"Let us make man in our image, after our likeness...in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them" (Gen.1:27)

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Social Teaching on Racial Harmony

New Orleans Archbishop Alfred Hughes has written a social justice document that Catholics can be proud of: Made in the Image and Likeness of God: A Pastoral Letter on Racial Harmony. I like the title, too!

(Then-Fr. Hughes was a spiritual director on the faculty of Boston's St. John's Seminary when I began my studies there in 1981.)

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Will there be dialogue?

On the First Sunday of Advent this year, the Always Our Children (AOC) ministry of St. Matthew's Cathedral in Washington, DC sponsored a meeting entitled, "Catholic and Homosexual: Is There a Place in the Church for Me?" Named after an earlier pastoral letter by the U.S. Bishops directed toward parents of homosexual children, this AOC ministry is one of the few that continues to attempt to meet the needs of gay and lesbian Catholics in the nation's capital.

Given the Church's official pronouncements about gay men and women in recent years, the question -- "Is there a place for me in the Church?" -- is at least an honest one. Ever since the Ratzinger-directed shift to the right in Catholic magisterial pronouncements, especially with the Vatican's 1986 pastoral document on ministry to homosexual persons, offical Catholicism has put forth statements causing gay Catholics to ponder this question more and more: Do I really belong here? Are the doors of the Church open to me and am I welcome in this community of faith and at the Lord's Table?

Msgr. Richard Burton (yes, his real name!) began the gathering at St. Matthew's by giving an overview of the U.S. Bishops' most recent document on "Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination," noting that the bishops end their statement with a section entitled, "Concluding Remarks: A Respectful Dialogue." I was pleased and grateful that the Cathedral parish in our nation's capital had the courage to host such a gathering, which Msgr. Burton considered to be a "semi-private dialogue."

In their conclusion the bishops note: "At the same time, it is important that Church ministers listen to the experiences, needs, and hopes of the persons with a homosexual inclination to whom and with whom they minister" [emphasis added]. Noting that, "Dialogue provides an exchange of information, and also communicates a respect for the innate dignity of other persons and a respect for their consciences," I'm sure I'm not alone in looking forward to the bishops themselves participating in such dialogues in the future.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Spit in the Face

Have you ever had someone spit at you? I don't just mean "toward" you, and I don't mean on the playground in third grade. I mean as an adult, has anyone ever actually spat in your face?

That's what happened to me yesterday on my way home through Capitol Hill. An unpleasant encounter with a taxicab driver ended with him spitting at me through the open drivers-side windows of both our vehicles.

He quickly sped off, leaving me shocked, angered and wanting to lash back at him. I called the cab company and the DC taxicab commission and followed with what formal avenues were open to me, but what I continue to be struck by the extreme level of anger that this incident brought about. I wasn't just angry, and I wasn'g just really, really angry... I was ANGRY!!!

As I sad quietly in my bedroom later last night, trying to calm down and think through why I was reacting in such an extreme way, I kept thinking about what the US Catholic bishops did earlier this week in approving new guidelines for those ministering to gay people. It occurred to me that what happened with the cab driver was actually the second time I had been spat upon in as many days -- the bishops and their so-called guidelines for pastoral care having done it the first time.

These guidelines continue to move the official teaching of the Catholic church further and further away from the more moderate approach taken by the official church over the past forty years. The bishops have embraced language that is out of sync with the rest of the sciences in refusing to use the term "orientation" and instead speaking of "homosexual inclination." I'm not sure what inclination actually means here, but it certainly doesn't convey the meaning that the rest of science has come to understand by orientation, namely an inherent (I would say God-given) and unchanging quality or characteristic at the very core of one's identity as a person.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Vatican Condemns Jerusalem Gay Pride Event

The Vatican exerted pressure on the government of Israel earlier this week by condemning a scheduled Gay Pride event. The Vatican's communique to Israel's ministry of foreign affairs began as follows: "The Holy See has reiterated on many occasions that the right to freedom of expression, sanctioned by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is subject to just limits, in particular when the exercise of this right would offend the religious sentiments of believers."

The Holy See was expressing concern that such a demonstration would be an affront to the religious values of Jews, Muslims, and Christians for whom Jerusalem is a sacred, holy city.

What the Vatican fails to recognize, however, is that the gay men and women who would be demonstrating to express pride in their God-given identity are, most likely, themselves faithful Jews, Muslims, and Christians. The fact that their co-religionists betray their own Faiths by condemning a whole group of God's children does not give the "religious sentiments" of these particular believers more significance than the views of their gay brothers and sisters.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A Matter of Hearts and Minds

Dear Mr. Solmonese,

I know that part of your job and the job of your media/communications staff is to put the best possible spin on things political, but when I read the subject of this email communication [HRC's post-election listserv email exlaiming, "We did it!"], all I could think of was George W. Bush's pronouncement, "Mission Accomplished!"

"We did it!"?? What, exactly, did we do? Yes, from a standpoint of partisan politics, the results of congressional elections are good for the Democratic party. Certainly the election of public officials who are on record supporting the advancement of those rights which gay men and women have so long been denied is also a good, dare I say hopeful, sign. But while the elected can celebrate, as a gay man I see precious little to celebrate when four more states (and perhaps five) have voted strongly to ban "same-sex marriage" in one form or another.

This means that the majority of voters in these states have come out and publicly stated that they believe gay men and women do not deserve the rights of heterosexuals. This means that the lives of gay men and women in these four states are worse today than they were yesterday. This means that as a community, we have such a long road ahead of us to change the hearts and minds of many who would rather, to be frank, see a world in which gay people did not exist.

Am I wrong to think that the HRC exists not for the advancement of one political party over another, but rather for the advancement of the rights of gay and lesbian people, regardless of other factors? I hope that your pronouncement of victory will result in concrete measures in the next Congress that clearly and practically improve the lives of gay men and women throughout country. Failing that, perhaps the HRC needs to re-consider its methods and strategies. To my way of thinking, this does come down to a matter of hearts and minds. A "fair-minded Congress" will naturally be the result of a "fair minded electorate" who believe that gay men and women are just as equal before the law as all other persons.

Best wishes.

Timothy MacGeorge Washington, DC

Monday, November 06, 2006

When will they listen?

Why is my church so afraid of the Truth?

Both the Catholic and secular press are carrying stories these days about the proposed document that the US Bishops will discuss and vote on during their upcoming meeting in Baltimore. The document on "ministry to persons with a homosexual inclination" apparently reiterates the tired phrases ("disordered") and self-contradictory logic (a homosexual inclination is not in itself sinful [which must mean it's either morally good or morally neutral, right?] but acting on this morally good or neutral inclination is sinful) that has become standard fare in these official pronouncements.

What is most disturbing -- yet not surprising -- is that the document has precious little in terms of external input. Where was the consultation with real-life gay men and women? Were any openly gay people asked what their thoughts on the topic might be? Where was the discussion with other fields of science -- psychology, medicine, sociology, anthropology -- that might just have something to say about homosexuality?

If the bishops are so certain of their views on this topic, then what would be so wrong with actually engaging gay and lesbian people in conversation? Wouldn't that be the truly pastoral thing to do -- to engage, to encounter, to listen with respect and speak with confidence? Their failure to engage, however, is unfortunately just a sign of the weakness of their teaching and will, in the end, lead to its being relegated to that closet that countless thousands of gay Catholics have happily left behind.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Letter to Bishops Loverde and DiLorenzo

Dear Bishops Loverde and DiLorenzo,

I am not a resident of Virginia, so perhaps my thoughts will be of little concern to you. However, as a resident of the District of Columbia, a parishioner in the Archdiocese of Washington, and an ordained priest, I am writing to share with you my extreme disappointment that you and the Catholic Conference of Virginia have taken on the proposed amendment to the Virginia state constitution that would effectively ban same-sex marriage. Your position has received much media coverage (cf. Va. Bishops Push Voters on Ban), and so my letter is an attempt to share with you the perspective of someone who is fully Catholic and fully opposed to your position.

I am confident that in time, the Church will come to regret its formal teachings that have condemned gay men and women in so many ways, even to the point of using terms that undermine gay and lesbian people as children of God. As an institution that moves ever so slowly (consider, for example, how many centuries it took for the "official church" to remove its condemnations of Copernicus and Galileo for stating the truth that the earth revolved around the sun), I am saddened that this change will probably not come in my lifetime.

However, when Church leaders move from the realm of the ecclesial into the public square and use their ill-founded understandings of sacred scripture, history, sociology and psychology to perpetuate myths, misunderstandings and even hatred, I feel I must speak out. Rather than identifying each and every item in your letter that "misses the mark," I pose to you a very simple question: Do you believe that God's children -- including God's gay and lesbian children -- are created "in the image and likeness of God"? Is your answer to this question an unconditional "Yes!," or is it a lukewarm, "yes, but...."? If and when you fully embrace the core teaching of Christianity that we are all gifted with the goodness of human dignity, then you will begin to see how far your "teaching" is off-base.

There are many resources available that more fully express a Catholic and Christian understanding of the issues involved. Here are two of the best:
Dignity/USA-Frequently Asked Questions
I hope you will thoughtfully and prayerfully avail yourselves of these resources.

Please be assured of my prayers for you and your ministry. In particular, I will pray that God give you an abundance of His Spirit to help open your eyes -- just as Jesus opened the eyes of Bartimaeus -- to the humanity and fundamental goodness of all God's children, including those whom God has created gay and lesbian.

Pax et bonum!

Timothy MacGeorge, M.Div., MSW
Washington, DC

Irreconcilable Differences

Sometimes I think that American culture is sorely lacking in integrity. According to Webster, integrity is "firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic value." A person with integrity has a high degree of consistency between the values he/she claims to embrace and the actions or behaviors in which he/she engages.

Values -- whether moral or artistic -- are expressed in a whole variety of ways. One of these is the way we choose to spend our time and our money. Take entertainment, for instance -- especially the kind that requires a little cash. The books we buy, the music we purchase, the big-screen movies we watch -- in some way these are all expressions of our individual and collective values. If that's the case, then what are we to make of the fact that this past weekend, the biggest box-office hit was a movie ("Saw III") whose director was thrilled that the gratuitous violence and bloodsheed actually caused one viewer to vomit?

I ask this question particularly in light of the claim of those "on the right" (especially the "religous right) that Americans en masse embrace "family values," want to "protect children," and that our's is a "Christian culture"?

I wonder how many American families first went to church yesterday morning and then headed to the theaters in the afternoon? Given the price of admission these days, they probably doled out more for the blood and gore of "Saw III" than they put in the collection basket. For many churches, yesterday's main scripture reading was the story of Jesus' healing Bartimaeus, the "man born blind." I suppose many among us would prefer to see people being violently blinded or otherwise bloodied, maimed and tortured instead of listening to and taking to heart the call of Jesus to serve others and be a healing presence in a world already terribly bloodied, blind and broken.

Monday, October 16, 2006

"It's not about your lifestyle" -- yeah, right!

It's not a gay thing...really!

This is one of those stories that not only makes me angry, but also embarrasses me as a Catholic.

Apparently a number of Manassas (VA) residents, several of whom are parishioners at All Saints Catholic Church, don't want local officials to approve the home-business application of a particular massage therapist. Even though other similar applications have been approved with no objection, this particular applicant -- who just happens to be gay, and who just happens to share his home with his male partner -- should not have his application approved because of fears that his business might detract from the neighborhood's "family-friendly atmosphere."

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Dialogue is the Key

Benedict XVI and others in the Vatican have gone to great lengths in recent days to respond to the unexpected criticism and even violence that the Pope's speech at the University of Regensberg elicited from Muslims around the world. This speech, which was an academic presentation in an academic setting, attempted to identify what Benedict sees as a split between faith and reason in recent centuries and the modern world as root cause for so many of the troubles we see around us. Speaking not just for Christianity, Benedict asserts that "the world's profoundly religious cultures see this exclusion of the divine from the universality of reason as an attack on their most profound convictions."

In listening to and reading the varous responses, clarifications, and even apologies that have come from from the Church, one word is repeated over and over: dialogue. Benedict claims to be promoting more and more dialogue, which -- by definition -- is a two way street. Dialogue requires the ability to articulate clearly one's own view, and to listen actively to the view of the other. The pope wants there to be dialogue betweeen the great religions of the world, between the cultures of East and West, between religion and secular society.

I couldn't agree more that dialogue -- conversation, discussion, open communication -- is what we need to address so many challenges. Communication -- whether it be between two people or among "cultures" -- is the sine qua non that lays the foundation and provides the context for all human progress and happiness. That being said, how sad I am to know that Benedict and many Catholic church leaders are not so committed to dialogue within the Church as well as outside the Church. Why is the Pope not calling for "greater dialogue" with those inside the Church who feel unheard, unlistened to, and even attacked or unwelcome??

Friday, September 22, 2006

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Prayer for Orphans

Each month the Vatican publishes the Pope's special prayer intentions. Usually both a "general" and "mission" intention are provided.

For August, Benedict's general prayer intention is: "That orphans may not lack the care necessary for their human and Christian formation."

While I understand the motivation behind Benedict's intention (probably actually written by some low-level curial Vaticrat), I presume that he would want even non-Christian orphans to be cared for and loved.

For this intention to be anything more than a "noisy gong," we must look to the ways in which societies the world over concretely care for those countless children who, for whatever reason, no longer have their natural parents. While some children who lose their parents are lucky enough to be cared for aunts and uncles, grandparents or even adult siblings, it is adoptive and foster parents who most often provide the care that the orphan so desparately needs. Given this, one would think that the Church would do all it could to support these folks who simply want to love and care for a child to whom life has dealt such a harsh blow.

Qualified adoptive and foster parents -- men and women, young and old, married and single, straight and gay -- should all be embraced by societies for their willingness to provide for the truly weakest among us.

Even as we join our voice with Benedict's for his August prayer intention, let us also pray for Benedict, Boston's Cardinal O'Malley, and other Church leaders who would do violence to children by not allowing them to be cared for by loving gay men and women seeking to put their own faith into practice!

Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Schism Begins

My best friend is Episcopalian. He's also gay. Last night I was privileged to accompany him to a meeting at his church to hear the parish rector speak about the Episcopal Church's recent General Convention in Columbus. The rector -- male, heterosexual, and African American -- had served as a deputy at the convention, which is held every three years.

In addition to electing a woman as presiding bishop (i.e primate) of the Episcopal Church in America, the convention also voted on resolutions in response to the Windsor Report of the worldwide Anglican Communion. That report had asked the Americans to "repent" from their action in 2003 of assenting to the episcopal consecration of an openly gay and partnered priest, Canon V. Gene Robinson. As the rector pointed out, the convention deputies chose not to express "repentance" for the 2003 action, as this would indicate that they now believe what they did then was wrong. Nonethelss, out of a desires to hear the voices of their fellow Anglicans around the globe, to be respectful of their wishes, and to remain in dialogue over difficult issues, the convention deputies approved a resolution expressing their "regret" for the pain their 2003 action has caused.

Now, however, it seems that some Anglicans both around the world and even closer to home aren't willing to accept this statement of regret and continue the dialogue with their co-religionists. Led by the power-hungry and fundamentalist Peter Akinola, Anglican Archbishop of Nigeria, these folks sadly are not willing to give to others even a small measure of what they had so strongly demanded for themselves.

It is sad that the prayer of Jesus himself (see John 17:8-26) calling for unity among his followers seems so far from the minds and actions of some shepherds entrusted with pastoral care for a part of God's flock.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

No Freedom of Speech at BYU

Brigham Young University professor Jeffrey Nielsen will lose his job because he chose to express an opinion that questions official Mormon support for the so-called "Marriage Protection Amendment."

Perhaps the leaders of BYU should actually read the Constitution they support amending. The First Amendment's guarantee of free speech might come as a surprise to those whose own views are not able to stand even the slightest challenge or questioning.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Colorado Allows Children to Marry

The logic of American politics and system of jurisprudence will never cease to amaze me!

While 15 year old girls in Colorado can legally wed, millions of gay men and women are denied this fundamental right not only in Colorado, but in almost every other state in the Union.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Dear Mr. President

June 5, 2006

President George W. Bush.
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Mr. President,

I write simply to share with you my deepest disappointment in your decision to support enshrining discrimination in the U.S. Constitution by advocating the so-called "Marriage Protection Amendment" (MPA).

Like its misnamed legislative cousin, the "Defense of Marriage Act," the MPA would do absolutely no good and would do much evil. It would protect no one, and would continue to harm countless American families. It would not support existing marriages between men and women; it would not enhance the family life of households with a married mother and father; and it would not provide greater resources for children from these or any other families.

It would, however, deny millions of good, decent, hard-working gay and lesbian Americans the same rights that their parents, siblings, neighbors and co-workers so often take for granted.

This amendment is mean-spirited and below the dignity of someone who calls himself a Christian. While there are many issues on which people of good will can disagree, this is not one of them. At its heart, this amendment seeks to undercut the very humanity of millions of gay and lesbian Americans, telling them that they are somehow "less than" their heterosexual fellow citizens.

I raise my voice with those who have called upon you to be the President for ALL Americans, not just the vocal minority of biblical fundamentalists who would want to see America become a theocracy created in their own image. On the day of judgment when the Lord separates the sheep from the goats, (cf. Matthew 25:31-46) I have no doubt that at least some of these "leaders of the religious right" will find themselves dumbfounded, saying with those who have been excluded from God's Kingdom, ".. 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'" I pray that you, Mr. President, will learn the true lesson of this passage, seeing the Divine Image in the dignity of every human person, and heeding God's call to include rather than exclude -- including those whom God created as homosexual.

Mr. President, please do the right thing; the good thing. Have the courage to withdraw your support from this bad, discriminatory proposal.

Wishing God's Peace to you and all those you love.

Timothy MacGeorge
Washington, DC

Monday, May 29, 2006

Letter to the Editor

The Editor,
The Pilot
2121 Commonwealth Avenue
Brighton, MA 02135-3193

To The Editor:

A recent opinion piece by Dale O’Leary entitled, "Insights on same-sex attraction" purportedly attempted to clarify a "mist of confusion" about the public policy debates regarding same-sex marriage by appealing to what is known scientifically about same-sex attraction. Instead of clarity, however, her words contribute to the confusion by citing as science positions which have received no acceptance within the broader scientific community and by perpetuating prejudicial myths and discarded psychobabble about homosexuality.

Let me address several of O’Leary’s most egregious errors point by point.

1. O'Leary states that claims about the biological nature of same-sex attraction and the fixed nature of one’s same-sex orientation have been "thoroughly discredited." To support this she writes, "no 'gay gene' has been found" and scientific inquiry regarding this has "largely been abandoned." O'Leary is wrong on all accounts.

First, O'Leary attempts to discredit what is known about same-sex attraction by taking it out of its proper context, namely an understanding of human development and sexual orientation. Both the scientific literature and the experience of individuals (gay and straight) tell us clearly that one’s sexual orientation is a relatively fixed, stable part of one’s personality; it is a "given" about who we are, just as is the color of one’s eyes or whether one is left or right-handed. It is not a "choice" or a "preference," but rather is one expression along the continuum of orientations that individual human persons experience. While an individual may choose the behavior he/she engages in, one does not choose one's orientation. Just as no heterosexual man can identify when he "chose to be attracted to women," no homosexual man can say that he "chose" to be attracted to men. Both might speak of a growing awareness of their sexual feelings and attractions during adolescence, but this would be an awareness of a pre-existing, God-given reality.

A 1999 joint statement from several of the most prestigious professional medical, educational, and mental health societies in the United States (including American Academy of Pediatrics, American Counseling Association, American Psychological Association, American School Health Association, Interfaith Alliance Foundation, National Association of School Psychologists, and National Association of Social Workers, among others) declares "Sexual orientation is one component of a person's identity … an enduring emotional, romantic, sexual, or affectional attraction that a person feels toward another person," (http://www.apa.org/pi/lgbc/publications/justthefacts.html).

Second, a simple search of the National Library of Medicine’s PubMed database yields almost 2,000 citations when searched for the combined terms "genetics" and "sexual orientation." One result, for example, is the study by Dr. Qazi Rahman of the University of East London. That 2005 study, "The neurodevelopment of human sexual orientation" was published in the journal, Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews. The publisher’s abstract states: "Behaviour genetic investigations provide strong evidence for a heritable component to male and female sexual orientation," (cf. http://www.uel.ac.uk/news/press_releases/releases/s_or.htm). Clearly the scientific interest in this area of research continues to be strong and promising. To state it has "largely been abandoned" is simply wrong.

2. O'Leary appeals to a study by Dr. Robert Spitzer in support of the view that one can change one’s sexual orientation. O'Leary gives no details of the study, published in the Oct. 2003 edition of the journal, Archives of Sexual Behavior. The study received much press and was widely reviewed within the medical and mental health communities. It was universally and sharply criticized both for its faulty methodology (e.g. participants were all self-selected and there was no randomization or control group involved; interviews were by telephone and not anonymous; there was no objective psychometric assessment of their sexual orientation; there was no assessment of any intervention which purportedly effected the "change" [i.e. no pre-test/post-test]; all participants had been treated by or had contact with a "Christian reparative therapist" [reparative therapy has not only been discredited as ineffective, but also condemned as potentially psychologically harmful]); and its overreaching conclusions. The journal's own abstract for Spitzer’s study clearly states: "The participants were 200 self-selected individuals … who reported at least some minimal change from homosexual to heterosexual orientation that lasted at least 5 years... Reports of complete change were uncommon," [emphases added]. Even taken uncritically, this study gives no indication that changing one’s given sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual is either possible or even desired by the vast majority of homosexual persons who are psychologically well-adjusted and for whom their sexual orientation is not problematic.

3. After claiming to demonstrate that individuals with a same-sex sexual orientation are not "born that way," O'Leary goes on to ask what the cause of same-sex attraction is. She discusses at length a book by Elizabeth Moberly which supposedly "combines the findings of therapists with insights gained through healing ministries." O'Leary says the book’s "conclusions have been confirmed by subsequent research," though no such supporting research is identified. As one reads O'Leary’s account of Moberly's "findings," one is presented with what comes across as an even worse remake of a bad B-movie. Apparently Moberly trots out the view, long-abandoned in scientific and mental health circles, that homosexuals are homosexuals because they did not have enough "love and acceptance from the same-sex parent" during childhood. The myths of the "absent father" and the "cold, distant mother" are apparently to blame. (It is noteworthy that Moberly has no formal training in psychology, yet at one time worked as Director of Psychosexual Education and Therapy for the fundamentalist group, BCM [Bible Centered Ministries] International.)

4. The worst error in O'Leary's piece is theological. She perpetuates Moberly's notion that gay men, having missed out on the love of their fathers during childhood, should now look to Jesus or God the Father as a replacement. Gay women, on the other hand, should look to Mary as the mother-figure whose absence during childhood was the apparent cause of their lesbianism. The only possible reaction that a thoughtful and intelligent person could have with such ridiculous assertions is, "Huh?? Are you kidding me??" To suggest that a strong relationship with God the Father or the Blessed Mother will make gay people straight is not only absurd, but is also insulting to the millions of gay men and women who take their faith seriously and have strong and devout spiritual lives. This O'Leary/Moberly assertion is an example of the strange places one ends up when the starting point is wrong. There is no evidence whatsoever to support the long-abandoned Freudian notion that the behavior of parents causes their children's sexual orientation.

The Pilot does its readers a tremendous disservice by publishing the writings of someone who seems not to know the difference between science and science fiction. While O’Leary’s commentary did nothing to clarify confusion, it did a wonderful job of perpetuating ignorance. I pray that if The Pilot wishes to inform its readers on these issues from the perspective of science, it would engage the services of someone who knows what he/she is talking about.


Friday, April 14, 2006

Good Friday Thoughts...

Of all days throughout the year, today -- Good Friday -- is a day especially sacred to those who claim the name of "Christian." It is not only sacred, but somber; a day that calls modern-day followers of Jesus, the Christ, away from the busy-ness of life and into a silence of prayerful reflection, spending at least some time this day meditating on the core mysteries of Christian faith.

As I was waking up this morning, listening to the quiet of the pre-dawn night and conscious of what day it was I was awaking to, I thought how the popular use and understanding of that appellation -- Christian -- has come so far from its fundamental meaning.

Christianity is a credal faith; the question, "what do Christians believe?" is easy to answer. We have a text that we can point to; a text we can recite and say "this is what we believe." The ancient Nicene Creed beautifully and poetically identifies those "sine qua non" beliefs of Christianity.

In our own day, "Christian" is all-too often used in a partisan political context, as an adjective to describe large sections of the political Right, or as part of the name of coalitions or political action committees.

An old hymn proclaims, "they will know we are Christians by our love." Today, of all days, Christians everywhere should ask ourselves if this is true. Is love the defining character or quality of Christianity today? Is love, especially the self-emptying love of Christ on the Cross, what others think of first when they hear "Christian" today? Is the agapaic love of Jesus the preeminent quality of our own lives, the way those with whom we live and work would characterize us?

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

A Right to Intolerance?

Some so-called Christians claim it is their right to be intolerant of homosexuals, believing (mistakenly) that condemnation of homosexuals and homosexuality are essential elements of Christian belief; it is not. These fundamentalists should take these sacred days of the Christian Holy Week and become re-acquainted with their Bibles, especially the Gospels. There they will find someone named Jesus preaching values of justice, forgiveness, inclusion, and charity.

"Think how marginalized racists are," said [Christian activist Gregory S.] Baylor, who directs the Christian Legal Society's Center for Law and Religious Freedom. "If we don't address this now, it will only get worse."

I may be off base, but I don't think fighting for the right not to be marginalized is what should be of concern to racists; their racism should be.

Similarly, the intolerants should be concerned not about being marginalized for their views, but should re-think whether their intolerance of others is truly an example of What Jesus Would Do!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Immigration Reform: Fix the Cause

Yesterday, D.C. joined other cities around the country in playing host to marches and rallies in support of comprehensive immigration reform.

I agree with those who say the U.S. needs to have a better plan to deal justly and fairly with those millions of people, mostly from Mexico, who are here (pick your term)... "illegally," "undocumented," "without papers." There are plenty of good ideas (and a few very bad ones) about how to address these issues that affect so many facets of American society.

Addressing the problem here, however, does precious little to address the problem there ... and by there, I mean Mexico. Conservatively, 40% of Mexicans live in poverty; is it any wonder they want to flee? Debate and discussion about guest worker programs and paths to citizenship and border control ... these are all good and healthy discussions that Americans and elected leaders should be having. But these issues are only secondary to the primary problem of Mexico's long-standing economic and social ills.

I don't know enough about Mexico even to guess at what the answers might be. But I do know enough about logic that dealing with an effect without addressing its cause does precious little to bring about lasting change.

Where's the Evidence?

In his weekly National Catholic Reporter column, theologian Fr. Richard McBrien addreses the fact that "Gay adoption raises larger questions." The issue at hand is whether same-sex couples should be allowed to adopt children. Many social service agencies under Catholic auspices are struggling with this issue, especially in view of the Vatican's stance that such adoptions would be "immoral" for doing "violence" to such adopted children.

That position was expressed in a 2003 Vatican statement ("Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons"), which made the following claim: "Allowing children to be adopted by persons living in such unions would actually mean doing violence to these children, in the sense that their condition of dependency would be used to place them in an environment that is not conducive to their full human development. This is gravely immoral."

Although he treads lightly, McBrien raises a question which I have made here before. Namely, where's the evidence for such a statement? In McBrien's words: "Is there evidence that 'violence' is, in fact, done to children placed in adoptive households of same-sex couples, as the congregation asserted?"

It's a question that needs to be asked again and again and again!

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Living with the Gray

As I was ironing my gray flannel shirt this morning, it occured to me that gray is not a color that some Catholics are very comfortable with. Oh, I know... gray isn't actually a "color" ... it's a shade, which is perhaps a better word to use in making this point. Like so many things in life, the choices we make are rarely between that which is "clearly good" and that which is "clearly evil." More often than not, the choices are between varying shades of gray.

I thought of this as I read some recent letters to the editor of The Pilot in response to the recent resignations of some members of the Boston Catholic Charities' Board of Trustees. These trustees resigned over Catholic Charities' decision to get out of the adoption business altogether, rather than to follow the Commonwealth's anti-discrimination law forbidding the exclusion of gays and same-sex couples as possible adoptive parents on the grounds of sexual orientation. One particular letter to the editor even went so far as to question the faith of these former Board members, calling them "false friends of Jesus Christ."

Taking a cue from the title of Benedict XVI's first encyclical, perhaps we should all recall, especially in this Lenten season ... "In all things, charity."

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Fundamentalism is Never Good

Abdul Rahman is a 41 year old Afghan who converted from Islam to Christianity. Reportedly turned into Afghan authorities by his parents, he now faces possible execution by beheading for violating Islamic Sharia law which sees such religious conversions as an afront to The Prophet and to God.

Will this be enough to help us understand that religious fundamentalism invariably leads to horrors of the worst kind? This criticism is not about Islam, it is about Islamic fundamentalism; Christian fundamentlism is no better. Were it not for the strong constitutional system of government we have in the United States, would we expect anything different from the Christian fundamentlist leaders on our own soil?

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Same-Sex Adoption and Boston's Catholic Charities

The Pilot, weekly newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, recently published a Q&A interview with Dr. John Haas, president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia. Haas was asked "to explain the Church's position on Catholic agencies providing foster children to same-sex couples." It's a telling piece, demonstrating both the questionable theology on which the Church's position about same-sex issues is based, as well as the blatant arrogance of inidividuals like Haas and those who share his perspective.

The entire interview is worth reading, but three questions deserve particular attention.

First -- and to The Pilot's credit! -- the interviewer asks whether or not there are any studies supporting the Vatican's statement that, "Allowing children to be adopted by persons living in such [same-sex] unions would actually mean doing violence to these children." The mere fact that this question is asked is a good sign. All too often Rome makes pronouncements about things about non-faith matters without the slightest evidence to support those contentions. While the Vatican is good at citing itself and Church documents in official pronouncements, it rarely (if ever) cites journal articles from peer-reviewed literature from the relevant fields of study (e.g. sociology, psychology, medicine, social work, etc.) when statements about those fields are being made.

Not surprisingly, Dr. Haas' response is almost dismissive of the question itself. He states that it would not be possible to do adequate study because "it" hasn't gone on long enough. If by "it" he is referring to the adoption of same-sex couples in which it was acknowledged by all parties involved that the child would be parented by two parents of the same gender, he may be right. The real and more significant "it," however, is about children parented by gays and lesbians. And if that's the question, there is plenty of evidence that children parented by gays and lesbians fare just as well as those parented by non-gay parents. According to the American Psycological Association: "...there is no evidence to suggest that lesbians and gay men are unfit to be parents or that psychosocial development among children of gay men or lesbians is compromised in any respect relative to that among offspring of heterosexual parents. Not a single study has found children of gay or lesbian parents to be disadvantaged in any significant respect relative to children of heterosexual parents. Indeed, the evidence to date suggests that home environments provided by gay and lesbian parents are as likely as those provided by heterosexual parents to support and enable children's psychosocial growth."

In light of the fact that at least eight members of Catholic Charities Board of Trustees resigned in protest over this decision, the interviewer also asked whether or not a well-formed Christian conscience could disagree with the Church on this matter. Dr. Haas' reply: "No." He then goes on to say that "these people are confused" and that they fail to understand what conscience is. Apparently Dr. Haas thinks it's aasier to say "you're wrong" than to engage in substantive dialogue with those who disagree with you.

Finally, when asked to give his take on a Boston Globe March 3 editorial which suggested the bishops ask themselves, "What is so wrong with casting the net wide for parents who will gladly take up the burden and joy of caring for a child?," Dr. Haas responded: "The net is widely cast to embrace those who we believe will provide an environment which conforms to God’s plan for the happiness and welfare of these children."

There you have it. Gay and lesbian peoople, who always have been and always will be among the many adults who parent and care for children, are now thought to be outside the net of God's plan and unable to care for children.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Gay Adoption: Beyond the Marriage Issue

Several times this week I've been told in one way or another that the issue of gay marriage is last year's news. Unfortunately for now, the marriage question is one that has been (temporarily??) lost, except for those lucky enough to live in Massachusetts! The emerging issue of the day is over gay people adopting children, whether they are the children of strangers or the offspring of a same-sex partner.

While gay men and women in Massachusetts have the right to civil marriage, they are no longer able to adopt children through Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston. Catholic Charities is ending its adoption services -- a ministry it has engaged in for more than a century -- simply because it is unwilling to follow the Commonwealth's anti-discrimination law and accept gay men and women to serve as foster and adoptive parents. The issue is getting lots of coverage in Boston and elsewhere:
  • Statement of the Archdiocese of Boston

  • Statement of Catholic Charities, Archdiocese of Boston

  • Coverage in National Catholic Reporter

  • Editorial coverage in the Boston Globe
  • Wednesday, March 01, 2006

    When Fraternal Correction Isn't Enough

    Christianity has always recognized the value of fraternal correction in living the Christian life. This responsibility to be our brothers' and sisters' keeper has its roots in the very words of Jesus. In the Gospel we read, "If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother" (Mt. 18:15). This admonition comes in a long passage after Jesus has been asked by the disciples who is greatest in the kingdom of Heaven.

    The Episcopal bishop of Washington, John Bryson Chane, recently challenged his brother bishop and Anglican Primate of Nigeria, Peter Akinola. Akinola and other Nigerian bishops support new Nigerian legislation that not only bans same-sex marriage, but also provides up to five-years imprisonment for practially anything that demonstrates public support for a "same sex amorous relationship." A clergy person who officiates over a non-civilly recognized same-sex commitment ceremony could end up in jail, as could those who publicly demonstrate or speak out against this totalitarian law.

    Bishop Chane is to be commended for his courage in calling to task not only Archbishop Akinola, but also those many Episcopalians and others here in the U.S. who support him. Because Akinola's sin was quite public, it is thus appropriate that Bishop Chane's correction be public as well. For his support of such blatantly discriminatory law, Archbishop Akinola is no less than (and no more than) a public sinner ... and it is right that he be publicly rebuked.

    Unfortunately, I suspect that Bishop Chane's words will fall on deaf ears, even if they come to Akinola's attention. Episcopalians and Nigerians of good will the world over should join their voices with Bishop Chane's and others who understand that ALL people, including gay men and women, are created in God's image and likeness. Tell Archbishop Akinola that he is wrong and urge him to repent during this holy season of Lent.

    Episcopalians are currently preparing for their triennial General Convention this coming June in Columbus, Ohio. Let us pray that Archbishop Akinola's sin will be named for what it is and that the Convention will loudly and clearly uphold the rights of gay men and women to participate fully in the life of church and civil society.

    Monday, February 27, 2006

    Québec Priests Speak Out

    Nineteen priests challenge the Vatican and their own bishops on homosexuals in the priesthood and gay civil rights. (See the original Letter, in French)

    Not surprisingly, there are concerted efforts to quell such public discussion of this significant issue in the life of the Church. Forgetting that real Authority comes not from position or office, but rather from the Truth that one speaks (Matt. 7:29), such efforts condemn these priests as "dissenters" and encourage others afraid of such discussion to contact Church leaders. For some, the comfort of complacency is less scary the challenge of the truth.

    To demonstrate support for these priests (and all others who have the courage "speak truth to power") and to encourage the continuation of dialogue in the Church, contact the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith:

    Cardinal-elect William Levada
    Congregazione per la Dottrina della Fede
    Piazza del S. Uffizio, 11, 00193
    Roma, Italia

    To email the CDF:
    Cardinal-elect William Levada
    E-mail: cdf@cfaith.va

    Miss Manners' Definition of Family

    Miss Manners shares her thoughts on how "family" should be defined:

    "But eating together, night after night, no matter who does the cooking or the carrying-in -- that is a good definition of what makes a family. A family, by Miss Manners's standards, is a group of people that takes nightly and weekend meals together. It is then and there, asking one another to pass the beans, arbitrating who gets the drumstick and pretending to be interested in each one's adventures of the day, that families are forged."


    Sounds good to me!

    Wednesday, February 22, 2006

    Thank you, Rev. Joe Hoffman

    Yesterday I began drafting a post after having read the "Dear Amy" advice column in Monday's Washington Post. I was going to entitle it, "This is the America I Fear," or something like that. The Amy column included an almost unbelievable letter from a woman in Denver, married six years, who lives with her husband in what was described as a nice, quiet Denver neighborhood. The woman said that two young gay men moved in across the street over a year ago, transforming a run-down house into the pride of the block (yes, there is often a kernel of truth at the root of some stereotypes!). Though they kept pretty much to themselves, these guys would say hello and were considered good neighbors, even going so far as to shovel out the woman's car when it snowed (why she or her husband couldn't/wouldn't/didn't do this was left unsaid). Apparently all was hunky-dory until one morning the gay guys had the gall to give each other an off-to-work-have-a-good-day kiss out in full public view (horrors!). What ensued after this God-fearing woman recovered from witnessing this traumatic event should be read in the original.

    That's what I was going to write out, going off in the direction that would try to make the point that a social movement that doesn't change the hearts and minds of people is doomed to fail. Yes, being a good neighbor is a wonderful starting point ... but in the face of deep-seated fears and prejudices, neighborliness is just the first step.

    But then someone forwarded me the story about a Congregational United Church of Christ Pastor in Asheville, NC. It seems that Rev. Joe Hoffman has had a bit of an epiphany, a raising of consciousness. Over the past few months, the good pastor came to realize that civil marriage laws that do not allow gay citizens the same rights as straight citizens are unjust laws. And even though he would continue to help couples -- both heterosexual and homosexual -- plan for and celebrate their religious wedding services, he could not in good conscience affix his signature to the state-issued marriage licenses as long as that same state's marriage laws remained exclusive and discriminatory.

    While people like the woman in Denver cause me to shake my head and wonder ... people like Pastor Joe Hoffman cause me to pause and thank God that there are still individuals who have the courage of their well-founded convictions and are not afraid to take a stand for what they know is probably not very popular, but is most certainly very right.

    Tuesday, February 21, 2006

    San Francisco Archbishop on "Brokeback Mountain"

    The British Catholic newspaper, The Tablet, reports that George Niederauer, newly-installed Archbishop of San Francisco, spoke positively about what he took away from seeing Brokeback Mountain. One of the lessons Niederauer sees is "the destructiveness of not being honest with yourself, and not being honest with other people – and not being faithful, trying to live a double life, and what that does to each of the lives you try to live."

    (By the way, I'm glad Archbishop Niederauer didn't take the advice of the USCCB not to see the movie when they rated it "O - morally offensive." The bishops' convoluted review simultaneously states that a Catholic audience would find the film's subject matter itself "contrary to its moral principles," even though it is treated "with discretion" and the film is "well-crafted" and "superbly acted.")

    Monday, February 13, 2006

    The human face ...

    ... of hate.

    Wednesday, February 08, 2006

    Iran Not So Evil?

    Apparently George W. Bush doesn't think Iran is so bad after all. The U.S. voted recently (Jan. 25, 2006) to support an Iranian sponsored move denying "consultative status" to two gay rights organizations ... all this despite the fact that the U.S. State Department still thinks Iran isn't such a great place to visit. So when it comes to Iran, W's view apparently is "they're right about the gays, just stay away from Tehran."

    In 2005, there were
    2,719 Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) accorded consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Add to that the 400 more NGOs accredited to ECOSOC's Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) and you have over 3,000 organizations around the globe that the Council believes are worth listening to.

    The only organizations NOT worth listening to are the
    International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) and the Danish Association of Gays and Lesbians (LDL).

    Tuesday, February 07, 2006

    Coretta Scott King

    Today the world pays tribute to Coretta Scott King. The spirit and legacy of Mrs. King will continue to inspire for generations to come those who seek a world of peace and justice, especially for the poor and others whom society still spurns.

    Two years ago, Mrs. King courageously stated, "Gay and lesbian people have families, and their families should have legal protection, whether by marriage or civil union.... A constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages is a form of gay bashing and it would do nothing at all to protect traditional marriages."


    Sunday, January 29, 2006

    Maryland's Common Sense Judge

    On January 20, 2006, Baltimore circuit court Judge M. Brooke Murdock struck down the Maryland statute which had explicitly banned same-sex marriages, finding this 1972 statute in violation of Maryland's Constitution. In part, she wrote:

    • "This Court, like others, can find no rational connection between the prevention of same-sex marriages and an increase or decrease in the number of heterosexual marriages or of children born to those unions..."

    • "When tradition is the guise under which prejudice or animosity hides, it is not a legitimate state interest."

    Thursday, January 26, 2006

    Bill of Non-Rights

    Yesterday all employees in my thirty-person office participated in an HR seminar on harassment in general, and sexual harassment in particular. The two-hour presentation reviewed what harassment is, company policy and procedures, and applicable federal law. It felt good to see "sexual orientation" listed among the protected classes that at least my employer recognizes as part of its anti-harassment policy. Shortly after the seminar ended, I was walking out of the little deli nearby with my tuna sandwich and saw the headline of the Washington Post: Gay Marriage Ban Advances Toward Va. Referendum. The contrast between the purpose of the seminar, ensuring that the rights of ALL people are respected in the workplace, and the headline about efforts to constitutionalize discrimination against gay people, couldn't have been more striking.

    Some lawmakers in both Virginia and Maryland are advancing proposals to amend their respective state constitutions to ban same-sex marriages. The proposals would place before voters a ballot question seeking to include the prohibition in their constitutions' Bill of Rights. How a law which doesn't actually confer or recognize a right, but in fact does the exact opposite, can be considered part of a "Bill of Rights" is beyond me ... but that's another matter. Living in the Washington, DC area and being regularly exposed to the politics of Virginia and Maryland, these efforts do not come as a surprise. What struck me, however, was realizing that these discriminatory proposals have such support not only among some lawmakers, but also among many Virginia and Maryland citizens.

    On the heels of the morning's anti-discrimination presentation, it occurred to me more bluntly than it ever had before that some of my co-workers are quite probably among those constituents who would support these constitutional bans. Some probably think of gay people as "less than" and thus worthy of being discriminated against. What could be more hostile than that?

    Wednesday, January 25, 2006

    First Encyclical to be Released Today

    At noon today, the Vatican is scheduled to release the first encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI. With the Latin title, Deus Caritas est, the press release announcing encylical states that, "The Pope affirmed that his Encyclical 'seeks to show that the very personal act of love must be expressed within the Church also as an organizational act. If it is true that the Church is an expression of God, it must be true that love becomes an ecclesial act.'"

    If the document in fact makes this connection, i.e. between the personal and the organizational, then that will be a good thing. It is a fundamental tenet of Catholic belief and practice that faith is not something private, but must express itself outwardly all dimensions of life.

    (A synopsis in Italian is already available.)

    Quote for Today:

    "It helps me understand the strength we have today, but it doesn't help me understand the brutality of slavery" - An unnamed African American woman interviewed in NPR story about descendants of slaves returning to visit Africa.

    Wednesday, January 11, 2006

    Just v Legal

    This evening I watched the movie, "Paragraph 175." It documents the story of homosexuals, mostly men, during the horrific years of Nazi rule in Germany and occupied France. Pierre Seel, the man whose obituary inspired my first post here and lone Frenchman featured in the multilingual film, tells of the atrocities he witnessed and experienced in the Nazi camp at Schirmeck. After an emotional outburst, he pauses for a moment, seems to recollect himself, and says simply, "I am ashamed for humanity."

    Paragraph 175 was a perfectly legal statute that had been on the German law books since 1871. Although little enforced in the decades prior to the rise of Hitler and Nazism, it became the tool by which thousands of homosexual men were sent to concentration camps or other prisons, without benefit of trial, often simply for "suspicion" of being homosexual.

    I couldn't help think of this in light of what is happening these very days in Washington. The Senate Judiciary Committee seems well on their way to approving the nomination of Judge Samuel Alito as a Supreme Court Justice, replacing retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. These highly covered hearings have certainly helped educate the American public, as even non-lawyers now are familiar with terms like "stare decisis" and should know the meaning of constitutional precedent in legal parlance.

    I have beeen struck by the fact, however, that while there is much talk of law during these hearings, there is precious little talk of justice. Justice, one of the four cardinal virtues in western thought, is so significant that it is the very title we give to those who sit on our nation's highest court. And yet, justice seems to be less on the minds of senators than whether or not Judge Alito might rule in favor of overtuning Roe v. Wade. Yes, Roe is an important case ... but isn't the picture much bigger than that? Isn't justice what Justices should be concerned with and what potential Justices questioned about, even more than issues like a statute's contsitutionality, legal precedent, and congressional intent? I'm not a lawyer, but it seems to me that all legal proceedings should result in justice. Thus, it gave me pause when Judge Alito made that statement that, ""Results oriented jurisprudence is never justified" in response to one senator's question about his judicial philosophy. Isn't it quite possible that a decision be quite legal, but not necessarily just? Shouldn't we be just as interested in the result of a court case as we are in the process that gets us there? The Dred Scott decision comes quickly to mind.

    How would Samuel Alito have ruled had he been serving on the Court in 1857 when the justices ruled 7-2 that the constitutionally protected "property rights" of southern slaveholders outweighed Dred Scott's claim to freedom? What would Samuel Alito (or any current Justice for that matter), do when faced with an unjust law? What would he do if faced with a case involving a law like Paragraph 175?

    Tuesday, January 03, 2006

    A Pastor's Comments ....

    ..... on the CCE "Instruction" -- Seattle Archbishop Alex Brunnett provides some sensible and pastoral thoughts on the Vatican's latest salvo against gays.