May 31, 2008

Next Up for American Family Outing: Atlanta

From the Southern Voice:

Soulforce wants to worship and break bread with New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, in hopes of having a conversation with Bishop Eddie Long.

As of press time, New Birth had not responded to the organization’s repeated attempts to make contact.

“What has happened with other churches is we have collaborated to work out something that is appropriate for each congregation, but we haven’t heard anything back from [New Birth],” Soulforce spokesperson Paige Schilt said. Soulforce first began to contact New Birth in December.

William Turner, New Birth’s senior director of marketing, said he wasn’t aware of specific plans to receive the group. Turner referred questions on the church’s position on the American Family Outing to Dan Renee, who works with a public relations firm in Washington, D.C. Marketing director? PR Firm? Is this a church or is Bishop Long a bit too much into his celebrity status? He is also resisiting inquires from Iowa Senator Charles Grassley into his church's finances, so he's a very busy man these days.

“They have tens of thousands of people who worship on Sunday. If a couple more people show up, they show up,” Renee said. “I don’t think there is any reason for the church to be concerned or scared.”

Renee did not make Long or any member of the church available to discuss the church’s positions on lesbian and gay issues.

Dr. Sylvia Rhue, director of religious affairs for the National Black Justice Coalition, is one of the planners of the American Family Outing. She will help lead the New Birth outing, and said Soulforce would not consider it a success just to worship.

“It’s not that we just want to worship, we want to meet with Bishop Long, and have an official meeting, or outing or a picnic with the church,” Rhue said.

If the church does not respond, Soulforce participants would still attend services but not be disruptive or wear clothing to identify themselves as gay families, Rhue said.

“Bishop Eddie Long of New Birth is someone we would like to have dialogue with to see where our common ground is, especially because he led that march basically against marriage rights several years ago,” Rhue said.

Again, I can't praise Soulforce enough for this initiative. God bless the people who are making this trip, as well as those ahead to Saddleback Church (The Purpose Driven Life author Rick Warren's church) and Willow Creek Community Church (led by author Bill Hybels).

May 30, 2008

The Pendulum Swings Toward Same-Sex Marriage

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that poll numbers show a huge swing in California toward same-sex marriage--a critical trend with the likelihood of a proposed state constitutional amendment to ban it likely to be on the ballot in November.

In a dramatic reversal of decades of public opinion, California voters agree by a slim majority that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry, according to a Field Poll released today.

By 51-42 percent, registered voters said they believed same-sex marriage should be legal in California. Only 28 percent favored gay marriage in 1977, when the Field Poll first asked that question, said Mark DiCamillo, the poll's director.

"This is a milestone in California," he said. "You can't downplay the importance of a change in an issue we've been tracking for 30 years."

"There's a certain validation when the state Supreme Court makes a ruling that you can't discriminate when it comes to marriage," he said. "That may have been enough to move some people who were on the fence about same-sex marriage."

The article also refers to another poll that shows 54% against same-sex marriage, but even that would represent a significant move of the needle in the direction of acceptance with over five months to move it far enough to defeat the ballot initiative.

I also ran across this blog post where another person has morphed in to a straight ally.

Anyway, here's the thing: once I got married, I discovered something that surprised me about myself: I really love married life! I'd always cherished the quotidian joys of spending every day with the person I love most in the world -- that didn't change. But what I love about marriage (or my marriage, anyway -- Maude knows your mileage may vary!) is the security of it. If my husband and I had agreed to live together and made a lifelong private commitment to each other, I think that eventually I would have felt insecure. I would have thought, why does my partner not want to make that ultimate level of commitment -- marriage? Even if we'd chosen not to marry for political reasons, I believe that those doubts would have gnawed at me.

So, yes, the personal sense of security I get from being married -- a security that I'm sure many other happily married folks also share -- is definitely one of marriage's benefits. As is the social status -- because, as uncomfortable as I may be with that kind of undeserved privilege, it certainly redounds to my advantage. Not to mention the legal rights and benefits that accrue from marriage -- all 1,049 of them (and counting).

All of which brings me to the change of heart I'd had about gay marriage. It now seems obvious to me that focusing on gay marriage was a stroke of genius on the part of the GLBT groups. It was daring, because it dramatically took issue with conventional wisdom (the same kind of conventional wisdom that has so sagely counseled us that, among other things, Democrats shouldn't oppose the Iraq War, or they'll look weak, and that Democrats shouldn't "go negative" against the President, because that will be unpopular. And on and on). But it was brilliant, because it gets people right where they live. It exposes the evil lie on the part of conservatives that being gay is about some debased, sinful lifestyle, and makes it crystal clear that what the whole gay rights debate is really about nothing more than the right to love, and to live in dignity.

I was in Cali last week, and one day after the gay marriage decision came down I met a gay man who told me that the previous day, his partner of 38 years had asked him to marry him. I was so touched I started to mist up.
So here's to you, D., and your future husband. I hope you two crazy kids are sure about what you're doing -- wouldn't want you to try anything rash! Many, many happy returns to both of you.

You can keep up with the latest at the Equality California website.

May 29, 2008

Report on American Family Outing Visit to Hope Christian Church

From the Washington Times:

It was a meeting of opposites: 30 conservative black Pentecostals from Hope Christian Church in Beltsville dining with 30 activists from Soulforce, a pro-gay religious group.

While there was no rancor or overt anger, there also was no meeting of minds. After nearly 90 minutes of debate Saturday night, no one on either side of the question of what the Bible teaches about homosexuality would admit to changing their minds.

"It was noncombative, nonpunitive dialogue," said the Rev. Troy Sanders, a gay black pastor from Atlanta who was one of the Soulforce speakers. Soulforce members queried after the dinner said they were pleased with their reception, and several said they would attend Hope Christian's Sunday service.

Bishop Harry Jackson, pastor of the 3,000-member church, acknowledged the evening was "historic" but made no promises about any changes in teaching or policy. "We'll have to pray about discrimination issues in the gay community," he said.

The Times, a right-leaning newspaper, didn't show too much of that in this article, although the implication that there was any chance there would be any agreement come out of this meeting was, at best, silly.

The important thing is that Bishop Jackson, one of the more outspoken anti-gay right-wing ministers who appears to relish his recently found political influence, allowed this dialogue to happen is an important step. There did seem to be at least the hint of some common ground in regards to the impact of this divide on children.

Here is the Soulforce report on this event from their official website.

May 28, 2008

An Episcopal Church in California Ready to Perform Same-Sex Weddings

From the Christian Post:

An Episcopal church in California plans to perform marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples beginning mid-June.

All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, one of the largest congregations in the denomination, adopted last Thursday the "Resolution on Marriage Equality" in response to a California Supreme Court ruling that legalized gay marriage.

The 125-year-old congregation "will treat equally all couples presenting themselves for the rite of marriage," said the Rev. Canon J. Edwin Bacon Jr. in an announcement.

"I am honored to serve a church where the leadership demonstrates such stirring courage to move beyond lip service about embodying God's inclusive love to actually committing our faith community to the practice of marriage equality," Bacon commented, according to Episcopal News Service.

Episcopal Bishop Jon Bruno of Los Angeles is establishing a task force to help clarify the impact of the court's decision on local congregations.

While many bishops in The Episcopal Church support the rights of gays and lesbians, the denomination has not "yet made" the decision to bless same-sex unions, Bishop Jim Mathes of San Diego noted.

"We are in the midst of a challenging but vital conversation about holy relationships in this diocese and indeed across the [Anglican] Communion," Mathes said.

Click here to read the rest of the story.

May 27, 2008

Another Mind Changed in Favor of Same-Sex Marriage

E. J. Dionne, Jr. is a columnist for the Washington Post who has not only changed his position on the issue of whether same-sex marriage should be legal, he has publicly stated why he changed his view.

Like a lot of people, I decided I was wrong. What moved me were the conservative arguments for gay marriage put forward by the writers Jonathan Rauch, Andrew Sullivan and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

They see society as having a powerful interest in building respect for long-term commitment and fidelity in sexual relationships and that gay marriage underscores how important commitment is.

Prohibiting members of one part of our population from making a public and legal commitment to each other does not strengthen marriage; it weakens it.

And, as a New York Court of Appeals judge cited by the California court majority noted, fundamental rights "cannot be denied to particular groups on the ground that these groups have historically been denied those rights." If history and tradition had constrained us, equal rights for African-Americans would never have become law.

Dionne does, however, sound a warning:

But to find a constitutional right to gay marriage, the California majority chose to argue that the state's very progressive law endorsing domestic partnerships for homosexuals — it grants all the rights of marriage except the name — was itself a form of discrimination. many states, it will take years for a political and legal consensus in favor of gay marriage to develop. In the interim, civil unions or domestic partnerships are the best hope homosexuals in these states have for some form of legal recognition for their relationships.

The danger is that foes of civil unions will use the court's own logic to argue that such arrangements are not a political halfway house but lead inexorably to gay marriage. It would be unfortunate if California's breakthrough were used to stall significant if more modest progress elsewhere.

Interesting point. Click here to read the rest of his column.
Thanks to PageOneQ for the tip.

May 26, 2008

American Family Outing Update: The Potter's House Visit


Although Bishop T. D. Jakes was unavailable while recovering from back surgery, the leadership of his church, The Potter's House, in Dallas, TX, met with representatives from Soulforce. According to this report by participant Rev. Gil Caldwell, the hosts were gracious and the discussion constructive.

Early on, I sought to set forth the "why" of my commitment as an ally/advocate of LGBT persons and same gender couple-led families. I attempted to link my Civil Rights experience for racial justice to that of the justice struggle for Gay rights, but soon realized that our hosts were unwilling to engage in give-and-take on our disagreements. They sought to impact us with their ministry to HIV/Aids persons, but were unwilling to acknowledge that they acknowledge same gender persons as such, ill or not. All of our group raised questions and/or made helpful comments. Their expressed willingness to engage in further conversation, will I hope, receive a positive response from us soon. At the end of the meeting, Jeff Lutes, the Executive Director of Soulforce, had a telephone conversation with Bishop Jakes. Sitting next to Jeff I was able to hear and "feel" the affirmation expressed by Bishop Jakes for our willingness to dialogue, rather than confront. I did hear the Bishop express a concern that I have heard from other black pastors about how anti-hate legislation might curb their right to preach and teach their understandings of "Biblical Truth" as they interpret its meaning for same gender loving persons. I think over and over again how we must help all preachers understand how their negative "Biblical pronouncements" about LGBT persons harms and hurts LGBT persons and gives some violent persons rationale for their violence against them. It was the same for those preachers who preached racial segregation as being legitimated by Scripture. Many of them could never comprehend how their words from the pulpit energized the verbal and physical violence of the KKK against black persons.

My first hand experience with the "American Family Outing" of Soulforce at the Potter's House in Dallas confirmed my belief that the reality of "Family" in all of its many configurations when shared and experienced, has the capacity to break through the walls of prejudice and bigotry. Years ago as a boy in North Carolina I used to hear my Mother speak of a woman "with child" as being in a "family way." On Sunday, May 18th, representatives of Soulforce and the members of the Potter's House experienced a taste of the authenticity of what it means to be in a "family way."

Here is a report from The Dallas Morning News (which took almost a week to get printed).

The American Family Outing was in my area this weekend meeting with Bishop Henry Jackson from Hope Christian Church. Bishop Jackson has been an outspoken opponent of gay rights, so this visit had the potential to be the greatest challenge of this initiative.

I'll post an update as soon as one is available. May God's blessings be with those who are participating in these meetings, including both the Soulforce representatives and members and leadership of the host churches.