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Susan Russell: our missing voices

Susan Russell: our missing voices

In a response to a study that finds that the an overwhelming majority of religious voices in the media come from groups opposed to marriage equality or any tacit acceptance of LGBT people into the Church, Susan Russell writes that it matters that the voices of the acceptance are missing.

“Our missing voices matter because the traditional Biblical values we proclaim — justice, love, and compassion — offer an antidote to the judgment, literalism, and condemnation of the religious right. Our missing voices matter because there are legions of folks out there yearning for a spiritual community and thinking they know enough about being a Christian not to want to be one. And who can blame them when everything they know about what Jesus taught is what Jerry Falwell said or Pat Robertson preached.

When I wrote my open letter to the “purpose driven” [sic] pastor, it got over 700 comments, many of them from people expressing amazement that there are Christians who support LGBT equality, economic justice, and contraceptive freedom. Our voices matter, because when we let Rick Warren speak for Christianity, we let Jesus down.

Our missing voices matter because there are LGBT youth growing up with no clue that there’s a God who loves them just the way they are, and that there are communities of faith that would support and encourage them as they grow into the full stature of their gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender adulthood. As my friend Bishop Gene Robinson said, “These are kids who couldn’t find Leviticus if their life depended on it, and they end up suicidal because they’re convinced God thinks they’re an abomination.” Our missing voices matter because no child should ever believe he or she is beyond God’s love, and our voices offer a lifeline to kids who think their precious lives aren’t worth living.

Our missing voices matter because in town halls, state houses, and the halls of Congress, legislators are lobbied by those determined to write their theology into our democracy. Our voices matter because in order for the First Amendment to protect our freedom of religion, it must also protect our freedom from religion, and the best rebuttal to the rabid religious right is a mobilized messaged religious left.”

The study that Russell is responding to shows that, intentionally or not, the news media is silencing the voices of religious tolerance. It would be a wondrous thing if we were to wake up some morning soon and discover that this has changed, but that’s probably unlikely. So what more can we do to make our voices heard?


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Gary Gilbert

Barbara, How do you disagree with Susan Russell’s approach? It is not clear how you define politics.

Having worked for six years to get marriage equality in New York State, I can tell you I agree with Susan Russell and Ann Fontaine that mobilization is a key component in liberation. People telling their stories to friends, family, neighbors, coworkers; building strong cases in courts across the country to establish precedents for higher courts; writing letters to the editor in neighborhood newspapers; doing interviews in the media; mobilizing support in the workplace, labor unions, and houses of worship; lobbying elected officials behind closed doors; unseating antigay electeds and electing pro-LGBT candidates; staging demonstrations. All this and more were necessary in New York State to pass civil marriage equality. The courts generally consider the political climate before doing their job of guarding the rights of minorities, and when they do their job, they may still be overruled by legislatures and referenda. In New York State, because our highest court, the Court of Appeals, failed us in Hernandez v. Robles, which said it was rational for the state to restrict marriage to opposite-sex couples because they can procreate accidentally, the LGBT movement had to win marriage without the courts.

Politics was very much necessary and remains so in this state.

And now even most of the dioceses of New York State are catching up to civil equality. I get many more positive statements about my marriage now that same-sex couples are allowed to marry in New York. There is a saying that in order to change the church it is necessary to change society.

To quote Susan Russell, “an inch at a time.”

Gary Paul Gilbert


And I wouldn’t belong to a church at all unless it could help me maintain a strong spiritual center … which I get here at All Saints as we challenge each other to make God’s love tangible 24/7 by living out our mission statement: “Following our prophetic call, we seek to embody the inclusive love of God in Christ Jesus through Spirituality, Community, and Peace & Justice.”


The Reverend Canon Susan Russell

barbara snyder

Our missing voices matter. All of them.

Yes, I agree. The truth is, though: I wouldn’t belong to the church at all unless it could help me maintain a strong spiritual center; I once left a heavily political parish for that very reason, in fact. (Maybe that’s what’s bothering me now, in fact.) So I will continue to advocate for that, if I remain in the church.

But, you are right that all voices matter, and that there’s a need to get our voices heard, in a variety of ways.


@Bill … I was using “legislative” in a broader sense of advocating for systemic changes through the Body Politic … whether in the state house, on Capitol Hill or at General Convention. Might have chosen my words more carefully.

As for all the other energy around these issues, I still maintain that reducing ANY of these challenges to either/or choices reduces our capacity to effect Gospel Grounded change.

It all matters.

Our votes. Our lobbying. Our voices. Our prayers. Our pastoral care. Our General Convention resolutions. Our amicus briefs.

Finally … to @barbara for clarity: not sure where the “appeal to the left” you disagree comes from. The only place I mentioned “the left” was in balancing the discourse from “the right” in lobbying elected officials. And I stand by that one.

Bottom line: Our missing voices matter. All of them. And we ARE a better church and nation for those voices who have gone before us — the Harvey Milks and the Louie Crews — the Adrienne Riches and the Carter Heywards. May we be given the wisdom to continue to speak truth to power in our time as they have in theirs as we work to end bias and bigotry against ANY beloved child of God.

The Reverend Canon Susan Russell

All Saints Church, Pasadena

barbara snyder

(Anyway: since we have “separation of church and state” in this country, nothing much is gong to change in the religious sphere until we convince people of the religious basis for our understanding of this (or any) issue.

The church will not be convinced by political activism, because it doesn’t have to be. By law, it isn’t constrained by what the state does; we need religious arguments

Unless, of course, we’re willing to wait 200 years or so….

Meantime, people need spiritual lives and pastoral care and other kinds of help that the state either won’t or can’t give.)

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