What Now


How goes it with your spirit?  I have to say that I have been crushed by this election.  And when I say crushed I don’t just mean disappointed.  I mean my spirit has been pulverized and left gasping for air.  I am still struggling to catch my breath and absorb what has happened.

Last Sunday I stated this election was not about electing a man or a woman, or even about electing a republican or a democrat to the office of the presidency.  It was about ratifying and affirming our nations most sacred values—E pluribus Unum—Out of Many, One.  Our unalienable birth rights of Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Liberty and justice for all.

Apparently, America no longer wants to be an America that celebrates E Pluribus Unum. That value was okay to proclaim when America was 90% white in 1950.  It apparently is not okay when America’s white people reflects 61% of the population in 2016 and is projected to be 49% in less than 30 years.  When America finally begins to look like E Pluribus Unum, Whites get nervous because it will mean they will need to share their power.

I shouldn’t be surprised given how White America treated our first Black president who probably will go down in history as one of the all-time great presidents.  Not by this generation but by future generations.  Abraham Lincoln was hated when he was president[i].  I mean states seceded from the union and millions of people died because he became president. Not exactly how one wins and influence friends.

I still believe these values were the heart of this election.  I still believe that this nation was given an opportunity to make a deliberate choice to embody the values on which this nation stood, albeit imperfectly.  We were given a choice to turn away, even if ever so slightly, from our nation’s original sin of racism.  We were given a choice.

And we chose white supremacy.

I think what stung me the most was the realization that the only demographic that overwhelmingly voted for Trump was the White vote. Of the 70% of White voters, 58% of them voted for Trump.  No other racial demographic overwhelmingly voted for Trump.  No other racial demographic comprised a majority in their support for Trump. Not one.

Now there are many individual reasons why a person might have voted for Trump.  So when individuals begin giving reasons why they voted Trump, the reason is not because they believe that Whites need to stay in power and oppress other groups. No, they believe there are other reasons, but the aggregate reason is racism.  This is an important distinction.  Let me rephrase this point another way.  Trump’s appeal to individual White voter’s is not because individually they supported his racism, but the systemic impact in this election of White voters is racism.

We need to understand the message this sends to marginalized groups when one demographic votes overwhelmingly for a demagogue like Donald Trump. We need to understand that their fear, my fear, is not unreasonable but is based in the history of events over the last 24 months.

We have seen an uptick in hate crimes against Blacks, Muslims, Trans-fulx, Mexican immigrants over the last 24 months committed by White people who support Trump.  Southern Poverty Law Center reports 200 hate crimes[ii] were documented in the 72 hours after the election alone.

And these are the ones that are documented as hate crimes.  The hanging effigy of a black man off the apartment balcony above OHenry’s is not considered a hate crime.  The poster displaying Trump with a statement saying, “Obama, You’re Fired” in a math teacher’s class in Northridge High School is not considered a hate crime. The American Latino citizen, who was yelled at by a passerby “to go pack because Trump is deporting your ass” is not a hate crime.  The woman at UA who received anonymous rape threats because of her public support of Clinton. Our congregation’s children being told in school by friends that Trump is going to remove all the gays from Alabama. These have all occurred in the last week here in Tuscaloosa. They may not be hate crimes per the current statutes of the law, but they carry with them pain and anguish.

The KKK in North Carolina is planning on hosting a victory parade in Trump’s honor. The Alabama Klan has come out publicly stating they are going to hold Trump accountable for his campaign promises to deport immigrants, ban Muslims, and repeal LGBT rights. But the White nationalists do not represent the White 70% of the 59 plus million who voted for Trump. But the White nationalists have benefitted from the collective vote that supports their agenda for oppression.

If your vote supports the oppression of others even if you voted your conscience for your personal reasons, then your vote supported racism.  It is that simple and that complex.

I need to sit with that information and realize that I as a white person have some responsibility in these election results.  I did not speak to my relatives of my concerns regarding a Trump presidency.  I did not tell my relatives that if they loved me and supported my life as a gay man, that they should consider not voting for Trump.  I didn’t, because if I did, then I would have to contemplate that my relatives do not in fact love me for who I am.  That fact would be too painful for me to face.  Despite all their verbal assurances that they do, their actions shout no.  So I would prefer not hearing them say the words that they would prefer a Trump presidency over the safety of a gay relative. Did you tell your relatives—that a Trump presidency would endanger the life of your gay minister or your trans friends in this congregation?  Or your friends of color?  Or your Muslim friends? Or your immigrant friends?

But the individuals who voted for Trump are not going to be able to hear that a vote for Trump was a vote for racism. Not going to hear it because standing in their shoes, they believe that Trump finally heard their cry for help. They see their ability to earn a livable wage and to give their children a better life than they had, slipping away. Their concerns are not, in their essence, based in racism; they are based in economic realities. The median income finally rose this year to just over $56.5K[iii] but its buying power is still less than it was in 1999[iv].  The hard truth is that for millions of people in this country, they are hurting. No matter what they have done to try to get ahead they are thwarted in their attempts.  My colleague, the Rev. Daniel O’Connell noted that half of the country ‘finally feels heard and the other half feels a deep and anxious fear for their future.’

I also know there is a desire to self-differentiate myself from the 58% of White voters who voted for Trump.  I don’t want marginalized people, who do not know me, wondering if I voted for Trump because I am white.  My age group voted overwhelmingly for Trump.  So I want to differentiate myself. So I get it when others want to send some sort of signal, some sort of sign that says, I did not vote like the rest of my white family and neighbors. Should you decide to wear some symbol as a sign, a blue finger nail or safety pin, be ready to back that symbol up with some actions.  Don’t wear them and then remain silent when the racist or sexist comment is made.  Don’t wear them and then turn a blind eye when you see a person being discriminated against because they wear a hajib or are Black or Brown.  Don’t wear them and then walk on by when you see someone being attacked.

I don’t know what the future holds. I appreciated Clinton’s concession speech.  I appreciated Obama’s comments on the election and the smooth transition of power that he is in the process of ensuring.  I even appreciated Trump’s acceptance speech which, if that was the first time I heard him speak, I would have thought wow, what a classy guy, praising his opponent and all.  But that was not what he shared on the campaign trail. He made threats to prosecute his opponent if he was elected. He made threats against me and people like me, he made threats against my immigrant friends, those here with visas and greed cards and those undocumented, he made threats against my Muslim friends, and he made threats against my black friends.  I can only assume that he now intends to follow through on these threats.

So what now in light of this turn of events in our nation’s history?  We, as a congregation seek to love one another all the more.  We find ways to differentiate ourselves from every other predominant white congregation in Tuscaloosa County so when people come here to visit, know that they have visited someplace unique and special and most importantly safe. That they will know our principles and our personal creeds are not just lip service but is indeed who we are in our most inner being.

As I stated I do not have a crystal ball to predict what is coming down the pike with a Trump presidency. We live in one of the most conservative states in the union.  But every fiber in my being tells me that we are going to need one another more than ever if we are going to thrive in this brave new world.  This means your support is needed more than ever to ensure that this congregation is able to support you in the days ahead.  Support and nurture your inherent worth and dignity. Support your ability to develop justice, equity, and compassion in your relations.  Support your free and responsible search for truth and meaning. Support your right of conscience and the democratic process.  Support your work towards developing community with peace, liberty and justice for all. And support the well-being of your spirit.  Blessed Be

[i] http://knowledgenuts.com/2014/01/02/abraham-lincoln-was-actually-hated-when-president/

[ii] https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2016/11/11/over-200-incidents-hateful-harassment-and-intimidation-election-day

[iii] http://money.cnn.com/2016/09/13/news/economy/median-income-census/

[iv] http://www.davemanuel.com/median-household-income.php

What Now? 13 November 2016 © Rev. Fred L Hammond  delivered to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa.

We attempted to live stream the sermon and discovered that the internet bandwidth was insufficient.  So the video below is severely pixeled but the audio is relatively ok by comparison.

North Carolina’s vote

When I heard of the news that North Carolina had voted to place its ban on same sex marriage in their state constitution, a constitution that was last revised to ban interracial marriages, my heart just broke.

Two songs came to me which seemed appropriate in my twisted mind,  especially when juxtaposed with each other .


Throwing the First Stone

“Throwing the First Stone”

10 October 2010 ©  Rev. Fred L Hammond

Unitarian Universalist Congregation Tuscaloosa

There once was a young boy who dreaded going to school.  Oh he was bright enough.  And he liked the subjects well enough.  But he did not like getting on the school bus because even though there were plenty of seats, he had to fight to get one.  The bus driver would yell at him for not sitting down immediately, oblivious to the fact that the other students on the bus would refuse to let him sit.  And then when he arrived at school, he always had his books knocked out from under his arms. This was before back packs were allowed in school.  He was told he carried them like a girl.  When he tried to carry them in the more manly fashion at his hip, they would be knocked from his arms.  The books would scatter to the floor and then others would gleefully kick the books down the hall.   He would be late for class trying to retrieve them. The teachers would then send him to the principal for being late.  No amount of explaining what happened would make a difference.  It was his fault that he was late for class yet again.

Sometimes he would just be shoved in the hall way.  Once could be considered an accident, perhaps, but five or six shoves in a row by the other boys passing by was a deliberate act.  It was thought funny by the girls.   Sometimes the shoving and knocking the books to the floor were combined.  One would shove, another knock, and a few more would kick the books down the hall.

And there would be the threats of violence after school let out.  He somehow managed to slip through the crowd to avoid those encounters, even when he planned to hang out in town instead of catching the bus home.

He tried to man up.  He tried to be tough.  He tried to let the name calling and the physical affronts to his person roll off his back.  But he could not.  He knew crying would confirm in everyone’s mind that he was indeed what they called him; a faggot, a sissy, a homo, those were the names used then.  He didn’t want to live anymore, not like this.

One day after enduring what seemed like a continuous onslaught of bullying; he entered his next class and sat sideways at his desk.  He was numb.  His whole body just vibrated numbness.  His teacher asked him to turn around in his seat.  There was no response.  His teacher asked him again, and then, the tears began to fall.  The young boy just began sobbing full body sobs.

The teacher took him outside of the classroom and talked with him.  Found out what had been happening. The guidance counselor came and also listened to his story.  The guidance counselor gave a stern lecture to his classmates about their behaviors.  Told them in no uncertain terms that their treating of this young boy was wrong and they must stop this behavior or suffer the consequences of what could happen to this young boy which would be on their conscience forever.  They would be held responsible.

Life got better for this young boy after that.  Oh he still got the verbal taunts but it was nothing compared to the daily emotional and physical torment that he received that year.

The media has highlighted several suicides of young people this past month as a result of bullying.  Whether it was verbal taunts, physical assaults, or cyber-bullying, the results were the same, the ending of a young person’s life.  These young people were either gay or thought to be gay by their peers.  Their life was driven into the ground and their possibility and the hope for shining their light brightly in the world was snuffed out.

It is difficult to know how many teens commit suicide because of homophobia.  The once touted 3 in 10 deaths is now considered to be grossly overestimated and it is now thought that the deaths of sexual minorities is no greater than in any other demographic.  But this does not diminish the seriousness or the grief these families are suffering because of the loss of their children.

And the young people that we heard about in the news do not comprise every teen that committed suicide this past month or even this past week, only those we heard about.  According to a U.S. Suicide Statistics of 2001, a young adult between the ages 15-24 ends their life every 2 hours and 12 minutes.  So that means we only heard of a very few of the young people who died this past month at their own hands out of the roughly eleven young people who died every day.  The numbers add up quickly and these are only statistics on the completed suicides, not the incompleted attempts of suicide.   It is the third leading cause of death in this age group after accidents and homicides.  It is the 5th leading cause of death in children age 5-14.
Gay, Lesbian Straight Educators Network (GLSEN) has been conducting an annual survey[1] of high school students since 1999 on bullying as it relates to sexual orientation.   Here are a few findings from 2009’s survey: 84.6% of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, 40.1% reported being physically harassed and 18.8% reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation.

Being out in school had positive and negative repercussions for LGBT students – outness was related to higher levels of victimization, but also higher levels of psychological well-being.

On October 1 2009, a new law went into effect in Alabama mandating all schools to have an anti-bullying policy.  It is basically a good law but there are few flaws. It is only aimed at student to student bullying and did not include harassment from authority figures such as teachers or coaches.   It defines bullying as an ongoing pattern by an individual and it requires the victim of the bullying or their parent to fill out a written form to report the bullying.  A onetime bullying event or an oral report is not sufficient to bring actions against the bully-er.  Yet, as we know in the recent suicide of Tyler Clementi, a onetime event on the internet is all it might take.   The law did not specify any specific class for protection.  Focus on the Family attempted to make the case that Alabama’s anti-bully legislation would open the door for gay activists to seek special protections.

Our school district in Tuscaloosa already had a fairly comprehensive bullying policy in place which did include sexual orientation as part of its policy.  The law now reinforces their policy.  A recent news story states that Tuscaloosa is considering broadening their policy to jurisdictions beyond school property such as “when a student interferes with another student’s educational opportunities or substantially disrupts the operations of a school or school-sponsored activity.[2] This would include cyberbullying through an electronic device such as the internet and sexting, the sending of explicit photographs and texts through a cell phone.

Tuscaloosa would become the first school system in Alabama to have a broad jurisdiction policy on bullying.  It is certainly a step in the right direction.  GLSEN affirms this action as being a positive step.  Their report confirms that  “Students attending schools with an anti-bullying policy that included protections based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity/expression heard fewer homophobic remarks, experienced lower levels of victimization related to their sexual orientation, were more likely to report that staff intervened when hearing homophobic remarks and were more likely to report incidents of harassment and assault to school staff than students at schools with a general policy or no policy.[3]

There are other positive actions that could be done to reduce bullying behavior as it relates to sexual orientation and gender expression.  GLSEN stated that schools with Gay-Straight alliances increased the positive experiences sexual minority students had and reduced the reports of negative experiences.  Having safe zones and supportive teachers “contributed to a range of positive indicators including fewer reports of missing school, fewer reports of feeling unsafe, greater academic achievement, higher educational aspirations and a greater sense of school belonging.[4]

There are currently no gay straight alliances in our public high schools.  University of Alabama has two student groups, Spectrum and OUTlaw, as well as a faculty/ staff group on campus. So where are students in high school to go where they will be accepted for who they are and not fear being bullied?  –Where they will be encouraged to explore the light that is the essence of their being and nurtured to allow that light to shine bright?

I will let those questions sit for a moment.  I want to shift our attention to why this is a concern for us today. What is it about bullying, and why is bullying sexual minority youth so important for us to examine and to end it?  The reason is not just because a few individuals commit suicide, albeit a very sound reason indeed.  There is something else at work in bullying sexual minority youth and suicides are just one of the consequences of this behavior.

Iris Marion Young in her essay Five Faces of Oppression looks at oppression not in the traditional format of a few people in power oppressing the masses as in tyrannical forms of government but as a form of systems that are in place to maintain dominant culture.  She describes oppression as being structural.  There are embedded in the dominant culture “unquestioned norms, habits, and symbols, in the assumptions underlying institutional rules and the collective consequences of following those rules.[5]

So while the intent is good to pass anti-bullying legislation or passing laws protecting rights of sexual minorities for housing, employment, etc., the assumptions of what is normal behavior remains operative in the culture.  Those who affirm the dominant culture resent what they see as the deteriorating of their traditional values and norms with the passage of such laws.

While all of the five faces of oppression, Young describes also apply to homophobia and bullying on some level, there are two that I want to highlight specifically.  She describes what she calls Cultural Imperialism which is the universalization of a dominant group’s experience and culture.  This becomes considered as the norm and therefore the norm for all of humanity. So in America, up until very recently, one did not see positive images of gays on television.  If gays were viewed on television or in the movies it was in negative, often stereotypical images.  It was the gay man dying of AIDS.  It was the flamboyant gay who everyone could laugh at. It was the manipulative and weak-spirited Mr. Smith on Lost in Space who preyed upon unsuspecting young Will Robinson and therefore had to be under constant surveillance. These images sent very strong messages of what gays deserved, of what manhood was, and the dangers to our children.  They each deserved what they got.

Young writes, “The dominant group reinforces its position by bringing the other groups under the measure of the dominant norms.[6] These groups become reconstructed as deviant and inferior and as the other. The stereotype becomes the known example of these other groups.  Those who do not fit that stereotype are rendered invisible.  Young writes, “Just as everyone knows that the earth goes around the sun, so everyone knows that gays are promiscuous…[7]

We see these assumptions in operation when Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church declares that “God hates Fags” or when the Family Research Council declares “… that homosexuality is unhealthy, immoral and destructive to individuals, families and societies.[8] Those who are members of the groups targeted even if they refuse these stereotype values and desire “recognition as human, capable of activity, full of hope and possibility;[9] they must react to the dominant culture’s perception of them as different, inferior, and immoral. The further they are from the stereotype the more invisible they become because the dominant culture only sees the stereotype and not the person before them. It is assumed that they meet the stereotype even when they do not. The dominant culture does not recognize that they have a perspective on the culture that is based on their status within the culture.  Simone Weil said, “Someone who does not see a pane of glass does not know that he does not see it. Someone who, being placed differently, does see it, does not know the other does not see it.[10]

The dominant culture does not see the pane of glass through which their world view is shaped and altered.  It then is up to those who are placed differently and do see the pain of glass to point it out and demand that it be recognized as such—a perspective and not a universal truth.

Cultural Imperialism feeds into another face of oppression which is systemic violence.  Groups which are oppressed live with the reality that they “must fear random, unprovoked acts on their persons or property, which have no motive but to damage, humiliate, or destroy the person.[11]

Taken on its face, no one, not even Focus on the Family, which advocated not passing the Alabama anti-bullying bill, believes bullying behavior is good.  Their stance against the law was purely on the basis that it might condone or encourage sexual minorities to come further out of the closet.  Bullying then becomes one method to send a clear message to sexual minorities that they are not to be seen as a valued contributing member of the society. Those caught in bullying might only receive light punishment and to that extent the acts are acceptable behaviors. Bullying is therefore on some level viewed as an acceptable behavior in society because it serves the function of maintaining the dominant culture’s control.

The work that must be done to bring bullying to an end is on the cultural level.  It will take diligent and persistent messaging into the main culture stream to change what is considered boys simply being boys.  This is more than passing laws and school policies against bullying. In order to change the culture, positive interactions on the relational level with the perceived other must become the norm.  Our work for justice lies in the vigilant vanguard position of overt acceptance of different perspectives, different cultural norms across all avenues of being human.  This includes sexual orientation, gender expression, racial and ethnic, and class differences—all must be in our sights for radical acceptance in order to change the cultural norm of oppression.

To bring this back to the question asked earlier.  Where are students in highschool to go where they will be nurtured and encouraged to explore the light that is the essence of their being?   Our youth group which meets every Sunday is one place where gay teens are welcomed. Because there does not exist a gay straight alliance in schools, our youth group becomes one of the places where gay, and lesbian, transgender, bi, questioning, and intersexed teens are free to gather to ask the questions they need to ask and relax in who they are.

Many of the teens who attend the youth group are not from families from this congregation.  And so this youth group becomes our congregation’s calling card into the community.  We need to do all we can to support them in their journey.  We must listen to their experiences, honor their integrity, and show unconditional love for their dignity as people here with us.

A few weeks ago, our teens offered a worship service that was poignant and moving.  They could only have done that particular service if they knew that we loved them.  We do love them.  We must continue to love them and celebrate their lives here.  We can support them by standing up to bullying that we see in our schools and elsewhere.  We might not be able to change the nation but we can and we must do all that we can to change the culture where we live.

You might have surmised the identity of the young boy at the beginning of this sermon as my personal experience of seventh grade.  You would be right. I was very close to failing that grade level until a teacher and guidance counselor intervened.  That was all it took, two people who believed in me and acted on my behalf to turn that year around.   I still struggled with my gay identity.  I still faced random acts of taunting against me but things began to change that day.  And I found other people who also accepted me and valued me as I am and life got better.  I want to make sure that every gay teen who walks through our doors knows what I have come to know.  There are people who love them, and cherish them, and life will get better.

Not everyone in the world is looking to throw the first stone. Here is a place where stones are put aside for building bridges of hope and love.  Blessed Be.

Benediction:  In the Hebrew scriptures Leviticus states “you shall the love the alien as yourself, for you were once the alien in the land of Egypt.[12] The land of Egypt is anywhere we felt isolated and different from the dominant culture.  It is the place where we are the other, the outsider of the group, the one longing for acceptance.  We all know what that feels like; we have been there, therefore love the other as if he or she is not the other but rather us here in this setting.  Love the other as you would love yourself.  Go in peace.

[2] Jamon Smith Staff Writer “New plan to prevent bullying examined” Tuscaloosa News September 17 2010.

[5] Iris Marion Young, “Five Faces of Oppression” as accessed at http://www.racialequitytools.org/resourcefiles/young.pdf

[6] Iris Marion Young, “Five Faces of Oppression” as accessed at http://www.racialequitytools.org/resourcefiles/young.pdf

[7] IBID

[9] Iris Marion Young, “Five Faces of Oppression” as accessed at http://www.racialequitytools.org/resourcefiles/young.pdf

[10] IBID

[11] IBID

[12] Leviticus 19:34

MPB and Fresh Air Closure

I did not realize my blog with fewer than 50 readers a day would suddenly go viral on this story with over 3900 hits in one day–and the day is not over.  Nor did I realize that Rachel Maddow would pick up on this story.  I speculated on what possibly could have been “recurring inappropriate content”  as MPB Director Kevin Farrell wrote in an email to a listener as the explanation for dropping the popular show.  I looked at one weeks worth of programs, reviews, political commentary because if this was indeed a recurring event than it would have to be,  well–recurring.

I raised the question of positive images of gays and lesbians as the recurring theme in that weeks show as a possible suspect.  Here in the south, homosexuality is still very much an inappropriate topic.  Especially when it comes to gay rights.  I asked the question was this the recurring theme that was deemed inappropriate?

I asked this question because homophobia comes in all shapes and sizes.  Some of it can be internalized and hidden from view and therefore denied. It is insidious in our society, tucked here and there allowing institutionalized policies to rationalize homophobia  as being something else entirely.  I have never heard anything on Fresh Air that I thought as inappropriate content, let alone recurring.  But maybe because as a gay man, I long for positive gay messages on our airways that when ever I hear them, I leap for joy.

One of the comments that I received stated “It was dropped because someone called the IHL building and was placed on hold. the hold music is MPN/NPR and (they claim) Gross was talking about sex in an interview. So, someone who doesn’t even listen to NPR got it pulled off the air.” I held off on publishing this comment because I wanted to verify its information in some manner.  The verification came earlier today via email, the source was an insider at MPB.  And it was  confirmed by another edition of the Rachel Maddow Show.

But this is not a topic that Terry Gross has on a recurring basis. So that leads me to continue to wonder what else is considered “recurring inappropriate content?”

I received a comment from Unity Mississippi stating  my post has damaged both the image of Mississippi and MPB where many are allies to the cause of gay rights.

I do not regret in the least of my speaking out and raising the question.  In a state where homophobia and sex-phobia run hand in hand enabling high rates of sexual transmitted infections including HIV/AIDS, the question needed to be raised.   Homophobia is a powerful oppressor which debilitates peoples lives.  To allow one caller, obviously not comfortable with their own sexuality–straight, gay or bi– who  does not even listen to NPR is a sure indication of how much power is given to those who are fearful of the other.

Homophobia comes in all shapes and sizes and if those who claim to be allies of the GLBT community cave in to the demands  of one caller, then I suspect that internalized homophobia  or in this case sex-phobia is also at work.  I can not and will not allow my life to be shaped by homophobia in any form, from any source, from my gay friends who claim I have damaged the image of Mississippi ( by reinforcing stereotypes)  and gay friendly MPB to those who stridently and publicly work  against my procuring civil rights. Nor will I bend towards the tugs of homophobia that society has still lodged within my own heart.

My fervent hope is that after the Board at MPB meets today that they will  reconsider their positions and return to the airways of Mississippi one of the best shows on NPR, Fresh Air with Host Terry Gross.  That they will not allow themselves to be held hostage by one caller or many callers from offering the best in programming that is available.  Shows like Fresh Air offer a life line in Mississippi for so many people who want to be exposed to the vast market place of ideas.  It does so respecting the inherent worth and dignity of the person being interviewed. The program shows respect of others regardless of their life stories and that is so needed today.


Mississippi Public Broadcast drops “inappropriate” Fresh Airi

Mississippi Public Broadcasting (MPB) dropped the very popular Fresh Air hosted by Terri Gross.  The drop came at Christmas time in 2009.  It then returned for a brief period and now is again off the MPB’s airways.   An email dated July 12 2010 from Kevin Farrell, director of MPB radio, states “MPB no longer airs this program [Fresh Air]  due to recurring inappropriate content.”

Just what was this inappropriate content?  Mr. Farrell did not elaborate.   A look at the programs that aired recently on Fresh Air  reveals these interviews:  July 13th, “A Psychiatrist’s Prescription for his Profession; ”  July 12th, “Missing ‘Priceless’ Artwork? Call Robert Wittman; ”  July 9th, “Colin Firth: A Leading Man in ‘A Single Man’; ” and July 8th, “Generating Changes In The Electrical Power Grid.”  Anything inappropriate in these stories?

Recent reviews included these: July 13th, “Robert Randolph: A Gospel Guitarist’s Secular ‘Road’;” July 12th, “A Star Named Marilyn (But Not The One You Think; ” and July 9th, “Cholodenko’s ‘Kids’ Flick: More Than Just All Right.”  Anything that stands out as recurring and inappropriate here?

Recent political topics included “CPAC, The Tea Party And The Remaking Of The Right,” “Connecting The Dots Between PhRMA And Congress,” and “‘Clinton Vs. Starr’: A ‘Definitive’ Account.” Anything inappropriate that the average American could not handle in these topics?

Now what could possibly be inappropriate about the content of these shows?  Couldn’t possibly be the interview with Colin Firth regarding his role in “A Single Man.”  He plays the part of a gay man grieving the loss of his partner.  The story line of grieving the death of a loved one is as old as the story of David and Jonathan in First Samuel of the Hebrew Scriptures.   And it certainly could not be the movie review of Cholodenko’s “The Kids Are Alright.”  That story line of parents dealing with their rebellious teens goes all the way back to Adam and Eve.  Oh wait, the parents are both lesbians.   Nah, it couldn’t be that.

Unless what is inappropriate is that these story lines reveal homosexuals as being just as affected by universal themes as everyone else. Now that we can’t have because that would mean gays, lesbians, bi’s, and transgender folks live just as mundane a life as everyone else.  It would mean that they are not the evil incarnate bent on destroying the American dream, baseball and apple pie, too. They are just trying to reach the American dream like everyone else.  Now that is inappropriate!!!

One of the beauties of public radio is that it will air shows that commercial radio is too scared to air.  It will offer a point of view that challenges us to think about life in new and unique ways.  Thinking is something that Americans seem afraid to do these days.  Based on the rise of the Tea Party with its hate and fear based jargon and the slanderous distortions coming from Fox News, people in America have forgotten how to think for themselves and seem willing to surrender their minds to the emotion of fear.

MPB seems to be following suit in reducing its programming to the amusement and entertainment shows like “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” and “Only a Game. ”  Not that there is anything wrong with these fine shows but public radio is meant to be something more than just idle amusement.  It is supposed to be an alternative to network radio and television not more of the same.  And in Mississippi where a girl cannot even take her girlfriend to a school prom because it might be distracting, there is a definite need for a forum where an alternative to homophobia can be heard.

No, this certainly cannot be the inappropriate content that Mr. Farrell is referring to because free speech is a constitutional right of the first amendment.  He clearly knows that to censor any programming on public radio simply because it does not match someone’s political or religious views is against the first amendment.  Right Mr. Farrell?


Five Smooth Stones: An Attitude of Ultimate Optimism

Five Smooth Stones:  An Attitude of Ultimate Optimism
Rev. Fred L Hammond
13 June 2010 ©
Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa

Over the last several months we have examined Unitarian Universalist Theologian James Luther Adams Five Smooth Stones of Liberal Religion.  We looked at the first four stones; Revelation is Continuous—the idea that new understandings of the mystery of life are always unfolding; Mutual Consent –the idea that relations between people ought to be free of coercion and rest instead on the mutual, free consent of each person; A Just and Loving Community—the notion that we have a moral obligation to create a world where all people are honored and respected and No immaculate conception of virtue and the necessity of social incarnation—the idea that nothing is good in and by itself but only in its actions in relation to the other. Today we look at Adams’ final smooth stone of liberal religion, An Attitude of Ultimate Optimism.

This has been a difficult few months on the national level with what appears as legislated racism in Arizona, the protracted wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the financial collapse of our banking institutions, and the unprecedented uncontrolled oil geyser in the Gulf of Mexico.   Then on the local level we have been dealing with the tragic deaths of friends.  And we haven’t even mentioned the personal trials and tribulations that many of us are going through.  With all of these events circling around us like vultures it is difficult to see the truth in James Luther Adams proclamation that we as people of a liberal faith should resolve to have ultimate optimism.

But this is not just ultimate optimism because optimism feels better than the alternative.  No, the reason for ultimate optimism is because “the resources… [both] divine and human, are available for the achievement of meaningful change justify” this attitude.

We cannot rest on the laurels of the work that generations did before us in areas of justice, whether that justice be racial, economic, or ecological. No, James Luther Adams argues that “each generation must anew win insight into the ambiguous nature of human existence and must give new relevance to moral and spiritual values.”

And so the gains that the civil rights movement won in the mid-20th century must be redefined and won again in the 21st century because the arc of history is always bending towards a greater more inclusive justice.  As our eyes were opened at the injustices of segregation, our eyes need to become open to the injustices of white privilege because white privilege would seek to segregate again.  The various legislations passed in Arizona are one way white privilege is rearing its ugly head.  Whose history do we tell when we teach history in our schools[1]?  What criteria do we use to determine that a person is qualified to teach English[2]?  What shade of paint do we use to depict our children in school murals[3]?

Under the guise of immigration enforcement, white privilege is attempting to re-assert its standard for living in America.  The nation requires an immigration policy that is not solely to benefit the whims of white corporate America. Such has been our history with Mexican immigrants through out the 20th century.  We welcomed them, documented and undocumented, when their labor kept our farms and factories producing during two world wars and deported them when those wars ended or when the economy took a downturn.  It is this issue that will define our nation again just as the civil rights movement defined our nation in the mid-20th century.   Will we define ourselves on the side of justice?

The civil rights movement of the 1960’s was an achievement of justice for that generation but we must not assume that the achievements of that era are a fait accompli for all times.  Rev. Peter Morales, President of our denomination, wrote this week, “We are in a struggle for the future direction of American society. How we treat immigrants, especially those from Mexico and Central America, is today’s equivalent of the Civil Rights Movement. This is a struggle for America’s soul. The real issue for us is how we are going to live in an America in which Anglo-Americans (“whites” or “Americans of European descent”) are in the minority. That day will soon be with us. “White” Americans are already the minority in a number of states. The prospects frighten many people. …  The question is whether we can embrace the changes that are coming, whether we can thrive in this new America.[4]

In terms of James Luther Adams’ fifth smooth stone, the question is ‘are we going to tap into the resources both divine and human to create an America that continues to hold its revolutionary ideal of achieving liberty and justice for all when Anglo America is no longer the majority?’ If Arizona is the canary of this new America and other states introduce replica bills against a targeted population, then the answer will sadly be no.

But the theology that our Unitarian and Universalist heritage derives from believed that history has a destination it is winging towards where justice and grace prevail.  History has a meaning that reveals something of the evolutionary direction of humanity.  For our Unitarian and Universalist ancestors it culminated in the creation of heaven on earth, a place where all people lived in harmony with the divine.  A place where there was no longer any sorrow or pain from injustice.  We sing of this place in our hymn:

“Come build a land where sisters and brothers, anointed by God may then create peace: where justice shall roll down like waters, and peace like an ever flowing stream.[5]

But history has also revealed the darker side of humanity.  Adams states, “A realistic appraisal of our behavior, personal and institutional, and a life of continuing humility and renewal are demanded, for there are ever-present forces in us working for perversion and destruction.”   We do not have to go too far back in our history to see what perverse and destructive forces they are.

Our recent financial crisis was the result of intoxicating greed.  Without the appropriate oversights, the banks allowed their intoxicated greed to demand for more wealth at the expense of the clients who sought them for loans to live the American dream. Knowing and hedging the bet that these clients could not afford the loans they sought; the result was an economy that loomed close to the edge of world wide depression and families fortunes and homes decimated.

Yet even with this propensity to reveal the darker nature of humanity through greed and through war, our prophetic faith writes Adams, calls forth to have a ‘dynamic hope’ that “at the depths of human nature and at the boundaries of what we are, there are potential resources that can prevent a retreat to nihilism.”

The resources both divine and human are available to achieve meaningful change.  Divine here for Adams might refer to some supernatural resource but it also points to something other than supernatural but wholly inspirational.  The divine could be that new idea that breaks through the toil and struggle of rehashing the same ol’ same ol’ and beckons for a new point of view.  It could be that connecting thought that brings about a new way of being or a new way of operating.

But ultimately what choices we make will open up the resources that are available to us, both divine and human. We have a choice in the events that are occurring in the nation today.  We can say it does not impact my daily life and therefore ignore it and then wonder how it came to bite us later.

The crisis in the gulf might illustrate this better.   We live several hours away from the gulf and therefore are not facing the toxic oil fumes that are causing health problems for asthmatics and others with breathing difficulties.  We are not faced with our 134 year old family business ending because there are no oysters to harvest.

So one choice is to ignore it as Scarlet O’Hara says in Gone with the Wind, “I will think about this tomorrow… after all, tomorrow is another day.”  Ignore it and continue our mantra of ‘drill baby drill.’   Or downplay its significance as BP has done by stating that there is plenty of shrimp found elsewhere[6] or the amount of oil dumping into the gulf is minimal[7] or blocking journalists from seeing firsthand the vast wildlife succumbed to oil washing up on the beaches[8] or denying government confirmed underwater oil plumes six miles long[9].   So ignoring or denial is a choice we could make.

Or we could despair the loss of an ecosystem that impacts the world in so many multiple ways.  The prospect of dead zones in the gulf where no life can grow is certainly a despairing prospect.  A recent video found on Youtube of divers in the gulf to look at what is happening under the water noted that the water is eerily void of fish until reaching a depth of 30 feet[10].  However, this sort of despair shuts down the natural creative forces of life that is inherent in all of creation including humanity.

Or we can choose to do something about this spill.  Organize to have legislation mandate stricter regulations on off shore drilling. Organize to encourage alternate forms of clean energy such as solar and wind to become standard over fossil fuels.  Educate others of our participation in this interconnected web of life. We can begin to educate ourselves and others on how our personal consumption and craving of oil based products has contributed to this event in the gulf. The resources for making this choice are already available for us to achieve this.  All we need to do is to organize and tap into the populous will to have this achieved.

Here are three different choices all based on the same data with different conclusions made on that data.  Liberal religion invites us to not deny or despair but rather to look beyond the present to what possibilities can arise and then to act accordingly.

Howard Zinn in his essay, The Optimism of Uncertainty[11], writes about the vast surprises that have occurred through out history.  He writes, “There is a tendency to think that what we see in the present moment will continue. We forget how often we have been astonished by the sudden crumbling of institutions, by extraordinary changes in people’s thoughts, by unexpected eruptions of rebellion against tyrannies, by the quick collapse of systems of power that seemed invincible.”

Justice when it occurs may appear to have happened over night but it usually is the result of a cumulative effect of many different events over time.  A state law ending housing discrimination against gays.  An executive order granting hospital visitation rights and respecting patient care directives for same sex partners.  A law addressing bullying in schools.  The right for a lesbian mom to have custody of her children in a divorce.  Another law passed barring employment discrimination against gays and lesbians.  The ability for a transgender person to receive gender re-assignment surgery in this country.  The allowing for transgenders to state their self-identified gender on a US passport.

These on their own do not seem like huge victories.  But taken together they begin to add up to represent equal treatment under the law.  They begin to sound like justice.

Howard Zinn ended his essay with this:  “if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.[12]

Rev. Barbara Wells ten Hove wrote, “Despite all that we do wrong, all the wrong that is done to us and the suffering we cause and endure, love is always, always there. Our job as Universalists is to preach that love wherever we go and not to scare people about the end. Just hold each other in love and work to bring more love to the world.[13]”   May it be so.

[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/05/12/arizona-ethnic-studies-la_n_572864.html

[2] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/04/30/arizona-ethnic-studies-cl_n_558731.html

[3] http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2010-06-04-altered-mural-arizona-race-debate_N.htm

[4] http://www.uua.org/news/newssubmissions/166693.shtml

[5] “We’ll Build a Land” words Barbara Zanotti (Isaiah/ Amos Adapted) Music Carolyn McDade   as found in Singing the Living Tradition

[6] I heard this statement being made in response to a question about the shrimp industry in Louisiana but cannot find the source.

[7] May 14, 2010 In one of his most famous gaffes, Hayward told The Guardian “the Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume.” With thousands of gallons pumping into the ocean every day, this small ratio of oil to water is taking a large toll. May 18, 2010 “I think the environmental impact of this disaster is likely to be very, very modest,” Hayward told reporters. That same day, when asked about whether he was able to sleep at night in light of the oil spill’s disastrous effects, he replied, “Of course I can.”   As found at http://money.cnn.com/2010/06/10/news/companies/tony_hayward_quotes.fortune/index.htm

[8] http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/10/us/10access.html

[9] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/05/30/underwater-oil-plumes-dis_n_595015.html

[10] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FGX7krQYI_4

[11] http://www.thenation.com/article/optimism-uncertainty

[12] Ibid.

[13] From an email by Rev. Barbara Wells ten Hove, used with permission.

Published in: on June 16, 2010 at 11:03 am  Comments Off on Five Smooth Stones: An Attitude of Ultimate Optimism  
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The Parable of the Two Sons–a Modern Midrash

A story for all ages that I wrote to complement the sermon I gave on James Luther Adams’ fourth stone of liberal religion: no immaculate conception of virtue and the necessity of social incarnation.  It was delivered to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa on 14 March 2010 (c).  This is based on the parable from Matthew 21: 28-32.

Once upon a time, there was a family that was known through out the town for their goodness. This family was held in high esteem by everyone. If there was ever a dispute between neighbors, this family was able to find a solution that worked for both parties. If there was ever a need in the community, this family was able to support the filling of that need. This was a good family. They believed that actions that resulted in the expansion of good were important in order to have a wonderful and loving community.

Now there were two sons in this family of roughly the same age. Wherever they went, they met people who told them what a good family they came from. Hearing these things made them feel good.

In school, the teachers would tell them, “Jason and Bryan, you come from such a good family. We know your grandfather, what a good man he is. He has been so very helpful to the community. If it weren’t for him, we wouldn’t have clean water here because he found a way to purify the wells that were contaminated.” Their grandfather was head of the city health department and made sure that the city had clean water.

The school’s foot ball coach would say, “Bryan and Jason, I know your father. He is such a good man. Why if it weren’t for him, we wouldn’t have a decent volunteer firehouse with a Hook and Ladder truck.” Their father was a volunteer firefighter and helped organize the community to raise the money for the truck to ensure they were ready in case the taller buildings had a major fire. One such fire happened and because they had a Hook and Ladder truck they were able to prevent a tall building from burning to the ground. More importantly the fire fighters were able to save a family that was trapped on the upper floors.

There was another time when a complete stranger came up to them and said, “Aren’t you Elizabeth’s sons?” They shook their heads, yes. “Well, your mom is one of the finest women in town. She helped my children have access to the town library because it wasn’t wheelchair accessible. You see, my two children were born with physical disabilities and they are unable to walk. But your mom worked with the library and the city to find the money to put in ramps to enable my children and other children like mine to use the library. I am so glad to have met you fine young men.”

Everywhere Bryan and Jason went there were accolades given to their family about all the good things their family did for others. The stories of how their family made the community better for others continued to be told. And in time Bryan and Jason came to believe that they were good simply because they came from a good family.

Then one day something happened at school. Bryan and Jason told their parents about it. There were two girls who wanted to go to the school dance as a couple and were told that they could not go; only boy/girl couples could go. Their parents asked them if it was fair that a girl couple be denied to attend the dance. After some discussion, their parents asked Jason and Bryan if they would be willing to start a petition to give to the school board requesting these girls to be allowed to go to their dance. Jason said he would not because he didn’t want to be made fun of by his football team. Bryan said he would do it. But Bryan did not start the petition. He decided he didn’t care if two girls could go to the prom or not after all it didn’t affect him any.

Jason begin to think of his grandfather’s work with getting clean water, his father’s work on having a fire truck, his mother’s work on having wheelchair ramps at the library. He remembered all these good things that his family did to help others and so he changed his mind and began the petition after all. Jason reasoned that if the school could tell two girls they couldn’t go to the school prom, what else would they do to keep people from being themselves? On Saint Patrick’s Day would they keep him from wearing the green plaid kilt his aunt bought him in Ireland to honor his Irish heritage?

So Jason circulated the petition. Teachers, students, and community members signed it. He received so many signatures that the school board decided to allow the girls to go to the dance as a couple.

Now sometimes, Bryan gets asked if Jason is his brother. When he tells them yes, he is told, “Jason is a fine young man. He stood up to fight an injustice in the school. If he hadn’t done that, then girl couples and boy couples who wanted to go to the dance would not be allowed. He is a good man just like his parents and grandparents.”

Bryan tells them that he initially wanted to help with the petition and that Jason did not. They reply, “But did you act on your good intention?” No, Bryan would shake his head. They would sigh and say, “Good intentions mean nothing; it is good actions that make a difference.”

Published in: on March 14, 2010 at 5:28 pm  Comments Off on The Parable of the Two Sons–a Modern Midrash  
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Comfortability is a word I coined several years ago when in a dialog about racism.  It is the skill of being able to be fully present / comfortable in an uncomfortable situation.  It is a skill that I believe we need to develop if we are to thrive in a pluralist society.

The school board in Itawamba County, Mississippi decided that a student could not attend her prom in a tuxedo and bring her girlfriend, also a student at the school, because it might be uncomfortable for the other students.  This is not the lesson that should be taught.  It teaches  that segregation and hiding our truth is acceptable behavior because integration of our differences and being honest might make someone else uncomfortable.  The lesson that needs to be taught is to embrace our differences be it racial, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation or gender expression.   We live in a pluralist society.  This is the reality of our nation.  We are going to meet someone and most likely several someones in our life time who are not just like us.  Doesn’t it make more sense to teach our children how to live in that reality rather than teaching them to be fearful of the other?  Being uncomfortable is a form of fear and it is no way to live.

There is a wonderful song in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific that was very controversial when the musical came out entitled, “You’ve got be carefully taught.”   The chorus is

“You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear
You’ve got to be taught from year to year
It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught”

And so it is taught to this very day in school districts like Itawamba County, MS and in churches like Westboro Baptist Church.  Fred Phelps’ Westboro church is an example of blatant hate teachings but the fear of the diversity of humanity is also taught subtly and quietly in other church communities, liberal and conservative alike.   There are reasons why Sunday morning is the most segregated time in the country. Not having the skill of comfortability is one of these reasons.

I hear the lack of comfortability in Unitarian Universalist congregations when I hear comments that lash out at those who believe in God or Jesus.  The people who make such comments are uncomfortable with the notion of God and Jesus as savior or even as a teacher. Being comfortable in the face of diversity is an important skill set to develop. Comfortability means to be able to be accepting of the other, honoring their inherent worth and dignity.  It does not mean subscribing to the other’s way of thinking but it does mean being able to listen or be in the presence of the other without feeling threatened, with the calm assurance of being oneself.  

Fred Phelps feels threatened by homosexuality.  Itawamba County School District feels threatened by homosexuality.  Unitarian Universalists who lash out at UU Christians, theists, and deists  feel threatened by them.  If this were not true, then their behavior would be vastly different. It might be hard to hear being compared to Fred Phelps if one’s anti-Christian comments are no where near extreme as Fred Phelps anti-gay behaviors.  However, the root cause to all three examples given is fear and being uncomfortable of the other.  We need not be this way.   

If we are going to thrive in this nation we need to begin developing this skill.  We need to begin teaching comfortability in our schools and in our congregations.  The message is ripe for the picking.  There is a lot of fear being propagated in the nation right now and it needs diffusing.   

I believe Unitarian Universalism is the faith being prepared to bring such a message today.  We are not fully skilled yet in our comfortability as seen by the example I gave above.  Yet, our covenantal faith has been priming us to being more open to theological plurality and over all we do a fairly decent job at this.  We can do better.  But our developing comfortability in theological diversity is only a step towards developing comfortability in a pluralist society filled with many ideologies,  many races, many ethnicities, and many cultures.  

Harmony only occurs when there are multiple notes being sung.  May we sing the song of comfortability and heal our nation.  Blessings,

The Family: America’s Taliban

“The Family: America’s Taliban” is a sermon delivered to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa, AL  on 10 January 2010 © by Rev. Fred L Hammond

Sinclair Lewis’s novel, It Can’t Happen Here published in 1935 tells the story of an American President who systematically strips the constitution of its democratic powers and becomes a fascist dictator. The belief that it can’t happen here is as much an icon of American mythology as the American Dream.

But there is another icon that is also steeped in the American mythos and is actively at work to ensure that it can indeed happen here even while proclaiming that it cannot. Jeff Sharlet, author of the controversial book: The Family: the Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power tells of a religious cult that is at once all American and also a dangerous religious movement that will, if allowed to prosper, dismantle what we have called American Democracy and replace it with a theocracy more powerful and perhaps even more regressive than the Taliban, the repressive Islamic cult that has ruled in Afghanistan.

The word Taliban in the United States has taken on iconic proportions as representing what can happen when a fundamentalist version of a religion takes control of a nation. In this regard, I am using the word Taliban as metaphor when I discuss the religious cult that has achieved today such power in the United States as an elite fundamentalist group.

Jeff Sharlet was invited to live at Ivanwald, a communal house run by the Family for young men who show promise of leadership. It is a boot camp of sorts where residents are indoctrinated into a faith with Jesus, who is as all American as apple pie. He writes, “Ivanwald is one house among many, clustered like mushrooms, nearly two dozen households devoted, like these men, to the service of a personal Jesus, a Christ who directs their every action.” 

 The Family which has also been known as The Fellowship has its roots in American Politics going back seventy years. Abram Vereide was a minister, a protégé of evangelist Billy Sunday in the 1920’s. His ministry was in the Pacific Northwest. He was a struggling minister. He received what he believed was a message from God to go to minister those who were the “up and out,” those in power who did not know Jesus. The vision was for God to use the powerful to restore the world to first century Christianity and establish the kingdom of God on earth. Above all else, God’s law was to be obeyed and the way to do this was by using those whom God had placed into power. “Every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” is not just a bible verse but a prophetic vision of what literally is meant to occur.

Abram under the command of his God, moves to Washington, DC and begins to meet people who knew people in places of power. He begins to pray with them and establishes the Fellowship around 1935 partly in response to FDR’s New Deal. Abram Vereide taught “that the poor, with their demands for government services—which he understood as a failure to trust that God would provide—were “the adversaries of the church.” 

This is the doctrine behind today’s fundamentalist’s adamant abhorrence to Health Care Reform, Welfare, Medicaid and other services to the poor. Trust God to provide, to seek support from the government means that ones faith in God is non-existent. It contradicts The Family’s belief that governments are God’s authority established on earth but sobeit.

His theology blends the theology of Puritan John Winthrop who wrote, “We shall be as a City upon a Hill, the eyes of all people are upon us.” This was a belief that America would be the seat of the New Jerusalem where the new kingdom of heaven would arise. The doctrine of Manifest Destiny that America had the divine right to claim the continent of North America for her self is part of this new Christian doctrine of America’s faith. It was further expanded in the Monroe Doctrine which declared that the Western Hemisphere was no longer available for European colonization and now under the growing influence of the United States. All we had to do was to claim our rightful place and the New Jerusalem would be established and usher in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Abram’s theology rooted in these doctrinal stances with a literal reading of the Old and New Testaments led him to establish a secretive, inner circle of believers. Abram claimed Jesus had done the same with the levels of teachings that he gave the multitudes versus those he gave to his disciples and those he only gave to Peter and John. The inner circle was much like the small groups that Hitler, Lenin, and Stalin used in wielding power; these would barter back room deals with politicians away from public spheres. It would allow for invisibility.

The theology that Abram Vereide and later his successor Doug Coe would embrace was one of dominionism. Blended with its own American brand of puritan envisioning, Manifest Destiny and Monroe Doctrine, this dominionism relied on the Bible to guide every decision from whom to marry to what tie to wear in the morning. Sharlet writes, “Unlike neo-evangelicals, who concern themselves chiefly with getting good with Jesus, dominionists want to reconstruct early Christian society, which they believe was ruled by God alone. They view themselves as the new chosen and claim a Christian doctrine of covenantalism, meaning covenants not only between God and humanity but at every level of society, replacing the rule of law and its secular contracts. Since these covenants are signed, as it were, in the Blood of the Lamb, they are written in ink invisible to nonbelievers.” 

The members of the family believe they are indeed chosen by God. This explains how South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, a member of the Family, could so brazenly quote the King David story, quoted in our reading from Sharlet’s text today, as the reason why he would not step down as governor after his deceitful trips to cover up an extra-marital-affair. He is God’s chosen and therefore exempt from the ungodly laws of the land.

 Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) is another member of the Family who travels twice a year to Uganda to promote that country’s conversion to Jesus. He once boasted that because of his office he can meet with any leader in the world to preach about Jesus.  He has met with and presumably prayed with Family associate President Museveni. President Museveni since his rise to power in 1986 and his association with the Family has increasingly moved Uganda towards dictatorship and away from democracy. “Democracy”, Jeff Sharlet was told when he lived with the family at the Ivanwald house, was a form of “rebelliousness” against God. 

Uganda made the news recently, when Ugandan Family member proposed legislation that would execute people with HIV/AIDS and/or Gays and imprison those who harbor them. It is no secret that Senator Inhofe is against civil rights for sexual minorities. His rhetoric has been quite emphatic against homosexuals in this country. Only under increasing pressure did Inhofe publicly state he was against the proposed legislation but he has not taken any steps to actively advocate against this genocide proposal given his influence in Uganda.

His original response was much like Pastor Rick Warren’s, founder of the Saddleback Church and while not a member of the Family, Warren is also a frequent visitor to Uganda. Both stated that their role is not to get involved in the political struggles of a nation. Rick Warren has after receiving pressure did a video message to Uganda’s people condemning the proposed legislation as un-Christian. When your goal is to create God centered governments then you are involved in the political struggles of a nation. There is the added responsibility to be held accountable to one’s interference in another culture. “The Family renounces public accountability.” 

Uganda, since 1991, has held a National Prayer Breakfast modeled after the Family’s sponsored National Prayer Breakfast here in Washington. The US National Prayer Breakfast has been an annual event since President Eisenhower was elected to office. As a thank you to the evangelicals who helped get him elected he endorsed the first prayer breakfast created by Abram Vereide, the founder of the Family then called the International Christian Leadership.

The prayer breakfast is not simply a morning prayer with coffee and danish, it is a week long event with workshops on Christianity and government. The powerful from around the globe come in the hopes of meeting with the powerful in Washington. By praying together they form a bond, a doorway, that allows them access to meet unofficially, in the back rooms, with the elite chosen by god.  All leaders of countries are chosen by God according to Romans 13:1 “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.”

This belief is held as literal fact by the members of the Family. Imagine what this belief would do to someone who is Governor of a state, a Senator or Congress person, or even President of the country. Imagine what this belief would do if you believe that the President of the country was not submitted to the will of God.

This year, it is expected that the sponsors of this heinous Uganda legislation will be at the US National Prayer Breakfast in February. The speaker this year will be President Obama. What will he say and more importantly what will he leave unsaid?

Now I try not to be an alarmist about things. I try to see the more positive side of things and I admit sometimes that causes me to stretch quite far in order to do this. But I am alarmed by the Family. I am alarmed when I read how deeply they have infiltrated the offices of government, not only here in the States but abroad. I am alarmed when I read that this is the goal of the Family.

Jeff Sharlet writes about a program of the Family known as “Youth Corps, whose programs are often centered around Ivanwald-style houses, prepares the best of its recruits for positions of power in business and government abroad. Its programs are in operation in Russia, Ukraine, Romania, India, Pakistan, Uganda, Nepal, Bhutan, Ecuador, Honduras, Peru, and other countries. The goal: ‘Two hundred national and international world leaders bound together relationally by a mutual love for God and the family.’” 

These recruits are then sent to these countries and while they may be working on legitimate tasks to benefit the country they are also seeking key volunteers to develop cell groups, we might call them covenant groups. These core groups become the cells that indoctrinate the individuals to lay down their lives to Jesus and to each other. They are taught to submit their wills to Jesus. Each member of the cell is committed to the other, and each member could veto the direction another life was going in if it was determined to be against the will of Jesus.

But they are not just being sent to other countries. They are being sent here as well. Gov. Mark Sanford, Senator James Inhofe, Representative Joseph Pitts, Representative Bart Stupak, Representative Mike Doyle, Senator Sam Brownback are all members of the Family. There are others. You might recognize the names of Stupak and Pitts. They are the bipartisan sponsors of the amendment to the Health Care reform act that limits insurance payments of abortions. 

 The Family is seeking to legislate their understanding of Biblical mandates into how our nation operates. It isn’t just happening now, it has been happening since the beginning of the Family when it was known as International Christian Leadership or the Fellowship.

Sharlet writes: “ ‘Under God’ was added to the Pledge of Allegiance, an initiative sponsored in the Senate by Homer Ferguson, a Republican I C L board member, and financed by ICLer Clement Stone, and ‘In God We Trust’ was added to the nation’s currency by a bill sponsored by a Dixiecrat congressman named Charles E. Bennett, also a member of the Fellowship’s inner circle.”

Our involvement in the atrocities that have taken place in Costa Rica, in Haiti, in Guatemala, in El Salvado, in Somalia, in Indonesia, in Rwanda, in Uganda are all with Family connections. Key people were sent there by the Family to set up prayer cells with the leaders in the hopes of swaying these countries towards being god-led governments. It did not matter that these countries were not democratic or honored human rights of their citizens, what mattered is that they obeyed the teachings of the Family brought to them by Family members who were in positions of power in the US. In exchange these governments received US financial aid and in some instances support for the genocides that took place there. “Jesus must rule every nation through the vessel of American power,” Sharlet writes regarding the Family’s goals.

It is the conviction of these politicians, Sharlet writes, “that more of God’s mandates and the teachings of the Nazarene must be written into current legislation.” 

Sharlet writes “One day, [Doug] Coe [leader of the Family] believes—not yet—America (and Old Europe, too, the Germans and French and Italians who drifted from Christ once their prosperity was assured) will wake up and find itself surrounded by a hundred tiny God-led governments: Fiji, a “model for the nations” under a theocratic regime after 2001, … and Uganda, made over as an experiment in faith-based initiatives by the Family’s favorite African brother, the dictator Yoweri Museveni; and Mongolia, where Coe traveled in the late 1980s to plant the seeds for that country’s post-communist laissez-faire regime. Nobody notices; nobody cares what happens in small places. This is what George H. W. Bush praised in 1992 as Coe’s ‘quiet diplomacy’”. 

 And this is how it can happen here, quietly, far from the lime light; far from the eyes of a press slowly growing cataracts blinding them to really see what is happening. Small groups of politicians meet for prayer and Bible study. They share the stresses of their positions, their infidelities, their pains, as well as their hopes and dreams. Here they are forgiven and embraced as the new chosen people of God. They work to pass bills into laws that reflect their interpretation of God’s laws. They believe they have been given the charge to create the New Jerusalem, a city upon a hill, a beacon to the world, the kingdom of heaven where Jesus can rule the world. Yet, in the process create a repressive regime that slips ever more closely to a theocratic fascism.

Sharlet compares Martin Luther King Jr. with Doug Coe. He writes: “King was a Christian like Coe. Like Coe, he believed in the “beloved community,” the Kingdom of God realized here on Earth, and like Coe, he was willing to work with those who didn’t share his beliefs. But that is where the similarities end. Coe preaches a personal, private submission; King fought and died in public for collective liberation. Coe believes Jesus has a special message for the powerful; King believed God has a special message for everyone. Most important, in 1968, as Coe was constricting the already narrow vision of the Fellowship, King was doing as he had done his whole life: broadening his dream. King died just as he was raising his voice to speak out not only for racial justice but also for economic justice. He would pursue it not through private prayer cells but through public solidarity.” 

If the true spirit and essence of the American experiment is to be fulfilled, it is here in the public arena where it will shine forth. The dream described in the Declaration of Independence was that all people are endowed with inalienable rights including the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. May we shout loud and long in the public sphere that history’s long arc will always bend towards justice and liberty for all people, not just those in power, but for those oppressed.

I am reminded of Mahatma Gandhi’s words, “When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it–always.” May these words offer us hope. Blessed Be.

Quotes unless biblical or otherwise stated are from Jeff Sharlet’s book The Family.

Resources:  Jeff Sharlet,  The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power  Harper Collins e-books

NPR story “A Different perspective on ‘the Family’ and Uganda” aired December 22, 2009

Las Vegas Sun as found at http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/2009/jul/19/behind-closed-doors-c-street/

Pensito Review as found at http://www.pensitoreview.com/2009/11/25/the-family-c-street-group-tied-to-uganda-death-penalty-for-gays/


Why We Can’t Wait

On the Monday that I flew out to Salt Lake City, Utah for the 48th General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalists,  I found my plane delayed in Birmingham several times, leaving over 5 hours after the scheduled time.  Needless to say I was a bit aggravated and impatient.  I finally made it to Dallas-Forth Worth for my connection flight that was now two hours after I arrived there.  As I got on board the plane and found my seat, my row companion looked up at me and asked, “Are you one of my colleagues?” 

Serendipitously, I was sitting next to Rev. Dr. Daniel Kanter of the First Unitarian Church of Dallas.  It turned out that he had missed his earlier flight.  Okay, so maybe there is a god, I thought to myself wondering what this meeting would bring.  We had a wonderful conversation that only two UUministers could have and we turned to serious matters.   Daniel asked me why were gay activists so impatient with Obama.  Didn’t we understand that Obama has to play politics in order for the right moment to repeal DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act)  and DADT (Don’t Ask Don’t Tell) ? I gave some answers that I thought were pertinent.  He then said, “Why don’t you blog about this conversation?”

Here is my further reflection on why we can’t wait for civil rights.   First a recap of the answer I gave on the plane.  Yes, I think gay activists are savvy enough to know political maneuvering when we see it.   But the DOMA brief that was written by Obama staff  did more than just defend the current law, it attacked our dignity and  integrity.  The brief  compared same sex marriage to court rulings banning pedophilia coupling and incestual coupling.   Consensual same sex coupling is clearly not in the same category as the manipulative pedophilia relationship nor does it result in the potential  biological damages in offspring as incestual relationships.  President Bush’s brief on DOMA did not even broach these relationships in its argument to uphold DOMA. 

DADT does not need to have congress to repeal it.  When President Harry S Truman integrated the armed services he did so with an executive order.  President Obama could do the same.  He chooses not to.   The arguments against allowing sexual minorities into the military no longer carries any weight with Canada, Britain, France, and Israel all having openly gay military serving in their forces.    These militaries are considered to be among the greatest armed forces in the world.   They have not been compromised with gay personnel and nor will our armed services if sexual minorities are allowed to serve openly with honor and dignity. 

These were the reasons I gave but it does not answer the question as to why we cannot wait.  The answer came to me as I was listening to the talk given by Rev. Kim Crawford Harvie, minister of the Arlington Street Church in Boston, during our honoring of those ministers who were celebrating 25 years of ministry.   She included remembrances of  her services to people living with HIV/AIDS. 

This year is the 40th anniversary of Stonewall, the riots that occurred when police raided a gay bar in the Greenwich Village region of New York City.   Police were known to raid the gay bars from time to time, haul people into jail.  Occasionally a well known figure would be arrested and have his career destroyed.  On the night of the riots, however, the patrons, many of them drag queens, said enough is enough and fought back.  They were joined by others.   The riots continued for several days.    The beginnings of a re-energized gay civil rights campaign began.  This was 1969. 

There was progress towards rights in the ten years that followed and then in 1979 gay men began to get ill with mysterious diseases.  It did not capture the attention of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)  until mid 1981.   There was no funding to study this new outbreak.  There was little need to be concerned because after all these were gay men.  It was called gay cancer and in some hospitals;  medical staff called it WOGS (Wrath of God Syndrome). 

There was a sense in America that some how these people deserved this disease.  It was a death sentence.  Once diagnosed with PCP or KS or Toxo, a person had weeks, rarely months to live.  The immune system so compromised to allow these rare illnesses to ravage the body there was little hope of living.   Hundreds became thousands of young gay men dying. 

We were dispensable.  We had no rights.  We could be evicted from our homes on suspect of being gay.  We could be fired on appearances alone.    Nursing staff, doctors could refuse to serve a person with HIV/AIDS.  We were denied visiting rights of our partners as they lay dying in the hospital.  When our partners died, family members who wrote them off years before would swoop in and simply take the body of our loved ones. They would evict us from our homes if the house was in our partner’s name.  And they would legally contest the wills as blood relatives and win.  

We had to fight for research monies to find life extending medications.     So many of us lost health insurance because of an AIDS diagnosis.  We had to fight for monies to provide housing for those living with HIV/AIDS. We were denied Social Security Disability because AIDS was not seen as a qualifying disability–thereby a person with AIDS lost all means for an income and medical assistance.   We organized and succeeded to have drugs developed that extended life, not only by months but by years, restoring many to be able to lead productive lives again.  It was a hard fight.   But it is a fight we still have to contend with. 

Governor Jodi Rell of Connecticut decided to cut to zero what she considered to be non-essential services for the budget that begins today.  All AIDS funding was cut which will resort in people with HIV/AIDS to once again face medical crisis as they find services no longer available to them.  For contrast park and recreational services were deemed essential services.

Alabama rejected Federal Ryan White funds which amounted to a total of $10 million in medical treatment for people with HIV/AIDS and rejected an additional $700K in funding for support services.    These two examples are being repeated across the nation. 

Why can’t we wait?  We are tired of being expendable under the law.  We are tired of being deemed second class citizens that do not have partnership medical benefits, or employment rights, or housing rights, or marriage rights, or survivorship benefits.  Our lives can be trampled on by survivors who refused to acknowledge our existence while alive but want every piece of us when we are dead.  This demeans our integrity and sense of worth. 

To continue to live with the lies that the far right is spreading regarding the hate crimes bill and the employment non-discrimination Act (ENDA) is degrading and immoral. 

We have paid for our rights as full citizens with our lives.   We have paid dearly.   For us to have supported a President who campaigned hard and long on a promise of equality winning our votes, to now tell us to have patience after the thousands of lives that have been lost to HIV/AIDS is unconscionable. Telling us to have patience after the thousands of deaths as a result of  homophobic violence in our schools, in our communities, in our families that continue to this very day is cruel. Now is not the time for patience.  Now is the time for fulfilling promises made that helped place this president and his party into office.

Published in: on July 1, 2009 at 7:17 pm  Comments (2)  
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