A Letter to My Daughters

A Miami Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship sermon

Rev. Greg Martin – sermon given November 13, 2016

November 8, 2016

Dear Daughters,

So the inconceivable has happened. I know you were both looking forward to the history-making leadership of a woman in the White House like many others. I also suspect that you are both feeling quite dejected and uncertain about the future. Last night as the results became clear, I knew that I needed to reach out to both of you today. And I lay awake for much of the already-shortened night trying to figure out what I could possibly say.

First, please know that I love you, and I am proud of the strong women you have become. Your mother and I were overjoyed to have daughters when you were both born.

We attempted to instill in you a sense of your inherent worth and dignity from your very first breath; that girls could do anything they set their hearts and minds to; that your bodies and decisions about them were yours and yours alone; and that your lives were not defined by your relationship to any male. I am delighted that it took! Not to mention that you seem to have even brought your grandfather into the 20th century, if not the 21st, in his understanding of women.

Your mom and I also worked hard to model the equality of the sexes in our marriage so that you would see men and women in shared roles and responsibilities. Sometimes, I’m sure we were more successful than others. It also makes me glad that you have chosen to be in relationships with men who also understand that and respect you for who you are.

I am also proud of the ways you stand up for other women through your efforts to defy and change rape culture and support victims of domestic violence, through your mentoring of young girls wherever you have lived, and through your networking with other women in your professions and lives.

That said, it must be extremely difficult to be a female in America today, especially after last night. It seems almost incomprehensible that in 2016 we would have a President-elect who is so disrespectful, and blatantly so, in his view of and treatment of women.

His very public and unapologetic slurs and gropes, shaming and objectifying of the female body, intimidation and outright scorn is nothing but deplorable. And every self-respecting and female-respecting American male ought to be calling him out right now and any other man who behaves in this fashion. This needs to end. And men have the responsibility to end it.

Extremely disturbing are the messages that this behavior sends to girls and women that they do not matter, that their opinions do not count, that their bodies are nothing but objects for use by the men in their lives, and that they are second class citizens who shouldn’t even have the right to vote. I know you don’t believe these messages, but it still must be excruciatingly painful to hear them.

Perhaps, it is even more disturbing that this has given many men permission to flaunt similar views and to engage in behaviors that denigrate and even threaten the safety, even the very lives, of the women around them. The societal consensus that this behavior is unacceptable is unravelling, and that is very scary. As a father and a citizen, I fear for your security and the well-being of all women.

It is that permission giving for the expression of hatred and disrespect, whether directed toward women, or Blacks, or immigrants, or lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people, or the disabled, or Muslims, or even veterans, or anyone else whose status as a human being and fellow American has been challenged by the candidate that concerns me most for the future of this nation. This is unprecedented.

It is one thing to believe and think hateful things. It is another to be encouraged to express them and to act on them. The lid is off, and many people in our society are particularly vulnerable right now with no end in sight. News reports since election night have already cited numerous incidents of harassment, abuse and violence against some of those most at risk.

I also know that much of this hatred is fueled by a sense of loss, fear and insecurity. This is a fast changing world. The American economy has changed radically in the last forty years. Many people, especially, many working class white people, in small towns and rural America do feel left behind and forgotten.

Neither political party has been particularly attentive or responsive to their needs. Their anger is not unfounded. Our country has changed significantly in other ways as well. We are gloriously diverse and getting more so. We are less religious and getting more secular. More of us are open about our sexual orientations and gender identities.

And while you and I celebrate these changes, they threaten many who are finding their safe, comfortable worlds turned upside down. It makes them afraid. And when people are fearful, they are capable of doing great harm to others. Of course, people never give up their power or privilege easily.

Once upon a time, long before any of our lifetimes, we actually had a President who counteracted fear by insisting that fear itself was the only thing we had to fear. Now we will have a President who cultivates it. And once you incite fear, it is easy to manipulate people into believing that those who are different from them are to blame for their problems, and therefore, legitimate targets for their frustration and rage.

The protest vote in this election feels to me like a mortally wounded animal, lashing out in all directions. In some respects, I believe, we are witnessing the death throes of patriarchy. The man at the head of it all seems like a caricature of all the worst attributes of patriarchy, a buffoon, if we didn’t have to take him so seriously. And we do.

He is deadly serious. I think we also need to take into consideration those who feel so threatened. In addition to caring for each other, I believe we have a responsibility to reach out to them. Our nation will only heal if we can find our common humanity. Not everyone will be in a position to do that, so it is critically important that those of us who can, begin to take such steps.

It is probably too early to imagine that right now, and that’s all right. It still stings. Take some time today to do something good for yourselves. Talk with friends. Savor life. Use those birthday gift cards.

I have to admit, when I am feeling particularly raw about an election defeat, and I have known more losses than victories over the years, I think back to when I was 22 and in my first year of graduate school. That year was also a Presidential election year, the second one in which I was eligible to vote. The other candidate won by one of the most overpowering landslides in American history.

It happened so quickly that all of the televised election coverage that night began with the announcement of the winner, even before the polls had closed on the West coast. I was stunned and felt devastated. I still remember the eerie silence in the cafeteria at breakfast the next morning. So somber. It was like someone had died.

I also remember some of my professors, ancient people in their 40s, and some possibly even 50. They were stunned, too, and disappoint-ed, but they did not seem so distraught. They had been through all of this before. They had the perspective of many election cycles, of the ups and downs, the ebbs and flows of electoral politics. They knew another opportunity would come again. Now, having experienced 11 Presidential elections in my adult life, and older than any of those professors in the cafeteria were in 1980, I know something of their perspective.

Things may be very difficult for the next four years for many of us. There is likely to be a lot of unnecessary pain and suffering imposed by the government.

So much is at stake and uncertain: access to birth control and contraception, much less abortion; the specter of health care coverage granted for all, then revoked; the rollback of hard fought gains for LGBTQ rights; increased targeting of minority communities by the criminal justice system; abandonment of our veterans; reduction of services and enforcement of laws that benefit the disabled; deportations and the closing of borders; infringement of the rights of religious minorities; massive disregard for changing climatic conditions mortgaging our planetary future; the siphoning of wealth from lower levels to the highest level of the economic pyramid.

We don’t know, of course for sure, what exactly will happen. What we do know, is that in four years, another opportunity will present itself, and the changing demographics of America are more in your generation’s favor at that point.

My biggest concern right now, though, is that this election does feel different from all those other elections in a couple of ways. Earlier I mentioned the permission giving to unleash hatred. The other is the potential for traveling down an authoritarian path, and I do not use the word lightly.

The common thread linking voters with the winning candidate this year was the desire for an authority figure, a Daddy if you will, to take control and fix things; to rescue them and put things back they way they once were. It is certainly too early to judge, and while I hope that we are not moving in that direction, we must be vigilant.

All it takes is one 9/11 or even an event like San Bernadino or Orlando, and we certainly will face more of those kinds of occurrences in the next several years, and off down the path we go, led by a demagogue and a unified party in power. Actually, it doesn’t even take an attack, it might only need to be falsified intelligence briefings as we learned in a previous administration.

Your dad for many years was a member of a group called the International Bonhoeffer Society, dedicated to the life and work of the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He and many of his family members were executed by the Nazis for their role in one of the plots to assassinate Adolph Hitler.

Having immersed myself in Bonhoeffer’s writings and the scholarship about Germany in the 1920s, ‘30s, and ‘40s, I do see some uneasy parallels to our own situation. Bonhoeffer and his extended family were among the first to recognize the dangers in their day. The broadcast of one of his Berlin radio addresses in early 1933 was mysteriously cut off the air when he began to question the dangers of authoritarian leadership. It was the month that Hitler came to power.

The members of the Bonhoeffer family were good German liberals, in the broadest virtues and best sense of the word in terms of culture and values. However, they were quick to realize that the normal liberal s of tolerance, compromise, and openness no longer work when faced with an authoritarian leader. In fact, those approaches actually aid and abet those in pursuit of absolute power.

This is an important caution for all of us invested in liberal values. Instead, they learned the necessity of cunning realism, calculated risk, ethical duplicity, and death defying courage. They were made of sterner stuff, and they drew from a deep well. I think you would find in them flickers of recognition. Like I said, I hope we don’t need to draw on their experience, but I am uneasy. We don’t need to panic, but we do need to be attentive. And if we must draw upon the deeper resources of our beings, I know you both have great depth and inner strength.

Finally, we must work with deliberation, patience, and humor to do all we can to see that our nation does not more further in that direction now. E.J. Dionne, long one of my favorite commentators on the political situation and a very dedicated person of faith, said this week, “don’t mourn; organize.” You and your generation must be engaged along with the rest of us. You are needed now more than ever.

This nation needs your voices not to be silenced; it needs your gifts not to be pushed aside; it needs your commitments and values to be fully embraced; your passions and your energies to be set free. Too much is at stake to lose heart now. We must press on to make America finally a nation of liberty and justice for ALL. Not just in words, but in actions and reality.

I am proud to be on this journey together with you and a whole multitude of others.

With my deepest respect and my fierce love,


Rev. Gregory J. Martin
Miami Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship
Dayton, Ohio