In late June, President Barack Obama gave a momentous eulogy at a funeral service for a pastor, one of nine African-Americans murdered in South Carolina. The president ended by singing “Amazing Grace,” a Christian hymn by John Newton written in 1779.
The lyrics have evolved over time. One version has steered away from personal sin of being a wretch to focusing on overcoming injustice. For some the hymn represents finding strength during times of social and personal difficulty. It has been used by diverse groups while affirming and celebrating the ability of the human spirit to prevail. According to one stanza:
The Lord has promised good to me, His Word my hope secures; He will my Shield and Portion be, As long as life endures.
There is hopefulness in these words. Justice endures, however, because it is pursued and never taken for granted. Justice is sustained because of vigilance.
According to a recent poll, support for marriage equality is down since the US Supreme Court issued its historic ruling on marriage equality. Americans are evenly divided as to whether taxpayer salaried government officials should be allowed to refuse to issue marriage certificates on religious grounds.
Average Americans, although most of whom do not attend regular worship services, are worried religious freedom is now under threat. In short, the unfolding misinformation campaign by the religious right is working.
Forty-one percent of Americans disapprove of the court’s decision while 39% support it. Near 20% don’t have an opinion on one of the most important decisions in American jurisprudence. Americans are evenly divided on marriage equality within their own state.
Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican presidential candidate, who may become his party’s nominee and has a reasonable chance to beat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, is calling for a constitutional amendment to ban marriage equality.
LGBTQ leaders must emphasize why religious liberty for those opposed to marriage equality is not threatened. They must especially do so among Americans ambivalent or genuinely concerned about the perceived negative impact of marriage equality. If the right is allowed to define religious liberty in a narrow, reactionary manner then there are likely to be setbacks ahead for the LGBTQ community.
Do not assume all is well, the issue is settled, and the American public has moved on.
So far, justice is on the side of the LGBTQ community, but public opinion is fickle. If conservative leaning justices are added after a new president takes office and public opinion remains evenly divided because of fears over religious liberty, it is not inconceivable the US Supreme Court could scale back LGBTQ civil and human rights.
There’s a stanza in Amazing Grace that reminds me of fire and rain. If the house is burning, you don’t get down on your knees and pray for a sudden storm. You call the fire department. Grace is God given and also something pursued.
Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come;’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, And grace will lead me home.
These words also can be about free choice. Choice infers that in humility one seeks grace.
Justice is always there. But it requires pursuit and sometimes a fight. Once justice is obtained it must be protected. Take nothing for granted. Do not assume public opinion will get behind the court’s historic decision, especially when there is an orchestrated, well-financed campaign of misinformation about religious liberty.
* Paul is a corporate chaplain, seminary trained priest, and attorney in greater Albany, NY. Reach him through www.CorporateChaplaincy.biz.