Monday, July 31, 2006

Christians as Messengers of Hope Not Hate

In his six sermons, Mr. Boyd laid out a broad argument that the role of Christians was not to seek “power over” others — by controlling governments, passing legislation or fighting wars. Christians should instead seek to have “power under” others — “winning people’s hearts” by sacrificing for those in need, as Jesus did, Mr. Boyd said.

Mr. Boyd is Reverend Gregory A. Boyd, pastor of Woodland Hills Church in the suburbs of St. Paul, Minnesota. The quote above is from an article about him in yesterday's New York Times. Boyd believes that churches shouldn't be telling congregants how to vote, and Christians shouldn't be telling people how to live their lives. How refreshing.

But he's not alone. There are others, like Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri (who happens to be both a Methodist pastor and a congressman), calling for the government to stop politiking in the name of Jesus.

""This is shamefully political and sinfully divisive," Cleaver said during an interview in his Capitol Hill office. "It's bad theology because there is nothing biblical about creating divisions between people."

Cleaver is referring here to the gay marriage amendment Congress voted on a couple of weeks ago. Whereas Boyd doesn't share his party affiliation (although he indicates he has conservative leanings when it comes to abortion and gay rights) Cleaver is a Democrat.

Whichever party they each vote for, however, both agree that it is not the place of Christians to rule over others, and they use their unique positions of power to preach this message.

It seems to me that these days, these two men are something of an anomaly. Christianity has gotten so wrapped up in our government (or our government has gotten so wrapped up in Christianity) that it has become nearly impossible to figure out where one ends and the other begins.

I applaud these men for not banging the rest of us in the head with their Christianity - personally, I might be more inclined to convert if Christians acted with this kind of tolerance (rather than bigotry) more often.

Monday, July 24, 2006


Yesterday, A---- and I went to church. Recently I've been on a bit of a kick about wanting to find a larger meaning in it all, and while I'm not sure I'm going to make the leap from being a non-believer to embracing a full religion, I am open to the possibility that I could find something within religion that I would find helpful. We went to Synagogue a few weeks ago, as well (I may write about that another day), but yesterday we decided to attend the Baptist church where A----'s cousin is the pastor.

We sat in the car for 10 minutes after we parked, trying to work up the nerve to go in. Funnily enough, we were more nervous about the fact that I was going to be the only white person there, than about being a lesbian couple in a room full of Baptists. Over the past year or so, we've developed a "don't ask, don't tell" policy with A----'s family that has worked quite well all around, and I think we imagined that as long as we weren't overt about our status as a couple, it wouldn't be a problem.

And I have to say, the welcome was warm. Several people came over to introduce themselves to us, clearly happy to have us there. And as the service got underway, I was moved by the music that seemed to accompany everything, and the responsiveness of the congregation to the prayers.

About an hour into the service (we'd been told it would be about two hours total) a pastor who was visiting from Louisiana stood at the pulpit to offer a prayer. Heads bowed, we rocked along with the cadence of his words and the accompanying organ, punctuated by "Amens" from the congregation. He was slowly building up to a crescendo, and I felt myself swept along, unclenching a little more. Today, though I can only recall two lines of his prayer.

And let us pray for the drug addicts!


And let us pray for the drug homosexuals!


And like that, my blood froze. I felt A---- still next to me as well. We both stood there, deaf to the words that were being called out. I wondered how I was going to make it through another hour, clenched as I was again. I felt A---- nudge me, and I looked at her.

We walked out as the sound of the organ died out, and I wondered how it was possible that a pastor from Louisiana could be worried about homosexuals right now, given all the devestation that still haunts that state nearly a year after Katrina.

Drug Addicts. Homosexuals. I just can't make sense of it.

Where Are Our Stats?

As I pulled into the parking lot at work last Friday, I heard a report on NPR that the lesbians had broken up. This is the couple in Massachusetts who were the lead plaintiffs in the case that ultimately resulted in gay marriage being legalized in the state.

The first thing that crossed my mind was that all the folks who oppose gay marriage were thinking "I told you so," as they heard this news. What pressure. Because when straight couples break up, it's sad, and maybe someone's fault (do you blame Brad or Jen, we wonder by the water cooler), but it's not considered proof that no straight people should be allowed to marry. But every time a public gay or lesbian couple splits up, I feel a little crushed, as if all gay or lesbian couples are going to be judged through the prism of that one relationship.

I must remind myself - and, I wish I could remind the naysayers - that straight marriages succeed only 50% of the time these days. We don't know what the stats are for commitment-minded queers, and so we have no sense of whether our numbers are comparable, or worse - or better, for that matter - than those for divorce.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Foster Care Aside

Glad to hear common sense prevailed in Missouri, although not without some valiant effort on the part of bigots. Can we start focusing on finding foster families who don't beat, abuse or neglect our most vulnerable citizens - children whose biological parents have beaten, abused, neglected or rejected them, and who are wardens of the state as a result - and stop focusing on ensuring that qualified gays and lesbians aren't allowed to care for them? When you've got the foster care system working and more qualified applicants to be foster parents than you can handle, you can start discussing whether gays and lesbians should be allowed to.

Sadly, I have the feeling pervasive bigotry against gays and lesbians will be a thing of the past long before we fix our foster care system.

Oprah's Welcome in My Family

All this brouhaha about Oprah's sexuality has me confused, and when I'm confused, I try and write it through to at least clarify what it is that's confusing me. So...

There is an argument to be made that accusing powerful women of being lesbians is a way of undermining their power, aka, she can't be powerful and be a real woman. And there is definitely some validity to that argument.

But pause and think about that for a minute.

Let's set aside the fact that among the lesbian community, it can be very tempting to claim strong women as one of our own. How tempting it is to imagine that Oprah and Hillary and Eleanor and sometimes even Condi, (when she's dressed like this and you squint in just the right way and you're facing due east and you have temporary amnesia so that you forget for a moment her politics) play for our team. My brother teases me that when I watch the Oscars, I see a different show than he does, because I'm convinced that every third person who crosses that stage is queer, although I'm sure some of them really really are because where there's smoke... but I digress. My point is that there's a difference when lesbians claim someone as their own, and when the world at large starts to accuse someone of being a lesbian.

This is a multi-facted issue. You've got, on the one hand, a powerful woman whose power others attempt to undermine by slapping the lesbian label on her. And then you've got feminists pointing that out - why does a woman always get called a lesbian when she's powerful, they rightly ask. And you've got lesbians saying, I knew it, she's one of us.

But wait - back up for a second. Feminists (and I count myself as one of those as well) are saying that it's an insult to be called a lesbian? Of course, for the folks who feel the need to cut a woman down to size because she's gotten too powerful for their comfort, being called a lesbian probably would be an insult - powerful women are bad, lesbians are bad, powerful lesbians are the worst, in this paradigm.

And it's true that saying a woman is a lesbian merely because she's powerful (and therefore must be somehow manlike) is insulting - to women and even to lesbians (c'mon, it takes all types, even in the lesbian community, and we run the full gamut from masculine to feminine, and from weak to powerful - sometimes even within one single lesbian, so don't lump us all into one basket and call it a day; take the time to get to know your local lesbians - and there are some, I promise, no matter where you live - and you'll realize we're just as complicated and varied as the rest of you folks).

What bothers me is when it's left at that - you've insulted this woman's power by calling her a lesbian. I'm left wondering, is it okay if you are powerful and a lesbian? Or would that be a problem for feminists? I'm torn between understanding that inherent in the accusation is the reality that as far as we've come, women have a long way to go, and my realization that as far as we've come, lesbians have a long way to go, too.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Why is it anyone's business?

This morning, I read this article and was left wondering (as I occasionally am), why does anyone care if anyone else is gay? I don't understand the investment in anyone else's sexuality or relationships, as long as no one is harmed. Pedophilia is a problem. Abusing your spouse is a problem. But I just can't understand why homosexuality is such an abomination.

Don't - don't! - tell me it's because the Bible says it is. The Bible says all sorts of things we understand are no longer relevant in today's world. So in my book, it's not valid to justify your bigotry through quoting the Bible (your book may be the Bible - mine isn't; I'll respect your book if you respect mine). Leonard Pitts Jr. says it eloquently here:

I've had it up to here with the moral hypocrisy and intellectual constipation of Bible literalists.

By which I mean people ... who dress their homophobia up in Scripture, insisting with sanctimonious sincerity that it's not homophobia at all, but just a pious determination to live according to what the Bible says.

And never mind that the Bible also says it is "disgraceful" for a woman to speak out in church (1 Corinthians 14:34-36) and that if she has any questions, she should wait till she gets home and ask her husband. Never mind that the Bible says the penalty for going to work on Sunday (Exodus 35:1-3) is death. Never mind that the Bible says the man who rapes a virgin should buy her from her father (Deuteronomy 22:28-29) and marry her.

I'm going to speculate that you don't observe or support those commands. Which says to me that yours is a literalism of convenience, a literalism that is literal only so long as it allows you to condemn what you'd be condemning anyway and takes no skin off your personal backside.

I'm stuck back at that question - why does anyone care? Go ahead, believe it's a sin - I don't mind. I'll let you believe what you like, if you let me make a life with who I like. Is that a deal?

Because, when the argument comes down to gay animals, I start to get lost. On the one hand, I think - hey, if penguins are gay, it's clearly not an aberration of nature. But then I wonder - why is it an aberration of nature if it's humans, but not penguins? Do we blame society for homosexuality, but if we can prove it's not society, then we'll be okay with it? Ultimately, I'm not really sure how drawing the line somewhere, pointing to a cause, or a starting point, or a commonality with the rest of the animal kingdom, impacts the argument for or against homosexuals.

Let's get down to basics. The swans mentioned here are gay. I am gay. The swans and I are both animals, and frankly, I doubt either of us woke up one day and said, "Hey, I'm gonna be a queer." Are you straight? Did you wake up one day and say, "Hey, I'm gonna be straight"? Didn't think so. Didn't happen that way for me either. No matter what or how it was caused (you can believe it's God or nature or genetics or environment, or our rapidly deteriorating society) it just is.

But why does anyone care?

Here are sins I worry about: Some people starve to death while others have so much food, they throw it away rather than eat it. Some folks have no home while others have homes the size of Rhode Island. Some people rape, beat, murder other people. Some people are mean. God, I hate mean people - even when I'm having one of those days, and it's me being mean. Some people neglect their children - their own children, for goodness sake! Some people drive 85 mph, swerving between lanes, endangering not just their own lives, but the lives of everyone on the freeway. Those are sins!

Do what you will with your own life. Believe whatever you want, and please, please implement that in the life you create, just so long as you don't harm others. Just stop caring so much about my life, or else explain to me why it's any of your business. Please.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Too Many Words

I had A---- read the blog the other day. I still feel like I haven't found my voice. And she nailed it when she told me I'm using too many words, but not going deep enough. This is why I haven't sent it out to the world at large yet. I'll keep working on it...happy to hear comments from others as well.

Words sometimes seem to get in the way. Especially with a topic as emotional as this. LB commented on the lack of logic behind arguments against gay marriage, and I suspect she's right. But I keep searching for it. But then, so often when discrimination is involved, logic is based on emotional assumptions - like saying blacks have to ride in the back of the bus because they're inferior. Hard to refute if someone believes it to be true, but certainly most of us here in the United States understand that there is something inherently wrong in such racist concepts. Let me digress on this topic for a moment - because I think exploring racism a bit helps to understand some of the arguments against gay marriage, even if it's not necessarily directly comparable, as some black leaders argue.

Most of us harbor all sorts of biases, both acknowledged and unacknowledged (I wrote a bit about this before). The chances are pretty good that occasionally you rely on stereotypes, or lumping groups of people together because of the color of their skin or their religion or their political beliefs. If you're white, the chances are quite good that, even if you believe that the Civil Rights Movement was a good thing, you are still biased in some ways against blacks. Maybe you realize you're doing it. Maybe you don't. But the biases still exist, in subtle and less subtle ways. It's a painful thing to confront if you like to believe yourself not racist (how I flinch when I hear that preface - "I'm not a racist, but...") and you may be one of the rare few who manages to escape all the cultural bombardment that teaches us to look at the "other" with skewed vision (this isn't limited solely to whites - blacks, too, suffer from this kind of biased thinking against people of other races, and even other blacks, and the same issues exist for Asians and Latinos).

Take a look at that Psychology Today article and consider that the chances are good that the potential employers reviewing those applications likely don't consider themselves racist, either. They probably had perfectly good reasons, in their own minds, why they rejected the candidates with the black-sounding names. But the fact remains, fewer folks with "black" names got called back. I'd be curious to hear what percentage of Americans consider themselves racist - does anyone have information about this? Apparently over 1/3 of French describe themselves as racist, but I somehow doubt Americans would be so forthcoming.

Something similar happens when it comes to the question of gay marriage. Certainly there are still plenty of folks out there who are openly homophobic. This seems to change for many people if they're close to someone who comes out. But for many straight people who don't consider themselves homophobic, some line gets crossed in their mind when it comes to gay marriage. You can base your arguments on all sorts of logic about what defines marriage, why it exists. But underlying that logic is an emotional attachment to the idea that gays and lesbians are different - separate but equal perhaps.

How can I claim to be any better, since apparently even I hold onto some such notion. I'm torn between an emotional desire to marry my partner, and some emotional reaction to the idea that I deserve to marry her as much as straight people deserve to marry their beloveds. And something in my personality, as emotional and irrational a person as I am, needs to feel there is logical underpinning to the idea that gay marriage should or shouldn't be allowed.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Personal Is Political

In the wake of last Thursday's New York Court of Appeals decision, and thinking most particularly about today's California Supreme Court hearings on whether the ban on gay marriage in California is unconstitutional, I'm focusing more on what it would mean to me personally, rather than esoteric arguments about the pros and cons of gay marriage.

Whenever it seems possible that they could legalize it here, in California, my heart quickens. It's clear from the way I react that I desperately want to be able to marry A----. It astounds me what it feels like to make a life with someone, and it's rare that a day passes that I don't realize my love for her has deepened, broadened, enriched my life. I'm a traditionalist and a romantic in many ways, and I love the idea of marriage - the concept of one true love, the security of promising to spend your life with someone, the invitation to your community to recognize, honor and participate in that relationship. I want all of that for myself, for us, and my response when it seems like it could happen is visceral.

When Mayor Gavin Newsom briefly was able to legalize gay marriage in San Francisco, we were in France. We heard of what was happening when a retired English general remarked to us in the local bar how extraordinary the events in SF were - he seemed so thrilled by what was going on, and so completely without guile, that we weren't really sure we understood until we got to the local library to check our email the following Monday. There we were, 8,000 miles from home, on a three-month self-imposed exile, literally in the middle of nowhere, and reading about what was happening in our own city, to many of our own friends, and it seemed so extraordinary and wonderful and impossible.

So much of the press around those events was about the couples who chose to get married - all the celebrations, the flowers arriving from around the country and the world, the sold-out hotels, the jubilation in the streets. But I wonder, sometimes, how many relationships ended that weekend when suddenly couples were confronted by a question that had thus far been only the purview of straights - what are your intentions? Without the need to buy a ring, commit to a date, walk down the aisle, sign the papers, it's so much easier not to discuss long term plans for the relationship, to go on with life, each assuming that the other shares a common vision for the future. There is no lack of a proposal, or accidental pregnancy, to force the issue. So what impact did it have on all those relationships when everyone woke up one morning to suddenly find they could get married - and that it seemed everyone was doing it? Surely heartbreak existed right along with all those nuptials.

Indeed, I think about that question when the arguments about whether gays and lesbians should be allowed to be parents come up. Inherent in the gay culture (whatever that is) is this sense that gay and lesbian relationships aren't permanent or condoned by the larger society. Some of us opt to think of our relationships differently, but there's a different set of pressures on straight couples. I watch my straight friends fend off relatives and even relative strangers, as they are asked again and again why they aren't married (if they are single) and when they are going to set a date (if they are in a relationship). It hovers over heterosexual couples in a way that even the most marriage-minded gays and lesbians can't relate to. And it means that built into our inability to get legally married there comes a real freedom that might not exist any longer if we were suddenly the norm, and our families expected us to get married, too. With a different set of expectations comes a different approach to relationships that might impact the statistics about whether gay and lesbian relationships last, even if someone actually bothered to compare couples who considered themselves married to wedded heteros.

Back to this parenting thing for a second, though. I keep drifting away from it. In the conversations that happen among those that oppose gay marriage and parenting, there's a certain lack of knowledge about the reality of becoming a gay parent - it's not something you go into lightly. There's no such thing as an accidental pregnancy when you're involved with someone of the same sex. There's no casual conversation or choice about not using protection and "just seeing what happens." To become a gay or lesbian parent, you have to make some serious choices, often plunk down some serious cash, and even if the conversation starts out light, if you actually get to the point where you become a parent, you've really made a choice to follow through at that point - seriously committed to the process and the result.

This doesn't mean that every gay or lesbian couple that becomes parents never breaks up. But it strikes me as a fascinating juxtaposition that all sorts of heterosexuals can become parents without thinking about it - and that Maggie Gallagher and Dr. James Dobson can make blanket statements indicating that they're inherently more qualified to be parents than any gay or lesbian couple could possibly be.

Some element of the argument against gay marriage, then, twists around and starts to contradict itself. Queers shouldn't be parents because they can't get married, and they can't get married because their relationships don't last, and therefore they shouldn't be parents, which is the only reason folks should get married at all - a bit of a circular argument. And don't even get me started on heterosexuals who don't want kids and are allowed to get married. With arguments like these I'm starting to wonder if you should be required to prove you're not barren before you're allowed to tie the knot.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Biased Thinking

How often do you think about your biases? I was raised with biases - weren't you? Born into a commune, I grew up in San Francisco, the offspring of hippie parents with clear ideological tendencies. Even when my father took a position contrary to my own - which is usually the typical bleeding heart viewpoint - I'm pretty sure it was to stir up debate and get everyone thinking, not because he actually did vote for Reagan. That's just the kind of Libra he is.

So, when I read this article, and then did a little research on Rick Riedel, it took me awhile to get over the fact that a minister from South Dakota wrote it. It really never occured to me that someone from South Dakota - anyone, let alone a minister - might write such a clear-headed defense of gay families. Isn't everyone in the flyover states adamently opposed to homosexuality? Don't Christians believe it's a sin?

Me and my knee jerk reactions had to consider the possibility that assumptions were getting in the way of real thought. Because this minister from South Dakota - a Christian man unbiased by the force of the gay and lesbian families that inhabit every block in my neighborhood - sounds more sure in his conviction that we shouldn't be biased against gay and lesbian families than I am.

Rick Riedel's piece bitch-slapped me with my own biases. I'm biased against South Dakotans and gay families. Say what!?

I think we're more accepting of those we love than we are of ourselves. Or maybe that's just me. I'm pretty sure my family doesn't struggle even a little with the fact that I'm a lesbian (honestly, I think they believe it's cool to have a lesbian in the family). But I do. I question my sense of entitlement every day.

I'm in love with A----, plan to grow old with her. I have chosen to commit to this person, even recognizing that as easy and wonderful as it is now, it probably won't always be so, and I have committed to myself that there won't be any easy outs from this relationship (something I'm frankly not so sure many straight people commit to when they marry, given the divorce rates). If I could marry her legally, I would in an instant. And there are plenty of folks in our lives who would celebrate such a thing.

But when we decided to formalize our commitment, diamond rings and vows and all, we did it privately, just the two of us. Why? Well, in part because it felt more personal that way, an incredibly sweet moment shared only by the betrothed. And because we're cheap and didn't want to spend all that cash on a party. There was also the fact that A----'s family is still coming around, and we weren't sure if they would show up to the wedding (although you should see the progress they've made - we're so proud! But more on that another day).

In the back of my head, though, is the main reason I didn't push for a wedding. This sad, niggling little doubt. The one that wonders if all those people in the middle of the country - the ones I biasedly assume hate me - are right. Do I deserve to marry A---- just because I love her? I wonder, secretly, if all our supporters would be thinking the same thing, cattily chatting among themselves about our pretense at reality.

Frame it around any of my gay or lesbian couple friends, and I would tell you without hesitation that they have as legitimate a right to get married as my straight friends do. Like I said, it's easier when you're talking about someone you love, rather than yourself. But there's something to this need on my part to acknowledge and think through my biases, whether they're about South Dakotan Christians or marriage-minded queers. In this endless debate we seem to be engaged in as a nation (and it goes well beyond the questions around marriage and sexuality), how often do we each step back and recognize our biases? How often do we question them? When was the last time you really considered where the "other side" was coming from?

I have an incredible stake in this marriage question. The tax ramifications for us would be huge. The legal ramifications instant and gratifying. And I am brought to tears at the thought of the personal implications - what it would mean to feel accepted by society like that. It is easy for me to ignore that voice in the back of my head, to close my ears to the arguments against gay marriage without even considering them, because I know, I know, I should be allowed to marry A----.

But then how would we ever get anywhere? If I take that position, those who oppose gay marriage have no obligation to question their biases, to pay attention to the voices that may be niggling at the back of their head, to really listen to the arguments in favor of allowing gays and lesbians to marry. And, so, in my commitment to really thinking through the ramifications of gay marriage, I am going to explore more than my own perspective, and I am going to examine my biases, and I am going to consider the arguments very carefully, both for and against.

Next post, I'm going to consider the liberal case against gay marriage.