Friday, September 25, 2009

The new battle in California

Society protects and defends the rights of prisoners, who have been stripped of most of their civil rights, to enter into a civil marriage. Those who argue that homosexuality is a “lifestyle choice” are willfully ignoring the American Psychological Association and of the science of psychology, that homosexuality is an orientation. It is not a choice anymore than being heterosexual is a choice. On which calendar date did you sit down and chose your sexual orientation? Most of us discovered our orientation when we went through puberty. Some of us experienced discrimination, hatred, verbal, emotional and physical abuse in addition to the general angst, which marked that stage of development. Prop 8 legalized discrimination against a minority group into the California State Constitution and in so doing, promotes bigotry and social stigmatization of persons who have a same sex orientation.

Being a Christian is a choice, yet no one would dream (so far) of placing the rights of people to freely choose their religion up for a public vote. Regardless of one’s religious views, we all live in a pluralistic civil society. The only way that such a society can function peacefully is for all citizens to respect each other’s civil rights. Stripping any minority of its civil rights, which is precisely what Prop 8 accomplished, threatens the civil rights of every minority group in our society.

Several religions, many theologians, the APA and almost all international Psychological Associations agree that homosexuality is not a choice, but like heterosexuality, an orientation. Laws, such as Prop 8, which target a minority group and strip away their civil rights, are born of ignorance, prejudice and they promote discrimination and bigotry. I am honored to be one of the proponents of a ballot initiative, which will restore the right to a civil marriage to all Californians regardless of their sexual orientation. This new proposition will also write into our State Constitution the right of religious groups to deny religious marriage to same sex couples. This new proposition restores and protects civil marriage for all Californians while simultaneously protecting the rights of religious groups to deny religious marriage to same sex couples.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Freedom is not free.

What do Hate Crime Laws and laws permitting Same Sex Marriage have in common?

YOU, or someone you know and love.

"I don't want to get married, but I don't want the State telling me I can't get married." A young man at a “No on Prop 8” rally said the foregoing. At that time proponents of discrimination against same sex marriage claimed "they" [LGBT people] have Domestic Partnerships. Today in Washington State, these same forces for discrimination are working actively to strip LGBT people of Domestic Partnership laws and protections.

Make no mistake the battles we are fighting throughout our country and the world are battles for the simple right to exist and to have a place at the table of society. We are fighting to live free from discrimination, verbal and physical violence, to be able to establish a home with someone that we love and to live with simple dignity. To live free from having to lie about our spouse, our family, and ourselves because we fear loss of our jobs due to legally enshrined bigotry. To live free from having to suffer in silence when someone publicly makes derisive comments about LGBT people due to socially sanctioned bigotry.

Yes, we are fighting for the right of civil marriage, but it is far more than that. We are fighting so that the next generation does not have to grow up in shame and live in fear. In California, we begin a new battle today to reclaim, not just the right to Civil Marriage, but also the rights of Human Dignity and Freedom, which we believe the Founders of our nation intended for ALL citizens.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

RIP Monsignor

He had a reputation for being one of the more traditional and conservative of the pastors in our already conservative Diocese. This was one of the reasons he specifically asked members on the personal board for me to be assigned to him as his parochial vicar (assistant/associate). The other reason was that another priest who had served under Monsignor had highly recommended me to him. I had a reputation at the time of being very traditional and conservative theologically.

When I arrived at my new assignment, he was very gracious and took me under his wing. The Church was built in the Spanish Colonial style and had only suffered slightly during the “liturgical cultural revolution” which swept the Catholic Church in the post-Vatican II period. The parish was affluent and everything functioned like a Swiss watch. Everything happened on schedule, every day, every week, every month, and every season, year after year with no change.

Once a student from the Catholic school came into the office and requested to use the telephone. His ride had failed to appear to collect him. The secretary had the student walk around and placed a telephone before the student. He looked at it with incredulity and asked, “How does it work?” It was a rotary dial telephone. Monsignor’s mantra was “I left it the way I found it.” I marveled at his mentality and spoke to brother priests to try to find out why he had this attitude.

Turns out, Monsignor himself would reveal to me why he acted in this seemingly closed-minded way. Every night, before retiring for the day, Monsignor would invite me to share in “some Christian fellowship.” Like all else he did, this followed a regimented ritual. We would walk into the rectory kitchen and he would boil water for his tea. He would pour the scalding water into a mug and then drain the mug dry and refill the mug with a fresh batch of scalding water. He would add an aluminum tea “egg” containing tea leafs and let it steep while he opened up a box of Scottish shortbread imported from Great Britain.

Then, he would begin to speak. He would relate stories of Bishops, Cardinal Mahony (for whom he had no fondness), brother priests, etc. He once told me the story of how he came to America from Ireland. It was during World War II, on a convoy. He grasped my forearm for effect and said we had no guarantee we would make it across the Atlantic. Many ships did not, they were torpedoed by U-boats and countless souls went to a watery grave. We never expected to be able to go back and see our families again.

When we landed in New York, we prayed a “Te Deum” (a hymn of thanks to God) for safely delivering us to the New World. We boarded a train which would take us across the continent to California and ultimately to Fresno. When we arrived in Fresno, we were summoned to see the Vicar General of the Diocese (#2 man after the bishop who deals with various issues for the bishop). The three of us entered into his office and stood in front of his desk. After a moment, which seemed an eternity, he glanced up at us. Slid open one of his desk’s drawers and produced a postage stamp.

You see this, he declared, for the price of one of these I can replace the lot of you. So don’t give me cause. That was my welcome to the United States and to the Diocese of Fresno-Monterey. Monsignor and I had many evenings of “Christian fellowship.” He told me stories about how he had worked for years to build a parish in Seaside, CA. On the eve of the church’s dedication, the bishop reassigned him to a “hell-hole” in the middle of nowhere. His friend, who was on the personal board at the time, was named the new pastor of the parish Monsignor had built. His “friend’s” name is still on the bronze plaque to this day, listing him as the founding pastor.

Monsignor went on to tell me of how Mahony had placed him on a hit list of pastors whom he would remove from their parishes and then give to his supporters. He also used to say, “I was appointed, but never approved by the Senate.” This was a reference to some well-healed parishioners who would criticize and attempt to undermine him. He built a sign in front of the church, with the times for Masses, Confessions, etc. It was a brick sign, but the well healed of the parish did not like it at all. They criticized Monsignor vocally. After that, he vowed to make no more changes. “I left it the way I found it” became his mantra.

Yesterday, I received a telephone call informing me that Monsignor had died. I paused and shed a tear for the old guy. I thought about his life and thought how for him, death constituted a form of liberation. I think his body died yesterday, but a significant part of him died many years ago in that office in Fresno, when he was robbed of his parish at Seaside and when the people he served turned on him over a sign.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Moving 3% of Californians to full marriage equality.

On Saturday 29 August, approximately 80 delegates from various LGBT organizations throughout California gathered in San Francisco. The purpose of this meeting was to impanel an interim governing body to oversee the signature gathering drive to place an initiative on the November 2010 California ballot. They accomplished their goal and the next step will be to submit the initiative language to the California Secretary of State.

Once the language for the ballot initiative is submitted to the Secretary of State, there is a period of 60 days before signature gathering may begin. This means that about Thanksgiving, an all-volunteer signature gathering campaign will begin throughout California. We will have 150 days to gather the required 694,000 signatures from California State residents. By March of 2010, the campaign will begin to move 3% of California voters toward full marriage equality in our State.

That is the overall game plan. Before we get to the campaign portion of the plan, we need to collect the signatures and here we run into our first difficulty. Some LGBT organizations do not wish to proceed in 2010. They believe that it is better to wait until 2012 and some even believe that 2014 is better. Without going into a blow-by-blow expose on the various arguments for 2010, 2012 or 2014, all of which have been debated on multiple occasions by all of the parties. An important and practical question does need to be addressed.

How do various LGBT organizations and individuals who have sincere, but differing opinions work together to restore full marriage equality in California? I believe that the answer is already contained in the question. Essentially, there is no fundamental philosophical difference of opinion on the part of any LGBT organization in this state. We all believe that Prop 8 is a discriminatory and unjust law. We all believe that it should be repealed and that full marriage equality should be the law in California.

The differences therefore, are not core differences; but rather, logistical differences. It is not a question of “what needs to be done” but of “when is the best time to do it.” What needs to be done is to change the minds and hearts of at least 3% of the California electorate and repeal Prop 8. As to the question of “when” the short answer is that, work began on 5 November 2008, the day after the infamous passage of Prop 8.

The work of collecting signatures for an initiative to restore full marriage equality is in fact the work of moving minds and hearts. The fact that the signature gathering will be all-volunteer is extremely important, the last time that an all volunteer signature gathering effort was conducted in California was in the early 1980’s. In other ballot initiatives, professional signature gathers charge between one to three dollars per signature for a ballot initiative. The difference with an all-volunteer signature gathering drive is that the people collecting the signatures are doing far more than merely collecting signatures.

They are passionate about the issue and will engage prospective signers in meaningful and thoughtful conversations. People are rated between 1 and 5, with “1” being a marriage equality activist and “5” being a marriage equality opponent. The idea in the mind of the signature gathers is to move people closer to being a “1.” It is critical here to understand that regardless of the date of an initiative to repeal Prop 8, the work done during the signature gathering phase of the drive to repeal Prop 8 in 2010 is work that needs to be accomplished if justice is to prevail, regardless of the date.

Therefore, even if you passionately believe that 2012 or 2014 is the optimal time to proceed to repeal Prop 8 and restore full marriage equality in California, I would ask you to support your brothers and sisters who will be working to move minds and hearts on this issue in the next several months. You may not become directly involved in working to collect signatures for a 2010 initiative because you believe it better to wait, but do sign the initiative and offer moral support to those working to move minds and hearts on this issue.

If you are working to restore equality in 2010, remember that those who support 2012 or 2014 as the more expedient date are not our opponents. They merely have logistical differences of opinions with us regarding the best time to proceed. What unites us in this battle is a thirst for a restoration of justice and equality in California. What unites us is far greater than any logistical difference. This is a time to work together to change minds and hearts. This is the great work, which began the day after the election in 2008, is continuing now and will continue until justice is reestablished.

An interesting video clip from Rachel Maddow on the impact of marriage equality in the State of Mass.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Money & God?

When Walter Cronkite voiced opposition to the War in Vietnam, then President Lydon B. Johnson commented I’ve lost the American people. He knew that Cronkite represented Middle America and its values. The National Organization for Marriage, (N.O.M.) an organization that is a surrogate of the Mormon Church, spent $86,080.00 to support a candidate who would advance their agenda in Iowa. Despite funneling cash into the campaign to stack the deck on Election Day, they lost. The fact that N.O.M. lost in conservative Middle America harkens back to LBJ’s comment about a tipping point in America.

It is time for Americans to ask why tax-exempt religious organizations are spending large amounts of money to influence civil elections. Was not the purpose of tax exemption intended so that charitable institutions could perform acts of charity? You know, build hospitals, schools, colleges, feed the hungry, house the homeless, and help those who suffer from addictions, comfort the dying and build/maintain houses of worship?

Perhaps the time has come to specifically define what contributions qualify for tax exemption. Perhaps it is time to conduct audits of how religious organizations use contributed funds. Should donated funds, which are invested in the Stock Market, be taxed? Should donated funds, which are used to purchase income properties, be taxed? Should donated funds, which are used to fund political candidates, be taxed? I suspect that most Americans would say, yes.

This is not an “attack” on religion; but rather, it is liberation for religious institutions to engage in true charity. Ostensibly, this is the real “business” of religion. Leave the politics to the American electorate.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Christianity: Discipleship or Control?

Discipleship is not about changing other people it is about changing yourself (cf. Luke 41-42). “Thy Kingdom Come” does not mean the establishment of an earthly political state. It means radical personal transformation, it means learning and choosing to love God, others and self (Matthew 36-40). Somewhere along the timeline of history, this changed. A professor in graduate school once grimaced and remarked in a lecture “one of the darkest days in the history of Christianity was the day of the Emperor Constantine’s conversion.” The professor saw the perplexed expressions on our faces and then he went on to elaborate.

Once Constantine converted, Christianity became the official State Religion of the Rome. The stole that are still worn to this day by bishops and priest was a mark of office bestowed by the Imperial Senate. The Creed that all Catholics and Orthodox Christians pray at Sunday Liturgy was insisted upon by the Emperor. A State Religion, after all, had to be uniform. It is a very subtle, but significant, point that Christianity was transformed from Discipleship, which focuses on the spiritual journey and transformation of the believer. It now became an instrument of political and social order.

Few nations illustrate this point more effectively than Spain. It was itself a collection of kingdoms, each with its own language, what we call “Spanish” today is in reality “Castillian” the language of Castile. What united all of these diverse kingdoms into what is today Spain was the Reconquista. This was the military reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula from Islam. The Spanish Inquisition, one of many such national Inquisitions, had far more to do with the unity of the State and the power of the crown than it had to do with theology. Russia offers another fascinating illustration of the marriage between the State and the Church and how the Church became an effective instrument of social control for the State.

Fast-forward to the USA in the latter half of the nineteenth century. The issue of the abolition of slavery divides Protestant congregations and denominations. The “Social Gospel” movement in American Protestantism had sought to promote Christian values through the social and political spheres. The result of this was the division of entire denominations along political viewpoints, for example, the split between Northern v. Southern Baptists, etc.

The dividing issue was slavery; many Christians saw slavery as the denial of human dignity and civil rights to a whole class of people. Many biblical literalists found proof texts that supported the practice of slavery. Because of these painful divisions, a new movement arose within American Protestantism, Fundamentalism. Essentially, Fundamentalism held that involvement in politics had divided denominations and destroyed communities; therefore, they would return to the basics, the “fundamentals.” This meant a return to the Bible and leaving politics at the church doors.

In January of 1973, the Supreme Court of the United States made its controversial ruling Roe v. Wade. This made abortion legal in the USA. A political science professor who taught a course I took as an undergraduate observed that whenever the Court rules ahead of society on an issue, it creates a political reaction within society. It was this decision, more than anything else, which politicized the Fundamentalists in America. Joining them, were Catholics who had gone through there own internal divisions due to the progressive changes of Vatican II. Richard M. Nixon observed, “Now the wackos will take over the Republican party.” The “Religious Right”, as it has come to be known today, has become the political base of the Republican Party and has changed the very nature of that Party.

For several decades, the “Religious Right” engaged in a political and social crusade against Roe v. Wade. This gradually expanded to opposition to LGBT issues as well as a host of other social and policy issues. Meanwhile, in the Catholic Church, John Paul I was elected Pope in the fall of 1978. He was seriously looking at the question of mandatory celibacy for priests. Mandatory celibacy as a requirement for ordination had been raised at the Second Vatican Council, but Pope Paul VI did not permit it to be discussed. John Paul I died after 33 days in office under mysterious circumstances. Vatican officials allowed no autopsy, remember that the Vatican is an independent sovereign nation. John Paul II succeeded him in office and began a movement to “correct the abuses of the post conciliar era.” His successor Benedict XVI continues these efforts.

I have to confess; when my old professor made his comments about Constantine, I was horrified. I thought the man has gone mad! Now, I begin to appreciate his wisdom. If carefully examine the actual teachings of Jesus as presented in the Gospel, you soon discover it is about personal transformation. It is about growth in practical love. We’ve come a long way baby and maybe, in the wrong direction.

The following reprint of an HRC article offers some practical resources for approaching the Bible as a source of spiritual transformation and guide to practical love.

WASHINGTON – The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization, announced today the release of the complete “Out In Scripture” collection. For the past three years, week-by-week, the HRC Religion & Faith program provided conversations on Bible passages from more than 100 scholars and pastors representing 11 denominations. These conversations are now available in a complete collection online at