Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 3 / 18 January 2018

Engage in New Year's Revolutions

Guest Opinion

Jim Mitulski. Photo: Courtesy Jim Mitulski
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For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven.

A time to be born, and a time to die;

a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;

a time to kill, and a time to heal;

a time to break down, and a time to build up

                                                                                        Ecclesiastes 3:1-3


I see that the San Francisco Planning Commission is calling for public comment about the demolition of 150 Eureka Street, the site of the Metropolitan Community Church. I worked there for 15 years – a fourth of my life – and personally witnessed a lot of history that took place there. I presided over hundreds of same-sex weddings before they were legal – and that's what we loved about them! I conducted hundreds of memorials for people at what one newspaper dubbed, "the pink and purple church in the Castro where all the AIDS funerals took place" and they weren't like ceremonies you would see anywhere else. It was the community center before there was a community center. Seeing that former President Bill Clinton recently spoke at the National AIDS Memorial Grove, I recalled that when he came to the city 20 years earlier we held a protest service at the church – covered by the New York Times – where many couples made their vows in protest because Clinton had signed the Defense of Marriage Act. Times change, and so do people. Of course, the building itself has to come down. But the spirit of the building lives on in the activism we do today. I only hope they install a plaque to remember what took place there. It's too easy to blame it all on whomever is in the White House.

This is the end of 2017, the beginning of 2018. It has been a tumultuous year politically, and that tumult has been felt in every part of our lives. Looking back on this year we have seen unsettling and disturbing things. Despite clear warnings by no less a person than Coretta Scott King cautioning us about his character through a letter written years earlier – which Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) would be shamed for her persistence in bringing to our attention – our Senate confirmed Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has since proved himself to be an opponent of civil rights. We have seen hard won victories for LGBT rights – and transgender rights in particular – undone, and the personhood and value of transgender people under assault by people in power. We have seen an unprecedented display of white supremacy in Charlottesville, Virginia, and continued disregard for the voices of women, principally those who speak up – and out – against sexual harassment and violence. Health care is under attack, and specifically the health care of vulnerable children is being sacrificed. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, has been repealed and people are being deported daily and families are being separated. Immigration and Customs Enforcement receives widespread cooperation from local and state police authorities in most places, plans proceed to build a wall, and – despite numerous judicial defeats – the Muslim travel ban is allowed to continue while it is being contested. 2017 has seen an undeniable resurgence of scapegoating of those who are different, in all-too-familiar categories. Some people are tired of hearing these words, just as some are weary of living with these oppressions.

We have to push past our fatigue, and resolve to identify the intersections of these oppressions. At the dawning of a new year let us make new habits, fresh starts, new commitments. It is time to embrace new strategies, even as we continue to face age-old oppressions like homophobia, racism, sexism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and anti-immigrant bias.

We have to hold firm on the separation of church and state. I say this with particular emphasis and even some pain, as a religious person. The Catholic bishops recently published a particularly cruel and astonishingly ill-informed policy statement called "Created Male and Female: An Open Letter from Religious Leaders," in which these bishops and other religious leaders call for their beliefs to be legislated as public policy. This is an ugly moment in our history that cannot pass unchallenged. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention discourages the use of words like "transgender," "science-based," and "fetus," along with four others, in a move that is eerily reminiscent of the early 1980s, when that agency was not allowed to use the word "homosexual" in describing the first appearances of AIDS in epidemiology reports. 

Though it has happened before, there is a fusion taking place between authoritarian religion and right-wing politics, and 2018 is the year in which we must collectively resolve to do something different in order to stop the rising tide of hate.

I'm asking you to engage in some New Year's Revolutions – not just resolutions. I currently work in Needham – an affluent, mostly liberal, mostly straight, mostly white suburb of Boston – where I'm also a pastor. I'm involved in the local chapter of a grassroots group called Progressive Massachusetts. I'm involved in immigration rights activism, and have also worked with groups like Define American and the Southern Poverty Law Center, and I work with wonderful people for social change. Frequently, not always, I am the only gay person around the table.

Every day I bring what we know, what we learned, how we survived, every skill – and I learn from my new colleagues – as I bring the gift of "us." That's how the legacy of a place like 150 Eureka Street really lives. The plaque is important, but how we make 2018 a year of action is even more important. Everyone is different – do it in your own way – start by joining one of the Democratic clubs – even if you don't think you are political. Because in 2018, everyone has to be political.

Join me – even, especially – if you're still living in San Francisco, or in Oakland, or wherever you are, in engaging in some 2018 New Year's Revolutions.


Jim Mitulski is a pastor in the MCC Churches and United Church of Christ, living currently in West Roxbury, Massachusetts and working in Needham. He was pastor of MCC-San Francisco for 15 years when it was located at 150 Eureka Street in the Castro.




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