February 02, 2008

Another First: A Black, Lesbian, Mayor

Here is a story of how, slowly but surely, at least in local jurisdictions, labels are meaning less and who a person is and what they stand for is meaning more. I find it particularly interesting this happened in the home of one of the world's great centers of higher learning, Harvard University and not some poor, depressed town.

From The Edge (Boston, MA)

As the presidential primaries continue to unfold, nightly newscasts are quick to remind viewers that a major historical precedent may be only months away: There’s never been a stronger chance that voters will elect either the first African-American president or the first female president.

But when it comes to equal opportunity politicking, Mayor E. Denise Simmons can claim one better.

When City Council elections gave Simmons the mayorship of Cambridge, Mass. on January 14, she became America’s first openly gay, female African-American mayor.

"This is what’s great about the City of Cambridge," says Mayor Simmons of the new chapter she has authored in the history books. She sits smiling in her City Hall office, a dignified space that emanates the same characteristic air as the New England City she calls her own: warmth and welcoming combined with aristocratic academia.

Her features are wide and open, her manners gracious and kind, and her eyes crackle with a certain sense of spirit; maybe it’s the focus of a maverick woman who has blazed her own trail, or the energetic ambition of a politician who has not only goals, but the will and willingness to realize them.

"It’s wonderful to be in a high-profile position, and to be in it as you are," says Simmons, emphasizing the last three words to underscore her comfort as an openly gay mayor.

February 01, 2008

I Speak Out Against the NFL on TV News

In an interesting set of circumstances, I wound up being interviewed by WUSA TV 9 in Washington, DC about the Super Bowl party my church, Believers Covenant Fellowship, is having on Sunday.

First came a story on the front page of today's Washington Post reporting about the National Football League is cracking down on the size of televisions used to watch the Super Bowl at large church gatherings. The league, the wealthiest sports league in the world, announced plans to strictly enforce it's copyright and limit the size of screens displaying a broadcast of the game to 55 inches.

This became a national story last year when the NFL sent a letter to a church in Indianapolis warning them not to follow through on their advertised plans to broadcast the game, featuring their hometown Colts, on a video screen exceeding the 55 inch limit.

Following up on this story, Channel 9NewsNow report Bruce Leshan did a Google search to find a local church still planning on having a Super Bowl party. He ran across the BCF website and the ad I placed on Craig's List advertising our event. Leshan contacted me and, with the blessing of Apostle Dale, I spoke with him on camera in front of the church.

The story appeared on Friday night's 5:00 PM newscast, and the transcript is here. We were thrilled that the signage of our church was very prominently displayed during the story, and that the video clip they use of my interview didn't make me sound stupid.

I had no idea when I woke up this morning that I would be on the 5:00 news, and that it would be a GOOD thing. Leshan did a wonderful job making me feel comfortable and asking good questions, and BCF got positive television exposure we could never have dreamt of paying for.

All because of a silly football game. Isn't God good!

January 31, 2008

Climate for Gays Improves in China

I find China a fascinating nation to watch these days, as the Communist government endeavors to assimilate more and more aspects of western culture while still trying to keep firm control of the political machine.

One way they are doing that is giving gay Chinese people more freedom, to a great extent just leaving them alone as long as they largely confine their activities to a thriving sub-culture.

Here's more on that from Time magazine:

There has never been a better time to be gay in China, but as Destination's somewhat schizophrenic combination of outer reserve and inner exuberance demonstrates, it still pays to be careful. Beijing's attitude has been described as a triple-no policy: no approval, no disapproval, no promotion. That sort of "Don't ask, don't tell" system is emblematic of the regime's delicate handling of many personal-liberties issues raised by the country's growing middle class. For their part, China's gays seem content to live within the government boundaries, albeit not without the occasional snipe at the authorities. Young gay men, for example, have co-opted a venerated communist term—tongzhi, or comrade—when referring to one another.

Historically, Chinese society was relaxed about homosexuality, which was tolerated so long as it didn't interfere with the Confucian duty to raise a family. Although an imperial decree banned homosexuality in 1740 (probably under the influence of Christian missionaries), it was the communists who first drove gays and lesbians underground. The communist government once viewed gays as disruptive to social order and harshly suppressed them, imprisoning and even executing suspected homosexuals. But as China's economy opened to the world, the authorities' stance softened. A law banning sodomy was dropped in 1997, and in 2001 homosexuality was removed from the country's official list of mental illnesses. "It gets freer every year," says Bernie, a fortysomething reveler at the club. "And every year more and more gays come out of the closet. In Beijing and the big cities, you can see couples walking around the shopping malls holding hands. In the smaller cities, I hear it's getting better all the time."

January 29, 2008

Baltimore Sun Supports Same-Sex Marriage in Maryland

From last Sunday's Baltimore Sun editorial section:

The Maryland General Assembly will soon consider legislation to remove the state's ban on same-sex marriage. We wholeheartedly support the effort.

Numerous are the rewards - to the individuals involved and society as a whole - that spring from this vital social institution. The broad range of benefits (and obligations) that come with marriage should not be denied certain people because of sexual preference.

But it would be foolish not to recognize that the proposal has little chance of passage this year. Too many lawmakers, particularly in the state Senate, actively oppose it.

Public opinion is also running strongly against it. A recent Sun poll found that only about one out of five Maryland voters supports same-sex marriage. Currently, only Massachusetts permits same-sex marriage, and a sizable number of states ban all legal recognition for same-sex relationships.

That's why we believe the time may be right for Maryland to authorize civil unions for same-sex couples. Admittedly, it is not the same thing as marriage. It would require creation of a separate legal structure - perhaps even an unwieldy one - that is unlikely to offer all the benefits of marriage.

It is for this reason that same-sex marriage advocates are often among the proposal's most ardent foes. They see it as an effort to thwart the case for genuine equality.

After all, civil union protections generally end at a state's borders. Nor would they have any impact on matters governed by the federal government - as often is the case with health insurance benefits, for instance. Marriage would be better.

But without a civil union law, the difficult task of trying to string together piecemeal rights denied same-sex couples issue by issue is all the more challenging.

Even more important, civil union should be seen as a bridge to the ultimate goal of ending discrimination by sexual orientation. As others have noted, civil rights are usually secured by incremental steps. And an overwhelming majority of Marylanders favor civil unions, according to the Sun poll.

None of this would be necessary if the Maryland Court of Appeals hadn't reversed a Baltimore Circuit Court judge and upheld the ban on same-sex marriage last September. But that decision is unlikely to be altered anytime soon.

Gov. Martin O'Malley has promised to support a civil union bill. If such a law would help offset, if only partially, the injustice done same-sex couples, it ought to be approved this session.

Although right-wingers will likely write this editorial from the state's largest newspaper off as another blast from the "liberal media," I thought it was balance and well stated. The Sun stood by principles yet was pragmatic to understand was could actually be achievable in this legislative session. The GLBT community does not need another token piece of legislation offered up pre-destined to fail. The state needs to move toward equality for all, and civil unions, while imperfect, would still be a step forward.

January 28, 2008

Pictures, We've Got Pictures

Back in October, my church, Believers Covenant Fellowship, had our first annual Fall Renewal event that pulled in folks from across the United States and Canada and was one of the most intense spiritual experiences I have had the opportunity to be part of.

Now I've got the pictures to prove it, thanks to Robbie and Don at Unidiversal.

Here's the whole group, sorted by category. There are over 400 photos from the three days of the event.

I want to post a few of my personal favorites directly here.

This may become one of my all-time favorite pictures. This is my beautiful wife Pastor Brenda resting her head on my shoulder as we both thank God for how he has blessed our lives together.

I gave prophetic words for the first time during this event, and I am here speaking a word to one of our newer members, Brenda Ferris. Apostle Dale is behind her wearing the red shirt.

Here is Pastor Brenda hugging Robbie Ousley from Unidiversal during prayer time immediately after the Sunday service. I'm in the background looking very pastoral as I stare off in the distance.

Apostle Dale and I enjoying a special moment together. I'm always afraid he'll crack a rib when he gets real excited like he was that weekend.

Pastors Sue and Debbie, who we had the pleasure of hosting during their visit from the Seattle area, joined Apostle Dale and myself in praying for our dear brother Ken, offering him encouragement

Apostle Dale's spouse, Deacon Garrey, is a gifted dance instructor and he used his gifts to twirl himself into a spiritual frenzy at times during the Renewal.
There are many, many more photos in the general link above. If you check them out, you can see what a diverse group was there, putting our differences aside and finding the common ground of worship the Lord.

January 27, 2008

More Evidence of Churches "Not Living Up to Their Calling"

From the Christian Post:

Criticism from people outside of Christianity toward the Church doesn't surprise many. But when negative viewpoints are being expressed by believers, it raises a red flag for churches across the country.

In the latest research report by Sam S. Rainer III, who heads Rainer Research, only 39 percent of people who dropped out of the church perceived their church as "caring." Meanwhile, 51 percent of them called their church "judgmental."

Among other unfavorable views from those who quit their church, 41 percent of them said their church was "insincere." Only 20 percent felt their church was "inspirational;" 30 percent said their church was "authentic;" and 36 percent said their church was "welcoming."

The survey was conducted on 18- to 22-year-olds and is featured in Rainer's upcoming book, Essential Church?.

"The churches that do not demonstrate these biblical qualities and rather become insincere and judgmental lose this generation," Rainer, a young Baptist pastor, commented. "They return to the culture that claims churches are not living up to their calling.

"And, for the most part, the culture is correct."

Part of the church's calling is to reach those on the outside and live out what they preach, but these students who are dropping out are hearing one thing in church and seeing another thing in the lives of these churchgoers, Rainer pointed out.

At Believers Covenant Fellowship, it is assumed that people walking through our doors have suffered some some of these effects in their church experience, and often dealt with even worse situations than are covered in this article.

How many souls must be lost before churches change their ways? How many people must die not knowing God before religion gives way to faith, judgment gives way to love, personal caring gives way to hellfire and brimstone from the pulpit?

Our church sees the urgency of moving past this and winning souls for Christ, reaching out and sharing with them how they can know the one true and loving God, not this angry characture taught as some many right-wing churches.

I hope your church is focused on teaching people how to live, not telling them why they are going to die.