Moral Authority in a Time of Fear and Fragmentation

By Marianne Duddy-Burke, DignityUSA Executive Director

As I write, we are in the midst of the Republican National Convention, awaiting the start of the Democratic National Convention, and still reeling from a week that made many question the very character of our nation. It seemed that each day, we were confronted with another massive loss of human life as a result of targeted violence. The deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, African American men shot by police in Louisiana and Minnesota, the ambushes that resulted in the deaths of eight police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, the truck attack in Nice, all occurred in rapid succession, even as many of us are still feeling uneasy in the aftermath of the Pulse Nightclub massacre.

Certainly, there have been many moments of divergent communities coming together, but the impact of the violence seems to be having more of an impact than the moments of accompaniment and compassion. Polls are showing that a strong majority of people in the U.S. are feeling unsafe and uncertain about their place in the country. African- Americans, Muslims, Latinos/as, Asian-Americans, LGBTQ people, immigrants, police officers and other public servants; what unites us is feeling insecure and on the margins of society.

One thing I have reflected on a lot during all of this turmoil is the role of people of faith, and especially religious leaders. It seems clear that traditional religious structures are not adequately addressing the needs that have surfaced in these crises. It is in the public square rather than our churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples where people have come together to build community and express the moral values of solidarity, inclusion, nonviolence, and justice-seeking. Believers and faith leaders have certainly been present in these gatherings, many wearing the symbols of their faith, but more people have borne symbols expressing their racial or gender identity, sexual orientation, or symbols identifying them as allies of the victimized. The center of moral leadership in these days is amorphous and hard to detect.

It has been especially disturbing these days to see political leaders and those provided with a national platform during this political convention season using incredibly, sometimes explicitly, divisive rhetoric and closing their remarks with a call for God to bless the vision of our country that has just been proffered. Where are the loud objections of faith leaders to the beatification of hatred and division, to the fear-mongering and pitting of people against one another? Where are the words and actions of people of faith calling for us to view one another as neighbors, emphasizing our common humanity and seeking our common good? Who are the leaders who insist that those who seek to govern must set a tone of civility, respect, and goodwill?

I believe that LGBTQ faith groups have a particular charism for this fraught time. Because LGBTQ people and families come from all sectors of society, nations, incomes, and belief systems, we have a particular responsibility to speak and model fundamental faith values. We must demonstrate love in response to hatred, hope in the face of fear, compassion as an answer to division. We must be in the forefront of the work to bring peace to terrified countries, communities, and psyches. This is our call for these difficult times. Will you answer?