Thursday, March 26, 2015

Misusing religious freedom as a weapon of mass discrimination

Religious discrimination is a real thing.

 History -- both modern and ancient -- is tragically full of examples of times and places where religious discrimination has been the source of persecution, death and destruction. The perversion of religion into a weapon of mass destruction is antithetical to the core beliefs of all the world's great religions. And yet none of those religions have escaped the sad reality that human beings -- given the power to do so -- will use God as an excuse to inflict pain and suffering on other human beings.

Our forefathers knew that. And they brought that knowledge -- that wisdom -- into our Bill of Rights with a First Amendment that begins: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ..."

The First Amendment both prevents the government of the United States from privileging one religion over another and protects each and every one of us -- as American citizens -- to believe whatever we choose -- or choose not -- to believe about what God thinks, approves of or blesses.

It is what protects our democracy from becoming a theocracy. And, as we watch with sadness and horror the nightly news stories of religious wars and sectarian violence, this guarantee of religious freedom is something Americans of all religions -- and no religion -- should rejoice and be glad in. 

What that guarantee of religious freedom is not is something to be distorted and exploited to further a homophobic agenda of legislated discrimination against LGBT people. But that's exactly what happened today when Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed the so-called "religious freedom" bill into law during a private ceremony in his Statehouse office.

Officially entitled the "Religious Freedom Restoration Act" this bill will allow individuals and businesses in the state to deny services to LGBT people on "religious liberty" grounds - doing nothing to restore freedom and everything to bolster bigotry. It is the first of many proposed measures pending in statehouses around the country - all with the intent of allowing business owners and individuals to discriminate against LGBT people on religious grounds.

It is a dangerous and detrimental piece of legislation -- not only for the LGBT Americans who are its direct target. It opens the door for discrimination, inequality and prejudice to nearly every citizen of every state, undermining the foundational American value of equal protection. It nothing less than an orchestrated backlash against equal protection for LGBT citizens and the flagrant distortion of the ideal of religious freedom into a vehicle for religion based bigotry.

Bottom line: The First Amendment protects your right as an American to the free exercise of your religion. It does not protect your right to use your religion as an excuse to discriminate against other Americans.

And watching the tragic consequences of genuine religious discrimination on the nightly news makes it all the more urgent that we stand together and speak against this and other pending legislation - and challenge those who are supporting it.

Because religious discrimination is a real thing. And this blatant effort to exploit it in order to attack LGBT citizens is a reprehensible thing.

Let the boycotts begin.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

"Our Governance Can Make Our Mission Possible"

Words of wisdom from President of the House of Deputies Gay Clark Jennings as we look to -- and beyond -- General Convention 2015:

Recently I had the chance to experience just how our governance can make our mission possible. Thanks to Christopher Hayes, chancellor of the Diocese of California, I had the opportunity to put decades of General Convention resolutions into action by being a lead signer on an amicus brief submitted to the Supreme Court of the United States in support of reversing the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling against civil marriage equality.

The brief was also signed by 21 of our bishops and more than 200 Episcopal clergy and lay leaders, and it cites five General Convention resolutions: Resolution D007 from 1994, Resolution D039 from 2000, Resolution A095 from 2006, Resolution A167 from 2006 and Resolution A049 from 2012.

The day after we submitted the brief, media outlets including USA Today, the Christian Science Monitor, the Detroit Free Press, The Living Church and Episcopal Café all covered the news. Thanks to the people who have served faithfully at General Convention for nearly 40 years, we Episcopalians are able to make a witness to the Supreme Court and to the people of this country that we stand against legal discrimination in any form, and that every citizen is entitled to equal protection under the law.

So on April 28, when the Supreme Court hears arguments in this case, and in June—perhaps even when we’re at General Convention—when they issue a ruling, remember that your ministry of governance in the Episcopal Church has made it possible for us to take our place as Christians in the public square.

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Audacious Goals and Incremental Victories: Celebrating the Presbyterian Church (USA)

As an American and as an Episcopalian, I was raised to pledge to and pray for two audacious goals: "liberty and justice for all" and "thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven," respectively.

Yesterday's historic step by the Presbyterian Church USA brought us a little closer to both.

The powerful witness of a mainline denomination ending marriage discrimination is not only in alignment with the core American value of equality but a manifestation of the Gospel value of God's inclusive love. It not only adds to the groundswell of movement toward civil marriage equality in this nation but debunks the false narrative that we must choose between religious liberty and equal protection for LGBT Americans.

We have been on this journey for many years. What happened yesterday in the Presbyterian Church was the result of decades of tireless work and witness by those committed to bending the arc of the moral universe toward justice for LGBT people -- not just in their church but in this country. And while the work is far from done, a wise mentor in the work of Gospel justice taught me years ago that our charge is to "set audacious goals and celebrate incremental victories."

So today we celebrate the incremental victory of marriage equality in the Presbyterian Church. And then tomorrow we get back to work on the audacious goals of liberty and justice for all and a kingdom of God's love, justice and compassion come on earth as it is in heaven.

We get back to work on being a nation where the equal protection guaranteed all Americans actually equally protects all Americans. We call on the Supreme Court to end the discrimination against some marriages as we commit to a protect-marriage movement that protects all marriages. We stand up against "religious discrimination" legislation that is nothing more than a smokescreen for homophobia.

And we look beyond the marriage wars toward ending employment discrimination, toward just immigration reform, toward passing the student nondiscrimination act, toward eradicating transphobia in all its manifestations -- toward the long list of incremental victories we need to achieve before we can declare victory on those audacious goals I was raised to both pledge to and pray for.

But today we celebrate, because yesterday's historic step by the Presbyterian Church USA brought us a little closer to both -- and the sound you hear is the arc of the moral universe moving just a little closer to justice.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Ode to St. Patrick: Patron Saint of Evangelism

From Lesser Feasts and Fasts: Patrick was born into a Christian family somewhere on the northeast coast of Britain in about 390. When Patrick was about sixteen, he was captured by a band of Irish slave-raiders. He was carried off to Ireland and forced to serve as a shepherd. When he was about twenty-one, he escaped and returned to Britain, where he took holy orders both as a presbyter and bishop. A vision then called him to return to Ireland…

In my day school chaplain days, every time I told this story to the kids gathered for morning chapel I would pause at this point and ask them if they could imagine that … IMAGINE what kind of vision it must have been to convince Patrick to go BACK to the place – to the people – who had held him captive in order to bring them the good news of God in Christ Jesus. For of course we remember Patrick as the great evangelist whose missionary journeys spread Christianity all over Ireland – and today we celebrate his life and ministry AND the vision that sent him back to Ireland -- which is why we wear green to school today and eat corned beef and cabbage for dinner tonight. (And one of the mysteries of life I've yet to figure out is how corned beef got to be an icon for evangelism but I digress!)

In 2003 I was in New York City on my way out to meetings on Long Island along with a train full of revelers returning from the annual St. Patrick's Day parade. One of those revelers was a NYPD officer who had sprained his ankle marching in the parade and was heading home for an icepack and some Advil.

I must have been traveling in my collar because the conversation turned to church stuff and I found myself telling him about my ministry – at the time I was the Executive Director of Claiming the Blessing – and about the work we were doing in the Episcopal Church. He had been raised an Irish Catholic – and his partner was Puerto Rican – and it had never occurred to either of them that there might be a church where they would be welcome.

We talked some more and exchanged cards and I promised to email some folks to connect with and he said, sprained ankle notwithstanding, that he felt like running into me on the train was a St. Patrick's Day dose of the luck of the Irish.

And when we came to his stop and he stood up to limp off the train, he took the big, green plastic shamrock from around his neck and gave it to me. And he told me to remember there were plenty of other people like him out there who needed to hear what we had to say about a church that welcomed everybody and that I should take some of his Irish luck with me for the work in front of me. And I still have it.

And it reminds me every time I see it of the New York cop who is part of the mission field out there longing for the good news we have to offer – yearning to know that the "Episcopal Church Welcomes You" signs really means him.

And here we are in 2015 -- a church continuing to wrestle with whether or not it is going to fulfill its commitment to the "full and equal claim" promised the gay and lesbian baptized since 1976 as we prepare for our General Convention this summer in Salt Lake City.

On this particular St. Patrick's Day I believe asking gay and lesbian Episcopalians to hang in there and continue to take the vision of a Body of Christ that fully includes all the baptized BACK to the church that still questions their vocations and relationships is like unto asking Patrick to go evangelize the Irish who enslaved him.

And yet that's the vision we've been given – that's the call we have received.

Our witness of God's inclusive love is not just a witness to the presence of the holy in our lives and our relationships and our vocations -- but a witness to the power of God's love to transcend ANYTHING that holds us captive or enslaves us.

So let's remember on this St. Patrick's Day that the same God who inspired a former captive named Patrick to return to his captors and evangelize them in the 4th century is working in us as we work to call this church and this communion to wholeness in the 21st. And let's remember that it is that power working in us that can do infinitely more than we can ask for or imagine. And then let's get on with the work we have been given to do. (After we have a little corned beef and cabbage!)

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Black Hawk Down

A Black Hawk helicopter went down last night -- all eleven on board missing and presumed lost. And even though my son is now safely ensconced in the tedium of academia -- finishing up his teacher credentialing and preparing for graduate school in the fall -- the deep muscle-memory of the years he was on active duty as a Black Hawk crew chief ... first in Iraq and then in Afghanistan ... rose up unbidden to make my stomach lurch and my heart clutch at the news.

And the relief that my son is not -- at this moment -- in harm's way was quickly trumped by the grief that the same is not true for eleven other mothers. Families. Loved ones. So please -- join me in lifting them up in your prayers. Giving thanks for their lives. And then redoubling our efforts to make this a world where nobody's son or daughter puts their life in jeopardy every single day because we've finally achieved the swords into plowshares thing. Thanks!

Saturday, March 07, 2015

#MarchOn | #Selma50 "What enormous faith these men and women had."

Listened with such deep gratitude to President Obama's speech from "the bridge" today in commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of "Bloody Sunday."


Friday, March 06, 2015

PHOD Gay Jennings does us proud

Today was the deadline for submission of Amicus Curiae Briefs -- literally, "friend of the court" briefs -- on the pending marriage equality cases in the Supreme Court. These are briefs that can be filed by "a person with strong interest in or views on the subject matter of an action, but not a party to the action, [who]  may petition the court for permission to file a brief, ostensibly on behalf of a party but actually to suggest a rationale consistent with its own views." [legal dictionary]

According to one news report, the Supreme Court was "swamped" with "dozens of legal briefs representing hundreds of thousands of parties calling for the bans to be overturned."

One of those -- a brief filed by Freedom to Marry & The Religious Institute -- represented faith leaders. A key quote from the brief:
"By reversing the judgment of the court below without reliance on religiously based arguments, and by affirming the constitutional promise of equal treatment for different- and same-sex couples, this Court will ensure that civil law neither favors nor disfavors any particular religious viewpoint. Requiring equal treatment for different- and same-sex couples with respect to civil marriage will, in fact, reaffirm the religious liberty fundamental to this nation’s founding identity. When the freedom to marry is fully respected, all couples will have the right to a solemnized union before a justice of the peace, while all individual faith communities will retain the right to decide who among such couples may seek religious sanction of their union."
Over 2000 clergy and faith leaders -- including me -- signed the brief, which included 117 pages of signatures. And here was number one:

Well done, Madame President! Well done!
  • Oral arguments April 28.
  • Decision Day: TBD ... but probably the end of June. 
PS -- (Our first anniversary is June 28 ... nationwide marriage equality would be a LOVELY anniversary gift. Just sayin')