January 9, 2009
Rev. William G. Sinkford, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), was among those leaders invited to send a "Memo to Obama" by Tikkun Magazine for its January 2009 issue. Also included are memos from Rev. William F. Schulz, former President of the UUA and former Executive Director, Amnesty International USA; Rev. Robert M. Hardies, Senior Minister, All Souls Church, Unitarian, in Washington, DC; and Sharon Welch, Provost and Associate Professor of Theology and Applied Theology, Meadville Lombard Theological School.
View Rev. Sinkford's Memo to Obama on video! (Windows Media) (QuickTime)
I learned of your election on a late-night flight to Africa. When the pilot announced that you would be the 44th president of the United States, many of us wept with joy. The hopes Americans have placed in you are so high, and the challenges are so daunting. You will lead us during a critical period of war, recession, and mounting ecological threats. Some might say you have taken on a thankless job; I am deeply grateful for a president who seems equal to these challenges.
And I am hopeful that your vision will encompass all of us. During the campaign, the rights of same-sex couples were downplayed even among progressives. While I understand the strategic reasons for this, I feel called to witness on behalf of those Americans whose rights were trampled and whose dignity was assaulted by state ballot initiatives preventing marriage or adoption.
Before the presidential campaign began in earnest, back in the summer of 2007, you said something that gave me great hope: “Too often, the issue of gay rights is exploited by those seeking to divide us. But at its core, this issue is about who we are as Americans. It's about whether this nation is going to live up to its founding promise of equality by treating all its citizens with dignity and respect."
I rejoiced at those words then, and I want to lift them up now. Some people—including some wise and experienced leaders—are still seeking to divide us. They are cautioning you not to overreach as you set new policies. These people may advise you that legal equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people is a luxury, and they may urge you to put civil rights on the back burner for now. Wait, they are saying. Wait for a better time.
But we know there’s never a better time to end discrimination. It wasn’t the right time in 1954 when Brown v. Board ended segregation in public schools—the critics then said that too many states and cities weren’t ready for a change as big as racial integration. And yet change came—not because we were ready but because—in the words of abolitionist Unitarian minister Theodore Parker that were echoed by Dr. King—“the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Progress may be delayed, but its course is unstoppable.
In 1967, if the United States Supreme Court had waited for “the right time,” Loving v. Virginia would not have been decided in favor of committed couples who wished to marry but happened to be of different races. Before this decision, in many states I would not have been allowed to marry my wife. Today, just a generation later, it is unthinkable that we would ever again adopt such laws that keep loving people apart. And yet that’s exactly what happened in California and in several other states last November. You have the opportunity to correct this injustice and to put us back on course.
Yes, America is facing big problems, but I urge you not to view our country as a hierarchy of competing needs, with minority rights taking a backseat to issues like the economy. Instead, I pray that you will see our society as a diverse, interconnected web, where the health of our nation depends upon the well-being of each of its citizens. It will take an act of deep faith to believe that protecting individual rights and strengthening a small percentage of families will benefit the entire country. But it will.
During my visit to Africa, I learned much from Unitarian Universalist congregations and other religious communities in Uganda, Nigeria, South Africa, and Kenya. I was humbled by their commitment to addressing dire social problems—extreme poverty, gender inequity, epidemic diseases, and profound racial and ethnic discrimination. They understand that social problems and health problems are also economic problems, and that addressing one issue means tackling them all.
Against tremendous odds, and within just a few short years, South Africans dismantled apartheid, legalized same-sex marriages, and rebuilt their entire society, and they did so by radically reimagining every economic, political, legal, and moral component. Surely we Americans can confront an economic recession, end an unjust war abroad, and advance civil rights at home. We don’t have to choose peace and prosperity for the many at the expense of justice for the few. Instead, we have to understand that peace, prosperity, and justice are vitally interconnected.
You have my support and that of millions of justice-seeking Americans. With your leadership, we can be the country that finally lives up to its founding promise of equality for all.
Reverend William G. Sinkford
Civil Rights and Religious Liberty
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Last updated on Thursday, June 3, 2010.
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