Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Start a Dialogue? Yes, we CAN!

Now that Rev. Rick Warren has delivered his invocation at the Obama inauguration, perhaps we can start to focus on how we’re going to be advancing the cause of gaining recognition of equal civil rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people under federal law.

For those who don’t think we should be ready to move forward, ready, let’s recap the situation:

Rick Warren is the pastor of the Saddleback Church, an evangelical mega-congregation in Lake Forest, California, and is the author of a best-selling book, The Purpose Driven Life.

His notoriety in LGBT circles peaked when, after having equated same-sex marriage with incest, pedophilia and polygamy (though it’s pretty obvious to me that the equivalency of these things in his mind may charitably be limited to “these are things Rick doesn’t equate with marriage”), he was invited by the Obama people to deliver the invocation at the Inaugural.

Here is what he said at the time, in an interview:

Rick Warren: But the issue to me is, I’m not opposed to that as much as I’m opposed to the redefinition of a 5,000-year definition of marriage. I’m opposed to having a brother and sister be together and call that marriage. I’m opposed to an older guy marrying a child and calling that a marriage. I’m opposed to one guy having multiple wives and calling that marriage.

Steven Waldman: Do you think, though, that they are equivalent to having gays getting married?

Rick Warren:
Oh I do.

If it was merely a matter of drawing a line from Point A to Point B, it might have been what Joe Solmonese of HRC hysterically called “a punch in the gut.” Or it might not.

There was was more to it – there was a point in the presidential campaign at which Barack Obama and John McCain appeared to speak at the Saddleback Church, and Rick Warren endured much criticism from hard core Right Wing Christianists for allowing Obama to speak.

I’ll let singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge have the floor now – I’ve said and written from a similar viewpoint, but I think I’ll give the platform to her. She actually had a chance to talk to Warren. Here is what she says about her meeting:

"On the day of the [Muslim Public Affairs Council ] conference [at which Rick Warren was the guest speaker] I received a call from Pastor Rick, and before I could say anything, he told me what a fan he was. He had most of my albums from the very first one. What? This didn’t sound like a gay hater, much less a preacher. He explained in very thoughtful words that as a Christian he believed in equal rights for everyone. He believed every loving relationship should have equal protection. He struggled with Proposition 8 because he didn’t want to see marriage redefined as anything other than between a man and a woman. He said he regretted his choice of words in his video message to his congregation about proposition 8 when he mentioned pedophiles and those who commit incest. He said that in no way, is that how he thought about gays. He invited me to his church, I invited him to my home to meet my wife and kids. He told me of his wife’s struggle with breast cancer just a year before mine. When we met later that night, he entered the room with open arms and an open heart. We agreed to build bridges to the future.”

After her meeting, Melissa Etheridge bravely went forth with her message of peace and reconciliation:

"I believe I understand Obama's choice here. I believe that Barack Obama wants to be the President of the entire United States. Pastor Rick Warren reached out to him, brought him into his church during the campaign, which outraged many members of his church. Yet he reaches across and I think this is Obama reaching back and going, 'I think we can disagree on things, yet we can still all move forward. We need to get past our differences.' And I just want to make sure that as the liberals and progressives and Democrats or whatever you want to call us are moving into this new time with this new president do not say that they, the Evangelicals who say such horrible things about gays, they have to stay over here and we're not going to let them in. That makes us no better than the last administration."

After hearing the actual words Warren used, Melissa continues:

"Just because he (compares gays to incest or polygamy) does not mean I have to not speak to him, or don't ever want to be in his company. We had a crazy experience at the Muslim Public Affairs Council conference...We met, we spoke. He's a fine person...He said he was trying to make the definition of marriage not change, not necessarily saying that gays are pedophiles or any of that stuff. One can draw whatever they want from that. This is what he told me."

Now, I am going to reproduce the Rick Warren invocation here, highlighting what may be words of conciliation:

Let us pray.

Almighty God, our father, everything we see and everything we can't see exists because of you alone. It all comes from you, it all belongs to you. It all exists for your glory. History is your story.

The Scripture tells us Hear, oh Israel, the Lord is our God; the Lord is one. And you are the compassionate and merciful one. And you are loving to everyone you have made.

Now today we rejoice not only in America's peaceful transfer of power for the 44th time. We celebrate a hinge-point of history with the inauguration of our first African-American president of the United States.

We are so grateful to live in this land, a land of unequaled possibility, where the son of an African immigrant can rise to the highest level of our leadership.

And we know today that Dr. King and a great cloud of witnesses are shouting in Heaven.

Give to our new president, Barack Obama, the wisdom to lead us with humility, the courage to lead us with integrity, the compassion to lead us with generosity. Bless and protect him, his family, Vice President Biden, the Cabinet, and every one of our freely elected leaders.

Help us, oh God, to remember that we are Americans, united not by race or religion or blood, but to our commitment to freedom and justice for all.

When we focus on ourselves, when we fight each other, when we forget you, forgive us. When we presume that our greatness and our prosperity is ours alone, forgive us. When we fail to treat our fellow human beings and all the Earth with the respect that they deserve, forgive us.

And as we face these difficult days ahead, may we have a new birth of clarity in our aims, responsibility in our actions, humility in our approaches, and civility in our attitudes, even when we differ.

Help us to share, to serve and to seek the common good of all.

May all people of good will today join together to work for a more just, a more healthy and a more prosperous nation and a peaceful planet. And may we never forget that one day all nations and all people will stand accountable before you.

We now commit our new president and his wife, Michelle, and his daughters, Malia and Sasha, into your loving care.

I humbly ask this in the name of the one who changed my life, Yeshua, Isa, Jesus, Jesus (hay-SOOS), who taught us to pray, Our Father who art in heaven hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.


I underlined the parts of the prayer that seem to be showing a conciliatoty attitude. Certainly invoking the idea of a loving God who loves all his creation (even gay and trans people) is a good start.

Invoking the idea that as Americans, we must be dedicated and committed to "freedom and justice for all" doesn't seem to close the door on civil marriage for same-sex couples.

And if I want to be charitable (and why shouldn’t I be?), I would put a very positive spin on his “When we fail to treat our fellow human beings and all the Earth with the respect that they deserve, forgive us.”

Of course, this last sentiment might be in accord with one of the schizophrenic sections of the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church with respect to the treatment of gay people:

2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,[140] tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered."[141] They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. They do not choose their homosexual condition; for most of them it is a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

Now, aside from the catechism being totally incorrect about Sacred Scripture and natural law in relation to “homosexual acts” in Paragraph 2357, leading to the false conclusion that such “acts” cannot be approved, the next section, with regard to the treatment of gay people, says “They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”

Now, I know Rick Warren isn’t Catholic, but perhaps he’s suffering from the same sort of schizophrenic “I want to treat gay people with compassion, but I can’t condone gay marriage or human rights laws” theology that grips the Catholic hierarchy.

I think that unlike those evangelicals who believe that “homosexuality is a choice” Warren may be reachable on the theological side. (Alas, with the Catholic hierarchy, the encrustations of mistaken “tradition” keep the Church on a wrong course.)

Let’s look at Warren’s prayer asking for forgiveness for failing to treat “our fellow human beings and all the earth” with the respect we deserve as a start.

On the other hand, it may not be so far removed from the Pope’s 2008 Christmas Greeting to the Curia and Prelature referred to in my last post. The key is to discern what Pastor Warren might mean, regarding the LGBT community, to be the respect that we “deserve.”

I think that Pastor Warren, despite being “on the other side” on the marriage issue, may have a more open mind on the subject than he gets credit for when things are painted in pure black-white, good-evil terms. And he isn’t encrusted with as many barnacles of “tradition” as the Roman Catholic hierarchy.

We have to remember, too, that President Barack Obama, while certainly better on LGBT issues than anyone who has ever been President of the United States, still himself falls short of endorsing full equal civil rights for our community. There is a need for dialogue with the Administration as much as there is a need to dialogue with those with whom we have a fundamental disagreement.

The immediate and marked change on the White House website, including us under Civil Rights in the Administration’s agenda, is a huge step. The inclusion of “gender identity and expression” for the first time in the anti-discrimination hiring policy of this administration, in addition to the inclusion of sexual orientation (first added by President Clinton), is also monumental.

We have hope. With this Administration, we have a chance to change minds – and the opportunity is also clear that we must engage those who oppose the recognition of our rights with clearly articulated arguments from all perspectives. We do have the Judaeo-Christian ideological high ground, as well as the constitutional high ground, as well as the critical underpinning of the basic underlying rational philosophy under which the United States was created. It is only a matter of articulating these things in a way in which reasonable opponents can understand.

There may well be a basic disconnect between our understanding and that of our opponents. We can look at the same constitution, and the same sacred scripture, and the same philosophical writing, and come to such an amazingly and diametrically opposed conclusion.

If we can come to the point where we can resolve this underlying disconnection, I believe that we will find much more support in unanticipated places – support we can never find if we do not engage in the conversation. We may not have to convince, we may only have to go so far as to get the opposition to realize that “reasonable minds may differ” in order to defuse the opposition. After all, America is founded on the idea of respect, tolerance and free exercise for the religious beliefs of others as well as ourselves. If we can convince Christianists that their beliefs are not the only valid Judaeo-Christian understanding on our issues, they might well be willing to go the distance with regard to civil marriage – especially when they come to the realization that there would be no infringement of their right to refuse to sanctify a marriage that does not follow their interpretation of scripture.

Yes, we CAN!

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