Thursday, December 27, 2007

A Justice Call for a Religious Rebirth

And how have I used rivers, how have I used wars
To escape writing of the worst thing of all—
Not the crimes of others, not even our own death,
But the failure to want our freedom passionately enough
So that blighted elms, sick rivers, massacres would seem
Mere emblems of the desecration of ourselves?

Adrienne Rich

Rich does not speak in a religious voice. Yet her anguish over our collective failure to “want our freedom passionately enough” touches a spiritual ache no less profound than the Christian desire to be “born again.” During this holiday season when we perform frenzied and often absent-minded rituals of giving, Rich offers us an intriguing model of religious rebirth where the political act of seeking our collective freedom and the spiritual act of understanding how our sense of self is contingent on others come together as a single pursuit.

Although not often acknowledged, the desire for religious rebirth draws many of us to churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples. Religious communities speak to us when our old ways of being aren’t working and the promise of a transformed life touches an immense need in all of us.

Unfortunately, the radical right has hijacked for suspect political ends the very thing that is life-giving about spiritual rebirth. Too many have been devastated by that irony. It is nearly impossible to think about personal religious transformation outside a repressive preoccupation with discrimination and exclusion. Not surprisingly, when presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee, refused to take back his 1992 statement that AIDS patients should be isolated, his words only reinforced conservative religious credentials grounded in the public pronouncement of a religious rebirth.

In contrast, the religious left has shied away from the language of rebirth as insular and harmful and instead has embraced the language of freedom through social justice advocacy to engage religious people. Such advocacy champions mostly the tepid language of tolerance, stressing the accommodation of diverse theological, cultural, racial, and class differences. Although valuable, this work keeps the focus on including others into our spaces rather than wrestling with the ways our sense of self is shaped by others.

Understanding that who we are is bound up with who others are, requires spiritual discipline. First and foremost it requires us to awaken our curiosity about how others live in the context of our own lives. To do this we need to start from a personal connection and then expand outward. For example, when we eat our meals we might reflect on those who cannot afford nourishing food. From this simple concern other questions emerge: how has a market driven chain of food production separated communities from one another and separated all of us from the earth? How might we rejuvenate the connection between physical nourishment and spiritual nourishment? How might breaking bread together become a model of liberation? Many of us volunteer in soup kitchens, but the demands of hostility and spiritual reawakening asks us to move beyond a volunteer model of feeding others—as important as this is--to sharing a meal with others both in our own homes and in the places where others live.

Religious transformation, in community or in solitude is a longtime struggle and as Rich points out, we often find circling around our oppression easier than facing the painful truth that we might not be ready for freedom. The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years before they were reoriented enough in their trust of God and their connection with each other to be ready for liberation.

Like the Israelites many of us on the religious left are in a kind of wilderness right now. We see the importance of our freedom and we know it won’t come without transformation. Yet we remain seduced by the security of “Egypt” where our oppression is painful yet familiar. Freedom, in contrast, requires a leap of faith and trust in what we can’t control. Thus the Israelites had to learn that God would provide food when they needed it but that they couldn’t hoard it up for future use. We similarly need to stop hoarding up old arguments that perpetuate the myth of the autonomous individual. Real change will only come when we risk dismantling the boundaries we’ve constructed between ourselves and others. It will take a religious rebirth to get us there.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Calling on republican candidate Mike Huckabee to rethink his stance on HIV/AIDS

Below is a press release on Human Rights Campaign's attempt to get Republican candidate Mike Huckabee to sit down with Jeanne White-Ginder, the mother of Ryan White, to talk about his 1992 rermaks that people with HIV/AIDS should have been isolated. He has refused to repudiate these remarks.

Advocacy Groups, Jeanne White-Ginder Still Waiting to Meet with Gov. Huckabee
After two letters by the Human Rights Campaign and The AIDS Institute, the Huckabee campaign has not responded

WASHINGTON – One week after requesting to meet with Republican presidential candidate Governor Mike Huckabee, Jeanne White-Ginder, the mother of Ryan White, the Human Rights Campaign or The AIDS Institute, still have not heard from Gov. Huckabee or his campaign. The meeting was called in response to Gov. Huckabee’s 1992 remarks, that he refused to repudiate, when he said people living with HIV and AIDS should have been “isolated” even after it was determined the virus was not spread through casual contact. The morning after HRC and The AIDS Institute sent a letter to the Huckabee campaign requesting a meeting, the Governor said, “I would be very willing to meet with them.” To read the Associated Press story visit our blog, HRC Back Story:

On Saturday, a field representative working for the Human Rights Campaign approached Huckabee during a campaign stop at the Berlin New Hampshire Technical College, located in Berlin, NH. The staffer asked, “I know that you said you are willing to meet with Ryan White's mother, when will you be meeting with her?” Huckabee answered, “Well I don't know how to get in touch with her.” The staffer offered to provide contact information and Huckabee called over Christopher Herr, the campaign’s New Hampshire field manager. She provided the information to Mr. Herr while Huckabee moved on.

“Seven days after we asked Governor Huckabee to meet with Jeanne White-Ginder, she is still waiting to hear from him or anyone on his campaign,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. “As we’ve said, this is not an issue of ‘political correctness.’ Rather, this is an issue of valuing science-based evidence over unfounded fear or prejudice. If Gov. Huckabee is a man of his word, then he’ll stop stalling and stand by his pledge and immediately reach out to Jeanne.”

“We are very disappointed that Governor Huckabee has not taken steps to meet with Jeanne White-Ginder after indicating he was willing to do so,” said Gene Copello, Executive Director of The AIDS Institute. “HRC and The AIDS Institute sent two letters to Governor Huckabee with the necessary information about how we could facilitate a meeting with Ms. White-Ginder, who is a board member of The AIDS Institute. It is important to Ms. White-Ginder, whose young son, Ryan White, suffered undue discrimination because of prejudice and fear, for this meeting to occur. Since the 1980s we have had good scientific evidence about how AIDS is transmitted and how it is not. Even in the face of such evidence, discrimination against women, men, and children living with HIV/AIDS continues today. Calls for isolation and quarantine not only fly in the face of scientific evidence, they also reinforce prejudice and fear. This is our third request to meet with Governor Huckabee and we will continue to advocate strongly for this meeting until it happens.”

“Over 1.2 million people in our country are living with HIV/AIDS. It’s hard to imagine that a serious Presidential candidate would stand by a statement to ‘isolate’ our fellow Americans, and then ignore offers from Ryan White’s mother, Jeanne White-Ginder, to meet so she can educate Governor Huckabee about the devastating impact of this disease,” said Rebecca Haag, Executive Director of AIDS Action in Washington, D.C. “This nation needs a results-oriented national strategy to end this tragedy. Blaming the victim is not constructive; strong political leadership is needed. The Governor does not appear to be up to the task.”

As a candidate for a U.S. Senate seat in 1992, Huckabee answered 229 questions submitted to him by The Associated Press. The Senate candidate wrote: “It is difficult to understand the public policy towards AIDS. It is the first time in the history of civilization in which the carriers of a genuine plague have not been isolated from the general population, and in which this deadly disease for which there is no cure is being treated as a civil rights issue instead of the true health crisis it represents.”

“When Huckabee wrote his answers in 1992, it was common knowledge that AIDS could not be spread by casual contact,” the Associated Press reported, December 8, 2007. In a FOX News interview on Sunday, December 9, Huckabee stood by his remarks. Watch the interview:

The first letter to Gov. Huckabee:

December 10th, 2007

Dear Governor Huckabee:In 1984, a young boy living in Indiana was diagnosed with AIDS. At the time, that boy, thirteen-year-old Ryan White, had no idea that his life would become a testament of courage and bravery responsible for opening the hearts and minds of millions of people throughout our country and around the world. Six years later, in 1990, Ryan’s life ended -- a dear, precious life cut short. But Ryan’s death wasn’t the only tragedy in this well-known story in our country’s history. Ryan and his family’s battle with HIV/AIDS was also a stark reminder of what happens in our country when fear and ignorance go unchecked. Governor Huckabee, the Ryan White family was ridiculed, shunned and ostracized by people who thought the answer was to “isolate” them far away from the rest of society. In 1984, this belief was purely based on ignorance. But these same beliefs, which you espoused in 1992 and have refused to recant today, as a candidate for President of the United States, are completely beyond comprehension. When you answered the Associated Press questionnaire in 1992, we, in fact, knew a great deal about how HIV was transmitted. Four years earlier, in 1988, the Reagan Administration’s Department of Health and Human Services issued a brochure assuring the American public that “you won’t get the AIDS virus through every day contact with the people around you in school, in the workplace, at parties, child care centers, or stores.” To call for such an oppressive and severe policy like “isolation,” when the scientific community and federal government were certain about how HIV is transmitted was then, and remains today, irresponsible. Such statements should be completely repudiated, not simply dismissed as needing to be slightly reworded.

This was not and is not an issue of “political correctness,” as you state. Rather, this is an issue of valuing science-based evidence over unfounded fear or prejudice.Have we not learned the difficult lesson of how devastating these statements based in ignorance and fear can be to American families? Has it been so long ago that we have forgotten how our neighbors had the backs of entire communities turned on them? Governor Huckabee, those dark moments in American history are the direct result of ignorant views that stifle discussion, hinder resources and delay action. We have a moral obligation as a nation to never allow ourselves to repeat the shameful mistakes of the past. And we cannot sit idly by when a candidate for President of the United States tries to lead us back down that path of ignorance and fear. Governor Huckabee, if you need a reminder of how calls for “isolation” can shatter a Mother’s heart, you only need to turn to Jeanne White-Ginder. Today, we respectfully ask you to sit down with her and allow her to share with you Ryan’s story. Ms. White-Ginder continues to be active in AIDS advocacy as a member of the board of The AIDS Institute. We hope that, even in 2007, Ryan’s story can continue to open hearts and minds.We would be happy to facilitate a meeting between Ms. White-Ginder and yourself, or a member of your staff. Please feel free to contact Brad Luna, Communications Director for the Human Rights Campaign, at (202) 216-1514 at your convenience.


Joe Solmonese
Human Rights Campaign

A. Gene Copello
Executive Director
The AIDS Institute

The second letter to Gov. Huckabee:

December 12th, 2007

Dear Governor Huckabee:
We wanted to follow-up from our initial letter sent to you Monday evening addressing your comments made in 1992 on the isolation of AIDS patients from the general public – comments that you have refused to recant.

According to media reports published Tuesday, you said: “I would be very willing to meet with them. … I would tell them we've come a long way in research, in treatment.”

We are writing to open a dialogue with your campaign to facilitate a meeting between yourself, Jeanne White-Ginder, the mother of Ryan White; Joe Solmonese, President of the Human Rights Campaign; and A. Gene Copello, Executive Director of The AIDS Institute.

As explained in our first letter, Ms. White-Ginder continues to be active in AIDS advocacy as a member of the board of The AIDS Institute. Her son, Ryan, was diagnosed with AIDS on December 17, 1984 at the age of 13, and captivated the attention of millions as he fought to attend school after being expelled due to ignorance of how HIV is transmitted. As you may know, the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency (CARE) Act, was named is his honor. The act is the United States' largest federally funded program for people living with HIV/AIDS. Congress voted to reauthorize the Act in 1996, 2000 and again in 2006. We hope that, even in 2007, Ryan’s story can continue to open hearts and minds.
We look forward to discussing our experiences and personal insight with you and your campaign. This was not and is not an issue of “political correctness,” as you have stated previously. Rather, this is an issue of valuing science-based evidence over unfounded fear or prejudice.

To facilitate the logistics of a meeting between Ms. White-Ginder, Mr. Solmonese and Mr. Copello, please contact Brad Luna, Communications Director for the Human Rights Campaign, at (202) 216-1514.


Joe Solmonese
Human Rights Campaign

A. Gene Copello
Executive Director
The AIDS Institute

The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against GLBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.

Desmond Tutu's Apology

Yesterday Desmond Tutu apologized for the persecution of gay people in the church.

“I want to apologise to you and to all those who we in the church have persecuted,” Archbishop Tutu says in the interview.

“I’m sorry that we have been part of the persecution of a particular group. For me that is quite un-Christ like and, for that reason, it is unacceptable.

“May be, even as a retired Archbishop, I probably have, to some extent, a kind of authority but apart from anything let me say for myself and anyone who might want to align themselves with me, I’m sorry.

“I’m sorry for the hurt, for the rejection, for the anguish that we have caused to such as yourselves.”

As a religious leader well practiced in the art of reconciliation, Bishop Tutu is giving direction to all of us on strategies toward making change. When congregations, religious leaders and denominational heads begin publicly to apologize for past wrongs, it makes moving forward as people of faith possible. This was a profound act that hopefully will have a ripple effect in all our places of worship.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Limitations of Call

Recently I attended an ordination service. The service was powerful, the music moving, we sent the minister off to do good work in the community surrounded with the loving support of people of faith that heard and responded to her calling.

Yet there was a note in the service that caught me off guard and has gotten me thinking about the problems with the way many liberal pastors are using the language of call.

The minister who gave the sermon spoke about how God called him to ministry to do more with his life than to be a salesperson--God had called him for higher things. And, when speaking about the woman who was being ordained he warned her that her new calling would be so much more than “mere” social work.

Something about this way of thinking troubled me. Ministers are indeed called, but that doesn’t place ministerial service in an elevated position next to other professions. When the ministerial call is privileged it diminishes creative and generative thinking about the multiple ways God calls each of us—not just ministers.

The two types of work this minister contrasted to his profession—sales and social work—serve as a case in point. Ministers, more than most, are required to be salespeople—they have to sell their church, their faith, their programs, their preaching. Is it possible that rather than seeing ministers as more lofty than salespeople, we try to see how God might also call us through sales? Wouldn’t it be a soulful thing if we were collectively engaged in rethinking models of selling that didn’t reduce people to commodities, but honoring all of our humanity? And, might people that have experience in sales be able to minister to those of us who find asking for money so unpleasant that we push it on others to do?

Similarly, rather than seeing social workers as paper pushing robots moving from case-to-case without spiritual direction, wouldn’t it be better to look for the moments when social workers also serve as community ministers? Wouldn’t it make more sense to encourage what is noble and even prophetic in social work and to advocate along side them, rather than distinguishing the calling of ministers as separate and somehow more spiritual?

One of the cornerstones of the liberal church is the concept of inclusivity—we are all invited to the table; we all have worth and dignity. We use the language of class, race, sexual orientation, gender and gender identity, and ability as ways to judge our movement toward building more inclusive spaces. But we need to push these concepts further to examine the ways that we may inadvertently create barriers to being fully welcoming. It’s one thing to say that we welcome everyone but if we don’t really respect the work people do, are we really being welcoming in the end?

We need a much more expansive understanding of call—and not just extended to include other professions but also to include how we approach work. For all its hierarchical and patriarchal structure, social doctrine teaching in the Catholic Church is years ahead of liberal Protestant Churches on this score. There is in this teaching a reverence for the sacredness of work. Pope John Paul II said that when properly directed, work is an occasion for “contemplation and prayer that enlivens and redeems our spirituality.” All work so the teaching goes is a responsibility and a right given by God.

Whether cleaning houses, running for congress, or preaching sermons, we need to start thinking about all of our work lives as sacred, or potentially sacred. By doing this we’ll do more to create welcoming and radically alternative spaces in our congregations and communities than if we use the language of call as a way to establish a hierarchy distinguishing one form of labor from another.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

In honor of Mo

My partner and I had to put our dog Mo down today. He was 13 years old and a major source of companionship in our lives.

It is funny what I miss about not having him around. He was a very sweet, good dog but it's not his goodness or sweetness I miss. It is the dailyness of Mo.

Just knowing I had to get up in the morning and take him out for a walk or make sure the trash can was secure so he wouldn't get into the garbage, or cleaning up his poop in the backyard so that walking in the yard wouldn't become an obstacle course.

So much of love is about companionship and not "qualities." It's about the time we spend together rather than our remarkable gifts. It's verbs not nouns, creating together rather than the created.

Mary Oliver writes about this beautifully in her poem Percy (Four). I'm sharing it here in honor of Mo.

I went to church.
I walked on the beach
and played with Percy.

I answered the phone
and paid the bills
I did the laundry.

I spoke her name
a hundred times.

I knelt in the dark
and said some holy words.

I went downstairs
I watered the flowers,
I fed Percy.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

World AIDS day

The theme of this year’s World AIDS day is leadership. Bishop John Selders has blogged about what it would mean to have real leadership in the Church in fighting this pandemic.

To be real leaders means first and foremost being authentic about who we are and opening spaces where other’s feel they can be authentic as well. It also means looking beyond our own “house.” If we are white and LGBT that may mean caring with the same intensity for African American women suffering from HIV/AIDS in our inner cities as it means carrying about "our own." For all of us it means we need to connect what’s happening in our neighborhoods with the spread of AIDS around the world.

It may be time to dust off the old slogan “think globally and act locally” and claim it again as we find ways to expand our compassion and activism.

Read Selder’s blog or watch it on You Tube

Friday, November 30, 2007

Building Holy Relationships

Building spiritually-grounded spaces that honor the worth and dignity of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people demands of us a willingness to transform both ourselves and how we conceive of our relationships with one another. This is hard work not only for those who are challenged by LGBT relationships but also for LGBT people of faith. All of us are stretched to move beyond the cultural messages we’ve received, messages that often serve as a mirror for how we see ourselves. We are also required to push beyond what is comfortable. Push to see how we’ve barricaded ourselves from one another out of fear of judgment and rejection.

In an age when the marketplace defines so much of who we are, how we spend our time, how we present ourselves to the world, how we engage in friendships and sexual relationships, it is essential to have alternative spaces where our humanity is valued over our status or productivity. Creating welcoming spaces in our congregations and communities does this by requiring us to stay committed to one another when we are not particularly loveable or beautiful, when we are at our most vulnerable and raw.

By keeping this basic commitment to being authentic and in community, it is impossible to limit our understanding of who deserves our love. For me, this has meant that I’ve had to expand how I conceive of what relationships are sacred. I’ve become aware recently, for instance, of the gifts my single friends have given to my understanding of holy relationships as their love for their friends challenges the insular nature of our culture’s fixation on sexual relationships modeled on the nuclear family.

Jesus asked us not just to love our neighbor but also to love our neighbor as ourselves. To do this requires tremendous risk. We cannot get there by easy altruism but only by personal transformation in the company of others. There can be no more holy work than this, and I am blessed to be part of a movement that is engaged in it.