I was a pastor in my first years of ministry in the mid-1980s when, at a annual meeting of our 90 churches in the Northwest, I heard something important.
One of our very few, at that time, lesbian pastors was speaking about the imperative of taking a public and vulnerable stand for justice in regard to equal rights for all sexual orientations. She spoke well. People listened, as this was something new. She was well-respected for her prophetic ministry over the years. She walked the walk.
She also was no blind idealist and knew what she was talking about wasn't easy to hear for most folks in that room 30 years ago. She knew change took time, persistence, courage and hope. She said she knew that what we talked about in these meetings was different from what most people heard in the pews, because God knows preachers don't like to make the folks mad at them. But, she then concluded her talk by saying simple words I have not forgotten – words addressed to us about the process of when faith and justice call forth action: "Take your time. But hurry."
I connect those words to other words of justice and hope from the Rev. Martin Luther King (paraphrased from the words of the abolitionist preacher Theodore Parker 100 years earlier) in his famous "Where Do We Go From Here?" speech of August 1967 to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, when he said, "The arc of the Moral Universe is long, but It bends toward Justice."
Those words say to me that the changes we hope for are real and in a world so addicted to bigotry and violence those addictions will not have the final word. Those words of hope make me hearken back to the words of the Old Testament prophets proclaiming God's favor for the world's forgotten ones – the widow, the orphan, the stranger, the poor, the marginalized. And those prophetic words helped create the words coined first in the mid 19th century which when paraphrased, helped change the world 48 years ago this month when King spoke them anew. And then a few decades after that, new voices emerge telling us that new expressions of God's shalom are to be expressed even as we often tarry. "Take your time" if you must, "but hurry."
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And now so many are so perplexed as to the quickness of the changes that have occurred of late with equal rights being proclaimed for people of all sexual orientations. Many of our more conservative denominations today are quite vociferous about how their rights are being infringed upon by the emerging rights of others whose rights have been traditionally denied. Change is hard. I know, as I have not always been an advocate of gay rights.
That didn't happen until I was forced to by realities I had not wanted to look at and a Spirit that wouldn't relent (one of my favorite quotes on change is: "Men can change. But only when we have exhausted all other alternatives.") I am old enough to remember when many churches condemned interracial dating, let alone marriage. I remember when churches would not allow divorced people to attend. I can even remember when the state wouldn't honor the same sex weddings I officiated at in the past! And then I hear those words again: "Take your time. But hurry."
There are so many, many real examples of brokenness in the world and within our hearts, and we are called to confront them both outwardly and inwardly. We do well to do so with the kind of persistence, courage and hope that my colleague embodied over a quarter-century ago. In this time and in this place, we too are called to pay our attention to the moral arc of the universe knowing that we are called to bend, as well, toward justice and God's vision of shalom. And while we do so may we remember to "Take your time. But hurry."
Rev. Peter Shober is senior pastor at University Congregational, United Church of Christ, Missoula.