Why I Come To This Church
Tim Stanton delivered this talk at the First Unitarian Church, Richmond, Virginia on Sunday, October 11, 1998, which was Amnesty International's Faith in Action on the Death Penalty Day.
Because I'm not a "bad dog."
Do you remember that sermon of Rolfe's three years ago? On the front of the Order of Service was a cartoon entitled "Hellfire and Dalmations" which was a drawing of dogs in church. The doggie minister was pointing to his canine congregation and saying, "Bad dog! Bad dog!"
Boy, could I relate. It seems my whole experience in church had been sitting there, being told I was a bad dog. And it was so impersonal. The minister would tell me, and the other bad dogs, that we were sinners, not worthy in the face of....you know, bad dogs. Then, we dogs read, in unison, an admission of sin - that somebody else wrote for us - and all of a sudden we were good dogs again. For another week.
But, on that first visit of mine to this church, Rolfe told me that Unitarian Universalism wouldn't call me a bad dog. I was a pilgrim on a journey. I could read the Bible; I could read Kurt Vonnegut. That's what drew me to this church.
What keeps me coming? Like many of you, it's the opportunity for liberal social action.
You can follow your religious journey in many ways. You can experience it in a book, in the mountains, or looking into your child's eyes. For me it was usually at a baseball park, pondering the hit and run as an allegory for man's search for justice and dignity in a shifting societal paradigm. With hot dogs and beer.
But where else can I, someone who lives in a precinct that went 84% for Oliver North, be surrounded by 500 plus social liberals?
Here at First Church the opportunities for involvement are remarkable, with a wide spectrum of causes. You can do something as focused as giving blood, or brightening the life of one schoolchild or adult home resident, to something as abstract and complex as tackling racial injustice.
I chose the death penalty, or perhaps it chose me. The SRC request for a liaison to a fledgling organization called Unitarian Universalists Against the Death Penalty sat in the church's website until I couldn't resist it anymore. Death penalty abolition is one of the most controversial causes that Unitarian Universalism espouses - there are differences of opinion, differences in this congregation.
Today is Amnesty International's Faith in Action on the Death Penalty day. It's a time to reflect on capital punishment, and it's an opportunity for action. On Wednesday, the Commonwealth will execute it's tenth person this year - a new record. Many of us will gather at Capitol Square that day at noon to voice our opposition.
And, barring clemency, Jason Guard and I will drive that night to the Greensville Correctional Center and stand vigil in the field outside the prison, once again.
Y'know, being a UU in a Judeo-Christian society makes you no stranger to irony. At each vigil we include elements that have evolved from previous vigils. One of those is the singing of the classic vigil hymn, "Amazing Grace." And I know that one time I'm gonna mess up, and actually sing what always goes through my head -
"Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a bad dog like me."
Thanks a lot.