Monday, August 31, 2009

Taxpayer Funded Religious Bias

The proponents of Proposition 8 in California argued that same sex couples should be denied full marriage equality in order to “protect marriage.” They further argued that same sex couples could have all the same protections afforded to heterosexual married couples by entering into domestic partnerships. We argued that “separate is NOT equal” that a first and second-class form of citizenship violates the equal protection clause of our constitution. That we are talking about CIVIL marriage and not religious marriage.

Now these proponents of separate but equal have shown their true face in Washington State. The same people who argued that domestic partnerships afford same sex couples the protections and rights of marriage without calling it marriage are now trying to strip same sex couples of those rights and protections. In Washington, they are working to strip same sex couples of the right to enter into a Domestic Partnership. Read the following excerpt from an HRC news post for Monday 31 August 2009:

“But the big news of the day is that the campaign to support domestic partnerships in Washington State has filed suit saying that the “Secretary of State has accepted thousands of signatures that were not in compliance with State laws related to fraud in the signature-gathering process.”  They further explain why this issue is so important:
Because of the limited number of signatures turned in, failure to enforce these laws could well lead to a measure being qualified for the ballot that should not be, and that measure has the potential to strip away important protections from thousands of families all across the state. There are domestic partners in every county of the state. They are same sex couples and heterosexual couples where one or both partners is 62 years or older. These couples should not have to worry about whether a partner can take sick leave to care for a loved one who is ill. A firefighter should not have to worry about whether her children will be taken care of if something should happen to her while fighting a fire. These are basic rights and protections that all families should have. Those trying to qualify Referendum 71 for the ballot do not think that families different than theirs should have these protections, so they are trying to overturn the law.”


These attempts to strip same sex couples of basic legal protections spill over into hate speech and acts of violence towards LGBT persons. The Gay and Lesbian Center in Los Angeles sent out the following release on Friday 28 August 2009:

“We did it!  Together we canceled the “murder music” tour!
Less than 24 hours after the Center encouraged the public to demand that AEG Live, Goldenvoice and Live Nation cancel their nationwide concert tour by “faggots have to die” singer Buju Banton, including a show at L.A.’s Nokia Club, they complied; you can read more on Variety, Entertainment Weekly and Pollstar's websites. 
It’s outrageous that it was even necessary for us to pressure these companies to cancel shows by an artist whose lyrics blatantly promote violent attacks on LGBT people; this is a singer who has recorded such appalling lyrics as, “Anytime Buju Banton come, faggots get up and run … they have to die.” He sings that he will shoot them in the head or “burn them up bad.”

What this reveals is the impact of the religious rhetoric of institutions such as the LDS (Mormon) and the Catholic Church, or rather their leadership. They attack the civil rights of LGBT persons; they accomplish this with their “special rights” of tax exemption, a special status that other Political Action Committees do not enjoy. From their tax-subsidized pulpits, they create hatred towards LGBT persons who they directly/indirectly cast as “the enemy” and a despised and/or dangerous minority within society. They also use surrogate organizations, which they direct such as N.O.M. (LSD/Mormons) and Knight of Columbus (Catholic Church) to carry out political campaigns against marriage equality.

The ironies here are multiple. Both the Mormons and Catholics were viewed, as suspect minority groups not that long ago. Even today, many Protestant Fundamentalists do not consider either group “Christians” Since Mormons deny the existence of the Holy Trinity and Catholics are accused of “worshiping Mary.” I wonder if Jesus would consider any group which promotes legal discrimination and social bigotry as being worthy of the title of Christian.

Gandhi’s famous quote “In the West I came to love Christ and to hate Christians” comes to mind. Gandhi was dark skinned and therefore subjected to discrimination and was marginalized. The truths spoken by Christ in the Gospel are betrayed by “the faithful” who use those words not “as a lamp for my feet” but as a weapon to hurt others. An additional irony is that many of the Cardinals and Bishops who oppose same sex marriage are themselves gay. This will come as little surprise to anyone who has read Father Donald Cozzens’s books, or for that matter Shakespeare “Me thinks the woman doth protest too much.” Some of the most virulent anti-gay people are closeted gays.

In the end, all of the religious right’s anti marriage equality campaigns have much more to do with naked political power and the desire of religious leadership to control secular society. They accomplish this using the age-old tools of fear, guilt and shame. Perhaps the ultimate irony here is that it was such people who put Christ and the Prophets to death for the very same motives.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Reflections on an interview

Thursday afternoon Irish journalists interviewed me. I have to say, I have always had a soft spot in my heart for the Irish, and I guess it is because Irish Dominican sisters educated me. The Irish have a wonderful dry wit and a humor, which is down to earth and can cut to the bone. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the journalist and the camera crew.

During the interview, the journalist asked me about my salary. He assumed that the Church was still paying me a salary, or at least a small stipend. When I informed him that both my salary and health insurance were suspended within less than thirty days of my having made a public statement against Prop 8 the journalist was visibly shocked. The journalist said, you would have been better off financially, if you had committed pedophilia. Yes, a priest accused of pedophilia would be placed on paid suspension. After twenty-three years of service, I was pushed out the door with no help whatsoever.

Still, I am glad of it, I added. If Bishop Steinbock had complied with Canon [Church] law and offered me financial support and health insurance, I would have felt beholden to him and would not have felt that I could speak as freely as I have. The journalist nodded his head in agreement. The bishop’s comment that “we will provide only that which civil law requires” is actually a very elegant argument for full marriage equality under civil law. All we have is civil law; the hierarchy does whatever it wishes as has been painfully illustrated in the pedophilia scandals.

Recently, the Pope apologized to victims of pedophile priests. That was all well, good and necessary; however, the Pope failed to address the role of bishops and religious superiors who knowingly transferred pedophiles from assignment to assignment. There will always be pedophiles in all professions, especially those that have access to children. In the case of the Church, that bishops seemed more concerned with “avoiding public scandal” and with preserving material assets, than with protecting the children in their care is the real scandal.

The interview then turned to Dr. Nicolosi a local Catholic psychologist. The journalist asked me if I knew him. I was surprised since, Dr. Nicolosi worked with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and Saint John’s Seminary when I was an undergraduate in 1978. Yes, I answered, I believe that he advocates “Reparative Therapy.” Reparative Therapy is an attempt to change homosexuals into heterosexuals. The American Psychological Association has stated in a resolution that homosexuality is not a mental disorder. It seems that Dr. Nicolosi has a quarrel with the APA and his colleagues.

As far as faith is concerned, the Church stated in 1975 that for some people homosexuality is innate. This means God made some people to be homosexual. The bishops do not like to talk about that statement. They try to sweep it under the carpet, because it has a series of logical consequences that are at odds with current theologies and practices promoted by the current 82 year old Pope.

The interview ended cordially, but to my surprise, it had triggered something in me that I did not fully grasp until the next morning. As I was going through my morning routine, I reflected upon the journalist’s incredulity at the bishop’s failure to provide financial support, even if only for a transitional period. Then it hit me. I recalled a passage from a book I have been reading “In Mao’s Shadow” a commentary on Communist China and its Cultural Revolution.

Relatives of dissidents received an abrupt knock on the door along with a curt demand from a state official to pay for the cost of the bullets used in their loved one’s execution. This is how people were “notified” of the death of a loved one during the Cultural Revolution. The official would repeatedly voice the demand for payment. It was an insignificant amount of money, a few pennies actually, but the roughness of the treatment of someone who had suffered such a loss was inhumane.

Frankly, I could care less about the loss of the paltry “salary” which I was paid as a priest. What is truly offensive were the decades of mental manipulation I bore in my naiveté that began from childhood. This goes back to my time in grammar school when the Church told me that somehow I was disordered. A Jesuit who is a Latinist later explained to me that in the original document (which is written in Latin and then translated to the various languages) “disordered” means, “not ordered to reproduction.” Like elderly heterosexuals who are permitted to marry, homosexual marriages do not generate new physical life. I grew up falsely led to believe that I could never fall in love, have a home, and share a life with someone whom I loved.

It was a criminal and gross injustice to do this to me, especially when I was a child. This same injustice continues to be visited upon another generation of innocent young people. All of this done in the name of the God who the Church proclaims made me this way. This is nothing less than blasphemous. As in sexual abuse, the latent effects of emotional and psychological abuse can last a lifetime. Telling children that they are disordered, that they must live their lives as solitary beings, that they should not speak of this to others (except to therapists like Dr. Nicolosi who hold the Church’s position) is an evil that needs to stop. It needs to stop now and I hope that my efforts in plainly speaking the truth will spare someone else from suffering this abuse.

Before going to bed tonight, I read this headline. It made me smile. Progress is happening. I'd like to share it with you and hope that it encourages you to continue to work for change.

Mainline Christian Denomination Opens Doors to Gay and Lesbian Ministers in Committed Relationships

August 21, 2009 4:54PM
Sharon Groves

In a historic decision, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America’s (ELCA) 4.7 million member denomination has lifted its ban on noncelibate gay and lesbian pastors and has thus opened the door for lesbian and gay pastors who are in committed same-sex relationships to serve as ministers. Passing 559-541 at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Minneapolis, Minn., this vote followed on the heels of a 2/3 majority vote on Wednesday August 19, to approve a social statement on human sexuality to acknowledge without judgment the wide variety of views within the ELCA regarding lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender inclusion. This document, which was 8 years in the making, recognizes and supports congregations which conduct blessings of same-sex relationships and same-sex marriages where such marriages are legal.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Winning in 2010

In the movie “Godfather II” Al Pacino’s character shows up in pre-revolutionary Cuba for a meeting of mafia dons. There is a scene where he finds himself in one of Havana’s picturesque colonial era streets and he witnesses a confrontation between Batista’s army and some young revolutionaries. In that scene a revolutionary who is, being arrested blows up several soldiers and loses his own life in the process. Al Pacino’s character comments, “They [the revolutionaries] can win.” A Mafioso replies “Batista has the Army and Air Force.” Al Pacino’s character observes, “The soldiers are paid, the revolutionary isn’t. They can win.”

That scene from the Godfather II came to mind as I read an article, which authoritatively announced, “Gay marriage advocates to wait until 2012 for ballot measure.” An article in the Sacramento Bee went on to declare “Bowing to the advice of political consultants and pollsters, gay marriage advocates have decided to wait until 2012 to return to California voters with a request to legalize gay marriage.” Well, it would seem that the matter is settled.

Just as it seemed that Batista’s Army had neutralized the small rebel faction in Havana. However, appearances can be deceiving. Yes, EQCA announced that they would wait until 2012 to move forward with a ballot initiative. Yes, EQCA and its satellite LGBT organizations represent the “Establishment” in California’s LGBT community. They call the shots. They certainly called the shots in running the “No on Prop 8” campaign in 2008, but in the aftermath of the election last fall the grassroots of California’s LGBT community took to the streets and decided to be less passive towards “the Establishment.”

What is happening in California now is that a large contingent of LGBT grassroots organizations is moving forward with a ballot initiative in November of 2010. These include over thirty organizations statewide, for more information go to Unlike the establishment, these grassroots leaders are not paid, but they are very passionate and they work tirelessly for what they believe is a just cause.

Why don’t we hear more about them? You will. At a meeting held in South Los Angeles last Sunday, Steve Hildebrand who was instrumental in President Obama’s victorious campaign told the grassroots “You can win.” He said 47% are in favor of marriage equality in California, “what are you waiting for?” EQCA is looking towards the big donors and is waiting for more money, the grassroots organizations are far more reminiscent of Dr. King’s passionate “Justice delayed is justice denied.”

Activists like Robin McGhee, the lesbian mom who organized Meet in the Middle 4 Equality in the Central Valley of California (RED California). Interestingly enough, when EQCA was looking for someone to represent LGBT efforts in Fresno, they did not hire Robin, but rather brought in someone from out of state to do the job. When I spoke with some business leaders in Los Angeles recently, they told me that employers do not like controversy. If two people are applying for a position and one is controversial, even if he/she is more qualified, they won’t get the job.

Of course, that was the guiding “wisdom” in the “No on Prop 8” campaign do not be controversial. Newsflash folks, we are the controversy. Being LGBT and same sex marriage are controversial. Running a campaign for marriage equality like you are trying to sell a soft drink or an automobile didn’t work in 2008 and it won’t in 2010 or 2012. As Julian Bond, the president of NAACP stated in Los Angeles this [marriage equality] is a Civil Rights issue. We need to look not to Madison Avenue but to Selma for guidance in how we conduct our campaign.

It is that single-minded commitment and passion which drives the LGBT grassroots organizations. They are moving forward. They are filing a ballot initiative with the Secretary of State of California next month. They are organizing an all-volunteer signature gathering campaign in our state to put this initiative on the 2010 ballot. When they accomplish this EQCA, et al will have no choice but to join in the battle for a restoration of full marriage equality in California. As far as donors are concerned, they want to see a leadership that is committed and in place. They want to see a united community with the passion and commitment to a cause. The grassroots will deliver that. To quote Al Pacino’s character “They can win.”

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Moving forward together towards full marriage equality in California.

I spent all Sunday morning and afternoon at a gay bar. Actually, it was the historic “Jewel‘s Catch One” bar in South Los Angeles. I was there with approximately 160 representatives of the California LGBT community and we were there to move forward to reclaim full marriage equality in California. This meeting was called as a follow-up to a meeting held in San Bernadino, California two weeks ago. That meeting revealed a highly polarized and emotionally charged LGBT community.

Why the polarization? Essentially, the issue that seemingly divides the community is should we move forward towards a restoration of full marriage equality in California in 2010 or 2012 (or later)? Why the high level of emotion? Well, you know the old recipe for a problem: put two people in a room and close the door. If the people in the room all happen to be community organizers and people in leadership positions then, things can get even a little more intense.

As the day progressed, several salient points emerged and we moved far closer to collaboration. The first and most obvious point is that we all passionately support and are working for full marriage equality in California. Secondly, we all seek the legal codification of human and civil rights for LGBT people. It is important to remember these two points as we proceed to discuss other matters.

Steve Hildebrand flew in from South Dakota; he was the #2 person in Obama’s successful campaign. Before saying anything else here, we need to recall that when candidate Obama was running for the presidency, especially in the early campaign, he was not seen as the most probable winner of the nomination for the Democratic Party, let alone the presidency of the United States. When someone who was instrumental in securing two underdog victories speaks, you would be a fool not to listen.

Steve Hildebrand stated bluntly, “you [the LGBT community] can win in 2010.” HOWEVER, there are certain things you must do first. What are those things?

1) Establish a governing board with real and binding power to act.

2) Hire a campaign manager who is given freedom of action.

3) Unite as a community and commit to working together for victory.

Before speaking about a calendar date for a ballot initiative, it is worthwhile to review those three points, because regardless of when we decide to move forward with a ballot initiative we will have to do these three things if we seriously want to win back our rights.

I cannot overemphasize this, we need to sit down and effectively accomplish all three goals as a necessary precondition to any civil rights victory. Another necessary step in the process, in my own opinion, is to look back at the “No on Prop 8” campaign of 2008. What did we do that worked? What were our mistakes and how can we learn from these mistakes? WHO made these fateful decisions and HOW (by what process) were these decisions made?

What worked was a very successful fund raising campaign. In fact, we raised more money than the “Yes on Prop 8” side. What also worked was political networking. We obtained the endorsement of countless organizations, public figures and politicians. EQCA did wonderful and good work in this regard.

What were our mistakes? Dolores Huerta stated succinctly: “We lost because we didn’t do our homework.” We failed to reach out to people of color. Cristina Chavez and the United Farm Workers supported us, yet we failed to use their voices in Spanish language radio and television ads. Julian Bond, the president of the NAACP, gave an impassioned and powerful speech at an HRC dinner in Los Angeles in which he stated that THIS IS a civil rights issue, yet we failed to use his voice. Grassroots organizations were ignored and discouraged from actively going “door-to-door.” The California Central Valley was effectively “written-off” to the other side and activists like Robin McGhee (who organized Meet in the Middle for Equality) were sidelined. Faith communities were ignored and written off to the other side in the 2008 campaign.

Remember, we lost by less than 3% of the vote in California. If we had done just SOME of these things, we probably would have won. I believe it was the Roman Senator Cato who said, you could tell much about your leaders by listening to how your enemies speak of them. On November 5 2008, our enemies in this battle for civil rights and full marriage equality said, “we were pleasantly surprised [by the election results].”

How does Steve Hildebrand know that we can win in 2010? Because, we should have won in 2008! This is a critical point, because regardless of the calendar year 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014, IF we do not learn from our mistakes, we will repeat those same mistakes and we will never win. HOW decisions are made has to be changed and agreed upon by our community and our donors prior to the next campaign. WHO is making the decision and HOW the decision is made regarding the calendar year of our next campaign needs to be examined and discussed as much as the calendar year itself. The point here is learning/transparency and not recrimination. We need to do things differently in 2010, 2012 or whenever, or we will lose then for the same reasons we lost the last time.

We all long for simple justice. For human dignity for LGBT people. For the protection of the civil rights of a minority which has been viciously targeted for discrimination by bigoted organizations and individuals. The Jesuits have an old saying: “Think how much more could be accomplished, if less time were spent on trying to assign credit.” People in positions of leadership must be authentic leaders who are willing to set aside personal ego in order to secure justice for our community.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A welcoming Church

I was invited by some friends to join them for Sunday Eucharist at All Saint’s Episcopal Church. The church itself is a beautiful Gothic style church located across the street from City Hall in Pasadena, California. As I entered into the vestibule, I was greeted by very pleasant people who handed me a copy of that day’s liturgical prayers and music.

The music was beautiful and the verses ended crisply, I recalled a Catholic choir director who shared with me that the way that Catholic priests say Mass could make neurotics of most musicians. The other thing about attending an Episcopal Sunday service that always struck me is that it is sort of like listening to the BBC. We both speak English, but they just do it so much better.

I smiled as I read the directive “Silence is kept” on the liturgical program (should I spell that programme?) The differences were not as pronounced as when I took a course in Shakespeare at UCLA, but they reminded me of my old English professor and I could imagine her smiling. The homily was very well constructed and focused on sufficiency. What is enough? How Americans answer that question as opposed to people in Third World nations. I thought of St. Theresa’s quip regarding material goods “you think you own them, but in reality they own you.”

The priest made the point that each of us can make a difference. She quoted the Dalai Lama “Anyone who feels that they are too small to make a difference, has never shared a bed with a mosquito.” We were encouraged to sign petitions to Senators Boxer and Feinstein asking for passage of National Health insurance with a meaningful public option.

After the Liturgy ended, I walked out into the warm California sunshine and decided to enjoy a quiet breakfast. I needed some time to reflect. The whole liturgy was extremely similar to what I have experienced at countless Catholic liturgies. The vestments, the songs, the setting; in fact, the Episcopal version seemed more traditional than what most Catholics experience at the average Catholic Church on Sunday.

I walked back to All Saints and joined several parishioners in the cloister of the church. There was a table with the petitions to the California senators. There were various other tables as well, a welcoming table for new parishioners and visitors. There were various parish organizations present, including Extension University learning opportunities for theological studies, printed sermons for the past year, choral music DVDs and Cds, an outreach to the poor, an LGBT table, etc. I had the pleasure of speaking with various parishioners several of whom shared how they had come to All Saints from diverse backgrounds and had found a welcoming home.

Yesterday I was listening to National Public Radio; the journalist was reporting that Episcopal USA had approved the advancement of lesbian and gays to the episcopacy. The journalist went on to mention that there are two such candidates to become bishops in California. NPR further reported that this decision had placed Episcopal USA on a collision course with more conservative members of the International Anglican Community and this at a time when tensions are already high over the consecration of Gene Robinson as a bishop.

I sat there in my car after the news program ended and thought how amazing it is that these people prefer justice to security. I felt sorrow and somewhat embarrassed that Catholic bishops lack that courage. Then again, in all fairness, Catholic bishops rarely are asked to seriously discuss any such important issues and unlike their Episcopalian counterparts, they have no “vote” to decide such matters. They are merely told what to teach and publicly state. The vision of the late Pope John XXIII of Episcopal collegiality seems to have died with the late pontiff. On a practical plane, the Catholic Church has one bishop and thousands of “assistants” with the Curia (Vatican bureaucracies) acting as an intermediary.

The result of all of this is divorced and remarried Catholics in Europe who find themselves excluded from the Eucharist and LGBT people who are driven away from the Church of their baptism. Bishops who are more preoccupied with the administration of material goods than with being the Teacher of the Faith in their Diocese. Bishops who are more concerned with “avoiding scandal” and preserving material assets than with extending justice to the victims of pedophilia.
When I said my first Mass at my last parish, the choir sang, “All are welcomed here.” I winced when I heard them sing that song, because my predecessor had informed me that they would send LGBT parishioners across the street to the Methodist Church, since they could not offer them services at St. Paul’s.

The choir did not sing, “All are welcomed here” at All Saints Episcopal, but the community silently proclaimed that invitation by their actions.