Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence.
― Leonardo da Vinci
My little activist-y self has been getting some activist-y action. From attending Sanctuary meetings, to marching for our children’s lives, to having breakfast with a small group of local faith leaders and Mike Johnston – a gubernatorial candidate, to sitting through an involved Longmont City Council meeting, to participating in the Democratic caucus for my little precinct. I have found myself in the bosom of that which I never knew I would most enjoy. These things thrill me. I am discovering the power of a voice. A single, lone, citizen’s voice has so much to say.
And just this past week, I testified with my co-pastor Paula on behalf of the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado and Left Hand Church against HB 1206 – a nasty bill that would discriminate against LGBTQ persons in their daily life from doctor visits and eating at favorite restaurants to adoption options. We convened at the capitol, for six hours listening to both sides of the issue, watching our legislators do their elected jobs. It was powerful, fascinating, and humbling. I am still reeling from the sheer force in that room.
Even before the 2016 presidential election, I was an activist-y sort. I circulated petitions for various causes that seem like nothing now, but were something then. I walked out of school in protest a couple times. I signed pledges, wrote letters, and made calls. But this presidential election has awakened not only something within myself but across the nation. Women are turning out in record numbers to run for office, alongside a multitude of racial, sexual, and gender minorities. This is important. No longer can we trust the while male power in this country to protect us. My rights as a woman are in jeopardy, as well as the rights of so many with far less privilege.
I consider this an expression of my faith. I consider this resistance and activist action a function of my work as a follower of Christ in the world. And I love every second of it, along with a healthy dose of humble terror. I have a few fiery men and women across my ancestral branches and believe this has made it’s way into my bloodstream. And as difficult as this time is for so many, the fear, the loss, the unknowing – it is an exciting time to be alive. There are opportunities across the spectrum to be active whether it’s in one-on-one conversation, telephone calls, crafting signs, donating money. We all have a small part to play, whatever it may be.
This past Tuesday was not my first visit to Colorado’s Capitol. I’m part of a new organization called the Union for Affirming Christians. We met in Denver in January, a group of forty or so Christian faith leaders across the nation committed to doing the work of LGBTQ justice. As part of our day-long meeting, we paraded a few city blocks to the Capitol in downtown. We toured the Senate’s chambers and settled into a hearing room in the basement for a meeting with Representative Jeff Bridges. He, himself a progressive Christian tasked us with the work of stepping into these debates, discussions, and spaces to defend the rights of those who need defense. This is our task and our call.
For so long American Christianity has been about self-reflection, self-examination, and salvation. This is not wrong, just incomplete. Many of the nation’s and world’s greatest evils have been perpetuated in the name of religion. Slavery, indigenous genocide, misogyny, homophobia – to name a few – have come at the hands, or at the chosen ignorance of Christians.
And Tuesday’s hearing was no exception. The angriest voices were those of the fundamentalist Christians, the ones bent on protecting their rights and freedoms as the persecuted. Persecuted where? Because they might have to make space for gay people who want the exact same thing? To live a life free from fear, in the pursuit of happiness?
I’m not sure how we mend this tear in our fabric of Christianity, but I remain firm and defiant on the side where I believe Jesus would’ve stood – with the poor, the rejected, the powerless, the hungry, the outcast.
I’m not sure where we got mixed up in all this, where we determined our station is with our own self-preservation and our comfortable congregations with their code of conduct. I’m not sure how this serves us, beyond giving us a tribe of safety. Regardless, I’m out. I’m grateful to be amongst those who know what rejection is.
Here is my testimony from Tuesday, March 27:
Thank you Mr. Chairman for hearing my testimony today. My name is Jennifer Jepsen. I live in Longmont and I am here representing the Interfaith Alliance as well as Left Hand Church in Longmont where I serve as one of the pastors. Left Hand Church is an open and affirming community, welcoming and including all members of the LGBTQ population.
As first and foremost a Christian, as one who takes seriously the greatest commandment of Loving God and Loving my neighbor as I love myself, I believe as a Christian, as a pastor, as a human it is my greatest responsibility to determine what love looks like. I don’t have to look much farther than Jesus. Jesus is our greatest teacher. And Jesus was all about human dignity.
This “Live and Let Live” Bill is one of the farthest things away from the imperative of loving our neighbors. Human dignity has no place in this bill. This denial of services whether it’s adoption and foster care, health care, housing, employment or the use of public spaces – does not advocate for who Jesus would advocate for. There is no offering of human dignity.
I am a straight, cis-gender female. I am a married mother of three children. I am not at risk here. My rights are not threatened. But I have friends and I have family. As a pastor, my fellow pastors are threatened as well as many of my congregants. One thing I have learned from the LGBTQ people in my life is: They are just like me. They want the same things as me. They want the freedom to live a fruitful and productive life, a life where they can love who they love, where they can conduct business in their communities, where they can use their gifts, talents, resources to make the world a better place, where they can serve and grow alongside other people in their workplaces and houses of worship and where their children attend school.
Many Christians don’t agree with me. They believe that affirming our LGBTQ community is a threat to society, to our children, our schools – that the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people have an agenda. No, the ones I know just want to thrive where they live, given the same protections and kindnesses as anybody else.
This is human dignity – to offer a safe and productive environment for all people to participate equally in the life of their community.
As a follower of Jesus, I seek to understand people different than me. I seek to feel what they feel. This is called empathy. To be gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer is not a choice. Let’s consider their humanity as children of God. Let’s reflect the beauty of our great state of Colorado, championing a breathtaking reflection of generous diversity.