Bodily autonomy’s centrality to the existence of liberty is genetically encoded in my memory, in my very being.
I reflect on a profound irony of two starkly contrasting events that took place in the same week.
A son of Texas, a descendant of former slaves finally given freedom in 1865, was installed on June 19, 2022, as the first openly gay senior pastor of a historic downtown Baptist church in San José, California.
Then, a few short few days later, my sisters, cousins, friends and more than half of my church’s members lost control over their bodies on June 24 when the Supreme Court of the U.S. issued its ruling on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health.
When Justice Alito penned the majority ruling that erased Roe and eviscerated generations of jurisprudence on the notion of constitutional privacy – along with a menacing concurring opinion by Justice Thomas (urging that the court “reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell.”) – we converted half of society into slaves.
I don’t say that as hyperbole: When you don’t have the freedom to control your body, and the government does that to you, you are enslaved property, no longer full citizens.
Cue the protestors. Cue the singing politicians. Exeunt stage right the architects of this misdeed to quiet repose in Cancun.
And 15 minutes later, who will keep up the fight? Who will clarify the dangers ahead? Who will describe the world better and freer than the one we exited last week?
As my congregation engaged this moment in our worship on Sunday, June 26, we centered women’s health and privacy rights for godly reflection.
The lectionary had Jesus asking us to follow him and drop everything to walk with determination toward the tasks God placed before us.
We watched Georgia megachurch pastor Andy Stanley explain to MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough how churches need to stay out of the political lane, and we read Diana Butler Bass’s “Kingdom Heresy” article to hear why churches engaging policy is the Jesus lane.
And I added some impact reflections on pairing purposeful restraint with deliberate forward motion, as the way we have to make progress out of mess. We’ve got somewhere to be, and we have to act like it!
“I Have Decided to Follow Jesus” hit differently when it was sung, as we contemplated what bearing the cross as a community is going to look like and require.
We acknowledged that equipping saints this past Sunday for post-modern ministry, is precisely the work the hymn writer says is our mandate. “To serve the present age, my calling to fulfill, O may it all my powers engage, to do the Master’s will.”
Engaging the fiercely urgent now takes strategy, nimbleness and adaptability. And what we are being drawn into requires local churches to find meaning beyond the meeting.
Setting the captives free doesn’t come cheaply, and it won’t happen because we say something profound inside church walls.
We must recognize in this urgent now that, more than ever, the church never had walls strong enough to contain God’s love from pouring into the streets, where God’s daughters are suffering, crying.
Jesus could not sit on the right hand and be satisfied. The Holy Spirit has to start moving on God’s people to do something and right now.
And with trembling, I felt my forebearers’ ghosts damning both the desires to shrink and to feel impotent.
Bearing the lessons my ancestors bring to me in the quiet, I want to plant a few old reliable seeds I found tucked away in their testimonies, of how they overcame eras of bondage.
- Never stop working until that day has come.
They knew that freedom wasn’t given, or earned, but constructed. Freedom is a concept that must be fully framed in your soul to change the outside reality.
- Right now write the songs of escape.
Spirituals were often encoded messages with hidden instructions to find freedom. Today, escape may be anthems of understanding, solidarity and, dare I say, joy. Because we have to name the brighter day today to ever have hope for bringing it to pass.
- Don’t forget.
Many people think this fight ends at their door. However, when we reclaim freedom (both individually as refugees, or collectively after policy revolution), we must vow not to forget those harmed, those who didn’t make it and the many that are left behind, so we can build the Underground Railroads or Jane’s Networks of today.
Amnesia is no virtue now. Nostalgia is of no use. But what we can reach back to is a lesson that my slave ancestors once sung, “Lord, teach me how to watch, fight and pray, until I die!”
The fight for right and rights is already afoot. I hope you feel it in your bones that you can’t sit this one out, because the stakes are the only country we’ve ever known.
Like Leadbelly warned, “Stay woke. … keep your eyes open.” Because Roe is just the prelude.