The Guise of Family Values

What shall we write about this week? It is not like there isn’t a whole mess of topics to pick from.

There is the whole Karen Handel power grab under the guise of “family values”.

There was some idiot from the political right caught on camera saying that Rachel Maddow was the best excuse he could think for using contraception under the guise of family values.

There is One Million Moms.com (a project of the American Family Association) wanting Ellen DeGeneres fired from being a spokesperson for JC Penny’s, of course under the guise of family values.

Not to leave well enough alone they are also after Macy’s for selling wedding cake toppers of 2 men, again under the guise of family values.

I could write about the guy running for the presidency of the United States who has been married three times and divorced twice (lets all pray this third wife doesn’t get some sort of serious illness or it may be divorced 3 times) and claims to know more about family values then anyone on the planet.

I was tempted (although it was just a second) to write about the lunatic who has gone from being a Bishop to being crowned King recently, after leading a march through Atlanta under the guise of yup you guessed family values. Shall we talk about those 4 young men…never mind.

There is the “Love Won Out” conference coming to Atlanta next week and in the sheep’s clothing of “reparative therapy,” which will try to convince attendees that even if you can’t get rid of their “gay feelings” they can be suppressed, and family values of America will be safe. Really?

Last but not least I could have written about the young man in Atlanta who was set upon by 3 or 4 men twice his size and beat viciously in broad daylight because he might be gay! Maybe it is a stretch to say this was in the guise of family values, but all this family talk certainly lit the fuse that led to this behavior. One has to wonder where the family values were as while this beating was going on not one call was made to 911…just saying.

So which topic, Reverend? Well actually all of them. Sadly, they are all connected by the “Church” who has decided you and I are not smart enough, wholesome enough, spiritual enough, or sin free enough to to decide for ourselves how to live our lives in full relationship with God. Some factions of the “Church” are desperately trying to convince us that God has not spoken since the last period was translated into the King James Version of the Bible.

When I say the “Church,” I am referring to the extreme religious and political right who have come to the belief they have been chosen by God to save the United States of America. So to my friends of faith and clergy friends, if the “shoe doesn’t fit don’t wear it.”

It goes without saying the “Church” is so fearful of what the Bible really says about sex, family, marriage, community, life and death, that talking about it with any intellect or common sense brings screams of twisting scripture and “Gay Agenda”!

The ultimate power this “Church” claims threatens to cut us off from communion and send us to hell if we did not abide by the lease agreement of faith they gave to us and to sign in our own blood.

Of course, they have made so many people’s lives a “living hell” that we are not as fearful of going to hell as we once were. So, in a political move that would have made Richard Nixon blush, they have developed the “theology of family values”

I love my fellow activists in the community, but they too often forget all of the afore mentioned garbage started because the “Church” and its self-proclaimed leaders have over the years handed down creeds, dogma and rules that were all very narrowly defined as to what was acceptable to Almighty God when it came to matters of sex, our bodies, and love. Step outside those lines and we found ourselves condemned.

All this talk of separation of church and state is hog wash…and the “Church” is the biggest offender of it. They are now trying to force their particular beliefs and family values into the government where we will end up with a theocracy rather than a republic.

On June 25, 2012, my partner and I will have been together for 30 years. As far as we are concerned we are married. We did not need the church or the government for that matter to tell us it was or wasn’t a marriage.

In fact it would be nice if the government would recognize our 30 years and instead of giving us a gold watch, how about the 1,400 plus gifts of law that straight people get for getting married and divorce at the rate of 50% after 7 years?

As you might imagine there has been a lot of discussion in our house about our “marriage” and what it means. I wish I could give credit to whoever wrote what I am about to share, but I can’t find the author; I think we saw it on Facebook. However, it was too good not to share…

 

“True Meaning of Marriage”

“The true meaning of marriage is love. By love, I mean not just what we feel but what we do. Love as a feeling is very flimsy an up and down roller coaster. Love is an action! In order for it to become the ultimate force and for us to rediscover the true meaning of marriage, love has to be unconditional. You are not looking for acceptance or validation. You are giving of yourself to another not because of them, but because of your values. A death to ones self so that another may live and benefit from your sacrifice.

This is not an easy road to walk. But it is the most rewarding road however. An old Buddhist saying goes like this, ‘I want peace.’ If you take your ego (I) and your desires (want) out of the equation, i.e., the self, you will have only peace left. The true meaning of marriage is expressing love unconditionally to another. It is an unstoppable force that can endure anything. How do you find it? Within yourself. You have to draw strength from you. Neither seeking validation nor acceptance, just seeking the opportunity to show love.”

 

Gee, that has nothing to do with the gender of the people involved, but rather, our God given gifts of mind, heart and soul.

So to all those who buy into the political sound bite of family values as authored and structured by the religious and political right, I say this:

1) If you are opposed to “gay marriage,” marry someone of the opposite gender. If you stay out of my bedroom, we will stay out of yours. If you’re feeling really generous, consider giving up those 1,400 plus laws that benefit you, or failing that, at least share.

2) To those who think contraception is a sin, we gay folks can show you another couple of methods of birth control.

3) To those who think Ellen DeGeneres should not be a spokesperson for JC Penny, then don’t shop at JC Penny.

4) For those of you who have a problem with what Macy’s sells, shop elsewhere and let the free enterprise system work.

5) For those who want to speak about family values and you have been divorced multiply times and had numerous affairs…find something else to do or just shut up!

6) For those preachers who would proclaim the title of King, re-read the “red letters” of the New Testament and once again become a servant of God’s people.

7) To those who think the Bible is the inerrant and infallible word of God…it is not now nor has it ever been, get over it.

8) To those who are trying to sell Hell as a place…it is not a place but rather a state of being, enjoy your stay.

9) For those who think there is some magic prayer which will get you to heaven, there isn’t one…only feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked and visiting the sick and imprisoned will put one on a path to a greater and better place.

10) To those in the LGBTQIA community who feel beaten, batter and worn out…take the words of Ellen DeGeneres to heart; “Let my haters be my motivators.”

11) To those who think you can beat us, shame us, or kill us…we will hunt you down like the rabid dogs you are and send you to jail for the crimes you commit.

12) To those who don’t think the LGBTQIA community have any values…chew on Ellen’s statement for a moment or two:

“Here are the values that I stand for: honesty, equality, kindness, compassion, treating people the way you want to be treated and helping those in need.”

 

Finally, but not least, to those who think you have all the moral answers as to why the LGBTQIA community should not be treated equally: We are who we are and your approval isn’t needed.

Faith Priorities

I was digging around for something to write about for this week’s blog, and came across the blog I wrote for the last election cycle. I am not sure if I am happy to have found it.

We have indeed made history by electing the black person to the office of the President of the United States. This President has done more for the LGBTQIA community then the entire previous President’s combined, so yes I am happy about that, even excited.

While I am excited about these things, it really appears not much has changed in 3 years since it was written. So here is a re-tread with a few edits here and there to bring it up to date.

This election cycle is historic, and we are behaving like a people caught up in a moment of dramatic change. Things are being said and done that go beyond every day politics. The level of sexism, racism, homophobia, nationalism are at a boiling point, all because more change is coming regardless who wins this election.

I have been an un-apologetic activist for a long time. So when the religious and political right started hammering on the President from day one with quotes like, “I hope this President fails”, or “My job for the next 4 years is to ensure Obama does not get a 2nd term”. I knew the President’s desire to bring the county together was in serious trouble.

I also knew the distance between the far right and the middle was as far apart as I have ever seen in my life time. This is also true of the left. In a word “racism” is very much alive and well in our country today despite us patting ourselves on the back for making such great progress. Think I am wrong here?

How about a congressman shouting at the President during a speech to Congress “liar”?

How about commenting publically about the First Ladies posterior?

How about the absolute idiotic claims of the birthers?

How about descriptions of the First Lady as an “angry black woman”?

How about the claims the POTUS is a Muslim, as if that should matter.

How about referring to the POTUS as the “food-stamp” President? Yes, former President Jimmy Carter hit the nail square on the head when he said; there are a lot of “code” words being used in the political world.

Despite the great strides we have made in the LGBTQIA community, “homophobia” is alive and being practiced with great abandon by almost everyone right of center, either spiritually or politically. Think I am wrong here?

How about the Presidential Candidate who said a kid would be better off with a father who is in prison rather then 2 dads who are at home?

How about the Presidential Candidate who has indicated they would put “DADT” back in place?

How about the Presidential Candidate who is so concerned for “family values”, despite having had affair after affair while married and gets pissed off when it is mentioned?

So, as a Pastor I want to say something pastoral, something that will give comfort and peace to folks as they prepare to cast a ballot this fall that will once again has the potential to literally change the course of this country. I was stuck, how to say anything without getting caught in the rhetoric of the political parties, how to teach without exposing my own personal thoughts, preferences and leanings toward one candidate or another?

How does one not vomit over the ignorance, rhetoric and posturing that is so brazenly dressed in theological and patriotic drag?

Then I got into the blog from “08” and see this from Sojourners magazine. This is a weekly e-mail of spirituality, politics and culture. Jim Wallis, who is the editor and is the author of a book called “The Great Awakening”, is very keyed in on the pastoral response to this election.

I have to tell you he put on the screen what I wanted to say but apparently am not gifted enough to come up with on my own. Yet, this is what I hope each of the readers would let sink in during this time in America. So here with his permission is the re-post of pastoral advice he has offered. Not that it matters to him, but I give a loud and excited amen to his article and pastoral words.

Read closely and prayerfully and when you are done come November if you do nothing else that day VOTE. In the mean time do not let yourself be turned back.

 

My Personal ‘Faith Priorities’ for this Election

In 2004, several conservative Catholic bishops and a few mega church pastors like Rick Warren issued their list of “non-negotiable,” which were intended to be a voter guide for their followers. All of them were relatively the same list of issues: abortion, gay marriage, stem cell research, etc. None of them even included the word “poverty,” only one example of the missing issues which are found quite clearly in the Bible. All of them were also relatively the same as official Republican Party Web sites of “non-negotiable.” The political connections and commitments of the religious non-negotiable writers were quite clear.

I want to suggest a different approach this year and share my personal list of “faith priorities” that will guide me in making the imperfect choices that always confront us in any election year — and suggest that each of you come up with your own list of “faith” or “moral” priorities for this election year and take them into the voting booth with you.

After the last election, I wrote a book titled God’s Politics. I was criticized by some for presuming to speak for God, but that wasn’t the point. I was trying to explore what issues might be closest to the heart of God and how they may be quite different from what many strident religious voices were then saying. I was also saying that “God’s Politics” will often turn our partisan politics upside down, transcend our ideological categories of Left and Right, and challenge the core values and priorities of our political culture. I was also trying to say that there is certainly no easy jump from God’s politics to either the Republicans or Democrats. God is neither. In any election we face imperfect choices, but our choices should reflect the things we believe God cares about if we are people of faith, and our own moral sensibilities if we are not people of faith. Therefore, people of faith, and all of us, should be “values voters” but vote all our values, not just a few that can be easily manipulated for the benefit of one party or another.

In 2008, the kingdom of God is not on the ballot in any of the 50 states as far as I can see. So we can’t vote for that this year. But there are important choices in this year’s election — very important choices — which will dramatically impact what many in the religious community and outside of it call “the common good,” and the outcome could be very important, perhaps even more so than in many recent electoral contests.

I am in no position to tell anyone what is “non-negotiable,” and neither is any bishop or mega church pastor, but let me tell you the “faith priorities” and values I will be voting on this year:

1. With more than 2,000 verses in the Bible about how we treat the poor and oppressed, I will examine the record, plans, policies, and promises made by the candidates on what they will do to overcome the scandal of extreme global poverty and the shame of such unnecessary domestic poverty in the richest nation in the world. Such a central theme of the Bible simply cannot be ignored at election time, as too many Christians have done for years. And any solution to the economic crisis that simply bails out the rich, and even the middle class, but ignores those at the bottom should simply be unacceptable to people of faith.

2. From the biblical prophets to Jesus, there is, at least, a biblical presumption against war and the hope of beating our swords into instruments of peace. So I will choose the candidates who will be least likely to lead us into more disastrous wars and find better ways to resolve the inevitable conflicts in the world and make us all safer. I will choose the candidates who seem to best understand that our security depends upon other people’s security (everyone having “their own vine and fig tree, so no one can make them afraid,” as the prophets say) more than upon how high we can build walls or a stockpile of weapons. Christians should never expect a pacifist president, but we can insist on one who views military force only as a very last resort, when all other diplomatic and economic measures have failed, and never as a preferred or habitual response to conflict.

3. “Choosing life” is a constant biblical theme, so I will choose candidates who have the most consistent ethic of life, addressing all the threats to human life and dignity that we face — not just one. Thirty-thousand children dying globally each day of preventable hunger and disease is a life issue. The genocide in Darfur is a life issue. Health care is a life issue. War is a life issue. The death penalty is a life issue. And on abortion, I will choose candidates who have the best chance to pursue the practical and proven policies which could dramatically reduce the number of abortions in America and therefore save precious unborn lives, rather than those who simply repeat the polarized legal debates and “pro-choice” and “pro-life” mantras from either side.

4. God’s fragile creation is clearly under assault and I will choose the candidates who will likely be most faithful in our care of the environment. In particular, I will choose the candidates who will most clearly take on the growing threat of climate change, and who have the strongest commitment to the conversion of our economy and way of life to a cleaner, safer, and more renewable energy future. And that choice could accomplish other key moral priorities like the redemption of a dangerous foreign policy built on Middle East oil dependence, and the great prospects of job creation and economic renewal from a new “green” economy built on more spiritual values of conservation, stewardship, sustainability, respect, responsibility, co-dependence, modesty, and even humility.

5. Every human being is made in the image of God, so I will choose the candidates who are most likely to protect human rights and human dignity. Sexual and economic slavery is on the rise around the world, and an end to human trafficking must become a top priority. As many religious leaders have now said, torture is completely morally unacceptable, under any circumstances, and I will choose the candidates who are most committed to reversing American policy on the treatment of prisoners. And I will choose the candidates who understand that the immigration system is totally broken and needs comprehensive reform, but must be changed in ways that are compassionate, fair, just, and consistent with the biblical command to “welcome the stranger.”

6. Healthy families are the foundation of our community life and nothing is more important than how we are raising up the next generation. As the father of two young boys, I am deeply concerned about the values our leaders model in the midst of the cultural degeneracy assaulting our children. Which candidates will best exemplify and articulate strong family values, using the White House and other offices as bully pulpits to speak of sexual restraint and integrity, marital fidelity, strong parenting, and putting family values over economic values? And I will choose the candidates who promise to really deal with the enormous economic and cultural pressures that have made parenting such a “countercultural activity” in America today, rather than those who merely scapegoat gay people for the serious problems of heterosexual family breakdown.

That is my list of personal “faith priorities” for the election year of 2008 (2012), but they are not “non-negotiable” for anyone else. It’s time for each of us to make up our own list in these next few months. Make your list and send this on to your friends and family members, inviting them to do the same thing.

 

For me, I would only add a number 7, which is to say I will look for leadership that understands LGBTQIA not as moral alphabet soup from which political hay can be made. But rather, LGBTQIA are Americans who desire to live in a country where the words,

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all … are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”

The Desperate House of Cards Known as “Love Won Out”

Let me start by saying there is no one who is running for the Presidency of the United States on the Republican side of the aisle that is going to be helpful to the LGBTQIA community. In fact, the vast majority of them if they get their way are flat dangerous to our community. We will find all if not most of the progress we have made over that last 30 years washed away in an over whelming wave of fundamental conservatism such as we have never seen.

If one listens closely to their rhetoric, we hear that all that is wrong with the world, ethically, economically, and spiritually, can be traced back to the LGBTQIA community. God, almighty is raging God’s wrath upon the earth because of our desire to have life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.

They will never admit the problems we face as a nation are due to greed, arrogance, hypocrisy, and the desire for absolute power. Nope-it is too easy to blame us.

Nor will they ever admit homophobia is a sure moneymaker. As long as they preach their fear of the LGBTQIA community, the donations roll in. The politicians use us as a wedge issue while the Christian churches have conferences designed to put God and us in a box. I will say again both groups use each other with one common goal, our destruction.

As long as the “Christian Church” allows the lies about us to continue and even teaches them, then we will continue to die, get killed, lose our best health care, our mental health, our jobs, our kids, our right to visitation, and our property. We will continue to be thought of as “not God’s best”. That last phrase is where the most powerful lie of the church gets its power; “love the sinner and hate the sin.” Damn it folks our love is NOT a sin.

Can we not see this is all connected? Have we not seen that when we as a community continue to support these fools with our presences, our money, our votes and our membership in their organizations and churches, we are only hurting ourselves?

Next month on February 18th here comes the biggest Christian liar in the country, Exodus International. They will arrive in Atlanta to do another one of their “Love Won Out” conferences. Under the guise of love they will tell anyone who will listen how they can help a person who is unhappy and struggling with their homosexuality.

First, if it wasn’t for people like them and their equine fecal matter, most LGBTQIA folks would not be struggling and unhappy. This group flat knows people’s sexual orientation cannot be changed. The great tool they use is something called “reparative therapy”

In order for reparative therapy to work, one must assume that “homosexuality” is a disorder of some kind or a personality defect to be corrected. These assumptions are:

1. We are called to love gay and lesbian people “struggling with sexual orientation”

2. homosexual orientation is chosen or is the result of bad childhood experiences; and

3. people cannot condone this “sinful” behavior that was chosen by their loved ones, and therefore “cannot accept their gay, lesbian and bisexual family members”.

These 3 points are countered by:

1. Sexual orientation is not a disease. In 1973. The American Psychiatric Association removed the term “homosexuality” from the list of mental and emotional disorders. Therefore, it does not need to be cured.

2. “Reparative therapy” doesn’t work. In 1990, the American Psychological Association stated that scientific evidence does not show that conversion therapy works and that it can do more harm than good.

3. “Reparative therapy” is dangerous. In 1998, the American Psychiatric Association stated it was opposed to reparative therapy, stating, “Psychiatric literature strongly demonstrates that treatment attempts to change sexual orientation are ineffective. However, the potential risks are great, including depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior…”

4. According to the American Medical Association, “most of the emotional disturbance experienced by gay men and lesbians around their sexual identity is not based on physiological causes but rather is due more to a sense of alienation in an un-accepting environment. For this reason, aversion therapy is no longer recommended for gay men and lesbians.”

5. The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Promote Sexual Health and Responsible Sexual Behavior (2001) asserts that homosexuality is not “a reversible lifestyle choice.” (Information supplied from: “Reparative” Therapy or “Ex-Gay” Ministries page of P-Flag website: http://www.pflag.org/education/reparative.html)

I would like to note for the record that “struggling with sexual orientation” is a key card in the “house of cards therapy”. To this I will offer this. I am 56-year-old gay man who has been with my partner for 30 years. I also am the Pastor of an inner-city Christian Church, own a home, pay my taxes, contribute to the national economy, vote in every election, and live a full, loving, and exciting life. What struggles I have had are from fighting to have the same rights and privileges of those so-called heterosexuals who think my love is a sin.

It should also be noted this whole idea of “reparative therapy” or conversion therapy is a religious question trapped inside a psychological costume. Since the religious right no longer has a strong theological argument for condemning homosexuality…they have turned to the secular world to help them.

Even Exodus International leader Alan Chambers has been quoted as saying, “The majority of people that I have met, and I would say the majority meaning 99.9 percent of them, have not experienced a change in their orientation or have gotten to a place where they could say that they could never be tempted or are not tempted in some way or experience some level of same-sex attraction.”

“Reparative Therapy” is based upon several religious lies or more correctly “Christian” lies. Examples:

A LIE:
The Book of Leviticus expressly forbids homosexual sex.

THE TRUTH:
The purity laws of the ancient priesthood are a code of ethics rooted in a time and culture that is far removed from today’s world. Among other things, it forbids shaving, wearing clothing made of two different materials, eating rare meat, and many other things. The edict against homosexual sex is part of this code, no more or no less important than the verse that forbids harvesting an entire field of grain or piercing an ear. It is important only as a historical document, not as a set of rules to follow in this time.

A LIE:
Sodom was destroyed for the sin of homosexuality.

THE TRUTH
Sodom and homosexuality were not connected until the Middle Ages. In Biblical days it was acknowledged that Sodom was destroyed for greed and inhospitality. While some believe that it was probable that the men of Sodom were bent on raping Lot’s visitors, this was an act of violence, not an indication of the sexual preference of the male population of the city. There are many references of Sodom in the Bible (Ezekiel 16:49; Mark 6:11; 2 Peter 2:6-8, among others) but none of them mention homosexuality.

A LIE:
There are scriptures affirming the Biblical condemnation of homosexual sex.

THE TRUTH
Many of the references to eunuchs in the Bible refer to homosexual men, not necessarily to castrated males. Jesus himself said: “For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:12). The book of Isaiah holds one of the greatest promises to us. “To the eunuchs that keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.” (Isaiah 56: 4-5.)

The Bible is a collection of sacred writings that come from different time periods and are written by different authors trying to explain from their point of view who God is and how we as humans relate to and journey with God. The views of each of these authors are as varied as the authors themselves.

One must always remember that the Bible is a history and guide to a faith. The Bible is not the end- all and be-all on any subject of faith. It may be divinely inspired but hardly divinely written.

One’s psychological sanity and safety should never be set aside for the sake of a particular religious belief, particularly when there is on going evidence for one’s sexual orientation being formed at an early age and having far more to do with genetics then religion. The “religious right” and Exodus International have spent so much time trying to eliminate the LGBTQIA community; they have missed the vast majority of people in the community who lead wonderfully wholesome lives.

If today’s post seems especially cranky, I apologize. However, I am very tired of having to justify my love for my partner. I am in agony over watching people in my community spiritually beaten into submission because of the church’s lack of courage and its sexual insecurities. I hope on the 18th of February there will be many who will express the same thing.

Ten Reasons to Own Your Faith

Since it is the end of the year and everybody seems to be doing a list. I thought I would jump in with one of my own. Please understand, I am writing this from my point of view as a follower of Jesus. If that is not the path you follow I pray after you have finished reading some of the arrogant sting of the so-called Christian faith will have been removed. The Creator of this universe is far bigger then any self described human made faith or set of beliefs.

Now it has been said my writing style is not the warm comforting and cuddly stuff but rather more “in your face,” “take it or leave it style.” This list will be no different.

For far too long the institutional church has taken the position they own the faith and simply rent it to us. They give us traditions, pronouncements, laws and creeds and if we do not live by them since we are nothing more then renters we get evicted, or as the Roman Catholic Church has done for centuries ex-communicated.

A quick read of Matthew 23 makes my point about the institutional church pretty clearly. To my brothers and sisters in the clergy all I can say here is if the shoe fits…

It is pretty apparent Jesus knew and said the everyday people were being sold a bill of goods. They were being forced to rent their faith.

So without further delay, here are the 10 reasons to own your faith rather then rent it.

10) There is no “Hell” to be sent to.

The institutional church has used this bogus concept for centuries to keep our fear button pushed in all the way. Hell by translation and definition is a “state of being” not a place. Further, it is a state one places themselves in through their own action. By definition “hell” is the total absence of God. God’s biggest desire is to be in relationship with that which God created. It stands to reason, then, that God never wants to be totally absent to us. Why else would Jesus warn of that “blasphemy of the holy spirit” was only unforgivable sin? The only way that could be accomplished is if one was totally absent of God to begin with. That absence would be our choice, our action, not God’s. Own the fact that when we die we will be with God. Further, all the biblical discussion around hell is simply drawing a picture of what it must feel like to be totally absent of God not a place to be found on a map or geological survey.

9) Forgiveness is the only way to experience total freedom

The only way to stay in a relationship with God is to forgive as God forgives us. To be in relationship with God is to be in relationship with those whom God created. It is only through setting aside our anger, our hurt feelings, and our indignity that we find our happiness, peace and our dignity.

Remember the first words of Jesus from the cross were, “Father, forgive them.” If he does not do that then there isn’t any resurrection, dead is dead. If we do not find a way to forgive there is only death and destruction to follow. Own your life, don’t rent it and lose it.

8) God is a lot more creative than God gets credit for

I remember a great piece of theology from one of the original Star Trek shows, where aliens explain to Captain Kirk why they appeared as humans rather then their natural state. They said, “We appeared to you humans as you would understand us.”

It certainly explains why there are so many different faiths, races and cultures. Everyone and everything is at a different place of understanding and learning and God meets us wherever that place or understanding is. Own the fact that God is greater then the limitations we place on ourselves by renting our faith.

7) Our relationship with God is far more important then any sin we commit

I think the best example of this being true is in the story of the “Prodigal son” from Luke 15:11-32. Jesus tells this story to give us an idea of what God and heaven are like. There are three very important points here: 1) the son desired to be in relationship. 2) “When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him.” 3) “But the father wasn’t listening” Get it? When we desire to be in relationship with God, God runs to us, finds us embraces us, our shortcomings (sin) don’t matter. Own your relationship with God, don’t rent from sin.

6) The Bible is not the infallible, inerrant word of God.

 

“The Bible has been used for centuries by Christians as a weapon of control. To read it literally is to believe in a three-tiered universe, to condone slavery, to treat women as inferior creatures, to believe that sickness is caused by God’s punishment, and that mental disease and epilepsy are caused by demonic possession. When someone tells me that they believe the Bible is the ‘literal and inerrant word of God,’ I always ask, ‘Have you ever read it’?”

Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong.

The Bible contains an understanding of the will of God, but parts of the Bible do not reflect God’s will. Every injunction, instruction, prohibition, etc. in the Bible needs to be analyzed carefully to determine whether it was directed to a specific culture at a specific time and place, or should be applied to all cultures and all eras.

Further, the Bible was written by individuals to promote their own evolving spiritual beliefs. Many of the authors were severely limited by culture and their lack of scientific knowledge. I believe that it is important to recognize that many biblical passages contain factual errors and that many do not reflect accurately or consistently the will of God. Of course, in order for one to know this or conclude this, one has to do the hard work of studying the Bible for oneself. Own your Bible, don’t rent it from the church. In addition, this means one needs to read a variety of scholarship on this collection of sacred text as well. This can be a difficult challenge since many people are like lightning and take the path of least resistance.

5) God is all about inclusion not exclusion

We only need to look as far as the life and ministry of Jesus to see that everyone is invited, some may choose not to come but everyone is invited. There are some who would say Jesus was exclusionary and cite the story of the rich man. However, over the years, the story has gotten twisted into meaning that wealth is bad. In reality it was about the heart. Where was this man’s heart in relationship with God or his riches? God, or Jesus, didn’t exclude him – he excluded himself. This is what makes owning one’s faith a difficult task, it requires we take responsibility for our choices.

4) No one can be denied a place at the Lord’s table

This has been a major point of power and control the institutional church since it has assumed the power to say who is in and who is out. Jesus said “as often as you do this, do this in remembrance of me.” There are no strings attached to this, no dogma, no creed, no formula for belief, no magic words. Just a simple act of memorial designed to remind us what we have been taught by Jesus. When one owns their faith they can never be denied a place at the table. It is only when we rent our faith we get tuned away.

3) God is a “Chess Master” not a “Puppet Master”

Over the years Fundamentalism has turned God into the ultimate magician. God will fix that, do this, heal this or that. This alone has set up the war between faith and science. God created us with a mind and the ability to think. As we learn and grow we can, and will, do more things that seem astounding. Jesus is quoted at one point saying, “These things I have done you will do and even greater things.” Yup, that will happen when we use our God-given brains to think.

God is not a puppet master. If anything, God may be a chess master. This game of chess is a little different. God is not interested in taking our King, because God has already given us God’s. So it is all about the moves that are made in the game (life). We make a move; God makes a move in response. This is the way we prepare for our next spiritual step. It is called growth. Growth does not come without experience, choice and the consequences of those choices. Owning one’s faith lets us take responsibility for our actions without playing the blame game or having a puppet master.

2) “Do not commit murder” applies to the courts, the state, the feds and most assuredly all people.

Jesus could not have been clearer when he is recorded as saying, “Let the first one without sin cast the first stone.” Sin is recognized as any thought, word or deed that separates you from God. Well who has not done that? There is no twisting this folks; we are not supposed to be in the business of killing folks. We can give all the excuses we want, however it is pretty clear renters of the faith can justify killing, owners of the faith cannot. Couple this teaching with the whole concept of forgiveness and my point is made.

1) Ultimately we will be measured by who we feed, dress, give drink to and/or visit, not by some “sinners prayer.”

I am amazed at the smoke and mirrors the institutional church has used over the years. They have come up with all kinds of rules to be obeyed, directives to be followed and even prayers to be said to get into heaven. This completely ignores what the man they claim to follow said about the subject. Read Matthew 25:31-46 for yourself, but suffice it to say when one owns their faith this will be the focus of their life rather then a whole host of things which grab us now.

So as we move into 2012 how can you (we) have a much better year despite the challenges? Tearing up the rental agreement we have with our faith and taking ownership of it would be a good place to start. Count with me now 10, 9, 8…

“Wag the Dog” of Christmas

Well, we are nine days away from what Christians have come to call Christmas. I find it hard to understand and almost laughable at how twisted and screwed up this “church” celebration of it’s founder has become.

I want to share this obvious observation: Even if there were some remote chance I could become pope…they would never let me. The reason is simple and it is not because of my progressive views of Christian theology, or the fact that I am unapologetically gay or even the fact that I do not believe the bible is the inerrant word of God.

Nope, it is because I believe December 25th is one of the biggest scams ever pulled on humanity.

Those who are pastors know that what I am suggesting is very true. Y’all went to seminary and know that saying Jesus was born on December 25th is like saying there is a real living breathing Santa Claus. Of course this is but one of many transparent lies and traditions that are based on fiction rather then fact.

We have kind of a “Wag the Dog” scenario. You remember the movie: The story of a US President running for office and before elections, a spin-doctor and a Hollywood producer join efforts to “fabricate” a war in order to cover-up a presidential sex scandal.

I think the first time I heard this Christmas script of a “war on Christmas” was from Bill O’Reilly. What has now become the ultimate fundraiser of those on the “Christian and political right”: “The War on Christmas” is fought for the entire 12 weeks leading to December 25th. Do you say “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas”? Legal fights jam our courts over these phrases or worse when a nativity scene gets set up. Conservative Christian websites fire up the war by warning their readers and members that “Christmas is about to be stolen from them so send us money to protect you!”

However if you really think about it, this so-called “War on Christmas” is simply a ridiculous marketing idea that fits our arrogance, selfishness and greed to a “t”. Read me clearly here: the conservatives, fundamentalists, liberals and progressives have all bought into a huge marketing adventure of “wag the dog”.

For the Christmas season, which begins long before the 1st Sunday in Advent, actually right after Halloween, we are subjected to twelve weeks of Christmas messages that have little to do with or about our Christian faith. In fact, most of the preparations and so-called traditions have been borrowed or should I say stolen from pagan practices! Although many marketing people cleverly package their presentations in the form of a cute little baby in a cute well-manicured and warm manger scene.

People begin making plans for family gatherings and the perfect gift to make the perfect statement of love or impression. This is all destroyed when Johnny announces he is bringing Tom home for Christmas or Susie tells the family she will be spending this holiday with Tammy and her family.

Money, jobs, friends, illness, those dying, families, the homeless, starving children, criminals of all kinds and political games all become the all consuming thing that will happen in that particular year or in a lifetime coming up to December 25th.

Starting with Thanksgiving and through Christmas day every story has a Christmas slant meant to make one feel guilty, or believe it is possible for one day if enough money is spent, to be a day of perfect perfection.

Almost every retail business, in America anyway, is geared to this time as making or breaking them for the entire year.

Legislation, which is vital to so many people’s lives, is either held hostage or used as extortion leading to December 25th.

Also, starting with Thanksgiving our food consumption just simple goes off the charts, eating far too much of everything and especially the wrong things. Alcohol consumption also goes off the charts but hey, you got to drink something with all that food.

The normal everyday challenges of life become a crisis of faith because “tis the season”.

People’s social and pageant schedules become so jammed there is no time to take a breath or enjoy a quiet moment of peace and wonderment at God’s creativity in this world in which we live.

We are pushed to acts of kindness because it is the Christmas season, rather than it is the right and just thing to do.

I could go on and on but you get the point.

Now for those who have at this point decided I am some sort of Scrooge or Grinch that stole Christmas, be patient and give me a few more sentences.

When I was young my Grandfather told me the reason one should not lie is because once you tell a lie, you have to tell another lie to cover the first and another to cover the 2nd and pretty soon you are just having to lie all the time because you have lost track of the truth and you can’t remember what you said and to whom.

We have been told and believe so many lies concerning Christmas that we have almost completely lost why this particular birthday is important, why we celebrate a life which in thirty-three years (a couple years more or less) had such an impact as to change the very course of human events.

In all the perfection we strive for in the holiday season, we forget this birth was anything but neat, clean and glamorous. We forget or by cheesy tradition, explain away that this child was conceived out of wedlock, borne in abject poverty and grew up in a world that was most certainly as dangerous to human life as it is today. We forget or don’t talk about how the gossips of the day must have had a field day both inside the temple and outside.

We jump past the truth of this story which tells us that no matter how bad things are or get God can raise us up out of the ashes of despair to a place with the Creator.

We forget this is a birth that gave us a moral compass for living a life that would be pleasing to the God who created us because it leads to a life of doing justice, acting mercifully and walking humbly with God.

When we first bought the lie of December 25th, it became easier to buy the other lies. In fact the Christian and political right’s fear of Christmas being stolen while a lie itself was a self-fulfilling prophecy. For you see, I don’t think we have to worry about Christmas being stolen…it already has been stolen and replaced with the craziness that we call the “Holiday Season”.

It is the fact that Jesus of Nazareth was born that we celebrate. The truth of the date is somewhere between April and August depending on whose math you believed. About the only thing certain about the date is it was not the 25th of December. The story of the circumstances of his conception and birth give us real hope that it gets better. Jesus’ life and work gives us a working model and road map for our life. His life is indeed one we can look up to and not be disappointed in what we see. His arrest, faulty conviction and the administration of capital punishment followed by a resurrection give those us who call ourselves followers of “The Christ”, the assurance that nothing in this world including death of the physical body can keep us from God.

Maybe the date we celebrate the birth in the wider view is not as important as getting back to why we remember this birth like no other birth in history.

So it is with the spirit of being authentic in our celebration I ask us to consider how our “Christmas” celebration this year will measure up to the words attributed to the one we celebrate, we remember, we strive to be like:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.

Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Creator in heaven. Matthew 5:3-16 (New International Version, ©2010)

It seems to me that December 25th is as good as any day to get back to the authentic reason for giving honor to the birth of the one called Jesus. So to those who have bought into the “Wag the Dog” scenario of Christmas, how about we just get back to basics and let people enjoy the season in peace?

AIDS: Still Kills, Maims and Destroys

My coming out days were lived out in Chicago, Illinois (1965-1982). I also came out prior to HIV/AIDS being part of our everyday lives.

During my time in Chicago, the gay community was party central but also a close-knit community. Over the years I developed close friendships with a group of people that at its peak numbered fifteen.

We all hung out together, spent time at the clubs together and I guess by today’s standards could have had a reality TV show made about us.

We compared notes on our boyfriends, went to parties, gossiped about straight people, got jobs, participated in the community and marched for our rights. We were always there for one another no matter what the circumstance.

I didn’t think about it at the time but now I know we had something special-we had a group of people who had become VERY close friends and became a support system to one another that I don’t suppose will ever be repeated.

Starting in 1981 through 1982 the group started to drift apart. Some got jobs that took them out of Chicago and into other parts of the state, some got involved in long term relationships and moved to the suburbs, others found themselves struggling to find the love of their life or way through life as a gay man and; lacking direction or support turned to heavy amounts of alcohol and drugs.

In June of 1982, needing a fresh start I moved to Cincinnati where, within a month of arriving I would meet the man I am still with today. The choice to move probably saved my life.

For you see, the crushing and deadly wave that we would come to know as AIDS arrived in Chicago in the latter part of 1982. By the time my partner and I had been together for twelve years, my best friend and I were the only ones still alive from that group of fifteen. None of them had reached the age of forty.

Today, as I write this at the age of fifty-six and in the thirtieth year of marriage (Yes, despite what the world says I am married), I am the only one left who is alive and HIV negative. My best friend died at the age of forty-seven after getting the disease because of cheating and an abusive boyfriend.

I was no angel in those days and I guess every year at this time when I think of my friends who died much too soon I get a case of survivor’s guilt.

I have also been ordained since 1986, so I have twenty-five plus years of pastoral ministry. In those years I have probably done funerals for more people under the age of fifty than most pastors do in an entire career.

What is really heart breaking is that HIV/AIDS is not done yet, despite media spin “that this is now a manageable disease”. That is a lie and severe distortion of the truth. AIDS still kills at an alarming rate and the rate of infection is on the rise.

According to UNAIDS (2010) ‘UNAIDS report on the global AIDS epidemic’ “Since the beginning of the epidemic, nearly 30 million people have died from AIDS-related causes.”

Every month I still counsel people who are newly infected. Every month I am there with someone who has died or in support of a partner, family and friends who have lost someone. Our congregation has a number of people who have tested positive and are at various stages of health challenges.

A friend in Atlanta is HIV positive and while he is healthy and living a productive life…the meds that he has to take are anything but pleasant. The side effects require he not get too much sun, eat the correct foods and not get too stressed, as the reaction is more then a pain in the ass, it is debilitating.

So, I guess I am writing this today to remind folks that the AIDS pandemic is not over. Not by a long shot. We cannot afford to get comfortable. We cannot afford to not continue to educate, stress prevention, and harm reduction (translation, safe sex and needle exchanging).

We must remember God’s people are dying…

I am asking the readers of this blog to get involved in harm reduction, to recognize this pandemic knows no boundaries.

Mark Harrington of Treatment Action Group has offered these Sixteen Radical Steps to End the AIDS Epidemic.

I offer some of the more important steps to the readers as a point of education, meditation and action:

We must strive to continue to lower the numbers newly infected. There are several ways we could dramatically reduce infections rapidly if we are willing to take some radical steps around the world.

1) Universal treatment for women equals universal prevention for infants

We must ensure that every pregnant HIV-positive woman has access to full antiretroviral therapy (ART) from the time her pregnancy is known to when she completes breastfeeding, and then for life if indicated by her CD4 and health status. And we must ensure that every HIV infected baby is diagnosed at birth and treated for life.

2) End gender-based violence and strengthen the legal and health rights of women and sexual minorities

We must demand and achieve equal status for women, gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people and end the violence against them everywhere.

3) End the war against sex workers

We must insist on decoupling efforts to stop human trafficking from the current stigmatization and exclusion of sex workers from their full human, health, and economic rights to live and work in dignity, legally and safely.

4) End the war against drug users

We must end the punitive, expensive, and wasteful global war on drug users. We must work in countries around the world to decriminalize possession of drugs; provide universal access to drug substitution therapy, clean syringe exchange, and safe injecting rooms and equipment; and provide services for people reentering society after being unjustly incarcerated for nonviolent drug use.

5) End health disparities everywhere

HIV rates among black Americans are eight times higher than those of white Americans; 600,000 black Americans are living with HIV and 30,000 new infections occur among them each year. The epidemic among black Americans is the same size as that in Côte d’Ivoire, and bigger than that of seven priority PEPFAR countries put together.

The U.S. government and its people are obliged to address this epidemic with the same urgency with which they are now addressing the global pandemic.

The United States must develop and implement a national AIDS strategy with specific targets, timelines, and the goal of reversing the epidemic, with special attention and resources targeted toward black Americans, Latino/Latina Americans, women, and men who have sex with men.

6) Scale up HIV testing and improve HIV epidemiology

We must massively scale up HIV testing globally. New York City has belatedly introduced a policy to test — voluntarily and with opt-out — any resident of the Bronx who presents to the health system. If HIV testing can be massively scaled up in Lesotho, it certainly can and should be massively scaled up in New York City, still the epicenter of the U.S. epidemic.

We must have access to much better, more accurate, and timelier information about where the epidemic is and where it is moving to. Recent revisions downward by UNAIDS on the global pandemic and upward by the CDC on the U.S. epidemic have left the impression that we are still far from having a clear enough picture of the size, scope, distribution, and movement of the epidemic in its 28th year.

7) Prevent, diagnose, treat, and cure TB

Everyone has a responsibility to do a much better job of reducing the impact of TB among people with HIV. HIV clinics around the world must implement infection control procedures, intensified TB case finding, and earlier TB diagnosis and treatment so that no one contracts TB while accessing HIV care.

Routine screening for TB at every clinic visit should also allow healthy HIV-positive persons in pre-ART care to receive cotrimoxazole and isoniazid preventive therapies, which despite overwhelming evidence of efficacy are not routinely used in most sites due to overblown fears about resistance, toxicity, and adherence.

8) Diagnose, prevent, and treat viral hepatitis and common opportunistic infections

We should strive to obtain serology and, when possible, treatment for hepatitis B and hepatitis C infections among HIV coinfected persons. Because of the overlapping activity of certain ARV drugs, we are already treating many people who are coinfected with HBV and HIV without knowing their HBV status. As HBV and HCV treatments mature and oral combination therapy becomes possible, we must be ready to scale up hepatitis treatment globally.

Better opportunistic infection prophylaxis and treatment are also needed. Key drugs must be added to the essential medicines formulary and their prices brought down: amphotericin-B for cryptococcosis, azithromycin for MAC and a host of other infections, rifabutin for tuberculosis, and valganciclovir for CMV retinitis.

9) Develop better first-, second-, and third-line antiretroviral (ARV) regimens

We still need cheaper, safer, and more durable first- and second-line ART regimens to guarantee the longest possible duration of viral suppression free of side effects. Though the ART treatment space is maturing, there is still room for better combinations with greater durability, less toxicity, higher barriers to resistance, and cheaper manufacturing costs.

10) Intensify investment in biomedical research, including AIDS research

The last five years have seen stagnation in U.S. investment in research at the National Institutes of Health. The AIDS research budget, nominally $2.9 billion, has lost about 20% of its purchasing power due to inflation during this time. We must demand that the next U.S. president and Congress increase support for all NIH research — including AIDS research — by 15% in each of the next five years.

Other rich countries in the European Union and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development must double or triple the amount they invest in biomedical research, including research for AIDS, TB, viral hepatitis, and other diseases. Emerging and developing countries need to increase investment in biomedical research five- to tenfold to help address persistent gaps in health research.

11) Show solidarity with activists, health workers, policy makers, and scientists working on global health issues

We cannot afford a divisive debate that pits advocates for different diseases against each other.

12) We need greater unity

We must become more united if we are to become an even more powerful force for global public health, human rights, and social justice, with our goal of universal access evolving into comprehensive and universal primary care for all. To those who say it cannot be done we must reply, “¡Si se puede! Yes, we can!”

So today I remember, honor and place in memorial all those who have died.

Today, I pray and proclaim the hope and healing for all those who live and are affected by this virus. For you, I will not be silent. I will speak out persistently, loudly and with a clear voice for justice.

Today, I once again say to my friends who have been received in the loving arms of God:

Timothy, Gerald, Brandon, Billy the nerd, William, Paddy, Tyrone, Tom, Chuck, Thomas, Sammy, Joey, Philip and John…I love you. You did not die in vain and I will never forget you.

Here We Are Again

Sunday is a day of mourning. It is not a day that is on the national calendar. In fact, with the exception of a small percentage of people in this country, this day of mourning will pass completely unnoticed.

If these words I write look familiar, they are because nothing has changed since I last wrote them, except some people are more aware.

Again this year those who take a moment and remember on this day will find themselves swinging between tears of grief and deep waves of anger not to mention a certain amount of fear of further attacks.

The devastating images of those viciously killed in 2011 for simply trying to be themselves is something we should remember, something that should burn in our souls.

The people we mourn for this day are a part of the community most would just as soon not deal with. Oh we go to watch the drag shows and tell our jokes and we have added a “T” to the GLB_Q but still don’t take seriously enough that folks in the transgender community live in a very dangerous and un-supportive world. This year’s danger and lethal transphobia is no different from any of the last twenty years.

In fact, in almost (not all) but damn near every community meeting, the plight of the Trans community is brought up as an afterthought, kind of “oh yeah, let’s not forget the T’s”.

While progress has been made, while things have gotten better, there is still a long way to go and this community is still too often just an afterthought.

We still do not take it seriously enough that these children of God find it extremely difficult to get jobs, get health care or any kind of support and dignity. In fact, many in our community, never mind the straight community, think if they would just dress correctly and be happy with how they were born there would be less trouble.

In our fair city of Atlanta, the shelters are still not required to accept those who are in transition unless they are willing to accept being forcible moved backwards in that transition. Again, we arrive at this time of the year and nothing has changed.

People in transition walking down the street at the wrong time or in the wrong neighborhood stand a good chance of being stopped by the police and questioned about drugs, prostitution or both.

I am well aware there are some in the neighborhoods who think the Trans folks working the streets are responsible for the crime in the neighborhood and with vicious language have launched a crusade to rid the streets of this so called epidemic.

Let us get real here; if these sisters and brothers could get a job or be protected in the job they have maybe, just maybe they would not have to turn to the streets.

The fact is, most political leaders of the community still see the trans community as nothing more then a “political calculation”. In fact, far too often these people are something to be added or subtracted from the political equation. The political leadership has not and does not have the courage to stand up and say, “Enough!”

Instead, it’s “let’s study the issue, let’s explore what we can do”. News flash: One’s gender identity has zero to do with the administration of equal rights, just do the right thing!

I still see far too often in community meetings the eyes roll or heads shake when the needs of the Trans community are brought up.

I am so sick of hearing that bringing justice, being fair and honorable and less phobic is so complicated when it come to the Trans community. News flash: Gender, just like sexuality, is a very fluid thing and to attempt to fit everyone into the same narrowly defined box is the height of ignorance.

So here we are this year and it is still open season on those who would dare to transition from one gender to another.

Let us not forget that it was these folks who started the whole “gay rights” movement we know today when they stood toe to high heel with the New York City police department at Stonewall.

Let us today acknowledge they have been with us every step of this bloody fight for our rights, our self worth and our very souls.

Let us recognize and have more than a passing thought that each day when they get out of bed and step into the world it may in fact be their last day.

So on this day I implore you to remember the transgender community…to pay attention to the day that has become known as “Transgender Day of Remembrance”

May we who mourn and remember today, take some comfort in these words:

“God is King, despite the chaos that may be roaring around us.” (Ps 93)

“If one member suffers, the whole body suffers…” (I Cor 12)

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … Nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8)

“Be still and know that I am God” Psalm 46:10

“The Lord takes care of me as his sheep; I will not be without any good thing. He makes a resting-place for me in the green fields: he is my guide by the quiet waters. He gives new life to my soul: he is my guide in the ways of righteousness because of his name. Yes, though I go through the valley of deep shade, I will have no fear of evil; for you are with me, your rod and your support are my comfort. You make ready a table for me in front of my haters: you put oil on my head; my cup is overflowing. Truly, blessing and mercy will be with me all the days of my life; and I will have a place in the house of the Lord all my days.” Psalm 23

Sunday evening, here and all around the country, may we find ourselves moved to pray.

May these prayers be for all of the victims, their family and friends.

May we pray for our government to have the wisdom, the courage and a compassionate response to this insanity. Let us pray for God’s protection and a calming of theirs and our fears.

And may our prayers be accompanied by expressions of our faith – in which we are not conformed to the ways of the world and how they will respond to children of God, but to the way the Christ would respond. May we be in our speech and actions, the love of God.

Once again let us ponder the words of Gwendolyn Ann Smith,

We have lost so many people in our community to the hand of hatred and prejudice, yet we still are not seemingly willing to fight back. Meanwhile, we die at the hands of a lover, of police, of medical practitioners, and even parents, while the news media calls us “freaks” — and worse.

In fact, the media’s reluctance to cover our deaths lies near the heart of this project. It can be all-but-impossible to find honest, reliable media on the death of a transgender person: It either does not exist (which is how one can cover thirty years of cases and still only have as many as I have to present), or it uses names that the deceased did not own, and pronouns that did not fit their reality.”

In the world we live in today there is no “safe way” to be transgender: Some are living very out lives, and some are living fully “stealth” lives. Some are identifying as male, some as female and some as both and neither. Some live in small towns, and some in major metropolitan areas.

There are things we can do and must do, if the killing is to stop. I would encourage our community and friends to:

• Let us educate ourselves about transgender issues.

• Let us be aware of our attitudes concerning people with gender-atypical appearance or behavior.

• Let us make more than a good faith effort to use names and pronouns that are appropriate to the person’s gender presentation and identity.

• Let us not make assumptions about transgender people’s sexual orientation, desire for surgical or hormonal treatment, or other aspects of their identity or transition plans.

• Let us keep the lines of communication open with the transgender person (s) in our lives.

• Let us become more aware of the things which would make life easier and the transition smoother, i.e. markers on drivers licenses, applications and forms.

• Let us not just sit on our lack of knowledge and understanding. Let us seek out support in dealing with our feelings. This is the 21st century and there are plenty of resources for us to get help.

Finally, but not least, let us turn out en masse this Sunday evening at the State Capital to show the “T” really is apart of LGBTQ and it does not stand-alone. I know it is Sunday night and I know you want to quit reading this every year. So here is the deal:

I will stop repeating this blog when we as a whole community are as enraged as when they raided our bar, as enraged as when Matthew Shepherd was beaten to death or when the fight to pass protective legislation for our community includes the “T” as something other then an afterthought or a political piece to be thrown under the bus.

Taking Ownership of Our Faith

If you live in Georgia the story of Shorter College and the faith statement one is required to sign is about a week old. There has been no shortage of opinions concerning this “goodie-two shoes” approach to controlling people’s lives.

I guess as a private institution they can have any rule they want. With that said, the college has absolutely no business in people’s bedrooms. They choose to quote the Old Testament for the reasoning for this rule…I believe that in the Old Testament polygamy seemed to be acceptable, stoning wives for adultery was the law of the day and marriages for the most part were arranged. Shorter University is certainly on a power trip of the worst kind.

Yet there is a deeper and far more dangerous issue which is occurring in regards to this faith statement that people are being forced to sign.

In fact, it is just not Shorter College and their homophobia; it is a “Church Universal” problem from almost every main-line traditional church to the most conservative, evangelical church. This dangerous issue happens to one degree or another in each and every organized congregation.

The “Church” does not want you and me to own our faith. The “Church” requires you and me to either rent or lease our faith. Sadly, that has been the situation for a very long time.

Remember when Jesus chastises the Jewish leadership in his day (Matthew 23:1-12):

Now Jesus turned to address his disciples, along with the crowd that had gathered with them. “The religion scholars and Pharisees are competent teachers in God’s Law. You won’t go wrong in following their teachings on Moses. But be careful about following them. They talk a good line, but they don’t live it. They don’t take it into their hearts and live it out in their behavior. It’s all spit-and-polish veneer.

“Instead of giving you God’s Law as food and drink by which you can banquet on God, they package it in bundles of rules, loading you down like pack animals. They seem to take pleasure in watching you stagger under these loads, and wouldn’t think of lifting a finger to help. Their lives are perpetual fashion shows, embroidered prayer shawls one day and flowery prayers the next. They love to sit at the head table at church dinners, basking in the most prominent positions, preening in the radiance of public flattery, receiving honorary degrees, and getting called ‘Doctor’ and ‘Reverend.’

“Don’t let people do that to you, put you on a pedestal like that. You all have a single Teacher, and you are all classmates. Don’t set people up as experts over your life, letting them tell you what to do. Save that authority for God; let him tell you what to do. No one else should carry the title of ‘Father’; you have only one Father, and he’s in heaven. And don’t let people maneuver you into taking charge of them. There is only one Life-Leader for you and them—Christ.

“Do you want to stand out? Then step down. Be a servant. If you puff yourself up, you’ll get the wind knocked out of you. But if you’re content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty.”

I would encourage the reader to read the rest of the chapter as Jesus has hit the nail right on the head.

Think about when one signs a rental agreement. There are always lists of things that can you evicted from the property. If there are problems with the property the owner may listen and respond or they may not…if you are not happy, too bad…move out.

Sound familiar? Think really hard, isn’t that what belonging to a church is all about? What is really sad and dangerous is what this does to the individual person of faith.

The “Church” has a list of those things that keep us in good standing as far a renting your faith from God. Screw up enough of them on the list and we are told our relationship with God is no longer valid. Think I am kidding? Consider:

My partner’s father was a hard working man with twelve children. The family was Episcopalian. With twelve children to support and a stay-at-home wife, it required him to work an extra job. The extra job kept him from coming to church very often.

When he suddenly died at the age of fifty-seven from a massive heart attack (probably from working much too hard) the church refused to conduct the funeral or give him a proper burial because he was not in good standing.

What about if we don’t confess prior to participating in “Holy Communion”? We can be refused the host and drink. Don’t take Communion for long enough and we are considered outside the faith.

Are we baptized? If not, then our relationship with Jesus is not valid with God.

Be outside the proscribed norm for the understanding of sexual orientation, the proper participation of sexual activities or not follow the proper definition of gender identity and we are told our relationship with God is not valid.

Another problem with renting instead of owning is there is no reason to invest, grow or improve what is being rented. Why? Because it is not ours, it can all be taken away in an instant…so why bother? How many empty pews are there on Sunday morning these days? People have given up, walked away or found all these rental agreements set forth by the “Church” to be irrelevant to their everyday lives.

Not to be outdone, “The Church” has taken to a marketing campaign to fill it’s quota of rentals not because it cares about our spiritual needs and relationship with God but because… well, please just read Matthew 23. The methodology is even more heinous then in Jesus’ time… PowerPoint presentations, full orchestras, only the best of the best singers, grand buildings, and huge congregations complete with pastors who are nothing more than snake-oil salesmen convincing you if you buy their product you will be saved and if you don’t buy it there is a place reserved for you in the fiery pit of hell.

Shorter College is a perfect example.

The “Church” has had it backwards for a very long time. Jesus taught and lived in such a way that it was clear it was about owning our faith with God and not renting it.

People who own something invest in it. They make an effort to improve it, place value and priority in it. People, who own it, protect it with their lives. Ownership does not allow for one to just walk away and replace it on a whim. When Jesus said the greatest love we can show is by laying down our lives for another…that doesn’t happen with a rental faith…that only can happen when we own our faith.

I have come to understand our job as persons of faith is not about the conversion of souls…it is about the protection of souls. Our job is not to figure out why one has a need and how bad they were to get to this needed place but rather simply meet the need.

Not once did Jesus ever tell someone how screwed up they were but rather treated them as owners of their faith and met the need in measure with their faith.

In today’s world, if we dare to take ownership of our faith, we will be told we are crazy, misfits or rebels. If we dare to claim that our relationship with God is ours and we will no longer allow for guilt trips to be laid upon us or told how and when to practice our faith, we will be called heretics, scandalous or worse, perverts.

When we own our relationship with God rather than rent or lease it, this gives us the ability to understand that maybe by accident or maybe with intentionality, the “Apple” company had it exactly right theological-speaking when they wrote:

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status-quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. But the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

When we own our faith we can then live out the meaning of these words found recently on the internet:

“I choose…to live by choice, not by chance;
to make changes, not excuses;
to be motivated, not manipulated;
to be useful, not be used;
to excel, not compete;
I choose self-esteem, not self pity;
I choose to listen to my inner voice(God), not the random opinion of others.”

A Pastoral Thought

The Occupy Wall Street protest seems to have taken on a life of its own, spreading from Wall Street to many major cities and across the world.

I find it amusing in an ironic way that those who supported the Tea Party folks find the Occupy Wall Street folks as repulsive. One would think both of these movements would literally shout that there is something VERY wrong with our society.

With all the mess going on…and the awful things each side are saying to each other, with the news media behaving like vultures and people jockeying for positions to be called heroes, we now see this embarrassing fighting standing in the way of making sure the folks of our country are protected, secure and safe…

I was doing some meditation time and this particular passage struck a deep nerve.

“If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.” (Philippians 2:1-13 (The Message))

Regardless if one is a Christian or not…it seems to me this is a formula for working through this mess…a way of peace, a way of strength, and a way of walking the talk. A way in which everyone could walk away saying they had a hand in working through the challenge.

I guess I want to ask the question of all; what are you personally doing to help this come to reality? See, I get that both sides are deeply entrenched on their side of the argument; however what is each side doing to make the words of the quoted passage a reality?

I am sitting at my desk wondering if this country and it’s leadership have become so jaded and drunk with power, they have forgotten the basic tenet of our country which says, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all… are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among the people, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it…”

Maybe it is indeed time for a change. I think this crisis proves what we have known for a long time…the politicians do not really care if you or I can pay the mortgage or rent.

They do not really care if you or I have enough money to pay our bills or put gasoline in our vehicles.

HIV and it’s spread only matters if a large block of voters suddenly die or there is oil in the country.

They do not really care if you live or die unless it gives them some sort of leverage in the power and control game.

No, the only thing at stake is their position of power, money and comfort, and they would sell their own mother if they thought it would keep them in power.

The recent behavior of the political and religious right and big business proves that all those “so-called Christians” have forgotten a key to their faith…”Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.”

Yes, maybe now is the time to call for a change…and in the meantime all I can say to our government is:

Shame on you Mr. President.

Shame on you Mr. or Mrs. Congressperson.

Shame on you Mr. or Mrs. Senator.

Shame on those of you in big business that have lost sight of the people upon whose backs you made your money!!

Finally, but not least by any stretch of the imagination, shame on all those big CEO’s and big business people who forgot why they were in business to begin with,”…that all… are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

We are faced with the conservative political right and the religious right constantly beating us over the head with their brand of morals and practice of faith, telling everyone how to think and what the bible says.

We are faced with the political left not listening to the real concerns of folks and the progressive people of faith forgetting it is not a contest of “their way or my way”.

Damn it, folks, read this passage one more time:

“If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.” (Philippians 2:1-13 (The Message))

So the real questions of the day perhaps are these:

What are you doing to find agreement with those around you?

What have you done to become deep-spirited friends?

Are you pushing to the top or are you waiting your turn?

Are you a person who says what you mean and means what you say or are you a B.S. artist?

Have you stepped outside of yourself to help another get ahead?

Are you obsessed with getting your way?

Can you forget yourself long enough to offer a helping hand, without judgment?

Just a passing pastoral thought…

Fear Doesn’t Live Here

Every year about this time I start having this debate in my head…do we really need “Gay Pride”? Do we really need to go all the trouble and expense of throwing what appears to be a weekend long party? Then something like this crosses my desk:

A gay Tennessee couple was reportedly attacked — physically and verbally assaulted — by a Christian Pastor and his deacons to prevent the same-sex couple from entering the Pastor’s church. Sadly, the pastor is the father of one of the two members of the gay couple. Also sadly, the church members and bystanders did not lift a finger to help the couple or to stop church leaders from perpetrating the crime. Further, initially, local authorities refused to allow the couple to file charges.

Via WBBJ:

“I went over to take the keys out of the ignition and all the sudden I hear someone say ‘sick’em,’” said Gibson County resident, Jerry Pittman Jr.

Pittman said the attacked was prompted by the pastor of the church, Jerry Pittman, his father.

“My uncle and two other deacons came over to the car per my dad’s request. My uncle smash me in the door as the other deacon knocked my boyfriend back so he couldn’t help me, punching him in his face and his chest. The other deacon came and hit me through my car window in my back,” said Pittman. He said bystanders did not offer assistance. He said the deacon yelled derogatory homosexual slurs, even after officers arrived. He said the officers never intervened to stop the deacons from yelling the slurs.

To make matters worse when the police arrived they really didn’t do anything to stop the beating.

What on earth kind of perverted translation of the bible is this preacher reading? How on earth can this possible be justified? Then it hits me…this is not about the bible, well, maybe on the surface. However, deep down where the heart and the soul intersect it is pure raw fear.

The church universal is so fearful of our community they will justify anything to stop us from being accepted as normal and thriving and contributing members of society.

Now mind you, I am fully aware it is not every church and some churches have made tremendous progress in getting rid of their fear…but if one is totally honest the biggest obstacle to our community is the moderate to conservative Christian Churches who it seems will do anything to stop us.

They are deeply fearful of us…they are in two words, “deeply homophobic”.

Homophobia: Function: noun date: 1969: irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against homosexuality or homosexuals. (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary)

Interesting how this irrational fear of the religious zealots of the world becomes their strongest weapon against our friends and us.

The religious zealots of the world are so “fearful” of homosexuals or for that matter anyone that doesn’t fit their definition of gender identity or orientation. They fight so fiercely to throw every manner of fecal matter at the fan and it just blows out all over the place and some of it sticks to us. Some of that crap that we are stuck with:

The fear about where we will end up after death. Not to mention the fear of another Sodom and Gomorrah.

Some people seem to fear that if we pursue the life of our God-given orientation we will end up in this place that some call hell; a horrible place where we will be separated from God for all eternity.

I have come to recognize that this fear and concern are deeply rooted in the way we were and are taught to view God. So in essence, the only way to get past those fears is to change the way we view God.

I have recently been re-reading a book written by Bruce Bawer, called Stealing Jesus: How Fundamentalism Betrays Christianity. From this book I have come to understand the real source of our fears when it comes to sexuality.

The source of this fear is the difference between an attitude of love and an attitude of law. On page 5 of this book Mr. Bauer states:

“Simply stated, conservative Christianity focuses primarily on law, doctrine, and authority; liberal Christianity focuses on love, spiritual experience and the priesthood of all believers. If conservative Christians emphasize the Great Commission–the resurrected Christ’s injunction, at the end of the Gospel according to Matthew, ‘go to all the nations and make them my disciples’–liberal Christians place more emphasis on the Great Commandment, which in Luke’s Gospel reads as follows; ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.'”

What these few words essentially say is that we have a choice as to whether we understand and live with a God as a strict authoritarian who demands that all come to God in a specify way or we understand and live with a God as a loving Creator who desires that all would come to God and would treat each other accordingly.

All one has to do is read the story of the prodigal son to make the obvious choice.

Yet, what we get focused on is a point of view that is based on the law and authority figures that have decided they speak on behalf of God. “The whole world will go to hell in a hand basket if the homos are given any dignity, acceptance or love.”

So, yes there is a choice to be made.

However, I must say that to believe God would create something with free will and then ultimately destroy that creation because it did not make the choice to follow the law is rubbish.

Why did Jesus spend almost his entire earthly ministry bringing the outcasts, those outside the law back to the fold?

Why did Jesus, when asked to state what the greatest commandment was, say to Love God and to love your Neighbor?

He never said that in order to be okay with God and not go to hell you must obey the law of the day, rather he spent all of his time telling folks to love God and giving them example after example of how they could show and could live that love.

The women caught in adultery released, the raising of Lazarus, the blind person healed, the Roman Centurion slave healed, the woman with the issue of blood healed.

Jesus’ words:

“Be not judges of others, and you will not be judged. For as you have been judging, so you will be judged, and with your measure will it be measured to you. And why do you take note of the grain of dust in your brother’s eye, but take no note of the bit of wood which is in your eye?”
–Matthew 7: 1-3

“Then Jesus said to the people and to his disciples: The scribes and the Pharisees have the authority of Moses; All things, then, which they give you orders to do, these do and keep: but do not take their works as your example, for they say and do not. They make hard laws and put great weights on men’s backs; but they themselves will not put a finger to them…
Matthew 23:1-4

“But a curse is on you, scribes and Pharisees, false ones! Because you are shutting the kingdom of heaven against men: for you do not go in yourselves, and those who are going in, you keep back. A curse is on you, scribes and Pharisees, false ones! For you go about land and sea to get one disciple and, having him, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves. A curse is on you, blind guides, who say, whoever takes an oath by the Temple, it is nothing; but whoever takes an oath by the gold of the Temple, he is responsible. You foolish ones and blind: which is greater, the gold, or the Temple which makes the gold holy?”
–Matthew 23: 13-17

Yes, the hypocritical religious right of center has chosen to live in fear by the law and the authority of those around them, while we have chosen to live by the words of Jesus and his examples.

They belong to the church of the Pharisees, Scribes and St. Paul; we belong to the faith that Jesus spent his ministry building and ultimately died for, unconditional love.

In the end the religious right gets and maintains its power from our fear.

Fear of what our relationship with God is going to be and look like in the hereafter.

We need no other reason for bringing 300,000 people to Piedmont Park each year then this and to say:

“We are not afraid of you, our love cannot be taken away no matter what you do, say or threaten.”

To live in fear is the exact opposite of everything Jesus taught. If we are to really be the beautiful creation that God intended then we must listen to, believe and live the words of Jesus when he said to the disciples and to each of us today; “fear not, it is I!” With the celebration of Gay Pride each year we say loudly and clearly: “Fear Doesn’t Live Here”

Yes, Gay Pride serves our community, it builds our community, it strengthens our community, it expresses our love, but most assuredly it destroys our fear.

Gay Pride allows us to say to the oppressive religious zealots, in the words of Glinda from the Wizard of Oz: “You have no power here, be gone before someone drops a house on you.”

An independent, affirming and progressive church serving metro Atlanta. We are open, positive and inclusive.