Sunday, October 26, 2008

With Liberty and Justice For All

"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands: one Nation under God, indivisible, With Liberty and Justice for all."

I've always considered myself patriotic. I was never directly involved in politics because I feel my approach to change is different - less activist and more catalytic, relationally. That, plus the divisiveness of politics - the constant collision of world paradigms always turned me off. And so I'd always tune out.

This year, though, I have never been as interested in politics as I am now. It has, in large part, to do with the inspirational presence of Barack Obama. I've never held a loyalty to a political party - but I do believe our country needs a leader who can cast vision for us, to not simply be a better world power (as the arrogant Americans we are sometimes accused of being around the world) but a call on each of us as world citizens to be better neighbors.

The upcoming election next week is relevant to me. I suppose that's why I'm so interested. The next president will shape the course of our country and we are in desperate need for a positive change. The morale of the country depends on it. But in addition to the presidency, California has the opportunity to demonstrate what it looks like to be better neighbors - to say NO to Proposition 8 and to affirm dignity and respect for all people equally . . . .

On May 15, 2008, the California Supreme Court ruled (effective a month later) that it is unconstitutional to have two "separate but equal" designations - "marriage" for straights and "domestic partnerships" for gays. The court said, "We therefore conclude that in view of the substance and significance of the fundamental constitutional right to form a family relationship, the California Constitution properly must be interpreted to guarantee this basic civil right to all Californians, whether gay or heterosexual, and to same-sex couples as well as to opposite-sex couples." (Click here for a copy of the ruling.)

Prop 8 would eliminate from me a basic fundamental constitutional right to marry the person I choose to share my life with - a right that I currently have, finally. How would a woman feel if next week her right to vote were rescinded? How would a black man feel if next week his right to marry a white woman were rescinded? How ridiculous and backwards would that be? We all deserve equal dignity and respect - the court says "separate but equal" is unconstitutional. Prop 8 disagrees and so is trying to change the constitution to justify and legalize discriminatory segregation.

Gosh, that's why this is so relevant to me. Because it's about my rights as a citizen. It's about our rights and the kind of society we want to live in. See, here's the thing . . . when I was in the closet, I felt like I wasn't worth being known. I thought that being gay was a terrible thing and that it was something to be ashamed of. The closet does terrible things to a person's self-image and self-esteem. So to be affirmed dignity and respect as a gay man repairs much of the harm and hurt caused by a society that has a history of discriminating against minorities for not "being" like everyone else.

While having lunch at Subway after church service, a man with his two teenage kids asked me to educate them about Prop 8. (I was wearing a button). So I pulled up a chair and we talked about the fact that all people, gay or straight, currently have the equal right to marry in California and that Prop 8 would eliminate that right for gays and lesbians. He was confused by the double negative phrasing surrounding it and so I explained to them that since Prop 8 would take away our rights, we should vote NO. It was cool to see that even his kids agreed without any prompting from their dad. It was good to see that this father was raising his family to respect all people equally.

I've been proud lately.

I've been proud of my city when the Long Beach City Council unanimously voted on October 17, 2006 for a resolution in support of marriage equality and even further urged state and federal law makers to support marriage equality. (Click here for a copy of the resolution).

I've been proud of my family who have supported me in coming out. They also support and show love towards my niece who came out earlier this year. She even went to prom with her girlfriend! She rocks! One day she'll feel that she's ready to be married. It may even be with another girl. She currently has that right. Prop 8 would take that right away from her. Yes, this issue is personal for me. Mess with me, we'll talk about it. Mess with my niece and my family, oh heck no! The gloves come off!

I've been proud of my employer (for my day-job) for keeping a non-discrimination policy towards anyone including gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered individuals. In fact, we are a local association of the broader California Teachers Association (with over 350,000 member teachers statewide) that has historically taken a stance for human rights and equality. The CTA has officially taken a NO position on Prop 8. (Read about it here). I'm also proud of them for backing it up with action by supporting the No on 8 campaign. I know they are getting a lot of flack for their financial support (even by other teachers), but I'm proud of them for not backing down for what's right.

I've been proud of my friends John & Russ and Susan & Jen who each affirmed their love and commitment for each other by getting married, legally.

I've been proud of my good friend Becky who just married a good guy named Bret (pictured above). Becky is a strong "ally" of ours ("friend of the Family") and has ALWAYS had a heart for the GLBT community. She lives this passion out in her personal advocacy, her fundraising for triathlons (she competed at the Gay Games in Chicago for team HRC), and she even has a rainbow fish (gay christian) sticker on her car which she has even had slurs and discriminatory comments from people thinking she's gay. Man, i'm so proud of Becky! Plus, I even had the honor of being a groomsman in her wedding last weekend in Florida. Soooo much fun, by the way!

I've been proud of my friend "Angel", a blogger mom friend who I connected with two years ago. She and her family live in Florida and I got to reconnect with her and her husband over lunch while I was there for Becky's wedding. Angel is another ally and friend of the Family. I was super excited to hear about her daughter who is totally advocating for GLBT folks to her classmates. She rocks! I'm proud to know Angel and her husband as a couple raising their kids to love people with dignity and respect.

I've been proud of Barack Obama and Joe Biden who despite their position against gay marriage (you know, politics), they are still very much in favor of civil rights for the GLBT community. Joe Biden was on the Ellen show and stated that he and Barack OPPOSE Prop 8 and other similar national attempts to limit marriage and rights. (Watch the short video clip here).

I've also been proud of many of my friends who are getting involved in the process - anywhere from attending No on 8 events, to wearing buttons, to phone banking, to volunteering in various ways.

And at the same time, I've been highly disappointed in pastor Rick Warren from Saddleback Church who posted a video pretty much claiming that real Christians would support Prop 8 (and should vote Yes) arguing that (according to him) only 2% of the population is gay or lesbian. Perhaps in his small tight-fitting box (that barely even God can fit in) there are only 2% of the people in "his world" that are gay or lesbian but our nation is supposed to defend the rights of the minority, not take away rights because they are insignificant in numbers or because they have differing views. Everyone counts. Rick Warren may refuse to grant people like me dignity, but the Lord has already granted me dignity and the California Supreme Court has as well. In my opinion, what Rick Warren said was unChristian and unAmerican.

I know that this is a divisive issue in our country. But we have before us the history books being written right before our eyes. California can be the first state in the union to vote down an attempt to amend their constitution in order to justify and legalize discrimination of gays and lesbians. Our Supreme Court says that it's wrong to designate a separate class of people and to treat them differently. Domestic partnership is not marriage and "separate but equal" is unconstitutional. It's wrong to do it to blacks. It's wrong to do it to women. And it's wrong to do it to gays and lesbians.

Let's keep moving forward by preserving our rights, not taking them away. After all, we all deserve to live "with liberty and justice for all."

Friday, October 10, 2008

Inclusive Pastors Round Table

It's clear to me that both groups of conservative pastors and inclusive pastors are in very different places when it comes to the prospect of coming together at the same table to have a productive and safe dialogue regarding gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered individuals within our community.

We anticipated that though. I mentioned last month that I'm part of a Coalition of Bridge-Builders who are trying to facilitate this dialogue within the Hot Zone - "that place of conversation where the issue of faith and sexuality and God are no longer the taboo subject". Last month, the conservative group got together for their initial discussion. A couple days ago, the inclusive group got together for their initial discussion.

Both groups have their own baggage and so very different preparatory conversations need to happen within each group first before each can be ready to sit down with the other. The conservative group needs to grasp the concept of grace, responsibility, and empathy towards a community that has felt hurt by certain churches and church people. The inclusive group needs to wrestle with the anger and pain that they and many of their friends and congregants experienced from conservative church leaders. Both groups need to assess their willingness to come to the table under a common bridge-building framework. And that's what we hoped to do in the first initial round table discussions with both groups . . . .

The round table discussion with the inclusive pastors and leaders went very well. I had the honor of facilitating the discussion. It was a great opportunity for them to meet each other or reconnect. The group was comprised of mostly senior pastors who were gay or lesbian, other leaders representing organizations, and also the Coalition team members - some of whom are straight and represent the traditional conservative perspective about "the issue" but remain open to the dialogue.

Through lunch, we had each person share what they've witnessed God doing among their congregation and community so that we could possibly see a common trend of what God was doing in the region. We discovered three common trends of God's movement:

1. Conversation - these leaders are reporting that more and more people are wanting to engage in conversation or are open to the conversation regarding faith and sexuality. These included GLBT people, gay Christians, straight Christians, and even straight non-Christians. People are talking.

2. Growth and Activity for the Kingdom - despite what others in conservative spheres assume about the GLBT community and the darkness that prevails, these leaders are reporting about the wonderful things that God is doing in their ministries. It was clear that God's light was shining through many GLBT individuals in the community. Imagine that! God was using GLBT people to be a blessing to their communities!

3. Shift - these leaders are reporting that there are increasing numbers of straight people who are becoming more welcoming of gays and lesbians. Leaders are seeing the demographics of their congregations change to include a more diverse representation of gays and straights.

I think that observing these three common trends simply based on listening to those present is very exciting! Imagine how much more God is at work within the GLBT community!

After everyone shared, we took some time to share the vision and purpose of the Coalition and about the productive and safe dialogue that we are trying to facilitate within the broader Church. We talked about last month's initial round table discussion with the conservative pastors and shared the feedback we were getting from them. In a nutshell, there are those from that group that are willing to continue the conversation.

That has got to be encouraging! Granted, the conservative group is taking baby steps towards being ready for a productive and safe dialogue with gay Christians, but these steps forward are worth celebrating. Just like we had a lesbian share her story of faith with the conservative group for the purpose of helping to expand their perspective, we also had some straight conservative leaders share their story of faith and why they are willing to engage in this conversation. The goal was to build empathy within both groups for the other.

This is still going to be a process.

During much of the discussion, it was really interesting to see and hear where various people were at. Some are cautious and apprehensive about interacting with straight evangelicals. Some are prayerfully discerning about the prospect. Some are open and ready to engage in dialogue with the conservative group. But it was a very dynamic round table discussion!

We spent some time taking a look at some of the preliminary results from The Marin Foundation's national survey on "Religious Acculturation within the GLBT Community" - the same stuff that we shared with the conservative group last month - and we took a look at how the data could enhance all of our ministry approaches to the GLBT community.

We introduced the initial bridge-building framework with them and sought their feedback. With minor additions for consideration, everyone pretty much affirmed that it was a good framework. More importantly, they expressed a willingness to talk at the same table with other willing conservative pastors within this common bridge-building framework.

We now intend to introduce this framework to the conservative group, seek their feedback on it, and to assess who among them would be willing to talk at the same table with other willing inclusive pastors. The next set of follow-up events will be on November 15, 2008 - during the day, there will be a day-long training and discussion geared for the conservative group of pastors and leaders called "Elevating the Conversation"; during the evening, there will be a banquet dinner to provide inclusive pastors and leaders an opportunity to continue getting to know one another. Both follow-up events will be open to either group to attend.

As a result of our round table discussion with inclusive pastors, we won't be planning a combined round table discussion with the conservative pastors in January. The consensus of the group was that they wanted more time to get to know one another, to build trust, and to continue the discussions that were started.

I think this is exciting because in the process of getting ready to meet with the conservative group, this inclusive group can continue to support one another while also connecting with more and more inclusive pastors and leaders. So they'll build bridges within our own inclusive community while concurrently preparing for that productive and safe dialogue with the conservative group. So I see multiple levels of bridge building taking place and many opportunities for connection and support.

At the end of the day, I'd consider this round table session with the inclusive pastors and leaders a success because we were able to assess those who were willing to stay in the conversation. Hopefully, we'll be able to continue working with both groups of willing pastors and leaders so that we can eventually bring the two together - not with the intention of either group changing the other, but with the express purpose of elevating the conversation.

The Coalition would like to thank Hot Java (a popular gay-owned coffee shop in Long Beach where we purchased the panini sandwiches for lunch) for generously providing all of the drinks for our round table discussion. They don't seem to have a web site up, but if you're ever in the LB area, check them out on the corner of Junipero & Broadway at 2105 E. Broadway, Long Beach, CA 90803.