Parades, Protests, and/or Prayer

“Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t.”
John Piper

This is how I sometimes feel about the Unitarian Universalist involvement in Pride Parades, protests, and “volunteer opportunities”.

I went to Pride Day once before I joined my Congregation. It was fun, though I spent a good portion of the parade tying protesters up in discussion, telling them things they needed to know about their Bible. I enjoyed the festival after and got a lot of really great information at the booths. More over, I was there as an ally, and a person who wanted to be around other people who were, at least for the day, unashamed of who they really were and what their families look like. I wasn’t part of a group or movement; I was just a friend who wanted to celebrate their lives with them.

I’ve been to Pride Day 3 times since joining Horizon, and each time I was a participant in the parade, and I spent at least a little time in our booth, telling people about who we are and what we believe, and mostly handing out free water, because it is really hot in Texas in September. It is fun, and it does lead to some good conversation, but I’m not gay. No one in my immediate family is gay, or even bisexual, as far as they are telling. I’m not active in an outreach program. I’m not an official member of any kind of political organization. I just go to a church; a welcoming, Universalist, liberal church, but that earns me a place in the parade. We march, as a group. Why?

Are we really there for support? Are we there to tell the LGBT community that they aren’t going to hell? If they were worried about it, our simple presence in the parade isn’t likely to assure them. Are we there because LGBT church members want to show off their community? If so, why aren’t they our organizers, and why are they outnumbered? Are we just there as part of our ongoing membership drive? It certainly seems like this is at least part of the reason we are handing out fans with the 7 Principles printed on them.

Why do we celebrate civil disobedience? Is it solely because we want to see people moved to do brave things, or is it because it means a headline now and then? Headlines aren’t bad things, mind you, but they aren’t missional. They are sound-bites; the snack cake of wisdom: sweet, but void of nutrition. They don’t feed the intellect or the soul.

We do a lot of work, which is right for us. We are a humanist faith, as much as we are any other type, believing in the necessity of action. One of the 5 Smooth Stones, which form the bedrock of our faith, is the need to manifest goodness, creating it in the world around us. James Luther Adams tells us that a liberal faith, sincerely held, must “express itself in societal forms”, creating institutions to enshrine liberty, education, and justice in our nation. Still, he says of “individual virtue” that it “is a prerequisite for societal virtues.” I will go a step further, restating the theme of my last post, and say that sincere individual virtue obligates us to manifest social virtues. In short, if the church were helping us to be spiritually healthy, then the protests and the celebrations would come as naturally to us as showing up on Sunday or calling a friend on her birthday. It would be an obligation of the spirit and of our sense of community, rather than a commandment from the pulpit or the newsletter.

At what point does our mission to gather after service and carpool to the Parade simply mirror the pilgrimage of the fundamentalist group, where members may not have strong feeling about the LGBT community, but feel compelled to protest the calls for equality as a sign of their faith?

We don’t need publicized missions. We don’t need uniforms. We don’t need national campaigns designed around visibility. We need people, moved by faith, doing good in every part of their lives. If we can inspire that, then we will already have changed the world.

I am a Humanist, which, I Guess Make Me an Ally.

I am a member of a Unitarian Universalist congregation, and I am very proud of the work we do and the community we’ve built. While I believe in a higher power that we can address and which is concerned with creation, I am a humanist who doesn’t see the hand of God anywhere that I don’t see the dirty hands of women and men doing good work. So, let me say that my faith has a lot to do with my stance on Marriage Equality.

I’ve seen a lot of talk this week about how important it is for straight people to voice their support for Marriage Equality right now. That is something I have done for years, mind you, but some seem to think that the Supreme Court of the United States is looking at Facebook to decide how the Constitution feels about homosexuals being treated as equally as possible. That’s all good and well, because I don’t mind being a vocal ally of equality. I just want to make clear that I am not a supporter of “Gay Rights”, because if the rights are “Gay”, then they are not rights at all. I support equality, and all I want to see in our laws is gender neutrality that reflects the complicated state of gender that science has come to understand cannot be broken down into “male” and “female” or “straight” and “gay”.

I am a humanist, who believes in love and family and the right of all people to create their own family from whomever they can. I am in favor of love, because when love is shared, nothing is lost, and there is simply more love in the world. I want people to be free to love and to settle down, and to be able to say “This is my person who speaks for me when I am incapable and who deserves my support and my trust” because those are the things that are being denied to homosexuals that are truly human rights. We can talk tax breaks or the right to go on Divorce Court when things go bad, but ultimately, what society is withholding from these people is the right to designate their next of kin, and that has got to be the most fundamental need a person has after health and education.

So, I am an ally, not because I want to give anything to the homosexual, bisexual, or gender queer among us. I am an ally because I am ashamed at what has been kept from them, and I cannot just let the injustice continue unopposed.

All have sinned

A previous post centered on the idea that people have clearly been given the power to make choices. Arguments have been had since the beginning of human consciousness about where that capacity comes from, but it is time that we stopped ignoring that it is there. With the power to choose comes the inevitability that we will make mistakes of one kind or another.

“All have sinned,” we are told, “and fallen short of the Glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

If we are all, as almost all Christians will tell you, sinners, and if we accept the passages of The Bible that tell us that all sin is sin (which most Protestant denominations teach), then why do “Conservatives” only worry about regulating some sins, and not others?

More over, why regulate any sin, if we’ve all sinned in some way? What does it matter if we keep it up? If the only salvation is through an illogical belief in the supernatural, and not any behavior that can be regulated, then why so much focus on what people do in their own lives?

The answer to the first is easy: given enough latitude, there are many “Conservatives” who would gladly institute their own religious code and keep anyone from having the kinds of fun that dogma prevents the believers from having themselves. They don’t want to be reminded of what they’ve chosen to give up, and so they want to take your joy away from you, too.

The second question, though, seems only to have the same answer. There is no dogma in any Christian group that I am aware of that simply says that you can stop sinning from now on and be alright with God. Christianity, as I define it, relies on the supernatural belief that 1: we have a soul, 2: it is almost certainly damaged, even before we are capable of making mature choices for ourselves, and 3: that only a belief in the supernatural salvation of this supernatural soul, and the understanding of the need for that salvation as some inherent unworthiness, can rectify the problem. Clearly, this has been a hard sell in many cultures over the last 2 millennia, but if salvation can only come from a true change of heart, and not a change in behavior, then regulating the private activities of others is not going to save anyone.

The idea that we have to hate on the homosexuals, as an obvious example, so that they will stop being all homosexual, even if it did work, would not do anything in the next life, and will only make them miserable in this life. They will die, and if they never ask to be forgiven for being homosexual, then they will be judged in the afterlife for it, even if they otherwise believe in salvation through Jesus. More over, if you take the view that many Christians do of Matthew 5:28, even just feeling homosexual urges and desires is enough to condemn you to hell. Oddly, though, that same dogma also usually holds that if a gay man feels a heart attack coming, mid-coitus, stops what he is doing and honestly asks to be forgiven, then that man gets in to Heaven. His faith is what saves him, despite his acts.

My point is, then, that we cannot save people by making them miserable. We cannot elevate their souls through repression. We cannot improve their life nor their after-life through hate.

If our very thoughts can condemn us to hell, then no regulation can prevent damnation. If only our hearts can save us, then why are we so obsessed with other body parts? If love is a gift from God, and is, as The Bible says, the very essence of God, then why would we deny that to anyone who finds it? Why not love them, as they are, and live lives that model what we want for them and from them? Is it not better to lead by example, rather than trying to mold loving hearts through hate and fear?

We have all sinned, and it seems unavoidable according to scripture, even if we discount “Original Sin”, then who are we to judge? It is one thing to protect each person from the actions of others, and that is what society ought to do. It is quite another to try and “protect” a person from making choices in his own life. Life is hard, and we each have to find our own way of dealing with it. We can counsel and coax the goodness from a person’s own heart. We can instruct and nurture their best. We can help them to find whatever passes for salvation in their own life. Whether we are coaxing, nurturing, or helping, though, we cannot do it with fear and hate. We can only do those things with love.

The suffering of martyrs as testament to truth, and Mathew Shepard.

I have, at many points in my life, questioned the stories of the Gospels. On many levels, I still do, but I have finally come to a place where I am comfortable with the actual recorded teachings of Jesus, and I pick from the rest of the New Testament as it seems to fit with the words of the presumed founder.

One argument that often arises to support the validity of the gospel stories is the suffering of the martyrs. “Why,” I am asked, “would they have allowed themselves to be subjected to ridicule, torture, and painful and humiliating deaths if they didn’t know, in their hearts, that they were right?”

So, how can those who follow the Bible ever call homosexuality a choice? How can they look at the bullying, the discrimination, and the occasional violent and painful death and not see that these are people suffering for what they know to be true: they are gay, and likely have been all their lives.

How can anyone look at the suffering of Mathew Shepard, and the humiliation that certain “Christian” groups still heap on his name, and not see that no one else would choose to follow in his footsteps if they weren’t fighting for truth? Why would people ever risk that kind of persecution for a simple choice unless they know that what they are standing up for is the truth.

If the suffering of martyrs is evidence that something has value and power to a group of people, then you have to accept that homosexuality as a real a life-changing, life affirming realization as an encounter with the risen Jesus, because the suffering of gay men and women has been no less powerful or gruesome than that of early Christians. Beatings, stabbings, and terroristic attacks on “gay bars” have been part of LGBT cultural awareness for decades. No one would lie in order to become a target for this kind of abuse. Being homosexual must be an essential part of their identity, as sure as a meeting with the risen Jesus must have been life-altering for early Christians.

To continue to say that the suffering of martyrs is only a valid testament to the events 2000 years past is not only dishonest, it is hypocritical. We can fully document the deaths of Harvey Milk, Rebecca Wight, or Nireah Johnson, and in many cases, the motivations are stated openly in court by the perpetrators, some feeling as though they had done something righteous. If these tales aren’t enough to frighten others away from the homosexual “lifestyle”, then you have to admit that they have been martyred for a cause that is worthy of more consideration: human dignity and equal rights.

I am not trying to belittle any death; St Peter’s death or Mr Milk. They were both senseless acts of violence based on politics and the idea that some people’s ideas on love are dangerous. But if anyone accepts the deaths of martyrs at the hands of people defending the status quo as proof of the validity of the message of those brave souls, then  you have to carefully examine every such case to see what truth lies behind the conviction. Few people choose to spurn society without good cause. Almost no one wants to be a target, but there are those who would risk death for love, happiness, and self-actualization, but even they shouldn’t have to live in fear.

Inalienable

There are a lot of people talking about rights lately. They come at them from every angle: Is there a right to health care? How far does the right to free speech really stretch? Is there a right to marry? Are we loosing our right to religious expression?

Let me be blunt, there are no inalienable rights; Jefferson was lying. And he knew it. If life, liberty, and pursuit were inalienable rights, he wouldn’t have been protesting the perceived infringement of them. A truly inalienable right cannot be infringed upon.

So, what did he really mean? He meant something more along the lines of, “Any reasonable group of people can see that there are certain things that we all want, and that we have to give each other if we want to get along together.” Maybe the shorter version is, “There are some things which we find, inalienably, wrong.” At the time, it was clearly wrong to limit the right of a man to worship Jesus as he chose, be that man Catholic, Anglican, or even Unitarian. It was unquestionably wrong to limit the right of rich men to print things for others to read. It was wrong to take from a white male to support a government that he didn’t have a vote in.

At that time, the things he thought we should agree on did not include giving women the right to vote. It did not include recognizing most black people as people. While Jefferson himself sponsored general, secular education, he clearly did not mean that it was an inalienable right, as it was still uncommon in his day.

The rules for what agreements are required to call yourself civilized have changed over the years. The United States has, generally speaking, been behind the curve. Most of Europe, including Russia, recognized a woman’s “right to vote” before we did. Louis X abolished slavery in France in 1315. The so-called Bill Of Rights wouldn’t apply to most African-Americans until 550 years later. In most of the world, the right to love and to form families is different than it is in the US, with some places recognizing any couple that declares their love, and others giving women little to no say at all in the definition of heterosexual or “traditional marriage”, as some like to call it. This includes many counties where women are treated as cattle, and like livestock, a man can own as many as he can care for. In most “First World” countries, citizens, and even guests, have the right to medical treatment deemed necessary for quality of life. That is a contract that the citizens of those countries agreed upon to insure their rights, as they see them.

What this really boils down to, then, is that our “Rights” are really a contract. We agree on a basic standard that we will all be allowed, and in return, we know that we will never fall below that ourselves, and we get to feel like part of a society we can be proud of. That is what it means to agree to certain rights, and I think we can do better than limiting ourselves to only those things which seem “inalienable”. We have the infrastructure to allow for national healthcare. We could say to the world that no one in the US will ever again be forced to die of the flu; that, while we can’t save every patient, we can say that cancer or heart disease will no longer destroy the lives of whole families.  We can say that we recognize Love as an ideal, and that it is hard enough to find in this world without limiting where you are allowed to look for it.

Our rights are defined by the society we live in. They were not handed down from on high, or we would never have to fight over them. There would be no debates about whether our government ought to “Give to the one who asks” (Mat 5:42), if we are truly a Christian Nation, or if that should be left to the individuals and charity groups. There would be no debate, if there were truly rights.

All rights can be revoked by the society that grants them. The Government, acting as the agency of the people, can refuse to recognize so-called rights in individual cases, and those rights change nation by nation, state by state. We choose what kind of country we want to be, and it has nothing at all to do with what is or is not already a right. It has to do with what we decide is the right thing to do for one another. It is how we define civilization in current terms, and how we wish to be seen both by our fellow Americans, and by the rest of the world.

There is no right that cannot be bestowed or revoked by the enforcement of the government. There is no government that can rule without the acquiescence of the people. Our government, in particular, is one of the people, and thus there is no right which we cannot choose to share with our peers. We can choose to live in a better world. We’ve done it some 28 times in the history of the United States, the first time by completely rewriting the basic structure of the government. We have a responsibility to continue to that work, to improve the civilization we share and leave to future generations.

Coming Out: I am Straight.

I guess I first knew back in 1988. I was 10 or so, and I had a huge crush on a kid with glasses and pigtails. Yes, pigtails; it was a girl. It took me a few years to be comfortable enough with the realization to be open about it. 3 or 4 years later, I told a few close friends that I was straight. There was this one girl I had a huge crush on in 7th grade, and while I got to be friends with her, I never could bring myself to say anything. I’m pretty sure she knew I was straight, but I guess she never considered that I’d “like” her. She wasn’t the last one who I kept that truth from.

I’ve become a lot more open about my sexuality, and I think most people can kinda tell, though there are many who are confused, at least at first. I don’t hide the fact about myself, but I don’t let it become the driving issue in my life. I don’t mind it being known that I am straight guy, but I don’t want to be know for being a straight guy; I’m a lot more than that. My sexuality doesn’t define me.

 

If this post seems really silly to you, think on whether you’ve ever read the exact same expressions from a Homosexual (if you read my blog, I bet you have) or a Bisexual (more rare because of a triple standard). Think about how silly it is for them to have to make such statements in their lives. Why should they be known for being Gay?

In a time when we teach young girls that they can grow up to do anything a man can do, why do we put the limit on “except marrying a woman”? We have hospitals filled with male nurses and schools where men teach science and humanities classes without ever telling anyone to hit the showers. We don’t tell boys certain jobs are “woman’s work”, but we do tell them how a family is supposed to be formed. We used to prohibit interracial marriages to prevent interbreeding, but what is the logic, however broken, in telling people that they can’t fall in love?

I’m sick of gender and sexual identity being used as political footballs. If women are more concerned about families than men, that’s not a political issue to be exploited; it’s a social problem to be solved. Gender shouldn’t matter, and as long as the children are cared for, the shape of a family is nobody’s business unless they hope to join it. In my society, it doesn’t matter if you are homosexual, bisexual, asexual, transgendered, or just queer. If you are a decent person, you respect those around you, and you take care of the people who depend on you, then you can call yourself a crypto-cryo-sodo-sapio-sexual, and it is none of my business.

And unless you’re invited to join, My kink is none of your business, either.

Still striving to define Equal Rights as universal.

Today’s post was not inspired by the California Supreme Court up-holding the ban on Gay Marriage known as “Proposition 8”. I was witting this over the weekend before I knew about the hearing and as part of a longer thought about attempts to legislate morality in the United States. Tomorrow’s post will be directly inspired by the hype about a “Gay Agenda” and will be really, very long. Come back for it.

Now, the issue at hand: Do homosexuals deserve equal treatment under the law? Are they entitled to the same rights as other citizens of the United States?

Umm, yeah.

Our republic was designed, largely, to protect the rights of the minority from the oppression of the masses. That’s why we demanded the initial amendments to the Constitution. The first amendment prohibits our government from basing laws solely on the moral code of  any religion, or even collection of religions. The 14th Amendment clearly outlines that all citizens have the same rights and privileges and that no government within the United States can “deprive any person” of those protections without due process. That means that if the government is in the business of recognizing marriage, it cannot define the legal institution by the laws of any religious text, but must do so by what make sense, is fair, and in the best interest of everyone.

Many homosexuals will tell you that they would rather be able to live as straight; not because they hate who they are, but what kind of person chooses to be hated? Many bisexuals will not get into a homosexual commitment because it is just too hard. That’s sad. People are afraid and even ashamed to love because society tells them their love is inferior or even just wrong. Isn’t there enough hate already? Isn’t it hard enough to find love and family without persecuting people for the shape or style their family takes?

We, as a society and a republic, need to butt out. We need to offer better solutions, rather than subtracting the options we don’t like. We need to admit that the State recognizing the life-long commitment of 2 men to one another is no threat to whatever standards your religion has for marriage. They deserve the rights of property and mutual support that comes with being a spouse, like any committed couple.

These are issues of personal responsibility and choice. These are basic first and fifth amendment rights; freedom from religious oppression, freedom to assemble, freedom to act in your own home and liberty until served by due process. These are conservative issues, stemming from a conservative reading of the Constitution. Marriage isn’t mentioned in the US  Constitution, and wouldn’t be a government issue if taxation hadn’t been added. Taxation is the only reason the federal government cares about “marriage”, and I’d rather remove the rate breaks for married persons than limit the freedom of all people to call their relationship whatever they like.

This is, to me, an issue of treating people like people. Telling anyone, in this day and age, that having found love and support by bringing another person into your life, your family is wrong because it doesn’t look like the ones in my text is unlawful and cruel. If we really looked at what Family and Marriage meant in the Bible, I think we would find that we’ve outgrown, as a society, the confines it seeks to impose. Women are not property, and fathers do not trick men into laboring for them only to foist off the less attractive sister in a bait-and-switch maneuver. Men are not allowed multiple wives, nor are victims of rape killed along side their attackers for being unclean.

We live in a society that has grown and prospered for its inclusiveness. We’ve benefited from accepting people for who they are and celebrating their contributions. All that this homophobia is going to amount to, in the long run, is what racism has left us; deep wounds, standing tensions and, someday, just maybe, a Gay History Month.