A u c k l a n d A o t e a r o a N e w Z e a l a n d
a n g l i c a n c h u r c h
Another Case for Equality
November 4, 2012
All Saints' Sunday
Sermon preached at the Auckland Community Church
Lazarus always presents us with the perfect opportunity to talk about that grim reality of death and that mysterious and wonderful phenomenon of new life.
His story only appears in John’s Gospel. And like the other Gospel writers, John is writing from and for a specific community of believers. His gospel, like the others, was written to reaffirm certain understandings and traditions about Jesus that his community was primarily concerned with. Lazarus’ story was no doubt included to reaffirm to his community that the Jesus of their tradition had power even over death.
In doing some thinking around the themes of life and death for this reflection and being the curious lad I am, I thought it might be interesting to know some facts about life and death; like just exactly how many people die each day around the world and how. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 150,000 people die each day around the globe. To put that into perspective, that would be the entire populations of Tauranga and Gisborne dying in one day. Annually, that works out to be just under 55 million people who die each year. That’s about 14 times the population of New Zealand every year.
In addition to those somewhat morbid statistics, the WHO had some good news and some bad news about the ways in which we die. The good news is that for 90 percent of people in industrialized nations the leading cause of death is old age. This means you have a very good chance of dying at the end of your natural life cycle from old age related causes. The bad news is, our brothers and sisters in developing countries are not so fortunate, their leading causes of death include famine and malnutrition related illness as well as infectious diseases like HIV AIDS which is the leading cause of death in some of those countries. Why exactly the disparity, I wondered.
The more statistics I read, the more I realised that this reflection couldn’t just be about life and death it was largely going to be concerned about the inequality that is happening in between. Inequality is something that many of us here know a lot about.
But did we know that it can and does make some of us sick?
Back in 2009, the Guardian carried an article that said:
[a] new study published [...] by the World Health Organisation (WHO) argue that it is inequality that has the most profound and far-reaching consequences for individuals and wider society. The study, which draws on research from throughout Europe, concludes that mental health difficulties are most pronounced in countries such as Britain, which, although rich, have high levels of income and social inequality.
And as we all know the, the mental and spiritual are linked to the physical. Mental illnesses often manifest themselves in physical ways. In essence, the WHO was saying that the West was not immune, that inequality in industrialized nations made people sick there too, it wasn’t something that happened only in developing nations.
They concluded that “injustice and inequality are deeply toxic to us.”
When they say “us” they mean all of Us, they mean all of society suffers from the sickness of inequality.
I begin to wonder what that meant about our own lived experience of marginalisation as queer people.
I found that a number of studies had come out over the past few years that confirmed the impact on queer community’s physical and mental health with direct links to inequality. These studies showed that when institutions create policies that exclude groups of people based on their sexual or gender identities, those groups were more significantly at risk for mental health related problems and for worsening existing conditions. These studies showed that there were definite links between exclusion to everything from HIV transmission rates to depression and addiction.
Another recent study looked at the small handful of states where marriage equality is the law in the US and found that the overall mental health of gays and lesbians in those states vastly improved upon the enactment of marriage equality legislation. Why is that?
All of these studies came to the same conclusion; inequality is bad for the world’s health. These studies merely reiterate to us what our faith and our lived experience has already shown us to be true, that because we are created as equal beings; when that basic fundamental understanding is abused and groups of people are relegated to the margins, there are consequences and we all pay the price.
This understanding of course was the foundation of Jesus’ life and ministry. The Gospel’s are largely focused on health and equality as healing. Jesus knew that inequality made people sick and made the sick even sicker. He knew it made the world a sicker place. He knew that to have healthy societies, justice would have to prevail and inequality would have to be overcome. And he was executed for this reason by those who stood to lose their grip on power in the face of that justice.
The goal tonight is not to portray the queer community collectively as a “sick” people because I don’t believe we are regardless of what some in the Church might say. If there is a sickness in the Church, and there is, that sickness is about the phobias and the fear of the queer Other. Having said that, I think we do need to acknowledge that there are many in our community who are hurting and wounded and sick from the experience of marginalisation. And if it is detrimental to one of us, it is detrimental to all of us. Healing must be a part of our collective struggle. Unfortunately it is the part of our struggle that we do not often speak about. I fear there is still a stigma and a shame attached to talking about sickness in our community but the shame of this inequality is not ours to bear but the healing ministry is.
I often wonder how the Church can ever be an effective agent for healing in developing countries when our leadership continues to enforce policies of exclusion of gays and lesbians. What right have they to condemn injustice around the globe when they continue to enforce injustice right here at home? The shame of this inequality is not ours to bear.
Justice is not about lip-service, it is about action. The huge disparity in the way people die around the world and how and why they become sick reminds us that we have a lot of healing work to do in this world and that that healing must necessarily start with justice. There is no way around it. If inequality makes our world sick, than surely equality can make it better. It has the power to bring us into new life.
Tonight on this holy night of All Saints let us make or renew our individual and collective commitment to be like Jesus in healing and in demanding equality. Let us also make a vow to be like Lazarus, to allow the healing power into our lives and into our communities and pray that it compels us into new life. Let us accept together what Jesus commanded the people about Lazarus, to tear away the grave clothes, to unbind one another and to be set free. Amen.