The Choice Is Ours Now
by Melissa Etheridge
This is a message for my brothers and sisters who have fought so long and so hard for gay rights and liberty. We have spent a long time climbing up this mountain, looking at the impossible, changing a thousand year-old paradigm. We have asked for the right to love the human of our choice, and to be protected equally under the laws of this great country. The road at times has been so bloody, and so horrible, and so disheartening. From being blamed for 9/11 and Katrina, to hateful crimes committed against us, we are battle weary. We watched as our nation took a step in the right direction, against all odds and elected Barack Obama as our next leader. Then we were jerked back into the last century as we watched our rights taken away by prop 8 in California. Still sore and angry we felt another slap in the face as the man we helped get elected seemingly invited a gay-hater to address the world at his inauguration.
I hadn’t heard of Pastor Rick Warren before all of this. When I heard the news, in its neat little sound bite form that we are so accustomed to, it painted the picture for me. This Pastor Rick must surely be one hate spouting, money grabbing, bad hair televangelist like all the others. He probably has his own gay little secret bathroom stall somewhere, you know. One more hater working up his congregation to hate the gays, comparing us to pedophiles and those who commit incest, blah blah blah. Same ‘ole thing. Would I be boycotting the inauguration? Would we be marching again?
Well, I have to tell you my friends, the universe has a sense of humor and indeed works in mysterious ways. As I was winding down the promotion for my Christmas album I had one more stop last night. I’d agreed to play a song I’d written with my friend Salman Ahmed, a Sufi Muslim from Pakistan. The song is called “Ring The Bells,” and it’s a call for peace and unity in our world. We were going to perform our song for the Muslim Public Affairs Council, a group of Muslim Americans that tries to raise awareness in this country, and the world, about the majority of good, loving, Muslims. I was honored, considering some in the Muslim religion consider singing to be against God, while other Muslim countries have harsh penalties, even death for homosexuals. I felt it was a very brave gesture for them to make. I received a call the day before to inform me of the keynote speaker that night… Pastor Rick Warren. I was stunned. My fight or flight instinct took over, should I cancel? Then a calm voice inside me said, “Are you really about peace or not?”
I told my manager to reach out to Pastor Warren and say “In the spirit of unity I would like to talk to him.” They gave him my phone number. On the day of the conference I received a call from Pastor Rick, and before I could say anything, he told me what a fan he was. He had most of my albums from the very first one. What? This didn’t sound like a gay hater, much less a preacher. He explained in very thoughtful words that as a Christian he believed in equal rights for everyone. He believed every loving relationship should have equal protection. He struggled with proposition 8 because he didn’t want to see marriage redefined as anything other than between a man and a woman. He said he regretted his choice of words in his video message to his congregation about proposition 8 when he mentioned pedophiles and those who commit incest. He said that in no way, is that how he thought about gays. He invited me to his church, I invited him to my home to meet my wife and kids. He told me of his wife’s struggle with breast cancer just a year before mine.
When we met later that night, he entered the room with open arms and an open heart. We agreed to build bridges to the future.
Brothers and sisters the choice is ours now. We have the world’s attention. We have the capability to create change, awesome change in this world, but before we change minds we must change hearts. Sure, there are plenty of hateful people who will always hold on to their bigotry like a child to a blanket. But there are also good people out there, Christian and otherwise that are beginning to listen. They don’t hate us, they fear change. Maybe in our anger, as we consider marches and boycotts, perhaps we can consider stretching out our hands. Maybe instead of marching on his church, we can show up en mass and volunteer for one of the many organizations affiliated with his church that work for HIV/AIDS causes all around the world.
Maybe if they get to know us, they wont fear us.
I know, call me a dreamer, but I feel a new era is upon us.
I will be attending the inauguration with my family, and with hope in my heart. I know we are headed in the direction of marriage equality and equal protection for all families.
Happy Holidays my friends and a Happy New Year to you.
Peace on earth, goodwill toward all men and women… and everyone in-between.
First off, I, too, love your music. I love your passion, as well. I love that you speak up, and speak out. I love that you wanted to reach out to Pastor Warren.
But there are some things I don’t love.
I don’t love that his church website said this: “Because membership in a church is and outgrowth of accepting the lordship and leadership of Jesus in one’s life, someone unwilling to repent of their homosexual lifestyle would not be accepted as a member at Saddleback Church.”
And I don’t love that once this news came out this anti-gay tidbit was removed from his website.
I don’t love that he compared gay men and women to pedophiles and people who commit incest.
And I don’t love that he now says he ‘regrets’ using those words.
Pastors preach. They give sermons. They talk. They spends, hours, days, weeks, on their sermons, on what they’re going to say. And he now says he chose the wrong words? Of course peolle make mistakes; but you can proofread a sermon before you speak; you can edit a videotaped message before it airs; you can double-check a website for mistakes.
Were they the wrong words before he was asked to speak at the inauguration? And if so, why didn’t he say something then? Or are they the wrong words now because he doesn’t want to be dis-invited?
Are the words that once appeared on his website still not his sentiments? Or have they been removed because he doesn’t want any more of an uproar?
Pastor Rick Warren has the right to his opinions. He has the right to speak, even at the inauguration. I may not agree with the man; I may not like Obama’s ‘reaching out’ reasoning for the inclusion of Warren. I have the right not to listen to him.
And I have the right to hold him accountable for what he says, for what his church believes, for politicking from the pulpit. I have the right to have my say.
His church does not want gay members who don’t repent their lifestyle. Words have power.
He compares us to pedophiles. Words have meaning.
He says we aren’t worthy of equal protection under the law. Words are hard to take back when you keep putting the same ones out there.