Hindsight, they say, is 20/20. I suspect that is true for a lot of things, it certainly is for me. Though I did not recognize it at the time my high school government teacher somehow planted a seed or a burning ember in my subconscious or my heart and soul around the notion of politics. Ironically I only had one semester of Ms. Davis as the result of receiving an F from the other government teacher in our school which then required me to take two government classes at the same time so I could graduate, thus my joining her class. It’s a long story, you are free to ask me about it sometime but I suspect this blog is going to be long enough without that addition.
As I remember back it was somewhere in my early to mid-twenties I began finding my way back to the library and my reading addiction really began and found itself focused on the life and legacy of John F. Kennedy. I do not know how many books I have read on his life and times, or the number of speeches I have read, I used to have a whole collection of VCR tapes of television programs and purchased documentaries about his life and death.
As TruDee and I became more and more involved in our local church I started lay speaking, filling in for vacationing preachers. Everywhere I went I was invited to consider the ordained ministry. My answer was always an emphatic “Not Interested!” As my journey continued my own pastor would ask me about ministry and he would receive the same response.
At the encouragement of TruDee I decided to begin work on a college degree and started taking some night classes as we could afford them and as I had time. Word got back to my pastor who one day asked, “So, Kent, what are you going to do with your degree when you get it?” I replied, “Well, actually I have considered public service, perhaps even politics.” His response, “Oh, perfect, like I’ve been saying you need to go into the ministry, there is a lot of politics in the church!” Well, the call, college, seminary, ordination and the rest is history!
I have long been interested in, a student of, and an active voice for equality and social justice. I have preached sermons, led studies, counseled, and had perhaps hundreds of conversations on equality, inclusion, welcome, and justice. My position on various social justice and equality perspectives are well known among those who know me, or even know of me.
Recently I have been a part of events that have, I believe, fanned that flame that was planted long ago in an eighteen year old. I was inspired by Tex Sample, a longtime friend and past seminary professor, who spoke of many, me included, and who “know all the positions and none of the moves.” …we’ll leave it at that. I am blessed and fortunate to serve in a loving, welcoming, inclusive, Reconciling United Methodist Congregation here at College Hill in Wichita. I preach from a progressive theological lens and Biblical perspective and we often discuss social issues, equality, and justice for all. I have a supportive community of faith in which to serve and a loving environment to be cared for and encouraged. We are a community of faith committed to justice and equality for the LGBTQ community, justice for the poor and hungry, committed to quality scholarship, dedicated to caring for the environment, and a place where justice and rights for women, children, and all are taken seriously.
Part of the series of recent events that struck me was that, to some degree, when I am in this supportive environment, though not everyone may agree with everything I speak about, and though I try to challenge the community of faith to act on their faith and live it out and do something beyond our walls, I am preaching to the choir. After these recent events and after Tex’s comment, I realized I need to do more. I need to take our voice of inclusion and welcome beyond our walls and take it to another level.
Today I was invited to Topeka to speak to the House Federal and State Affairs Committee in opposition to House Bill number 2453, here is the link http://kslegislature.org/li/b2013_14/measures/hb2453/, in my opinion it is an atrocious bill that is an affront to the concept of Thomas Jefferson’s comments on the First Amendment regarding separation of church and state not to mention an offense to anyone who takes religious freedom seriously. My first thought was, “Whoa, I can’t speak in Topeka!” A little out of my comfort zone. But, I agreed.
I sat in the chamber and listened to the explanation of the bill, I listened to those who supported it, and was able to listen to a few who opposed the bill. The Committee ran over time and it was postponed until tomorrow morning before I was able to speak. I was disappointed.
That being said, I found myself inspired to do more. In some respect I heard more profoundly what Tex as saying to “me.” It is one thing to speak to the ideals of social justice and equality within the church walls where the majority agrees with you, it is another thing entirely to actually “do” something and move that voice to a whole other level!
I listened as some who were speaking saw absolutely no crossing of a boundary of separation of church and state. I listened as some spoke on behalf of “the church” and “Christians,” and “religion” as if there is only one valid perspective and understanding of those terms. I found myself wanting to stand up and say, “No! You are not speaking for “all” of Christendom, you are only speaking for a “part!” In the midst of all of this I realized that I am weary. Weary of the powers that be who would claim to speak for all of us and I have long been frustrated by our media, government, and other venues that seem to only acknowledge and draw input from one particular view and theology as if that is the only one that matters. And I’m sorry, I and many, many others “matter!” And as I sat and listened I heard the voice of Tex tell me, “You know the positions, and it’s time to move! It’s time to act and take it to another level.”
I could taste something here in this chamber that I am not sure I can give up, nor do I want to. That ember was fanned and I was reminded of the prophet Jeremiah when he said, “If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.”
As a result, I believe it is crucial we take our voice beyond these walls of our beloved CHUM and speak it with clarity and conviction in the halls of government whenever we have opportunity. I will be offering my voice to those in Topeka who are fighting the battle and for the cause of equality and justice for all; for our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, for the rights of women, for the eradication of hunger and poverty in our State and Nation, for the care of creation and sustainable choices, to ensure the proper funding and education of our children, to address the increasing wage crisis to help raise the working poor out of poverty with a livable wage, a just resolution to our immigration process, and to protect voting rights as well as other social justice issues and the critical need for separation of church and state and the protection of true religious freedom, and freedom across the board.
I realize that my time and voice in Topeka or other places will be limited by my commitment and service to you my beloved community here at College Hill and I would never let my advocacy in Topeka interfere with that calling and service. When I am unable to travel to speak I will submit written statements and letters to our legislators. But an alternative Christian voice that promotes inclusion, non-discrimination, truly religious freedom, and a commitment to separation of church and state is desperately needed! I trust you will help me be our voice not only here in Wichita but across our State and Nation.
Thank you CHUM for who you are and for giving us all voice, I could not do what I do, nor speak what I speak without knowing we stand together. I thank you Tex for your inspiration and guidance. Thank you Ms. Ann Davis for that ember and spark that still burns. Thanks be to God for my call, for the Spirit’s grace, wisdom, and love.
Rev. Kent H. Little