Sunday, June 1, 2014

What Happens When People Talk With Each Other (My Graeme Reid Moment)

I'm sitting in a quiet inn in the far north of Michigan, waiting for the hour of my daughter's high school graduation this afternoon, and turning over the events of the last several days in my mind.

On Friday, an event occurred that feels very important to me: the Metro Chicago Synod of the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) passed a resolution at its 2014 synod assembly stating, in part, "RESOLVED, that the Metropolitan Chicago Synod stand in solidarity with those in our companion synod and throughout Africa who are experiencing and resisting the rising tide of hatred and harsh anti-lbgti legislation in many African countries . . . . " (Read the full resolution here.)

The theme of the 2014 assembly:
"Into all the world..." (Mark 16:15)

The resolution was brought about in large part because of a relationship that has been developing for many years between people here in Chicago at St. Luke's Lutheran Church of Logan Square and Rev. Judith Kotze and her colleagues from Inclusive and Affirming Ministries (IAM) in South Africa. You can read a bit about how that relationship has developed on the St. Luke's blog, and you can see more of the fruits of it in the form of the Chicago Forum on LGBTI Solidarity in Africa.

The Metro Chicago Synod has a companion relationship with the Central Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in South Africa (ELCSA). Forty-five (45) other ELCA synods have companion synod relationships in African countries. Our hope is that, through the successful passage of this resolution, we may help to stimulate important conversations in the Lutheran denomination - throughout the U.S., and beyond.

So here's my little slice of life in all this . . .

A few nights before the synod assembly, I was sitting in the lobby of the Gene Siskel Film Center, waiting for the beginning of a film being presented as part of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival: Valentine Road, a film about a middle-school boy who was murdered because of his sexual orientation. I was busily working on my Blackberry -- exchanging notes about the upcoming resolution debate with colleagues -- when someone from the next table greeted me.

"Hi - you were at the film we did last week . . . " said Jobi Cates, the Chicago director for Human Rights Watch. I said yes, and explained that I was particularly interested in the film this evening because of our upcoming Forum on LGBTI Solidarity in Africa. "Oh! Well let me introduce you to Graeme Reid!" she said.

Graeme Reid, Human Rights Watch
Graeme Reid is the director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. He also happens to be from South Africa. We talked about the upcoming Forum, and especially about the upcoming resolution debate at the synod assembly.  In the space of a couple of minutes, Graeme told me four things that I found very valuable.

First, he affirmed that South Africa is distinct in a way from much of the rest of Africa (and the rest of the world) in that it explicitly enshrines equality for LGBTI people in its constitution.

Second, he confirmed that South Africa was not immune from the rising tide of attacks on LGBTI people in many parts Africa. He informed me that, just in the past several weeks, the Justice Ministry in South Africa had launched an unprecedented campaign of public service announcements and other publicity to counter this problem.

Third, he advised me to look into the recent statement by the continent-wide African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. (I discovered that this body, which oversees the implementation of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, "wrapped its biannual meeting in Angola earlier this month with a resolution reaffirming the human rights of all Africans, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and explicitly condemning acts of discrimination and violence against LGBT individuals." [See Human Rights Commission Reasserts Rights of LGBT Africans])

Fourth, he counseled me, "Tell people at your synod assembly: in the African context, what the Church does is so important, it has so much influence . . . . "

When the time came for the hearing on the resolution at the synod assembly a few days later, everyone got a chance to speak. I had my two minutes, like everyone else. I used my two minutes to share Graeme Reid's "four things." Many other people spoke from their diverse experience, including many personal connections to Africa.

Shortly after the hearing, the resolution was brought to the floor of the assembly.  After a few remarks from speakers for and against, the resolution was brought to a vote. The votes were tallied. The resolution passed.

Afterwards, turning over these events in my mind, I thought, "how far away . . . and yet how close . . . " We sometimes think of places like South Africa and the other countries of Africa as being a world away -- much too far to attend to.  And yet the fact is that we live in a world today in which all of us are already in various conversations with people from very far away -- people like Rev. Judith Kotze and Graeme Reid, and many others. And we have plenty of opportunities to be in more and more of these kinds of conversations.

What would happen if we connected more of these kinds of conversations?

Related posts

On the weekend of June 13-15, we will again have the wonderful experience of welcoming the Rev. Judith KotzĂ©, from Inclusive and Affirming Ministries (IAM) in South Africa. IAM advocates that the South African religious communities should become more welcoming and affirming towards Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) people. In addition to its work in South Africa, IAM partners with others in Kenya, Leosotho, Malawi, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, to advocate for justice throughout Africa. Judith’s visit this year builds on meetings with her and IAM colleagues here in Chicago over the past several years. This year the Chicago events are the most in-depth and varied yet, involving a growing number of Chicago partners.

(See June 13-15, 2014 - LGBTI Solidarity in Africa Weekend )

A group of us from St. Luke's Lutheran Church Logan Square  was in Springfield with thousands of other Illinoisans to encourage our state legislature to pass the marriage equality bill (SB10). Even if you weren't there, you can get a sense of what it was like -- raindrops and all! -- thanks to the dozens of photos my friend Frank took. Enjoy!

(See Marriage Equality Is a Human Right )

I believe when Jesus broke the bread and poured the wine and said "Remember me this way," he was much more interested in encouraging us to keep having conversations -- conversations that really matter -- with others . . . and finding ways to be in relationship with our neighbors  . . . all the while reminding us "never underestimate the power of food"  . . .

(See Get Outside Your Comfort Zone and Have A Conversation Today (Welcome to the Ministry))