February 03, 2006

Acceptance is a Two-Way Street

I've really been spoiled by positive experiences with the GLBT community. I was made painfully aware of that fact this past week when my attempted interaction with a local GLBT organization took a nasty and disappointing turn.

One of the avenues I have used to draw new readers to Straight, Not Narrow, has been to join Yahoo groups that have a somewhat similar focus. Since I write about both GLBT policital issues and the relationship of christianity to the GLBT community, I requested and received membership in groups that focused on one or both of those areas.

Last week, I posted messages in my groups linking to my SNN post "Don't Trust the System, Trust The Lord." The content of the message was "I just added a post to my blog about how I feel we need Christ to guide us through our involvement in the political process. I would appreciate any feedback you would care to give." As I hoped, people from several groups visited this site, read the post, and left interesting comments here and back in the groups.

I have stated several times since starting this blog that one of my main goals was to stimulate dialogue. I'm inviting people to respectfully disagree with what I write because it's that exchange of ideas that can foster learning on both sides of an issue.

There was one group, however, that reacted much differently. A local orgainzation that claims to be "dedicated to promoting equality and full participation for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered people..... through advocacy, education, community outreach and partnership."

When I checked e-mail the next morning after I has posted my message, I had a note from the moderator of this group telling me how inappropriate my message was, how many members were offended, threatening to ban me from the group, and asking me to apologize for posting something that "was obviously not related to GLBT issues" in their area.

I remain unclear how anything discussing ideas of how to approach politics is not related to GLBT issues. I don't understand how I could have offended anyone by expressing an opinion based on my beliefs without condemning anyone else or belittling their value system.

There were probably Jewish or Muslim members that read my message, and I wouldn't expect them to be offended, just like I wouldn't take offense if they had written about taking an Old Testament approach or how Allah would address issues. I wouldn't agree with those points any more than either one would agree with mine, but I would not demand they be banned from the group either.

One thing I do not intend to do here is to anger people who clearly are not interested in this message. While I declined to offer an apology, I also immediately removed myself from their group. In Luke 9:5 (NIV), Jesus told His disciples, "If people do not welcome you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave their town."

I am not naming this group because I don't want their cause, if they ever actually do anything to advance it, to be damaged in any way. I do have to ask, however, how is the way they rejected me, most of them without even reading the content of my post here, any different from the rejection that they are supposed to be uniting to work against? I also wonder, if they are so concerned about anyone being offended, just how they plan on effecting change, which by it's very nature offends people. Good luck with that approach.

I said at the beginning that I have been spoiled because that is the first blatant rejection I have received from a GLBT group. My church, comprised of a clear majority of GLBT members, has accepted me just as I am from day one, and this experience reminded me that I should not take that for granted.

For GLBT people who want and deserve to be treated with respect by people who aren't like tham, I suggest they remember to give what they hope to receive.

Acceptance does work BOTH ways.

February 01, 2006

The Level of Debate

An online chat at WashingtonPost.com today featured two members of the Maryland state legislature who took questions regarding the constitutional amendment up for consideration that would make same-sex marriage against the law.

Favoring the amendment was Republican delegate Adelaide C. Eckardt. Opposing it was Democratic delegate Richard S. Madaleno Jr. The difference in the depth these two delegates brought to this issue was striking. I'll link to both chats below, but here are some of what I consider the most interesting comments.

Delegate Eckardt:

Q: One of the primary justifications I have heard for this amendment is the maintenance of the traditional institution of marriage. Slavery and women being unable to vote, both also historic examples of rights being denied to a section of our population, were also tradition at one time. What makes this issue different? (that question was my contribution)

A: Marriage between a man and a woman has been at the very foundation of our society - and essentially was for procreation.

Q: I want to know what Del. Eckardt recommends gay couples do to protect themselves in retirement. My partner and I are approaching retirement, and I am worried that if my partner dies before I do (he is 10 years my senior and has been the breadwinner in our family the past couple of years) that I will be in big trouble due to the lack of Social Security and health benefits that I can't enjoy because I am unable to marry. What would Del. Eckardt do if he were in my situation?

A: When individuals choose their lifestyle there may be implications.

Q: You state that there has been an "erosion" to our society by the courts. What is that erosion? Can you please explain? This a much-used talking point, but no one explains what the erosion is. Your thoughts?

A: A gradual chipping away of this country's most basic institutions.

Delegate Madaleno:

He had an opening statement, unlike his colleague

Thank you for allowing me to answer your questions concerning legislation to amend the Maryland constitution, House Bill 48. I do not support the call for a referendum on the issue of marriage equality. A constitution provides a blueprint for the structure of government and guarantees certain rights to protect its citizens from government interference. The Maryland Constitution provides its citizens the right to turn to both their elected representatives and to the judiciary to secure their liberties. This bill, if adopted, would deny this fundamental American right to all those who support marriage equality. I will not support this assault on our fundamental liberties. In my opinion, our country's great innovation was to develop a system of governance that checks majority rule with certain guaranteed rights for the minority no matter how despised. To deny a group of citizens access to their courts and to their legislature due to the decision of a single trail court judge is unwarranted.

I would encourage the readers to review carefully the language of HB 48. Section (B) of the amendment would prohibit the legal recognition of any relationship between two people of the same gender. Not only would it prohibit civil unions, it is so broad that it would prohibit any public agency from providing health care benefits to domestic partners. It is so vague that we cannot begin to know all of its consequences. For example, the language could prohibit a mother from designating a daughter in a power of attorney since they are both of the same gender and medical decision making is a benefit of marriage. Others say it could prohibit divorce. Therefore, I believe that this proposal is unworkable and unwieldy.

Again, the difference in the level of dialogue between these two legislators was very striking. From debates I have heard and comments I have read, it is representative of how each side approaches this issue. Opponents of same-sex marriage that I have seen tend to rely on tradition, religion, and fear of change, while proponents often approach it as a civil rights issue.

In my last post, I said I felt it was important for someone to be educated on the issues. I fear that a substantial portion of the majority of people same-sex marriage opponents often point to are not terribly well versed on the implications of these issues. In the Washington Post debate, delegate Eckardt clearly was not sure of the far reaching implications of the Maryland amendment. Conversely, Delegate Madaleno has clearly done his homework.

Tradition is no basis for deciding this issue. Over time in the bible, traditions changed. God's will for mankind has been a gradual revealation. The days of concubines are long gone. The procreation agruement also falls short, since there are plenty of hetrosexual couples that can't have children.

Since I've taken away the easy answers for the opponents of same-sex marriage, maybe THEY need to do some homework. I'm confident if they do, some opinions will change.

Links for the Washington Post chat:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/discussion/2006/01/31/DI2006013101199.html (Rep. Eckardt)

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/discussion/2006/01/31/DI2006013101209.html (Rep. Madaleno)

January 30, 2006

Don't Trust the System, Trust the Lord

After today's vote in the U. S. senate, it is all but a certainty that Samuel Alito will be confirmed tomorrow as the next Supreme Court justice. I'm not knowledgeable enough to say conclusively if that is a good thing or a bad thing. I do know most GLBT rights groups feel strongly that his confirmation will move the Supreme Court further to the right and be a blow to their fight for equal rights.

It is a frustrating time in our nation for anyone who believes in the rights of individuals. There is little dialogue anymore. People are neatly distributed in red states and blue states. You're either for the government or against them. We're in a very black and white society that doesn't deal well with the infinite shades of grey that exist beyond the very rigid doctrine conservative leaders are pushing to make the law of our land.

The frustration of those of us working against that doctrine can be debilitating, if we allow it to be.

Education about issues is a critical, and I believe a frequently missing, part of making decisions and forming policy. There is something much more important, however, that I feel is even more sadly lacking in leaders and voters alike--the education that can only be provided by The Holy Spirit of God.

People need to work to influence our political system to effect change in our laws because it the only process available to Americans to do so. What leads us to choose a side on an important issue? Is it the loving spirit of God, or is it a personal agenda working toward protecting a person's perceived standing in society at the expense of everyone else who is not like them.

So much right wing policy has "traditional family values" wrapped around it. One of the leading religious organizations pushing the move to the right is Focus on the Family. "Preserve traditional family values," conservatives say. "Marriage is traditionally between a man and a woman," they cry.

It is absolutely true that the traditional family has a man, wife, and children. It is also true that tradition used to be that women were treated like property. In Jesus' time, if a woman's husband and sons died, she had no recourse but to beg for mercy from others. It used to be a tradition that familes had slaves--actually OWNED people.

Thankfully, our society has grown beyond those dehumanizing practices. Proponents of keeping those traditions in place often used scriptures to defend their positions, but enough people saw through that to slowly, sometimes painfully, effect positive social change.

In the United States today, scripture is again being used to slow, if not stop dead in its tracks, social change that would give GLBT individuals the rights that others in our society take for granted. God's own word is twisted to treat homosexuals as lesser beings, subject to hate crimes and denied the right to enter into the holy union of marriage.

If you remember, the devil used scripture to tempt Jesus when he spent 40 days in the desert. The bible is the greatest single source of wisdom in the history of mankind, but even that can used to promote the agenda of people ahead of the agenda of God.

As individuals, we need to seek God's will for our lives, and His plan for how we should affect the lives of others. We then need to ACT on those plans, inside our churches and within our political system, two seperate and distinct venues to improve the quality of our lives and those we come in contact with.

I am confident that His plans never include hatred toward our fellow man, committing unprovoked acts of violence, or denying rights to people based on what gender God made them natrually attracted to. If anybody tells you differently, no matter how many millions of dollars he may have at his disposal or how many books he has written, I feel with all my heart and everything the Holy Spirit has blessed me with, that you must seriously question that person's motives. Are they trying to lead you to follow God, or themselves.

YOU are responsible for seeking God's guidance for your life. If you yield that power to any other person, then you will see their filtered version of God and literally put your eternal future in their hands.

There's only one person I trust with that, and His name is Jesus Christ. If you don't look for Him to guide your decisions every day of your life, I urge you to get connected to Him and yield control to Him. You will never, ever make a smarter or more important decision than that.