Sunday, November 30, 2008


“My name is Harvey Milk, and I’m here to recruit you.” This was the signature declaration of Harvey Milk, who in the ‘70s, was a force in San Francisco politics and probably the most influential figure in U.S. gay liberation yet. In Gus van Sant’s movie, “Milk,” Sean Penn, playing the title character, enlists us as enthusiastic foot soldiers in the movement for freedom and justice, not only for gays, but for anyone who values personal integrity and truthfulness. For Milk, truthfulness was central. Many of the people in his circle were still in the closet (Milk himself had long been out), and he knew that the only way to defeat Proposition 6, which would require the firing of homosexual teachers, was for everyone to come out of the closet to family, employers, and friends, so that the supporters of Prop. 6 could no longer talk credibly about “them.” There would be no “them,” no “other,” when almost everybody had a son, daughter, father, or mother who was queer. His approach worked; Proposition 6 was defeated, but not before he had appealed to many conservative groups, many of them church people, to defeat Prop. 6.
If there is a villain in the movie, it’s not just Dan White who assassinated Milk and Mayor George Muscone, but rather, the nasty, mean-spirited churches that made their hatred of gays more than clear. In the movie, the Gospel is not proclaimed in the churches; instead it is proclaimed in the bedrooms, the streets, and the voting booths of San Francisco, where gay men found love, joy, and fun; where they marched to demonstrate that they were equal to anyone; and where they helped build a society in which the contributions of gay men are valued.
In contrast, the churches continue, even today, on their road to irrelevance. Even as they triumphed with the passing of Proposition 8 this November, the spirit of Harvey Milk will not be crushed. Nor will the Gospel be crushed. Rather, it will lead people, gay and straight, to equity, justice, and fairness.
A few Sundays ago in church, we heard a passage from Amos 5 that could be a description of God’s reaction to the hateful churches that Milk contended with:
“I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and cereal offerings, I will not accept them, and the peace offerings of your fatted beasts I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
These could be the words of the God who created Harvey Milk. He helped justice roll in San Francisco; it’s now up to us to increase the flow so that God’s righteousness comes to all.
I hope you see “Milk.” When you do, I hope you hear the Gospel.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thank You, Miss Manners

Indeed, Miss Manners has come to believe that the basic political division in this country is not between liberals and conservatives but between those who believe that they should have a say in the love lives of strangers and those who do not.

-- Miss Manners (Judith Martin)
Courtesy of "The Daily Slab"

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The ELCA can Learn from the Mormons

The Mormons spent 25 million dollars in California and, with the help of the black churches, “saved” heterosexual marriage, as Proposition 8 passed. They also got what they probably see as a PR disaster. They are now firmly associated with bigotry, division, and discrimination, the very opposite of the Gospel.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) would also “save” marriage for heterosexuals, as it tries to get its “Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality” approved. I pray that the ELCA will take the Mormons’ experience as a warning. If the ELCA approves the draft statement as it now stands, it can expect the same public derision that the Mormons are now receiving. The ELCA will be seen, not as a source for the Gospel, but as an enemy of the Gospel.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Holy Cross Lutheran in Newmarket Disciplined for Calling Openly Gay Minister

I just received this email from Lutherans Concerned/North America. It speaks for itself. I'll just say that everyone must work to stop the prejudice.

On November 15, 2008, Pastor Dawn Hutchings and the Congregational Council of Holy Cross Lutheran, Newmarket, Canada, were informed that the Bishop and Synod Council of the Eastern Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, had suspended the congregation for having called the Rev. Lionel Ketola to be Associate Pastor. The congregation was informed on Sunday the 16th. The synod clergy and the media were informed this afternoon.

Bishop Michael Pryse said in his letter that the congregation could not send delegates to conference, synod or national meetings, could not vote on any matters before such meetings, and could not have any of its members hold elective office within the ELCIC above the congregational level. The suspension is to remain in effect for as long as Lionel remains in his position or until the ELCIC changes its policy and recognizes Lionel's ordination and call to ministry. The congregation and its members, however, can continue to participate in the programmatic and worship life of the ELCIC.

Lionel was called by Holy Cross Lutheran as Associate Pastor and Ambassador of Reconciliation, ordained on that basis on May 16, 2008, and installed on May 18. These acts violated the policy of the ELCIC not to "ordain or recommend for call a self-proclaimed homosexual" in that Lionel is open and public about his sexual orientation. Lionel is married to Stephen, a marriage legal in Canada but not recognized by the ELCIC.

In his letter to the congregation, Bishop Pryse, widely known for his progressive thinking and support of LGBT issues, said that he wanted the strong relationship with Holy Cross to continue, that the Synod Council took no joy from the discipline decision it made, and that the Synod Council would continue to "responsibly work toward changing policies that preclude the full participation of all God's people in our ecclesial life."

In her letter to the congregation, Emily Eastwood, Executive Director, Lutherans Concerned, lauded the congregation for having "courageously enacted the church as it should be in the present. You have taken a great risk for the sake of justice, for the sake of the Gospel. You have embraced Luther's freedom of the Christian. You have acted on your beliefs. The ultimate outcome is assured. Only the time is in question."

In the press release that has just gone out, Pastors Hutchings and Ketola and Emily were quoted as follows:
Pastor Dawn Hutchings, pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran, said, "While we all knew that such a judgment was possible, it still hurts. To be suspended by our church for doing what we have felt called to do for the sake of the Gospel, is painful. Our sadness is tempered by the knowledge that we have acted together as a congregation and together we will continue to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit as we respond to the Eastern Synod's failure to live up to its professed desire to be a church "In Mission for Others." We will do all that we can to encourage, help, and challenge our Bishop and Synod Council to live up to their "expressed desire to responsibly work toward changing policies that preclude the full participation of all God's people in our ecclesial life." As faithful members of the ELCIC we shall continue to work and pray for the day when all God's children enjoy the freedom of equal opportunity in God's holy church."

Pastor Lionel Ketola said, "It is especially difficult to hear of the suspension of this vibrant Lutheran congregation for their decision to call me, while just one day earlier hundreds of people had gathered with the city's mayor in nearby Oshawa, Ontario, in support of a lesbian couple who were the victims of anti-gay violence. We yearn for the day that our church's calls for justice for all are matched with deeds embodying a commitment to equality for all. Our church must become one of full inclusion of all in the life of the church, following the teachings of Christ. I, along with the people of Holy Cross, remain committed to working in partnership with our ELCIC to see this dream become a reality."
Emily Eastwood, Executive Director, Lutherans Concerned/North America, said of this action, "Once again the authorities of the church have failed to demonstrate leadership, failed to follow the lead of the Christ and Holy Spirit, and, instead, have endorsed a policy of oppression and discrimination based on dusty prejudice and ignorance. Holy Cross has chosen to live life as Christ's church should. One day, and soon, the rest of the church will follow the example they have set - recognizing that LGBT people have always been part of the wondrous diversity of God's creation and Christ's redemption."

Phil Soucy
Director Communications LC/NA

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Same-Sex Marriage and the Down Low

The success on November 4th of ballot initiatives preventing same-sex marriage in California, Arizona, and Florida has left most gay people feeling angry, and some are directing their anger at black voters, 60% to 70% of whom voted to keep marriage only between heterosexuals. Gay people say it’s a civil rights issue and why don’t blacks, who have been through so much discrimination, help gays fight the discrimination directed at them?
Many blacks voted against same-sex marriage because their pastors, as well as the Mormon Church, encouraged them to. This encouragement was often couched in terms of the need to “save” marriage. Gays often respond that their marriages didn’t threaten heterosexual marriage, so there is no need to “save” marriage from legal same-sex marriage. This, I think, is to miss a major concern of the black community about the health of marriage in that community: Same-sex marriage between black men could make the shortage of eligible bachelors in the black community even more severe than it is now. Whether this concern is well founded is open to question, but, by many measures, the pool of marriageable black men in the US is smaller proportionally than the pool of marriageable white men. American white racism, although it also oppresses black women, comes down particularly hard on black males and makes it harder for them to be the strong providers often envisioned for traditional heterosexual marriage. For example, compared with the general population, they have less education. Only 52 percent of public high school students in the fifty largest US cities (where many blacks live) graduate after four years; the national average is 70 percent. ( Black men are more likely to be unemployed than the general population. For example, unemployment in August, 2008, was higher among blacks (10.6%) than in the country overall (6.1%), and unemployment among black men was 11.2%. ( and
And black men are more likely to be in prison (4,789 per 100,000 residents) than white men (736 per 100,000). (
But there is another concern in the black community that makes the discussion of same-sex marriage even more difficult. It is life on “the down low.” “The down low” refers to black men who have sex with men, and it is a term often used by black men who are sexually active with men, but who don’t consider themselves gay. I first learned about the down low from an article in the August 3, 2003 “New York Times” magazine by Benoit Denizet-Lewis called “Double Lives On The Down Low.” (
The article’s title tells the story. As Denizet-Lewis writes: “Rejecting a gay culture they perceive as white and effeminate, many black men have settled on a new identity, with its own vocabulary and customs and its own name: Down Low. There have always been men -- black and white -- who have had secret sexual lives with men. But the creation of an organized, underground subculture largely made up of black men who otherwise live straight lives is a phenomenon of the last decade.”
Further on, he continues: “...the black church -- like many in white America -- is careful not to condone homosexual behavior. 'Some gays want a flat-out, standing-on-the-tower affirmation from the church that the gay lifestyle, or the lifestyle of whoring around with men, is acceptable,' says Kelvin Berry, the director of the (Cleveland Antioch Baptist Church AIDS) program. ''And that's not going to happen.'” And in fact, the black churches are fighting the legalization of same-sex marriage, because they see the down low as dishonest and dangerous to black women and the black community.
And who can disagree? So, gays like me who support same-sex marriage need to step back and understand better the concerns of the black community on this issue. We need to understand that same-sex marriage can seem to pose a threat to traditional marriage in the black community and in society at large, because of many men’s duplicitous behavior. Living a lie – in the closet, on the down low – is not a good life, however sexy and attractive. Coming out of the closet, out of the down low, is the better course however difficult.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Under the Huppah

Walter and Darrel got married a few weeks ago. After nearly 48 years of being together, they decided it was time. They called a friend in California, and a room was found for the ceremony in the courthouse at the L.A. airport. The friend also arranged for another friend to be a deputy marriage commissioner for the occasion. And so they were married.
Walter and Darrell invited us to look at their marriage certificate and the pictures of the wedding. In one of the photos, Walter and Darrell, standing under a garland of flowers, are looking tenderly at each other. When I saw this, I said, “It’s a Huppah!” and cried a little and hugged and kissed them.
Darrell is Australian and loves opera. Walter is Jewish, tells awful jokes involving rabbis, and is religious not at all. And yet in the photo, I saw a Huppah, and Walter didn’t disagree.
As one website has it: “A traditional wedding Chuppah (often spelled Chuppa, Huppah, chuppot (pl) huppot (pl)) is the canopy under which the bridal couple says their wedding vows. Chuppah means "that which covers or floats above". It is open on all four sides, recalling the tents of the Jews’ nomadic ancestors, and must be a temporary structure. The Huppah canopy represents G-d's presence at the wedding, and is a symbol of the home. In this sense, the chuppah is often viewed as the couple's first home.”
It certainly looks to many as if God was on the side of those who voted to outlaw gay marriage in Arizona, California, and Florida. But in the picture, there are Walter and Darrell together under those insubstantial, perishable flowers - under the Huppah - to start this new phase of their life together. I think G-d was present at the wedding of Walter and Darrell, and I say mazal tov to them both! And G-d bless!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The ELCA wins

Gay marriage ended today in California. Gay marriage is now prohibited by the Florida and Arizona constitutions. In those states, “normal” people no longer have to endure the presence of gay people married to each other.
This is a resounding victory for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the denomination to which I belong. In its “Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality” (, the ELCA stated that “Marriage is a structure of mutual promises between a man and woman blessed by God (Mark 10:7-9) and authorized in a legal arrangement required by the state.” (lines 1005 - 1007) The draft continues: “After many years of study and conversation, this church does not have consensus regarding loving and committed same-gender relationships.” (lines 1116 - 1117) And, further, “This church recognizes the historic origin of the term “marriage” as a life-long and committed relationship between a woman and man, and does not wish to alter this understanding.” (lines 1151 - 1153). So, in California, Florida, and Arizona, the ELCA’s understanding has been carved in legal stone. Not only is there no consensus for gay marriage, the consensus, at least in California, Florida, and Arizona, is against it.
You’ve got to give the ELCA credit. It put its finger in the air, found the direction the wind is blowing, and the ELCA is going along with the wind, which will blow gay people back into their place. That place, the ELCA hopes, will be a very quiet closet.
As in Mark 15:15, the crowd has been placated. The ELCA has stood primly by and let it happen. A scapegoat has been found and sacrificed and peace will reign. Until the next time. Which minority will the ELCA let be sacrificed then? The Lutherans in Germany let the Jews be sacrificed in the 1930s. In photographs of the period, the Lutheran clergy look very happy in the presence of Hitler.