In my journey into ministry, many heroes have lighted my path and fortified me when I faltered or felt weak.  Some, like Gandhi and King and Jesus, I share with billions.  Others, like Reeb and Liuzzo, Servetus and Weigel, are perhaps known mostly within Unitarian Universalist circles.  For me, these icons of courage ARE ministry – they represent the commitment and impact I wish for my own life, either through my own direct action or through those I may influence.

This is why I blog.  I write, not because I consider myself uniquely qualified or particularly erudite, but because I can.  After years advising youth, I saw what hard work and a willingness to be vulnerable, to serve as a mentor or role model, could do for seekers, for those walking alongside me on the path toward truth and meaning.

That is why, when I was invited to become a regular, contributing blogger to the Midland Daily News, I jumped at the opportunitiy.  Midland is a great small town.  But, Midland is also a very conservative town – or at least it seems to be dominated by the voices of conservatism and privilege.  I saw this as a fantastic opportunity to spread a message of progressive values, of hope and love, of the vision of the beloved community.

Almost immediately, opposition to my message arose.  And that opposition has been dominated by the voice of one person.

This voice is the voice of hate.  It is the voice of intolerance.  It is the voice of violent intimidation.  It is the voice of the schoolyard bully.

We all remember the schoolyard bully.  Most of us felt powerless to stand up to their strength and their willingness to employ any means to mold our behavior to suit their needs.  Those who did resist were beaten or shamed into submission.

In the adult world, the bully has more powerful tactics.  And this bully uses them all.  He has dressed in the sheets of the Klan, showing this community his endorsement of their legacy of murder and destruction.  He taunts and labels opponents with every term of vile slander his mind can conceive – terms of racism, misogyny, hatred of gays and lesbians, and anyone who does not share his unique view of Christianity or American history.  He twists and perverts sacred texts, bending them to support his claims.  And he directly threatens violent action, all in attempt to silence my words.

Early on, I had to decide – do I engage with this bully or simply ignore him?  And while ignoring the bully is a viable tactic, I remembered my heroes.  I remembered the authority of my pulpit and my ministry passed down to me from thousands over the centuries who faced their own bullies.  And I decided that the powerless, the voiceless, the underprivileged needed me to be a good ally and to stand up to this bully.

And so, I have engaged this man and his alleged supporters.  I have endured his slurs and his hate.  I have read his threats and lies.  And each time, I have refuted his arguments, called him out on his threats, and challenged his assumptions, all with the power of love.  For I believe that love can indeed conquer all of the bullies in the world.

This week, so many of you have approached me at General Assembly, offering encouragement in this ongoing struggle.  Together, we are standing on the side of love against cowards who wear sheets and burn crosses, against the ignorant and hateful who carry signs and chant slogans, and against our societal paradigms that continue to oppress the poor, the undocumented immigrant, women, people of color, the young and the old, and those who challenge our social norms of gender identity and sexual orientation.  I owe all of you an enormous debt of gratitude.  Thank you.