Earlier this month, my congregation’s social justice sign — proclaiming a message of love, equity, reason, and dignity — was stolen from in front of our Thach Avenue sanctuary. It could have been a coincidence that we discovered the theft just days after the riot at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. Though it’s not a complete surprise given the current political climate in our country, it was a reminder of how we aren’t immune to the current situation.
Still, it makes me wonder how a sign that literally proclaimed, “Love is Love” could be so controversial. Don’t we all want more love in the world? Even The Beatles once proclaimed that, “All you need is love.”
I found my answer in the writings of a lawyer named Zack Norris, who has spent his career as a peacemaker, creating alternatives to the current political justice system. Norris says that we currently live in a culture of fear, one that sees people not like us as the problem, that, if only other people were somehow different, our problems would just go away.
It’s really a way of scapegoating other people, often based on deeply held prejudices and assumptions, and a way of deflecting blame. After all, it’s much easier to scapegoat a group of people rather than face up to the seeming intractability of issues that are much bigger than any one person, or even group of people.
So it becomes that saying “Love is Love,” a statement tied to the LGBTQIA+ movement, or “Black Lives Matter,” a movement calling for the dignity of people of color, are viewed with suspicion, as people who just need to pull up their bootstraps and do better rather than being hindered by a system that denies their dignity.
Among the causes of this culture of fear, Norris believes that isolation, of not having contact with people not like you, leads to fear of other people because you begin to believe the stereotypes, the hype, the culture of fear. And it’s true: in the United States, many people rarely have any contact with people outside of their class, cultural, and racial identities.
I came to realize this first-hand. I was raised an evangelical Christian. My mother’s family were working-class coalminers from eastern Kentucky, some of the poorest regions of Appalachia, and my father’s family were third generation immigrants who assimilated pretty well to the dominant culture, so well that we’ve forgotten virtually all our past. I grew up hearing horrible things about people of color, women, and LGBTQIA+ people, about how they were a problem, and I believed them for the most part because it was an easy explanation for our own place in the world.
It was only in my late teens when I realized I’m a queer person myself and began encountering people very different from myself that I realized just how wrong I’d been. I heard heartbreaking stories that reminded me so much of my own narrative, and I was able to see the humanity in others, the dignity that the lies I’d been told and told for so long had denied.
I do not believe the polarization in our country is going to get better until we are able to look at others, hear their stories, and affirm their dignity, to form relationships with people different from us.
This is not a call for superficial unity, for agreeing to disagree, but an affirmation of the power of building relationships. Whoever took our sign doesn’t know us, hasn’t heard our stories, and certainly isn’t recognizing our dignity. They might just find they have more in common with us than they realized.
In the words of Presbyterian minister Frank Crane, “The golden rule is of no use whatsoever unless you realize that it is your move."
Rev. Chris Rothbauer (they/them/their) is minister of Auburn Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. A native of Southern Indiana, they live in Auburn with their partner, a senior rescue beagle, and a spoiled rotten cat. All opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position of Auburn Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.