Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Gov. Spitzer in Action

Gov. Spitzer of New York supports gay marriage “as a simple moral imperative.” He’s got it right. It’s simple because all that it will require is a small change in state law. It’s moral because it is fair: Such a law would recognize that same-sex couples are entitled to the same rights (and must assume the same responsibilities) as heterosexual couples. It’s an imperative because many fair-minded people, both straight and gay, understand now that such a glaring inequity tears the social fabric, and perpetuates a group of disenfranchised citizens, who are treated by government as less than heterosexual people.
Furthermore, there is a clear religious mandate for this moral imperative, and it turns on fairness and inclusiveness. For example, the Acts of the Apostles records Saint Peter’s dawning awareness that God loves everyone, not only the Chosen people (who God never ceases to love). As Peter’s awareness dawns, he declares in Chapter 10, verses 34 and 35: “Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” Clearly, Peter has heard the Gospel and is proclaiming it. Religious people can follow Peter’s example.
Even though gay marriage is a simple moral imperative, enacting such a law will not be easy. The Republicans will be unlikely to embrace it. Many of the churches, notably the Roman Catholic Church, will denounce the possibility of such a law in the name of strengthening heterosexual families, even though homosexual families don’t weaken heterosexual families. And the Democrats have already started to bob and weave around the idea, trying not to alienate gays, while pandering to bigots. Obviously, being two-faced never works.
So, thank you Gov. Spitzer for your leadership on this issue. I wish you well and I support you. I hope that all fair-minded New Yorkers will also support your efforts for fairness.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Senator Obama, take the lead to control guns

I sent this message to Barack Obama, and I'm sending it to my U.S. representative, Ron Klein.

After the tragedy in Virginia, it is time for you, Senator Obama, to take the lead in working for the passage of a strong federal gun control law. It is much too easy to obtain guns in too many states, and gun ownership should be much more severely limited than it is now. Too many unstable people have guns. If gun ownership were more restricted with more thorough background checks on people wanting guns, then senseless shootings like the one in Virginia would be less likely.
Of course, any attempt to control guns will be met with vigorous opposition from the gun lobby, but please be aware that the number of people wanting gun control far outnumber those wanting unlimited access to guns. If you take the lead on this important issue, I’m sure you will gain the support of many people who want sensible, restrictive gun laws in the U.S.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Lutherans in Action...Backwards

On March 23rd, I posted a news item that the Church of Sweden Church of Sweden would perform gay weddings if the Swedish Parliament upgraded the country's civil unions to same-sex marriage. I called the post, “Lutherans in Action.” Now, in the April 17th issue of “The Christian Century,” comes news that the Church of Sweden will reserve matrimony for heterosexual couples. In making this decision, the article states, “the church (of Sweden) went against the recommendation of a Swedish government commission to accept both same-sex and heterosexual relationships within the legal framework of marriage.” So, my hope that the Church of Sweden had heard the Gospel was premature.
My first thought about this is that the people are always ahead of the church leaders theologically. The people hear the Gospel clearly: Discrimination is unfair. Most people say, be fair and treat everyone equally, as the Gospels say Jesus did. So the Swedish government, the organ of the people, wants to include gays in marriage.
In contrast, the church leaders are afraid of the bigots in the church and kowtow to them. They don’t seek fairness, but “unity,” trying to keep everyone happy. Homosexuals are a minority in the church and society, so the leaders feel safe in sacrificing them on the altar of “unity.’ The church is better off, anyway, they say, without those nasty queers, doing their nasty acts.
My second thought is about Janis Vanags who is an exemplar of the type of leader I’m thinking of above. Mr. Vanags is Archbishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia. The “Christian Century” article states that “His church believes that homosexuality is a sin, he said, and that people should repent of their sins and seek forgiveness, just as Martin Luther advised. The article concludes by reporting that African participants (in the meeting of the Lutheran World Federation, where Mr. Vanags gave his remarks) congratulated the Latvian archbishop after his speech for his forthrightness.”
Notice that Mr. Vanags didn’t say that homosexuals can be sinners. No, he said that homosexuality is a sin. The state of homosexuality is a sin, he maintains. He states this in the face of mounting evidence that homosexuality is a natural, biological variant among many sexualities. For the evidence of this, read “Born Gay?: The Psychobiology of Sex Orientation” by Glenn Wilson and Qazi Rahman. This stance by Mr. Vanags recalls earlier witch-hunts against left-handed people. Remember “sinister” originally meant “relating to, or situated to the left or on the left side of something” and “of ill omen by reason of being on the left.” So, now we gays, like left-handed people in the past, are the object of witch-hunts by prominent church people, like Mr. Vanags and his African allies in the Lutheran Church.
Of course, all this makes me angry, but being a Christian and a layperson, I believe that the Gospel will be heard, even by our nasty leaders. When they do hear, it’s likely to because lay people won’t go along with their bigotry.
So, lay people, keep complaining about your nasty leaders. They will eventually follow your Gospel call.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The I-Rack

Will Hutchinson sent me the URL below, which is for a video called I-Rack. It's funny and true.

The Democratic Presidential Candidates on Iraq as of April 10th

As you may know, I am a member of MoveOn, the political action group on the Internet. On April 10th, MoveOn held a “virtual town meeting,” at which the Democratic presidential candidates presented their views on Iraq. The transcript of their remarks, below, is interesting mainly because of their different emphases. However, in my mind, the question remains: which one would be most effective in extricating us from Iraq?

Transcript of the Audio Highlights from MoveOn’s “Virtual Town Meeting”with the Democratic presidential candidates

Eli Pariser (EP): Hello MoveOn members, this is Eli Pariser, executive director of MoveOn.org, welcoming you to our first-ever Virtual Town Hall. Our first presidential candidate of the evening, Senator John Edwards.
JE: First of all, let me say that for the past nine months MoveOn members have accomplished amazing things. Thanks to your relentless grassroots pressure you’ve actually helped shift the national debate about ending the war in Iraq from a question of “if” to a question of “how soon.”
As you probably know, I voted for this war. I was wrong, and I take responsibility for that.
Everyday that this war drags on is worse for Iraq, worse for our troops, worse for our country.
This is not the time for political calculation, this is the time for political courage. This is not a game of chicken, this is not about making friends, or keeping Joe Lieberman happy, this is about life and death. This is about war.
If Bush vetoes funding for the troops he is the only one standing in the way of the resources they need, nobody else.
Congress must stand firm. They must not write George Bush another blank check without a timeline for withdrawal. Period. If Bush vetoes the funding bill, Congress should send another funding bill to him with a binding plan to bring the troops home.
If we show courage now, we can finally bring our troops home and bring this war to an end. So where will Congress find the courage to stand firm? I’ll tell you where they’ll find it, they’ll find it in your letters, they’ll find it in your calls, they will find it in your voice.
EP: Senator Edwards, we thank you so much. Next up we’ll hear from Senator Joe Biden.
JB: To be responsible, one has to be able to answer a two-word question in my view, after you put forward what you think should be done. And that is, “Then what?” After we pull our troops out, then what? After we cap troops, then what? After we cut partial funding, then what?
The problem in Iraq today is a self-sustaining cycle of sectarian violence.
To maintain a unified Iraq, you have to decentralize it. You have to give the Kurds, Sunnis and Shias control over the fabric of their daily lives.
Secondly, you have to have a limited central government.
Thirdly, you have to secure access to oil revenues for the Sunnis who literally have nothing.
Fourth, you have to increase reconstruction assistance for Iraq, but you have to raise that money from the oil-rich Gulf states who are floating in a sea of oil money.
And lastly, you have to make Iraq the world’s problem.
We should begin to draw down American combat troops within the next three months, and have a date of getting us out of Iraq by March of ’08. That is the essence of my plan. That is the only, in my view, workable solution for ending the war in Iraq and preserving our interest.
Leaving Iraq is absolutely necessary, but it’s not a plan, it doesn’t answer the critical question, “then what?”
EP: Thank you Senator Biden for participating in our Virtual Town Hall meeting on Iraq. Our next candidate is Congressman Dennis Kucinich.
DK: Thank you. I had the vision and the foresight to be able to say, “Don’t go to war.” And gave reasons why not. And since then, you know, I’ve delivered over 160 speeches on the floor of the House.
Stop the funding, end the occupation, withdraw the troops, as you close the bases, create a parallel process which involves the United Nations, move those troops in as our troops leave.
We need to reach out to the world community, and that means the president of the United States is going to have to be involved in a lot of personal diplomacy. Reaching out to all the nations in the region, making it possible for them to know that the United States is going to take a new direction, that we’re not going to endorse any kind of policies that would put us on the threshold of attacking other nations.
When you consider who you’re going to support, you’ve got to consider who had the judgment and the wisdom to say, “We should avoid the war in the first place.” I not only voted against the war, but I urged members of Congress not to support the war, I, you know, I voted against each and every appropriation. And it’s so important to remember. So I’m standing not only for peace from the beginning of this, but have the plan to get out of Iraq, and have a vision of the world that is interdependent and interconnected, and a country which stands upon the principle and the imperative of human unity.
EP: Thanks again, Congressman Kucinich. And now, we’re going to hear from Governor Bill Richardson.
BR: I want to thank you, Eli, and all the members of MoveOn that are participating in today’s town hall. If I were president today, I would withdraw American troops by the end of this calendar year. I would have no residual force whatsoever.
We have to look at Iraq not in an isolated way. We have to look at the whole Middle East, the Persian Gulf, the Israeli-Palestinian situation, and you get Iran and Syria to invest in the stability of the region. This will be tough. This will be difficult, but the full force of American withdrawal, the full force of American diplomacy, and the full force of bringing other entities, Europe, Muslim countries in the region for a solution will give Iraq a chance.
It’s the constitutional right of Congress to start a war and to stop a war.
I am for a timetable of withdrawal. I would be for a cut-off of appropriations. What I would do however is one step further. This Congress, several years ago, the Republican Congress, authorized this war. I would pass a congressional resolution de-authorizing the war based on the War Powers Act.
I believe I am the best candidate. I may not be a rock star. I may not have the most money. But I believe I have the best vision, the best background to be president.
EP: Thank you Governor Richardson. Next up, we’ll hear from Senator Hillary Clinton.
HC: Now first we’ve got to face up to the reality that the situation in Iraq is deteriorating. It is not improving, and all the happy talk in the world will not fix the grim reality on the ground. My plan to end the war confronts that reality head on. I introduced legislation called the Iraq Troop Protection and Reduction Act. Under it, we would begin redeployment of our troops out of Iraq in 90 days.
I have long advocated engagement with countries in the region, including Iran and Syrian. And I applaud Speaker Pelosi and her delegation for going to the region, as I applaud the Republican delegations that did likewise. We have to start a process to deal with those countries. Now as you know, Congress recently passed historic legislation to both fund our troops and begin a phased redeployment to bring them home. The president has threatened to veto it. And I have said repeatedly that the American people elected this Congress to bring our troops home, not to send more troops to purse a failed strategy. I have challenged the president to withdraw this veto threat immediately. So everyday in the Senate I’m working to change course in Iraq.
I am absolutely clear, we do not plan a permanent occupation, or permanent bases. But in line with all of the legislation that has been passed, we have tried to be responsible in saying, there may be some continuing missions to protect America’s vital interests and to support an Iraqi government that we hope to be an ally going forward, assuming they are acting responsibly.
Some of your members may be a little surprised to hear me say this, but I am grateful for your work. I remember when you started, and how important it was, and I look forward to continuing our dialogue in the years ahead on the important issues facing our country and the world.
EP: Thanks again Senator Clinton.
HC: Thank you so much Eli.
EP: Next, let’s welcome Senator Chris Dodd.
CD: Well I believe we that ought to begin redeploying our troops this evening. I’m the one that believes, as others have stated, that there’s no military solution at all in Iraq. I’ve felt that for the last several years. So I believe that we ought to start redeploying this evening, and over the next year we can do that very safely, provide all the support our troops would need.
So begin redeploying immediately. Have things finished in March of ’08. Talk about a surge in diplomacy, a surge in politics in the region which is not had at all, which is recommended by the Baker-Hamilton report and then also talk about energy independence. I think those are critical areas if we are going to be successful. But we ought to begin immediately, I would not wait any longer.
I believe the president should seek authority from Congress in advance to take military action against Iran or any other state for that matter. Now under extreme circumstances, unforeseen circumstances, emergencies, I think it would be appropriate for the president, any president, to act to repel, but even after that, it seems to me, after the emergency, the president ought to come back to congress, and succeed in getting that authority.
I believe we need new structures and new architectures. It’s not only important that we talk about what needs to be done to get out of Iraq, but what do we do in the post-Iraq period. I want to see an area of constructive, bold engagement by the United States, where we rebuild the relationships, where the United States is seen once again as a source of good works as a country. Where we condemn torture, not condone it. Where we end wars, not start them. Where we engage the world in part of a smart decision to allow all of us to live in a better opportunity, a better hope, and prosperity for all people.
EP: Thanks so much for joining us Senator Dodd. And now, our last candidate of the day, Senator Barack Obama.
BO: As you know, I opposed this war from the start. In part because I believed that if we gave open-ended authority to invade Iraq in 2002 that we would have an open-ended occupation of the sort that we have right now.
The idea that the situation in Iraq is improving, because it take a security detail of a hundred soldiers, three Black Hawk helicopters and a couple of apache gunships to walk through a market in the middle of Baghdad is simply not credible.
Since January I have put forward a very specific plan that is designed to create the last, best hope to pressure the Sunni and the Shia to reach political accommodation.
Well I’ve been saying for a year that we have to realize that the entire Middle East has a huge stake in the outcome of Iraq. And that we have to engage neighboring countries in finding a solution. I believe that includes opening dialogue with both Syria and Iran. We know these countries want us to fail, I’m under no illusions there, but I also know that neither Syria nor Iran want to see a security vacuum in Iraq filled with chaos, and terrorism, and refugees and violence.
Those who say we shouldn’t be talking to them ignore our own history. Ronald Reagan, during the Cold War, called the Soviet Union the “evil empire” but he consistently met with the Soviet Union because he recognized that power without diplomacy is a prescription for disaster.
I am committed to putting as much pressure on the president to end this war as possible, in a responsible fashion.
Assuming he vetoes the bill—I’m committed to finding the 67 votes we need to override this veto. I would support putting conditions on the next version of the legislation if we can’t muster 67 votes.
If this president thinks he can continue to ignore the will of the American people, and the American Congress, I think he’s badly mistaken. With your help, I believe we’re going to be able to bring our troops home, I believe we are going to refocus our efforts on the wider struggle against terror, and, as importantly, I think we have an opportunity to begin the process of restoring America’s image throughout the world.
EP: Thank you again, Senator Obama. Democracy is a process. And everyone who joined us tonight has taken part in it. We hope you’ll be with us for the next two town hall meetings on health care and global warming, and, to all of our members, we at MoveOn really can’t say it enough. Thank you for all that you do. Good night.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Saints in love

I just read a funny novel about a Holocaust survivor and a neo-Nazi. Now, usually neither surviving the Holocaust nor being a neo-Nazi is funny, but Francine Prose, the author of “A Changed Man,” has created two people who are not merely representative of their respective categories, but are also engaging. They want to do good, but are not disinterested do-gooders. Prose shows us that saintliness can’t be separated from self-interest.
Of the two characters, Meyer Maslow, the Holocaust survivor, is the more obviously saintly. Having escaped death as a Jew in World War II Europe, he now heads the World Brotherhood Watch Foundation in Manhattan. This foundation works to save victims of human rights violations and, in so doing, to encourage the world to fight such violations. Maslow feels himself God’s agent on earth and knows what God expects of him, which is self-giving. The trouble is that Maslow has a foundation to maintain and publicize, and this requires that he raise money on the benefit circuit in New York. Raising money means that he always has to be concerned about his success in attracting favorable publicity and, as a result, money. It’s hard to be a saint sucking up to publicists and potential donors.
Enter Vincent Nolan, the neo-Nazi member of ARM, or the Aryan Resistance Movement, who, having read about Maslow’s organization, decides to go to Maslow and tell him, ''I want to help you guys save guys like me from becoming guys like me,'' and, in the process, reform himself. So, Nolan also feels the stirrings of something like saintliness. Never mind that to get to the foundation, he steals the Chevy pickup of his cousin and fellow ARM member, along with his drug stash and $1500. It’s all for a higher calling.
Once at the foundation’s office, he is handed over to Bonnie Kalen, Maslow’s assistant and chief acolyte, who is devoted to him and his cause beyond reason.
Bonnie introduces Nolan to Maslow, who sees Nolan as an answer to his prayers to find a way to sell out a big upcoming benefit for the support of the foundation’s work. Nolan, the changed man, will demonstrate that the work of the foundation can change people for the better “one person at a time.” All Bonnie has to do is all the work.
Maslow suggests that Bonnie take Nolan into her modest house in the suburbs, where she is raising her two sons after her divorce. All Bonnie has to do, in her devotion to Maslow, is to hope that the neo-Nazi won’t slaughter her and her children in the comfort of her own home.
Of course, what happens is not slaughter but love. Living uneasily with Nolan, Bonnie and her kids begin to accept him, depend on him, and to love him. He in turn finds himself a possible home and family. What Prose is saying is that disinterested saintliness doesn’t accomplish much. Rather, mountains are moved by strong emotions. In the case of the Holocaust, hate and anger wreaked havoc on millions. With Bonnie and Nolan on a much smaller scale, the strong emotion of love is the motive for helpful acts and mended lives.
So, maybe the moral of Prose’s novel is that if you want to do good and be saintly, fall in love first.