“For the love of Christ urges us on; because are convinced that one has died for all.”
2 Corinthians 5:14a NRSV
for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
Galatians 3:26-28 NRSV
It has been a week of many surprises, some worth remembering.
On Friday, we struck out for a nearby tire store so that visiting friends could get a flat tire replaced. Surprise #1: The tire had to be ordered, and wouldn’t arrive until late Monday afternoon. So we moved everything from their vehicle into ours and headed to Bernard, Maine to a certain famous Lobster Pound for lunch. Surprise #2: Said Lobster Pound had just made a decision to open only for dinner, and hadn’t updated their website, Facebook page,Twitter, Instagram...nada. Thankfully, another nearby lobster pound was open as advertised. Then we headed to the Seal Cove Antique Automobile Museum in (you guessed it) Seal Cove, Maine. We’d been there last summer and greatly enjoyed it, but I wasn’t expecting anything much to be new and different. Surprise #3: The entire exhibition is currently devoted to a Celebration of the Suffrage Centennial. The vehicles displayed were the same, but exhibit was totally changed by the new focus. I learned more about American history in one hour than I learned in many a class at dear old Duke...but, Surprise #4: The most important thing I learned was how little I knew about the history of women’s suffrage in our nation.
Frankly, it was embarrassing. Who knew how much the “new” technology of automobile travel had moved forward the suffrage movement? Certainly not I. By the time I got to the 4th or 5th information sign, placed appropriately near the autos involved in that particular historical moment, I was more than a little embarrassed. If you’d asked me when and how women got the vote, I could’ve told you “the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, 1920.” But that’s about it, folks.
And that’s far from being completely correct. Somehow, I’d forgotten that Native Americans weren’t included - due to the simple but dreadful fact that Native Americans weren’t considered to be citizens in 1920. Even after the passage of the Snyder (Indian Citizenship) Act of 1924, many, if not most, Native Americans still couldn’t vote because the Constitution left it up to individual states to decide who could and couldn’t vote. The next information sign nearly brought me to my knees (and did bring tears to my eyes). There I read “Due to discriminatory voting practices, Black women were not granted full suffrage until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, 45 years after the passage of the 19th Amendment.” Now I was not just embarrassed. I was ashamed. How had I lost hold of that critical piece of history belonging to my own lifetime? On August 6, 1965, when the Voting Rights Act was signed into law, I was 11 years old. Why do I not remember this event being discussed in school...or in Sunday School? (I inherited a monumental memory from my father. Sometimes it’s been more of a curse than a blessing, but so far, it still works.) Why was it not drummed into my head along with the minutiae of English grammar and syntax, or the Periodic Table, or the finer points of French conversation? When I cranked up my mental search engine into overdrive, I finally remembered a dinner table conversation from the summer of ‘65, in which my father explained to me some of the political machinations that brought on the delay between the 15th Amendment (signed into law in 1869) and the Voting Rights Act of 1965...but that was it. So I asked my husband and our friends if they remembered that Black women did not receive full suffrage until 1965. One of our friends was only 1&1/2 at the time, but my husband was almost 16, and our other friend, like me, was 11. All of us have advanced degrees; no one remembered it. Then I got to the last information sign, which reviewed the relationship between the 19th Amendment and the ill-fated ERA. The National Women’s Party proposed it in 1923; it was re-introduced at each session of Congress until 1972, 49 years later, when it was finally passed. (That much I do remember.) The concluding sentence of that last information sign sticks in my brain: “However, as of May 2020, fewer than the required 38 states had voted to ratify within a prescribed deadline, and equal rights, regardless of gender, are still not guaranteed by the Constitution.” Although I was aware of this, there were other adult males and females passing by that sign who expressed real shock when they read the last sentence. We’re in trouble here, I thought to myself: if we fail to remember the history of our own lifetimes, what else of great importance have we forgotten?
In our current historical moment, when we are experiencing both the spread of a pandemic that has rewritten life as we knew it, along with a renewal of the struggle against racism that has rewritten our national life as we thought we knew it, it is of critical importance to remember these words of Holy Writ: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” If we fail to remember that Biblical truth, we may also forget that we are not the first in history -or church history! - to struggle to live into the truth that we are all equal in the sight of God. Whether we’re talking about equal access to voting or about unequal access to medical care, it matters a whole heck of a lot how we understand equality. As a rule, Christians believe that all are equal because the ground is level at the foot of the Cross. As United Methodist Christians, we believe that all persons are equal because the Scriptures tell us that all are made in God’s image, that Christ died for us all, and that the Holy Spirit lives within all who belong to the Lord. Or, to quote the United Methodist Discipline (from the Social Principles): “Racism, manifested as sin, plagues and hinders our relationship with Christ, inasmuch as it is antithetical to the Gospel itself...Therefore, we recognize racism as sin, and affirm the ultimate and temporal worth of all persons.” Some things are worth remembering - even if (maybe especially if) they go on surprising us with God’s amazing grace.
Where Charity and Love Prevail, UM Hymnal 549
Where charity and love prevail,
There God is ever found;
Brought here together by Christ’s love,
By love are we thus bound.
Love can exclude no race or creed
If honored be God’s name;
Our common life embraces all
Whose Maker is the same.
Dear Lord, deliver us from the thought that we are superior to anyone whom you have made. Remind us that we are not our own, for we were bought at a price; grant us grace to honor and glorify you in the way we treat one another. In the name of Christ we pray. Amen.
Pastor Susan Pate Greenwood