In conjunction with the eighth annual celebration of The Interfaith Alliance Hawaii (TIAH), Rev. John Heidel recently reflected on some of the challenges facing the state in 2011. He cited domestic violence, immigration reform, sustainability and the development of alternative energy, affordable housing, health and substance abuse treatment services and the struggle to allow civil unions, to name a few.
He observed that the voices of progressive people of faith have not been heard clearly enough above the din and clamor of those who speak —loudly, insistently and with certainty—for the Christian far right. We have been, he says, “too soft, maybe too nice, and often too late.”
He’s right. During the campaign to get HB444, the civil unions bill, passed in Hawaii, I lost count of the number of good people who took me and other advocates of the bill aside and told us privately, with lowered voices, how much they appreciated the effort to rally support for equal rights for LGBT families. They could not speak out themselves, they said, but they really, really believed in the justice and urgent necessity of HB444. They sincerely hoped equality for all families in Hawaii would become a reality.
Well, it didn’t. And justice was once more delayed, and therefore denied. Everyone points to Governor Linda Lingle’s veto of HB444 as the reason for yet another postponement of justice. Yes, she was the final instrument of the bill’s demise. But every progressive person of faith who did not speak out against bigotry hiding behind religious zeal; every business person who kept silent in the face of the Business Roundtable’s disingenuous statements urging further study of the issue and every member of the community who held back from articulating their support of HB444 for fear of what their employers/churches/neighbors/clients might think, helped ensure the bill’s demise.
Silence is acquiescence. Silence provides an enabling environment for bullies and bigots. And silence can be every bit as grave a sin of omission as the more obvious sins of commission. When our voices are too soft, when we are too nice to express dissent, when we are simply too late, we cede ground to knaves, fools and people of ill-will. And we embolden extremists who are never too shy, never too soft and never too late.
John Heidel is right. It’s time for progressive voices in the community to be amplified. It’s time for a little less anxiety about having our views noticed. If we can lend public courage to our private convictions, we will create an environment that is hostile to bigotry and hospitable to justice. It is never ever too late for that.