Monday, November 27, 2006

Religious Exhibitionism?

I found this this editorial via The Center for Arizona Policy, a group I've agreed with approximately never. So it's notable that in this case, I agree with them. (Write this down in your calendars! It might be another sign of the apocalypse...)

The Arizona Republic editorial, which CAP and I agree is ridiculous, espouses the view that faith rammed down others' throats is not a good thing.

Yet these days, people don't just want to practice their religion, they want to slap you in the face with it. They demand society's reverence for acting on personal religious convictions.

Okay, I agree with this in theory--I don't like people slapping me in the face with religion, either. But then she goes on to describe things like Muslims wearing burqas and Jews wearing yarmulkes as "religious exhibitionism." Uh, no it isn't. It's a requirement of that faith. Asking a devout Muslim woman to expose her hair would be like telling me I have to walk around topless. Do we really want to be in the business of telling people they're not allowed to dress modestly?

The writer goes on to say that people sometimes need protection from religion and cites the Warren Jeffs case. Come on. Is she really making the case that a Muslim woman covering her face infringes on my personal rights the same way someone else forcing me to marry him when I'm only 13 would? Are we really so easily offended that someone else wearing religious garb in our presence is a threat?

Yes, there are some things that religion should not force on us. It shouldn't require us to wear religious garb, for example. Tell me I'm required by law to cover my face with a burqa and I'm gonna get testy. But not allow someone to choose to do so? That's absurd. I can handle seeing a man in a yarmulke without feeling like he's shoving his Jewish faith down my throat, thankyouverymuch.

We need to be reasonable. People of faith--like everyone else--have a responsibility to be sensitive to others who don't share that faith, but we all have a responsibility to not be so oversensitive that a mere sign of a faith not our own is an affront. Let Muslims have their burqas and Jews their yarmulkes and Wiccans their pagan symbols and atheists whatever symbol of their views they want and I'll keep wearing my cross (when I get around to fixing its chain, that is). If we can't make the distinction between something I merely disagree with or don't think is necessary and an actual infringement on my personal rights, we as a society are in serious trouble.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

How do we define forgiveness?

I've been feeling sick, so I spent the evening lying in bed watching TV and saw a really interesting Law & Order episode. (Spoilers for the episode below, including how it ends.)

In L&O's usual twisted style, the crime the officers start out investigating (a fireman's death in an arson fire) is not the one that ends up in court. Through the course of the investigation, the detectives find a gun hidden in the burned building that was traced to a nine-year-old unsolved murder. Just as they're on the right track for nailing the suspect, he confesses and "throws himself on the mercy of the court."

Turns out, the guy killed his sister's black boyfriend because he didn't was his sister marrying a black man, but immediately after the murder is so wracked with guilt he almost kills himself. Instead, he finds Christ. He turns his entire life around, quits his high-paying job to work for a charity, renounces a lot of his worldly possessions. There is no doubt his repentance is genuine.

What was so interesting is that his lawyer wanted to use this to argue that his entire case should be thrown out because of it.

This really got me thinking: what does forgiveness look like? If we believe in forgiveness, if we believe God can forgive every sin, even murder, and that we are called to forgive as well, does that mean a murderer should go free if he's truly repented? Are forgiveness and punishment mutually exclusive? It makes me think of a line from the Relient K song "Be My Escape": "The beauty of grace is that it makes life unfair." God's grace is inherently unfair. We're being forgiven for everything. Wow. It boggles the mind if we truly think about it.

But should this translate into a pass on the legal system? I'm gonna go with a resounding "NO!" here. Even in a case like this where the defendant’s remorse was demonstrably genuine (it predated his getting caught by nine years), I don't think forgiveness and consequences (earthly ones, anyway) are mutually exclusive. If my daughter hits her sister, I forgive her for it, but it doesn't mean she won't be grounded.

There was another piece of this that really bothered me, and that was that his repentance was tied directly to the fact that he was a Christian. Assistant DAs Jack McCoy and Alex Borgia had the following exchange:

Alex Borgia: Forgiveness is a Christian ideal.

Jack McCoy: And if you don't believe in Christ, well, then you'll just have to serve your time?

I'm with McCoy on this one. A Jew can't be as honestly repentant and wouldn't deserve civil forgiveness for his crime? A Muslim? A Pagan? An atheist? Repentance defined on a civil level comes hand-in-hand with dedicating your life to Christ? I am so not comfortable with that.

The whole defense made me queasy. The defendant’s behavior since committing the crime should be a factor in sentencing, but in determining guilt or innocence? No. Christ didn't ask for a pass from his death sentence, and he wasn't even guilty!

While I didn't doubt the man's sincere repentance as presented in the episode, the one thing that made me really believe it was that in the end when the judge refused to throw out the case, the defendant immediately pleaded guilty. That to me said more than any of his post-conversion good deeds that he truly accepted responsibility for what he'd done. I'm curious what other Christians think, though. Should God's "unfair" grace extend to our court system?

Friday, November 24, 2006

How do we help the healing?

I’ve not really had any interest so far weighing in on Ted Haggard, but I’ve been reading and hearing some interesting viewpoints on the issue, and it got me thinking. Ellen Goodman’s recent column in particular focused on how Haggard’s story and the repulsion he has expressed with himself has really highlighted the fundamental differences between how the two sides in the debate on same-sex relationships view such circumstances:

How do we think about this repulsion? In the aftermath of his revelation, reactions were as bifurcated as our culture. Sympathy came in two varieties.

On the one hand, there were congregants, fellow ministers and letters-to-the-editor writers who heard a man wrestling with real demons. Their sympathy was for a sinner.

On the other hand, there were people who heard a man wounded by the culture of demonization. Their sympathy was for a man primed for repression and deception by the teaching of homosexuality as a sin.

This really brought home to me exactly why this issue is so divisive within the church; we’re talking people’s salvation here. I don’t mean that in the “who gets into heaven” sense—I mean the deeply rooted differences in exactly how to save people like Ted Haggard from the rock bottoms they’ve spiraled down to. To do that, you have to attack the root cause, and that’s where the differences are so deep. To conservatives, the homosexuality itself was the sin. Not the feelings, perhaps, but acting on them in any form. If that’s the case, then Ted’s climb back from rock bottom would involve therapy to help him deal with these feelings so he could learn how to not act on them. Basically, what he’s been doing all along with little success.

But what if his sexual orientation was not the problem? What if the root sin was denying who he is? What would climbing back from rock bottom look like then?

I suspect it might look a lot like D., a woman I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know while working against the Arizona marriage amendment. D. became involved in a same-sex relationship with S. in college. When her conservative Christian parents found out, they pulled her out of school and forbid any contact between her and S. She went through all the self-loathing Ted Haggard describes, trying to connect to God hoping he’d change her and even going to a church where she was assigned someone to watch over her and help her change. But instead of leading to healing, it only led into deeper and deeper depression and despair to the point where she wanted to die.

Eventually, D. and S. found each other again. D. got away from her parents’ influence and stopped trying to be something she wasn’t . She and S. rekindled their relationship and got married in San Francisco during those few days in 2004 when city hall was performing same-sex weddings.

Today, D. and S. are one of the healthiest couples I know. They’re the kind of couple you just want to be around because they’re so good together. Knowing them, I can’t reconcile the concept of the inherent sinfulness of same-sex relationships with the reality of how healing their relationship has been for D. Sin, no matter how good it feels at the time, always brings brokenness. Ted Haggard is example enough of that. But when D. admitted who she was and stopped trying to be something she wasn’t, when she and S. built a life together, she wasn’t made more broken—the brokenness finally began healing.

I know a lot of people like D. I know a lot of couples like D. and S. They make me wonder, what if Ted Haggard had decided not to struggle against his sexual orientation when he was younger? What if he hadn’t gotten married to a woman and had five kids with her? What if he had formed a healthy relationship with a man instead? Would that have kept him from the meth? Would that have kept him from visiting prostitutes? I don’t know, but I do know that’s exactly how healing happened for many other gay men and lesbians. And if the conservative church is wrong, if same-sex relationships are not inherently sinful, then the way we treat the issue, by urging people to change, to struggle against who they were meant to be and to pretend to be what they are not—that’s the root sin here. We the church are causing all this misery.

Now, I get that if the progressive church is wrong then being lenient on sin could contribute to it. I certainly used to think that way myself, but the evidence I saw in the real lives of the people I’ve met just didn’t bear that out. If there’s even one D. and S, even one couple whose same-sex relationship has been a source of healing, isn’t it incumbent upon us to consider whether or not it’s our interpretation of the Bible that’s wrong? If there’s reasonable doubt, shouldn’t we look for the solution that best allows people their own relationship with God and their own path to healing?

What if there were a third way to deal with this issue, a way that didn’t rely on us being right? When Jesus was asked what to do with the woman caught in adultery he saved her from the scorn of others by pointing out that everyone is a sinner. And when he told her “go and sin no more,” he didn’t define the sin for her or hound her into accepting his definition of sin. He let the grace of his salvation work on her heart in its own way. Did she stop sinning? I’m sure she didn’t, because no one has successfully cut sin completely out of their lives. She may have stopped committing the specific sin of adultery, but we don’t know one way or another because it’s irrelevant to the story. All we do know is that she received Christ’s grace anyway. Wouldn’t this be the best model for the church to follow in how we treat GLBT people? If we were to make it our goal to get in the way of the people throwing rocks and let that grace work on the would-be targets, then it wouldn’t matter how we define sin. We’d be opening the door for God to work on people’s hearts without our interference.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

And now for something completely different

It just occurred to me that I might a "bad Methodist" for something other than gay issues: my views on baptism. In the United Methodist church, we practice infant baptism. I can't say I'm exactly against it; it doesn't particularly bother me that we baptize babies. But for me, baptism is a symbol of a commitment an individual makes to God, not a symbol of a commitment an individual's parent makes on his or her behalf.

I get this from my father. My dad was a Baptist and my mother was a Catholic and they got married (after breaking up like five times for "religious differences") in a Baptist church back in the day when Catholics were excommunicated if they were married by anyone other than a Catholic priest and "good Catholics" were supposed to shun weddings that involved a Catholic being married by anyone other than a Catholic priest. My mother was, in fact, excommunicated and my father's best friend and several of my mother's cousins refused to attend their wedding because of this. My grandmother, to her credit, not only risked her standing in the church by attending, but actively encouraged my mother to try out my dad's church and see what she thought before breaking up with him for good.

When my parents decided to get married in a Baptist church, my mother was forced to be re-baptized. This bothers me a lot. Whatever I might think about infant baptism, it still is a baptism. She didn't need a second one, particularly one by immersion when she has a water phobia. Far from being the spiritual sacrament baptism should be, it was a traumatic experience, and an infuriating one because they were basically invalidating the baptism she'd already had, which meant something to her.

But my father, good Baptist that he was, didn't believe in infant baptisms and my mother took her promise to raise us kids as Protestants very seriously, so my brothers and I were not baptized when we were babies. The Baptist church didn't really work out for my parents, so they started going to a United Methodist church when I was a young child. It was a nice happy medium--Protestant enough for my father and liturgical enough for my mother. This is probably a major reason I ended up in the Methodist Church myself; it just feels like home.

When I was 19 I was baptized, also in a United Methodist church. It was a private ceremony with my family and closest friends. If I had to do it over, I'd do it in a regular church service, but I was in college and easily embarrassed and I felt funny about being baptized as an adult in a church that normally baptizes babies. My brothers were also baptized in college or later, although neither of them goes to a Methodist church. (My parents don't anymore, either.)

When my kids were born, I remembered how special my baptism was, and I wanted to leave that option open to my children to choose (or not) when they were ready. Our pastor at the time was very flexible and was willing to do the parts of a baptism ceremony that didn't involve the actual baptism so that my husband and I could stand before the church and promise to raise our children in that Christian community, but without it being an actual baptism. (For what it's worth, my husband was raised Catholic and was baptized as a baby, but he didn't have a strong opinion either way and let me make the call.)

The reason I'm reminded of all of this is recently there was a baptism in our church during a Community Sunday service when the kids were in worship with us rather than in Sunday school, so my daughter C. (age 8 going on 30) asked about baptism. I explained to her what it was and that she and her brother and sister were not baptized as infants and why I chose not to do that. She thought about it a while and then told me she wants to be baptized. I spoke with our pastor about it and he's going to talk with her on Sunday, but barring anything really weird coming up, she will probably be baptized sometime this month or early next month.

Even though she's a few weeks short of 9 years old, I feel confident she knows what she's doing. She's a very deep thinker (asked me for the full theological significance of Christ's crucifixion when she was all of 4) so when she says she wants to make a promise to God, I believe her, and I'm really proud of her for thinking it through on her own and making the decision for herself.

I also want to say how proud I am of my other kids, my daughter A. in particular. One of the sticky parts of raising triplets is letting them be individuals with their own pace of growing. There's an expectation that they'll reach all the big milestones at the same time, so it occurred to me that baptizing one child and not the other two could be kind of tricky. If one kid wants something the others aren't ready for, we can't fall back on the excuse, "She's older, that's why!" and it is very difficult for them to not compare themselves to each other. C. tends to be naturally good in school, while A. is a more natural athlete. A. will berate herself if she can't read as well as C. even though they're both above grade level, while C. will get frustrated if her dribbling in basketball isn't as good as A.'s even though her persistence makes up for it. So my first fear was that as soon as C. announced she wanted to be baptized, A. would want to as well just to make sure she wasn't "behind."

While we were discussing this, however, A. looked me in the eye and said, "Mom, I don't want to be baptized," and I am so proud of her for taking it seriously enough to know she's not ready yet. When I told C. that her grandparents would be coming and maybe some of her other relatives, I made sure to reiterate to A. that I was proud of her for knowing her own mind and that when and if she wants to be baptized, we'll make just as big a deal out of it for her. (My son, who borders on autistic, tends to focus only on his interest-du-jour and has taken no interest one way or another in the whole subject, so I'm not worried about him feeling left out.)

I'm glad I didn't baptize them when they were infants. I'm enjoying watching C. process what her faith means to her as she makes this decision and I look forward to the other kids going through their own processes when they're ready. And I'm grateful that I go to a church that allows a lot of leeway for me to have a different take than church doctrine. "Bad" Methodist or not, I find myself really appreciating the UM church and its capacity to embrace differences in our individual journeys with Christ.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Election Roundup

Last night, Arizona made history. We became the first state where voters defeated an amendment to the state constitution that would ban same-sex marriage and all forms of domestic partnerships. HISTORY, baby. And I got to be a part of it.

The Arizona Daily Star just called Prop 107 defeated. Like an hour ago. That's how close it is. (The print version still had it a toss-up.) CNN still has it undecided with 99% reporting. USA Today is also calling it defeated. Other sources are hours behind updating. The Arizona Secretary of State site is calling it done (100% reporting).

Jim Kolbe, moderate Republican congressman who is retiring this year (and is one of the few remaining politicians I still respect), was at our No on 107 party. I shook his hand and introduced myself as "the other Republican in the room." ;) In a show of putting principles before politics, he refused to endorse the extremist Republican candidate for his seat. Before coming to our party, he'd been at the party for Gabrielle Giffords, the Democrat candidate for his seat. She won, which makes her part of the Democrats taking seats from Republicans.

Speaking of that, as a Republican, I couldn't be more thrilled. Our party has been going in an ugly, scary direction since 9/11 (2001) and it was due a comeuppance. Here's hoping this will wake up the GOP and bring some sense and restraint back. When we can stop being about bashing gays and the so-called "Patriot Act" and being soft on torture and go back to being about less government and fiscal responsibility, then maybe I'll start voting Republican again. So congrats, Democrats. You deserved this one.

Back to Arizona, our Demorcat Governor won in a landslide, embarrassing her ultra-conservative opponent, Len Munsil. Munsil is the former president of The Center for Arizona Policy, the main organization behind the marriage amendment. I voted for Gov. Napolitano four years ago for the same reason I voted for her again: she's a voice of reason running against an extremist. When will GOP voters realize the extreme candidates can't beat the Democrats in the general election???? Hopefully this year will teach them that lesson.

On the downside of what was largely a very good night for our nation and for Arizona, I can't say I'm not completely proud of my state today. Three really ugly anti-immigration measures plus "Official English" passed by a wide margin. I'm really saddened by this. Yes, I get the illegal part of "illegal immigration," but I don't think immigrants, legal or illegal, should be automatically denied bail (Prop 100), should have less rights to damages in a lawsuit (Prop 102), or that their children who have lived here their whole lives should be denied in-state tuition (Prop 300). I'm really disappointed in our state for passing all three of these, plus Official English.

Despite that black mark on an otherwise stellar evening, Arizona made history by being the first state where VOTERS defeated a marriage amendment. And I got to be a part of that history. For that, I will be forever grateful and for that, I thank my fabulous state.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Two conservatives weigh Prop 107

We all know why I'm voting against 107, but I've argued from the beginning that believing homosexuality is a sin and marriage should only be for one man and one woman is not mutually exclusive from voting NO on this badly-worded amendment. Here is an excellent post from a conservative pastor (my brother's pastor, actually) who has not yet decided how to vote, but is wary of Prop 107. The comment from Unintentional Blogger is another good argument against 107 from a theologically conservative point of view.