Tuesday, March 31, 2009

One Giant Leap for Episcopal Seminary Education

Wow! The Episcopal Divinty School has appointed a woman... a lesbian woman... as its next leader!! This is remarkable. For once, sexual orientation and gender did not trump qualifications and skill. Blessings to her, and EDS on a bright future training leaders for our church. The text of the news release follows:

Mr. Brett Donham, chair of the Episcopal Divinity School Board of Trustees announced today that The Rev. Dr. Katherine Hancock Ragsdale, president and executive director of Political Research Associates and vicar of St. David’s Episcopal Church has been named the new president and dean of Episcopal Divinity School. Elected by a unanimous vote of the board of trustees, Ragsdale succeeds The Right Rev. Steven Charleston who led the seminary from 1999 to 2008.
“The Search Committee presented to the Board of Trustees The Reverend Katherine Ragsdale as its unanimous recommendation for president and dean of Episcopal Divinity School,” said Donham. “Katherine’s gifts, skills, and experience are an excellent match with the criteria established by the Search Committee, both in terms of the current challenges and opportunities at EDS, and the personal attributes we are looking for in a new leader.”
EDS trustee and search committee member, The Right Reverend Thomas Ely continued, “The Search Committee sees in Katherine the right combination of a person of immense faith, demonstrated organizational and team leadership ability, a passion for academic excellence and quality theological education, formidable development skills, and the ability to be a strong, articulate, and inspiring voice for the mission of EDS, both within the Episcopal Church and beyond. From among the many gifted candidates we interviewed, Katherine Ragsdale overwhelmingly stands out as the one best equipped and called to lead EDS into this next exciting and promising chapter of our life and mission.”
Ragsdale, a 1997 graduate of EDS, comes to the School from Political Research Associates, a progressive think tank, where she has served as president and executive director since 2005. Her leadership and development skills helped PRA successfully make the challenging transition from a founder led organization to one that continues to grow and thrive following the founder’s retirement. During her tenure, PRA has both broadened its donor base and worked with foundations to launch several new programs. Ragsdale has served on the boards of The White House Project, NARAL Pro-Choice America, and the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice among others. She has served as vicar of St. David’s Church in Pepperell, Massachusetts since 1996.
When asked why she chose to leave PRA at this time, Ragsdale said, “EDS’ commitment to the full range of diversity and not merely to inclusion but to transformation is at the heart of my own values and commitments. I believe that EDS grounds that work in the context of deep, thorough, nuanced theological education. The thought of leading and supporting an organization doing cutting edge theology and preparing lay and ordained leadership to serve God in the church and the world is very exciting.”
EDS trustee, The Rt. Rev. M. Thomas Shaw said, “I am thrilled with the appointment of Katharine Ragsdale as the president and dean of EDS. She brings a wealth of small parish ministry to her new position and it is critical that the new president and dean be able to train and form parish priests for the growth of progressive parishes across the country. She brings a wealth of experience, talent and creativity to this new position.”
Ragsdale holds a doctor of ministry degree from Episcopal Divinity School, a master of divinity degree from Virginia Theological Seminary, and a bachelor of arts degree from William and Mary. Her publications include “Not by Outrage Alone,” Dispatches from the Religious Left (Ig Publishing, 2008), “The Christian Right’s Staying Power,” with Chip Berlet, The Progressive (July 2008), Boundary Wars: Intimacy and Distance in Healing Relationships (Pilgrim Press, 1996), “The Role of Religious Institutions in Responding to the Domestic Violence Crisis,” Albany Law Review (1995), and Building Advocacy Skills (Leader Resources, 1994).
"I am elated to have the Rev. Dr. Katherine Hancock Ragsdale join EDS as its first woman President and Dean,” commented search committee member and EDS Acting Academic Dean, Dr. Angela Bauer-Levesque. “As someone with stature in the church and in the world, she inspires excellence. Her commitments, energy, and clarity, combined with her astute analysis, her collaborative style, and her experience in fundraising will make EDS more boldly live out its purpose of educating lay and ordained leaders for the church and the world, dedicated to work for justice, foster diversity, and seek constructive change."

About Episcopal Divinity School
Episcopal Divinity School is a respected center of study and spiritual formation for lay and ordained leaders with a strong commitment to justice, compassion, and reconciliation. EDS, formed in 1974 with the merger of Philadelphia Divinity School (founded in 1857) and the Episcopal Theological School (founded in 1867), offers doctor of ministry and master’s degrees, as well as certificates in theological studies. Located on an eight-acre campus just a few blocks from Harvard Yard, EDS is a member of the Boston Theological Institute, a consortium of nine eminent theological schools, seminaries, and departments of religion.

Monday, March 30, 2009

How a Passion Play Raises Passion

Jesus is a lesbian.

Or at least... that was the direction my church was headed in yesterday. I swear, I heard the priest right when he asked me if I would read in the Passion play at the 9am service, and would I be Jesus. I was shocked, and thought, "What a bold move! Not only to have a woman play Jesus... but a lesbian woman at that!"

I related this story to my friend, Diana, at our regular coffee get-together today at the Black Dog Cafe. As part of the conversation, I recalled the words that my father said to me when I came out oh, so many years ago:

"Well, who's to say Jesus Christ wasn't gay?!"

That's when He spoke up. "He" is another one of the regulars at Black Dog, an African-American man probably about my age, who is one of the many that hangs out using the free wi-fi and what not. He was at a table only a few feet from our own.

"Excuse me, ladies. I don't mean to eavesdrop on your conversation, but I can't help it. And what you are saying I find offensive because Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior, and I would ask that you tone it down."

I was speechless. Diana was not.

"What do you find offensive? That she's going to be Jesus?"

He looked pained. "You aren't hearing what I'm saying. I have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and your talk is offensive to me."

Diana looked at me, probably waiting for me to launch into this man myself. But I couldn't. Not without using many expletives that wouldn't have made the situation any better. I wanted to leave. I was now offended that I was being told that obviously I did NOT know Christ because I was talking about Christ as possibly being gay, or lesbian, or whatever. That I would suggest that who better to say the line, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" than a gay person. Who better would know that pain of being scorned, beaten, spit upon than a gay person? But I said nothing. Because I had no words. And, frankly, I felt a profound sense of being unsafe. Here I am... at the Black Dog Cafe, one of the most liberal hang-outs in an otherwise fairly conventional city, and I'm being scolded for a discussion about the sexual orientation of God made manifest as a man?!

Perhaps to some that is blasphemy. But I believe that God is undefinable in gender. My use of "He" or "Him" in reference to God comes from social conditioning, but not from a belief that God is male only. Because I believe God is male and female all at once.

Later, Diana expressed remorse that she didn't keep up the fight, and didn't like the feeling that "He" got the last word. But the one thing that we did was that we stayed in our seats. We did not leave, even though that was my impulse. So while I stopped that discussion... only occassionally throwing in pointed references to myself as a "regular church attendee"... I was not interested in engaging this man in a debate. Especially since he kept wishing his buddies a "blessed one" and that he was feeling "blessed" today. I find it impossible to have a theological discussion with people like that because I do not believe we're even on the same playing field. They think they're the only special people in the sight of God, and that by virtue of my sexual orientation, I am outside of that "special" relationship with God.

As it turns out, I received the cast list in my inbox and have discovered that I am NOT Jesus; I am Judas. Another interesting casting decision, but not nearly as bold and beautiful as the other one would have been. In fact, sadly, my parish has decided to make Judas a woman at both services... Jesus is a man at both... and the casting is largely male-oriented since most of the major players in the Passion Play from Mark's gospel are men. Pity. And here I thought they were about to do something revolutionary...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

You Go, Gainesville!

This is just a quick shout out of "Thanks be to Gainesville!" or at least, to 58-percent of Gainesville, FL, voters who rejected Charter Amendment 1 in yesterday's municipal election. The proposal would have specified which groups the city could show "preference" toward in writing protections from discrimination. As you might imagine, the proponents of Charter Amendment 1 had intentionally left out the LGBT community; thus it would have had the effect of undoing the protections the city and county have enacted... including domestic partnerships.

So, I don't care if you hate the UF Gators... I love Hogtown, and I love that they did not succumb to a vicious campaign of hatred toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered persons.

Thanks be to God! And thank you, thank you, thank you Gainesville!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Lent and C.S. Lewis

So, here we are in the fourth week of Lent. Don't know about you, but I can't say for certain that I'm "passing with flying colors".

My Lenten practice for this year has to do with my heart, and specifically, trying to soften my heart in places where it has grown hard. Or, another way of looking at it, I'm tasked with recognizing that there are some weeds that will need whacking... if only I would be so kind as to stop trying to tend to these weeds as if they are beautiful flowers.

Do you know how difficult that is? I'll tell you: very!

As part of my practice, I pulled out again my audio copy of "The Great Divorce" by C.S. Lewis in which Lewis takes us on a journey to a place with unbendable grass, and rain that could pierce the body. This is the plain on which spirits meet ghosts, many from their earthly lives, who entreat them to give up the "things" that they cling to as their identities... and allow the ghosts to change, become "thicker", and head to the mountain range that lies ahead and is Heaven. Otherwise, they may turn around and go back to the "gray town". The choice lies with the ghost. If the ghost decides to go to the mountains, it must undergo a transformation to make the journey.

This is the fourth time I've listened to this book, but unlike the other times, I find that I am hearing each of the vignettes and the discussion between the narrator and his own spirit guide differently, and even deeper, than the first three. So much of what is at play in these stories is similar to the lessons that I'm gleaning from readings in Romans in the Daily Office (not to mention the gospels). A theme seems to arise: that to follow Christ, to enter into eternal life right now, one must "die" to the old ways and habits and crutches that you think are getting you through life and getting you what you "deserve", and instead "be risen" into a new way of seeing how loved you are in all your perfect imperfection just like everybody else and to realize that by the grace of God you will be OK, you will always have exactly what you need and you won't die from dropping your old habit, but instead will gain more life.

OK... so what does this have to do with me and my hardened, weed-infested heart?

The more I ponder this concept, the more I can feel glimmers of light breaking through the rocky spots in my soul. Mind you, these breakthroughs are not coming without some pain, some fear, and some desires to run back to the darkness. And some of the pain comes from the realization that I have been trying to push God back even as God is determined to resume the spot as the head of my soul. I have tried to fill my life with "things", partly out of desire for dawn to break over the marbleheads in the state legislature on gay rights... but also to keep from following through on my Lenten discipline to pay attention to the places in my heart that have hardened, and learn from that. Because its not fun, and its not easy, and I'm scared.

So, I'm recommitting, people! I have two weeks to go quiet, move through the pain, not allow the fear to cripple me and pay attention to the lessons on the way. Because, in my head, I know the reward is Easter, and not just the second Sunday in April... but in renewal of my spirit.

Head: let me introduce you to my heart...

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Lobbying for My Right to Love

It's an odd idea that one would have to go to the state legislature and lobby for the right to love. But that's what me, my partner, and countless other people of the LGBT community and our straight allies had to do this week. We had to go to our lawmakers and tell them our stories of denied promotions, of fear of losing our children, of our inability to secure our futures with our partners.

All because of who we love.

Many legislators were busy in committees and not able to speak to us. Some were rushing to get to their meetings and wanted the pitch in 15-seconds or less. At least one that I met with, Rep. Faye Culp, had succumbed to the Tallahassee "crud" which is only exacerbated by the pollen blanketing my fair city at the moment. To her credit, she still gave a group of us non-constituent lobbyists the time to say hello to her, and thank her for her co-sponsorship on the bill to end Florida's ban on letting gays be adoptive parents.

Oh, yeah: Faye Culp is a Republican. And her eyes sparkled with emotion when I thanked her for her efforts as a Republican to stand up for our rights, noting that I grew up in a Republican family... and my mother (still a registered Republican) loves me very much. The statement seem to make an impression on her, and I encouraged her to help educate her colleagues and maybe bring a few more along with her on the ride.

For me, this was an odd experience. To start with, I loathe the Capitol Building. It is a place that holds many memories for me as a reporter for Florida Public Radio. Twelve years of chasing politicians, listening to debates on matters of true life and death and realizing that many of the people doing the debating couldn't care less for the real human consequences of their actions, and having to stifle my own outrage at the whole mess because I had to remain "objective"... I am surprised I was willing to go back in to talk to anybody. But November's election results with gay people getting our clocks cleaned across the country told me I could not remain silent any more. Now that I don't have to report on the legislature, I am free to petition my government and demand that it do justly by me and my people.

But I was scared. Not sweaty-palmed scared. But a type of scared that comes with knowing the place too well, and the potential of people being rude in their dealings with me. And wondering how they would react to seeing me again, but this time unarmed with the microphone that served as my "weapon of mass media instruction." I kept tucked in my pocket the Episcopal church's insert from Sunday's service. And, just as a means of giving myself a booster shot as we moved to the next office visit, I pulled it out and read the last line from the passage taken from First Corinthians:

For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom,
and God's weakness is stronger than human strength.

This helped me to keep everything in perspective, and reminded me again of what my mother used to always tell us during political campaigns: "Politicians are people just like you. They put their pants on one leg at a time."

I ran into many politicians who recognized me by my distinctive flat top hairstyle. And this helped because it gave me the "in" to start discussing the talking points on Equality Florida's legislative agenda. In Senator Tony Hill's office, his legislative assistant made it clear that she had already talked to Equality Florida volunteer lobbyists twice this week, and there were other people waiting to see the Senator. I still gave her my card and the talking points sheet, and added the important factoid about me: I was a reporter staring at him on the other side of a window on a winter's night in 2000 when he and then-Senator Kendrick Meek sat down in the Lt. Governor's office and refused to leave to protest King Jeb!'s assault on affirmative action. I got his story and his grievance out to a statewide... hell, a national audience. The implied message: I have done right by him. Now I want him to do right by me. Her eyes indicated that there was a glimmer of understanding.

So, with the actual strolling the halls behind me, the next thing to do is wait. And watch. And send follow up notes.

And if the state legislature fails to act on the bills this session... it's time to turn up the heat another notch on the pot. Because I'm not going away. And neither is my love.

Monday, March 16, 2009

This Is What Democracy Looks Like!

People traveled from Broward, Orange, Duval, Bay and many other counties in Florida to make a statement:

We're mad as hell and we aren't gonna take it anymore!

The Rally in Tally was a success in that it got the troops fired up to go lobby the legislature and demand of our elected officials that they quit the b-s. We want to end Florida's ban on gays adopting children, grant statewide domestic partnership benefits, add sexual orientation to the Florida Civil Rights law, and adopt the "Florida Healthy Teens Act" to update Florida's sex education courses, eliminating the stigma in those courses on homosexuality. You've got until May 1st, folks: get cracking!

My partner and I will be going to the legislature mid-week to lobby our local delegation. For once, we have at least one member, Representative Rehwinkle Vasilinda, who is a co-sponsor on some of the bills of interest to the LGBT community. Our other lawmakers will require a little more persuading. We'll see what we can do. Pray for us!
And, easily, one of the most personally moving moments for me was to see Fr. Lee Graham, the Rector Emeritus of St. John's, stroll up to the front to take a place amidst a younger generation of activists. Fr. Graham is no stranger to civil rights movements, having been one priest to visit Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Birmingham jail. He has on more than one occasion at St. John's taken the opportunity to draw the connections between the rights of a minority being the same and of equal value as the rights of a majority. And he has specifically called attention to the plight of LGBT people as the next civil rights struggle.

There remains a gap between the LGBT community and people of faith. But with each person of faith who takes the step forward and extends a hand in friendship to us, the fear and mistrust of the believer will melt away. You may never get large numbers of gay people to go to a place of worship, but at the very least you will be helping to put forth another face of God. Not the one twisted and snarling invectives, but the one many of us have to come to know: the God of mercy, compassion and unconditional love.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Are You Ready?

"In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. "--Martin Luther King, Jr.

I used the following quote as my status on Facebook, and immediately had three people give it a "thumbs up".

I'm glad to have the approval, and glader still that the Rev. Dr. King made the statement because it is one with which any member of a minority group can readily identify. We know our enemies hate us. But what cuts us deeper is when those who say they support us fail to show up in our defense. And with the forecast showing rain showers coming for tomorrow's "Rally in Tally for LGBT Equality", I'm worried that our friends will stay home. And, if they stay home, then we'll again appear to the powers-that-be as kittens rather than lions. And a kitten's meow is more easily ignored than a lion's roar.

It may rain on our parade, but we must keep the sunshine in our hearts and minds and souls. We, and our straight allies especially, must remain steadfast in our march toward justice, toward a world where your sexual orientation or gender identity is NOT reason for you to be fired from a job, denied the chance to adopt your partner's child (or any child), or kept as a second-class citizen with none of the rights to recognize your relationship. Florida discriminates against the LGBT community and has marginalized us. It is the work of those of us in the margins to demand our place in the community of all human people, and the obligation of the straight majority to let us in.

Show up! Fight back! Make noise! Because your silence will NOT protect you!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Filling in the Blank

OK, here's a rant for ya:
I have a bone to pick with the folks who decide what is in the Daily Lectionary for the Episcopal Church.
Simply put, I think they wimped out!
This week begins a series of reading Paul's letter to the Romans from the New Testament. Monday we read Romans 1: 1-15. Tuesday it was Romans 1: 16-25. And for Wednesday we pick up with Romans 1: 28-2:11.
What we are NOT getting is Romans 1:26-27... and rather than have you run for your Bibles to figure out what that is... I'll just give you the quote from the New Revised Standard Version:

For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.

I can almost hear the screams now: "degrading passions"?! "shameless acts"?! "Susan, I thought you were a queer Christian; how dare you put out there one of the oft-quoted gay- bashing passages from the Bible!!" In fact, it was quotes such as this one that led me for most of my life to despise the apostle Paul. If this was his opinion of me, he could go to Hell and stay there!
But all this showing up, paying attention and being present in reading and hearing Scripture read has made me soften my feelings toward Paul. And even with this quote, which I've noted is one of the seven used by "christians" to separate the LGBT community from God, should be handled with care. The wise Louie Crew, founder of Integrity and a consistent voice for queers in the Episcopal Church, has already coined the phrase "Queer Eye for the Lectionary". So I'll claim, "Lesbian Look at the Lectionary" as I attempt to do what the Episcopal Church seems afraid to do: deal with this "troubling" passage from Paul.

According to the Harper-Collins Study Bible, this may have been Paul's final letter after a series of letters to various emerging churches. And this is Paul at his most thoughtful, employing rhetorical skill that would have been heard well in the First Century by people who haven't discovered texting, twittering, and television.
The lead up to the "offending passage" is much like the way some of the prophets of the Hebrew Bible spoke... although Paul's language is much different. Still, it's the reminder that Paul's a champion of the gospel (the Good News), that salvation is by God's power for everyone who has faith... Jew and Greek alike. And then he goes on to talk about how God's people turned away, and refused to see... even when it was put right before their eyes... and followed their own desires... which led them to idolatry... and lots of wicked behavior.

This is the set up for Romans 1:26-27. A simple approach to this passage would be, "Well, then: it says that homosexuality is wrong, is idolatrous, is wicked!" But if there is one thing that I have learned very quickly in the short amount of time that I've come to care about this...is that what appears very black-and-white in the Bible is actually many shades of gray.

When I read this passage, the first thing that struck me was the line, "Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural". For me, this says that if I were to have intercourse with a man... I would have exchanged "natural intercourse for unnatural". Because no matter how you slice it, I am not interested in men for sex. For conversation, for recreation, for meditation: yes, I am happy to engage guys for those activities. But not for indoor sports under the covers. So, half of the homophobic rhetoric attached to this passage has already fallen by the wayside.

Ahhhh... says the literalist... but you can't deny God's anger at the "shameless acts" men are committing with men! Oh, no doubt God was angry. But are we talking about men with men in a state of love, or men with men in a state of power (e.g. prostitution, or pederasty)? Are we even talking about sex at all? The way it's written in v. 27 it says, "and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another." That doesn't necessarily mean that they're "doing it" with each other. Could it not also mean that men have neglected ANY relation with women in favor of being with their guy pals, and doing guy stuff, and making guy things with their guy hands and worshipping the works of their own creation? I don't know, and I doubt the literalist really knows either.

And that's the point. We don't know the precise meaning of the passage except that humankind was guilty of turning away from God and directing attention to anything but God. And what's interesting is that Paul's follow up to all of this is the caution to those who are ready to judge another's "moral confusion" that they are condemning themselves in the process. Something to really think about before you start slinging judgement around!

I don't know if the church will ever work with this passage or simply side-step it in an effort not to be offensive. But I think it's a mistake not to look at it, and consider what's in the text and how it has been interpreted. It's a hard thing to do, but then so is the act of taking up the cross.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Losing One's Life

I really do hope that you have taken a moment to go read the Mad Priest's sermon at "Of Course, I Could Be Wrong." It is powerful and relevant and thought-provoking in light of yesterday's gospel reading from Mark where Jesus utters the most difficult directive to "Take up your cross, and follow me." This is one of those passages that is liable to put a lump in your throat because the image of "bearing one's cross" calls up the march to a crucifixion on Calvary. Yikes!

But waking up this morning, what was rolling around in my head were the last three lines from the Mark gospel:

"For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."--Mark 8: 35-38

As I prepare for next Monday's march and rally at the Capitol for my rights as a lesbian in Florida, I am hearing the words of Christ as a clarion call because I am not just rallying for myself alone. And I'm not just showing up as a gay person. I am showing up as a Christian and as one who can not take standing by and watching this "adulterous and sinful generation" continue to oppress people. Monday the 16th it will be about gay rights... but there are rallies happening almost every day here in Tallahassee: today it's farm workers, another group that suffers dearly from exploitation. And Thursday, it's another protest about the cuts to education which are costing local school districts millions of dollars; thus guaranteeing a generation of children lacking in the basic building blocks that will help them to get jobs and compete in the global marketplace.

For too long, the state legislature has been deaf to the needs of the population, preferring to look only at the constituencies that throw them the big welcome party the night before session starts (Yes, I am talking about Associated Industries of Florida!).

I can not sit back and be silent. None of us can sit back and be silent. We must speak truth to power... even if it means losing your life, if not a literal sense, in a figurative sense.

Take up your cross
let not its weight
fill your weak spirit with alarm;
his strength shall bear your spirit up,
and brace your heart and nerve your arm

Take up your cross,
and follow Christ,
nor think till death to lay it down;
for only those who bear the cross
may hope to wear the glorious crown.

Hymn 675, 1982 Hymnal

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Yeah, what he said!

I could try to write a blog entry for today... or I could simply direct you to this amazing and powerful sermon by the MadPriest. Please read it. All I can say is, "Yeah, what he said!"

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Exporting Our Worst Commodity


The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) and Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) condemned a seminar designed to attack lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Ugandans under the cloak of religion. The 3-day seminar in Kampala, which opens Thursday, March 5, features an array of U.S. speakers known for their efforts to dehumanize LGBT people and for their belief that homosexuality can be "cured." The speakers include Scott Lively, Don Schmierer, and Caleb Lee Brundidge—leading voices in the crusade by religious extremists to roll back basic human rights for LGBT people in the United States. Brundidge is affiliated with Extreme Prophetic Ministry in Phoenix, Arizona. Schmierer is on the board of the so-called "ex-gay" organization Exodus International. Lively is well known for his belief that the Nazi Holocaust never happened.
"The American religious right is finally showing its hand and revealing the depth of its support for homophobia in Africa," said IGLHRC's Executive Director Cary Alan Johnson. "This seminar will increase violence and other human rights abuses against LGBT people, women and anyone who doesn't conform to gender norms. This newest form of colonialism is deplorable and must be stopped."
The seminar is hosted by the by Family Life Network (FLN), a Ugandan non-governmental organization founded in 2002 that claims to be committed to the "restoration of Ugandan family values and morals." The FLN opposes access to safe, legal abortions. It also opposes the use of condoms and promotes abstinence-only programming as its approach to HIV prevention. The FLN makes the sensationalized claim that homosexuality is "spreading like wildfire in schools." The event organizers have invited parents, teachers, government workers, politicians, counselors and faith leaders. The seminar costs 25,000 Ugandan Shillings a day (approximately $12.60) to attend. Books and materials are extra.
"This seminar is just another way of encouraging hatred and abuse," said a spokesperson from SMUG." We condemn their discriminatory words and actions that only lead to violence. Suffering is all that they are bringing to Uganda—all in the name of God."
"There is a lot of misunderstanding about human sexuality," said Ugandan Bishop Dr. Christopher Ssenyonjo, who was expelled from the Anglican Church for supporting gay people. “This workshop is going to bring more conflict, greater hostility, increased intimidation. We need love ... in the long run, love will overcome."
The U.S. religious right has a history of exporting homophobia to Africa With support from anti-gay organizations and faith leaders such as Family Watch International and Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church, Pastor Martin Ssempa from Makerere Community Church has attacked not only gay men and lesbians, but also women's rights and HIV activism. Pastor Ssempa has stated, "there should be no rights granted to homosexuals in this country." In 2007, he organized a multi-denominational rally against LGBT rights in Kampala, where one cleric called for the "starving to death of homosexuals."
In response to this ongoing pattern of violence and abuse, SMUG launched its Let Us Live in Peace campaign, aimed at decreasing violence against LGBT Ugandans. The campaign was launched shortly after human rights defenders Victor Mukasa and Oyo Yvonne filed a lawsuit against the Attorney General related to an illegal raid on Mukasa's home. The plaintiffs won their case in December 2008—a landmark victory by organizers in a country that still punishes homosexuality by life in prison and has repeatedly made efforts to silence human rights leaders. FLN organizers cite this victory in the promotional materials for the seminar, saying that it shows that a "well organized homosexual machinery" is taking over Uganda, "wreaking havoc in individuals, families and the society."

NOTE: Again, the Daily Office contains words that seem appropriate for this situation.

But to the wicked God says:
‘What right have you to recite my statutes,
or take my covenant on your lips?
For you hate discipline,
and you cast my words behind you.
You make friends with a thief when you see one,
and you keep company with adulterers.
You give your mouth free rein for evil,

and your tongue frames deceit.
You sit and speak against your kin;
you slander your own mother’s child.
These things you have done and I have been silent;
you thought that I was one just like yourself.
But now I rebuke you, and lay the charge before you.
‘Mark this, then, you who forget God,

or I will tear you apart, and there will be no one to deliver.
Those who bring thanksgiving as their sacrifice honour me;
to those who go the right way*
I will show the salvation of God.’
Psalm 50: 16-23

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Do Justice

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God.
--Micah 6:8

I can find no better lines from Scripture for the start of the Florida legislative session. I only wish that I’d had them with me all those years that I was a public radio reporter running up and down the stairs from the 5th to the 4th floor of the Capitol in the flurry of “doing my job”. It would have made for a nice way to frame my questions to those in power who, with the push of a green or red button, had control over the lives of thousands of people at their fingertips.

“Senator, do you believe that “Yes” vote which slashes funding for children’s programs shows that you are doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with your God?”

Probably a good thing I didn’t do that. I was already considered a pest for asking them any questions at all!

But today, coming from a place of LGBT activism, I am really curious to know who among the 160 members of the state legislature is hearing the words of the prophet to “do justice… love kindness… and walk humbly with God”?

I can name some: Senators Rich, Sobel, Deutch, Bennett, Smith and Gelber. In the House, Representatives Bradenburg, Abruzzo, Brise, Culp, Heller, Jenne, Kriseman, Pafford, Randolph, Skidmore, Steinberg, Schwartz, Waldman, Chestnut, Kiar, Nehr, Rehwinkle Vasilinda, Rousar, Rader, Sachs, Bullard, Fitzgerald, Garcia, Long, and Porth.

These 31 people have agreed to be sponsors of four bills this session aimed at doing justice for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered citizens of this state. These men and women are hoping to end the anti-gay adoption ban; create statewide domestic partnership benefits; include “sexual orientation and gender identity” in the state’s civil rights laws; and introduce the “Florida Healthy Teens Act”… thus updating sex education from the 1950s ‘abstinence-only’ model. Agreeing to speak out on these issues, these members have already raised the ire of anti-gay lobbying groups in the state, and put their political lives on the line for the likes of me. And not only are we “others” thankful, we are planning to show up and stand up for ourselves.

On Monday, March 16th, fair-minded Floridians, both gay and straight, are rallying at noon in front of the Old State Capitol building and calling on our leaders to show us kindness and mercy under the law.

Today in Florida, it is still legal to discriminate against someone because they are gay. We are allowed to be foster parents, but not adoptive parents because we are gay. And we all know that not only were we statutorily prohibited from getting married here… or elsewhere while residing here, now, by virtue of a popular vote, it is unconstitutional for us to share in the joys and benefits that protect the bonds of relationship that are given to straight couples.

I ask, “Is this how we want to ‘do justice’ in Florida”? How will a state that has intentionally made the LGBT community into second-class citizens be judged?

Join with the thousands that are gathering at the gate on March 16th and demand that our leaders listen to the voices of those who have been shunned long enough.

The time for change is now.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Show Me Your Ways

Show me your ways, O Lord, and teach me your paths.

This line from Psalm 25 very closely models a constant prayer that circles and winds its way around in my head most days. In fact, I found much of Psalm 25, the one appointed for today, to be instructive in light of the other readings assigned for this First Sunday in Lent in Episcopalianland.

We had the retelling of what God had to say to Noah and his kin once the forty days and forty nights of flooding, drowning and destroying were over. "I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth." And, to seal this deal that God is making with Noah, he puts a rainbow (that's right, folks, a rainbow) in the clouds as a sign of this covenant, this promise to humanity that no matter what, he will not try to drown us out of existence again. Not part of the reading are the lines that precede this chapter in which God acknowledges that the "inclination of the human heart is evil from youth..." and so drowning us isn't the answer.

Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions;
remember me according to your love and for the sake of your goodness, O Lord.

This is another one of those lines that popped out at me during Psalm 25. And when you think of it... the time of our youth, when thinking of 'God time', could long surpass our 'human time' adolescence. We may think of our youth as those wild and crazy days of high school... and those party nights in college. But 'God time' is not restricted to 24/7, 365 days a year. For all any of us know, youth in 'God time' could last into our 60s! And for those of us who are all too aware of how crooked our halo sits on our heads, it might do us some good to think on the words of this Psalm, and then remember what God told Noah: "I know. I got angry. But I won't try to drown you again."

All paths of the Lord are love and faithfulness to those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.

In the gospel reading from Mark, Jesus is baptized and immediately driven out into the wilderness... again, for forty days and forty nights... to endure wild beasts and the wildest beast of them all, Satan. Mark isn't the one who tells us all that Jesus endured in those days. What we do know is the angels waited on him... and we know from the Gospel of Matthew that the devil showed him rocks and asked him to turn them into bread to feed himself; tried to get him to jump and command the angels to save him; and last of all... showed him all the riches and splendor of the world and said it could all be his if he'd worship Satan. And Jesus... son of God, God of God... doesn't break. For while an only human heart has an inclination toward evil... a heart that is fully human and fully divine will keep his covenant and his testimonies. And Jesus returns to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. He can say, "Believe it! All paths of the Lord are love and faithfulness! Repent and keep his covenant and testimonies and you'll see!!" Of course, John the Baptist is in jail at this point... and will later lose his head. Not for Jesus' sake, but because John the Baptist had told Herod "you ain't right!" when he married his brother's wife. Sometimes, there are consequences for speaking truth to power. Certainly, we'll be getting that when we reach Holy Week.
And yet, that is not an excuse to shrink back into your shell and hide. Quite the contrary, the possibility of losing your life (literally or figuratively) for doing justice and showing mercy, loving God and your neighbor, is part of the package of being a Christian. It means stepping outside yourself and doing right by your brothers and sisters in the human race, the animals and planet left in our care.
Sound a bit daunting? Sure! But don't forget: God placed a rainbow in the sky as a reminder of the words Jesus says at the end of the Gospel of Matthew:
"Remember that I am with you always to the end of the age."
And with God, nothing is impossible.