October 20, 2007

Philadelphia Stands Up to Discrimination, AFA Has a Hissy Fit

This is an excerpt from the latest American Family Association e-mail blast:

The city of Philadelphia has decided to punish the Boy Scouts of America because it will not allow homosexuals to serve as Scout Leaders. City officials said they will charge the Cradle of Liberty Scouts Council $200,000 a year to use the city-owned headquarters. The Council was paying $1 per year (since 1928). The city owns the land on which the Council's 1928 Beaux Arts building sits.

The city says it is charging the scouts $200,000 a year because the scouts discriminate against homosexuals. But the city finds nothing wrong with their discrimination against the scouts because of the scouts' belief.

First, kudos to the city of Philadelphia for not subsidizing discrimination. The Boy Scouts (of which I was a member many eons ago) or any private organization has no entitlement to a rent subsidy by a local government. I have no problem if a city decides to give one to an organization considered to benefit the community, which the Boy Scouts does in numerous ways, but a government should NOT subsidize discrimination, also something the Boy Scouts do. It bothers me that the city of Philadelphia let this go on as long as they did, but at least that mistake has been corrected.

The last line of the quote from the AFA just floors me. They twist this action of not funding discrimination by the city of Philadelphia into a form of discrimination itself. Sadly, this is just another example of the warped sense of reality leaders of the religious right have acquired. Also, this was not a snap decision as AFA's e-mail would imply. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, there have been discussions going on between the city and the Boy Scout chapter since May.

Taking a stand against an organization because they exclude a group of people from their activities is not discrimination--it's taking an admirable moral position and standing up for equality for ALL people. The Scouts have won their legal right to discriminate in a 2000 Supreme Court decision, but they do not have the right to have it supported by taxpayers.

October 19, 2007

Could There Be Wide-Spread Homosexuality Among Catholic Priests

I give you a moment to get over the shock of the premise of that question. Seriously, though, a recent scandal in Rome has prompted a new inquiry into investigating gay priests according to this report from Newsweek.

The case has raised questions about the extent of homosexuality in the Vatican. Those who dismiss Stenico's explanation believe the priest may be part of a small "underground" gay community of Vatican officials. Some officials readily admit such a community exists, but according to one, "it's not a formal network through which they are able to protect themselves." Others have long regarded Rome as a haven for gay priests, sent to the Vatican because they would not survive in a parish. "Rome's famous for it," said one parish priest in Italy who asked not to be named. "They've got to go somewhere, and so are given something innocuous to do in Rome." For some, that perception was underscored last year, when a senior ranking monsignor was involved in a high-speed police chase after being pulled over in a Rome district known for male prostitution.

Ultimately I suspect this will only result in more unwanted publicity for an organization that really didn't need any more, the Roman Catholic church. Let's face it, the church has trouble attracting priests these days anyway, and given their requirement of celibacy, who do you THINK would be most likely to sign up for that? Not anyone who wants to have sex with women, that's for sure. If they start outing priests, the church's doctrine would require them to be removed from the priesthood, and one would think there would HAVE to be an awful lot of open spots they would be unable to fill.

I just don't see it happening, but either way there there will probably be yet another black eye for the Roman Catholic church to deal with.

Do Open and Affirming Churches Want to Be "Gay Churches?"

That's something I've been curious about ever since the first time I walked into my church nearly three years ago. When Pastor Brenda first invited me to Believers Covenant Fellowship, knowing that it was predominantly made up of gay and lesbian people, I wondered how they would accept a straight guy. From the first moment, I was shown nothing but love and acceptance, but I then wondered if they were an exception or if that was common among similar type churches.

I had an opportunity to discuss that with several people in GLBT ministry last night in preparation for our church's special Fall Renewal weekend (check out our website if you live near Northern Virginia--it will be a truly special spiritual experience). We have a number of guest ministers visiting from across the nation and Canada, and several of us met for dinner last night. As always at Apostle Dale's home, he wound up at the piano leading us in a spirited round of old time hymns and contemporary worship songs, but there was also some informal sharing time where we were swapping stories and sharing our different perspectives.

Pastor Brenda and I spent some time with Pastors Debbie and Sue from Living Water Fellowship in Kenmore, Washington (we are also happy to have them as our houseguests this weekend) and Pastor Dylan of Rainbow Community Church in Vancouver, British Columbia. Along with being wonderful people of God, they have also led their churches to be among the first affiliates of the Affirming Christian Network Internet ministry that Pastor Brenda and I have started.

At one point, the discussion turned to the makeup of our churches, and one point really jumped out at me.....no one there wanted to have a "gay church." Open and affirming to GLBT people, of course, but not one that excluded straight people either. I was really struck by the passion of their desire to have their congregations more inclusive of straight people. There was no interest of developing a sub-culture, which from my distant perspective it appears many African-American churches have done. I believe that does exist among some gay-affirming churches (I'm told of some experiences of straight people being unwelcome in Metropolitan Community Churches), but our group of Pentecostal style, Charismatic bible believing churches does want everyone to share worship together and share the love of Jesus on equal footing.

It was just more affirmation that I'm with the group I need to be with, the group that God wants me to be in ministry with. Funny how God works that way, isn't it?

I'm sure I have more to share from our Fall Renewal over the next few days. We've been anticipating this event for months and are expecting excitingspiritual revival to pour over us.

October 18, 2007

Healing from Hurts Administered by "The Church"

Allow me to take a moment to add my perspective to one of the points I frequently hear from GLBT people—“I’ve had such a bad experience with the church.” I understand that and have heard some real horror stories. Many GLBT people would not allow you to drag them into a church at gunpoint. At the PFLAG convention Pastor Brenda and I attended last week, you could even see some of the straight family members veer away from our table when they noticed we were from a church.

It is critical to make this point. “The church” does not truly exist. Christianity has been splintered off to where there are very few basic concepts that all denominations would agree on. I listened to a recorded presentation from a Billy Graham Evangelistic Association Evangelism Training Conference that was very illuminating. The speaker broke down doctrine into three categories; foundation, conviction, and preference.

The list of items under foundation, those indisputable facts taken directly from scripture, were very short and did not venture much past Jesus being the Son of God and being resurrected from the dead. Convictions were beliefs that, while biblically based, were not indisputable. Preferences are mostly differences in how to approach worship; styles of music, types of prayers, etc.

The speaker pointed out that most conflict in churches (and he was speaking to an audience identified as being comprised of people from 59 different denominations) was caused by differences in conviction and preference. More importantly, he stated that it was the foundational beliefs and ONLY those that determined a person’s eternal destination—whether they would go to heaven or hell.

I bring that up here specifically for those who have been deeply wounded by their church experiences. If someone has told you that you would go to hell because you acted upon your homosexual experiences, they were speaking on their convictions, and convictions, being subject to interpretation of the scripture, can be wrong. If someone has called you an abomination, that was also from their convictions; how they read a passage from the Bible.

Ultimately, you relationship with narrow-minded people spewing judgment and condemnation in God’s name is just that, a relationship with people. All that ultimately matters is your relationship, and it is exactly that, a relationship, with Jesus Christ. If you have been in a church where people, even a pastor, told you that you could not have unless you renounced your homosexuality, they did that based on a conviction, not a fundamental fact.

There are churches like mine that, instead of pushing you away from God or requiring you to change, will teach you how to draw close, how to feel His love, and find the peace you have been seeking your entire life. Only Christ can heal the scars that hateful people have administered to your psyche, perhaps down to your very soul. I assure you, from first hand experience, that there are people in other churches that will love you as you are, where you are, and show you the path to receive the love that Jesus is so eager to give you.

The next time you hear someone state “the church’s” position on homosexuality, remember they are speaking only for THEIR church. There are others who will love you, nurture you, and accept you as God made you.

If you are seeking a church like that, I would be glad to help. Drop me a note at straight_notnarrow@yahoo.com.

October 17, 2007

Can Right Wing Operatives Gain Just a Touch of Perspective?

Here is the latest push from the Liberty Counsel, the right-wing legal activist organization spawned by the late Jerry Falwell's Liberty University. From One News Now, the reporting arm of the American Family Association:

A Christian legal organization has launched a petition drive asking Radio Disney to stop censoring the word "God" from advertising promoting the new movie, The Ten Commandments.

Liberty Counsel founder Mat Staver says he recently received a copy of an email from a Radio Disney advertising executive that instructed that the phrase "chosen by God" be omitted from ads playing on the network. The animated movie by Promenade Pictures opens this Friday in theaters nationwide.

During the previews to the movie, Staver appears in a three-minute video promoting the film, talking about the importance of the Ten Commandments to the modern legal system. He says it is shocking that Radio Disney would censor the word "God" from ads promoting the movie.

"This movie is an epic. It is obviously part and parcel that God is part of this movie, that God chose Moses to lead His people out of bondage and gave him the Ten Commandments that have profoundly influenced our notions of right and wrong," the attorney states. "Yet to censor God from the Ten Commandments is actually just unbelievable. So we are asking people around the country to make their voice known."

Staver encourages people to sign the online petition, found on the Liberty Counsel website, and to call Radio Disney to protest the policy. He says his organization plans to flood Radio Disney's email with the petitions and that the quicker people sign the petitions, the quicker they will be sent.

Are you kidding me? I will grant that it does seem odd to promote a movie about the Ten Commandments without using God, if that is indeed the case. Fair enough.

It sickens me, however, that whenever the religious right has their very sensitive senibilities offended, their tender feathers ruffled, they have to become a nuisance to whoever they deem to be the offending party. The AFA is also famous for doing this, and have already sent out e-mails about "defending Christmas."

Is God truly diminished by His name being omitted from the advertising of a movie about, well, Him? Is he that easily offended? I doubt it, but apparently there are plenty of people willing to take offense in His name and defend His honor.

I just wish they could take all of that energy and put it toward something constructive like collecting coats for the homeless with the cold weather coming up soon, or working to expand health care for children in this nation instead of fighting to restrict it.

You know, the kind of work Jesus would be doing if he walked the earth right now.

October 16, 2007

"Ex-Gay Harm: Let Me Count the Ways"

One of the most contentious points in the ongoing debate regarding the concept of becoming an "ex-gay" is that of the amount of harm the process can do to someone seeking to be changed but not realizing any perceptible difference after going through counseling, sometimes after spending years of their life and thousands of dollars trying to rid themselves of homosexual attractions. They are often motivated by familes or churches telling them they are "aborations to God" or sexual deviants, among other lovely things.

I have not come across anyone who has provided a more intimate, up-close, and personal view into this than Peterson Toscano. Peterson is an entertainer, blogger, and activist who journeyed through a personal hell trying to get to the point where he could be comfortable living as a straight man. That effort failed miserably, and he has devoted much time and energy to helping others avoid the pain he went through. He cofounded the organization "Beyond Ex-Gay" to reach out to more people than he could individually.

I share this with you because Peterson has posted a blog entry titled, "Ex-Gay Harm: Let Me Count the Ways" and was kind enough to share it with me:

In the past 4.5 years I have been in contact with over 1000 ex-gay survivors. These are people who pursued ex-gay experiences, either on their own, or more often, assisted by others like a therapist, minister, ex-gay program. They attempted to change or suppress their sexual orientation and may have referred to themselves as ex-gays or simply strugglers or by some other name.

Through hearing their stories (some of which are posted on Beyond Ex-Gay--bXg) and in unpacking my own ex-gay journey, I have begun to understand the many ways people can be harmed by their ex-gay experiences. Many of us also received certain benefits from our ex-gay experiences, but in most cases the harm outweighs the good.

I realize that the ex-gay experience is not the only culprit in bringing harm. The anti-gay church and a homophobic society and in many cases one's own family contributes to the damage. But what the ex-gay experience does is deepen that harm by offering hope for some sort of change or freedom. Led by sincere and caring people, our ex-gay programs, therapists and ministers encouraged us and because of their kindness and sincerity, we often pressed on long after we realized the it was not working. Only afterwards did we began to understand the trauma we introduced into our lives as a result of submitting to ex-gay experiences.

Below is a list of categories outlining areas of harm along with brief descriptions for each. I invite ex-gay survivors to leave comments with specific examples and further explanations for any of the categories that resonate for them. They can even add new categories.

(warning: this can be heavy stuff to look at, so before you do, make sure you feel somewhat prepared and aware that this might bring up stuff for you)

If you are confused about how to handle same-sex attractions you are experiencing and have considered pursuing the "ex-gay" route, it is imparitive that you click through to Peterson's blog entry and not just read it, but study what he writes and decide if you really want to subject yourself to some if not all of the damaging issues that can manifest during that therapy/counseling.

If you are someone who has encouraged a person to take this path, or if you have supported an ex-gay ministry in the past, I emplore you to carefully review Peterson's post and reconsider your approach.

Religious Right Flexing Its Muscle in Australia

America is not the only nation where the religous right is working to influence policy and elections. Focusing on a campaign against gay equality, there is a like minded group, the Australian Christian Lobby, rising down under that is trying to influence the upcoming general election.

From PinkNews

The Australian Christina Lobby is committed to fighting gay equality.

"We reject HREOC's attempts to normalise same-sex relationships by extending the definition of de facto marriage and redefining parenthood.

"Such a move plays directly into the hands of activists whose long-term aim has been to redefine marriage and family," the group said in a pre-election statement.

That phrase, "normalis(z)e same-sex relationships", always pisses me off, with the clear implication that people with same-sex orientations are abnormal, which in the minds of religious right zealots means not like them.

It's sad to see that bigotry in God's name is not limited to this continent. Hopefully GLBT advocates in Australia will be able to push back and not let this organization gain an even stronger foothold than it appears they already have.

October 15, 2007

This Just In: Christians Considered Judgemental and Anti-Gay

The Barna Group has released results of a survey conducted among people ages 16-29 that reveals a very negative perception of Christians and Christianity in general.

From the USA Today:

Majorities of young people in America describe modern-day Christianity as judgmental, hypocritical and anti-gay. What's more, many Christians don't even want to call themselves "Christian" because of the baggage that accompanies the label.

A new book based on research by the California-based research firm The Barna Group found that church attitudes about people in general and gays in particular are driving a negative image of the Christian faith among people ages 16-29.

"The Christian community's ability to take the high road and help to deal with some of the challenges that this (anti-gay) perception represents may be the ... defining response of the Christian church in the next decade," said David Kinnaman, Barna Group president and author of the book, UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity.

"The anti-homosexual perception has now become sort of the Geiger counter of Christians' ability to love and work with people."

This is a very strong final statement and one that I strongly agree with. Christ did not show any indication of witholding his love from someone based on their sexual orientation, yet many Christians do just that under the guise of "hate the sin, love the sinner." Guess what part of that comes across the most clearly to people? I've said this before but it bears repeating; we are a LOT better at hating than loving, and if try to combine the two, hate will invariably rule the day.

If people can not clearly see the light of Christ in the life and through the actions of a Christian, that is way off the mark from the example Jesus set for us to live by.

Apparently people notice that.

October 14, 2007

Has Gay Inclusiveness Gone Too Far Too Fast?

That provocative question is the topic of a column at Salon.com by John Aravosis, a longtime gay rights advocate and editor of Americablog.

I have a sense that over the past decade the trans revolution was imposed on the gay community from outside, or at least above, and thus it never stuck with a large number of gays who weren't running national organizations, weren't activists, or weren't living in liberal gay enclaves like San Francisco and New York. Sure, many of the rest of us accepted de facto that transgendered people were members of the community, but only because our leaders kept telling us it was so. A lot of gays have been scratching their heads for 10 years trying to figure out what they have in common with transsexuals, or at the very least why transgendered people qualify as our siblings rather than our cousins. It's a fair question, but one we know we dare not ask. It is simply not p.c. in the gay community to question how and why the T got added on to the LGB, let alone ask what I as a gay man have in common with a man who wants to cut off his penis, surgically construct a vagina, and become a woman. I'm not passing judgment, I respect transgendered people and sympathize with their cause, but I simply don't get how I am just as closely related to a transsexual (who is often not gay) as I am to a lesbian (who is). Is it wrong for me to simply ask why?

No, it's not wrong to ask the question. Actually, it's a very good one.

I support transgendered rights. But I'm not naive. If there are still lingering questions in the gay community about gender identity 10 years after our leaders embraced the T -- and there are -- then imagine how conflicted straight members of Congress are when asked to pass a civil rights bill for a woman who used to be a man. We're not talking right and wrong here, we're talking political reality. Our own community is still grappling with this issue. Yet we expect members of Congress, who took 30 years to embrace a gay ENDA, to welcome the T's into the bill in only five months.

That's why James Dobson, Tony Perkins and the men at the Concerned Women for America are so hell-bent on defeating ENDA. To the religious right, ENDA without gender identity isn't a weak, meaningless bill fraught with loopholes. Our enemies know that passage of any federal gay civil rights legislation is a legislative and cultural milestone that would make it that much easier for all of us -- gays and lesbians, bisexuals and eventually even the transgendered -- to realize all of our civil rights in our lifetime.

I agree with Aravosis about the political reality of ENDA (as I've previously written here), but there is another important question that he does not address--if transgender people can't partner up with gays and lesbians, then who WILL advocate for them? I fear the answer is no one, and, if left to fend for themselves, they wouldn't even register a blip on the political radar.

Now wouldn't that be a step BACK for civil rights?

"Are Christians Contributing to Unbelief?"

That's the question asked in this article on The Christian Post by conservative writer S. Michael Craven.

Could it be that our own actions are causing the religiously-inclined but nonetheless lost to doubt the existence of God? Is it possible that the Church is pushing people toward unbelief by virtue of its approach to culture and the world? Has Christianity become so politically defined that true faith and the person of Jesus Christ is obscured in the minds of many? Is it possible that Christians are conducting themselves in such a way that the spiritually seeking are looking anywhere but to Christ? I don't know for sure but I certainly think it is possible and that is enough to make me examine my self in light of these questions. It should cause us all to examine ourselves.

From the balance of Mr. Craven's article, I would surmise that his idea of corrective action is quite different from mine, but I do take some consolation that someone of the conservative ilk is even asking those questions.

I firmly believe the hatefulness and judgementalism of right-wing, anti-gay Christians is a big factor in the recent trend of atheisim becoming cool. If people are going to accept the existence of God, not to mention take him as their Lord and Savior, they need to see the light of Christ through people's lives. If they see something different on a consistent basis, then I can understand how they come to believe that God either does not exist or is impotent and of no value to them.

In Matthew 5:16, Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount:

.....let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

If the light is not there in our lives, yet we claim to follow Jesus, then what is there for others to praise?

Not much, and that's a serious problem. If you profess to be a Christian, let me suggest you take a look in the mirror and try to understand how others see you. If they aren't seeing the light of Christ through your life, it's time to change the bulb and let it shine brightly.

It DOES make a difference.