Changing Our Narrative

 by Rev. Fred L Hammond 7 October 2012 ©

Last spring I delivered a sermon on the Doctrine of Discovery, a 550 year plus old document that set in motion the underlying narrative of the United States of America.  I talked about this doctrine then because our Unitarian Universalist Association was submitting a resolution to our Justice General Assembly in Phoenix to renounce this Doctrine of Discovery and request that all laws that reflect this papal decree be removed from our governing bodies. The resolution passed with an overwhelming majority of those congregational delegates present.

The story of this country is cast with this doctrine as a preamble to our history and the majority of our country’s actions have the spirit of this doctrine imbedded within them.  To remind us what the Doctrine of Discovery states, let me quote again Pope Nicholas V who in 1452 wrote:

” We grant to you (King of Portugal)  full and free power, through the Apostolic authority by this edict, to invade, conquer, fight, subjugate the Saracens (Muslims) and pagans, and other infidels and other enemies of Christ, and wherever established their Kingdoms, Duchies, Royal Palaces, Principalities and other dominions, lands, places, estates, camps and any other possessions, mobile and immobile goods found in all these places and held in whatever name, and held and possessed by the same […]and to lead their persons in perpetual servitude. [i]

Pope Nicholas V wrote another edict to protect Portugal from other Christian nations laying claim to lands already claimed by Portugal.  And in 1493, Pope Alexander XI expanded this edict to allow other Christian nations to also lay claim to lands not already claimed by Portugal and gave Christopher Columbus the right to lay claim to the lands he set foot on for Spain.

So the historical narrative of the United States essentially begins in 1492.  We know the poem entitled The History of the U.S[ii]. written in 1919, which begins with the stanza:

In fourteen hundred ninety-two,
Columbus sailed the ocean blue
And found this land, land of the Free,
Beloved by you, beloved by me.

It implies that prior to 1492 this land was uninhabited, unknown to anyone, per se.  Columbus found it and introduced to this land European civility—or so we were taught in school.  Yet, there were people already here with a culture that was long established.  Howard Zinn[iii] writes in A People’s History of the United States: 1492 to Present   “These Arawaks of the Bahama Islands were much like Indians on the mainland, who were remarkable (European observers were to say again and again) for their hospitality, their belief in sharing. These traits did not stand out in the Europe of the Renaissance, dominated as it was by the religion of popes, the government of kings, the frenzy for money that marked Western civilization and its first messenger to the Americas, Christopher Columbus.”

Another poem entitled In 1492 by Jean Marzollo first published in 1948 about Christopher Columbus contain these closing stanzas

The Arakawa natives were very nice;
They gave the sailors food and spice.

Columbus sailed on to find some gold
To bring back home, as he’d been told.

He made the trip again and again,
Trading gold to bring to Spain.

The first American?  No, not quite.
But Columbus was brave, and he was bright.

This isn’t exactly what happened after Columbus landed in the Caribbean but it is what we teach our children.  Some histories will make mention that the encounter of Columbus and his crew with the native peoples of the island went according to Columbus’ plan of enslavement and genocide but this mention is equivalent to a footnote.  While these histories do not deny the atrocities they do not make it central to Columbus’ mission. Columbus wrote the following to Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand[iv],

I took by force six of the Indians from the first island, and intend to carry them to Spain in order to learn our language and return, unless your Highnesses should choose instead to have them all transported to Spain, or held captive on the island. These people are very simple in matters of war… I could conquer the whole of them with fifty men, and govern them as I pleased… They are very clever and honest, display great liberality, and will give whatever they possess for a trifle or for nothing at all… Whether there exists any such thing as private property among them I have not been able to ascertain… As they appear to have no religion, I believe they would very readily become Christians… They would make good servants… They are fit to be ordered about and made to work, to sow, and do aught else that may be needed, …

To sum up the great profits of this voyage, I am able to promise, for a trifling assistance from your Majesties, any quantity of gold, drugs, cotton, mastic, aloe, and as many slaves for maritime service as your Majesties may stand in need of.”

In the short time after Columbus’ arrival the population of what is now known as Haiti, Dominican Republic, and Cuba was reduced from 3 million to 60,000.  The people of these islands died; some to European diseases like small pox and others through genocidal killing and suicide for not being able to secure the gold amounts desired.

Howard Zinn in his text writes[v], To emphasize the heroism of Columbus and his successors as navigators and discoverers, and to deemphasize their genocide, is not a technical necessity but an ideological choice. It serves—unwittingly—to justify what was done.”

And this has been our stance in the Americas ever since. We called it by many names; Doctrine of Discovery, Manifest Destiny, the Monroe Doctrine, and today American Exceptionalism. It is a part of our narrative that covers up or hides many sins that we have committed as a nation.  And it is this narrative that we teach our children in schools.  America is best.  America is the greatest.  America is the home of the brave and land of the free.  America can do wrong in its eyes.

Of course the question arises, who is this America.  From the earliest days of this republic it was white men who were America. This is a White supremacist narrative that is presented to the world.

Congress in 1790 enacted this law:  All free white persons who have, or shall migrate into the United States, and shall give satisfactory proof, before a magistrate, by oath, that they intend to reside therein, and shall take an oath of allegiance, and shall have resided in the United States for one whole year, shall be entitled to all the rights of citizenship.[vi]

Now in 1790 all the rights of citizenship only pertained to white men who owned property, white women were not granted all the rights of citizenship. And in many states Jews and Catholics were also not granted all the rights of citizenship.  The definition of who was white in America was narrowly determined. Benjamin Franklin gives a definition of whiteness in 1751:  “[vii]That the Number of purely   white People in the World is proportionably very small. All Africa is   black or tawny. Asia chiefly tawny. America (exclusive of the new Comers) wholly so. And in Europe, the Spaniards, Italians,   French, Russians and Swedes, are generally of what we call   a swarthy Complexion; as are the Germans also, the Saxons only   excepted, who with the English, make the principal Body of White People   on the Face of the Earth. I could wish their Numbers were increased.”

Today there are texts written entitled How Jews became White Folks and How the Irish became White.  Our narrative as a nation was told from the perspective of Whites as the only sanctioned narrative.  To go against this narrative is considered sedition. That is a strong statement but it is a true statement nonetheless.

Especially if you listen to some of the conservative voices in this country going against the narrative is indeed seditious.  The narrative of America as told is being destroyed by having a Black president.  Te-Nehisi Coates[viii] in his article in Atlantic Monthly proposes that the furor over whether Obama has an American Birth Certificate or proclaiming him to be a Muslim is a means to maintain the white narrative of America.  If Obama is not an American or is a Muslim then he is not really the president of the USA and the white narrative of America is preserved.  There is a photo going around FaceBook of a poster at a Koch Brothers sponsored protest against Occupy New York that reads, “I’m dreaming of a White President just like the ones we use to have…”

Preserve the narrative of America at all costs.  Obey our laws, obey our cultural norms.  Do not disrupt the 550 plus years of white narrative that declares whites as superior over all others.   In 1635[ix], a native person allegedly killed an Englishman in Maryland. The English demanded the native be handed over to them for punishment under English law.  The chief answered how they would handle the native and refused, saying “you are here strangers, and come into our country, you should rather conform yourselves to the customs of our country, than impose yours upon us.”   But to do that would have made the doctrine of discovery invalid.  It would have changed the narrative of supremacy.

Arizona HB2281 which was signed into law and into effect December 2011 banned the teaching of ethnic studies in Arizona schools.  The ethnic studies specifically banned were Latino ethnic studies.  This law states that “School[s] in this state shall not include in its program of instruction any courses or classes that include any of the following:

  1. 1.    Promote the overthrow of the United States Government.
  2. 2.    Promote resentment toward a race or class of people
  3. 3.    Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.
  4. Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.”

At the heart of this ban is a course of studies that were taught at the public schools in Tucson, AZ. Tucson is a community of about 47% Anglo, 42% Latino and the remaining 11% being Black, Native American, or Asian.  In the public school district the demographics change because many whites attend private or charter schools making Latinos to account for 62% of the student population.

The Mexican American Studies program was considered seditious because it taught the history of the indigenous people of the America’s from the perspective of the indigenous people.  History of the indigenous people did not begin in Europe with the Greco and Roman empires but rather with the Aztec’s and Mayan’s.  Columbus’ arrival was not the heroic event that unfurled the ability of Europeans seeking to breathe free but rather as the beginning of an invasion that destroyed civilizations and enslaved and ransacked human and natural resources. It placed the context of the land of Arizona in its thousands of year old histories of a proud people who lived in this land and had its resources taken away from them, first by the Mexican government and then by the United States government. The bumper sticker of the immigrant rights movement, ‘we didn’t cross the border the border crossed us’ is not just a sound bite it is an historic fact of a people living in the southwest.

Theirs is a narrative that highlighted the values of community that holds itself together. The sharing and generosity that Columbus found in the Taino tribe of the Arawak people is not seen as a weakness but as a strength of their heritage.    Yet, it is this ethnic solidarity in a community value that was made illegal by the Arizona law in favor of the strident American individualism. American individualism where the pursuit of capital gain is not to uplift the society but only to increase the privilege and power of the one receiving the gain.  This is not the society that neither Columbus nor any of the Europeans encountered when they arrived on these shores.  Europeans encountered the culture of Iroquois Chief Hiawatha, who said, [x]We bind ourselves together by taking hold of each other’s hands so firmly and forming a circle so strong that if a tree should fall upon it, it could not shake nor break it, so that our people and grandchildren shall remain in the circle in security, peace and happiness.” A Jesuit priest who encountered the Iroquois wrote, [xi]No poorhouses are needed among them, because they are neither mendicants nor paupers… their kindness, humanity and courtesy not only makes them liberal with what they have, but causes them to possess hardly anything except in common…”

And while I am not so naïve to think that the native cultures of the America’s was idyllic, these are narratives that need to be incorporated into the American narrative as a whole in order to sort out and sift the wheat from the chaff.  There are aspects of cultures found right here in these lands that could aid in the redemption of the American narrative that has spawned centuries of white supremacy and violent racism against others.

The Mexican American Studies program was one of those programs that sought American redemption through the telling of a history from the perspective of the native people’s point of view.  These students have the potential to contribute to our society if they are given the tools to understand where they fit in the narrative of this country.  They get to begin to rewrite that narrative to include their achievements, their cultural contributions.

The high school drop out rate of Latino’s nationally hovers around 56%.  The Tucson school district after implementing their Mexican American Studies program found the drop out rate decrease to 2.5% in the school district. Tucson students who attended this program did better in state exams as compared to their peers in other schools.  The students found that they found a reason why education was important for them to pursue. They discovered that education was relevant to their life experiences.

Clergy in Tucson[xii] wrote a letter in support of the Mexican American Studies program.  They wrote:

“As people of faith, we recognize how important our history and stories are to us. Scriptures are nothing more than the passed down stories of people who wanted their children and their children’s children to remember the ways in which God had moved within their lives and in the course of human history to bring forth freedom from slavery, forgiveness from retribution, love from hate, and grace from sin. The history of the people of faith within sacred scripture has never been the dominant history; our history is not the history of Egypt but the history of the Hebrew slaves, not the history of Babylon but the history of those carried away into captivity, not the history of Herod but the history of a refugee family who had to flee to Egypt, not the history of Rome but the history of a peasant named Jesus and his followers.” The same is true of the Mexican American Studies program; it is a history of a conquered people, the indigenous people of these lands.

Howard Zinn recalls a statement he once read that stated, [xiii]The cry of the poor is not always just, but if you don’t listen to it, you will never know what justice is.”

Yes, the story the Mexican American Studies program tells is counter to the narrative of this nation but it’s aim is not to raise up people with seditious acts but rather to honor the lives of those lost.  To glean from their stories the richness of their lives and the lessons their lives still have to offer us.

It may come as a bit of surprise to folks that tomorrow has two names as the holiday.  It is Columbus Day, a day in which Alabama anyway, seeks to honor those of Italian heritage. It is also American Indian Heritage Day, a day to honor the contributions of the native peoples from these lands.  It may seem odd that Alabama is only one of a few states and municipalities that honor the native people of this land officially. I hope Alabama gets why honoring Native Americans tomorrow is so important in our country.

This state also continues to honor Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and Confederate Memorial Day.  And I think I now get why it is important for Alabama to honor and remember these people from a painful time in our nation’s history when ideologies clashed so brutally.

In order to fully live up to our potential as a people we need to understand our story as a nation. We need to change our narrative to include the fullness of our story; the good, bad, and ugly truths of our story.  It would be easy and it has been easy for parts of our history to fade away because they are too shameful, to painful to face.  We have done this in America.  We have tried to forget the Japanese Interment camps during World War Two. We have tried to forget the turmoil and unrest of the Civil Rights era.  We have tried to forget the brutal murders of sexual minorities like Matthew Shepard and the thousands who commit suicide because their sexual orientation is not viewed acceptable by society. And I am sure there are some of us who would prefer that the Undocumented remain in the shadows of America.

But if this country is to live up to its most sacred creed, then we must do its work to undo white supremacy and white privilege where ever it is established. It does not serve us well, it never ever did.

[i] http://unamsanctamcatholicam.blogspot.com/2011/02/dum-diversas-english-translation.html

[ii] http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2274/where-does-that-1492-ocean-blue-thing-about-columbus-come-from  Poem written by Winifred Sackville Stoner, Jr.

[iii] A People’s History of the United States: 1492 to Present (Howard Zinn)- Highlight Loc. 72-75  | Added on Wednesday, October 03, 2012, 04:41 PM

[iv] http://red-coral.net/Columb.html  from the poem Columbus in the Bay of Pigs by John Curl

[v] A People’s History of the United States: 1492 to Present (Howard Zinn)- Highlight Loc. 214-16  | Added on Friday, October 05, 2012, 01:02 PM

[vi] As found in the article “Fear of a Black President” by Ta-Nehisi Coates http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/09/fear-of-a-black-president/309064/?single_page=true

[vii] http://www.dialoginternational.com/dialog_international/2008/02/ben-franklin-on.html

[viii] “Fear of a Black President” by Ta-Nehisi Coates http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/09/fear-of-a-black-president/309064/?single_page=true

[ix] A People’s History of the United States: 1492 to Present (Howard Zinn) – Highlight Loc. 456-60  | Added on Friday, October 05, 2012, 01:39 PM

[x] A People’s History of the United States: 1492 to Present (Howard Zinn)-Highlight Loc 426-31

[xi] A People’s History of the United States: 1492 to Present (Howard Zinn)-Highlight Loc 431-35

[xii] http://www.tucsonweekly.com/TheRange/archives/2011/06/21/faith-leaders-ethnic-studies-program-is-a-valuable-educational-program

[xiii] A People’s History of the United States: 1492 to Present (Howard Zinn)- Highlight Loc. 252-53  | Added on Friday, October 05, 2012, 01:09 PM

I Thee Wed: The Battle for Equal Marriage Rights

I Thee Wed:  The Battle for Equal Marriage Rights
Rev. Fred L Hammond
7 June 2009 ©
Our Home Universalist Unitarian Church
14 June 2009 ©
Unitarian Universalist Congregation Tuscaloosa

Reading    From “The Irrational Season” by Madeleine L’Engle

Ultimately, there comes a time when a decision must be made.  Ultimately two people who love each other must ask themselves how much they hope for as their love grows and deepens, and how much risk they are willing to take. It is indeed a fearful gamble.  Because it is the nature of love to create, a marriage itself is something which has to be created.  To marry is the biggest risk in human relations that a person can take.  If we commit ourselves to one person for life, that is not, as many people think, a rejection of freedom; rather it demands courage to move into all the risks of freedom, and the risk of love which is permanent; into that love which is not possession, but participation.  It takes a lifetime to learn another person.  When love is not possession, but participation, then it is part of that co-creation which is our human calling.

I recently officiated at two weddings.  Both couples wanted a service that would reflect their theology and not the theology of their home congregation.  One couple was not comfortable with the notion of God and therefore wanted a service that would limit the presence of God in their service.  The other couple did not want a Christian service but rather one that embraced a God that would appeal to all people.   I was happy to do whatever service they wanted.  It was after all their wedding day and it needed to be meaningful to them as the couple began their lives as one. 

I was therefore a bit surprised when the couples insisted on some very traditional language.  The first wanted the ring ceremony to include the phrase, “with this ring I thee wed.”   It rarely is used any longer.  All of the wedding scripts I have seen in the recent years do not include this phrase.    The bride told me since she was a little girl, it was this phrase that stuck with her as being the pivotal moment in the wedding.  So yes, we included it. 

The second couple inserted this line, “If any of you can show just cause why they may not lawfully be married, speak now; or else forever hold your peace.”  Again, a line that rarely appears any longer in wedding services except for those TV dramas but for this couple, if there was any doubt they were not to be married, this line would ensure that would be erased.  

I was fascinated by what each couple needed to have in their wedding ceremony in order for their marriage to be a real marriage.   The dreams held since youth of being married are romanticized.  I think we all have fantasized at some point what our wedding would be like when we found that certain someone to cherish and hold all the days of our lives.  We each have idealized what would constitute the perfect wedding ceremony for us. 

Parents also fantasize about their children’s weddings.  Fathers’ walking their daughter down the aisle is a rite of passage as much for the father as it is for the daughter.  It is an important moment—a vital moment in the life of the family, in the order of things. 

This is how when we were children were told it would be. We would grow up and marry, have kids of our own, raise them, and then walk them down the aisle to marry another… and the cycle continues. 

 If I had sound effects for this sermon this is where the needle would scratch across the recording in a loud halting stop. 

We all like the notion of having a traditional wedding ceremony.  Regardless of religious connotations, the wedding ceremony is a tradition that is held in honor.   It wasn’t always a tradition.  In fact, marriages were not always just between one man and one woman.  Former President Bush is quoted as saying, “Marriage is the most fundamental institution of civilization.”[1]   I wonder what type of marriage and which civilization he was referring to here. 

The earliest records of marriage include those in the Hebrew Scriptures.  See if you recognize these as traditional marriages:  Abraham marries his half sister Sarah. (Genesis 20:11-13).  Isaac marries Rebekah, his first cousin. (Genesis 24:14-16)   Jacob married his cousins, first Leah and then her sister Rachel and then takes Rachel’s maidservant Bilhah as a wife, and then Leah’s maidservant Zilpah as a wife.  (Genesis 29)   Ashhur had two wives, Helah and Naarah. (1 Chronicles 4) King Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines. 

These forms of marriages are considered taboo in today’s society.  We are not to marry our siblings or our first cousins, this is considered incest.  We are not to have more than one wife, this is considered polygamy.   

Marriage is an evolving institution.  How one marries has changed as much as who one marries.  In the marriages described in Hebrew history, one of two things happened.  The man looking for a wife asked the father for the bride or the father looking for a husband for his daughter, offered her hand in marriage.   The woman had little say in the matter because the woman was considered property and property could be bartered.  In the case of Jacob, he bartered for the hand of Rachel by working for her father seven years and when the seven years was up the father gave him Leah instead and then had Jacob work another seven years for Rachel’s hand. 

The line my couple wanted in their service: “If any of you can show just cause why they may not lawfully be married, speak now; or else forever hold your peace.”  This line was to make sure there were no marriage impediments preventing the marriage in the eyes of the church.   One such impediment in the mid-15 century might have been being related to each other to the 6th degree.[2]  Since the belief that the two would be made one, a person marrying into a family would prevent anyone else from marrying into that family as well.   Divorce was not permitted so the only way to get out of a marriage was to then prove that there was an unknown or overlooked marriage impediment to then have the marriage annulled.   How many of you know your 5th and 6th cousin?  Or know that your 4th cousin married your partner’s 3rd cousin thereby preventing you and your partner to marry?

How is marriage defined in this country?  In the 1690’s love between spouses was discouraged because it was thought it would weaken the man’s authority over the woman[3].   Most marriages were declared by the couple declaring it so; churches and government were not involved.  This form of common-law marriages[4] is still recognized in eleven states. Many states removed common-law marriages from being recognized in the 1970’s[5].

Prior to Queen Victoria, women were often considered the lustier sex.  Queen Victoria’s elevation of chastity[6] changed the perception of women to be seen as chaste and pure in and out of the marriage.  Prostitution increased as a result.   Also prior to Queen Victoria, it was customary for the newly weds to do a bridal tour, visiting relatives that were unable to attend the wedding.  By the mid-19th century, the honeymoon began to replace this traditional event but it was still not what we consider to be honeymoons today.  The bride brought her girlfriends with her[7]

In the mid- 1800’s there were experiments[8] in how one defined marriage.  The Oneida Community in upstate New York had what they called group marriage.  Each person was married to each other adult in the group.  The community would decide by matching characteristics which male and female would procreate.  The Mormons allowed polygamy within their religious circle.  When Utah applied to become a state of the union, the only way it would be admitted was if the state would outlaw polygamy.   It did so. 

Before the Civil War, slaves[9] were not allowed to marry as they were seen as property.  Ceremonies might have occurred between partners but they were not honored by the slave owners.  Inter-racial marriages were banned in 16 states until Loving v Virginia decision of the US Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional in 1967[10].   In the early 1900’s, there was a national law stating that if a woman married an Asian;  even a US born Asian, she would lose her citizenship[11].  This ban was also lifted in 1967. 

The law now recognizes the marriage partnership is made up of equals. Previously the law stated that the male was the legal head of household or rightful owner of property.  

So when people state that marriage has always been a certain way, they are speaking from ignorance because marriage is evolving.  Marriage today isn’t even what marriage was 50 years ago.  So the request of gays and lesbians to have marriage rights is not without historical precedent.

According to John Boswell, church historian, the relationship of David and Jonathan in the Hebrew Scriptures was a marriage.   Boswell writes, “ [A]ccording to 1 Samuel 18:1, ‘it came to pass… the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.’ The two made a ‘covenant’ together—the text employs the word used for a marriage covenant elsewhere in Hebrew Scripture –and David and Jonathan lived together in Saul’s house, even though Jonathan had children. David was still unmarried.  He later took Jonathan’s surviving heir into his household to eat at his table, which he did ‘for Jonathan’s sake’.  After Jonathan was killed, David lamented publicly, ‘I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan: very pleasant hast thou been unto me: thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of a woman.’ ( p 137 Same Sex Unions in Premodern Europe)

 It seems that David and Jonathan had a covenanted relationship that was akin to a marriage.  David cared for Jonathan’s children after Jonathan was killed.  Much like a spouse would do for his or her partner’s children even if there was a previous partner involved.

Currently six states have same sex marriage.  One state has civil unions and three states have domestic partnerships.  Three additional states recognize same sex marriages performed in other states but do not offer same sex marriages to their citizens.   

In the Defense of Marriage Act brief (aka DOMA) released on the 42nd anniversary of Loving v Virginia, which by the way, made the marriage of President Obama’s parents legal in every state, the federal government is claiming neutrality on the issue of state sovereignty regarding same gender marriage.  The federal government is not a neutral party. 

One of the rights afforded to heterosexual couples is the right to grant citizenship to the foreign partner through marriage.  No state, not even the six states that currently grant same sex marriage rights can offer this right.  Only the federal government can grant citizenship. The federal government cannot be neutral when it has a vested interest in this matter.  And I haven’t even mentioned the other 1,048 rights and benefits the federal government bestows on heterosexual marriages. 

But neutrality over state sovereignty is not the half of what this particular DOMA brief claims.   This brief dares to argue that laws prohibiting same sex marriage are as valid as laws prohibiting incest and pedastry.  It further states that comparing same sex marriage rights to arguments presented by Loving v Virginia are invalid.

In my blog I wrote,  “Loving V Virginia declared the laws prohibiting inter-racial marriages as unconstitutional and “designed to maintain White Supremacy.”  In referring to the Loving V Virginia case, the Obama Administration argues that with DOMA there is  ‘No comparable purpose is present here, however, for DOMA does not seek in any way to advance the ’supremacy’ of men over women, or women over men. Thus DOMA cannot be ‘traced to a … purpose’ to discriminate against either men or women.  In upholding the traditional definition of a marriage, numerous courts have rejected an alleged analogy to Loving.’

Sexual orientation is not a recognized suspect class needing protection.  If it were then the analogy would be clearer to the courts, because what DOMA does is assert heterosexual supremacy over homosexuality.  DOMA places the heterosexual orientation above all other orientations of sexuality as supreme and therefore entitled to rights and privileges.[12]

President Obama, when he was a candidate for office, in addition to vowing to repeal DOMA, advanced an argument to offer civil unions to gays and lesbians while maintaining marriage as between one man and one woman.   Let’s look at this argument a bit further.  Why would it be important to offer civil unions to gay and lesbian couples?  It will allow for hospital visiting rights of the partner when one of them is ill or dying.  It will place inheritance rights to the partner above the deceased’s immediate family. 

This last one is important.  I remember a couple that lived together for over 20 years and one of them was dying with AIDS.  The couple had built a life together.  They were not able to have joint property rights because they were not married so the house was in the partner’s name.  The partner who was dying did leave a will in which he left everything to his partner.  The will was contested and the family won as being the closest blood relative.  And when the partner died, the family swooped in; removed the body to be buried in their home state, removed items from the house and had the partner evicted and eventually sold the house.  Everything they had built together was taken from them.  A family that had no contact with their son since he came out of the closet had legal claim to everything he had built with his partner.   Yes, a civil union might have prevented this from happening if the state where the family was from also recognized civil unions. 

Civil unions and domestic partnerships are about death and illness protection.   Marriage is about life.  Marriage is about the building of a life together.  Yes there are similar protections in a marriage.   But marriage also has federal benefits; 1,049 benefits.   Yes many of these have to do with death and illness but they also include; joint parenting, joint adoption, joint custody rights,  immigration and residency for partners from other countries, veterans’ discounts on medical care, education, and home loans; joint filing of tax returns, and many, many more.   These are about building a life together. 

There is the fear that by allowing gays and lesbians to marry that it would somehow force conservative religious entities to performing marriages against their doctrinal beliefs.  This is such a palpable fear that Governor Lynch of New Hampshire stated he would not sign any same sex marriage legislation unless there was a provision stating that religious groups would not be forced to perform same sex weddings.     I can assure you as a minister, I am free to refuse to marry anyone that I want for whatever reason.  I am not under any obligation to marry anyone regardless of who they are.  I did a wedding last year for a couple whose minister refused to marry them because minister’s belief required him to only marry born again Christians.   That right is within the minister’s or priest’s jurisdiction.  It is a fear that is found-less and completely false. 

There is a fear that somehow by allowing same sex marriages it would diminish or invalidate opposite marriages.  The Roman Catholic Church believes that it diminishes the true purpose of marriage which according to their church teaching is procreation[13].  The difficulty I have with this doctrine is that the Roman Catholic Church does not refuse to marry couples who are past their child bearing age or couples where the woman had medically life saving surgery that resulted in an inability to have children.  If procreation was the sole purpose of marriage then these other couples should not be allowed to marry because the purpose can no longer be fulfilled. 

 There is, I believe a higher purpose for couples to marry than procreation.   In Christian theology, marriage is often seen as being symbolic of the love god has for humanity.  The devotion that the couple is to show each other is similar to the devotion that god would show them.  

There are many examples in the Abrahamic Scriptures of God making covenants with his people.  David Myers and Letha Scanzoni point out in their book[14], What God Has Joined Together? “that the Hebrew prophet Hosea has God liken his covenant with Israel to a betrothal: “I will betroth you to me for ever. … I will betroth you to me in faithfulness” (Hos. 2:19-20).

“Perhaps,” Myers and Scanzoni write, “rather than thinking in terms of gender, we might instead consider the characteristics of that covenant …. justice, fairness, love, kindness, faithfulness and a revelation of God’s personhood. … If these characteristics define an ideal marriage, might two homosexual persons likewise form such a union? … If we can think in those terms, might we … accept these (same sex) covenantal relationships as indeed a joining of two persons by God?” 

To join together in a covenanted relationship to emulate these characteristics of justice, fairness, love, faithfulness, isn’t this a modeling of behaviors that is needed to be seen in this world?  

Isn’t it these values that the two couples had to have in their wedding in order for it to be a real marriage ceremony?  The words are different, but listen for these values in the vows the couples made to each other: “To have and to hold, From this day forward, For better, for worse, For richer, for poorer, In sickness and in health, In sorrow or in joy, To love and to cherish As long as we both shall live.”

Why would anyone want to prevent that kind of commitment to love from being made?   Why indeed.  
 


[1] As found on the internet at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/11442710/  on  5 June 2009

[2] as found at  http://www2.hu-berlin.de/sexology/ATLAS_EN/html/history_of_marriage_in_western.html

[3] as found at  http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/pto-20050506-000006.html

[4] as found at  http://www2.hu-berlin.de/sexology/ATLAS_EN/html/history_of_marriage_in_western.html

[5] as found at http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=20040329&slug=marriagehistory29m

 [6] as found at  http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/pto-20050506-000006.html

[7] IBID

[8] as found at  http://www2.hu-berlin.de/sexology/ATLAS_EN/html/history_of_marriage_in_western.html

[9] as found at http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=20040329&slug=marriagehistory29m

[10] as found at http://www.ameasite.org/loving.asp

[11] as found at http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=20040329&slug=marriagehistory29m

[12] Fred L Hammond, Heterosexual Supremacy essay at Unitarian Universalist in the South as found at http://www.serenityhome.wordpress.com

[13] The Threat of Same Sex Marriage as found at http://www.americamagazine.org/content/article.cfm?article_id=3627

[14] I have lost the source for this section.  Ultimately it is from the book, but this section was a quote from the book for a review of the book.

Bishop Robinson’s Inaugural Prayer

Many people watched the opening inaugural concert on HBO and may not have realized that the openly gay Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson gave the invocation.  There are lots of rumors about why it was not also aired with the concert.  So for those of you who have HBO and did not hear this moving prayer, and for those of you who may not have access to this channel, here is text of the prayer given. 

Opening Inaugural Event

Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC

January 18, 2009

Delivered by the Right Reverend V. Gene Robinson:

“Welcome to Washington! The fun is about to begin, but first, please join me in pausing for a moment, to ask God’s blessing upon our nation and our next president.

O God of our many understandings, we pray that you will…

Bless us with tears – for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women from many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.

Bless us with anger – at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

Bless us with discomfort – at the easy, simplistic “answers” we’ve preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth, about ourselves and our world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future.

Bless us with patience – and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be “fixed” anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah.

Bless us with humility – open to understanding that our own needs as a nation must always be balanced with those of the world.

Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance – replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences.

Bless us with compassion and generosity – remembering that every religion’s God judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable.

And God, we give you thanks for your child Barack, as he assumes the office of President of the United States.

Give him wisdom beyond his years, and inspire him with Lincoln’s reconciling leadership style, President Kennedy’s ability to enlist our best efforts, and Dr. King’s dream of a nation for ALL the people.

Give him a quiet heart, for our Ship of State needs a steady, calm captain in these times.

Give him stirring words, for we will need to be inspired and motivated to make the personal and common sacrifices necessary to facing the challenges ahead.

Make him color-blind, reminding him of his own words that under his leadership, there will be neither red nor blue states, but the United States.

Help him remember his own oppression as a minority, drawing on that experience of discrimination, that he might seek to change the lives of those who are still its victims.

Give him the strength to find family time and privacy, and help him remember that even though he is president, a father only gets one shot at his daughters’ childhoods.

And please, God, keep him safe. We know we ask too much of our presidents, and we’re asking FAR too much of this one. We know the risk he and his wife are taking for all of us, and we implore you, O good and great God, to keep him safe. Hold him in the palm of your hand – that he might do the work we have called him to do, that he might find joy in this impossible calling, and that in the end, he might lead us as a nation to a place of integrity, prosperity and peace.

AMEN.”

You may also watch it here: 

Published in: on January 19, 2009 at 4:47 pm  Comments Off on Bishop Robinson’s Inaugural Prayer  
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The Name Obama Cannot be Spoken Here–YES IT CAN

The Mississippi based blog Cotton Mouth discusses an incident that was reported by WAPT of two junior highschool students thrown off their school bus in Pearl, MS for mentioning President Elect Obama’s name.  The Girl’s Basketball coach of the same junior high threatened to suspend any student who also invoked Obama’s name.   Allegedly the bus driver and the coach have been told their reactions were unwarranted and the children not punished. 

It has also been reported that some workplaces in Mississippi will not allow Obama’s name be spoken either.  One of my congregants stated that she saw a racist symbol about our president elect in a business establishment.  She became indignant and angry.   We all knew that racism would not be erased by simply voting into office an African American President.  Our work for racial equity remains a task uncompleted.  Let’s get to work. 

I offer this song by Jim Croce.  It seems to be an appropriate prophetic response. 

Published in: on November 8, 2008 at 1:13 pm  Comments (1)  
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Hate speech never justified

I try not to take political stands regarding specific candidates for office.  As a minister, I find that to be a very fine line in our nation’s quest for separation of church and state.  A value that has come under attack by my more conservative colleagues of the cloth.  However, there is an issue that has arisen that I feel demands a response from all religious leaders regardless of theological persuasion.  That issue is the tolerance of hate speech at political rallies. 

One of McCain/Palin campaign strategies is questioning who Barack Obama really is.  It’s a fair question.  However, the responses from the audience have been threatening and hateful.  Shouts in response have included, “Terrorist!”, “Traitor”, and “Kill Him” and “Off with His Head.”   McCain and Palin do not address these comments, in fact they have encouraged them with their own speeches of tieing Obama with “domestic terrorist” William Ayers.  The problem with allowing these comments to continue is that they eventually find a willing person to carry out the deed. 

Georgian Congress representative John Lewis, stated, “As public figures with the power to influence and persuade, Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin are playing with fire, and if they are not careful, that fire will consume us all,” the statement continues. “They are playing a very dangerous game that disregards the value of the political process and cheapens our entire democracy.  We can do better.  The American people deserve better.”   Lewis compared the hateful rhetoric being engendered at McCain’s rallies akin to the hateful rhetoric of Alabama Governor George Wallace which has been indirectly connected to the bombing of a Birmingham church in 1963. 

Perhaps the analogy Rep. Lewis drew is unfair or out of proportion but tell that to gays and lesbians and other sexual minorities who are attacked and harrassed because their churches preach that homosexuality is an abomination and should be killed.  Matthew Shepard and more recently Larry King were killed because their killers heard repeatedly from the pulpit that gays did not deserve to live.   The late Rev. Jerry Falwell blamed gays and lesbians and liberals (ACLU, Feminists, abortionists)  for the 9/11 attacks.  This sort of rhetoric stirs up hatred and violence against people because it is being made by people or made in the presence of people we are supposed to be able to trust.  Senator McCain and Governor Palin are among those people we are supposed to be able to trust. 

McCain’s response to Lewis and Obama was “Barack Obama’s assault on our supporters is insulting and unsurprising. These are the same people obama [sic] called ‘bitter’ and attacked for ‘clinging to guns’ and faith. He fails to understand that people are angry at corrupt practices in Washington and Wall Street and he fails to understand that America’s working families are not ‘clinging’ to anything other than the sincere hope that Washington will be reformed from top to bottom.”  

I agree that people are angry.  But screaming out “Kill Him!”  is not an appropriate anger response to the issues.  It is scapegoating.  Justifying such hate speech by stating they are angry is also not appropriate. There are appropriate ways of expressing anger, shouting “Off with his head!” is not one of them.  Allowing such inappropriate expressions will rile a crowd to a frenzied pitch that, if not stopped, will result in actions that all of us will regret. 

McCain/Palin talk about reforming Washington politics.  If they are serious about reform then they should be helping their supporters to channel their anger towards that reform.  But it takes someone who has good anger management skills to know how to do this kind of organizing anger towards the positive.   

I was fortunate to witness this at the Free Jena 6 rallies in Jena, LA.  The crowd had been listening to a speaker who clearly was angry and was stirring the crowd towards doing something outrageous right at that moment.  Rev. Jesse Jackson was called to the stage by the organizers and I was in awe at how he effectively and quickly calmed the crowd down. I was very grateful.  Be angry yes, but channel that anger in appropriate ways.  Hate speech is never justified.   Blessings,

Published in: on October 17, 2008 at 2:05 pm  Comments (1)  
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