Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Arizona voters, pay attention

Actually, any voters with a "marriage plus" amendment coming up should take a close look at what's happening in my former home state of Michigan, which passed a marriage amendment to its constitution a year ago. Similar to the initiative wording currently circulating on petitions in Arizona, Michigan's amendment goes beyond merely defining marriage as between one man and one woman:

To secure and preserve the benefits of marriage for our society and for future generations of children, the union of one man and one woman in marriage shall be the only agreement recognized as a marriage or similar union for any purpose.

The Arizona marriage initiative reads as follows:

To preserve and protect marriage in this state, only a union between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as marriage by this state or its political subdivisions and no legal status for unmarried persons shall be created or recognized by this state or its political subdivisions that is similar to that of marriage.

It's that second part, that part that says the state or "political subdivisions" (cities, towns, counties) cannot "recognize" any status "similar to that of marriage."

In Michigan, the battle is now in court to see whether or not that bars the government from offering domestic partnership benefits.

Opponents of domestic partner benefits argue that the phrase "or similar union for any purpose" bans such benefits.

"Of course the amendment is clear in that it prevents any type of benefits program from extending into a homosexual relationship," said Patrick Gillen, co-author of the marriage amendment and litigation counsel for the conservative Thomas Moore Law Center in Ann Arbor, which is suing to eliminate the benefits. "It's a labeling game, but a same-sex union under any other name is still a same-sex union and the constitutional amendment provides that same-sex unions will not be recognized for any purpose. Period."

This is What's. Happening. Now. Despite promises from Len Munsil, president of the organization backing Arizona's marriage initiative, it's what Will. Happen. Here. if it passes.

Voters need to be very clear about what they're voting for. If you think marriage should be between one man and one woman but don't want to take away domestic partnership benefits, then you MUST VOTE NO. Otherwise, you'll end up like the voters in Michigan, feeling tricked.

Voters themselves seem confused about the debate over health care benefits. At least a dozen contacted by The Detroit News said they would not have supported the marriage amendment if they had known it would put domestic partner health care benefits at risk.

"I voted that way because I believe marriage is a sacrament," said Patricia Klein, 75, a retired former supervisor at Verizon Wireless who lives in Belleville. "But I definitely support them having a civil ceremony and having domestic partner benefits. I don't remember (the proposal) saying anything about health benefits."

John Boyar of Eastpointe said his "yes" vote simply reaffirmed his belief in one man-one woman marriage. "It was about marriage, that's all I know," said Boyar, a retired TV repairman.

Don't let the "marriage protection" supporters claim all this amendment will do is "protect marriage." It will do a lot more. We need to be aware of what's happening in other states and educate ourselves before going to the polls next November.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Pitts on Robertson

Have I mentioned how much I love Leonard Pitts, Jr.? He's one of the best columnists out there. Today's column addresses the same subject as my last blog entry: Pat Robertson's latest idiotic statement about God possibly smiting Dover, PA for voting out the pro-Intelligent Design school board members. As Pitts explains it:

So this latest nonsense is right in line with what we've come to expect from our friend Pat. The only thing you can do is laugh - and try not to think about how many people lump you in with this fellow when you profess to be a Christian.

Point being, I believe there was a Designer. I also believe that's a matter for the pulpit, the class in comparative religion or the class in philosophy. It doesn't belong in science class, because it's not science. It's faith.

And please spare me the thousand word-for-word e-mails arguing, with eerie "Stepford Wife" uniformity, that "the Theory of Evolution is just that, a theory."

Your humble correspondent was only a "C" science student, but even I get the fact that scientific theory involves a bit more rigorous reasoning than my personal theory that I can make my team win by wearing my lucky shirt and yelling at the television. Scientific theory requires conclusions based on observable, replicable and predictable phenomena.

To put it another way: Gravity is "just" a theory, but I don't hear anyone arguing with Isaac Newton. Or suggesting students be taught the "alternative" theory that we are held to Earth by invisible strips of Velcro.

Amen! I couldn't agree more. I'm embarrassed to have Robertson claiming to represent my faith and I'm frustrated with people who insist on trying to make the Bible be something it isn't and never was intended to be: a science textbook. And Pitts gets it right again when saying why:

Teaching religion masked as science devalues both and ensures that children will be that much less prepared for college and the world beyond. I can't believe God requires ignorance, that He gave us brains he doesn't want us to use, or that intelligence and faith are mutually exclusive. Of course, I'm forced to reconsider that position every time Rev. Ridiculous opens his mouth.

Friday, November 11, 2005

What the...?

Trying to wrap my mind around this. Not succeeding.

"I'd like to say to the good citizens of Dover, if there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God, you just rejected him from your city," [Pat] Robertson said on his daily television show broadcast from Virginia, "The 700 Club." "And don't wonder why he hasn't helped you when problems begin, if they begin. I'm not saying they will, but if they do, just remember, you just voted God out of your city. And if that's the case, don't ask for his help because he might not be there."

Okay. So we're equating a vote for a particular school board member with a vote for God? I think we may have a new winner for Most Moronic Thing Said. EVER.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The best revenge

I remember hearing a sermon a long time ago that included a story about Jesus's idea of "revenge." The story was about a soldier who had been mercilessly belittled and mistreated by a superior until he vowed under his breath, "One day you'll be sorry for how you treated me." When they went into battle, the soldier saved his superior's life, telling him, "See, I told you you'd be sorry." It's a retelling of Proverb 25:21-22:

If your enemies are hungry, give them bread to eat; and if they are thirsty, give them water to drink; for you will heap coals of fire on their heads, and the Lord will reward you.

Paul also quotes this Proverb in his letter to the Romans, and adds in verse 12:21:

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Today I read an example of this in a Palestinian father, Ismail Khatib, whose son was killed by Israeli soldiers. The 12-year-old boy, Ahmed, had been carrying a toy gun and the soldiers mistook him for a militant. The father's response: revenge. And by that, I mean the Proverbs 25:22 kind of revenge: he had the boy's organs donated to Israelis.

Khatib said the decision to donate Ahmed's organs was rooted in his memories of his brother, who died at age 24 while waiting for a liver transplant, and in his family's desire to help others regardless of their nationality. He said he hoped the gesture would send a message of peace to Israelis and Palestinians. "We're talking about young children. Their religion doesn't make a difference," he said.

I don't know if one such gesture will bring about world peace, but it will make a difference in the lives of the six Israeli children he saved. Will those children and their families think twice about viewing Palestinians as evil? I hope so.

God bless Ismail Khatib for his version of revenge. I hope we all can learn from his example.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Bishops are Bad Methodists, too

Apparently I'm not the only Bad Methodist who thinks the church should not be excluding people from membership due to their sexual orientation. The United Methodist Council of Bishops seem to agree. The judicial ruling supporting a pastor's right to deny a gay man church membership came down while the Bishops were having their weeklong fall meeting in Lake Junaluska, NC and they spent four hours in closed session drafting a response.

While pastors have the responsibility to discern readiness for membership, homosexuality is not a barrier. With the Social Principles of The United Methodist Church we affirm: "that God's grace is available to all, and we will seek to live together in Christian community. We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons." (Para. 161g, 2004 Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church)

This gives me hope for our denomination. While we have a long way to go toward being the church of "Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors" that we profess to be, it's good to know that the Bishops leading the church understand that no one is exempt from God's grace.

Baby steps.

(For the full text of the Council of Bishops' response, click here.)

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Which is it, Len?

Ever since the Center for Arizona Policy unveiled its "Protect Marriage" amendment initiative, president Len Munsil has been very busy assuring everyone that the amendment just "protects marriage" by keeping it between one man and one woman. It will not, he insists, go further and affect benefits for domestic partnerships. Just two weeks ago, Munsil touted a poll that showed people supported a marriage amendment, saying that a previous poll was invalid because it did not use the actual language of the amendment but did say domestic partnership benefits would be affected.

While other polls have emphasized words that are not in the actual amendment – words like “prohibition” and “benefits,” this poll language is closest to the actual language of the amendment.

The implication here is that the actual langauge of the amendment will not "prohibit" anything or affect benefits. Going back even further to July 14, Munsil wrote:

Remember first that the amendment simply reserves the special status of marriage in our laws to people who are actually married. Here are some of the things the PMAA does NOT do: it does not prevent people from agreeing to allow each other hospital visitation, inheritance rights, medical decisionmaking, or other benefits. It does not prevent people from providing for each other in their last will and testament. It does not prevent the government from enforcing domestic violence laws against domestic partners who become violent. It does not prevent private businesses from providing benefits to whoever the business wants to provide with benefits. As the debate continues, remember that much of the rhetoric you will hear from opponents is pure politics, scare tactics and fiction. [all emphasis mine]

Yesterday, however, he wrote about how bad it is that an Alaskan court found that the goverment must provide benefits to domestic partners.

Alaska, like most states, promotes marriage by offering employee benefits to married couples and financially dependent children. Now the Alaska Supreme Court has agreed with legal arguments by the ACLU that the state must provide marriage benefits to same sex domestic partners. This decision is yet another example of why the Protect Marriage Arizona Amendment is needed. The Alaska Constitution clearly defines marriage as between a man and a woman, but that didn’t stop the courts from forcing a marriage counterfeit on the state....

The PMA Amendment protects marriage from being undermined by marriage counterfeits, and protects against judicial activism.

Clearly, Munsil is against benefits for domestic partners. For all his rhetoric about how "the opposition" (aka Arizona Together) is lying about the amendment when we say it will end goverment benefits for domestic partners and their children, the truth is that this is very clearly the goal of the amendment. And the first poll, the one Munsil decries because it asked if people would vote for an amendment that takes away domestic partner benefits, clearly shows that Arizonans do not want to take those benefits away from people.

Which is it, Len? Is the amendment only about "protecting marriage" and not taking benefits away from domestic partners? Or do you specifically want to take domestic partner benefits away? You can't have it both ways.

Why I'm a Bad Methodist

Because I don't think pastors who are called by God to ministry and who serve their churches well should be defrocked while pastors who deny membership to people because of their sexual orientation should be retained.

I have to say I'm not surprised by the decision on Rev. Stroud. Given the stranglehold the Southeast Jurisdiction has on the denomination, the rules in the Book of Discpline about "homosexuality [being] incompatible with Christian teaching" aren't going to be changed anytime soon. It's frustrating, though, that the denomination is so uneven in its application of those rules. The Book of Discipline also says a lot of stuff against war, but I don't remember any pastors being defrocked because they supported the war in Iraq. Oh yeah, it's only the rules that support conservative positions that carry the weight of law. Silly me.

I am really disgusted, however, about the Virginia pastor who was allowed to deny membership to a gay man because of his sexual orientation.

In particular, the bishops discussed the ruling involving the Virginia church. “One thing is clear,” Drachler said on behalf of the bishops. “The Constitution and Social Principles of the United Methodist Church have not changed. Our Book of Discipline has not changed. All persons are of sacred worth. Our communion table is open to all persons who profess their belief in Jesus Christ and are seeking forgiveness for their sins. God’s love is unconditional.”

Just as long as he loves you over there, not here in my church. Ugh. This from a denomination whose marketing campaign is "Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors"? How hypocritical can we get?

Now, to be fair, I actually support an individual pastor and/or church's right to a lot of autonomy. According to the decision:

“As part of these administrative responsibilities, the pastor in charge of a United Methodist Church or charge is solely responsible for making the determination of a person’s readiness to receive the vows of membership,” the decision says. “ … The pastor-in-charge is entrusted with discretion in the exercise of this responsibility.”

Okay, I get that. What I don't get is why pastor autonomy is a good thing in this case but a bad thing in the case of, oh say, deciding which of his/her members is ready to take vows of commitment? United Methodist pastors are barred by the higher authority of the denomination from performing holy unions for same-sex couples because that's "incompatible with Christian teaching." So much for pastoral autonomy. Yet they can deny membership to sinners. Where do we draw the line? If we deny membership to all sinners, our churches are going to be awfully empty places. Raise your hand if you would qualify.

::crickets chirping::

Yeah, I thought so.

It's a sad day for my denomination.

(P.S. Just so we're clear, my church does not deny membership to people on the basis of sexual orientation. EVER.)