March 22, 2008

Off for a few days

Pastor Brenda, Sharone, Erica, and I are moving and will be without Internet access for a few days, so you won't see any updates during that time.

I hope everyone has a blessed Resurrection Sunday and we'll be back with you as soon as possible.

March 20, 2008

Fighting Stigma Around HIV

Devoting resources to the prevention, treatment, and discovery of a cure for HIV are all critically important priorities, but another impact of the disease is the stigma around it. While it is not as bad as it once was, this perception is still a major issue.

This story from PinkNews reports that there is an initiative in the UK to help change that.

UK organisations are being asked to submit plans for innovative programmes that address stigma and shame around HIV/AIDS and the link between those factors and prevention, care and treatment for the disease.

The MAC AIDS Fund is the philanthropic arm of Estée Lauder-owned M·A·C Cosmetics.

It has pledged £250,000 in new grant money to fight the problem nationally.

A nine-country MAC AIDS Fund survey released in November found that respondents from the UK ranked stigma and shame around HIV/AIDS as the number one problem contributing to the spread of the disease.

Click here to read the rest of the story from PinkNews.

March 19, 2008

The Perils of Believing You Have Moral Certainty

I thought this was a very interesting article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

A CARDINAL RULE for a columnist, as for a preacher, is "Have only one subject, focus on one topic." I have a problem. I have three topics.

Topic 1: The revelations regarding Eliot Spitzer's little problem, a topic that has preoccupied front pages, talk shows, blogs and coffee-pot conversation all week long.

Topic 2: The anniversary (seems like the wrong word somehow) of the Iraq war. On Wednesday, it'll be five years since George W. Bush gleefully announced the "initiation of hostilities."

Topic 3: A new book about religion and politics by Washington Post journalist E. J. Dionne, who was in town this week, and with whom I spoke.

A trinity of topics, but one theme. The New York governor's fall, five years of war and Dionne's book all make clear how intoxicating, how politically useful, but how perilous it is to be absolutely certain that you are right.

All three point out the perils of moral certainty and the dangers of being sure of our own unassailable virtue. What a dangerous high is to be had by concentrating the mind on the evil of others, while being clueless about our own. (emphasis mine) If smugness isn't a sin, it should be.

I confident many of the readers here, especially the GLBT folks, have run across this type of person more often than they care to. These are people so buried in their own sin that they have to focus on someone they consider more sinful than themselves to try and create a level of self esteem. Many a gay basher has been found to have something in his or her closet that doesn't hold up to close scrutiny (often it's another gay person).

My experience has taught me that the louder someone condemns other people, the more sin he has in his life that he is hiding from or denying. The ones that focus on the latter part of "hate the sin, love the sinner" often hate themselves.

If someone claims higher moral authority, they are often one to run, not walk, away from. Judgment belongs to the Lord--those who try to claim that authority are casting themselves and/or their beliefs as idols, meaning they hold them up higher than God.

Romans 14:13 (NIV) Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way.

The way many GLBT people have been judged by those representing Christianity has effectively slammed the door in their face and made them understand that God does not want them in His kingdom.

Fortunately, those people are wrong. They either substitute their bigotry for God's will or simply underestimate the reach of His love, going beyond people like them to ALL His children. If you have been ostracized by a church, please reconsider and give God, not people preaching hate, a chance to touch your life. You can listen to some teachings or search for an open and affirming church at my ministry website, Affirming Christian Network.

One more thing from the article:

And the words that stood out most clearly in my conversation with Dionne was his observation, "The culture wars (another sure and certain drawing of the line between good and evil) exploit our discontents, when the task is to heal them." Dionne thinks Americans are finally fed up -- or in his words "souled out" -- with the smugness and arrogance of the Religious Right. He sees a broad spectrum emerging, people ready to reclaim faith and politics from them.

You can only fool people for so long, and I hope the era of the Religious Right being portrayed as the public face of Christianity is coming to an end. They do not accurately represent the God who has baptized me with the Holy Spirit and who sent his Son to die and rise again in atonement for my sins.

You can read the entire article here.

March 18, 2008

Gender Nonconformity on College Campuses

This feature story from the New York Times Magazine delves into the subject of college students who are either transgender or who fit more into the newer "gender nonconforming." It's quite long but well worth taking the time to read. Here are just a couple of excerpts:

Many trans students feel themselves to be excluded or isolated at women’s schools and at coed colleges. Some talk of being razzed or insulted by fellow students. And even within a college’s gender-nonconforming population, students are often divided among those who define themselves as men but don’t transition medically, those who do and those who prefer not to define themselves as either male or female.

These difficulties are a natural part of being a minority that is still fighting for acceptance. But trans students’ problems can also be institutional. The presence of trans students at women’s colleges can’t help raising the question of whether — or to what degree — these colleges can serve students who no longer see themselves as women.

Though women’s colleges may seem a haven for trans or gender-nonconforming students, accommodating such students requires balancing a complex set of needs and expectations — inside and outside the college. Barnard, like many women’s colleges, has an admissions policy of accepting only “legal” women. The college’s president, Judith Shapiro, who wrote an article on transsexualism in the 1980s, is clearly sympathetic to the trans population in general, but when I spoke to her she wondered aloud why a transmale or male-identified student “would want to be in a woman’s college.” She went on to explain her position this way: “Having been very involved in second-wave feminism, I am interested in gender revolutionaries, but I still think gender is a major category in our society.” In many ways, Shapiro could be said to represent the position women’s colleges now find themselves in: caught between wanting to embrace a campus minority that their own interrogation of gender roles has helped to shape and defending the value of institutions centered on the distinct experience of being female.

Colleges, trans activists and advocates say, are even less prepared for advising students on how their gender-variant identities may affect their futures, including their professional lives. After all, many states don’t have protection for gender-nonconforming people in the workplace, and “gender identity” was recently dropped from the 2007 Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA. “There’s no professional development for trans kids at colleges,” said Shannon Sennott, a founder of Translate, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit group that holds workshops on trans awareness at women’s colleges. “The majority disappear into big cities, working as bartenders with advanced degrees because there’s real prejudice against trans workers.” Hadley Smith, a recent Wellesley graduate and a Translate founder who describes himself as gender-nonconforming, said that unemployment or limited employment is par for the course for many transgendered people, but those limits may seem starker when high-achieving graduates from educationally competitive schools like Smith College feel, out of fear of discriminating employers, that they have to abandon, at least temporarily, their professional aspirations.

Until non-discrimination protection for gender identity is the law of our land, any career path for a trans person will likely be a very bumpy road.

If someone attends an all-woman college, it seems that they would actually have a right to be upset if one of their roommates became a man, as happened in this story. What do you think about that?

Come Visit My Church During Holy Week

If you live near Northern Virginia and are seeking an open and affirming church to worship at during Holy Week, I urge you to consider checking out my church, Believers Covenant Fellowship.

Thursday night, we will show Mel Gibson's film "The Passion" at 7:00 PM with a fellowship dinner at 6:00.

Friday come share our Good Friday service beginning at 7:30 PM. It is a solemn service featuring our special Clown Communion.

We have fellowship time at 10:15 on Resurrection Sunday with worship beginning at 11:00. A covered dish meal follows.

Check out our website for directions and more information:

March 17, 2008

New Anti-Discrimination Law Under Fire

Jim, Brenda, Erica and I live in Rockville, Maryland until this weekend. After the move to our new home, we will still like in Montgomery County. A law passed recently banned discrimination against transgendered folks and I was happy to see it! I have felt for a long time that transgendered people have been the red-headed step child, so to speak, of the civil rights movement. Well, the religious right just couldn't let this one pass without a fight. Read below... had this story on their website today. If you'd like to read the whole story, please go to:

(Rockville, Maryland) A group of registered voters in Montgomery Co., Maryland has filed suit against the County Board of Elections alleging improprieties in the certification of a ballot measure to overturn a gender identity anti-discrimination law.

Last November the Montgomery County Council unanimously passed a law to ban discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression.

A socially conservative group collected signatures to have the measure overturned and earlier this month the Board of Elections certified the petitions, placing the issue on November's ballot.

The voters group opposing the referendum is made of transgender county residents, parents, several clergy, a law enforcement officer and some business owners. The lawsuit is being supported by Equality Maryland, the state's largest LGBT rights organization.

The suit says that there were errors in the way the signatures were collected and that the county should have been more careful in verifying the names were legitimate.

The lawsuit also notes that the certification of the petitions has prevented the gender identity anti-discrimination law from going into effect...

What frustrates me about this story is that I have no doubt that the people collecting signatures for the petition made inflammatory statements to ensure they'd get the signatures they needed. It just galls me to hear supposedly religious people talking about how transgendered people are perverts for simply trying to be who they are. Unfortunately, it's all too easy to degrade transgendered people and make them into monsters to get your point across when you're a person who believes that anyone different from them is evil. God forbid that they really talk to a transgendered or gay or lesbian or bi person to find out what the truth is! As a lesbian, I'm outraged by these people. As a Christian, I'm embarrassed by them.

I am hopeful that Equality Maryland will win in court. Maybe a few losses will make the people who commissioned this petition think twice about trying to deny basic, human rights to GLBT people.

One day, maybe they'll learn to leave people alone and mind their own business. Won't that be a reason for us to party?!?!

In the meantime, I intend to use my voice whenever and wherever I can to stand up for those who are predominantly quiet for fear of violence or ridicule. I refuse to let my friends be second-class citizens.

March 16, 2008

Senator Obama and his minister

A story surfaced a few days ago about Barack Obama’s minister and it’s really gotten some serious press. CNN said, in part:

"A Chicago minister who delivered a fiery sermon about Sen. Hillary Clinton having an advantage over Sen. Barack Obama in the presidential race because she is white is no longer a part of the Obama campaign.

The Rev. Jeremiah Wright is no longer serving on the African American Religious Leadership Committee, campaign sources told CNN.

In another sermon, Wright had said America had brought the September 11 attacks upon itself.
Obama denounced some of Wright's sermons on Friday, telling CNN's Anderson Cooper: "These are a series of incendiary statements that I can't object to strongly enough."

Earlier Friday, before the announcement of Wright's departure from the Obama camp, the Illinois senator denounced some of the ministers's sermons, calling them "inflammatory and appalling."

"I categorically denounce any statement that disparages our great country or serves to divide us from our allies," Obama wrote on the liberal Web site about recently surfaced sermons from Wright -- his longtime pastor at the Trinity United Church of Christ.

"I also believe that words that degrade individuals have no place in our public dialogue, whether it's on the campaign stump or in the pulpit," Obama continued. "In sum, I reject outright the statements by Rev. Wright that are at issue."

Obama, during the CNN interview, said, "I just don't think it's necessary to talk about Senator Clinton or anybody in those terms."

And, even though he has been a member of Trinity United for the past 20 years, Obama said he had never witnessed Wright making such statements."

You can read the rest of the piece here:

I have struggled to really know what to do with this information. There are many who say that Obama, as a 20 year member of this church, should know what his pastor believes and trying to say that he didn’t hear those sermons is a weak argument. However, what I’ve come to understand is that, while I don’t agree with the pastor’s statements, I can see how they may be taken out of context. Also, there are things that Pastor Wright has said that I believe come from a place of being disgusted with how America has treated it's black citizens over the years. We all experience things differently. Therefore, who am I to say that pastor has no right to say these things? Who am I to say Obama shouldn’t be a member of his church?

Frankly, I disagree with my own dear pastor on several issues. In fact, just about everyone at my church thinks abortion on demand being legal is the right thing. That includes my pastor. Apostle Dale also believes that the earth is millions of years old, while I believe that it’s only thousands of years old.

What matters is not what a pastor may say about current events. What matters to me is what he or she says about Jesus. Apostle Dale is a mighty man of God and I respect him because he shares what he believes from the Bible and from his heart. Many people who are on the religious right side of things believe every word that proceeds from the mouth of a pastor should be treated almost in the same way you treat the Bible. My church teaches that we should check everything that is said from the pulpit against the Word of God. However, if there is something that Bible doesn't even address, you have to think for yourself and believe what you feel is right. I don't believe it's wise to just take everything a pastor says as gospel truth for everyone. They are human after all!

I don’t know what Obama’s pastor believes, but that’s none of my business. It’s Obama’s business. To be fair, he may not have heard the sermons in question. Being a member of the church doesn’t mean he’s there every Sunday. In fact, since he’s been living in Washington, DC most of the last 2 years, I would think he would be away more than he’s there!

The bottom line here is that we should judge a Presidential candidate not on what his pastor says, but on what the candidate says and does. If he disagrees with his pastor, then he should say so, and Obama has done that.

I think this whole issue is a smokescreen to rally the religious right against Obama if he becomes the Democratic candidate. They are throwing everything but the kitchen sink at him because they can’t seem to find any dirt. They’re scared that if he gets the nomination, Senator McCain will have no chance to beat him. They’re probably right to think that way, but it doesn’t excuse these cheap shots.

All I know is that it's unfair to say that because someone's pastor says things you don't like, you shouldn't consider them for public office. You should consider what they have voted for in the past or done in the past and what they say they will do in the future.