The Rev. Anita C. Hill was presented with the Chuck Lewis Lifetime Achievement Award. This award recognizes a member of the LGBT community who has given a life-time of exemplary service, who has been a pivotal example of moving the pendulum of justice forward for people of all sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions. It was first given to the Rev. Chuck Lewis in 2012.
The Rev. Anita C. Hill is a lifetime member of ReconcilingWorks and former co-chair of its board of directors. She has been with the organization since 1976. In the early 1980s, she began her work at St. Paul-Reformation Lutheran Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. In 1994, she was named as their pastor, and in 2001 she was formally ordained by the congregation. Her ordination was an act of ecclesiastical disobedience, as the policy prevailing in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the ELCA precluded rostered service by LGBT persons who were in a committed, same-gender relationship. Her ordination helped galvanize the movement for full inclusion in the ELCA and among ecumenical partners. In 2012, Anita was called by the St. Paul Area Synod to join the staff of ReconcilingWorks as Regional Director, later becoming Deputy Director, where she worked closely in Lutheran communities throughout Minnesota, South Dakota, and North Dakota, helping them live into the new policies of the ELCA in both pulpit and pew. Her legacy of prophetic action and pastoral presence is long secure.
Following are excerpts from Anita’s address to the Until All Are Free assembly.
On her first assembly:
My first churchwide assembly was in 1986 when, to try to let people know we were there, I asked as a Voting Member that we have an announcement made that those who would like to talk about gay and lesbian concerns would meet in such-and-such a place in the assembly hall. I was told that was too controversial and could not be done.
But we gathered anyway. And people began to find out that when Lutherans Concerned gets together, people laugh, they have fun, they have the parties that everyone at the assembly wants to attend because one of those spiritual gifts of this community to be able to laugh and enjoy one another on the journey, on the way.
On the first ordinations:
When I attended the ordinations of Ruth Frost, Phyllis Zillhart, and Jeff Johnson in 1990 in San Francisco, it felt like everyone there was being called into something new. That experience began to propel me forward in a way I’d not thought of before. At church that Sunday morning, a young man in his early 20s tapped on my shoulder and said, “You won’t remember me, but in 1986, I was fifteen in Columbus, Ohio, with the LCA assembly. When I met you, I already knew it was okay to be gay, but I didn’t know there was any room in the church. I am still in the church today because of you.” When you let people know there is room in the church, that they are blessed and loved by God, that there is opportunity and an organization to back them up with a huge family reunion that comes together every two or three years… gracious, what good work that is.
The cause that has my heart as much as any, and more than ever, is about dealing with race in this country. Racism is a huge infection in our entire country. Lutheranism was founded by white people for white people and has continued that until now. It’s one of those things that we must find our way to address together.
The theme this year, Until All Are Free, is really where we need to place our energies, to see to it that the Black Lives Matter movement does not stand without LGBT inclusion. Are you aware that the whole movement, which began in Ferguson, was brought about by transgender young people of African American descent? It is our movement, and we are that movement as well, and we must move forward with them.
While I have cared for people of color and have known about racism from my early upbringing in the south; and while my eyes, once opened about being lesbian let me see what I had participated in against others and knew that it must stop; somehow having a seven year old little boy who I’ve lived with since he was thirteen months old, whose skin is black, whose joy is endless, whose possibilities also need to be endless in this world, propel me to step forward and move in this way. So I rarely talk about LGBT concerns without talking about matters of racism as well. . . . It’s where we must go, and there we will go.
Let us find the day, and make it happen soon, that when we gather in assembly we aren’t as white as we look today. It’s so easy to insulate ourselves when we are white in this country.
I want to challenge you. If the most diversity that you have when you gather to eat is salt and pepper, that must change! If you don’t know someone to invite, go and make a friend, invite them, become a listener to their stories, as people have listened to our stories. We wouldn’t have moved to the place we are without allies. Now we are in the place of allies. So friends, I invite you: make it your lifetime work. See to it that all are free. The big behemoth in the midst of us, in the midst of our country, is racism. It must be defeated forever. Thank you.