesus Boat" during my sermon for people to see it and think about the story.  Like me, I think folks would get a feeling for just how vulnerable the disciples were.

Since the disciples in the story think Jesus is a ghost when they first see him on the water coming toward them, some scholars have theorized that this story is actually a post-resurrection vision that was put back into the story of when Jesus was alive. Whether that is true or not, from the perspective of the reader--on this side of the resurrection--we still must decide what we believe about it.  No matter when it happened (for some it may be a matter of if it happened), we must struggle with its meaning for us today (if at all). More importantly than deciding whether or not we believe in miracles like Jesus walking on the water, we have to decide if God is still present for us today in our moments of vulnerability in crisis. 

The reason this story made it into the Gospels is because it was meaningful to the first Christians.  Most of them would not have been witnesses of the resurrection but would have heard about it second or even third hand.  They had to decide if the story of Christ being risen from the dead and making the presence of God real among them made any difference for their circumstances.  We have to make that same decision of faith--is God real? can God be present in my moments of crisis? will God help me when I am vulnerable and afraid?

The declaration of the Gospels is that Jesus has the power to bring peace to us in the midst of storms and chaos.  Each of us must wrestle with whether or not we trust such a promise.  
 
Grace and Peace,

Chase
 

Friday, July 25, 2014

What I Wish I'd Said to the Roeland Park City Council

Monday night the city council of Roeland Park, Kansas voted 4 to 3 against a bill that would ban discrimination of LGBT people.  It was a sad but not surprising outcome, since only Lawrence in the entire state of Kansas has a LGBT non-discrimination bill.  Despite efforts by the local ACLU, Equality Kansas and a bunch of local advocates from inside and outside of Roeland Park the ban was voted down.

I have been unable to attend previous council meetings about the ban, but I'm glad to say that other area UCC clergy and UCC church members, including our own seminarian Karon Harper, have been present and vocal in their support for it.  I made it Monday night for the vote, however, and although I was not surprised by religious opposition to the ban, the ignorance spouted by ban opponents was surprising in that it felt like we had gone in a time warp back twenty or even thirty years.  One woman said LGBT people couldn't be discriminated against, because only people who have non-Caucasian skin color can experience discrimination.  A man said the ban gives LGBT people "special rights" beyond what everyone else gets.  One woman who claimed to be a medical professional declared that "fornication" by homosexuals creates a "health risk" to the public!  When she spoke I thought I was hearing somebody telling poor Ryan White he couldn't come to school! 

Despite the discouraging outcome of the vote, it was good to be with people who so courageously were speaking out for God's justice.  As a heterosexual man who doesn't reside in Roeland Park, I am not directly affected by the council's vote, but there were plenty of people in the room who are.  A number of gay and lesbian people from Roeland Park spoke in the meeting--many identifying themselves as homosexual in such a public way for the first time.  Also present were other LGBT people and straight allies from Roeland Park and from around the metro area.  I was pleased to meet Debi Jackson who is the mother of a transgender child and whose video talking about her daughter has gone viral and received much local media attention.  Also I met a transgender woman who is a local activist for transgender people.  She runs a great blog called: Transas City.  (I was proud to tell both about Donna Ross speaking in worship Sunday at church.)  The courage demonstrated by folks like these is what keeps me working for God's justice.  They are inspirational. 

I did speak during the public comment time of the meeting.  What I said was okay but not my best.  Here's the video.
I'm not sure that anything said by the public mattered by that point anyway, however, because the council members all seemed like their minds were decided beforehand.  One of the council members who voted no said nothing else throughout the meeting.  Another who voted no complained of harassment she had suffered for being public about her opposition.  Yet another council member who voted no looked on the verge of having a nervous breakdown and proceeded to read from the Roman Catholic Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith about not demeaning homosexuals before he gave his no vote.  (The last one was very strange.)

As is often typical for me, just like George Costanza on Seinfeld, as I was driving away I thought of plenty of things I wish I had said.  So here's a letter I will mail Monday to the council members that says what I wish I had said during my 90 seconds of public comment time at the council meeting.

Dear Council Members,

I am writing to you concerning the disappointing vote on July 21 that failed to approve a ban on discrimination of LGBT people in Roeland Park.  I am one of the clergy who spoke Monday night in favor of the ban.  Although I am not a resident of Roeland Park, members of my congregation come from throughout the metro KC area.  I live in Overland Park and had hoped the passage of a ban in your city would inspire my own city and others to do likewise.  I am grateful to you for at least considering such a ban--something my city has yet to do--even though I believe you missed an opportunity to be a leader for justice in the state of Kansas.

I am inspired by the three council members who voted for the ban, and I am praying for each of you, especially the four of you who opposed it   I am saddened to hear that council members on both sides of the issue faced harassment for your convictions.  I am especially sad that those who believe LGBT people should be free of harassment would mistreat those of you who opposed the ban.  Just as I believe most people opposing the ban would not commit outright acts of harassment, I believe most people in favor of LGBT equality would not do such acts either.  There are unfortunately extremists who hold every kind of belief. 

What I wish had happened, however, is that those council members who faced harassment for opposing the ban would have gained some empathy for LGBT people who face harassment every day in their workplaces, in the marketplace and other environments.  As a heterosexual I never have experienced someone accusing me of being a "fornicator" or a "public health risk" as happened in Monday night's meeting, but LGBT people experience such inane words all the time.  They get to hear slurs, jokes at their expense and insults everywhere they go unless they choose to hide who they are.  Decisions like hiring, contracts and housing are made all the time based on prejudice against LGBT people.  Freedom from such discrimination is not a case of "special rights" or "more rights," as was claimed Monday night, but rather a simple human right that heterosexuals take for granted.

I don't feel anger towards the four of you who voted against the ban but rather pity.  I pity you, because you had the chance to be courageous and make a positive difference for your city and even your state, but you missed that chance.  I pity you, because you are on the losing side.  Martin Luther King, Jr. said it well, when he declared, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice."  The cause of equality for LGBT people is making great strides, and before too long, people will wonder how anyone could have opposed the blindingly obvious reality that LGBT people deserve the same protections as everyone else.  Your children and grandchildren (if they don't already do so) will consider your vote on July 21, 2014 and wonder how their parent or grandparent could have been so ignorant and cruel?  There will be other Roeland Park city councils, and sooner or later, a council of your city will approve such a ban.

As a Christian and a minister, I believe our love for our neighbors should include trusting their stories of who God made them to be rather than imposing an ancient understanding of sexual morality upon them.  Even if you do not share my religious and ethical views, I wonder how you as an elected official can claim to act in the best interest of all your constituents in a city containing people of different religious persuasions and yet vote in such a way that imposes a particular interpretation of Christian scripture upon all of them?  In your city and my own, there are people who live in ways that are contrary to my religious beliefs, yet in a pluralistic democracy I must acknowledge their rights to live as they believe is best so long as it does not threaten the common good.  Similarly, if I wish to enjoy freedom from discrimination based on whom I believe God created me to be, I must be willing to grant that same freedom to others.  On July 27, four of you voted against the common good of Roeland Park in favor of the particular religious views of a vocal minority--a vocal minority who, in my opinion, fail to understand the grace of God they claim to represent.

Sincerely,

Rev. Chase Peeples   


I will mail this letter on Tuesday.
Grace and Peace,
Chase