I have worn a bracelet with the words Justice, Kindness and Humility stamped on it since 2008’s General Assembly meeting in San Jose, CA. It is one of those gimmicky elastic bracelets that although still around today, were more popular that year. This bracelet was available to those of us who attended that meeting and matched the G.A. theme from Micah 6:8,
“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”
I wear this bracelet for several reasons: as a reminder of my participation in the highest council of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); and more importantly as a reminder that what I am called to do as a child of God and a disciple of Jesus Christ is to live a life where justice, kindness and humility are evidence of who I am.
I don’t make a point of showing this bracelet to others and there have been occasions when I’ve been asked why I wear it. I’m happy to share the story of the bracelet with them. In truth, this bracelet and the feel of it on my wrist is a deeply personal reminder of my faith and on occasion the “thorn in the flesh” telling I am called and commanded to live in a way that is very counter-intuitive to the world and dare-I-say occasionally to the way of the Church. I do not display the bracelet on my wrist as the public evidence of my faith, rather I want others to see how I strive to live and show justice, kindness and humility in my daily tasks and encounters.
What I’ve come to know about doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with God is that it isn’t for the timid or faint of heart. In fact, doing what the Lord requires of us occasionally calls for radical acts of disobedience, or challenging bigotry, or making a silent public witness. It pushes us from complacency to activity and from considering the status quo as the way things have to be.
This week, a group of persons including several clergy men and women, held demonstrations in support of a measure to add four words to the Idaho equal rights act. The four words, “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” would be added to the human rights declaration and would state that no one can be discriminated against for those reasons. Although the measure has come before the legislature several times, the elected representatives will not bring it to a hearing before legislative committee and thus the measure cannot be taken to the floor of the legislature. The campaign to “Add the Words” has continued to argue for passage of legislation or at least for a public hearing on the measure. It appears that once again the proposal will not be considered. I suspect that our representatives are merely playing a waiting game – waiting until they are told by the courts, or by federal statute – before considering such a change to Idaho’s laws.
Yet a proposal introduced just this year by one legislator has been granted a hearing and is now docketed under the House’s General Orders. It is a measure that would amend the human rights declaration to protect individuals from lawsuits alleging discrimination using the freedom of religion as a defense. The measure was originally described as pre-emptive – aimed at protecting the livelihood of persons under the cloak of freedom of religion when that person is unwilling to provide services to others or groups with whom they disagree. The direct implication is that such a measure will allow professionals or businesspersons to discriminate against GLBT persons and to use religious objection as an affirmative defense. However, what will be the outcry when this provision is used to protect discrimination against another group?
The justice, kindness, and humility that I read about in scripture cringes at the very idea of discrimination. These ideals challenge me to treat even those with whom I disagree with a degree of dignity. The scriptures I read and study are not based on a “do unto others before they can do unto you” theology as the proposed legislation seems to espouse.
When I heard that this measure had been scheduled to come before the House this week, I began watching and listening to the daily live stream of the legislature. Some of my friends and colleagues have taken a deeper role and actually gone to the Idaho State House to sit in the gallery waiting for the measure to be heard. Thus far, representatives have not allowed the measure to make it to the floor. Some legislature watchers expect the House to let it die without coming to a hearing. In the meantime, those who are concerned have made a silent demonstration by their presence of the call for justice, kindness and humility for all persons.
I will confess that I’ve not read through the human rights declaration in its entirety. I suspect that it reads like codes and statutes of many places and I have to acknowledge that our own PC(USA) constitution has the wording that we do not discriminate against persons because of race, ethnicity, gender, age, disability or any of the other categories we use. What I pray and hope for is a world where justice, kindness and humility would prevail and the categories we now need to write in our codes will disappear.
What I look forward to is a time when we will need no such statute or we come to a place where we have no need for equality legislation, but can state affirmatively in our statutes that we do not discriminate against any person but live as a people determined to seek justice, kindness and humility. Until then, Idaho legislators should give a hearing and consideration to adding the words.
Some days this bracelet feels a lot heavier.