JULY 3, 2016, THE SIXTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY

PLANTING SEEDS OF TRUST: Part 2

A Sermon by Pastor Chico Martin

Lections: Ezekiel 2:3-3:2; Psalm 30; Mark 6:1-6

This sermon begins with a short talk given by my brother-in-law, Gordon Stewart.  Gordon currently lives and works in Zurich, Switzerland.  Gordon grew up in Goshen, Vt., and graduated from Otter Valley Union High School, before attending Yale University, where he graduated first with a BA and later an MBA.  Gordon’s father, Dr. Charles F Stewart, was a well-regarded physician at Rutland Regional Medical Center Hospital, and his mother was an accomplished artist and active community and School Board member.

I

Pastor Chico, Thank you for inviting me to speak today to your congregation.  In the next few minutes I would like to talk about a current hot topic around the world, Immigration.  The issue is also very close to my heart for reasons you will hear. First, I would like to look at the definition of immigration, and look briefly at the history of immigration in our country.  I will then share my own personal struggle with immigration law and the success we eventually achieved. Whenever discussing immigration, I believe it is critical to understand one of the key benefits immigration brings to society and to the business community, the benefits that come from diversity and inclusion.  Finally, I will take a short look at what is going on today in our country and in Europe, and beyond, and I will share my observations and concerns.

So let’s take look at a Definition: from Webster’s –– ‘Immigration — the action of coming into a country of which one is not a native for permanent residence.’ I wanted to find a concise history of Immigration in the US so I took a look at the website of the Statue of Liberty – Ellis Island Foundation.  They write:

“Most scientists believe that human beings first came to America over the Bering Straits about 20,000 years ago. These were the ancestors of the many Native American cultures, which would people the landscape for thousands of years. Around the year 1000, a small number of Vikings would arrive. Five hundred years later, the great European migration would begin. Crossing the Atlantic meant two to three months of seasickness, overcrowding, limited food rations, and disease. But the lure of available land and the hope for political and religious freedoms kept the Europeans coming.”

I believe most of us are familiar with the very complicated, and often violent and destructive History of immigration.  We know that many Native Americans were wiped out, even whole tribes of people, as they were exposed to new disease such as small pox and measles, or in battles with the new immigrants. In addition to this historical immigration to the US, there is the whole issue of forced immigration, namely slavery, which I cannot possibly cover in our short time together.  However, the point I would like to make here is that immigration has a long and complex history in our country, and there have been both positive and negative effects across time.

Now to my own immigration study.  On January 1, 2000, a very auspicious day marking the dawn of a new century, I met the person, Renato, who would become my life partner.  In 2002, Renato decided to leave his home in Brazil and joined me in the US.  Thus our immigration story began.

In July 2003, while Renato was enrolled in a full-time, accredited academic program in New York, he returned to Brazil for what we thought would be a routine second renewal of his student visa.  The renewal was rejected and he was not allowed to return to our home in the US.   For weeks, I left his things exactly as they were the day he left, hoping that soon he would be able to come home. Renato wanted to live and study in the United States.  Yet because the immigration laws did not recognize him as my family member, nothing I could do would bring him back to our home in the US.

So to be with my partner, I commuted to Brazil every other weekend for more than a year and a half.  Eventually in 2005, with the help of my employer, Pfizer, I found a position in London, where we could live together again.  The UK government recognized us as dependent partners and we both were granted the right to live and work in the UK.  While we were grateful for this solution, it meant separation from our family and friends, and we had to sell our home in New York City and our place in Goshen, Vermont.  Our Goshen farm was our family farm, purchased by our dear parents when I was 6 years old.  It is the place where both our parents died and are buried.  And by coincidence, it is their wedding anniversary today.  Imagine what it was like for me to own a property to which I could not travel with my partner.  It is impossible to maintain a 19th century farmhouse from the other side of the Atlantic, especially with the Vermont winters.

During this period of ‘exile,’ I worked closely with Immigration Equality, a non-profit organization that was working to obtain immigration rights for the partners of LGBT individuals.  In concert with our beloved Vermont Senator, Patrick Leahy, we worked tirelessly to gain support for the Uniting American Families Act.  This legislation sought to gain immigration rights for the spouses of LGBT Americans like myself. In June 2009, I testified before the US Senate Judiciary Committee, in a hearing chaired by then Judiciary chairperson, Senator Leahy, in a hearing on the Uniting American Families Act. At that time, Pfizer’s CEO Jeff Kindler wrote a letter to Senator Leahy in support of my testimony, an excerpt of which I read during the hearing:  “Pfizer supports its LGBT colleagues because doing better in recruitment and retention, in understanding diverse markets and making Pfizer a better place to work does ultimately drive up our value.  However, we mainly support our LGBT colleagues because it is the right thing to do.”  That is a powerful statement from the then CEO of America’s largest pharmaceutical company.

Shortly I will come back to the value of diversity and inclusion to our country and our businesses.  But first I would like to provide the happy ending to my own immigration story.  While we were not able to pass legislation in the congress, Senator Leahy, Immigration Equality and I were able to ensure that permanent partner immigration became seen as a critical business issue and this helped pave the way for the overturn of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 2013.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with that act, it was a legislative bill passed during the first Clinton administration.  When enacted into law, it prohibited the recognition of same sex marriages at the Federal level, and prohibited granting rights under Federal jurisdiction, such as immigration rights, to same-sex spouses.

Shortly after the fall of DOMA, Renato and I traveled to Canada where we were married in July 2013.  Renato was finally able to move back to the US in early 2014 when his temporary green card was issued.  At the beginning of this year, our immigration story continued when we moved to Zurich in order for me to pursue a new career opportunity.  Fortunately, Switzerland, like most developed countries recognizes same-sex marriages and affords of the right of Immigration.  Immigration has provided me with a new opportunity.

In addition to opportunity, immigration brings diversity.  As I mentioned earlier, dversity is important to our society, as we all know.  After all, America is known as the world’s melting pot.  I believe that a large part of the success of our great nation comes from the fact that so many immigrants, from so many different parts of the world, settled here to find freedom and new opportunities and strived to succeed.  While the impact is difficult to measure or quantify, it is interesting to look at Nobel Prize winners by country.  The United States leads the pack.  Nobel prizes have been awarded since 1901.  The dominance of US winners began after WWII, a period that has seen large immigration from war-torn Europe.  While I cannot say for sure the cause of this huge rise in the number of American Nobel winners that began after the war and continues today, we can certainly see a correlation.

Turning to business, it seems a bit easier to quantify the benefits of diversity and inclusion.  At the end of last year, Josh Bersin, a leader in the area of HR strategy and talent management wrote an article entitled “Why Diversity and Inclusion Will Be a Top Priority for 2016” in Forbes magazine. I would like to share a few statistics from that article:

I truly believe diversity can benefit everyone.  And having immigrated to different nations several times in my life, I also understand the opportunities that brings to the immigrant but also to the destination country.

That being said, I am very concerned about what I see going on around the world today.  The principle of Immigration and the free movement of people, something that has made our country so culturally rich and strong, is being challenged.  Moreover, this challenge, and in fact the entire political discourse, is full of labels.  These labels – transgender, Muslim to name just two, are being used to drive fear and hate.

Ultimately does it matter what race, what creed, or what gender identity someone has?  I wish to be known as who I am, Gordon Stewart, and what I do, not as an LGBT immigrant.  Thank you.

II

Thank you, Gordon.  I want to preface my reflections on the concerns you raise with a comment about the church.  Theoretically, the role of the church is to show the world how persons who chose to be guided by love can live with their resulting freedom.  Actually, for the most part, the church finds itself unable to resist the power and authority of the world, and it rejects love.  The world is left without a vision of hope, only the terrible reality of suffering, cruelty, and death. Under these conditions, we need to once again establish righteous life and action.

First, regarding immigration, a church initiative known as the Sanctuary Movement worked along the Mexican border to aid refugees during the Reagan era’s repressive policies to limit immigration from the Central American civil wars in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua.  Reagan claimed national security was the issue, and specifically, the infiltration of communists and communism into our society. The Reagan administration supported right wing factions in these countries, including the death squad that murdered Archbishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador, because he aligned his church authority with the poor and the cause of economic justice.

Second, the scapegoating of Muslims. Again, national security is claimed to be the issue, and specifically, the infiltration of terrorism and terrorists into our society. How, we might ask, did we become the victims of this terrorism?  America’s wars on Iraq is evidence of its complicity in the ongoing destruction of the cradle of civilization. The repeated assertion that all Muslims hate us is simply not true. ISIS, for instance, hates everyone, and especially Muslims; ISIS principally targets and kills Muslims, just as we do. The truth is, Americans are being indoctrinated to hate Muslims.

Americans have a long list of enemies they hate:  Communists, Jews, Blacks, and homosexuals. Native Americans.  Iranians and North Koreans.  Palestinians, Iraqis, and Yemenis.

Third, Gordon talked about putting labels on people.  This is a way of making sure the stranger remains a stranger.  When we label someone, we draw a line: we say, I am not like that person.  But, of course, we are.  We are all very much alike.  This is why civilization is rooted in hospitality; only by welcoming the stranger, can we accept the stranger for what he or she is:  a mirror image of ourselves.

Christians talk about God as three persons in one.  The traditional representation of God is drawn from the Genesis account of the desert herdsman Abrahm, who offers hospitality to three strangers.  He gives them water, prepares a table of food for them, and seats them under a tent for shade.  Hospitality promotes peace, and civilization depends upon peace. Peace, in turn, depends upon extending the family, by welcoming in the stranger.

Fourth, marginalization.  Marginalization is the result of protecting the family by shutting out the stranger.  Today we have an -ism for all the ways we shut out the stranger:  ageism, classism, racism, sexism.   If we need a reason for joining the church, here’s one: when a church intentionally lives the way its founder lived, its goodness and justice contend with the forces of the world. Christians believe the human person Jesus is also the 2nd person in the Triune God.  So we believe God assembled a band of disciples from the margins of society, and God turned them into the community we call the church. The primitive church did not look like Roman society or adopt the cultural values of Hellenism; rather, the church resembled a Rainbow Gathering. Throughout its history, this same church has been a largely silent and persecuted minority, and most of the time, invisible. The difficult part about joining the church in America is finding it: if it looks like a church, and sounds like a church, it may or may not be a church.

Fifth, the first thing the church did was redistribute wealth.  Early on, when people joined the church, he and she sold whatever property they owned and put the money into the community pot.  He and she, along with everyone else, got back what they needed.  Income inequality was not an issue.  The mostly lower-class and under-educated Brits that recently voted to exit the EU did so because they were frustrated with their jobs, wages, and prospect of a future they don’t want.  Their counterparts in America share their frustration.  White working-poor males rally around bigotry, misogyny, racism, hatred of immigrants, Islamophobia, and homophobia because they are increasingly alienated from a culture that shuts them out.

Sixth, I will say a few words about worship.  The irreligion of America is the outcome of the privatization of religion.  Privatization breaks down the connection between religion and all other aspects of one’s life, including work, friendships, and politics. Privatization promotes a person’s individual experience, at the expense of his and her experience in community.  Privatization is the reason so-called Christians talk so much about their personal relationship with God.

Privatization is based on the values of culture; in contrast, the way of the church is based on worship and ethics that benefit the life of the community. Economic and social justice, which involve the ramifications of actions beyond oneself, always run counter to privatization, which privileges individual self-interest. Economics, war, and social justice are all related to worship.

Today we celebrate Holy Communion.  This is an opportunity for us to experience – as a community –  the divine presence of the person of God who offers us hospitality and stands with us when we are most vulnerable, the person who suffered and suffers for us and is at once just and merciful. However faint our sense of this presence might be, it is enough to change our lives, to transform us, so we can overcome the tyranny of world’s greed, fear, and injustice, and dedicate our actions to working through love for justice and freedom now.  Amen.

 

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