Wednesday, September 17, 2014 — Week of Proper 19, Year Two
[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]
Today’s Readings for the Daily Office
Psalms 72 (morning) // 119:73-96 (evening)
My local city council recently passed an ordinance that protects LGBT citizens from discrimination in housing and employment. During the public hearing before the vote, one very prominent businessman spoke against the ordinance. He claimed that the ordinance would make businesses too afraid to move to our city, because “disgruntled” employees would be able to file complaints against their employers by alleging discrimination. In other words, if the city voted to free a minority group from discrimination, then we might all lose opportunities for employment or tax revenues.
Our reading from the Acts of the Apostles this morning also pits one person’s liberation against other people’s income-generating opportunities. On their missionary journey, Paul and Silas meet a slave-girl. She is held captive by an evil spirit and by exploitative human owners. The spirit gives the slave-girl powers of divination, so she can bring “her owners a great deal of money by fortunetelling.”
But the presence of Paul and Silas soon upsets the status quo that brings these slave-owners a steady income. When the evil spirit annoys Paul, he orders the spirit to come out of the girl. Her owners are not very happy, because “their hope of making money was gone.” They seize Paul and Silas and drag them before the city leaders.
I can’t help but see this pattern in my own city, where some business leaders put their own desire to earn income from the status quo (landlords and employers that can discriminate with impunity) ahead of someone else’s liberation from systemic oppression.
The slave-owners also accuse Paul and Silas of “disturbing our city” and “advocating customs” that violate cultural norms and laws. Then they stir up popular hostility against Paul and Silas, for “the crowd joined in attacking them.”
Similarly, there is now a popular movement spreading fear that my city’s anti-discrimination ordinance will allow male sexual predators to freely enter women’s bathrooms and changing rooms. (Supposedly, these male predators will be able to claim that they are transgender and deserve equal access to public spaces like public restrooms.) People are currently using this narrative of fear in order to gather signatures to overturn the ordinance.
Today’s passage ends with Paul and Silas flogged, thrown in prison, and placed in the stocks. All too often, that is where some stories end when people disrupt a system that generates income for some people by oppressing others. I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but tomorrow’s reading has a much more triumphant ending. Let’s just say that it’s worth hoping and praying today for a liberating outcome in the future.
(Incidentally, supporters of the anti-discrimination ordinance pointed out that 91% of Fortune 500 companies protect their employees from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and 61% of protect employees on the basis of gender identity. Further, according to The Rise of the Creative Class, cities that welcome LGBT communities also have high levels of economic productivity. In the kingdom of God, we don’t have to choose between liberation and abundance.)
Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.