UPSTANDERS | Not In Our Town | Speech given on 1.28.2018 | Billings, Montana
By Penny Ronning
Billings community, friends, people from different walks of life and professions all gathered together:
I speak to you today as a female, a community leader, and a Christian.
It requires courage to take a stand in our own communities, among our friends and family members that believe differently, among the people whose rejection could hurt the most.
What the parents of Sandy Hook Elementary School have been through and the courage within their actions every day since both breaks my heart and causes me to find my own courage to speak up on issues where I face possible rejection from community, family and friends. BUT we must speak up. We must.
How can we ever be the “good guys” or fight for human rights in other countries when the slaughter of children in a school classroom or the slaughter of members of the LGBTQ community dancing to music or the slaughter of members of a Sikh temple is considered bearable in our country?
What we choose to tolerate we will never change.*
When we choose to tolerate hate messaging or the lack of legally recognized equality for ALL, we allow the idea of superiority to build. When we choose to tolerate the degradation of others, we allow the presence of modern day slavery to build. When we choose to tolerate the messaging of “boys will be boys” when a young girl is raped, we allow the idea that men are afraid women will laugh at them and women are afraid men will kill them to build.**
As a Christian, if I do not rise up against hate, I deny Christ.
As a Christian, if I stay silent in the midst of hate, I deny Christ.
As a Christian, if I turn a blind eye to the degradation of those different from me, I deny Christ.
What you stand for right now is what you would have stood for at any other point in history. And if you are silent now you would have been silent in history.
I once heard a wise young man say, “You cannot control how others perceive you. You can only control your presentation.” We Christians fail in many ways in our presentation of Christ. To me, our greatest seems to be how we take His death on the cross as an individual act for “me” and “me” alone. We hold our hands up in praise and shout “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that WHOSOEVER believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” And then we turn around and take His Son for our own grace, for our own redemption, for our own mercy. We are very good at taking Christ as God gave Him to us, but we are not so good at reciprocating that gift to others. We hold that “whosoever” in a tight grip of judgment as if it is our decision to determine who is worthy of inclusion.
And, I believe, we hold great responsibility in how the world perceives the LGBTQ population. The Christian church – and I’m talking both corporately and individually – has presented such great condemnation and rejection on this population we have virtually said to parents, “You are right in rejecting your own child.” We have virtually said to the world, “You are right in not hiring this person. You are right in not allowing this person housing. You are right in your condemnation of this person.”
In this, to me, we have failed in our presentation of Christ.
As Christians, I wish we would ask ourselves every day: If I never quoted one scripture or spoke the name of Jesus, would people see the love of Christ through me?
As Americans, I wish we would ask ourselves every day: Do I believe all people are created equal?
Today, in the United States of America 300,000 children are trafficked for sex each year.
Today, in the United States of America among the most vulnerable population to be trafficked are our homeless youth, and today, in the United States of America LGBTQ youth make up 40% of our homeless youth. Today, in the United States of America, women and girls of color are trafficked and murdered at astonishing rates and shockingly the crimes against them go unpunished in great numbers.
Today, we gather in a church that embraces Christ’s message of love, acceptance, and equality for ALL.
Today, we gather in a church whose message embraces the idea that there is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole.
May we rise in our love and support for this church and their message.
Today, we gather in the strength of those who stood up years ago and said, Not in Our Town.
May we rise again in our love and support for those most vulnerable to hate and degradation.
Today, may we remember that in the midst of sorrow, in the midst of frustration, in the midst of all that is unfair, we must never forget the strength and beauty and power of all that is right, all that is just, and all who stand, speak and die for such things, for they are the ones who shine. They are the ones whose light can never be extinguished. Because of them, injustice is made just; sorrows have their limit; and that which must be changed, is.
Today, in the midst of sorrow, in the midst of frustration, in the midst of all that is unfair, be brave with your love; be strong with your morals; and be loud with your courage.