"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)

Monday, June 28, 2010

Following the Good Shepherd's Example

Fr. Joe Palacios, who teaches sociology at Georgetown University and whom many of us know, is quoted in an online article from Religion Dispatches about immigration reform proposals and the rights of same-sex couples.

In addition to referencing Fr. Joe's advocacy work, the story also quotes Sr. Jeannine Grammick speaking very clearly about the opposition of US Bishops to "Uniting American Families Act (UAFA)—which would close a loophole that currently prevents US citizens in same-sex, committed relationships from sponsoring their undocumented partners for citizenship." Says Grammick, "I find their arguments specious and I think their stand, personally I find it scandalous.”

What is most heartwarming, however, is the reference to two Catholic women who seem to have found a Catholic parish and pastor that welcome them and accept them -- and their family -- as they are.

Fr. Piers M. Lahey is the pastor of the Church of the Good Shepherd Roman Catholic parish in Pacifica, California. Fr. Lahey lived up to the name of his parish when he went out on a limb and wrote a letter to U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein in supporting her efforts to seek legislation that would provide individual relief to one of his parishioners, Shirley Constantino Tan. Tan and her partner of 24 years are active members at Good Shepherd, but she was subject to deportation after her appeals for asylum were denied. Fr. Lahey wrote that Tan and partner Jaylynn Mercado are “wonderful Christian partners, parents, role models for their two boys, and, as Scripture says, ‘living stones’ helping to form and build up the Church, the Body of Christ, in today’s broken and violent world.”

God bless Fr. Lahey for following the example of the One True Shepherd.  His example of supporting those entrusted to his pastoral care speaks volumes when viewed next to those who claim the title of "shepherd," but whose actions seem less than shepherd-like.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Texas Republicans & "Birthright Citizenship"

I try my best not to use sweeping generalizations or to speak about huge groups of people as if they all held the same world view or acted in the same way.  I cringe when I hear someone begin a sentence with, "All men are ..." or "Women just..." or "Kids these days are..."  The same is true when people start these generalizations not with a trait or characteristic over which we have no control (like our gender, our race, our age or nationality), but also when the "label" is of a more voluntary nature, such as one about our choice of religion, athletic interests, or political persuasion.

Today, however, I'm going to make an exception.  Texas Republicans are nuts!  Their 2010 Texas Republican Party Platform is xenophobic, homophobic, hate-filled, anti-intellectual, self-aggrandizing and just plain stupid. The HRC's latest mailing highlights the anti-gay elements (see this version, with offending texts highlighted, starting on p. 6).  Well beyond their condemnation of same-sex marriage and a desire to re-criminalize "sodomy" (whatever that is!), are positions from the ridiculous to silly to just plain mean. On the heels of stating that they "deplore all discrimination," they immediately state that they also "deplore forced sensitivity training."  So, in their judgment, acts that actually cause harm to people -- like discrimination in employment, education, housing, etc. -- are assessed with the same moral judgment (i.e. "deplored") as are attempts to provide education and training to help people understand what such discrimination might look like and how it can occur?

But beyond this sort of silliness, these Texas GOP folks also want to change the Constitution. However, they want to do so not by amending the Constitution, but simply by having the three branches of the federal government "clarify" it.  And what, exactly, do they want "clarified"?  Apparently the language of the 14th Amendment is not very clear to them, though perhaps it's because their own command of the English language isn't all that good, which is somewhat surprising, since the Platform also calls for the adoption of "American English as the official language of Texas and the United States"; but I digress.  The Texans want Section 1 of the 14th Amendment to be understood as conferring "birthright citizenship" only on the children of current citizens.  Here's what the first sentence of the 14th Amendment, Section 1 says:  "Section. 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside," [emphases added]. Now, I'm no lawyer or Constitutional scholar, but I do understand English, including American English.  To me, that language is pretty clear: if you're born here, you're a citizen.

Texas GOPers want this "clarified."  And just so I don't misrepresent, here's their full platform plank:

"Birthright Citizenship – We call on the Legislative, Executive and Judicial branches of these United States to clarify Section 1 of the 14th amendment to limit citizenship by birth to those born to a citizen of the United States: with no exceptions."

If their view of the Constitution were the prevailing one, how many of us would not be citizens because our parents or grandparents or great-grandparents were born to immigrants who had not yet become naturalized citizens? The vast majority of Americans are the descendants of immigrants -- from Europe, Asia, Africa, South America, and every corner of the globe. This openness to the foreigner should be reflected not only in the welcoming symbolism of the Statue of Liberty, but in the very laws that govern our land. America is, always has been, and always should be, a country that sees immigrants not as threats, but as assets; not as people to be feared, but as new neighbors to be welcomed. For Texas Republicans, however, the light's been turned off and the welcome mat removed.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Southern Baptists and "Don't ask, don't tell"

Today's Washington Post reports that the large number of military chaplains from the highly conservative Southern Baptist Convention may have a disproportionate influence on the debate about repealing "Don't ask, don't tell." "'If a policy makes it more difficult - in fact, discourages - one of the groups that provides one of the largest numbers of chaplains to the military community from continuing to engage in chaplaincy ministry, that should raise significant concerns for them about the...spiritual well-being of our men and women in uniform,' said Barrett Duke..." from a Southern Baptist research institute.

Well, if the quality of that ministry is such that they need to perpetuate prejudice and bigotry based on a few misunderstood and misinterpreted passages from scripture, then perhaps the loss of their "ministry" to those in uniform might not be such a bad thing.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Social Workers Sponsor DC Mayoral Candidates Forum

Last evening I attended a Mayoral Candidates Forum sponsored by the DC chapter of the National Association of Social Workers' (NASW) PAC called PACE (Political Action for Candidate Election). The invitation-only event had announced that all five candidates seeking the Democratic nomination in the September 14, 2010 primary -- incumbent Mayor Adrian Fenty, City Council Chair Vince Gray, former newscaster Leo Alexander, real estate agent Ernest Johnson, and accountant Sulaimon Brown -- would be in attendance. Unfortunately, Fenty was a no-show and no explanation for his absence was given.

Considering the context of this election (Washington DC) and the audience of the forum (social workers), there were no major surprises in any of the candidates' answers to the several questions offered by the three-person panel. Here are some thoughts on the event::
  • This was a forum held in DC for a DC election. I had naively assumed that most attendees would be DC residents, eligible to cast their vote for one of the candidates. I was wrong. While no poll was taken, it was clear that a number of people in attendance were residents of either Maryland or Virginia, and that they merely worked for a DC government agency.
  • Ernest Johnson, whose campaign literature refers to his as an "anointed campaign," seemed like a 2010 version of Marion Barry. He comes across as a friendly sort, but he seemed much more focused on attacking what he called the "Fenty-Gray administration" than with offering anything positive. His website pictures a smiling Johnson attending a "Say NO to Same-Sex Marriage" rally, and he favors a referendum to put this issue "to the people."
  • Sulaimon Brown seemed ill-prepared and out of his league, so much so that I felt embarrassed for him. He apologized several times, saying that the notebook that contained his "research" had been stolen during a home break-in only hours before. But he seemed to lack even a basic understanding of issues, asking several times for questions to be repeated and for terms to be explained (e.g. "What's a BSW?" Answer: "Bachelor of Social Work").
  • Leo Alexander is a polished and well-prepared candidate.  He is articulate, thoughtful, and presents strong and reasonable arguments for his candidacy's platform -- arguments that might not be so well-received by some, because of his focus on "the root causes of poverty," including the breakdown of the African American family in DC. He had a facility with numbers and statistics, and seemed to have a systemic, "big picture" view of the interconnectedness of social problems that most social workers would subscribe to.  He also had some concrete plans if elected, including a promise to hire an "army of social workers" to be involved in schools and other agencies, and build a single DC government complex to reduce the rent paid by agencies dispersed throughout the city. Two things, however, made me cross him off my list of possibilities:
    • Immigration: his rhetoric on the high unemployment rates among African Americans in DC seemed pulled straight from Sarah P.'s playbook.  The reason for such high rates? Undocumented or illegal (read Hispanic/Latino) immigrants are hired for unskilled labor and construction jobs at wages that are apparently too low for others; 
    • Same-Sex Marriage: not only does he not support DC's recently-enacted law extending the right of civil marriage to same-sex couples, he also favors a referendum to put this issue to the voters (despite the fact that there have been 3 judicial rulings saying that such a referendum cannot go forward, as it would be against the fundamental human rights provision of the DC Charter).
  • Vince Gray found himself among a familiar and friendly crowd. He showed himself to be the seasoned politician he is, responding vociferously to Ernest Johnson's accusations about cronyism and no-bid contracts, but deflecting the accusations with the same low degree of specificity. He responded to questions directly, highlighted his experience and accomplishments, and came across as someone who can get things done. 
  • Perhaps my strongest disappointment was the lack of any discussion -- either initiated by a question or in a candidate's response -- about taxes and the city's finances. DC is among America's most expensive places to live and is among the top ten states when comparing the total tax burden on individuals. So much of the conversation seemed to be about ways in which DC government and its agencies could do more and more to solve problems, without any discussion about how much these "solutions" would further burden DC residents, not all of whom are K Street lobbyists.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Military Archbishop as Advocate for Injustice

The Catholic Archbishop for the Military Services, Timothy Broglio, yesterday joined the reactionary crowd of those seeking to retain the military's discriminatory "Don't ask, don't tell" policy regarding gay men and women in the military. That policy flies in the face of common sense and basic human decency. In this season of First Communions, even a 7-year old knows that telling a lie is a bad thing; yet this is what the archbishop and his ilk would have thousands and thousands of well-qualified Americans do if they wish to serve their country in uniform. Instead of being honest and open about who they are as God created them, Broglio would have God's gay and lesbian children remain in the darkened closet of lies and dishonesty.

Broglio's outrageous comments demonstrate not only the intellectual emptiness of the position held by most current church leaders, but also raises the question of whether religiously affiliated chaplains who are unable to uphold and adhere to all military policies should continue to serve in the military as military officers -- paid for with taxpayer dollars. Even when many military leaders, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, support moving away from this failed policy, Broglio continues to repeat the old canard that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly will hurt "unit cohesion."

Not only is Broglio's position a slap in the face of gay men and women, it's also insulting to America's straight soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen.  Apparently the archbishop thinks they are not as mature as their international counterparts in countries like the UK and Israel, where gays and lesbians have served openly and successfully for years.

Not only is it time for "Dont ask, don't tell" to be laid to rest, it's also time for the archbishop to realize that military policies should reflect the non-discriminatory values that represent the best of what it means to be an American.