My name is John MacIver Gage. I'm a white guy. I'm not going to ask where the white people are; you know who you are. We see you, and everyone else does, too.
I’m also the lead pastor at United Christian Church of Austin. We are an Open and Affirming Christian congregation affiliated with the United Church of Christ (no, not THAT Church of Christ) and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) on the northwest side of town. But I also grew up here in Austin, and our family is raising our 6th generation of Austinites here now.
And even as I acknowledge that Austin isn’t nearly as liberal we like to tell ourselves we are—It doesn’t take a long look at our history and our present reality of racial and economic segregation to see that; we are the most economically segregated city in America and the only growing city our size that is actually losing minority population.
Still I am proud to be here, and especially proud to be here with you here today to stand together against white supremacist hate, terror, and violence.
What happened in Charlottesville last Saturday wasn’t a free-speech rally or a demonstration in support of a historical monument. There is power in naming evil out loud. And what happened in Charlottesville, what’s happening in Boston today, and planned soon in cities across the country—that’s evil.
It was evil, an act of hatred, and an act of terrorism. It was violence and an incitement to violence. It was an invitation to a race war.
The scriptures of my tradition say that “whoever hates a brother or sister or sibling commits murder in their heart.”
And those gathered on the side of white supremacy have committed murder—spiritual and actual murder, by their words and their deeds, not just when they killed Heather Heyer last week, but in the long and gruesome history of terrorist lynching and mass murder in this country and the slow-motion genocide of generations by designed neglect.
If we claim this as our nation, this is our sad history, too. As an American, as a white person, as a Christian, as man, even—let's be real here—even as a gay man, I have to confess that this hated wears my face. And so it is my responsibility, our responsibility to respond. Late in time, to be sure, but better late than never.
But just because somebody invites you to a war doesn’t mean you have to show up, at least not on their terms. Today, we are here to show up and speak out and to ACT UP to challenge this hate, to root it out, and to end it. We are gathered here in love, but as author Marianne Williamson says, “Love is always the answer but sometimes love says ‘No’.”
And today, in all love, we say NO to racism, to sexism and homophobia and classism and islamophobia and anti-immigrant and anti-transgender sentiment and all the other unholy –isms that would divide and diminish us, all that would steal from some to give privilege to others, all that continues to keep this nation from living fully into our promise to be “one nation… with liberty and justice for all.” We say to it in our nation, in our communities, in our neighbors, and in ourselves.
Friends who know me know I don’t really believe in a Devil who leads us into sin and evil. I don’t think we need any help. History shows we know the way already. But I do believe that evil unchallenged takes on a life of its own.
And this evil of racism and white supremacy has grown up with our nation like a persistent weed from the very beginning. We see its ugly blossom in overt acts like the rally to United the Reich in Charlottesville a week ago. If we white people will look past our own privilege, we can see it choking the life out of communities of color and immigrants and others on a daily basis, not just today but for generations. That’s white supremacy, too, only without the polo shirts and tiki torches.
So we go forth from this place today, I offer you peace—but a different kind of peace than you may have heard of before Not a passive peace that perpetuates the status quo. Not a cheap or easy peace, but a deep strong and abiding peace—a peace that empowers you to look racism right in the face, in the face of our neighbors, even in the face that stares back at you from the mirror, and in a strong and steady voice repeat these words from drag queen and theologian Bianca Del Rio: “Not today, Satan; NOT TODAY!”
So, friends, what do we say whenever, wherever we see hate and terror and violence rear its ugly head, in Charlottesville, or Boston, or here in Austin?
“NOT TODAY, SATAN! NOT TODAY!”
Continuing to Make Our Church a Safe Space… for Everyone
March 28, 2017
At United Christian Church of Austin, we have a longstanding commitment to making sure our church isn’t just welcoming, but also safe for the most vulnerable among us. Up to this point, that primarily has meant living into a very robust Safe Church policy regarding our children and youth, requiring background checks for everyone who works with kids, providing volunteer training annually, ensuring we have the right ratio of adults to kids at all our events, etc.
But recent events have alerted us to the particular safety needs of another vulnerable population: transgender folks. Despite the rabid protestations of the proponents of so-called “bathroom bills” such as SB-6, recently passed by the Texas Senate, trans people do not present a danger in restrooms; rather, they are the ones in danger—in danger of being arrested, beaten, even killed, simply for being who they are: not “men in dresses” but in fact women, not “women dressed as men,” but in fact men, or more simply, just people who need to use the restroom.
At our March meeting, the Church Council voted unanimously to affirm that you, the members, friends, and guests of United Christian Church, are free to use the bathroom that is right for you; specifically, the bathroom that matches your gender identity. For most of us, that means nothing will change. We will continue to be able to use the bathroom in safety. But for those who do identify as trans, we hope this policy and the accompanying notices, posted alongside the current “Men” and “Women” signs (see below) will help you feel welcome, respected, and cared for here. And safe.