Saturday, May 31, 2008

Help Me Sort This Out

No, I’m not talking about what the DNC is doing today about Florida and Michigan. I’m talking about last Thursday’s (May 22) Senate’s approval of a war supplemental bill.
The Senate approved Thursday a two-part supplemental spending package that included $165 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as increased veterans' benefits and an extension of unemployment insurance and other domestic spending.

The first amendment, including the veterans' education and other domestic spending, was approved by a 75-22 margin.

The second amendment covered the $165 billion of war funds; it passed, 70-26.
What I hope you will help me sort out is why only 26 members of the Senate voted against the money to keep the war going for the rest of President Bush’s time in office. Was there a deal to vote up the veterans’ benefits and other domestic spending in exchange for approving more money for the war?

Or, was it a realistic bargain in view of the fact that the Senate couldn’t muster enough votes to restrict war funding?
The vote on the war funding came after the Senate failed to win enough support for the war funding and restrictions on the war funding, such as a mandate that U.S. forces be redeployed.
Understand me, I fully support the veteran benefits. They are long overdue, both the medical and education parts of the package. And I think I am grateful for Senator Webb’s leadership on this measure. While the provisions for the care of veterans are desperately needed, I suspect that Senator Webb would agree that the most important thing we could do for the health of our soldiers is to get them out of Iraq and that the worst thing we can do for their health is to keep them there.

This is what I hope you will help me understand: do we have only 26 Senators who are willing to vote for restricting funding and imposing conditions that would be in the best health interests of our soldiers—never mind all of the other reasons we should be out of Iraq?

I believe that the new G.I. bill (if it is approved by the House, if the President doesn’t veto it, or if he does and his veto is overridden by Congress) is not only a matter of justice for GIs, but is an investment in the country that will easily pay for itself in greater productivity, just as I believe it did after World War II. Let me explain.

In the mid-1950s at the ripe old age of 17 I enrolled in a small Texas college. I hadn’t learned to study and my only motivation for being there was to jump through the academic hurdle to get into the vocation I wanted. I was what they called then a “preacher boy,” one of a number of young people preparing to be ordained clergy. In addition to some other “kids” like me, I found a whole host of guys (and they all were “guys” then) also preparing for the ministry. But these guys were in their 30s and 40s, were married, and had kids. They were all veterans from World War II or Korea, or both. All of them bore the emotional and sometimes physical scars of war. The GI bill was making it possible for them to get a college education, something that had been out of their economic reach before.

What I remember most vividly about them was their excitement about learning. I was bored by Psychology 101 and all my other classes, but they had a desire to learn, not just get a degree. At the student union coffee shop we gathered to talk, and the talk was nearly always about what they were learning. They had enough life experience that they were ready to learn. They were way ahead of me, but I learned from them, and by the time we graduated, I too was excited about learning.

These are personal reasons and the men I knew best were ones preparing for the ministry, but there were others preparing for business, to be teachers, etc. I suspect that they brought the same excitement to learning that my friends did. Investing in their education seemed to me one of the best investments that could have been made in our country.

But wait a minute! If providing for their education was such a good national investment for veterans why would it not be an equally good investment for all young people who want college or vocational training? I like Obama’s call for
national service and his linking it education. His proposals are on the right track; but if we understood the value of the investment for the country, not to mention the individuals, they need to be greatly expanded.

When Congress comes back from its Memorial Day recess on June 3, the House will have to consider the supplemental appropriations bill the Senate passed on May 22nd. Harry Reid, after conversations with House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi,
said "the GI bill of rights is going to be part of what we send to the president." What I haven’t seen anywhere—can you help me?—is whether or not the House will insist on restricting war funding.

Vetoing a bill that imposes restrictions on his power to continue the war is a certainty for President Bush. However, if he vetoes such a bill, and Congress does not pass another more to his liking, he will be denied war funding. The veterans’ benefits would be a casualty of such an impasse. Those provisions, basically Senator Webb’s amendment in the Senate, could be brought back as separate pieces of legislation. The pro-war Republicans might be in such a snit that those who voted for the benefits might not do so again.

As I see it, the hard question is this: is it more important at this time to do everything possible to put limitations on the war-making power of the President, or believing that not possible, to make the Senate’s deal to fund the war for the rest of this president’s term and in return get much needed veterans’ benefits?

Because I believe that we can get the veterans’ benefits in separate legislation and because little is more important than hindering the president’s power to make war, I hope the Congress will act for the greater benefit of the soldiers and halt the war funding. How do you want Reid and Pelosi to act on this?

- Milo

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Sunshine in the Morning, One of These Days

How does that old song go? “There’ll be sunshine in the morning… Sunshine in the morning one of these days.” I thought I caught a glimmer of light yesterday when I read two news stories, one about polls on same-sex marriage in the most populace state, and the other about recognizing same-sex unions from elsewhere in the third most populace state.

The Field Poll taken two days after the California Supreme Court struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage
found 51 percent of California’s registered voters favor the idea of allowing gay and lesbian couples to wed, while 42 percent disapprove.
"I would characterize it as a historic poll," said Field Poll Director Mark DiCamillo, noting that a marked number of young voters - more than two of every three - supported permitting same-sex nuptials. DiCamillo called the result one of the rare issues "where public tolerance I would say is generationally induced."
Same-sex marriages are expected to begin this summer unless the court decides to reconsider its decision or postpone its taking effect until after the November election when California voters are expected to vote on a proposed amendment to the state constitution defining marriage as between a man and woman. On this proposed amendment the poll results were almost identical:
Fifty-one percent opposed that proposal, the survey reported, while 43 percent approved of the restrictive amendment.
Devilstower from DailyKos put the “51 percent” in historical perspective:
51% approval may be a very slim margin, but it represents a sharp change in this issue over the last two decades. When the question was asked in 1995, it drew 30% support. In 1997, the number was up to 38%. Now it's 51%.
I find two other factors heartening in this poll.
The changing attitude reflected through Field Polls, DiCamillo said, can be attributed to a "generational replacement" that has resulted in younger Californians being more sympathetic to providing equal protection of the laws to gays and lesbians. The shift, he added, is akin to the public's attitudes on race that changed after the civil rights movement.
First, young people are leading the way: "generational replacement." Three cheers for our young people! Second, the shift is similar to the way attitudes on race changed. In 1948 California’s was the first state high court to
declare unconstitutional a ban on interracial marriage. It was another 19 years before the U.S. Supreme Court would make the same decision; but in 1967 all state laws banning interracial marriage were rendered null and void.

Yesterday’s news on same-sex unions from
New York was also encouraging.
Governor David A. Paterson has directed all state agencies to begin to revise their policies and regulations to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions, like Massachusetts, California and Canada…

The revisions are most likely to involve as many as 1,300 statutes and regulations in New York governing everything from joint filing of income tax returns to transferring fishing licenses between spouses.
Same-sex couples in New York now have the option of going to California or Canada to marry and returning to take advantage of protections under New York law. The New York Governor’s action was one more step in righting an injustice, but there are other steps yet to take.
While gay rights advocates widely praised the spirit of Mr. Paterson’s policy, some saw more than a little irony in the fact that New York has yet to allow gays to marry.

“If you’re going to treat us as equals, why don’t you just give us the marriage license?” said Alan Van Capelle, executive director of Empire State Pride Agenda. “So this is a temporary but necessary fix for a longer-term problem, which is marriage equality in New York State.”
There is a hard fight ahead on the proposed amendment in California and on the struggles that remain in most of the other states, but yesterday we saw two more glimmers of sun peeking through homophobic clouds. Today we can sing with enthusiasm, “There’ll be sunshine in the morning…Sunshine in the morning, one of these days.” Thank goodness for the young people who have a hard time imagining what all the fuss about same-sex marriage is about. It’s time for some “old dogs” to learn some “new tricks” from our young people.

- Milo

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Post-Memorial Day Lamentation

“Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind… War will exist until that distant day when the conscience objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige as the warrior does today.” – John Fitzgerald Kennedy

I spent a half day yesterday trying to write something suitable for Memorial Day, but like randomly bouncing balls in a pinball machine, wildly colliding emotions doomed the effort. I let the reflective part of the day go and embraced cooking ribs and planting herbs as relief. I’m not going to write what I couldn’t yesterday; I’m sharing some of the things that caused the short in the writing process.

To begin with, I watched a short video about a young mother and her two daughters preparing “care” packages for the husband and father in Iraq, and then later footage when she receives word of his death, and the continuing grief in the family. I was reminded of the grief for which there is no consolation for so many families because of this war. Then, I read an article in our local newspaper about all of the young men and women from central Oregon who have been killed in the war this past year. I thought not only the grief of families for dead loved ones but for the many living but who will never be the same.

I do not want to add any measure of grief to what they already are experiencing, but neither do I want the holiday to pass without registering my protest that these dead and living are victims of policies that have little or nothing to do with freedom, Iraqi or ours in this country. I cannot believe that the brave and patriotic faces these families put on tell the whole stories of their doubts about the validity of their loved one’s sacrifices.

David Blight, history professor at Yale,
wrote of President Lincoln’s Gettysburg address:
The living were compelled to find meaning in the dead, and, as in most wars, the dead have a hold on the living… Lincoln referred to the “brave men” who had “consecrated” the ground of that battlefield “above” the power of his words to “add or detract”. Implied in that speech was the notion that the difference between the living and the dead was that the living were compelled to remember, and from the stuff of memory, create a new nation from the wreckage of the old.
Blight goes on in his book to demonstrate how a day of celebration of former slaves, Union soldiers, and abolitionists in Charleston, South Carolina was turned into an innocuous Memorial Day in which the reason for the Civil War was forgotten:
It became a tribute to the dead on both sides, and to the reunion of the North and the South after the war. This new holiday was more inclusive, and more useful to a forward-looking nation eager to put its differences behind it. But something important was lost: the recognition that the Civil War had been a moral battle to free black Americans from slavery.
Looking back at Blight’s work, which was written in 2001 before 9/11, Adam Cohen
reflected on that change in an article titled, “What the History of Memorial Day Teaches about Honoring War Dead”:
War commemorations, he makes clear, do not just pay tribute to the war dead. They also reflect a nation’s understanding of particular wars, and they are edited for political reasons. Memorial Day is a day not only of remembering, but also of selective forgetting — a point to keep in mind as the Iraq war moves uneasily into the history books…

When Memorial Day began, the war dead were placed front and center. The holiday’s original name, Decoration Day, came from the day’s main activity: leaving flowers at cemeteries. Today, though, we are fighting a war in which great pains have been taken to hide the nearly 3,500 Americans who have died from sight. The Defense Department has banned the photographing of returning caskets, and the president refuses to attend soldiers’ funerals.

Memorial Day also began with the conviction that to properly honor the war dead, it is necessary to honestly contemplate the cause for which they fought. Today we are fighting a war sold on false pretenses, and the Bush administration stands by its false stories. Memorial Day’s history, and its devolution, demonstrates that the instinct to prettify war and create myths about it is hardly new.

But as the founders of the original Memorial Day understood, the only honorable way to remember those who have lost their lives is to commemorate them out in the open, and to insist on a true account.
In some ways, that is what
Meteor Blades did in his Memorial Day piece on DailyKos:
More than ever in this sixth year of the war in Iraq, it will be impossible to forget that also in several previous wars - the Mexican War, the Indian Wars, the Spanish-American-Philippines War, the Vietnam War – dead soldiers were put in the ground by criminals inhabiting the highest levels of the U.S. government. Politicians unworthy to touch the Stars and Stripes, much less wrap themselves in it to bolster their claim of having the best interests of America’s freedom and security at heart.
One Pissed Off Liberal) took the protest to another level:
With all due respect to those who serve in the armed forces, we owe it to them to ask hard questions about the sacrifices demanded of them and their families.

It’s fine and good and perfectly appropriate for us to honor our dead, but if we allow ourselves to be whipped into a patriotic frenzy every time some yahoo waves a flag it can serve to legitimize the military enterprise – and that is the point I wish to make. The military enterprise is not legitimate.
Wow! This man from a military family really is OPOL. He concludes his insightful piece with these lines:
If we are to survive as a species we must change. We must dismantle/repurpose the Military Industrial Complex to serve the causes of peace and planetary survival.

I hope we can begin to see militarism as the enemy...and NOT as our salvation.

Unless we are very lucky and ultimately successful, America’s sick military fetish will bring all of humanity to an inglorious end.
These are the things I thought about on Memorial Day. I’d be interested in knowing your thoughts.

- Milo

Friday, May 23, 2008

Sexism and Racism - Suffrage and Abolition

I support Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination and I support him for president. I began the primary season supporting Hillary Clinton but for a whole host of reasons came to believe that the nation and world will be better served by an Obama presidency. None of that mitigates my dismay at the sexism displayed against Clinton over these past months, nor should it have. I am a husband, a father, and a grandfather. All of that informs my response to a column a week ago in the Washington Post by one Marie Cocco, with whose other writings I am unfamiliar, and so was neither positively or negatively disposed toward her before reading, “Mysogny I Won’t Miss.”

She did not waste words in getting into her litany:
As the Democratic nomination contest slouches toward a close, it's time to take stock of what I will not miss.

I will not miss seeing advertisements for T-shirts that bear the slogan "Bros before Hos." The shirts depict Barack Obama (the Bro) and Hillary Clinton (the Ho) and are widely sold on the Internet.

I will not miss walking past airport concessions selling the Hillary Nutcracker, a device in which a pantsuit-clad Clinton doll opens her legs to reveal stainless-steel thighs that, well, bust nuts. I won't miss television and newspaper stories that make light of the novelty item.
She goes on with another ten examples, some of which may be taken out of context to make her point.

The greatest offense, Cocco suggests, is the “silence” by the DNC Chair Howard Dean or “other leading Democrats,” with the exception of Sen. Barbara Mikulski who haven’t “publicly uttered a word of outrage at the unrelenting, sex-based hate that has been hurled at a former first lady and two-term senator from New York.”
Don Imus endured more public ire from the political class when he insulted the Rutgers University women's basketball team.
Cocco concludes by acknowledging that Clinton is losing the nomination because of her own mistakes and a groundswell for “change.” Her last line returns to the indictment:
But for all Clinton's political blemishes, the darker stain that has been exposed is the hatred of women that is accepted as a part of our culture.
If you haven’t done so already, I encourage you to go to the Washington Post web site and read the whole column. I went to the web site and read through the first "page" of comments (they go on forever). That re-enforced my dismay at the hurt caused by rampant sexism. I knew it was out there, but Cocco’s column focused it like the obsidian edge of a surgeon’s scalpel. One has only to read a few of the comments to see the hurt and anger many women are feeling. I wanted to weep for the women in my life.

I began the primary season thinking that I could happily support any of the Democratic candidates against any of the Republicans. That's not just Democratic bias on my part; it is an acknowledgement that the party matters. As the race narrowed, I was ecstatic that the Democratic nominee would likely be a woman or an African American, both of whom I believe to be quite qualified. Somewhere along the way, I began to tilt toward Obama. Was it because I was sexist? We never quite know our own motivations. I know that in the South Carolina primary I could hardly believe what I heard from Bill Clinton in making race an issue. Then, there were all of the "those states (where the votes were predominantly black) don't count" because they are usually outvoted in the general elections by their white majorities.

At one point in the campaign I realized my hope that race and sex would not be factors was a false one. I observed that racists and sexists would have their way by setting against each other a white woman and a black man. Alas, it seems to be. Someone wrote a piece on Kos a couple of months ago analyzing past primaries and concluding that where there has been this much blood-letting the party loses the general election. I so hope that is not the case. I would still support Hillary in a heartbeat if she became the nominee, but my respect for both she and Bill has greatly diminished, and I believe for reasons not sexist.

Looking ahead to the general election, I believe that what we have seen already on sexism against Hillary is but a taste of what we will see on racism against Obama. It has nothing to do with racism being more than sexism; it is not. If Hillary became the nominee, we would see sexism ramped up way beyond what Cocco has already described.

The thought of the political war that will be waged over the next months is frankly repulsive to me, and yet I believe we must elect a Democratic president and stronger majorities in Congress. I don't think it overdramatic to say that the future of this nation depends on it.

As I thought about the sexism and racism already so much a part of this campaign, my mind went back to the pioneers of the
Women’s Rights Movement following the Civil War, women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and others. During the war, the women’s movement suspended their quest and focused on abolition. After the war, they expected equality for both blacks and women, but were devastated when the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments restricted the right to vote to male citizens. We shouldn’t be surprised that the women’s movement was broken apart by this slap in their faces.

One man, a former slave named Frederick Douglass, was one of the most outspoken advocates of abolition and women’s rights in the 19th century. Believing that “Right is of no sex, truth is of no color,” Douglass urged an immediate end to slavery and supported and women’s rights activists in their crusade for woman suffrage. After the split of the abolitionists from the women’s movement, and the split in the women’s movement over that issue, Douglass maintained credibility with the warring groups and continued to be a tireless advocate for women’s right to vote.

Assuming that Obama is the Democratic nominee, he would do well to pay attention to Douglass’ example. No matter the mistakes Clinton has made in her campaign, we fool only ourselves if we do not understand how deeply this campaign’s sexism has hurt and angered women (I would like to have said “and men” but I have seen too much “Oh well” dismissal of the abuse from men) and how, at no fault of Obama any more than former slaves being given the vote and not women, this could hurt Democratic chances in the fall.

At some point before November, I believe Obama will have to speak as directly and clearly about sexism as he did in his great speech on racism. That, and his actions, will not erase the casualties of the attack on women in this campaign, but both are necessary. The rest of us males of the species need to find our voices of outrage at both sexism and racism. If we do that, November can be one this nation’s finest hours.

- Milo

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Gratitude for a National Treasure

On Tuesday I received notice that the ACLU had created a new blog called “Blog Rights—Because Freedom Can’t Blog Itself.” I smiled as I thought about the controversial history of this group. Unless you are newly arrived from another planet, you’ve heard this organization attacked and ridiculed as a left-wing group that uses the courts to subvert the Constitution. Others—me included, and I suspect a growing number of Americans—believe the ACLU has been, and remains, a critical watchdog in protecting civil liberties and preserving the Constitution.

The reason I suspect the number of supporters is growing is that it is harder and harder to deny the assault on civil liberties and the Constitution by the Bush administration. While I am grateful for the ACLU’s attention to those matters in the present, my own reasons are also personal, going back many years to a time when some of my civil liberties were abrogated without recourse to due process.

There are many organizations working now to preserve our civil liberties and protect the Constitution, and I am grateful for them all; but the ACLU has a special history. Since it’s founding in 1920 it has been at the center of controversy and public debate around issues of free speech, abortion, the death penalty, illegal immigration, the war on terror, drug policies, civil rights, separation of church and state, and many more. The ACLU has gone before the U.S. Supreme Court more times than any other organization besides the Department of Justice.

Some of the cases taken by the ACLU have angered both the Right and Left and cost them members. Do you recall how in 1978 they represented the free speech rights of neo-Nazis in Skokie, Illinois? Or in 1997 they defended the First Amendment rights of anti-abortion protesters? Or in 2001 when nine former ACLU leaders opposed the National Office of the ACLU over the McCain-Feingold Bill, which revised the limits on political campaign contributions and expenditures? I doubt that anyone agrees with all of the positions they have taken, but I’m glad they are there, defending civil liberties and the Constitution. They take 6,000 cases a year!

In their new blog they will be addressing issues about which I am deeply concerned:
- The authorization of the use of torture by top Bush administration officials,
- The fight for due process at Guantánamo Bay,
- Warrantless wiretapping and domestic surveillance,
- The continued struggle to ensure equality and civil rights for all Americans.

blog opened with a symposium on “Torture and America” with a couple of bloggers I trust: Glenn Greenwald,, and Joan (McJoan) McCarter from DailyKos.

Check out the symposium and consider how grateful we all should be for the illustrious history—even when it made us mad—of the ACLU, a national treasure.

- Milo

Monday, May 19, 2008

Historic Senate Vote on FCC - Now to the House

Senators Bryon Dorgan (D-North Dakota) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine)

Last December the Federal Communications Commission pushed through new rules that gutted the local "cross-ownership" prohibition. This would mean more big conglomerates gobbling up our local papers and TV stations.

Last Thursday night, after receiving thousands of phone calls and more than 250,000 letters, the Senate cast a near-unanimous
vote to reverse the FCC’s decision to let media companies own both a major TV or radio station and a major daily newspaper in the same city.

Read on for why you should contact your Representative NOW.

The action was a censure of the FCC.
Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), who introduced the rarely used "resolution of disapproval,"
said last night
that "the FCC is supposed to be a referee for the media industry, but instead they've been cheerleaders in favor of more consolidation. ... We already have too much concentration in the media."
The victory was bi-partisan, as Senator Olympia Snowe recognized:
Preventing further media consolidation has been a bipartisan effort, and the resolution before us today is no different. We owe it to the American people to restore confidence in the FCC’s commitment not only to uphold the public interest but to advance it and strengthen it. That is why it is undeniably incumbent upon the commission members to revisit these rules and establish a set of standards that will effectively promote localism and minority and women-ownership, not more media consolidation. We must not allow the indispensable role the media plays in promoting diversity and localism to be further marginalized and miniaturized by unchecked consolidation within the industry.
The vote, according to Josh Silver in the
Huffington Post was good news for everyone fed up with the current media system:
The Senate vote is good news for everyone who is fed up with a media system, that, in the words of Jon Stewart, is "hurting America" with propaganda pundits, embedded journalists, horse-race election coverage, and celebrity gossip posing as news. It reflects growing awareness -- in Congress and with average Americans -- of the perils of concentrated media ownership. Namely, insatiable profit pressures that gut newsrooms, replace labor-intensive investigative news with salacious, cheap-to-cover stories, and encourage the dumbing-down of the most pressing issues into 30-second sound bites and partisan shout-fests.
But the fight is not over.
The resolution of disapproval now
moves to the House, where it already has bipartisan support. Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) is ready to push his companion bill in the House, or alternately simply adopt the Senate resolution if it will speed it to a floor vote and passage. Rep. Inslee says he will likely talk
with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other House leadership next week about the fastest way to get the bill passed.
President Bush has said threatened to veto the bill, so what is needed is a veto-proof majority in Congress in support of the resolution. We need not wait for a new administration in Washington to begin cleaning up the politization and cronyism of the federal agencies under this one. We can win this one. Call or write your Representative to support the “resolution of disapproval” of the FCC rules. Let’s not let the historic victory in the Senate slip away in the House.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Marriage: Who Owns the Trademark?

The brouhaha raised by the opposition to Thursday’s decision by the California Supreme Court sounds like a trademark question. Who is legally entitled to claim the title of “marriage”? The court found that the gay marriage was not an infringement on the trademark.

The split decision by the court
was not welcomed by everyone.
It was denounced by religious and conservative groups that promised to support an initiative proposed for the November ballot that would amend the California Constitution to ban same-sex marriages and overturn the decision.
These groups think that they own the trademark on “marriage.” But do they, really? I heard several statements from spokespersons for several of these opposing groups and all said they were simply defending “the traditional institution of marriage.” They assert that that we should not fool with an institution ordained of God that has meant the same thing for hundreds if not thousands of years. My question: which “institution of marriage” is covered by the trademark?

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, for which these self-appointed gate-keepers purport to speak, there have in fact been many different “trademarked” institutions of marriage. So my question is which of these old institutions of marriage represent “the institution” that shouldn’t be tampered with today and should be protected by the trademark “marriage”?

Bear with me. Many of you know most of this already, but you may have some cousins in California who have been raised to believe that there is and has been only one immutable institution of marriage, and who will have to vote on this issue in November. Maybe you’ll send this to them, or keep it for when the issue is up for a vote in your state again.

Looking to the Bible is not as simple as it is being made to appear. What the Hebrew Bible (or Old Testament) suggests as a general model for marriage is polygamy – one husband with more than one wife. Women had little status in marriage and were in effect the property of their husbands. They could neither own nor inherit property and had no right of divorce. By the time of Jesus, monogamy had become the ideal, although polygamy was still practiced. Jesus’ pronouncements on marriage mostly address sexual injustices directed against women. In Paul’s view of the imminence of the end, he advocates celibacy. His view was that marriage is good, but in that time of crisis celibacy was better.

By the third century within the Church, St. Paul’s words about celibacy became the foundation for the monastic movement. The importance of marriage between a man and woman was superseded by what was termed “a higher calling,” which meant marriage to Christ by joining a monastic order and remaining celibate. This “institution of marriage” is not simply an
ancient relic.
Elaine Roulet smiled back in time at her own sense of girlish idealism as she recalled the white bridal gown of 46 years ago, when she followed the chapel aisle straight toward the perceived will of God.

"It was so exciting, so romantic, to walk down that aisle as a bride of Christ and come back as a nun," said the 63-year-old woman, a Sister of Saint Joseph, stylishly gray now in checked suit and earrings as she survives as one of the toughest and most adaptive in the modern Roman Catholic church's rapidly dwindling ranks of the sisterhood.
This “trademark” is not only shared by Roman Catholics. Hear the words of this Baptist pastor in his article titled
“I Am Married to Christ”:
That very day I fell in love with Jesus. I never knew him in that way before. He had given a promise in his word, and that day he gave assurance that he would never leave me nor forsake me. The very moment I believed, I was married to Christ. He became so precious to me. My love for Jesus Christ became much greater than for my former master. My love exceeded the love of carnal things. I became imbibed with his love to me, because I later learned that, before I loved him, he loved me.
My citing these statements is not to belittle them. They are statements made out of a long tradition. I simply want to point out that they are another—and not incidental—way the term “marriage” has been used in the Christian tradition that does not involve a conjugal relationship between a man and a woman. Is this tradition an infringement on the “marriage” trademark?

Marriage did not become a sacrament in the Roman Catholic Church until the 12th century. Before that time in Europe marriages were basically civil unions by town or village government.

The roles of people in marriage have changed dramatically over history, including the recent history of the United States. In the 1700s and 1800s married women actually lost many of their legal rights when they agreed to get married. After marriage they were not allowed to own property, pay taxes or sign a contract. It was not until the latter half of the 19th century that married women reacquired the rights they had when they were single. As late as 1920 a number of states still had discriminatory laws on their books. Are they to be included under the “marriage” trademark?

Another change came when laws forbidding mixed race marriages were successfully overturned. At one point, 40 states in this country forbade the marriage of a white person to a person of color. Marriages between whites and persons of color were decried as “immoral” and “unnatural”. A Virginia judge upheld that state’s ban on interracial marriages saying, in language with the same tone as that being used in opposition to gay marriages today:
“Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”
In 1948, the California Supreme Court led the way in challenging racial discrimination in marriage and became the first state high court to declare unconstitutional a ban on interracial marriage. The court pointed out that races don’t marry each other, people do. Restricting who can marry whom on that characteristic alone was therefore race discrimination.

It took another 19 years for the U.S. Supreme Court to make the same ruling. Until 1967, in many states, a couple of mixed race could not get a marriage license, and if they went to another state and were married, when they returned home they could be arrested. In the Supreme Court’s
action in 1967
Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote that the "freedom to marry or not marry a person of another race resides in that individual.'' Note that Warren wrote "person,'' and refers to "persons'' -- not man or woman -- throughout the opinion.
According to the supreme arbiter of the law of this land, “persons,” not “man” or “woman” was judged the “trademark.”

When folks say they want to “preserve the institution of marriage” just which institution of marriage do they want to preserve? We are in a new day facing a new issue. We have not had to face the issue of gay marriage earlier because public pressure and law tended keep homosexual persons “in the closet.” With the increased recognition that as many as ten percent of the human population are by nature gay or lesbian, the issue of gay marriage will not go away. Let’s discuss it in the context of changes that have been taking place to the institution of marriage throughout history, not by distorting the Bible or history. If the people of California are honest with the Bible and with history I think they will recognize that the “marriage” trademark is far more inclusive than many imagined and will reject any ballot measure that attempts to restrict it.

- Milo
UPDATE: If you want to see a heated and informative discussion of the role of the state and church on marriage sparked by this article, check my posting on Daily Kos. I think you'll find it worth your time.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Canaries in the Arctic

Yesterday’s news about the Interior Department’s finally listing polar bears as a threatened species seemed to cause hardly a ripple on the pond of public concern. And why should it at a time many are suffering from “concern fatigue.” Some are expending so much mental energy on the Democratic presidential primaries that they have heart for little else. Even wars, the economy, and a global food crisis have taken a temporary backseat to concern about the cataclysmic natural disasters in Myanmar and China.

It doesn’t take a political pundit to see that the military junta in Myanmar makes the Bush administration’s response to Katrina look not so bad, but the junta’s fatally botched response does bring back our own memories of needless suffering along our own Gulf coast. And, Myanmar calls attention to of John McCain’s now-resigned lobbyist advisors who was paid to make the junta look good.

Our hearts may not be in the story about the polar bears, but our heads better be because they are our planet’s “canaries in the mine.” We dare not let our concern fatigue allow us bypass this story pass for at least two reasons.

First, this is another graphic illustration of the way the Bush administration works and how federal agencies have been politicized. The decision by the Department of the Interior had nothing to do with concern for polar bears. It was a decision coerced by law suits from environmental groups three years ago. A decision was to be made
early this year. The Department stalled as long as it could. Finally, on April 29, a federal judge set May 15 as a deadline for a decision.

To describe the Department’s response as minimalist would be a gross overstatement.

… the administration shaped its decision in a way that does not force restrictions on emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, even though scientists have said the building greenhouse effect is the main influence driving up global temperatures. Administration officials added that existing protections of the bear, under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, were stringent and sufficient. And they also made clear that oil and gas exploration and extraction showed no evidence of harming the bears and would not be hindered by the decision.

So this leaves everything as it was, in a way, with the bears facing a transforming ecosystem and environmentalists successful in their litigation, but not necessarily empowered by the listing.

Carl Pope, Executive Director of the Sierra Club, said that the action

was "riddled with loopholes, caveats, and backhanded language that could actually undermine protections for the polar bear and other species."
This first reason is important, not because the Bush administration’s circumventing the intent of the law surprises us, but because it is another critical reminder of how much effort will have to be made by a new administration to clean up the politicization, anti-science, and cronyism in federal agencies. And you thought getting our troops out of Iraq was going to be hard.

The second reason why we dare not let this story pass is that polar bears may well be the “canaries in the mine” of an endangered planet. Truth be told, it may be too late to save polar bears, no matter what we do. Between 1979 and 2007 the
loss of sea ice, on which the bears depend for survival, was greater than the combined area of Alaska, Texas, California, and Georgia. Look the at map of the Arctic. The dramatic recent expansion of open water (dark blue) at the peak of summer melt, and the decline in thick old ice (white is ice that is over five years old) and thin ice formed the previous winter (light blue).

However important it is to attempt to save the polar bear, and I think it is, this story is about far more than polar bears. What the Heritage Foundation
feared and what the Bush administration attempted to circumvent in yesterday’s action was this:
For the first time in the history of the ESA, the threat of global warming would be the reason for listing a well-known species… Even more troubling, listing the polar bear could be used as a back door to implement global warming policy nationwide by restricting energy production and use throughout the U.S.
In his announcement yesterday Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne was speaking for President Bush and the Heritage Foundation:
The most significant part of today’s decision is what President Bush observed about climate change policy last month. President Bush noted that “The Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act were never meant to regulate global climate change.”

The president is right. Listing the polar bear as threatened can reduce avoidable losses of polar bears. But it should not open the door to use the E.S.A. to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles, power plants and other sources. That would be a wholly inappropriate use of the Endangered Species Act. E.S.A. is not the right tool to set U.S. climate policy.
Andy Revkin, author of the NYT article, commented on Kempthorne’s statement:
This is an interesting point. In essence Mr. Kempthorne is saying that a law conceived to stop a chainsaw, bulldozer or bullet is not an appropriate tool when the environmental assault is from uniformly mixed emissions coming from a Beijing power plant, Boston taxi cab, or Amazon fire. When I broached that notion to him this afternoon on the phone, he agreed, replying: “When the Endangered Species Act was adopted in 1973, I don’t think terms like ‘climate change’ were part of our vernacular.”
In 1973 the writers of the ESA might not have been thinking of global warming, but neither were they thinking that all life on this planet may be “endangered” as we now know it to be. I don’t know, maybe those wise folks who wrote the Endangered Species Act in 1973 did have a sense of that. I’m grateful for their work.

No matter how the Department of the Interior tried to qualify it, this action opens new possibilities for polar bears but for the planet. Kassie Siegel, climate program director at the Center for Biological Diversity, and lead author of the 2005 petition that first triggered the Interior Department to study a listing,
"The administration's attempts to reduce protection to the polar bear from greenhouse gas emissions are illegal and won't hold up in court."
The ESA is now certain to be tested in new ways. That’s the big news from yesterday’s decision. Although the Bush administration will continue slamming the door on it as long as they can, we (and the polar bears) have a foot in the door that we didn’t have on Tuesday.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The UMC and Science - Some Good News

After all of the bad news I have had to write about the United Methodist Church General Conference’s failure to change its homophobic policies, I am pleased to be able to report some good from that just concluded once-every-four-year legislative conference.

The General Conference overwhelmingly approved the
Clergy Letters Project, an endeavor to demonstrate that science and faith can be compatible without compromising either. The letter that thousands of clergy have signed say

We the undersigned, …believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests. To reject this truth or to treat it as “one theory among others” is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children.
The UMC is now urging its clergy to participate. But that is not all.

Actions at the General Conference also
amended its statement on “Science and Technology” in The Book of Discipline to read:

We recognize science as a legitimate interpretation of God’s natural world. We affirm the validity of the claims of science in describing the natural world and in determining what is scientific. We preclude science from making authoritative claims about theological issues, and theology from making authoritative claims about scientific issues. We find that science’s descriptions of cosmological, geological, and biological evolution are not in conflict with theology. We recognize medical, technical, and scientific technologies as legitimate uses of God’s natural world when such use enhances human life and enables all of God’s children to develop their God-given creative potential without violating our ethical convictions about the relationship of humanity to the natural world. We re-examine our ethical convictions as our understanding of the natural world increases.
But wait, that’s not all. The final resolution adds a new statement to the United Methodist Book of Resolutions dealing with creationism and intelligent design. The wording reads as follows,

Therefore be it resolved that the General Conference of the United Methodist Church go on record as opposing the introduction of any faith-based theories such as Creationism or Intelligent Design into the science curriculum of our public schools.
I think it is important that the UMC has gone on record in its support of science and its rejection of Creationism and Intelligent Design. Now, if we could just get that body to take science seriously in its pronouncements on homosexuality.

- Milo
UPDATE: In regard to the comment posted below, consider this.
With the Caps Something Else is Meant

There is an important semantic difference between “creationism” and “Creationism.” Most people who believe in God could be called “creationists” because they believe that God created the world. “Creationism” with the capital “C” first appeared in 1979 and is the religious belief in the literal interpretation of the account of creation of the universe and of all living things related in the Bible. It is opposed to the theory of evolution.

Most people who believe in God would also believe in the “intelligent design” of the universe, but with capital “I” and “D” the term is the assertion that "certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection".

National Academy of Sciences has stated that "intelligent design, and other claims of supernatural intervention in the origin of life" are not science because they cannot be tested by experiment, do not generate any predictions, and propose no new hypotheses of their own.

In short, “Creationism” and “Intelligent Design” are religious beliefs, not science. In my article, “Evolution Goes To Church,” I wrote about the Clergy Letters Project and evolution.
Hope this helps clear up confusion. If not, write me back. Thanks!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Torture is Not a Methodist Family Value

(Cross-posted with author’s permission from WallWritings Friday, May 9, 2008)

Guest Column by Andrew Weaver

Milo's Note: Andrew is one of the originators of the protest to locate the Bush library at Southern Methodist University and has been a primary source for several of my diaries on the subject. Andrew is a United Methodist minister and research psychologist living in New York City. He is a graduate of The Perkins School of Theology, SMU. Thanks for your good work, Andrew!

On April 8, Southern Methodist University President R. Gerald Turner sent a letter to all the delegates of the South Central Jurisdictional Conference (SCJ) of the United Methodist Church (UMC). Turner wanted to persuade the delegates to support the proposed Bush library and partisan think-tank at the SMU Dallas campus.

Three days later, George W. Bush, who is to be honored by the Bush library, acknowledged that he has been deeply involved in the details of the torture he has authorized.

An ABC News report indicated: “President Bush says he knew his top national security advisers discussed and approved specific details about how high-value al Qaeda suspects would be interrogated by the Central Intelligence Agency.” According to White House sources, the discussions about torture techniques were so detailed that some of the “interrogation sessions were almost choreographed”.

Earlier, on March 8, Bush vetoed legislation that would have banned water boarding and other methods of torture by government employees. The legislation would have limited CIA agents to 19 less-aggressive tactics outlined in the U.S. Army field manual. The president stated that the government “needs to use tougher methods than the U.S. military to wrest information from terrorism suspects”.

Water boarding has a long and sickening history. It was used as a means of torture and coerced baptism during the Protestant Reformation. During the Spanish Inquisition the Catholic Church used the torture to convert Jews, Mennonites, witches, and other suspected heretics.

It is a brutal and horrifying method in which the torturer immobilizes the victim on his or her back. The head is tilted downward. Water is poured over the face forcing the inhalation of water into the lungs. As the victim gags and chokes, the terror of imminent death is pervasive.

In the supposedly “less enlightened” 18th century, the Methodist Church founder, John Wesley, explicitly spoke strongly against any torture of prisoners of war.

For Wesley, war is justifiable only on the principle of self-preservation: Prisoners of war are confined for the purpose of preventing them from harming their captors. A war of self-preservation does not give a nation the right to torture, or kill, or to enslave an enemy when the war is over.

United Methodist Bishop Scott J. Jones of Kansas, a SMU trustee, describes Bush as a “faithful member” of the United Methodist Church. The Rev. Mark Craig, an SMU trustee and senior minister of the Highland Park Church in Dallas dismissed opponents of the library and think tank as a “fringe group, a marginal group without any standing other than the fact they happen to be one of 8 million United Methodists”. The Bush family are members of the Highland Park Church.

President Bush refers to himself a “proud Methodist”, but he has shown little sign of contrition, regret or repentance for his personal behavior which violates Methodist standards set long ago by John Wesley. Instead, Bush attempts to justify himself and place a shield of protection around government officials who use torture.

The half billion dollar partisan think-tank to honor President Bush on the SMU campus is essentially being planned (the Dallas Morning News calls it “advising”) by former Bush political guru Karl Rove. Neither SMU nor the United Methodist Church will have any control over the direction of the program or the people they hire. Consider the implications: Scooter Libby as distinguished Chair of political ethics?

This absence of university control was made clear in 2005 when, according to a New York Times story:
In outlining the project to prospective universities in 2005, two officers of the foundation, Marvin P. Bush, a brother of the president, and Donald J. Evans, said the institute would be answerable to the foundation, not the university. And they said: “Part of its mission will be to further the domestic and international goals of the Bush administration,” including “compassionate conservatism” and “defeating terrorism.”
The South Central Jurisdictional Conference of the United Methodist Church will meet July 15-19, to debate and then vote on whether to approve the construction of the Bush Library and think tank. There will be 290 United Methodist clergy and laity delegates to that conference representing 1.83 million United Methodist church members from Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Arkansas and Louisiana. These delegates are the ultimate authority over the use of the land where the new project is scheduled to be built.

A significant majority of these delegates are progressives and moderates who have the power to say no to the construction of the library and the think tank honoring Bush. To encourage delegates to consider a no vote, you may go to

UPDATE: The Legal Case Is In Place

Our legal team tells us that we need to go to court to give us the best chance to protect the property rights and voting rights of the 290 Jurisdictional Conference delegates who are the elected representatives of the property owners, i.e., the 1.83 million UMC members of the South Central Jurisdiction (SCJ). To do so we need at least one delegate who is willing to step forward and be the plaintiff in the case. We have not found such a delegate. Many fear the consequences to their future ministry if they appear to challenge their bishop, while others fear being countersued by the Bush Foundation.

The lawyers, including Judge Jim Parsons ( ), who it would be nice to send a thank you note to for his efforts, have worked hard for us. Parsons is a devout United Methodist and former head of the Texas Bar Association, who has given us free counsel and legal research for months. Our lawyers believe we have a solid legal case and that we have a very good chance to win. Through your wonderful generosity we have approximately $10,000 on hand. You have my deep appreciation for your faithfulness and generosity. Unfortunately, without a delegate we cannot go forward with the court case. We now must consider an alternative course of action.

An Alternative, Second Course of Action

The South Central Jurisdictional Conference will meet in Dallas at the Hilton Anatole Hotel, July 15-19, to vote on the use of UMC land by the Bush Foundation. The money we have on hand would give us the capacity to do a high-quality professional educational campaign opposing the Bush institute's presence at SMU. The campaign would raise public awareness during the next two months about plans to create a partisan institute having no oversight by the university.

We also would use some of the funds to expand the petition. We believe at least 50,000 folks would sign the petition if they knew of its existence and the opportunity it provides to voice their opposition. The petition will be presented to the SCJ College of Bishops, Bishop Palmer (the new president of the Council of Bishops), SMU President R. Gerald Turner, and the Chair of the SMU Trustees on July 15, 2008.

If you consent to your donation being used for an intensified educational campaign, you need do nothing. Beginning May 20, we will proceed with plans as described above and give you a regular accounting of the project. If you wish to have your money returned, we will do so with a note of appreciation. Simply write me at with your request no later than May 20, 2008, and state the amount of your donation. I will forward the information to our treasurer who has placed the funds in an escrow account.

If you wish to make a donation to the educational campaign fund please send it to Rev. Bob Weathers, 2420 Willington Avenue, Fort Worth, Texas 76110. Rev. Weathers is a highly regarded member of the Central Texas Conference and a former District Superintendent. Please make checks to “Protect SMU Fund.” I hope we can raise enough additional money to put advertisements in the Dallas Morning News and other newspapers.

Can We Win The Vote in July in Dallas? – Yes

Over the past several months we have systematically analyzed the 290 delegates of the SCJ with the help of delegates or clergy from each annual conference. I have personally spoken with over 40 delegates. We identified about 130 progressives, 100 conservatives and 60 moderates in the 11 annual conferences. We need 146 votes to win. If we can educate the delegates about the dangers of the Bush partisan think thank to the academic integrity of SMU and the good name of our church, we can win the vote. Most United Methodists, including most bishops, are people who seek to do what is right and good.

The majority of the delegates feel they can live with the library, even with its current limitation -- censorship by the president and his heirs in perpetuity through his Executive Order 13233, signed soon after 9/11. What many delegates are disturbed by and will vote against is the partisan think-tank to honor George Bush, which is being organized by Karl Rove. Neither SMU nor the United Methodist Church will have any control over the direction of the partisan institute, and that deeply troubles many. If given an opportunity by the SCJ bishops to vote, there is a good chance that the delegates will reject the partisan institute.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The UMC and Gays - Our Witness NOW

Gay rights supporters react tearfully to an April 30 vote at the 2008 United Methodist General Conference, retaining the church’s position that the practice of homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching.” A UMNS photo by Paul Jeffrey.

The once every four years assembly of the United Methodist Church’s legislative body, General Conference, is not scheduled to meet again until 2012. For four more years anyway, those of us who are United Methodists will have to continue living in a house divided, a house where the majority — made up of equal numbers of lay and clergy delegates—upheld church policy by a vote of 504 to 417 declaring the practice of homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching.”

The matter was first addressed at the General Conference in 1972. The position taken was this: "Although we do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching, we affirm that God's grace is available to all." At each General Conference since that time, the position has been unsuccessfully challenged. In fact, it has been extended to prohibit the ordination of homosexuals into the ministry of the church, as well as prohibiting ministers from performing ceremonies blessing same sex unions.

In its majority report at this year’s assembly, the legislative committee recommended that delegates delete the incompatibility sentence and adopt the statement, “Faithful, thoughtful people who have grappled with this issue deeply disagree with one another; yet all seek a faithful witness.” The revision also would have asked United Methodists and others “to refrain from judgment regarding homosexual persons and practices as the Spirit leads us to a new insight.” Alas, this recommendation was defeated and the old policy maintained.

The assembly affirmed that all people are "individuals of sacred worth created in the image of God." Delegates also retained statements asking "families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends."

other actions related to sexuality, the conference:

- Asked the United Methodist Board of Church and Society to develop educational resources and materials on the effects of homophobia and heterosexism, the discrimination or prejudice against lesbians or gay men by heterosexual people.

- Continued the policy of not funding groups that promote the acceptance of homosexuality, but noted that funds also should not go to groups that violate church principles against rejecting or condemning lesbians, gays and friends.

- Retained language defining marriage as a relationship between one man and one woman.

- Let stand language in the Book of Discipline regarding pastoral authority over church membership.

The church did not take action to remove transgender pastors from ministry, leaving the Rev. Drew Phoenix to lead his Baltimore congregation. Phoenix transitioned from female to male about two years ago.
I do not want to suggest that the General Conference was focused only on sexuality. It wasn’t. You can follow the link above and see what other matters the conference addressed. However, I think it appropriate to say that homosexuality was the elephant in the room.

In response to my earlier posts (Saturday and Monday) on this issue, I was encouraged by the number of you who, like me, were sad and angry, who were not leaving the church, but determined to stay and work to change the church from the inside. When it is changed, and I believe it will be, it will be because of people who are inside continuing to struggle against the gross injustice of the church’s policies. However, I understand and have considerable sympathy for those who have concluded that it is better for them to be in another place, especially when there are faith communities where LGBTQ are fully accepted and affirmed.

If you read the actions above, you might conclude that the UMC is afflicted with a kind of institutional schizophrenia. On the one hand, to be LGBTQ (those having orientations different than heterosexual) is held to be in conflict with Christian teaching and unacceptable for ordination as clergy. Clergy are forbidden to perform same sex union services and congregations and general agencies of the church are forbidden from funding organizations that promote acceptance of homosexuality.

On the other hand, the General Conference asks families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends, which sounds to me like we asking families and churches not to do what the denomination has already done with its policy. Further, the conference authorized the Board of Church and Society to develop educational resources and materials on the effects of homophobia and heterosexism. Huh? Will these resources take as their first case in point the homophobic policy of the United Methodist Church?

What these diametrically opposed actions indicate is not so much one mind that is split, but rather the reality of two separate minds trying to coexist in one institution. The General Conference has folded its tent for another four years. What are we—who believe the church perpetrates injustice on those whose orientation is other than heterosexual—to do? I hope we refuse to silently accept the action of the General Conference, and continue to protest the unjust policies by demonstrating what is right in congregations, annual conferences, and jurisdictions.

In response to this General Conference, a friend of mine has composed a new hymn to sing in these days ahead. Sing it to the tune of “Kingsfold” (179, 285, 606 in the United Methodist Hymnal).

We are called to love and serve and lead, our church can tell us how.
As we pray for justice, love for all, let this be, "Our Witness NOW."
LGBTQ who serve our God we make this vow for you,
You are loved and welcomed as God's child. This will be, "Our Witness NOW."

Our Communion feast spread out for us is a broken table NOW.
How can we with open hearts and minds close the door and change our vow?
We have said the church belongs to all, all doesn't mean just some.
May that table be transformed today so that all who love may come?

As we seek to teach the words of Christ can we take the steps he trod?
Can we stand for those the 'church' may judge as we 'stay in love with God?'
Can we make disciples for Jesus Christ, echo his love for all?
Say that sexualities are 'gifts from God,’ can this be, "Our Witness NOW?"

Copyright Trudy Williams, May 2008 Use lyrics with appreciation by Trudy.
Let this be our witness NOW!

- Milo

Monday, May 5, 2008

The UMC and Homosexuality - Choices Ahead

(Bishop Hoshibata and Members of the OR-ID Delegation)
The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing. – Albert Einstein
On Saturday, I
wrote in sorrow and anger about the United Methodist General Conference’s failure to change its anti-gay policy. I was, and remain, sad and angry, but not so much that I don’t appreciate the stand that our bishop and conference delegation took on this issue at the conference.

Bishop of the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference, Robert Hoshibata,
wrote about his role in the demonstration.
As one who has felt called to ministry primarily as a pastor, my decision was to be with our delegation and with others who were participating in the witness on the floor of General Conference. I chose to do this as a statement of my hope that the church belongs to all people; and that Christ loves all persons and calls us to do the same. My desire was to offer a word that the church does love lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, even if our legislative pronouncements do not demonstrate that; and that in my leadership of the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference and in my role as a bishop of the whole United Methodist Church, this will be my witness.

I am saddened again, that the church cannot come to an honest place of confession to say that we are in deep, distressing disagreement. Why can’t we be honest before God and before others? Remember that silly children’s story about the vain emperor who was convinced that he was wearing a handsome suit which he could not see? He wore the invisible suit of clothing proudly until a little child announced: The emperor has no clothes! Our church is like the emperor. We do not know that others are seeing us as a homophobic institution wearing the cloak of abject denial of our fears and prejudices while we strut our sometimes empty claims of “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors,” Maybe that children’s story isn’t as silly as we might first think . . .
I know that there are United Methodists all over the nation who are also ashamed of our church. I know that there are hundreds of congregations who are truly open churches in defiance of our denomination’s stand. For all of them I give thanks to God.

At its meeting in 2000, the Western Jurisdictional Conference
rose in protest against the stance of the national church:
We of the Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church have heard the call of the prophet Micah "to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God." We have heard Jesus' invitation for all to come to the banquet table of God's abundant grace.

Certain actions of General Conference 2000 have caused tremendous pain for individuals and communities and have resulted in an attempt to suppress our prophetic and pastoral ministries among all people, regardless of sexual orientation.

The votes may have been cast but our voices will not be silent. Our jurisdictional vision calls us to be "a home for all God's people, gathered around a table of reconciliation and transformation." Affirming the statement of United Methodists of Color for a Fully Inclusive Church, "We acknowledge that there may be differences of opinion among us, but this does not require that we wait on justice." We cannot accept discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender persons and therefore, we will work toward their full participation at all levels in the life of the church and society. Valuing the voices of those who disagree, we will continue to be in dialogue as we journey together in creative tension. We will continue to be in ministry with all God's children and celebrate the gifts diversity brings. We will continue to feast at table with all God's children.
When the Western Jurisdiction meets in July, this year in Portland, I do not know what if anything the body will do in response to the General Conference’s failure again to change its position. I hope the conference will again register its protest and declare the western churches’ rejection of the discrimination that is the United Methodist Church’s policy.

A day of reckoning is coming. I do not wish for a split in the denomination, but neither am I willing to continue sacrificing homosexual persons on the altar of church unity. Too many have already suffered too long. The world is indeed a dangerous place. On this issue, we have to choose whether or not we will be among those “who look on and do nothing.”
- Milo

Time to Act on FISA Again

Back in February, the House stood up to President Bush’s fear-mongering tactics by letting the so-called “Protect America Act” expire. This ill-named bill eviscerated the protections of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and violated the constitutional rights of Americans.

This breakthrough victory for civil liberties came only because a flood of citizen protests. Because of your emails and phone calls, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer rallied defenders of freedom to hold their ground.

But now, word has come from the ACLU that House leadership may be working hand-in-hand with Senator Jay Rockefeller, the Democratic Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who has spearheaded efforts to give immunity to law-breaking phone companies that provided mountains of customer data to the government without warrants.
As discussions continue, it’s critical that House leadership avoid buckling to pressure from the White House or Senator Rockefeller at all costs. House leadership -- and every representative -- need to draw a line in the sand by rejecting any compromise that would undo the achievement we fought so hard for in February.

Make no mistake: any "compromise" that is acceptable to Senator Rockefeller and the President will undoubtedly let lawbreakers off the hook and seriously put at risk -- or even end -- lawsuits that may be the only way to get to the bottom of crimes that were committed by phone companies and Bush administration officials.
It is time to act again to demand that the House stand firm on FISA. Click
here to see a draft letter you can send. I’ve just sent mine.

Many citizens have worked hard to protect freedom in the long-running FISA debate. Now, we need to make sure all that work isn’t undone by backroom deals. Let’s make sure Congress knows how proud we are that the House has stood its ground and how outraged we will be if our representatives and House leadership reverse themselves now.

Act now!

- Milo

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors - Not!

I haven’t told my son yet that the denomination in which his father has been a minister for his entire career has decided once again not to remove the stain from its official policy that homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching.” I doubt that he cares now. He has already felt the sting of rejection, which is now mutual.

On April 30, the General Conference of the United Methodist Church at its quadrennial meeting, this year in Fort Worth, once again refused to change its pronouncement of judgment on gays and lesbians by a vote of 504-417.

The vote did not go
In an act of witness in front of delegates to the 2008 United Methodist General Conference, more than 200 people declared that the denomination's policies and practices against homosexuality are "sinful" and that "sexuality is a gift from God."
Primarily dressed in black, demonstrators walked onto the legislative floor at the Fort Worth Convention Center, formed a two-lined cross around the communion table located in the center aisle and draped it in a black shroud to witness against the church's stance on homosexual practice. They entered silently, but once all demonstrators were in place, they sang, "Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?"
During the demonstration,

Retired Bishop Melvin Talbert, a former ecumenical officer of the Council of Bishops, reminded the conference of the church's 1939 action, when the denomination segregated black Methodists into the Central Jurisdiction.
"That action was wrong. That action was a sin against God," and in making the decision on April 30, the General Conference "has taken an action that is wrong," he said. The segregated jurisdiction was dissolved in 1968.

Prior to asking the General Conference to reconsider its April 30 vote, Talbert said that those in the former Central Jurisdiction lived within a structure and were able to repair broken relationships with the church. That has not been the case with those with differing sexual identities, he said.

"We have chosen to leave them out rather than invite them in to work out our relationships. … I can do no other than to say what is on my heart. General Conference, General Conference, this is wrong. I invite you to reconsider."

North Georgia Bishop Lindsey Davis disagreed with Talbert.
"I definitely disagree with Bishop Talbert on that matter. … I do not think it has anything to do with civil rights," Davis said. He added that the church takes great strides to protect the civil rights of all people.

"I will go to the mat to protect the civil rights of all of these persons who protested today, but I don’t think you can equate the two," he said. "If you do, it is doing a disservice to the civil rights movement of the 1960s and on."
He probably really believes that too. The General Conference did not reconsider. The conference passed a resolution
against homophobia and heterosexism, saying the church opposes "all forms of violence or discrimination based on gender, gender identity, sexual practice or sexual orientation."
Forgive me if I don’t take any comfort from such a statement. In view of the official policy of exclusion this resolution seems to me nothing more than rank hypocrisy. It reminds me of church actions in the mid-twentieth century saying that all persons were of sacred worth and that blacks shouldn’t be lynched but were unwilling to support racial integration.

Audrey Krumbach, formerly a member of the North Georgia Conference and a student at Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary, Evanston, Ill, had this to say about the denomination’s action.
"We are part of God's living body in today's world, but our United Methodist Church refuses to accept what God has already done; refuses to keep covenant with its own words in the baptismal promise … refuses to open its hearts, minds and doors.”

She said those outside the church have noticed "the church truly scapegoating" people "on the altar of so-called unity" and "the closeting (of) the LGBTQ people who faithfully serve the church."
These are sad days for United Methodists. In 1844 the Methodist Episcopal Church came to the place where “unity” could no longer trump their silence on slavery and the church split. No amount of “holy conferencing” will keep that day from coming for United Methodists. Until that day comes, the sign we should hang over our denomination is “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors—Not!”

- Milo