Friday, December 28, 2007

Let's Give 'Em Something to Talk about

It happened again. I was having a perfectly lovely conversation with someone I had just met, someone who is also a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the conversation got around to the Great Debate. You know the one I mean.

She had let me know that she knew "all about" my journey with the ELCA. If you're new here, you really only need to know that I live in a weird liminal space in my denomination. I'm not allowed to be on the clergy roster because I am a lesbian in a committed relationship (and choose--it's all about choice--not to lie about that). But I serve an ELCA church. Like I said, a liminal space.

The lady and I were having a very nice conversation. I'm not sure how it even got around to the subject of the Great Debate. I guess it just always does.

So there we were, talking about the church's struggles with its gay and lesbian members and pastors, and she looks at me and says, "Well, as a straight person, I just wish we could quit talking about it all the time."

I can only hope that I didn't roll my eyes, because, like I said, I was enjoying our conversation. I found this lady's sense of humor and presence absolutely delightful.

But gee, I'm tired of hearing that sentence. I'm tired of what seems to lurk beneath that sentence: a sense that lesbian and gay people in the church are somehow interested in prolonging the discussion of our sex lives.

Um, because we're really not. I say that with some confidence. I have yet to meet a gay or lesbian Lutheran who relishes the fact that our intimate relationships, our love lives, and "what y'all do in bed" is fodder for church assembly conversation and debate. I don't know any gay or lesbian Lutherans who like being "studied."

I'm leaving out transgendered and bisexual Lutherans because I'm afraid we've only just begun to study them. We've had some conversation about bisexuality, but it hasn't really gone anywhere. The church has yet to actually legislate around gender identity or bisexuality. You're only precluded from serving a church if you are in a "homosexual sexual relationship." So the defining issue is still "what y'all do in bed."

Sleep, mainly.

Look, here's where the confusion arises. I hate this debate. I hate being studied. But if we're ever going to have justice, this unequal, uncomfortable conversation has to take place. The alternative is to continue the longstanding, unstated "don't ask, don't tell" policy we have used for years. And at this point, there are just too dang many of us to try to cram back into that closet.

So as a lesbian, I wish we could quit talking about it as well. Yesterday. But I guess there's no other way through the crucible moment than to play with fire.

What's the Matter

Okay, so I let the Huckabee ad sit for a little while, and I still don't like it much. I know he's going after a particular demographic--right wing evangelicals (no, that is not necessarily redundant). But sitting in front of a floating cross and doing your best to show that you are the Real Christian in the race is creepy, and scary, and smacks of propaganda at best and fascism at worst.

I know politicians are opportunists; that's the way it's done. But using the birth of Christ is too much for me. There's no need for Mike Huckabee to remind people that he is a person of faith--he's a Baptist pastor, for goodness' sake. There's also no need for Mike Huckabee to remind people of faith that Christmas is about the birth of Christ. And there's no point in trying to remind those who don't care, as well. People aren't going to discover the true meaning of Christmas in a campaign ad.

But clearly it is important for Mike Huckabee to position himself as the candidate of the religious right. I'm a little surprised that he seems to be their only candidate. After they elected, and re-elected George W. Bush, one would think the Republican party would throw a few more bones to the Christian right. But nearly all of the GOP candidates seem to be folks who not only won't excite this part of the base, but are more likely to irritate them.

You wouldn't want to irritate Pat Robertson, would you?

Actually, maybe so. The problem with the Christian right is that their most high profile folks seem to prone to spectacular rises and equally dramatic falls. Here are a few names to illustrate my point:

Jim Bakker
Jimmy Swaggart
Ralph Reed
Ted Haggard

All of these fellows, with the possible exception of Ralph, are the punch lines to a barrel full of jokes. Ralph Reed is just a guy who rode the coattails of the "Christian Coalition" to a position of influence and subsequent corruption. He was once the darling of the party. By 2006, he couldn't get himself elected Lieutenant Governor of Georgia. Ouch.

There are a bunch more names. Certainly we can add Pat Robertson, who is no longer relevant in national politics since his mouth just won't stop venturing into Crazy Town.

In the interest of fairness and balance, there are plenty of scandals on the other side of the political/religious fence. But it's just more interesting when pretenders to the throne of American morality fall on their derrieres (or the attractive derrieres of secretaries and male prostitutes). Americans love irony, even if we can't always recognize it. It's dang funny, and tragic, when Larry Craig, virulently anti-gay senator, gets caught soliciting sex from a man in a bathroom.

Since it's more interesting, it's a bigger liability. It's safe to assume that none of the candidates will ask Senator Craig to campaign for them. Even in Idaho. I'm thinking Mr. Potatohead will get you a lot more votes in Idaho.

Votes are the bottom line. As much as money seems to be the measure of viability in politics today, ultimately you don't get elected unless people vote for you. While the Christian Right comes with a whole bunch of votes, it also comes with a whole bunch of baggage. And it seems as if the Republican party isn't so much interested in carrying those bags across the election day threshhold any more.

Friday, December 21, 2007

A link to the Huckabee Ad: "What Really Matters"

I can't use the link in my own blog entry, so I thought that might happen to others as well. Here's a link you can use instead. If you just want to go to YouTube, be careful. There are new satires of this ad popping up by the minute. Here's a link:

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


"You shall not oppress a stranger; you know the heart of a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt." --Exodus 23:9
It seems as though every election cycle has a scapegoat now. In the last election, it was the failed war in Iraq. Candidates defined themselves as for it or against it, and the minority and majority parties switched places. (Though, sadly, you can hardly tell, a year later.)
Usually, though, the scapegoat has a face. In the 2002 and 2004 elections, it was gay and lesbian people, especially the ones demanding recognition of their relationships. Candidates stood up for "traditional marriage," constitutional amendments to prevent something that was already illegal were added to the ballot, and more Republicans were elected, vowing to return America to some glorious heyday that never existed.
This year the scapegoat is The Immigrant. Now all of the ills of our society can be blamed on the strangers who come into this land of opportunity seeking a better life. Especially the ones who do so without benefit of legal papers which declare that they have a "right" to be here.
I use the word "scapegoat" quite intentionally. Here are the two definitions of "scapegoat" at Merriam-Webster online:
1: a goat upon whose head are symbolically placed the sins of the people after which he is sent into the wilderness in the biblical ceremony for Yom Kippur
2 a: one that bears the blame for others b: one that is the object of irrational hostility.
Webster's says the goat wearing the people's sins was sent "into the wilderness." Other sources claim the goat was thrown over a cliff. Either way, things didn't go well for the goat.
Things aren't going very well for undocumented workers these days, either. They are "bearing the blame" for a whole lot of stuff happening in this country. The talking heads on television and AM radio claim that "illegal immigrants" have driven down wages, escalated the drug problem and (this is my favorite) brought thousands of cases of leprosy into the US.
Okay, so the leprosy thing is something Lou Dobbs got from a virulently anti-immigration source, and it has been disproved, though Dobbs stands by his figures. He actually said, "If we reported it, then it must be a fact."
Today's phrase, class, is "circular logic." Who can use circular logic in a sentence? Lou?
If you'd like to read a Wall Street Journal blog on this, click here.
Friends, what's wrong with our country is not the fault of undocumented workers. Though the reverse of that sentence is less true. The truth is that we have exploited undocumented workers for many years, and this election-time scapegoating is just another example of it. We've allowed undocumented workers to provide a wage buffer for industries like farming, construction, and the service sector.
And yes, that has kept wages low. But blaming the workers for their own low wages is just more circular logic. I'm guessing that they would take more money if you tried to give it to them. The truth is, this little "look the other way" system of hiring undocumented workers has worked to the advantage of American companies and consumers for a long while now. A lot longer than this issue has been on the political radar.
I'm not saying that it is right. It's wrong--deeply wrong. I'm just pointing out the naked emperor. If he gets dressed, lettuce is going to cost $3 a head. So all of this posturing is just that, since the pro-business, pro-industry, pro-capitalism candidates who are blustering about "illegal immigration" have no intention of biting the hand that feeds this nation.
People of faith should be outraged by all of this. Hospitality to strangers is a fundamental tenet of pretty much every major religion. It is certainly a foundation of the Abrahamic traditions--Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
God destroyed the city of Sodom because of the people's inhospitality to strangers among them. Funny, we've gotten a new millenium's worth of scapegoating from dramatically misreading that story...
Some of our churches have been standing up for the immigrant. I'm hoping that mine will be one of them, but that is, of course, up to the people of Abiding Peace.
The thirteenth chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews starts this way: "Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it." These verses are a reference to Genesis 18, in which Abraham warmly greets visitors. Those visitors are representatives of God, though Abraham is at first unaware of this fact. They're also the same visitors who are received so poorly by the people of Sodom.
There's not much gray space here. There's no getting around God's demand that we show hospitality to the stranger. There's no nuance here. It's just what we are called to do.
God has entreated us to throw open our doors and our arms to those who are strangers among us. And isn't that more fun than drumming up irrational hostility, anyway?

Friday, December 14, 2007

Would You Buy a President from This Woman?

Oprah Winfrey has endorsed Barack Obama, and she went on a whirlwind campaign tour with him this week.
I really didn't need to tell you that, did I?
It's all the news. Oprah and Obama on the road. People crowding into hockey stadiums to see Oprah. Oh, and to hear Barack Obama.
Look, I think it's great. Oprah is a powerful woman, and she throws her power around in some really good ways. If she wants to help get Barack Obama elected, I say "good for you!" Indeed, it might just be good for all of us.
What's been really amusing this week, though, is to listen to people answer the only question the news media seems to have about this whole thing: "Does Oprah's endorsement make you more likely to vote for Obama?"
The first response most people have is a little laugh. A little "oh, my dear, please!" laugh. Then they generally say some version of "Certainly not!"
A woman on CBS Sunday Morning (which we record, of course) said that she would choose her own president, and Oprah's endorsement wouldn't sway her vote. The interviewer (a clever and creative soul--you have to watch that show if you don't already--but don't stay home from church to do it) actually asked a follow-up question: "Has Oprah ever convinced you to buy a book?" The woman answered, "All of them."
So Oprah can tell us what to read...but not who should be president. Because that is a "community decision" and "an individual choice" and "a personal responsibility." These are all paraphrases of statements I heard people make about Oprabama.
So true. It is the responsibility of every American of voting age to give careful consideration to the choice of a presidential candidate. Oh, and drag your behind to the polls and vote. Shirking this responsibility is shameful. Sorry, but it is.
I agree that one oughtn't let Oprah make up one's mind. One's mind should be open to all of the choices, and one should do the research needed to choose the best person for the job, whoever that person should be.
But in the midst of all of the pooh-poohing of the "Oprah factor," a Gallup poll was released this week as well. The nice folks at Gallup asked folks whether they would vote for certain types of candidates--you know, like Mormon types. Seventeen percent said no, they wouldn't vote for a Mormon candidate. Here's the rest of the data, with the category first and the percentage of those polled that absolutely will not vote for that sort of person:
Catholic 4%
Black 5
Jewish 6
A woman 12
Hispanic 12
Mormon 17
A homosexual 41
An atheist 48
I suppose I should be happy that I am currently less reprehensible to the average American than an atheist. Yeah, not so much.
So all week long we heard all of this rhetoric about the importance of choosing the best possible candidate. But Gallup calls random people on the phone and the truth comes out. The best possible candidate had still better have the right stuff (and I mean that as a euphemism for genitalia and pigmentation and sexual orientation and religious beliefs, just in case it's unclear).
Apparently everyone is happy with a white, male, straight, Protestant candidate. Because, hey--they've been running the country since, well, forever, and look how well it's going!

Friday, December 07, 2007

World War III

It's Pearl Harbor Day, a day when we're reminded of the horrors of war. I was at Pearl Harbor a year ago; it's a sacred place.

Below is an article from the Washington Post that reminds me that we're going backward when it comes to peacemaking.

Bush told in Aug Iran may have halted nuclear program

By Tabassum Zakaria


Wednesday, December 5, 2007; 11:21 PM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush was told in August that Iran may have suspended its nuclear weapons program, the White House said on Wednesday, a day after Bush said he was not given a full report on the issue.

A new intelligence estimate released on Monday said Iran had stopped its nuclear weapons program in the fall of 2003, raising questions about whether the president was aware of that when he increased his rhetoric against Tehran.

Some Democrats seized on this week's intelligence report to suggest Bush took an aggressive stance against Iran even though he knew that U.S. intelligence had a different picture of the threat posed by Tehran.

During a news conference on Tuesday, Bush said he was informed of the intelligence report last week, but said U.S. intelligence chief Mike McConnell told him in August there was new information on Iran.

"He didn't tell me what the information was. He did tell me it was going to take a while to analyze," Bush said.

On Wednesday, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said McConnell told Bush in August that Iran may have suspended its nuclear weapons program and that the new information might cause the intelligence community to change its assessment on Iran.

I'm going to be accused of bashing the president here, because "politics" is such a dirty word that one can't discuss foreign policy without being accused of partisan hackery. So I'll say it right up front. I think he's a bad president. I'm not sure he's a bad man, and I was quite touched by his conversation with Jenna on Ellen Degeneres' show this week. He obviously loves his family very much. He is also funny and charming.

But I think he's a bad president. I think our country is in serious danger, danger we weren't in seven years ago. I think we are largely unaware of the damage that has been done to our relationship with the rest of the world. I don't think that's bashing. It is my opinion, based on information like that in the article above.

This administration has been laying the groundwork for war with Iran. I think if you asked them, they might even admit that. It's pretty clear. So this report is alarming, since the president actually used the phrase "World War Three" in a speech in October regarding the Iranian regime and its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

If, back in August, the US Intelligence chief told him that it was likely, or even possible, that they had suspended their program, then this saber-rattling is not only dangerous (which it would be either way), it is also unfounded.

It may be that this Intelligence Estimate is wrong. The President has certainly asserted as much all week. That is most assuredly a possibility. We know that the intelligence about Iraq's nuclear program was wildly innacurate. Or it was made up--history will have to let us in on that one.

I'm pretty sure history will report that this administration has handled truth in a devastatingly careless way. Yeah, they all do. Yeah, it's been raised to a new art form since 2001.

I am a liberal.

I'll give you a sec.

Over the shock?

Okay. So anyway, I'm naturally suspicious of conservativism--although this is more a function of my faith than my political leanings. I just can't find support for most conservative positions in the person and teaching of Jesus Christ. And I'm doing my best to try to follow that guy--failing gloriously at times, but trying. So yes, I have suspicion of those who don't put emphasis on caring for the poor and who are actively working against the marginalized. And that description fits a lot of conservative platforms, though it certainly doesn't fit all conservative people.

But this isn't about conservatives, anyway. This is about neoconservatives. This is about an agenda which sure seems to be hellbent on "World War III." The current administration bends facts until they break, manipulates (or dismisses) intelligence, and foments fear of The Other in order to advance its goals, which seem to have something to do with taking over the Middle East.

Does the President really want us to believe that intelligence chief Mike McConnell came to him and said "We have new intelligence about Iran," and the President of the United States said "Okay, Big Mac, thanks for lettin' me know."?

Are we supposed to believe he didn't ask what the intelligence was? Or does he--does this whole neoconservative steamroller--just not care what we think? Do they think we'll go blithely on with our lives, paying no attention to the man behind the curtain, fiddling with our remote controls while Washington burns?

I think they might.