The SCOTUS Ruling

by the Rev. Amber Carswell

Last week, we celebrated the Supreme Court’s decision concerning protections for LGBT workers. This decision was personal, but not because I will receive any protection — churches, as you know, have our own metrics which are rightly independent of the state. It was personal because the issue of protections for LGBT workers was the subject of my very first humiliating experience as a priest.


The bishop placed me in Jonesboro, AR, right out of seminary. At the time, folks were organizing all over the country to try and pass local nondiscrimination ordinances through city councils. A group of us worked and spoke and rallied in Jonesboro, and it will not surprise you to hear that each action felt like running headlong into a brick wall. One of the council members looked at me as I sat, asking for his support in a one-on-one meeting, and said, with utter confusion and some concern, “You’re really sticking your neck out for this.”


The council argued that such discrimination didn’t exist, so why pass protections? As arguments go, it’s hard to counter. Provide examples, and you’re met with a litany of reasons for an individual’s lack of qualifications or dismissal other than sexual orientation. To clear up the confusion of just why you might be sticking your neck out for this, to tell the story of your life — that was even worse, to feel the quiet derision fill the room: Ah, you are one of those.


The work went exactly nowhere. SCOTUS’ ruling on marriage equality erupted in 2015, and I hung some hope that protections for LGBT workers might make its way to that mythical arbiter of justice and equality someday. Whatever happened, it wouldn’t be done through the city of Jonesboro.


A couple of weeks ago, I preached on Scripture that isn’t “our” Scripture — the idea that we live vastly different lives than, say, the writer of Psalm 137, and that when we disagree with their sentiments, we tend to silence them in our readings of the Bible. I said that these sorts of songs may not be our songs, but that we ought to listen, to work on their behalf, to treasure them despite the differences in ideology, to remember that Scripture speaks and argues with itself, that these songs are still the Word of the Lord making claim over your life and mine.


What I didn’t have time to say was that in listening to their words, the song of the “other” could be brought into our own.


As you may know, SCOTUS’ ruling last week interpreted the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Reading the opinions sounds like a piece of biblical interpretation to me. The dissenters argued that no one who brought the Civil Rights Act into being could’ve imagined this would extend to someone like me, one of those, when they wrote it; indeed, I can’t imagine anyone at the time would have supported this month’s interpretation had it been suggested.


But the majority wrote that the intent could expand. It’s what makes a text alive and vital — that it can breathe new air. Now that I’m stomping in galoshes where the angels of the law fear to tread, I’ll just say that it delighted me to hear something of what we say in interpreting the Bible: yes, it was for a time, and yes, it’s for your time, too. The question will be how you choose to employ it. There are paths of costly love and paths of easier neglect. You get to choose.


The SCOTUS ruling came in June, Pride month to all of us who sing this particular song (and to those who love us.) I find myself indebted in a new way to the black freedom fighters of past ages, people unlike me in so many ways, who risked far more than a little humiliation and momentary public failure for their rights — folks who risked their very lives and livelihoods bringing these freedoms to pass, whose songs are now somehow lifting up and enabling my own.


The final stage of enlightenment in every Dostoevsky work is finding yourself responsible for the whole world and everyone in it and finding joy in that responsibility. This month has marked an important new chapter in my understanding of this truth. I wonder: how do you find your stories expanding and evolving at this time?

12 thoughts on “The SCOTUS Ruling”

  1. Well written Amber. I’m glad you have been able to share your experiences with us. Prejudice is pervasive and even with SCOTUS’ ruling, the battle will continue.
    Another wrong hire by. Prexy Donald as I’m sure he will never admit.

  2. thank you. I apologize for what you experienced in jonesboro, my home town. I grew up in the Methodist church, which emphasized that in our fathers house there are many rooms.
    god bless you.

    1. It wasn’t all bad! Just a few lessons to learn about small-town government — and many, many more about how to be a priest, which was done in the beautiful community of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church.

  3. Well done, Amber. Personally, professionally, and politically. Hope you know that you are more than welcome to also share your anger, frustration, pain, and disgust with us as well. We’re on your side.

  4. Rev Amber, thank you for sharing your life and words with us. My heart has always been of the degree we are all created in God’s image, and she created us all wonderfully. (I’m female, thus I see My creator in my redhead female image). Just as I would see your creator in your image. I celebrate this ruling for the security it not only gives my son whom identities she/her/they but for the generations who come after us. I believe in the next generation of Gods children to be much more open, accepting and loving of all Gods Children regardless of sexuality, skin color or faith. Forgive my ramblings but accept my love. God Bless you with big love in work and play. Congratulations!

  5. I especially appreciate the reference to Psalm 137. I give talks ,whenever I can find an audience, on Psalm 137 and Psalm 126, presumably written 50 years later. When the Jews were exiled to Babylon, they were thinking about revenge. (smash the children of Babylon against the rocks). When they returned to Jerusalem 50 years later, they wre thinking about how to get everyone employed and how they could all get enough to eat (sow in tears, come back singing bearing sheave of grain.) As long as we are talking asbouit how wrong our enemies are, talking about retaliation, we are not moving towards peace. When we talk about jobs and about how to feed everyone – how to provide for the needs of all – we arte moving towards peace, moving in the direction God wants us to move.

  6. Thank you, Amber. We need to hear more about what people we know and care about have experienced.

  7. Amber, I am incredibly grateful for your ability to bring these amazing stories for us to life today. They were meant to be just as you say. Its so refreshing to know this is your calling. I am forever thankful. You are truly a gift for us all☺️

  8. You are truly a gift in my life . You and Missy are a wonderful caring couple . I hope you stay with us for a very long time .

  9. You are very gifted in your ability to mean what you say and say what you mean.
    A little aside, I so enjoy your reading of the lessons as your Voice is quite articulate and clear.

  10. Thanks for these heartfelt words. Your sermon on Psalm 137 was amazing; so powerful and just what I needed that day in relation to a thorny personal matter.

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