Eight. That's the magic number as of right now. Eight bills somewhere in the Iowa legislative process that either directly targets LGBTQ Iowans, will have a primary impact on LGBTQ Iowans, or were created as a response to misinformation about LGBTQ Iowans. The bills and their descriptions can be viewed here: oneiowaaction.org/anti-lgbtq-bills-2023/
Today, as many of you read this message, I will be on my way to Des Moines to participate in One Iowa's LGBTQ Day on the Hill. The hope is that those who represent us in the Statehouse will hear in our conversations with them, and will see through our presence and our witness, just how damaging these bills will be to flesh and blood Iowans like me and others. The hope is that we might persuade our representatives to consider the teachings of Jesus that insists that when all of us suffer, we ALL suffer. That's hope. The reality will likely be much darker.
So why go? Couldn't I just stay here in my Oskaloosa bubble and my progressive church bubble and say, "Well, at least we are Open and Affirming at St. Paul. At least the people I surround myself with aren't like that?" Yep, I definitely could. And slowly, but surely, my world would become as small as Oskaloosa and as small as our little church community and as small as me and my Jesus, sitting in a corner, only concerned with what's in the immediate landscape around me.
In this week's scripture reading from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches, "You are the light of the world. A city on top of a hill can't be hidden." Which makes me think that maybe the whole point of LGBTQ Day on the Hill isn't that we change our representatives' minds (although that would be GREAT!). Maybe it's to remind ourselves and other LGBTQ Iowans that no matter how many times they try to erase us from from the law books. No matter how many bills they pass, we are a city on a hill. We cannot be hidden.
They can refuse to hear us. They can trample on the fullness of our humanity. They can blow out our lights with their fear mongering, with their limitations on what we can and cannot say. They can do it all, but WE ARE A CITY ON A HILL and we CANNOT--WILL NOT--be hidden.
If you cannot show up in Des Moines, maybe you can write your representative and express concern over these proposed pieces of legislation? If you cannot do that, maybe you can speak openly in your circles of influence--particularly those circles that cross political lines--about how damaging these bills are for LGBTQ folx AND all of us? If you cannot do that, maybe you could simply pray. Pray that hearts will be opened. Pray that minds might be opened. Pray that each and every person remembers that they ARE the light of the world--that is their TRUE identity--no matter what others would have us believe.
With you on the Hill,
Rev. Melissa Sternhagen
Rev. Melissa Sternhagen was called as the pastor of St. Paul Congregational UCC in June of 2020. Prior to her call to St. Paul, Pr. Melissa worked as a hospice chaplain in the Ames, IA area, following pastorates at rural churches in Central Iowa and Southern Illinois. Pr. Melissa is a second-career pastor with a background in agribusiness and production & supply operations. She received her M.Div. from Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO, and holds a MA Ed. in Adult Education and Training, and a BA in Organizational Communications.