Determine Our Future

Episode 45: Political Theology Matters, with the Rev. Dr. Marcia Ledford

August 02, 2021 Lani Parker Pierce Season 2 Episode 45
Determine Our Future
Episode 45: Political Theology Matters, with the Rev. Dr. Marcia Ledford
Show Notes Transcript

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National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1-888-373-7888 (24/7 operation; in English, Spanish, 200 more languages)
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The Reverend Dr. Marcia Ledford is so many things! Marcia is a Civil Rights attorney and an Episcopal priest. Marcia’s ministry is located in southwest Detroit, and includes a large Latinx population. Marcia is a lesbian and is proud to be a member of the LGBTQ+ community, and has been with her partner for 32 years, legally married for 7 years.
Marcia has founded a mission called Political Theology Matters, LLC; in this mission, Marcia helps others develop their public theology mission and helps to broadcast messaging for greater social justice. I can’t think of anyone better than a Civil Rights attorney, member of the LGBTQ+ community and a priest, to educate us on all these matters. Marcia and my pronouns are she/her/hers.

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Episode 45: Political Theology Matters, with the Rev. Dr. Marcia Ledford
Lani: The Reverend Dr. Marcia Ledford is so many things! Marcia is a Civil Rights attorney and an Episcopal priest. Marcia’s ministry is located in southwest Detroit, and includes a large Latinx population. Marcia is a lesbian and is proud to be a member of the LGBTQ+ community, and has been with her partner for 32 years, legally married for 7 years. Marcia has founded a mission called Political Theology Matters, LLC; in this mission, Marcia helps others develop their public theology mission and helps to broadcast messaging for greater social justice. I can’t think of anyone better than a Civil Rights attorney, member of the LGBTQ+ community and a priest, to educate us on all these matters. Marcia and my pronouns are she/her/hers.
Let’s jump in! Marcia, thank you so much for joining me today.

Marcia: Well, thank you, Lani. It's a delight to be with you.

Lani: If you could give us a little bit more information about yourself, and specifically, how did you come to dive into so many different career and life directions?

Marcia: I sensed the call to ordained ministry when I was a teenager, I was a church kid, I was always, always involved with church from a young age. And my faith was very important. My mother was instrumental in establishing my faith within me. So I would say that my career choices often were driven by my call to faith ministry. But I wasn't seeing women at the pulpit in the altar, and particularly not after I came out, I was pretty sure there was not going to be a place for me. And when I was coming out back in the day, in the late 70s, and early 80s, a lot of churches very blatantly put to us the choice of being a lesbian or gay man, and being a Christian. It was an either or, they were considered mutually exclusive propositions. So I went into law instead, because it's also a helping profession, and ended up becoming a Civil Rights attorney. So I would say this is all from this frustrated call to ordained ministry that I didn't respond to at the time. So I did that for many, many years, I became increasingly frustrated, because you can't argue the gospel in court and expect to be successful, often quite the opposite. So in me, this call started getting louder and louder. I sensed the Holy Spirit was poking at me mightily. And I finally in my late 40s, said, okay, I'll do it. But you have to help me do this by myself. And she did, so far.

Lani: Can I ask what type of Civil Rights cases, just a broad overview of what your cases were?

Marcia: Well, I did a lot of LGBTQ+ related Civil Rights issues, primarily in the areas of child custody and HIV status. So this is going back aways, I sort of followed what the trends were at the time. So keep in mind that when a parent was coming out or was discovered to be lesbian or gay, it immediately raised a question of parental fitness. Wow, regardless of what was going on just the sexual orientation itself, often the opposing spouse who's understandably very upset anyway, would start raising questions about, I don't want my kids being raised by this person. So it was a big ugly mess, is what it was, and then HIV. There was a lot of stigma attached initially. And of course, I saw a lot of my gay adopted brothers dying, and the government was slow to respond. And so it became important to litigate insurance coverage and Social Security benefits and whatnot for particularly gay men who had been infected. And of course intravenous drug users were also experiencing high infection rates, and are also looked down on by society. And depending on the state, so called sodomy laws were still in play. And so you could be convicted for a sodomy felony when you're engaged in private, consensual sex with another adult. So there were a number of these types of cases that I worked on, and was a cooperating attorney with the ACLU and so forth.

Lani: Okay, so thank you so much for talking to us about those Civil Rights cases. It's such an interesting look into the past, and that you were there helping people at that time. And then kind of fast forwarding to how does the intersection of Civil Rights and your faith and being LGBTQ+? How does that look for you in your daily life?

Marcia: Well, I worked to found Political Theology Matters, so that I can write eat, preach, speak, teach about the necessity, really, of us as progressive Christians to speak out publicly for greater social justice. Because Christianity right now is being badly represented in many ways. Conservative Christianity, I think, to a lot of people looks actually pretty mean, mean spirited, exclusionary, racist, homophobic, sexist, all of these things. So also, people don't feel like they can speak out about their faith in the public square because of this misunderstood notion of the separation of church and state. As a matter of fact, once in a while, people will say to me, well, it's in the Constitution. And that phrase, the separation of church and state is not in the Constitution. That was an interpretation made by Thomas Jefferson, who was one of the founders of our Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. And what he was talking about, he wrote in a letter to some Anabaptists, about how the founders were trying to separate us from the Church of England and England's state church. Okay, so they're trying to, they're trying to not establish a superior religion, which is the first line of the First Amendment. Congress shall make no law establishing a religion.

Lani: And in England, church and state at that time were, they were the same, right?

Marcia: The sovereign, the king or queen, was George the Third at the time of our Declaration of Independence, was the Supreme Head of the Church of England.

Lani: In that Church of England, though, had been created by a previous sovereign who turned away from the current religion and just kind of created his own, who separated from the Roman Catholic tradition.

Marcia: That was Henry the Eighth so he could get a divorce.

Lani: Okay, thank you.

Marcia: So I'm an Episcopal priest, which is part of the worldwide Anglican Communion, which stems from the Church of England. So, this global church is the American version, the US version of the Church of England base. And so Thomas Jefferson was writing about something else, he was trying to underscore the importance that we are going to avoid a state church. Also in the First Amendment are five other rights, including the free exercise of religion. So, Congress is banned from establishing a religion, from enacting laws that keep people from exercising their religion, that limit speech, that limit the press, that limit our ability to assemble peacefully, to address the government, for our grievances. So there's these five other rights that go to us. And have now been extended to all local government basically, through case law interpretation, that allow us to speak in the public square about what's bothering us, regardless of whether it's faith based. And that's very, very important. So we aren't banned from public speech that involves our faith interpretation. But people are confused by that. Look at the movement with the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. There were a lot of theology and faith themes that ran through the Civil Rights movement. Like Chavez, who led the United workers movement to secure rights for migrant workers was heavily based on Catholic social teaching. As a matter of fact they had pilgrimages, they had marches that were called pilgrimages, which is a very ecclesiastical church related kind of word. So I tried to provide knowledge, resources to participate in public acts, to change our policies and laws to become more inclusive and compassionate.

Lani: That's wonderful.

Marcia: So that's my daily life.

Lani: I think that I see some changes in different areas today. So for example, I was born and raised Catholic, but did not agree with all the teachings of the Catholic Church, and along with the sense of community that you can get from the church and the volunteerism and the other good things. But you also get some of the hypocrisy and exclusion, that I didn't agree with. The churches that I have visited these days, for baptisms, and other family events are a lot more inclusive. There was a Lutheran one, and there are some that are just nondenominational. And so they just say, yeah, you're welcome. Please come in, the LGBTQ+ community, other marginalized groups, any races or ethnicities, everybody's welcome. So I think it's a great direction. And I also think that your teachings, you can help society a lot to say, I can have faith, and I can also be very inclusive.

Marcia: Thank you, and we can, we can be who we are, and be devoted followers of Jesus, no question.

Lani: What can you tell us about what we can do as individuals to help make a difference in our society in these ways?

Marcia: Well, first of all, if you go to my website, it's called politicaltheologymatters.com.

Lani: And that'll be in the show notes.

Marcia: Along with my email and whatever other resources I mentioned. And on the homepage, there is a downloadable one sheet that is titled something like “Six ways to become a faith based advocate,” and so you can click on that and download it. And there are a number of things listed there that will help you get started, because a lot of times people will say a couple of things to me, first of all, they'll say, wow, our issues are so complicated. Where do I start? Where can I make a difference, because it just all seems so big. So I'm going to start with number one on that sheet is to go to commoncause.org. And you can punch in your zip code, and get the list of your federal and state representatives and senators. And you can get contact information from them, like their Twitter handles, because politicians are on Twitter in a big way. And you can send little bullets out on Twitter very easily. You can get their email address and their phone number. And start contacting them about issues that are important to you. And a lot of people you can just see they kind of hang their head. And they're kind of crestfallen. Because they don't think it makes a difference. It does make a difference. And it makes a difference, even if your representatives vote the way you want them to. Because they need the statistical backup, to defend, justify, legitimate the positions that they take, when voting on legislation, they can say, well, 67% of my constituents support this position. And so, I'm the representative, I'm voting this way. So it's essential to be in regular contact, now, you can make a huge difference in helping to turn the tide. So that's one example. And I highly recommend, it'll take you five minutes to get the names and contact information, you can print it out and stick it somewhere near your desk or whatever. Or put it in your phone. If your state is having hearings on a particular bill, that would provide continued assistance or greater assistance to people who struggle, it gives some testimony. They call him up and say, I'd be willing to talk about this, I do this in my daily work, I have a lot to say about it. That sounds complicated, but it's really not, it's just finding the channels, find finding the avenues to start participating. And there's two other points I want to make about this. You don't have to turn the world upside down, the first time. People think that doing small things don't matter. And that's how movements grow is a lot of people getting involved in doing smaller things first, get your feet wet as a faith based advocate, you don't have to do it all at once. And you certainly can't do it alone. Another suggestion is to find a community organizing group that is working on issues that are important to you, volunteer with other like minded people, because it's empowering. It's wonderful. It's an incredible experience. And other people will say to me, well, I'm an introvert, and I don't want to be on the front lines. And that's not who I am, and fair enough. And my response to them, and they are surprised is, that's fine. We don't all need to be on the front line. We need graphic designers and speech writers and we need everybody to bring their skills and experiences to the table to work on it together. I'm an extrovert. I don't mind being on the front lines. That's part of my thing. But I also need the research behind the power analysis to know who to protest to, St. Paul talked about this in the first chapter, in his first letter to the Corinthians. He talked about how we're all one body in Christ. And if we were all speaking where would the hearing be? It is some of his most poetic and eloquent descriptions of how we are created to work together in community.

Lani: I actually have an organization that I volunteer with, it's called catchafire.org. And it's trying to create those kinds of connections between organizations that need help, and writers and editors and graphic designers and website, and all of that kind of stuff. That is a great resource for introverts, it's so great. And, I think it existed before COVID. But during COVID, this is a way you can volunteer without exposing yourself, by possibly going into the public when it's not safe. So I love it. And I was able to do, almost any type of skill is needed for different projects. I was very excited to find it.

Marcia: I need a resource like this.

Lani: And I did notice that for Pride Month, they are pulling the LGBTQ+ community orgs to the front, to hopefully get some more help there. So but it's a great resource. Thank you so much for helping us to, to figure out where to start to make that difference. What are some other things that we could do, say, at our workplaces, or at our colleges and universities? Do you have any suggestions there?

Marcia: Colleges and universities are an especially good place to address these issues, because there's such an emphasis on freedom of thought and development of critical thinking skills. And so I would think Student Life centers would be a great place to start at a college or university somewhere where there are folks on staff who are there for the purpose of helping students enrich not only their academic life, but their whole person. So I would definitely start there. And maybe the political science department, that would be good. And if there if there are theological studies at your school, that would be a great place.

Lani: We discussed this a little bit; I'd love for you to tell our listeners about the different messages in the Bible that have been applied to LGBTQ+ people in the community in negative ways.

Marcia: Yes, there are seven passages throughout the Bible, Lani, that typically have been used to being LGBTQ+ people over the head, primarily lesbian and gay people. The ones that are the most commonly used is the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the passages in Leviticus that call a man lying with a man as with a woman an abomination. So it's part of the abomination section of the holiness code in Leviticus. And then there's a reference in the first chapter of Romans, listing bad conduct and homosexuality as one of the words that are used along with murder and other really bad stuff. Okay, so I'm in the process of writing a blog series in commemoration of Pride Month, June. So, again, you can check out extensive discussions on these particular passages on in my blog, at politicaltheologymatters.com/blog. So typically, we use the word clobber, we call these the clobber passages because LGBTQ+ people have been clobbered with them. When people invoke these passages out of context, as a means to demean, to exclude, or to make themselves appear to be better Christians. The psychological, spiritual and emotional harm that occurs is in many ways, indescribable. Particularly if this young person has been raised in a tradition that agrees with this very negative use of these passages. So I decided to do some blogs. I'm going to address all seven, starting with Sodom and Gomorrah, and this week will be Leviticus and then I probably will do Romans Next, I'm going to do them in the order that you typically hear them. Not always, but you get the idea and we’re going through a rather extensive theological discussion about the passages, and why they're being misapplied.

Lani: So actually, by the time we air this, those will probably all be out. Because that's more than seven weeks. I will definitely link to that in the show notes. I'm very excited to read about that. Do you think that these passages, these clobber passages, have been used more often as misinterpretations, because I do hear that the Bible can be misinterpreted in many ways. And different people have done that.

Marcia: Well, let's put it this way. I'm not going to argue with folks who interpret these as being absolutely anti-gay passages, they have the right to their interpretation, what I do object to, is that they have the only or singular interpretation. Any passage in the Bible does not have a little megaphone that just screams at us. Our job is to read a text in its context, as well as in our context. If we don't understand the context of the vocabulary words of the historical setting, of the interaction between the parties that are speaking on without understanding the theological foundations from the time, we are doing a terrible disservice.
Now I'm going to use a very simple example of a word. So let's take the word notebook. Notebooks, the kind of started out as three ring binders? Or blue books, those little thread bound books that you can get at the store, composition books. Okay, that's a notebook. Then we got spiral bound notebooks. Now we have a notebook that's actually a computer, or a tablet, or something else, our phones have a note, I have a note section in my phone, that lets me go in there and make little notes for myself. And I can title them and save them and add to them and delete them. So across the course of, say, a century, maybe more a little more than a century, our understandings of what a notebook is have changed drastically, from simple piece of paper to very sophisticated electronic devices. We must understand this, when we are talking about a notebook, or anything else, if we lack that context, we are doing the text itself a disservice.
And one of the most beautiful things about the Bible is that, although it's very old, it still has absolutely direct application to our lives today, particularly when we apply our understanding of science and reason and life experience. But those things are essential for us to have a full meaning of what the text is about. And of course, when Sodom and Gomorrah and Leviticus and all these were written, that was well, well before the Enlightenment, it was well before what we understand as the social sciences came into being, and how we study the complexity of the human being, how we study the understanding of sexuality. When those passages were written, there was no sexual orientation. And Sodom and Gomorrah is really about hospitality. So if you if you want to read more about it, you can go to my blog. Jesse Jackson, whose oratory skills I covet endlessly said me, he made a wonderful statement many years ago and he said a text without a context is a pretext. Meaning a pretext is kind of an excuse, or a false justification for whatever you're doing. So if you don't understand the context of a text, you will be thinking and acting pre-textually, which is dangerous.

Lani: Something similar that comes to mind is from Memoirs of a Geisha, the fictional novel by Arthur Golden. And my favorite quote from that is, “if you don't know your history, you're like a leaf that doesn't know it's part of a tree.”
In our discussions before we started our podcast today, we talked about the ex-angelical movement. Did I say that correctly? And if I had never heard of it, if you could, please tell me in our listeners, what that movement is about, I would love that.

Marcia: Sure. And, as I understand it, I've been reading about it for a bit here. And it is about devout evangelical Christians who have been very much like me, church kids very imbued in their religious tradition, who are beginning to really question much like you did, as a kid, in your Roman Catholic tradition, challenging what's being taught. And the purity culture is one of the things that is being readily challenged these days in evangelical circles. The mean spiritedness towards LGBTQ+ people, the sexism. And it's a movement that is creating space, if you will, for people to start asking some hard questions. Often, it sounds to me like people are just taking a step back from their own church tradition, and not participating and starting to just think about things or maybe they're reaching out, they're reading about other traditions, or they're reading theologians that have a different view than they do trying to understand where everybody's coming from. Some of this is born from the fact that there are many interpretations of the Scriptures and as time moves on, we develop even more. So it's a scary place to be. Because we all as human beings have a primordial need to belong to a group, to not be alone. And when you go through this deconstruction process, you're putting yourself in this position where it's possible, you're not going to like the answers, and you're going to need to separate from that which you've known perhaps all of your life. If you're a teenager or a young adult, and you've been in this paradigm, in this belief system all of your life, you're thinking about stepping away from it, maybe even ultimately stepping away from any religious tradition, or stepping away from Christianity and looking for another one. So it's a scary place. But I also think it's an important place. I think it is up to us to question what's being taught to us, I think it's up to us to not accept it hook line and sinker, because guess what happens? It creates a place for abuse. And if a church is being run like a dictatorship, those are places where people are extremely vulnerable. Because being a faith leader is an incredible position of trust. People are depending on us. To leave them in one of the most important areas of their lives, or perhaps the most important area of their life. And in the Episcopal tradition, we say that when we have a church, we have a cure. And we say that because we are as, as priests and deacons, we are. Our duty is to be cures of the soul, cares of the soul, think about the expansive ramifications, being the cure of souls, huge responsibility in that. And frankly, some leaders abuse it terribly.

Lani: I think it's a great word, though. Because what we learn in church are what we are told in church very often comes home with everyone, everybody brings it home and it kind of seeps into other areas of your life and affects it greatly. So I think it's a great term for what that is.

Marcia: So that the care of souls are the cure of souls, is one of the most important responsibilities entrusted to me as an Episcopal priest. And for any pastor.

Lani: Evangelicals are one of the largest groups to not be vaccinated yet. I just, I was shocked at that. And I thought, wow, and I did hear a few stories of individual evangelical leaders, trying to preach to their people that the vaccine is a good thing, and you should get it. But I think the overall position of the church was, we don't believe in that, and so, it was just such a shame that the kind of the politics of the vaccines leached into the religious beliefs and the church itself.

Marcia: I agree.

Lani: So one more thing I wanted to ask you about today is about something I saw on your website, politicaltheologymatters.com. And one of the tenets that you are focusing on is human trafficking, which I have to admit I don't know very much about, and I'd love to know more about what's the background there? And how are how are you helping in that way?

Marcia: Well, we have four issues, Lani, that are listed on the website that we have dedicated our time and expertise to. And that includes immigration reform, which is very close to my heart, greater equality and inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community, racial reconciliation, and the eradication of domestic violence and human trafficking. And I mentioned that, because it is the one that we are still developing, we're kind of in our early stages of getting information out about it. But I became much more aware of human trafficking when I went out to finish my Master of Divinity degree in Berkeley, California. Because in San Francisco, there's a group called SAGE. And it is about helping their nonprofit mission, it’s about helping women who have been trafficked get out and get their lives back. And I went to some lectures about it, and they came to school and talked to us about it. And I became very moved and mortified by what I learned. And so I decided that this would be something I would address later on as my ministry got developed. So there's labor trafficking, and there's sex trafficking as the primary kinds. And I live in Michigan, Southeast Michigan, just north of the intersection between Interstate 75 and Interstate 80/90. And 94, which is one of the biggest hubs for exchanging traffic to persons in the United States. And very often they come in through San Francisco, from Asia, but other places also, and are transported across the country on these interstates and so and when you get to 75, you can go south to just about anywhere. When I learned that I was even more mortified. So I decided that we would start writing and teaching about this. As a matter of fact, Super Bowl Sunday is one of the most heavy use of humans being trafficked of the year. And so it happens in our backyard. It's not like they come to the hub and they go other places. All of us probably live within a relatively short distance of a situation where somebody is being trafficked.

Lani: Thanks for listening to Determine Our Future. See my transcript for all of the research I used in the making of this episode.
Music credits are as follows: gravitationalWaves, departures, seachange, reCreation, urbanblues, blackSnow, forgottenland and nightWalk are all by airtone; aether theories is by Vidian; and Isolation Swing is by Admiral Bob. See the full credits in the transcripts of each episode.
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Ledford, the Rev. Dr. Marcia; Personal interview
https://www.politicaltheologymatters.com/
[email protected]
https://www.politicaltheologymatters.com/media
https://www.politicaltheologymatters.com/blog
National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1-888-373-7888 (24/7 operation; in English, Spanish, 200 more languages)
https://humantraffickinghotline.org
Photo by the Rev. Dr. Marcia Ledford
Music credits:
blackSnow by airtone (c) copyright 2021 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/airtone/63513
forgottenland by airtone (c) copyright 2020 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial  (3.0) license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/airtone/61959
nightWalk by airtone (c) copyright 2017 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/airtone/56520
Isolation Swing by Admiral Bob (c) copyright 2020 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/admiralbob77/61465 Ft: SmoJos