Monday, May 28, 2012

Building authentic lives

My friend and debate partner disapproved when I last shared the idea that gays are winning the battle for acceptance. My friend reminded me of the dangers of declaring victory too soon and I haven't written about it since then.

Of course, I mention it now because I'm about to write about our victory again. This time I am prompted by the article Victory, unprecedented by Linda Hirshman in a posting on Salon. The article is an excerpt from her latest book. She reminds us of the huge gains we've made in the last few years -- repeal of the military ban, enactment of a hate crimes law that includes gays, judges that have struck down the Defense of Marriage Act and the Calif. ban on gay marriage, legal gay marriage in six states, and national polls that the majority support gay marriage. All this and the Stonewall riot was only 43 years ago. So how did we do it?

The first component of our success is because we live in America. Our country is a liberal state (and Hirshman emphasizes the small "L") which makes three promises:
First, security: the state will protect its citizens from one another and not hurt them worse than the people it is protecting them from. Second, liberty: citizens have certain rights as human beings that even the state cannot interfere with. And finally, self-governance: for those aspects of life the state can control, citizens must decide for themselves on equal terms what they want the state to do. It’s a good deal. No wonder so many people want in.
The next component is that America was in the midst of two other social movements for inclusion, the racial civil rights movement and the feminist movement. These two showed the solution must be at least partly political. They demanded security against violence, be allowed their human liberty, and have equal access to political and economic life. Alas, both of these movements haven't completely reached their goal. However, the success so far has been through mimicking the straight white male power structures and defending their differences.

The gay movement started from farther back. In the 1960s we were characterized as sinful (by the church), criminal (by law), crazy (by doctors), and traitors (by politicians, see the lavender scare that happened alongside the red scare). The final component is that at key times gay leaders undermined those characterizations with a moral claim. Activist Arthur Evans put it this way:
It was more than just being gay and having gay sex. We discovered who we were and we built authentic lives around who we were and we supported each other doing that and in the process came to very important questions about the meaning of life, ethics, the vision of the common good and we debated these issues and we lived them.
The moral aspect of our claim has allowed us to take on institutions of straight morality -- marriage and the military -- and has allowed us to go toe-to-toe with that bastion of morality, the religious right. Our moral argument, along with our leadership, resourcefulness, and creativity, is teaching other movements how to proceed.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

A pots and pans protest

I've been hearing news about protests in Montreal (being so close to Canada I listen to occasional radio news summaries). But it was a photo in the Occupy Wall Street blog that prompted me to take a closer look (the text of the entry is about events in NYC). The protests were originally prompted by a 75% raise in college tuition fees so that soon only the children of the rich could afford college. The protests expanded when new rules for legal demonstrations went into effect -- and those rules don't favor the protesters. The authorities are blaming protesters for a few violent people using the protests as cover. These protests have added a new feature, the casaroles -- pots and pans -- demonstration. That means the protests are noisy, and according to a participant quite joyous. This posting has a 3 minute video of a protest. Alas, the noise was replaced by a song.

The People's Assemblies Network (Occupy groups from around the world) has written a Global May Manifesto to list the demands of the movement. Included in the preamble is this:
We find ourselves in a world where success is defined in seeming opposition to the most fundamental values of humanity, such as solidarity and mutual support. Moreover, anything that does not promote competitiveness, selfishness and greed is seen as dysfunctional. This immoral ideology is reinforced by the monopoly of the mainstream media, the instrument that manufactures false consensus around this unfair and unsustainable system.
The manifesto includes three broad areas with several demands in each section.

In the first section are demands around reshaping the economy around social utility, not private property. It includes free health care and education, free child care, adequate pensions, basic income guarantees, support for the arts, sustainable food production, world-wide environmental standards, and a ban on profiting from essential government services.

The second section is about democratic control of the economy from local to global levels. These demands include no tax havens; democratic control over International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and World Trade Organization; democratic control over air, water, energy, communications, and the economic system; taxes should be progressive with a cap on maximum income; no more austerity measures; an audit of banks to identify immoral loans, which would be canceled; and an end of personhood for corporations.

The last section is about full democracy in political systems. This section includes decisions should be by UN General Assembly, not G20 or G8; fair and inclusive elections; zero tolerance for political corruption; workers have decision power in their corporations; freedom from corporate data-mining of internet use; and minimization of military spending.

The values of our founder

This article has been sitting in my browser for about six weeks (that's from before I went to General Conference. It brings to mind the poll that found the word most used by those outside the church to describe Christianity is "anti-gay." Too many mainline churches try to say, "We're not like that," though their message gets drowned out by the Fundies.

St. James in the City is an Episcopal Church in Los Angeles. In an area of churches with shrinking membership, St. James is growing. One of its members describes it this way:
At our church, it is not unusual to see children with two mums or two dads, sitting next to Koreans, African-Americans, Hispanics, as well as many white middle-class families. There are monied people from Beverly Hills, rubbing shoulders with artists from downtown. Gay people next to straight. It’s jolly, social and somehow has a relevance to everyone’s life. It reflects an acceptance of all, the kind of value I’d like my children to have. And it is a community. Spirituality, I believe, comes from acknowledging that we are part of something greater than just ourselves.
Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin concludes by saying:
I think it is long passed the time when Mainline Christianity [should] stand and say, “We have strong values including inclusion, relevance, flexibility, and especially love for our fellow man. Our values predate whatever those others are selling and were, in fact, the values of our founder”.

Mainline Christianity deserves a better position that “the Christians who don’t hate you”. What they have to offer is a much needed commodity. It’s not just what they don’t give – it’s what they do give: values, the kind you wants your kids to have.
And the United Methodist Church missed its chance of saying that.

Conservatives should be delighted with Obama

Bill Maher is puzzled why the GOP hates Obama so much. It appears that the GOP is getting what they want from Obama and progressives aren't. Big banks weren't broken up. The increases to the national debt are down significantly. Palin chanted "drill baby drill!" and under Obama there is more drilling than ever. Obama conceded gov't spending needs cutting. All of these are conservative demands. Corporate profits are highest ever. Obama is a lousy socialist.
So the question remains. How could you guys be so unhappy with Obama while I'm so unhappy with Obama? You think you got coal in your stocking? I wanted single payer health care, a carbon emissions bill, gun control and legalized pot. If you get to carry around all this outrage over me getting that [stuff], shouldn't I have gotten it?

So just admit it. This isn't about what Obama is. It's about what you need him to be. Because hating him is what gets you up in the morning.

Friday, May 25, 2012

The sweet nectar of a complete and happy life

Andy Gipson of Mississippi and James Lankford of Oklahoma have both been hiding behind the Bible as they verbally bash gay people. That prompted this gem from Alvin McEwen:
We have discovered that we have been bamboozled into believing that we are not worthy to sit at the table of the American experience or to taste that sweet nectar known by many as a complete and happy life complete with a partner who loves us and children we will raise if we so desire. We have discovered that we have been unfairly relegated to the floor and tricked into settling for stale crumbs and lukewarm water thrown at us by folks like Lankford and Gipson as they cast nasty looks while clutching their Bibles and reciting supposed admonitions against homosexuality and making sure to omit other verses telling them to love their neighbor and not judge their fellow human beings.

After years of being told that there was no place at the table for us by people like Lankford and Gipson, we have not only discovered that not only is there a comfy chair at the table with our names on it, but there is also a bottle of sweet nectar with our names specifically on it.

So I feel safe in speaking for a majority of the gay community when I say to people like Lankford, Gipson and the rest:

You had better slide aside because we are going to sit at that table and we are going to take a full drink of that nectar because it belongs to us. It’s ours. It doesn’t belong solely to you.

And nothing you do or say will keep us from it.

Burying black v. gay

I wrote recently about the big jump in support by black voters after Obama supported marriage equality. The day before Obama's famous interview North Carolina voted to approve a marriage protection amendment. The day after the vote Pam Spaulding, who is black and lesbian, lives in North Carolina, and is lead writer for Pam's House Blend, was asked by many in the media to comment on the "black vote" that supported the amendment. She wants to bury that hoary idea to stop people from talking about it.

There was no exit polling. Therefore there is no data that can be broken down along racial lines. That didn't stop people from claiming blacks voted against gays -- until Spaulding demanded hard numbers.

Barry Yeoman of The American Prospect looks at precinct tallies for the amendment and discovered that the real divide wasn't racial, it was urban/rural. And even there, black majority urban precincts rejected the amendment and black majority rural precincts did the same.

The National Organization for Marriage has as one of its tactics is to split black from gay and stir up tension between the two groups. That was brought out in the 2008 repeal of marriage equality in Calif. But the idea is no longer true (if it ever was), yet media people (I'm not sure they deserve to be called journalists) keep trying to push the idea. Is it because of their personal racism? Perhaps they want to highlight conflict? Are they lazy? Or maybe they're stooges for NOM and conservatives?

Just keep in mind it was the black president who first supported marriage equality.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Encourage residents to leave

Back in July of 2009 I wrote a post about Detroit that said politicians are just beginning to discuss how to right-size the city. It's a city built for nearly 2,000,000 in which about 700,000 remain. That's a bit over a third of the peak population. I mention that earlier post for a couple reasons.

The first is that it is the most accessed post that I've written, viewed 471 times as of today. It is frequently at the top of the most accessed posts for a week or month (though not for this week). I have no idea why this one gets so much attention. It isn't what I want to be known for. I think for some unknown reason a Russian site linked to it. And at the moment my readership in Russia is three times my American audience. I would appreciate any Russian readers leaving a comment about why you read this site.

The second reason to mention that earlier post is because of an article in the Sunday Free Press of last weekend. Detroit is trying some ideas in reducing what parts of the city need (and get) services, such as street lights. Something needs to happen because the city's finances are so bad they are being overseen by an outside committee (and that's a long story I won't get into).

So city managers have rated each neighborhood as Steady, Distressed, or a couple values in between. Those tagged as distressed usually have high numbers of abandoned homes. The city has decided these neighborhoods aren't worth rescuing, especially since there isn't enough money to do the job. Home owners will no longer be able to get grants or loans to fix the property (any kind of fix-up would cost more money than the home is worth). Street lights won't be fixed, and other services curtailed or eliminated. Businesses will be discouraged from investing in these areas.

The goal is to encourage the residents to leave. Since most of them can't afford to move, the city may soon start a program in which they offer a house swap, giving the resident a city-owned property in a much better neighborhood. The city does not have enough money to buy out all affected residents, but does have a large inventory of homes that it owns by default.

Some residents like the idea, especially those who have reported three break-ins within just a few months. But those who have grown up in a house are much more reluctant to leave.

Complicit through silence

A pastor said some vile things about gays. In his view a fence should be built and we should be placed inside. Perhaps we are given food. Perhaps not.

Will other Christian people refute him? Will they say his words are vile? Or by their silence will they be complicit? It is people like this, and the deafening silence from others in the church that make those outside the church condemn the church as homophobic.

We speak for people of faith

The GOP House approved an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that said military chaplains could not officiate at gay weddings and military property could not be used for such ceremonies. That would bar chaplains who actually want to perform such ceremonies, which makes it a Freedom of Religion issue.

Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin sees it as more than the GOP dumping all over gays yet again. It is really part of a war over which groups speak for People of Faith.
It is no small prize. Tremendous influence is wielded by those who are considered the arbiters of morality and the defenders of faith and godly society. And while the United States has no official sanctioned or supported church, public perceptions about what The Church believes holds tremendous sway not only over the faithful but over voters in general.
The battle is conservative denominations, those who prize correctness of belief, trying to gain the upper hand over the mainline Protestant denominations.

From the mainline Protestant perspective:
While individual morality is important, and social pressure is used to encourage moral behavior, it is generally considered to be in bad taste to publicly shame those who do not live according to a list of rules and coercive morality-based laws are not a primary focus.
And from those who prize conformity and doctrinal purity:
Caring for the physical needs of your neighbor falls a far far distant second to caring for your neighbor’s spiritual needs, and there is an underlying presumption that The Church – not the neighbor – can best determine what such needs may be.
Yes, the goal is for the winners in the battle to be able to say, "We speak for all Christians." And since America is still nominally a Christian nation the next goal is to be able to say, "We speak for America." A big prize indeed.

Never mind that Christian opinions actually vary quite widely on every issue. According to those who believe in doctrinal purity that doesn't matter because opinion isn't suppose to vary.

Strongly in favor

Polls that gauge voter or citizen opinion frequently have as possible answers: "strongly in favor," "in favor," "opposed," and "strongly opposed." Many times the percentages for both kinds of agreement and opposition are lumped together to show a general trend. Watchers of ballot proposals know those that answer "strongly" are the ones most likely to get themselves out on election day.

All that is why a new polls out is very good news. There are now more with strong support (39%) for marriage equality than strong opposition (32%). Along with that, 71% now say they have an acquaintance, friend, or family member who is gay, up from 59% 1998. That's important because knowing someone gay means higher support for marriage equality. Other polls show Obama's endorsement of gay marriage had no fallout. His numbers are slightly up.

Yet another poll, this time of opinions in Maryland about repealing its new marriage equality law. In just a couple months support for marriage equality has jumped by 5%. That difference can be almost entirely explained by black voters going from 56% opposed to 55% in favor. Wow! This is enough of a shift that a vote on marriage equality will likely approve it. If so it will (1) bust the idea that black people are anti-gay and (2) spoil the 0-32 record the anti-gay crowd loves to crow about.

That, of course, leads to the question: Why?

Greg Sargent in The Plum Line in the Washington Post proposes an answer: Black people don't care about the issue (or most issues) all that much. They do identify with a team and want to align their answers with those of the team. And in those two months Obama has declared he is in favor of marriage equality.
So it’s not exactly that Obama influenced black opinions, would be my guess. It’s that African American voters who really don’t care very much one way or another about the marriage issue — but do consider themselves on Team Democrat — are now aware that marriage equality is the normal position of that team.
Note that Sargent says he is guessing here.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Balancing individual and community

It must be the political crazy season. NPR shows highlighted two political books today.

The first was on Morning Edition. The book is The Road to Freedom: Moral Debate For Free Enterprise by Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute. Yeah, this is a conservative take on our current economic and government issues. The author's discussion with Steve Inskeep is under 8 minutes.

Brooks says the solutions to economic problems must be posed in moral terms. Hmm. Let's see, we've had the conservative moral viewpoint on abortion and gay marriage, so I have a guess where this is going. But Brooks wants the conservative moral viewpoint out for debate because those that don't like free enterprise (such as the poor) have been making moral arguments already. The economic debate will be fairness and that is a moral issue.

According to Brooks, people are happier with less government. That's a pretty big blanket statement and I can think of instances where citizens would very much like their government involved. But onward to the big question. How much less?

The government should do two things. First, provide a safety net for the truly poor -- food, housing, medical care. The problem with current government programs is that too many of them benefit the middle class.

Second, work to "rectify cases where markets don't give us the best outcomes: monopolies, cases of pollution." The government shouldn't get involved in "picking winners, social engineering, stimulus, bailouts."

Inskeep jumped on the inclusion of pollution on that list. Brooks went into a bit of detail -- yes, gov't should be dealing with global warming (or at least not issuing blanket denials), but a system like "cap and trade," though developed as a free-market system, is too open to corporate cronyism.

Another issue Inskeep mentions is the gov't programs that keep the middle class from slipping into poverty. Brooks doesn't answer that. Instead he looks at the moral argument for welfare and says that before the reform in the mid 1990s (that date is from me and I'm not sure of it) welfare hurt people more than it helped them. I suppose I'd have to read the book for his justification. Inskeep tries again. What about the small business owner who needs gov't help to keep the business afloat to prevent the owner from becoming poor? Brooks counters that owner would not need gov't handouts if we got rid of "regulatory barriers, the tax barriers, the labor market barriers, the environmental barriers."

Brooks concludes by saying we all want free enterprise in the abstract, but we're too willing to take the goodies politicians hand out.

Now for some of my thoughts. In his second function of gov't Brooks mentions "crime, public goods like the army." That would include the court system and these departments from the Cabinet: State, Justice, Treasury, Defense, Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security, and maybe Transportation (and other things related to infrastructure or "public goods"). But leaves me wondering about such departments as Interior (environmental quality good, national parks bad?), Agriculture, Commerce, Labor, Health and Humans Services, Housing and Urban Development, Energy, and the missing one that most caught my attention -- Education. Does Brooks think that gov't should not be involved in education? Maybe just not the federal gov't?

I don't know enough about what the Department of Agriculture does to tell whether its elimination would be an improvement. However, I wonder if the capriciousness of both free markets and weather might mean the end of the family farmer and if giant agribusinesses are an improvement. Maybe not. Then there is Health and Human Services. Because I think health should not be subjected to the whims of the marketplace I think gov't should get involved. And what about the health research and disease tracking done by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention?

I know Brooks missed education as an essential function of government. I could spend a while contemplating what else is missing from his list. Perhaps things that make life enjoyable, such as support for the arts or exploration of space (and I say this on the day the first commercial rocket is sending supplies to the Space Station). I'm also concerned about Brooks wanting to eliminate environmental barriers. I think we do more damage to the environment than we would classify as pollution. An example of this is turning wetlands into shopping malls.

Brooks says he is against government involvement in social engineering. Should government not have intervened in ending Jim Crow and passing the Civil Right Act? What about gay rights and marriage equality? Women's reproductive freedom?

A big aspect Brooks didn't talk about (at least not in this interview) is the contrast between his view of conservatism and what the GOP is pushing. Brooks says gov't shouldn't pick winners and provide bailouts. On the one hand I hope he means we should end all subsidies to the oil industry. On the other I think the gov't did the right thing in bailing out GM and Chrysler. I wonder what he believes about getting corporate money out of politics. It appears the GOP is pushing for the elimination of safety nets for the poor as well as programs that benefit the middle class -- while clamoring for more programs to benefit the rich.

The other book was on All Things Considered this evening. It makes a nice contrast to Brooks' book. It is Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent by E. J. Dionne Jr. In spite of the Tea Party claim that American is all about individualism, we have always worked for a balance between the individual and the community, between the I and the we. This search for balance was at work by the time of the Declaration of Independence. The authors talk about the rights of an individual, but in their signing statement recognize liberty is a joint effort.

There is also a long history of strong federal government. Alexander Hamilton saw a role for gov't in making America a manufacturing powerhouse. Henry Clay saw a governmental role in creating infrastructure. Before Social Security there was a big gov't role in Civil War pensions.

Yes, there needs to be a check on gov't power. But there also needs to be a check on concentrated private power. Capitalism is great, but can't do it all and sometimes needs corrections.
I think those who are called liberal or progressive now represent that tradition of balance, and that what we are for is refreshing, refurbishing the long consensus. But our arguments — certainly the argument of my book — is America governs itself best when it preserves [the] public, private, individual and the communal; preserves those kinds of balances. I think, temporarily, conservatism has been taken over by those who want to wreck and overturn that long consensus.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Getting to know the family

20 shocking consequences of Massachusetts legalizing gay marriage (which happened 8 years ago). This photo essay shows it made lots of people happy.

Why did gay rights gain acceptance in America so much more quickly than Black rights? Straight families got to know their gay members. White families didn't know Black families.

I read the Occupy Wall Street blog about the protests in Chicago leading up to the NATO meeting there. I'm very aware the reporting is one sided -- I heard nothing (but I don't watch TV) and these postings say not much about the protests is getting into the mainstream media. Even so, these reports give many examples of non-violent protests being met with police brutality. My thoughts again turn to actions of oppressed (non-violence) meeting those of the oppressors (violence). Check out the posts for the photos. And for the comments. The second one says that the House is discussing a bill that says the United States will prepare for war with Iran to make sure it doesn't get nuclear weapons. And one of the ways corporations convince us that it is appropriate for them to take over our government is a state of perpetual war.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Jobs would squirt out of them like donuts

Nick Hanauer is stirring things up. He is a venture capitalist -- meaning he's rich -- and he feels he isn't being taxed enough. He talked to Kai Ryssdal of the Marketplace program on NPR about the sources of prosperity. Some of what Hanauer said:
We became enthralled with the view that wealth trickled down from the top and that if you poured money into rich people, sort of like an ingredient, prosperity and jobs would squirt out of them like donuts. … What a great story that the less taxes I pay, the better off everyone else will be. This is a marvelously self-justifying viewpoint, but at the end of the day it hasn't worked.

But if you understand how the system works I think in a more realistic way, what you begin to see is that in the end it's better for me because honestly, what do I care if my tax rate is 15 percent or 30 if my businesses are growing twice as fast. Prosperity for people like me is a consequence of the number of customers I have, not the tax rate that I pay. If low taxes were the way that people like me created wealth, then we'd be starting our companies in the Congo or Somalia or Afghanistan, but we're not. We come to places where there are lots and lots of customers.

Lucy McKeon, writing for Salon, interviews Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein about their book It's Even Worse Than It Looks. Both men have been studying Congress and politics for 40 years and find the current climate worse than it has been in at least a century (they can't tell if it is worse than the pre-Civil War years, but even bringing that up says a lot). Some of the ideas (some of which I've heard before) from the interview:

Politics has become winner-take-all, which is tough on a two-party system. The current GOP is more conservative than in Reagan's time and "unpersuaded by fact and science." We're in a serious economic crisis and the GOP doesn't want to approve anything for which the prez. would get any credit. It doesn't want to negotiate or compromise with the enemy.

The public (at least those who vote) have sorted ourselves into neighborhoods with like-minded people. That encourages the polarization in Washington. The way a democracy should respond when a party gets to extreme is to overwhelmingly vote for the other party. That isn't happening.

At the moment bipartisan solutions can't happen. We need to come up with a way to operate in a hyper-partisan system.

Our strong journalistic norm of fairness insists that both sides be heard equally, and that distorts what is really going on and perpetuates the problem.

The sky has remained intact for eight years

I missed a big anniversary a couple days ago. Gay marriage began on May 17, 2004 in Massachusetts. That's eight years ago. I hope the rest of the country catches up soon.

May 17th is also Fight Homophobia Day. Alas, I didn't hear about it until the 18th.

Rev. Irene Monroe, a Black woman, has an essay about how Black pastors will be affected by Obama's support of marriage equality. Those who are for it see Obama as providing them a bit of cover. They feel they can more publicly proclaim their support for gays and marriage equality. Those pastors who are homophobic are in a bit of a quandary. Even though they disagree on this issue do they dare withhold support from Obama's reelection?

Monroe points out that many homophobic Black pastors scapegoat gays for the huge numbers of fatherless families.

Claiming a disputing a title

I saw images of this week's Newsweek cover last Sunday and finished reading the whole magazine a couple days ago, so my mention of this is rather late. So, in case you haven't heard… Andrew Sullivan has declared Obama to be the "first gay president" in the same manner Clinton was declared to be the first Black president. Sullivan has two reasons for bestowing the title. The first is the amount of advancement in gay rights under Obama's watch (particularly Obama's announcement the week before of being for marriage equality which was very emotional for Sullivan). The second is Obama's experience of being a black child raised in a white family being similar to gay kids growing up with straight parents.

Michelangelo Signorile disagrees with Sullivan's second point. Obama wasn't "immersed" in gay culture the same way Clinton was immersed in Black culture.

And Time magazine says Obama can't be the first gay president because we've already had one -- James Buchanan, who was president 1857-1861. I'll let you explore the evidence for that claim on your own.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Spiritual Violence is still being done

Today's post went into my brother blog, the one I maintain for Dedicated Reconciling United Methodists. I put it there because it is about Jimmy Creech, a United Methodist pastor who was put on trial for performing a same-sex commitment ceremony, and discusses the spiritual violence the denomination does against gay people. It also discusses the unwillingness of General Conference to do anything about that violence. So click on over to read it.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Is the political victory worth it?

The Southern Baptist Convention very much likes to be viewed as the place where America turns for moral guidance. So they're rather peeved that polls show their influence isn't working. An example of that is the recent Gallup polls that show:

* A majority of Americans think gay relationships are morally acceptable (in the majority for three years now)

* 63% think that gay relations should be legal.

* 40% think a gay or lesbian orientation is something a person is born with and 3% think it is because of upbringing or environment.

So the SBC conducted their own polls. Some results:

* Do you believe that homosexuality is a sin? 44% yes, 43% no, 13% unsure.

* If you never attend a church now, would you want to attend one that is anti-gay? 3% yes, 72% no (I'm not sure exactly how this question was worded).

So will they be defiant and lose influence on the culture (or even die out) or tone down the anti-gay talk?

A link in the comment section of the post mentioned above led me to the blog of Rachel Held Evans and a post about how the young view the church. She wrote it the day after North Carolina approved a marriage protection amendment, called Amendment One.

The Barna Group did a poll of 16-29 year olds. They asked for words or phrases that describe Christianity. I've heard of this poll before (it was mentioned by members of the Coalition at General Conference), so it may be a couple months or years old.

For 91% of all respondents, the first word mentioned was "antihomosexual." That included 80% of respondents who attend church. The next most often mentioned words were "judgmental," "hypocritical," and "too involved in politics."

David Kinnaman found that 8 million twentysomethings have left the church and pronouncements about gays are a big reason.

Evans has talked to college kids about these numbers. The kids say such things as: The church is complicit in anti-gay bullying and partly responsible for the high rates of depression and suicide among gay kids. Nearly all are passionately opposed to anti-gay legislation.

Since gays could not marry in North Carolina and because religious leaders were the loudest voices for Amendment One, the only thing the vote did was prove to the youth their view the church is antihomosexual. The kids are tired of the culture wars. The kids are tired of the church bashing their friends. These votes offend gays, damage the church's reputation, and alienate young adults.
Is a political “victory” really worth losing millions more young people to cynicism regarding the Church?

Is a political “victory” worth further alienating people who identify as LGBT?

Is a political “victory” worth perpetuating the idea that evangelical Christians are at war with gays and lesbians?

So how might we proceed? Evans suggests:
In my opinion, the first step toward a life beyond the culture wars is to stop talking about LGBT folks and start talking with LGBT folks.
Justin Lee of the Gay Christian Network also proposes a way forward. He points out that few people who voted for Amendment One are actually bigoted.
The people on both sides who voted on this amendment honestly believed they were doing the right thing. If they voted for the amendment is might simply be a lack of understanding. Dismissing them as bigots means you've lost a chance to change their mind.
But isn't a vote for the amendment proof their mind is closed? Maybe. So:
My challenge to you, however you felt about this amendment and however you feel about LGBT/Christian issues in general, is to force yourself to see your opponents as human beings who honestly believe they’re doing the right thing. Figure out what it is that’s really motivating them, and if the answer you come up with is simply “bigotry” or “love of the flesh” or “stupidity” or “rebellion against God,” keep digging, because you haven’t gone deep enough yet. Then once you really understand them—really, really understand them—find the ways you can reach out and begin to educate them, patiently and lovingly. That is how you make change in people’s lives.

Casting out demons

Rev. Bob Larson, for $9.95, offers an online test to verify whether or not you have a demon. In the interest of science Rob Tisinai tried it out (with a sponsor donating the $10). The result?
Rob Tisinai, confirmed homosexual, gay blogger, not a Believer an any conventional sort of deity, and one of the officially designated “homomafioso of Queer, Incorporated who oversee the image of Faggotry love.” And I don’t have a demon.
Yeah, it's a fraud. Sheesh, the questions were so predictable. But it does allow someone to brag:
I don’t have a demon; the test told me so. I’m not sure about you.
Which means it allows the test taker to be smug. And that is a great way to ruin a soul.

So Tisinai came up with his own demon test. Here are a few of the questions (see his post for the rest).
* Do you focus your outrage on sins that don’t tempt you?

* Do you condemn whole populations on what a few members do?

* Do you feel more ire than compassion at the failings of others?
He concludes:
It’s better to know your demons and wrestle them than to pay $10 for assurance they aren’t there.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Unstinting openhandedness

I've been reading a review of the book When I Was a Child I Read Books by Marilynne Robinson. The review is in March/April 2012 edition of The Washington Monthly and written by Benjamin Dueholm. To clarify: I've read the review, not the book.

The book discusses how Calvinism has affected American life. As part of the Protestant Reformation John Calvin started a strain of Christianity. We remember him most because of the sternness of the New England Puritans. But there was a much more important idea -- "society as a whole may be good and just." This came from the Old Testament and its many commandments of generosity towards freed slaves, widows, orphans, landless, and foreigners. That developed into "unstinting openhandedness" and today's liberalism. A quote that caught my attention:
Robinson invokes the idea of freedom as a mutual gift: “Western society at its best expresses the serene sort of courage that allows us to grant one another real safety, real autonomy, the means to think and act as judgment and conscience dictate.” This “great mutual courtesy”— the modesty of metaphor here is typical of Robinson’s work—relies on mutual education, respect, and trust. “We were centuries in building these courtesies,” she goes on, noting that they are under fierce attack in the name of economic and security threats. “Without them ‘Western civilization’ would be an empty phrase.”

Education in particular is both central to this great mutual courtesy and, perhaps not coincidentally, a major target of the austerity disciples. For Robinson, education is the *sine qua non* of the American democratic experiment, “our most distinctive achievement.” Our fragile and historically rare commitment to educating everyone for free is not only the epitome of our egalitarian ideals (however poorly realized), it is also the cause of our culture’s excellence and dynamism.

Make the country as ungovernable as possible

It was way back in 2010 that I wrote that the GOP only wants power and they didn't care what had to be done to get and keep that power. Here is confirmation of that claim from Consortiumnews. It is an article by Robert Perry, originally posted in March 31, 2010 and reposted on May 5 of this year.
But there is another way to view the GOP political strategy, as neither principled nor reactive to the rantings of Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and the Tea Partiers. It is that the Republicans are following a playbook that has evolved over more than four decades, to regain power by sabotaging Democratic presidents.
In this analysis, the Republicans believe they can reclaim the lucrative levers of national authority by making the country as ungovernable as possible while a Democrat is in the White House, essentially holding governance hostage until they are restored to power. Then, the Democrats are expected to behave as a docile opposition “for the good of the country” (and usually do).
I see that one reason for the power grab is that it is lucrative, both for the people in office and the 1% who put them there.

Perry goes on to show how that strategy has been used against the last four Democratic presidents.

Nixon sabotaged Johnson's Vietnam peace talks in 1968.

Reagan pulled an October Surprise sabotaging Carter's Iran Hostage negotiations. Reagan, followed by Bush I, built up the conservative think-tanks and talking heads to praise GOP governmental efforts -- and viciously attack Clinton, leading to the 1994 Contract with America and Newt Gingrich's House takeover.

And now they are doing the same to Obama.

They do it because the don't care for the country and especially about the 20,000 additional soldiers who died in Vietnam and the Americans held in longer captivity in Iran. They only care about the power and their wallets.

They keep doing it because it works.

Conservative and gay

Jan van Lohuizen is a respected GOP pollster. The data he examined prompted him to write a memo to GOP insiders. It was leaked and provides some interesting ideas on where Lohuizen thinks the party should go on gay issues. He notes that there is already a majority of Republicans who support such ideas as gays shouldn't be fired for sexual orientation, bullying should be stopped, and gay partnerships should have some form of legal recognition.

So he gives some recommendations on what the official stance of the party should be. Here is an excerpt:
People who disagree on the fundamental nature of marriage can agree, at the same time, that gays and lesbians should receive essential rights and protections such as hospital visitation, adoption rights, and health and death benefits.
And a confirmation that gay rights are a conservative idea.
As people who promote personal responsibility, family values, commitment and stability, and emphasize freedom and limited government we have to recognize that freedom means freedom for everyone. This includes the freedom to decide how you live and to enter into relationships of your choosing, the freedom to live without excessive interference of the regulatory force of government.
Yup, Fundies are blowing gaskets.

Thanking women's liberation

Ari Ezra Waldman uses Obama's speech at Barnard College (which is women only) to talk about how gains by women for women has helped the cause for gay equality.

Back in 1916 Margaret Sanger opened a birth control clinic in Brooklyn. At the time if you weren't a physician you couldn't talk about birth control because being contrary to public morals was an obscenity. Yes, a free speech issue in which the oppressors worked to maintain public order. Full and open discussion of birth control wasn't possible until 1965 when it was ruled that the state had no business in a married couple's bedroom. That right to privacy was extended to the unmarried in 1972.

Waldman says that the ability of gays to talk about their lives without being shut down for being obscene is something for which we should thank women's liberation.

Monday, May 14, 2012

But we've got to work on job creation

The Colorado governor did demand an extended session of the state legislature so that the House would pass the civil union bill. The House Speaker sent the bill off to another committee. Since all the members of that committee are in safe seats they have no problem defying the general sentiment of voters and of the House and killing the bill.

When asked why he did it that way the Speaker said that he doesn't have time for divisive social issues. There's lots of work to do for job creation and economic recovery.

Comments to the post said:

* This was a special session of the legislature to consider this bill so it wasn't taking up time for any other work.

* So what job creation and economic recovery bills have you passed this session?

* Well, actually, there were 50 other bills, many on economic issues, that didn't come up because you were so anxious to kill the civil union bill.

* The GOP are creating jobs … in China.

Why vote for something that hurts so many?

People are still reacting to North Carolina marriage protection amendment approved last week. Mike Bloomberg, Mayor of New York, gave a commencement address at the University of North Carolina. Since the mayor played a big part in getting marriage equality in his state, he had a few things to say to a state that had just banned same-sex marriage.

The WE DO campaign is guiding same-sex couples to ask for marriage licenses in North Carolina. Yes, they are refused, but it is great publicity.

A ten-year-old girl asked her father about the new gay marriage ban. He couldn't explain why people voted for it and suggested she ask the voters. So she did, through a letter to the local newspaper. It's a gem.
Dear North Carolina
Why would anyone vote for something that would hurt so many people? Did you even know what the Amendment was about before voting for it? I wore my NOH8 shirt to school today. I know what it means because my mommy and daddy taught me that it is not okay to hate anyone. In school, they teach that bullying is wrong. Is it less wrong when people vote for it? I can’t vote. It is your job to vote in ways that are best for the future. How is this for the best? What happens to your kids’ futures if they are gay? Is this best for them? What happens to my friend’s future when she gets sick and cannot go to the doctor? What do you tell kids who have two mommies and daddies? Black and white people were not always allowed to get married. I am mixed with black and white. Do you hate me too?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Idiot children terrified their toys will be taken away

A day to comment on (bash) the 1%. As an indication of the success of the Occupy movement we no longer ask "1% of what?"

During the last prez. campaign Obama had a great speech addressing racial issues. A member of the 1% has asked perhaps Obama could give "a similarly healing speech about class and inequality? What if he [Obama] urged an end to attacks on the rich?" More clueless beliefs by the rich are catalogued here. The rich are not more virtuous, hardworking, or smarter.
But appeals to logic, history and common sense will not get you far with a roomful of very rich guys who feel paranoid and victimized. The Wall Street types asked to become Obama donors wanted assurances that the president would not criticize his opponent’s finance industry record. It’s not enough that they’re ridiculously wealthy: They wish to be utterly above criticism. That’s the most important thing to remember: These people, the .01 percent, are mostly childish idiots. Idiot children have now accumulated all of the nation’s wealth and they are terrified that someone might try to take some of it away.

A big article in Newsweek this past week is about the inability (unwillingness?) of Obama to prosecute the shenanigans on Wall Street that crashed the economy a few years back. In the 1980s the Savings and Loan scandal resulted in a thousand prosecutions with a 90% conviction rate. This scandal? Zip. Not even teeny cases of investor fraud. I'll let you read the whole thing.

Alexis Goldstein wrote Confessions of a Wall Street Insider to explain why he got out of Wall Street and joined the Occupy movement. He talked about how the culture of the form where he worked stressed money over everything else and screwing over the other guy (colleague, client, boss). Unethical actions not caught were highly admired.

I wrote recently about Powers versus the oppressed. This quote describes the difference very well.
It is hard to contrast the joy of community I feel at Occupy Wall Street with the isolation I felt on Wall Street. It's hard because I cannot think of two more disparate cultures. Wall Street believes in, and practices, a culture of scarcity. This breeds hoarding, distrust and competition. As near as I can tell, Occupy Wall Street believes in plenty. This breeds sharing, trust and cooperation. On Wall Street, everyone was my competitor. They'd help me only if it helped them. At Occupy Wall Street, I am offered food, warmth and support because it's the right thing to do, and because joy breeds joy.

Romney appears to be quite tone-deaf when discussing money with voters: Nope, Romney's son Tagg wasn't trading on the family name when he raised $244 million to start a hedge fund. Want to start a business? Just borrow $20,000 from your parents. Uh-huh.

That got essayist Terrence Heath discussing privilege.

Gary Younge of The Guardian starts it off:
Class privilege, and the power it confers, is often conveniently misunderstood by its beneficiaries as the product of their own genius rather than generations of advantage, stoutly defended and faithfully bequeathed.
There is a lot of rationalization of their wealth. This web of privilege is treated as something due, but that same rationalization bites into the safety-net that the working poor depend on.

Privilege frequently comes with the myth of the self-made man. We did it all ourselves, not like those welfare cheats. So, did you attend a public school? Use Pell Grants? Claim a mortgage deduction? Pave all the streets you drove on? Did your business get government contracts? Does that business depend on sound currency? Enforceable laws?

Many times privilege is because of laws -- gov't made rules to allow it. Some are born rich and their privilege is unearned. Romney has a rousing defense of his father's rise from humble beginnings, implying that since his father became wealthy the son deserves every penny.

The biggest problem with privilege is the length those that have it go about denying it. And there is a reason. If you admit it has helped you then you have some responsibility. You are responsible for the daily decisions that perpetuate privilege at the expense of those without. It is so much easier to take it for granted to the point of not seeing it.

The 1% are fond of saying there is equal opportunity. A poor kid of a working single mom can indeed get into Harvard. But entrance to Harvard is so much easier if your dad has the bucks and is a Harvard alum. No, opportunity is not equal.

Warren Buffet has made a big deal about paying less taxes (in terms of percent) than his secretary. Obama is now pushing the idea that the rich pay at least 30% and calling it the Buffet Rule.

Chris Christie, GOP governor of New Jersey, responded saying, "He should just write a check and shut up."

That raised the ire of novelist Stephen King. His novels are popular enough that he is now considered rich. Donating to a charity or buying a new building for a library just doesn't cut it. Charity doesn't reduce global warming. The rich are refusing to assume America's national responsibilities, the care of the poor, the education of its young, the repair of infrastructure, repayment of national debt.

Friday, May 11, 2012

So few people deciding the fate

Pam Spaulding, lead writer of Pam's House Blend, lives with her wife in North Carolina. Though she had a wedding in Canada, her marriage is not recognized in her home state and won't be for quite a while now. Spaulding was still hurting over the approval of Amendment One, so couldn't fully rejoice in Obama's support of gay marriage the next day. She quotes Chris Kromm to note that with such a low turnout (this was essentially a primary election) only 20% of North Carolina registered voters -- and only 14% of the population as a whole -- decided the fate of the state's gay families.

Freeing myself from the mind of the oppressor

Last week I offered a few choice ideas from the book A Political Reading of the Life of Jesus by George W. Baldwin. At the age of 50 he gave up everything to live in Nicaragua at the time of the Iran-Contra war. He learned now the poor people there challenged their situation through what is known as Liberation Theology. Baldwin offers his own theology and doesn't say how well it matches the Liberation Theology described in numerous books.

In any culture (even in many institutions, including the Christian Church) there are Powers, systems that are in control. Most of the time these systems oppress those not in power. The Powers maintain their position through promoting the Mind of the Oppressor -- we're supposed to be in power. A good deal of that is to convince the oppressed of the rightness in being oppressed. A great deal of the culture with lessons that begin at a very young age is geared towards this Mind of the Oppressor. An example of this is patriotism. The Powers project their power through laws and judgment. Break our laws and you will be punished. Challenge our authority or disturb the order and you will be punished. These laws are enforced through violence, which can be physical, economic, mental, and spiritual. An example of spiritual violence is an insistence to submit to authority or risk losing your soul.

In sharp contrast, Jesus taught liberation and freedom. The goal was justice, not victory. One does not have to submit to the Mind of the Oppressor. Jesus taught grace. One can freely give and receive love. One does not have to earn it. Jesus taught non-violence because violence never brought the end of violence and never brought peace. The combination of liberation, grace, and non-violence allows the oppressed to defy the Powers and bring justice. It is strong enough to even liberate the oppressor.

According to Baldwin Jesus was an insurrectionist, out to liberate his people from the power of Rome and the Jewish authorities who had sold out to Rome. That is what got him killed. In this telling of the story Pentecost is the day when the disciples realized they could follow the example of Jesus and used his techniques to continue the insurrection. They built a community of justice.

In the way Baldwin tells it, Jesus did not have a divine component. He was as human as we are. That means we are just as capable of leading our own insurrections against the Powers of our time.

But what about Salvation? Baldwin says those ideas were developed by St. Paul. He started off persecuting early Christians, meaning he was acting as an oppressor. Paul did have some kind of mystical experience on the way to Damascus, which changed his thinking. But, Baldwin notes, Paul never met Jesus or watched Jesus in action. Paul didn't learn from the disciples (who didn't trust Paul) and didn't join the community the disciples were building. Through his mystical experience Paul fashioned his own theology of salvation that looks a great deal like maintaining the Mind of the Oppressor. Doubts? Consider Paul's command to "Submit to authority because leaders were placed in power by God." The movement that Paul started was eventually usurped by Emperor Constantine and the Christian teachings became a way of enforcing the Powers and the whole salvation issue became a way to distract the oppressed from turning from the true work of insurrection.

To most Christians (and especially Fundies) this would be labeled blasphemous. But they are speaking as oppressors. To me it makes sense. The question for me then is what is my role in the insurrection? What is my task in freeing myself and others from the Mind of the Oppressor? What should I be doing to bring about justice? I'll be pondering that for a while.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

A Democrat with a spine

The Colorado Senate approved a civil union bill for the state. The House had enough votes (thanks to 3 GOP members) to do the same. The Majority Leader filibustered to let perhaps 30 bills die at the end of the session (which ended yesterday) rather than allow a vote for civil unions. In response Gov. Hickenlooper says he will extend the session until the civil unions bill is discussed and acted on. It is nice when a Democrat finds his spine.

Mitt Romney hired Richard Grenell, a gay man, to serve as a foreign policy advisor. Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association raised a stink, prompting the Romney campaign to force Grenell to work from behind the scenes. Grenell quit. Fischer crowed at his ability to get the Romney campaign to do his bidding. Then Fischer said that if Romney caved that easily he wasn't fit to be president.

Ten years ago Dr. John Corvino, gay ethics professor at Wayne State University, talked about the Bible and slavery. There are three options:

* Deny the passages really endorse slavery. That's pretty hard to do with Leviticus 25:44-46.

* Say the Bible contains no errors and that slavery really is morally acceptable. This option should be forcefully rejected. That leaves us with…

* Admit the Bible contains some error -- more likely our understanding than with what God intends.

Dan Savage now echoes Corvino's conclusion: If the Bible can be wrong about slavery it is also wrong about homosexuality.


It has been in the news so much over the last day I'm sure you've heard about it (unless you're overseas). Obama has finally evolved. Not long after taking office he said his view on same-sex marriage is "evolving." Yesterday, he came out in full support. Yes, it is big news because this is the first president to do so.

We'll jump right past Fox News trumpeting that Obama has declared war on marriage and get to the interesting stuff.

There is belief that this will energize his base and reassure progressives leading to the election. An example of this is the $1 million in donations to Obama's campaign that poured in during the 90 minutes following the announcement. The gAyTM is open again. This will also (hopefully) be an impact on marriage referendums in Minnesota, Maine, Washington, and Maryland. Alas, the interview was the day after a big defeat in North Carolina (an article on the WNYC site explains how confusing that proposal was, no doubt intentionally so).

Rob Tisinai of Box Turtle Bulletin thinks Obama is a canny politician. Joe Biden, in an interview last Sunday, said he supports gay marriage. A day later, Arne Duncan of the Department of Education was specifically asked about gay marriage and also gave his support (alas, I didn't save links). The interviewer vowed to ask all cabinet secretaries until Obama himself spoke. But, Tisinai said, Obama used all that to drain his own statement of shock value to minimize blowback (though the Fundies were going to scream anyway). That implies Biden and Duncan said what they did because Obama asked them to.

Even so, this is great news. A gay kid can now dream, I can be president.

Andrew Belonsky of Towleroad says Obama's change in position could hurt him in seven battleground states. One of those is Florida, which has a much older population that tends to be more anti-gay.

The Guardian has a chart of gay rights by state.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Why it happened

I wrote this entry to explain why the United Methodist Church voted to keep its gay-unfriendly policies at its recent General Conference. To my regular readers this might sound a bit repetitive. To any new people, welcome and I hope you stick around.

I attended the General Conference of the United Methodist Church, not as a delegate, but as a volunteer with a coalition of groups trying to make the denomination more progressive and gay-friendly. In 1972 the GC inserted the phrase “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian Teaching” in the Book of Discipline, which governs the denomination. Every four years since then we have been trying to remove that phrase, which serves as the foundation of the rest of the anti-gay mischief (such as banning officiating at gay marriages). In 2008 the vote to remove that phrase failed by a margin of only 4%. This year the church took a giant step backwards when removal failed by a margin of 20%. This is the short answer why that happened:

* The delegates to the General Conference are proportional to membership in a region and there was a sharp shift away from the progressive North and West and towards the conservative South. The Detroit region went from 10 delegates to 8 out of a total of 988 delegates.

* The denomination has members in United States (61% of delegates), Europe (4%), Africa (29%), and the Philippines (5%). There are also associate members from other parts of the world (1%). Membership in America has been dropping and has been rising in conservative Africa. This is a shift of about 10% of the delegates in the last four years.

The long answer:

The United Methodist Church is different from other mainline Protestant denominations in America in that its polity is determined by delegates from around the world. However, those regions outside America are able set aside polity issues that they deem inappropriate for their region. American churches don't have that option. African churches can reject American influence. American churches cannot reject African influence. Conservative advocates exploit that situation to enforce their views on progressive churches in America. A petition to change that was considered in 2008 and rejected. This time it wasn't even considered.

The European and Filipino delegates were very much with us. It is not possible to determine who voted which way because votes were done in secret -- African delegates faced ostracism or death if it became known they voted for us.

One reason for Africa's views is historical. Back in the 1950s missionaries in Africa preached the widespread polygamy was contrary to Christianity (never mind Solomon). Families were ripped apart and the discarded wives were left destitute. That memory makes them resistant to changing their social code now.

Many outsiders say that LGBT people should simply leave the denomination. One member of our coalition responds by saying, "Leave it to whom?" No matter how many LGBT people leave and no matter how conservative the remainder becomes there will always be gay kids growing up in the church. Will we fight for them?

I was part of a coalition headed by Reconciling Ministries Network and Methodist Federation for Social Action. There are also Black, Native American, and Asian American groups in the coalition. We had a sizable (perhaps 500 volunteer) presence at GC.

Last year the coalition started reaching out to the African delegates and will step up that effort between now and the next General Conference in 2016. There are several parts to the discussion. (1) Simply talking about gay issues. Most Africans have only heard one side of the issue. (2) Africans may set aside parts of the Book of Discipline. Please allow Americans to remove the anti-gay language, which you can reinsert. (3) 99% of the money to keep the African church running comes from America. Votes against LGBT issues may prompt some American regions to stop sending money.

Members of the coalition are getting feisty. Last summer pastors in Minnesota started the Altar for All campaign to ask pastors to perform same-sex weddings and commitment ceremonies when asked. So far, over 1100 pastors have signed such a pledge. They are declaring their allegiance of the Bible over the Book of Discipline. Pastors can be put on trial for performing such ceremonies and punishment could be removal of credentials. It will be difficult to hold trials for and dismiss 1100 pastors. The most recent trial (last summer) resulted in only a three week suspension.

The coalition hoped for the removal of all of the anti-LGBT policies. However, after seeing the size of the defeat protesters in the hall negotiated with the bishops to put all the other LGBT petitions (both favorable and not) at the end of the agenda so that our losses would not grow. For example, there are currently no prohibitions against transgender pastors. The last day of GC became a waiting game, working to run out the clock before our issues came up. In that we were successful.

You may read my personal account of General Conference. The first post was from before I arrived and is about Holy Conversations that went painfully wrong. Then my postings Arriving at General Conference, An agenda of hospitality, Pain, and Waiting complete the story.

Saturday, May 5, 2012


Here are some thoughts from A Political Reading of the Life of Jesus by George W. Baldwin. At the age of 50 he sold all he had to serve the poor in Nicaragua in the time of the Iran-Contra wars. His view is that Jesus was an insurrectionist because he refused to participate in the power structure that oppressed him and taught a non-violent way to oppose that oppression. That defied authorities because their oppression was based on violence. It was St. Paul who then turned the story into one of salvation. I'm just over a quarter of the way through the book. I'm sure I'll report on more later.

These are my words of what I understand from his story.

* Unless you are poor you have a vested interest in maintaining oppression of the poor.

* Charity for the poor only makes you feel good while participating in the oppression of the poor.

* The traditional understanding of salvation maintains oppression of the poor by (1) teaching that submitting to authority is ordained by God, (2) making your submission to church (and also civil) authorities a key part of attaining Heaven, and (3) focusing attention on yourself instead of others.


As expected, according to yesterday's negotiations the Agenda and Calendar Committee moved all sexuality issues to the end of the schedule. They even gave the reason as avoiding more harm. Shortly afterward the presiding bishop said the plenary sessions end at 5:00, though if business wasn't done there could be one more hour in the evening before the worship service. That was some concern, though I heard that there would be so much business it extremely doubtful that the sexuality issues come up – unless someone moves to bring them all up together.

So much of the day was quiet, simply waiting and watching the proceedings or writing on my netbook while budget items were discussed. There was one moment that brought us to the perimeter of the floor in watchfulness. One budget item showed that money was not saved by reducing, demoting, and combining the watchdog agencies for women and racial issues. That was the big reason that had been given for promoting the change. One delegate, who had voted for the change, requested the issue reopened. Apparently, appropriate people were prepared to support the motion and provide spirited debate. Alas, the motion to reconsider was voted down.

At lunch several speakers, including a retired bishop, spoke in the Tabernacle about the Altar for All campaign to sign up pastors who are willing to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies. So far, 1100 pastors have sighed. The saying for today is, “Don't let the Book of Discipline eclipse your conscience.”

The Coalition must be big and important! I make that claim because Westboro Baptist Church picketed the Tabernacle after lunch. A few of our members created a blockade so the Westboro gang couldn't brush up against our older members in hopes of provoking an assault charge. Even though Westboro's presence means we're doing something right I agree with the comment, “We don't need more hate.” It seemed ironic that one of Westboro's signs said, “Methodist Fag Church,” considering the way the conference voted yesterday.

At 4:30 the entire convention became atwitter (and a-Twitter) when the conference secretary announced that Plan UMC, an extensive restructuring of the denomination's boards and agencies enacted earlier in the week, was declared to be unconstitutional by the Judicial Council according to the existing Book of Discipline. A break was followed quickly by a dinner break to allow the Agenda Committee to figure a way forward. At least budget and staffing for the restored former structure needed to be redone, as well as what to do with structure until the next conference in 2016. Rejecting Plan UMC meant the watchdog agencies for women and race were back.

The first item after supper was to refer the damaged structure proposal to the Council of Bishops. Discussion (even with limited discussion time) and amendments to this item took more than an hour before someone declared it really wasn't essential to be dealt with for the denomination to run for the next four years and it was tabled until essential business was complete. I heard later that some of the proposed amendments came from coalition delegates. The were running out the clock to make sure we wouldn't have time for gay issues.

The necessary recovery for the fallback structure was complete by 10:15. A woman rose to ask for action on a petition to remove the UMC from the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. The RCRC was created by the UMC and other denominations about 40 years ago and, of course, there is a whiff of abortion about it (I think because there is support for Planned Parenthood). By this time the delegates were in no mood to consider any more legislation, especially one so contentious, and soundly defeated the motion. A motion to bring back the table motion on referring Plan UMC to the bishops was also soundly rejected. Soon after came a motion to adjourn which was quickly seized. And no further harm was done to us.

Thursday, May 3, 2012


Yeah, that's a dramatic title. It did not go well today. Before I get into what “it” is I should go back and describe my yesterday. It won't take long.

Shortly after breakfast Jill, the head of MFSA, asked if I was busy. I wasn't. So she gave me the task to help assemble packets to give to the delegates. Yeah, there are almost a thousand delegates. The packet included a prayer calendar, an MFSA bookmark, a letter calling for divestment from companies profiting from the Israeli settlements, and a brightly colored heart-shaped prayer labyrinth made out of felt. About 200 were assembled when I started, so the first step was to count what we had. Though I had help, it took most of the rest of the day, which is why I didn't have time to post last night.

That task had one big interruption. The Common Witness Coalition organized an action. After instructions at 2:00 we went over to the plenary session. Our action was to come close to the end of the session at about 3:30, so we waited for a cue. The session was all about divestment of companies that profit from the Israeli occupation of Palestine and of clearing lands for Israeli settlements. The break wasn't called until 4:00 and I agree the time for our action didn't seem right. Another part of the divestment debate raged after the break and at 5:00 the presiding bishop called the dinner break. There is a picture of this action on the first page of today's Neighbor News.

As he did so I could see the forces gathering at the back and I joined them. We entered the plenary floor (which is off-limits to visitors) singing. We gathered around the central communion table and did an Occupy-style mic-check saying we were harmed by church actions, the church was not following the teachings of Jesus or John Wesley, and we were not going away. We were warned the bishop might call us out of order. Instead, he introduced us as a message that needed to be presented to the conference. I was towards the middle so I don't know the hundreds (as reported in the *Neighbor News*) who were involved. I heard lots of delegates joined us.

I heard later that the more than two hour delay was a good thing. The leader got lots of messages from other coalition partners asking to give their members time to get there to join the action. It was also good for us to hear about an issue important to other parts of our coalition.

The last step in assembling those delegate packets was to put an address tag and return address tag on each one of them. We're not allowed to distribute stuff directly and pages are not allowed to distribute something without a delegate's name and the name of a person (not organization) sending it. Rules about such things seem to change daily, leaving us scrambling to stay current. We tried to keep together packets for delegates in the same region to keep from annoying the pages too much.

It was as we were finishing up I realized the letter about to go to the delegates was on a subject that was discussed and voted on that afternoon.

At the evening wrapup we were told the morning session would be about sexuality and we should be ready at 8:15 when morning prayers ended.

Now on to today.

A good number of us were stationed outside the delegate area to stand and pray for the conference and delegates. It took about an hour to get to the clause about homosexuality being incompatible with Christian teaching, the phrase that is the foundation for the other gay restrictions and the most important one to eliminate. There was a conciliatory substitute petition (“We disagree that...”) that was defeated. The gay side provided passionate affirmation. The anti-gay side talked about needing “certainty” and “clarity.” Some talked about how conservative churches were growing. It didn't take long for someone to say there are welcoming churches that are also growing.

On to the main motion. A reserve delegate stood near me and, at my request, brought up the text of the petition on her smart phone. I wondered whether it was good or bad until she explained it replaced the whole section containing the “incompatibility” clause, essentially removing it. More passionate debate, including a couple African representatives speaking against it. One quite passionate African speaker declared that being gay was a choice because God doesn't make anything bad. At one point a few of our observers blew a whistle on him because he included hate-speech. The bishop admonished him, reminding all speakers about rules for holy conversation.

At one point a delegate asked about the limits of where he could be and still have his vote count. The bishop said he could be anywhere on the floor within the pipes-and-drapes that surrounded the delegate floor. We who were praying were just outside. All he had to do was take his voting device with him. He said he was feeling marginalized and wanted to stand with the fringes. As he came to stand with us he invited other delegates to do the same. I soon had a few delegates from the Philippines just in front of me.

On to the vote. It failed with the “no” side above 60%. That means there was a 20 point separation, considerably worse than the 4% separation from four years ago. This was a giant step backwards.

We again entered the floor and surrounded the central communion table as we sang. Some delegates joined us. Bread, wafers, and grape juice were produced and shared amidst the tears. After a while I recognized a friend right up against the table and went to her. Looking around I saw others looking determined, so asked my friend if the were occupying the communion table. She said, “It's my table too.” I stayed with her. We continued to sing.

The presiding bishop called a break. Afterward, the bishop restarted the session as many continued to sing. A presenter (one who talked about recognizing white privilege, essentially on our side) carried on gamely in spite of us. In that large space our singing was no match for the microphones. Even so, the bishop declared an early lunch. I stayed a few moments longer, but my legs were aching from several hours of standing and I left to go to the Tabernacle for lunch.

While there I heard the whole plenary hall was closed to visitors, then reopened. Several of the occupiers negotiated to the bishops and (apparently) agreed the rest of the sexuality issues would not be brought to the floor to avoid doing even more harm. Leaders also talked about the cost of arrest and that Tampa would not be a friendly place to be arrested.

I heard the Filipino delegation is so annoyed the incompatibility clause is still there they want to separate from the denomination, becoming only an associate church.

One quirk of the UMC is that the non-USA areas (Europe, Africa, the Philippines) may meet on their own and choose to decide that some provisions in the Book of Discipline (voted on by the global church) don't apply to them. At these area gatherings they can also enact provisions that apply only to them. However, all USA business is voted on by the global church and there is no way for provisions to be declared as not appropriate for American churches. Four years ago there was a petition to make USA an area like the others with USA only provisions. That failed. This time the committee that saw that provision didn't bother to act on it. That means Africa's homophobia sets USA policy and will continue to do so at least until 2016.

I hear later that all those packets I assembled yesterday were delivered during the lunch break.

At 1:45 some of us, including me, put “Crime Scene” tape near the entrances to the delegate floor (though carefully not blocking the entrances). When the session resumed at 2:00 the head bishop offered words of reconciliation and prayers. Only then did the occupiers leave the floor.

Not much of interest to me happened during the rest of the afternoon.

A bit more on yesterday. There was a petition to change the preamble of the Social Principles part of the Book of Discipline. I believe it was proposed to make other gay-related changes easier, though on its own said nothing about gays. The text read, “We stand united in declaring our faith that God's grace is available to all – that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” The second clause is lifted straight out of Romans, Chapter 8. The debate boggled the mind – some, many African, insisting that if you don't believe in God, God does not love you. This is a profound misinterpretation of the basic message of the Bible. Amazingly, the petition passed with only 56%. That prompted dark humor about “We are the 56%,” and signs outside buildings proclaiming “56% Grace United Methodist Church.”

We were told the bishops specifically invited us – the gay people – to the communion service this evening as a token of reconciliation. I even heard the delegate floor would be open to us and we would have communion with everyone else. But for me it wasn't what the bishops had in mind.

There was one song that was quite good. It was about continuing to serve until all are fed. I was able to get a copy for my own church. The sermon was also quite good, given by the bishop of the Dakotas. She used the scene of Jesus asking Peter to “Feed my sheep,” to say General Conference is important, but it doesn't actually feed any sheep and all the new programs GC comes up with doesn't change the lack of sheep feeding,

Then came communion. Leading up to that point I felt I had to enter the delegate floor and put my hand on the communion table again. The leader said communion would be served through “holy chaos” – we would serve each other. As they felt led some would pick up the buns and take them to others and start a conversation. A delegate did offer me a piece, but didn't start to talk. I touched the communion table and went back to near my seat and found everyone already in circles of conversation. The feeling of exclusion and the pain of the day bubbled out. At one point the bishop of Chicago saw me and offered more bread and talked with me, thanking me for being a part of the day's witness. I still felt alone.

We had a wrapup at the Tabernacle to discuss tomorrow's events. Instead of rejoicing in victory we are now fighting rear-guard action. The goal of tomorrow is to prevent more harm, to keep the hole from getting deeper. That includes transgender issues and minimum punishments for performing same-sex weddings. The deal with the bishops was that the sexuality issues would be put so far down the legislative calendar they wouldn't be acted on before the end of GC. We'll find out in the morning if the calendar committee honored that request. If not, our protests to slow down GC will resume. The other possibility is that our opponents will move that all items on the calendar not acted upon would be bundled together for a vote. It would pass. Our delegates will be watching for such a move and will try to circumvent it. Our opponents have tasted blood and are out for more. I came to GC to celebrate and found I'm being beat up.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

An agenda of hospitality

I was late to the morning training session about cross cultural relationships. I needed to catch up on sleep. A lot of the resistance African delegates have over inclusion of gays is because the way missionaries treated Africans in the 1950s. A big issue of the time was polygamy, a common practice in Africa. To become Christian a man had to choose a wife and divorce the rest. Families were ripped apart. The discarded wives and kids had no means of financial support and, because she was divorced, could not join the church. They haven't forgotten that. They believe we still don't properly respect them – not enough translators, not enough help getting into hotel rooms, not help to get food.

Many African delegates were told not to associate with the “bad” people in the Tabernacle. But it was the bad people who were the ones who were hospitable. The bad people made an emergency run to the airport at midnight and found four vanloads of stranded delegates. It was the bad people who fed them because they couldn't eat on the American flight to Tampa – onboard snacks require a credit card and Africans don't have those. It was the bad people who helped them to check into their hotels and teach then how to unlock their room doors.

We were taught about respect, and to watch for power imbalances. Hospitality might be just asking about their families. The biggest thing we can do be be hospitable.

A student from Sierra Leone spoke in favor of gay issues. He was told not to go home. We are helping him seek asylum. A delegate named Andy from Nigeria was considered to have been too greatly influenced by the West. His house was bombed and his uncle and several other people died. Fortunately, his wife and infant son are safe. Threats are real, so we must be careful not to put them in danger. Though I hear the rumor of threat posted yesterday may have been a plant by conservative American groups.

Today's agenda is hospitality.

The late morning plenary session was about the preamble to the social principles. We affirmed that nothing stands between us and God's love by only 57%. Some African delegates claimed God doesn't love those who don't believe in him. When those for this language quoted scripture a delegate said that we aren't talking about scripture, we're talking about the Book of Discipline. Someone got their priorities mixed up.

The lunch discussion was about the role of women.

Garlinda Burton, who is the head of COSROW, spoke on the the treatment of women. Some have claimed that things are done to women because it is a cultural issue. So was slavery in the United States. Culture isn't a reason to discriminate. Culture is fluid.

General Conference won't necessarily follow God (as they have shown concerning gays in the last 40 years). Her prayer is that God will roll right over that obstruction.

Through out the world there are so many men deciding women's issues. It is time women had a say.

Then came two speakers from the Philippines, both clergy.

80%-90% of church attendance in the Philippines are women and children. They are able to discuss lots of issues on gender. There are lots of women in leadership positions and 1/3 of clergy are women. They now include in pre-marital training discussions that women are equal partners in a marriage. Power is not power until it is used to empower others.

Since the first speaker ended with a reference to Exodus, the second started by saying we need an exodus from thinking that gender only refers to straight men and women. We must include LGBT. People will know you are my disciples not because of your doctrine, not because of who you are, but that you love others as Christ has loved you. It was so good to hear such rousing support from someone from the Philippines.

As part of the day of hospitality I served as a greeter at lunch. I simply said hello to everyone on their way to the food line in the Tabernacle. During the afternoon break in the plenary session I went over to the convention center and said hello to the delegates (and everyone else) on their way to the snack tables. African delegates were the ones most likely to stop for a moment to talk. One delegate said something about pictures so I offered to take his picture. He declined, saying he didn't have enough money. Huh? I asked our cross cultural trainer who said many Africans at tourists places make their money by charging to take pictures of people. Today I've been careful not to wear my backpack on my back because I have on my “Love Thy Neighbor” shirt that has a long list of people we should love on the back.

A poem posted behind the serving line in the Tabernacle:

All the colors of the rainbow
All the voices of the wind
Every dream that reaches out
Reaches out to find where love begins.
Every word of every story,
Every star in every sky
Every corner of creation
Lives to testify.

From the mountains to the valley
From the river to the sea
Every hand that reaches out
Reaches out to offer peace.
Every simple act of mercy
Ever step to Kingdom come
All the hope in every heart will
Speak what love has done!