As I was saying, it’s a little bit of a red-letter (blue letter?) day when the governor of Massachusetts is in your church. I suppose it’s nothing new for Old South, which has hosted Boston Tea Party planning meetings and baptized Ben Franklin, but it was pretty new for me. So I was interested to see how senior minister Nancy Taylor treated Governor Patrick’s presence.
First note: the timing of the governor’s visit was probably deliberate. The UCC churches celebrated Amistad Sunday yesterday—the anniversary of the first significant pro-civil rights decision by the Supreme Court, in which the abolitionists among the Congregational churches had a significant part—and one would suppose that Massachusetts’s first black governor might find the occasion worth marking. But the sermon, about mercy and justice versus the hard dictates of law, went into interesting territory. Reverend Taylor’s argument was that Amistad set a precedent that the need for justice and mercy in repatriating the seized African slaves triumphed over consideration of their slaying their captors and seizing the ship that imprisoned them.
But she also pointed out that the larger Biblical context of this incident, as well as for consideration of slavery in general during the 19th century, is even more interesting. She pointed out that there were Christians on both sides of the slavery issue, both of whom claimed Biblical support for their positions, and that in a way the Civil War was also the war that ended American Christian perception of the Bible as infallible.
At this point, I supposed, she might transition into a discussion about Christians who cite the Bible in taking homophobic or anti-gay-rights stances. Instead, the Reverend made a point about the church’s work with transgendered persons and talked about a recent case in which Largo, FL church leaders called for the dismissal of a long time city manager when he revealed that he was struggling with gender identity issues and planned to become a woman. Rev. Taylor said that Old South had offered the city council free lessons on transgender awareness, and made the point that we seek to respond with understanding rather than using the Bible as a weapon.
So I think Governor Patrick could have taken away two messages from Sunday’s sermon: not all Christians are intolerant wielders of the Bible as a weapon, and mercy and justice must sometimes trump enforcement of the law. One hopes that he takes the latter to heart as he works on how the state will interact with Homeland Security on immigration matters in the future. If there was ever a case that pointed out the need for mercy and justice in public matters, this is it.
Update: Of course, the governor had other concerns on Sunday as well. My heart goes out to him and Mrs. Patrick. I certainly know what it’s like dealing with depression, and I commend both of them for dealing with the issue transparently and publicly.