Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Marriage Equality and the non-consenting

Since the SCOTUS ruling there have been a bunch of reactions from conservative religious folk.  I have no problem with someone believing whatever they want and I fully expect that when someone has a deeply held faith commitment, they will act accordingly.  If they do not, then they are simply hypocrites. 

So here are the two problem areas... First, I hear folk, especially very conservative Christians, claiming that the government will force them to marry gay couples or they will somehow be punished.  My first question would be when has the government ever forced you to marry anyone?  If a couple comes to me as a clergy person, I decide whether or not to perform the service. If not, it may be because I do not agree the couple is ready for marriage or any other reason that I decide.  If the congregation I serve has criteria to which I've agreed, then those criteria help shape the decision.  If I served a congregation that refused to perform services for divorced persons and a couple came with one of them being divorced, the service would not be performed.

This simply is not a concern and there is no reason to believe it ever will be.  Add the question of what gay couple would want their service to be performed by someone who believes their relationship is an abomination and I really cannot imagine it ever becoming a problem.

The second is a bit trickier.  We've seen already that in some states, clerks are being advised that they do not have to provide marriage licenses to gay couples.  This is problematic in a number of ways.  First I would ask whether those same clerks are allowed to refuse a license to a couple with a divorced person?  Or a mixed race couple?  Or a couple of mixed religions... or no religion for that matter (if indeed, marriage is an institution established by God)?  All these situations trigger religious objections by some.

Then there is the question raised by the recent meme... if giving a marriage license means that you've participated in the gay marriage, does selling a gun mean that you've participated in a murder committed with that gun?  Does giving a couple a license imply anything other than that the state allows this relationship and that the employee is acting as an agent of the state (his or her job). 

Years ago I had a discussion with someone who worked for a defense company and had been condemned by some for working at a plant that produced munitions, implying that they were responsible for how those munitions were being used.  His answer was, "I didn't send the troops there.  I didn't authorize the expenditures.  You elected that government and you paid for those munitions.  Maybe you're the one who is responsible."  The argument made sense.  I think this is a similar situation.  If an individual clerk cannot fulfill his or her job, they should find a new job.  In doing that job - providing a marriage license - they are not participating in the acts that follow.

On the other hand, what about a JP or Judge who performs weddings as a part of their job?  That person is participating in the ritual in a more significant way and religious objections may have a real part here.  At the same time, the local government is required by law to provide that service.  I would argue that in those circumstances a religious exemption might make sense but that the government agency is obligated to provide someone who will perform the ceremony.  John Smith may indeed say, "I cannot do this service for religious reasons, but my colleague, Mary Jones will.  Let me get her."  Or indeed, while talking to the couple, the clerk need not even mention John Smith.  The clerk can just make the appointment with Mary Jones.  Under no circumstances can the county office say, "Sorry, we don't have anyone to do your service."  They are responsible to provide that service to all who are legally entitled to it

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

water, water... but only if you can afford it

No doubt, you're aware that much of the southwest is in a severe drought situation.  More than once I've had friends from other parts of the US remark that they wish they could send some of their excess rain here.  Well, we'd like that too.  The primary water source for much of the area where I live is a man made lake - Lake Cachuma.  The last official number I heard was the end of March and it was down to 27% of capacity.  I'm sure it is lower now and we likely won't see any significant rainfall until October.
Lake Cachuma - everything in the foreground is supposed to be underwater

As you can imagine, the government is encouraging folk to save water.  Lawns are dead.  Water thirsty plantings are either pulled out or dead.  Many folk have buckets in their showers to catch water which is then used to water flowers or flush toilets.  Folk who can have stopped their daily showers.  The old adage, "If its yellow, let it mellow, if its brown flush it down," has been taken to new extremes.  Many households have cut back water use significantly.

You may have heard about Nestle continuing to pump water from California aquifers and sell it around the country while those who live on top of those very aquifers struggle to have enough water for daily needs.  Then there are the oil and gas companies who inject huge amounts of water in injections wells or in fracking, both using large amounts of water, and possibly/likely contaminating the aquifers upon which people depend and upon which much of California agriculture depends.  We even see stories out here of farmers using the contaminated water from oil fields to water the vegetables that many of us eat.

Well there is a third group of folk that really make my blood boil.  In the grand scheme of things they don't use as much water as either Nestle or the oil companies, but the symbolism really is infuriating.  They are the folk pointed out in this article in the Washington Post - rich folk who think that because they can afford it, they should get all of the water they want and use it in any way they please, screw the poor folk who can't flush their toilets, I deserve my lush green lawn.  In April after a state order to cut water usage by 25%, the folk in wealthy Rancho Santa Fe actually increased their usage by 9%.  According to the NY Times, daily per capita water use in Santa Fe is 427 gallons.  In July, they used 644 gallons per person per day.  Compare that to San Francisco, one of the most water effiecient areas of the state, where the daily per capita use is 44 gallons.  You read that right, 9.7 times as much water per person in Santa Fe vs. San Fran.

Here is a telling quote from the Washington Post article
People “should not be forced to live on property with brown lawns, golf on brown courses or apologize for wanting their gardens to be beautiful,” Yuhas fumed recently on social media. “We pay significant property taxes based on where we live,” he added in an interview. “And, no, we’re not all equal when it comes to water.”
We're rich so we shouldn't have to play by the same rules...

Fines don't work because the folk are rich.  Social conscience doesn't work for at least some of them... I'd like to see a limit on water use... give them a number of gallons per person per household  - make it a generous allotment, say 50% more than the state average - and when it goes above that, shut off the water.  And the tanker trucks that then drive in carrying water for those who can afford to buy from them... well, make those sales illegal until the drought is over.

This is one more example where the necessities of life are being sold to the highest bidder and for those who cannot afford to compete... too bad.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Murders and Mental Illness

I've been listening with sadness to much of the discussion surrounding Dylann Roof and the murders at Emmanuel AME church.  More than once I have heard people refer to him as insane, comment about how "sick" his actions were, or describe his actions as those of a crazy person.

I want to say this as clearly as I can.  Dylann Roof's actions were not due to mental illness.  He is not crazy.  He is not sick.  He is evil and his actions were evil.  To identify him with those who are mentally ill does great disservice to those who truly are mentally ill and places them under suspicion that they do not deserve.  If murdering 9 people equals mental illness then what does mental illness equal?   If we can label this person as "sick" and then lock him away and forget him, what do we do with the truly sick people in our communities and even in our own families?

Please, please, please, do not call this evil young man crazy or sick or mentally ill... he is not.  And those who are mentally struggle enough with their illness that they do not need to be branded with suspicion of being murders.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Go Frank

Let me begin by saying that I have no problem with people of faith bringing their faith into their politics.  That is a very different thing than imposing one's faith on someone else but if one's faith does not impact the way he or she lives in this world, the way they vote, and the values they hold, then it is not worth having.  A particular faith commitment is never adequate for forming public policy but to expect an individual of faith to remove his or her faith from their deliberation on any issue of importance is untenable.

I've chuckled more than once at the way the religious right, non-Catholic and Catholic alike, has reacted to Pope Francis.  The lack of integrity is almost comical.  The same folk who cheered when the Roman Catholic hierarchy condemned gay marriage or the right to choose are apoplectic that the pope would call for world-wide economic reform or care of the earth.  They could not say any more clearly that they are fine with bringing one's religious values to political discourse only as long as it is supportive of their agenda.  So, when the pope speaks out on economic or ecological issues they accuse him of moving beyond his "religious" role and speaking to issues about which he is ignorant.  I'm especially interested in the way some Roman Catholic Republicans have so easily dismissed his teaching as being irrelevant. 

Here's the issue... Pope Francis and everything he has said and done falls so squarely in that blend of the Jesuit and Franciscan traditions that he represents as to be completely and absolutely expected.  That he chose the name, Francis, should have been a hint of what to expect.  That he is a Jesuit should have warned everyone that he would be a thoughtful activist, engaging the world.

It is no surprise to anyone who has read anything I've written that I am a fan.  Certainly, I do not agree with all of his stances - and as a Baptist, I have no obligation to - but I deeply appreciate his thoughtfulness, his courage, and the way he is pushing all people of faith forward.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015


This week Franklin Graham has called for Christians to boycott businesses that are (along with the media and gay and lesbian organizations) cramming a tide of moral decay down our throats.  Evidently this commercial from Wells Fargo Bank was the straw that broke the camel's back for him.

I have no problem with anyone deciding not to do business anywhere for any reason they choose, including some perception that a particular business is supporting "moral decay."  I do have problems when someone identifies a specific moral understanding as "Christian," implying that anyone who does not agree is simply not "Christian."

Now it is true that I am not the same stripe of Christian as Franklin Graham and indeed, I would have some difficulty using that descriptor of him - probably as much as he would have using it of me - for a whole bunch of reasons.  I am not quite ready to write off everyone who owns that name just because I disagree with them over sometimes very important issues.   There needs to be room for disagreement and the possibility of rubbing shoulders with different opinions in order for growth to take place.  It was interesting that around the same time Graham was calling for a boycott of businesses that are supportive of LGBTQ people, prominent evangelical leader, Tony Campolo, came out as fully supportive of inclusion of LGBTQ folk in the church

Back to the commercial... For a number of years our family did foster care.  We saw the horrendous situations of many children.  Some were eventually freed for adoption.  Sometimes their foster families adopted them but sometimes they did not for any number of reasons.  The older children had a much more difficult time getting "forever families" as did children with any issues ranging from emotional problems to physical disabilities.  It would not be easy to find a home for child like the one in the commercial - an elementary school aged girl who was also deaf.  The implication from Graham that somehow the little girl in the commercial would be better off languishing in foster care or an institution vs. adoption by a loving lesbian couple is just ugly.

I hope Graham follows up in two ways - first that he calls for each of his constituent families to adopt a special needs child and second, that he be consistent and refuse to do business with all LGBTQ friendly businesses.  Of course, the second step might be difficult to live out.  Eliel Cruz has included a list of 30 other major companies that, like Wells Fargo, received a 100 score from the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index .  Their list of 366 companies scoring 100 happens to include 14 of the top 20, 150 total of the companies on the Fortune 500 list.  Cruz goes on to observe that finding a national company with a zero score is virtually impossible.

His list includes: Target, Starbucks, Levi’s, Microsoft, Amazon, Ford, Home Depot, Expedia, Pepsi, Procter & Gamble, Gap, Oreo, Macy’s, Old Navy, Banana Republic, General Mills, J.C. Penney, Walgreens, Nike, Ben and Jerry’s, Google, Ebay, Orbitz, Jet Blue, Mastercard, Johnson & Johnson, Goldman Sachs, Cisco, Marriott, and UBS.  Likewise, Facebook, where Graham posted his call, scored 100.  Graham could be consistent with his stated goals and boycott all of those companies on the complete list... or he could argue that he is singling out Wells Fargo because they chose to advertise their position and so were actively cramming this moral decay down our throats.

I choose to live in a world more like the one portrayed in Wells Fargo's ad than the one for which Franklin Graham yearns.  If that equates with moral decay... bring it on.   Similar accusations were thrown at the earliest followers of Jesus.

Target Starbucks Levi’s Microsoft Amazon Ford Home Depot Expedia Pepsi Procter & Gamble Gap Oreo Macy’s Old Navy Banana Republic General Mills J.C. Penney Walgreens Nike Ben and Jerry’s Google Ebay Orbitz Jet Blue Mastercard Johnson & Johnson Goldman Sachs Cisco Marriott UBS - See more at:

Target Starbucks Levi’s Microsoft Amazon Ford Home Depot Expedia Pepsi Procter & Gamble Gap Oreo Macy’s Old Navy Banana Republic General Mills J.C. Penney Walgreens Nike Ben and Jerry’s Google Ebay Orbitz Jet Blue Mastercard Johnson & Johnson Goldman Sachs Cisco Marriott UBS - See more at:

Sunday, May 17, 2015

"But I don't believe what they believe..." redux

A little over a year ago I posted a piece about the theology of one of the local megachurches - Eternal Punishment and the Local Megachurch in which I questioned whether the member of that church really believe that their "unsaved" neighbors are all going to suffer eternal punishment in hell.

I had a vacation week this week and we were in town on Sunday and attended that church.  The church scene in greater Santa Barbara is dominated by a couple of megachurches and it seems that the individual congregations go in and out of style.  When I speak to the families whose children attend our nursery school and ask whether they're a part of a local religious community, about 1/2 say they attend whatever megachurch is in style at that time.  The church we attended this morning is the in style church now and it showed.  There was a line of cars waiting to get into the parking lot.  The average age was significantly younger than Cambridge Drive and there were scores of pregnant women, toddlers, and kids. The sanctuary was very full.

This morning's experience felt authentic.  I felt the genuineness of the worship leaders and deeply appreciated that.  Signage was poor.  A first time visitor could easily get lost in the shuffle but that is part and parcel of a megachurch.   There were bits of the service that literally made no sense (communion was just weird), but the biggest problem for me was the sermon.  The preacher spoke on John 12:27-33 and said the passage addressed two questions: why did the cross have to happen and what did the cross accomplish.  The sermon was consistent with the statement of faith I read a bit over a year ago.  The woman who spoke (yes, a woman) talked about the purity and justice of God requiring the death penalty and that Jesus "had to suffer for a day so we would not have to suffer for eternity."  I'll let the logic behind some of the arguments go but the theological underpinnings I find really problematic.

The preacher presented the defining characteristic of God as being purity... and the purity is so pure that it is literally immiscible with the sinful nature of humanity.  Why is the cross necessary according to the sermon?  Because God's purity requires wrath and justice, which in the case of human sinfulness equals death and eternal punishment.

I found myself wondering how many of those young mothers would pour out wrath on their children regardless of what they had done.  Earlier in the service, members were asked to share scripture passages that gave them comfort during difficult times and one quoted Matthew 7:9-11
Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? 10 Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
You can see the inconsistency here... especially since these words were spoken by Jesus long before the cross.

Again, I found myself wondering how many of those in the congregation actually believe in a God whose wrath is so all consuming that the only answer is the death penalty or eternal agony... and if that penalty is meted out on one who is innocent, then all the better.

Sorry... that i not the God I believe in.

I would argue that the defining characteristic of God is love and that by its very nature love is never immiscible.  Indeed, that is the very message of the incarnation.  In my theology, God's love requires forgiveness and reconciliation not punishment.  The cross is not punishment for human sin but the example of human sin and the example of love that goes so far as even to suffer.  It is God reaching out to us no matter the cost.

Just like the other local megachurch we attended a few years ago, I found myself wondering why the folk are there.  This one did feel authentic... at least it has that going for it and it is possible that much of the congregation actually agree with the theology that came from the pulpit this morning.  On the other hand, if they do not believe that message... you can draw your own conclusions.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

The problem with the police

Police violence, particularly against black men and boys is a serious issue and must be addressed.   The fact that Baltimore has a black mayor and black police chief clearly shows that police violence against black men is not so simple as blaming a bunch of white racists for acting inappropriately but race cannot be ignored as a factor (see more below).  Race is not the only issue though and as some of my racist friends are quick to say, "White people get killed by the police too." 

Let me begin by saying that for most of my ministry I have had police officers who were members of my congregations.  To a person they were dedicated, conscientious people who took their jobs very seriously and truly wanted to do the right thing.  Still, the officers I have known well struggled with the issues below.

Back in seminary I did a stint as a student chaplain in a mental hospital.  It was a formative experience for me in many ways and I learned more from my supervisor, Bob Cholke, than I could begin to share.   One thing he said was very relevant to the problems we're seeing with the police today.  After working a few weeks at Haverford State Mental Hospital, Cholke said, "Be careful... if you spend much time here, you'll see everyone as crazy."  It was true.  As I spent more time with the mentally ill folk in the hospital I began to see that they really weren't that different from everyone else I knew.  It was a short jump to seeing everyone else I knew as like them... crazy.  I think the same is true with police officers.  They spend a lot of time with bad people and it doesn't take long until they see everybody as bad.  They would argue that at times their very lives depend on seeing the worst in the people they encounter.  That may be true, but it does change the way they see everyone and the ways that they interact with the public.

Race is clearly an issue in our culture and we often characterize criminals as being people of color.  You see a violent crime drama on television and there is a good chance that the criminal is not white.  Turn it around and people of color are seen as criminals regardless of what they have done.  This happens even with police officers who are black.  Add this to the sense above that everybody is a criminal and you've got a recipe for problems. 

The militarization of the police intensifies everything.  I remember hearing a commentator watching the police in Ferguson who said that when he was in Afghanistan, he was less heavily armed on patrol than the police were on the streets of Ferguson.  When the police arrive in full combat gear, that elicits a response that is not good.  It intensifies the sense of an us/them divide.  It escalates the potential for problems.  We all know that the police are supposed to protect and serve but the military is there to engage an enemy.  Some years ago I heard Ray Bakke say that the future of urban ministry was in the hands of women because men tended to escalate the potential for violence.  The softer approach of women lessened the tensions.  How much more true is it that a heavily armed police force in full combat gear escalates things as opposed to a softer presence?

The solutions are not simple and they are not without cost.  A softer police presence may indeed make the job of the police more dangerous.  It may also make the general public less likely to suffer from violence by police officers.