When I got the text message, “What are you religious views?” from my business manager, I was quite confused to say the least. My first reaction was that they aren’t beliefs that can be explained in a simple text message because my faith and spirituality have evolved from my upbringing in the Methodist church and progressed with my life experiences. Judy told me that I had been requested to deliver a message about my platform at a church in Arkansas. And with this news, I immediately picked up the phone to call Alyse, Miss Arkansas, and my roommate at Miss America. Just as shocked as I was, we were both very excited for this appearance, something no one saw coming this year with my platform. But this is the reason I loved it even more.
I am fascinated by religion and spirituality and the coexistence of ‘religion’ and homosexuality. I am incredibly grateful for the unique opportunity to touch every facet of these issues and reach a new audience in the beautiful south of Arkansas. Mountain Song Fellowship Church is a small non-denominational congregation that is coming under the United Church of Christ. Led by Rev. Jerry Cook, a quiet but passionate servant and leader, the church is so warm and inviting. On the given Sunday I was there, it was wonderful to see new people who came to the church from as far as four hours away just to hear me speak. They gave me a key to the city of Fayetteville and beautiful roses with the most touching introduction.
I knew there were parts of my message that would potentially be emotional (for anyone who really knows me, when am I not potentially emotional…) but man, after this introduction, I was already in tears. Rev. Cook made mention of his heros, people like Mother Theresa and Billy Graham, and said that he had found a new hero in me. Wow. From states away, the power of my message and my actions had reached him in such a deep way and was an inspirational reminder to never stop standing up for what I believe in and taking every opportunity to share it. In and out of tears, I delivered my prepared message, some of which I will share below…
"I grew up in a Methodist church where a week never went by where any of us – six in total – missed the 8:30 contemporary service, Sunday school and on most Sundays, youth group. Sermon after sermon, hymn after hymn, we worshiped and listened to messages about one of the greatest commandments to “love your neighbor as yourself” and we were taught and encouraged to give selflessly and be a servant to others – all others. This word “all” carries great meaning. To me, it truly means all – people whom I love, people whom I have never met, people who are the same as I, people who are different than I. I never understood all to exclude anyone. Yet now, there is a chasm between the church that preaches inclusivity and acceptance and the advocates who fight for universal respect and equality.
With so many people struggling with both internal and external or public discovery of their sexual orientation, how that can coexist with their faith, and how they are treated as second-class citizens under the law, people need to hear our prayers, yes. But more than that, I believe that people need to hear our voices. They need to hear that religion, faith, spirituality, Christianity, Christian values, can and do coexist with the values of respect and equality for all people, including our LGBT brothers and sisters. In fact, I believe it to be one of the most fundamental lessons I have learned from the Bible in my upbringing: to live without judgment and instead as a light, spreading love to others with acceptance and respect. In Equality Magazine, I read the most perfect title: The antidote to the conservative Christian right is a vocal, faithful and supportive left. Religion and faith are each completely unique to every single one of us. Perhaps as unique as the relationships we have with others, significant others or family and friends. The uniting principle that runs as a common thread throughout all of those relationships, with others, with ourselves and with our God or higher power, is love.
Love is not something to be regulated by the government or the church. Love is something we all deserve, need and should have the freedom to express. In the last fifteen minutes, I have not spoken extensively about the freedom to marry because I don’t think that it’s the foundation of this fight. It is the product of this battle or civil rights movement. The foundation is in respect, dignity and true equality for all people. The foundation is built upon morals and values, whether driven by your teachings of Jesus or teachings of mom and dad, that are inclusive and respectful of all people. When we can tread fearlessly on this foundation, that freedom to marry will naturally become accepted. We can't just change laws. We have to change people’s hearts and minds through personal testimony and example so that we can all coexist equally in the eyes of each other that will finally reflect the lens through which God sees all of His children."
I was so happy to have my parents join me in this experience in Arkansas. AND we got to head down a few days early for some much needed R&R in a cabin, hiking in Devil's Den and watching lots of movies :)