Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Blogging for LGBT Families

As Christians, we are called to emulate the love of Christ in all of our relationships. Sadly, throughout history, Christians and the various churches have perverted that love into hatred. Anti-Semitism has been described as the “original sin” of Christianity, and Christians have been guilty of persecuting and killing Jews throughout history, and only recently have some Christians begun to come to terms with this bloody legacy. In the nineteenth-century United States, most large Christian denominations split over the issue of slavery – the Methodists, the Presbyterians, the Baptists (the Southern Baptist Convention still exists as a result of this division), with the southern branches of the denominations defending the institution as being biblically mandated. The Southern Baptist Convention, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and the Presbyterian Church in the US came into being defending a system in which “family values” led to slaveholders raping their female slaves and refusing to recognize their offspring, married couples (whose marriage was not recognized by the state) being split up so one could be sold to a new owner thousands of miles away, and slaves being beaten to death. To this day, many denominations refuse to believe that women are full and equal Christians, worthy of every office in the church to which a man may be ordained.

Today, if we listen to evangelicals, Mormons, and conservative Roman Catholics, defending “family values” means passing legislation to deny legal recognition to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender families. Once again, the “good news” of the gospel has been perverted into very “bad news” for a group of people that some Christians have decided are evil. Supposedly, such laws protect the “sanctity of marriage”, but I cannot see how denying loving partners who have been together for decades the opportunity for a visit in a hospital advances such “sanctity”. I cannot see how invalidating a will on a technicality to give the widowed gay partner’s property to second cousins of the deceased who would have nothing to do with him in his lifetime constitutes “family values”. And I am ashamed and embarrassed to call myself an American when binational gay couples are forced to emigrate to other countries to be together because they are not recognized as a family because a body of adulterers, divorces, and thieves (Congress) pass a so-called “Defense of Marriage” act to deny them recognition. It makes my blood boil to see my fellow Christians so pervert the gospel that they believe persecuting a hated minority somehow fulfills Christ’s command.

Authentic love, love which reflects the profound love of the Persons of the Trinity for one another and for creation and the self-giving love of Jesus Christ, is love that causes a person to commit their lives to another. I have seen this love in countless gay and lesbian families that I have met. My friends Robert and Michael, who have been together 28 years. My friends Gus and Elmer, who have been together for 60. The man I met in Albany, testifying in favor of a bill to legalize same-sex marriage, who loved his children so much that he had their pictures blown up to posters to take to the hearing. The gay couple who, like many others, took in children with AIDS who had nowhere else to go. The many gay and lesbian couples who will go to great lengths to be allowed to raise children in their very loving homes – and who take in children who can’t be placed in other homes. The fifteen gay and lesbian couples at whose weddings I have been privileged to officiate. This heroic love is exactly the sort of love that Jesus sanctified at his first miracle at the wedding in Cana – and if he walked this earth in a body of flesh today, he would be changing water into champagne at same-sex weddings.

Jesus was persecuted by the religious leaders of his day – sadly, the majority of the religious leaders who claim his legacy instead turn to persecute others in his name.

So, on this day devoted to blogging for LGBT Families, I want to draw attention to the fact that there are those of us who bear the name of Christ who support full equality – who marry same-sex couples, who rejoice at baptizing their children, and who speak out against the campaign of hate currently being waged against these families today. I want to salute the LGBT parents who are doing such a splendid job of raising loving children. And I want to call on everyone who reads this to call your legislators to oppose any tampering with the constitution to deny these families rights, and tell them you support full equality, including marriage.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Religious liberty under attack in USA

Despite the fact that the First Amendment specifically prohibits both the establishment of a particular religion and guarantees the free exercise of religion, certain religious sects are attempting, with the help of anti-liberty politicians, to mandate that all Americans follow the teachings of those sects in their private lives. President Bush and many others are pushing the so-called "Marriage Protection Amendement" which would mandate that only heterosexual marriages be legally recognized in the United States, despite the fact that numerous religious groups do recognize same-sex marriage, including Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism, Unitarian Universalism, Ethical Culture, the United Church of Christ, the Metropolitan Community Church, many Independent Catholics (including the Independent Catholic Christian Church of which I am a part), and many Quakers, among others. Many states have already passed such amendments to their state constitutions, and efforts are underway in others.

Call your legislators today and tell them you oppose this assault on religious liberty in this country!

Friday, May 26, 2006

Blogging for LGBT Families Day: June 1, 2006

This blog will participate in Blogging for LGBT Famillies Day on June 1 to show my unconditional and absolute support for lgbt families and fervent support for same-sex civil and religious marriage. The Independent Catholic Christian Church views opposite-sex and same-sex marriages as equally sacramentally valid, and I am happy to have officiated at 15 same-sex weddings. I urge other bloggers to participate as well. For more information, see, Mombian: Sustenance for Lesbian Moms, whose idea it is and who is coordinating the effort.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

My Remarks at Equality Forum

I was a member of the Religion Colloquy panel for Equality Forum in Philadelphia on May 2. Here is the text of my remarks. (Of course, I don't read my addresses, and so this is only an approximation -- I know I added several off-the-cuff humorous remarks that got laughs.)

"Good evening.

I am the presiding bishop of the Independent Catholic Christian Church, which is one of a number of small Independent Catholic communities. Independent Catholics began in the Netherlands in the early 1700’s, with apostolic succession provided through the years by renegade Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Eastern Orthodox bishops. The first female bishop, Isabel Wilucka, was consecrated in 1929. On Christmas Day, 1946, Father (later Bishop) George Hyde celebrated Mass for an openly gay congregation at the Cotton Blossom Room, a gay bar in Atlanta – this is one of the first, perhaps the very first, religious service held for openly lgbt folk in modern times. Michael Itkin, a gay activist, was ordained as an Independent Catholic priest in 1957. Our movement is decentralized, and today, many Independent Catholic communities, including ours, are fully inclusive of lgbt folk, offering the sacrament of marriage to same-sex couples and ordination to lgbt people.

I lived in New York until about a year ago, and it was my privilege to serve on the board of Marriage Equality New York for five years and, in the summer of 2004, I was blessed to be able to officiate at same-sex weddings in New Paltz to continue the heroic work of Mayor Jason West. Over the years, I’ve done many same-sex weddings, but no opposite-sex ones – not that there’s anything wrong with that! The first few same-sex weddings were difficult to get through because I kept weeping because of the profound joy I felt. I always enjoy meeting with the couples ahead of time to prepare for the wedding, because I get to hear amazing stories of the extraordinary love two people express toward one another when they share their lives.

Same-sex marriages are an expression of God’s holiness in the world. Let me repeat that – same-sex marriages are an expression of God’s holiness in the world. I once rode to Albany to testify in favor of same-sex marriage before the state legislature with a gay couple who had been together for 60 years, and let me tell you that this was one of the profound religious experiences of my life. Any couple who has maintained their love and commitment for one another in the face of the extreme hatred of gay relationships that has existed in this society for the past half century is manifesting the glory of God in a very tangible way. And the marriages are valid regardless of whether or not the state or any particular religious organization recognizes them, or whether there has been a ceremony – it’s the love and commitment that matter. In the Catholic tradition, every sacrament has a proper minister who is empowered to perform it, and in the case of marriage, the ministers of the sacrament are the couple being married – the priest is only there to witness it on behalf of the church and pronounce God’s blessing on the marriage. Same-sex marriages are valid even when churches refuse to recognize them – because it is the two spouses who are ministering the sacrament of marriage to each other, not the clergy.

Many lgbt rights groups are organizing progressive religious groups to express their support for same-sex marriage to counter the loud voices of anti-gay religious groups and to dispel the notion that to be religious is to be anti-gay. And this is a very important task that must be done in order to gain civil marriage equality, and I am grateful to both our civil rights leaders and pro-gay religious leaders for doing this work. But as a person of faith and as a clergyperson, it is even more important to me that religious communities recognize same-sex marriages for reasons of their own spiritual health. To deny or to fail to recognize God’s glory as expressed in same-sex marriages is to commit HERESY – refusing to accept God’s gift of these marriages to the church and to the world is a SIN. If one cannot recognize God’s work, how can one come to know enough about God to teach the truth about God to others?

God created human beings first and foremost for the purpose of loving – loving one another, loving God, loving God’s creation. God did not create us in order to follow a lot of rules – rules of morality exist not as arbitrary laws handed down from on high – rather, they are the rules that enable us to live more fully human lives and to love more completely. Certainly, there is such a thing as sexual immorality – any time one person abuses another sexually, or any time one person uses another person solely for their own sexual gratification and not as an expression of love toward that person, that act is sexually immoral. But whenever two people commit their lives to one another, and remain as an anchor for the other person through times of joy and sorrow, times of health and sickness, times of success and failure – then, the glory of God is present, and it is a marriage. This is just as true of same-sex couples as it is of opposite-sex couples.

Religious groups that recognize this are bearing witness to the truth about God. Religious groups that do not are giving a distorted view of God. And if they get this part wrong, can we really trust that they’ve gotten everything else right? But praise be to God, an increasing number of religious communities ARE recognizing this work of God – Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism, Unitarian Universalists, Ethical Culture, the United Church of Christ, the Metropolitan Community Church, Quaker meetings, many Independent Catholic churches, and many Pagan communities. And many members of other religious groups, both clergy and laity, are working to get their communities to recognize same-sex marriage as well.

Those of you who are in same-sex marriages, whether or not you’ve had the wedding (and I’d be happy to help you with that, if you’d like!), recognize that every day that you are together, the glory of God is present. Your relationship is a religious act. Let all of us who are part of religious communities who already recognize same-sex marriage work tirelessly for civil marriage as well, and do our part to help same-sex couple recognize the holiness of their marriages. Let those of us in religious communities which do not yet recognize our marriages work for them to recognize this manifestation of God’s glory in their midst. And let all of us work together and pray for the universal recognition of same-sex civil marriages.

Thank you, and God bless you."

Monday, May 22, 2006

My Letter to the Editor about Arlen Specter

I sent the following letter to the Philadelphia Inquirer, which does not seem inclined to publish it:

Senator Arlen Specter states that he is opposed to the proposed federal constitutional amendment that would ban legal recognition of same-sex relationships, but says that it deserves a debate by the full Senate.

As a member of the clergy of a religious denomination that recognizes the equal sacramental validity of same-sex and opposite-sex marriages, I am outraged by his contempt toward the First Amendment by facilitating a debate about imposing the religious doctrines of some groups on those of us who embrace same-sex marriage, including congregations within the Independent Catholic, United Church of Christ, Metropolitan Community Church, Unitarian Universalist, Ethical Culture, and Reform and Reconstructionist Jewish traditions, among others. Just as no religious group is compelled perform a wedding for someone who is divorced or for an interfaith couple, so no religious group would be compelled to perform a wedding for a same-sex couple were same-sex civil marriage the law of the land. However, anti-gay religious groups should return the favor by no longer insisting that their religious doctrine exclusively define civil marriage.

I hope Senator Specter will apologize for his contempt of the Constitution and our nation’s lesbian and gay citizens and not repeat this deplorable act of political cowardice again.