I just returned from Texas where we attended the UURMaPA (Unitarian Universalist Retired Ministers and Partners) conference and spent a few extra days in Austin visiting the family of one of Anne’s Sicilian cousins.
What a trip it was! It was only a week, but it was also a lifetime. At the conference I told my life story, my odyssey, which wasn’t an easy thing to do. Like everyone, I have seen some hard times. It was emotional and difficult to speak of some of them. The response from my colleagues in ministry and their partners was truly heartwarming. The conference theme was on Unitarian Universalism’s history on GLBTQ issues. And although we have been much more progressive on those issues than any other faith tradition that I know of, there was still a lot of pain expressed by ministers who came out in the early days. I loved the conference, and there were times I cried. Tears are good though.
After the conference, we went to Austin to visit family that we had never met in person. Frankly, we were a little nervous about meeting them. They are religious Christians who attend a large Protestant church. Would they embrace us for who we are, or simply tolerate us in “love the sinner, hate the sin” mode? We were very moved by the warm welcome we received from them. We also learned that one of the teenagers is president of the GSA (Gay Straight Alliance) at her school. How awesome is that? It reminded me of our visit to Sicily where we were also nervous, and then we discovered that one of the young adult cousins was “Mr. Gay Europe” and that the family embraced him whole-heartedly. Damn, I love our Italian family, and I am thrilled to now know the ones who live in Texas. This warm and embracing family is yet another gift I have received from my marriage to Anne.
I tried to stay on-track with my weight loss program while I was gone, but it was hard. I definitely drank less water. The conference food had lots of good choices, but exercising was pretty much out as the programming started early and went into the evening. Austin was a home-made Italian pasta dinner and a similar lunch, complete with impossible-to-resist pastry desserts. They also took us out for an awesome steak fajitas lunch. I skipped the rice and beans, but likely overate on the rest. The meat was so tender and flavorful! The hotel had an exercise room, though, and we walked a lot touring around. We will see what the scale shows this week, but my funky home scale doesn’t have a particularly frightening number on it. It is all OK. Everything is just grand in fact. It is also good to be home.
In Matthew 19:14, Jesus is quoted as saying, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
Maybe the elders of the LDS Church have never read these words. Or never taken them seriously. Yesterday they banned the children of same gender parents from receiving blessings or the priesthood. (OK , they actually only banned the sons of GLBT folks. Daughters of straight couples are also forbidden the priesthood.) Even adult children of gay parents cannot be baptized in the Mormon faith until and unless they renounce their GLBT parents.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe the LDS faith is the one true faith and I think never participating in it may in fact ultimately be healthier emotionally, psychologically and, most especially, spiritually, for the individuals involved. The church authorities could actually be doing these kids a favor in the long run.
For seven years I served as the minister of a Unitarian Universalist church in Utah. Almost half of my congregation was ex-Mormon. I know the pain that faith can cause. I know the havoc it can create in people’s lives who don’t fit the stereotype of the perfect Mormon, or who just can’t help but question some of the beliefs. People can lose their jobs, their homes, and their families when they become apostates.
And there is so much good about the faith as well, which is why it can be so hard to leave it. This latest action will doubtless drive more people to leave the LDS church. They will be, as before, mainly the ones who really strive to follow the teachings of Jesus and finally realize that their church hierarchy either can’t or won’t do the same.
There is much grief in Mormonland today, tears, sorrow and pain. My heart breaks for those who are suffering.
“Let the children come.” “Do not hinder them.”
If you are still a member of the LDS faith, it may be past time to find another church, my friends. Unitarian Universalist congregations will welcome you in the fullness of who you are. Other faith traditions will as well.
Please know that you are worthy of love and respect. You are a precious child of God, blessed from the moment of your birth. The whole sacred world is your temple. You don’t need theirs.
I moved from Utah back to California at the end of June, partly to live in a state where my marriage would be recognized. The photo above is of our wedding cake. It has been nice. No issues come up when I introduce my spouse as my wife. No one even blinks an eye. Now, finally, all marriages are recognized in Utah again. Things have been bad there since the brief window where people married last December after a federal court ruling. The state officials continued to fight against equality in increasingly nasty ways. They are still trying to do so, but have to realize at this point that they really are on the wrong side of history. Blessings to all my Utah friends today. Your steadfast work in planting the seeds for justice is finally bring the harvest end. Congratulations! I won’t fly back for the celebrations, but my heart is with you today.
I recently moved from one of the reddest states, Utah, to one of the bluest, California. One of the reasons I moved was so I could live in a state where my marriage would be recognized. After almost 40 years together, it seemed like time. Two of our three adult children also live here, and it makes my heart glad to be near them again. There was also loss involved with the move. Hardest of all was to leave a ministry and a congregation full of people that I loved.
So what does it feel like to have made this change?
On the GLBT issue it feels totally great. I have noticed that while I still pay attention to the court cases on marriage equality, it is with much less emotion. They aren’t impacting me personally anymore. Utah’s Governor Herbert and Attorney General Sean Reyes can say all the hateful and bigoted things about GLBT people they want, but MY governor and attorney general are nothing but supportive. So are my neighbors and random people I meet in the street and the supermarket. Life is pretty good for GLBT people when the state is a blue one. The weather here in California is also delightful.
I also think the move is going to be good for me as a minister. I was beginning to feel very frustrated and almost bitter about Utah’s red state politics. It wasn’t just marriage equality, it was also their failure to expand medicaid, their love affair with guns, and their total disregard for the environment. I won’t even go into the corruption. Their last two Attorney Generals are being indicted for selling their influence to the highest bidder.
It does not serve a minister well to wear frustration and bitterness underneath a robe and stole. As a minister, I believe I must always serve something much greater than myself. I must always hold up hope for the people and the community I serve. I must help create a clarity of vision that is untarnished by any of my own personal angst. That was becoming less possible for me in Utah. I had done it for seven years; I just couldn’t do it anymore.
Since June 30, I have not been serving a congregation. How different that has felt. Even when I was on sabbatical, my heart and spirit were still entwined with all that was going on with the church that I would continue to serve. I was still their minister. This break has been different. I haven’t been anyone’s minister for almost two months.
That is about to change. I will begin with a new congregation in less than a week. It is in Berkeley CA, no less, one of the most liberal communities in this very blue state. I am extremely excited. I haven’t met any of them in person yet, just a video interview and a few emails, but they need a minister and I believe that I can serve them well. I am ready to love them and lead them as best as I am able. In a red state or a blue state, people need community, they need comfort when they are hurting, they need meaning in their lives, they need laughter and music, and a way to connect to what is holy in life. Life itself is sacred, but we need help sometimes to learn to live that way. Our liberal religion of Unitarian Universalism offers all of this.
Red and blue when mixed together make the color purple. Purple is a color that is associated with religion. Lighten it up just a bit and you have lavender. It is not a menace but a dream. Amen to dreams.
Marriage equality and my emotions go up and down, up and down, bouncing like a red rubber ball. It made me think of this song.
THE CYRKLE- “RED RUBBER BALL”
They say that justice is a journey, and the arc of the universe bends toward it. Well, Unitarian minister Theodore Parker said that and Martin Luther King repeated it – a lot. The last several months, however, have been more of a roller coaster. Judges rule, marriages happen, stays are issued, benefits are given and then taken away. Adoptions granted and then suspended. Who says they care about children? Utah, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Idaho, etc, etc. There are too many states to name where the emotions and lives of GLBT are being batted around like a tether ball. Waiting to hear from Oregon today. It is time to untether the rope and let freedom fly free. Hit it out of the park. Follow the arc. May it be so.
A few days ago, I posted about the LDS church and their continued opposition to the ordination of women as well as their persistence in naming same gender relationships as sinful. (Click here to read that post.) I commented that I thought the two issues were related.
I do know that my own faith tradition of Unitarian Universalism has been in the forefront of the struggle for full inclusion of both women and LGBT people. The first woman in the US to be ordained by a national denomination was Olympia Brown, who was ordained by the Universalist Church of America on June 25, 1863. Antoinette Louisa Brown Blackwell was earlier on Sept. 15, 1853 by a local congregational church. She later became a Unitarian and preached frequently in Unitarian churches. In terms of of LGBT issues, as early as 1970, shortly after Stonewall, our General Assembly called for an end to discrimination based upon sexual orientation. Currently, roughly half of our ordained clergy are female and we have many ministers serving our congregations who are openly LGBT. I am one of them.
Many different denominations will now ordain women but relatively few will ordain openly gay ministers, particularly if they are in a marriage or relationship. What is striking is that there is no religious tradition that is at all supportive of same gender relationships that does not also ordain women. (I started to research various other world religions, but gave up as the information of GLBT acceptance was much harder to find. Someone else may wish to do so. I suspect the same dynamic would be there.)
Most of the other mainline Christian denominations are still dealing with the issue. The Methodists, Presbyterians, American Baptists, and the Disciples Of Christ (all of whom ordain women) have not reached a consensus on the issues of GLBT ordination but they are not actively engaged in trying to stop GLBT progress in the area of civil rights including civil marriage.
Who are the major Christian denominations that are actively opposing full civil rights for GLBT people?
The Southern Baptist Convention
The Missouri Synod Lutherans
The Catholic Church
The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints.
None of them ordain women.
I suspect it is mainly about patriarchy. Stable loving same gender relationship challenge the patriarchal ideal of men always needing to be in the leadership role both in the family and in the church. Male privilege and power is threatened both by women who demand significant roles in religious life and by marriages that are based upon equality. Women should no longer be silent in church. Paul would never have written that infamous line anyway if there were not already a lot of sisters making their opinions known in the churches of that time.
Jesus spent a lot of his ministry with women and he never said anything to indicate that same gender relationships were sinful.
The struggle of women and of GLBT people for full inclusion in society and in religious institutions are clearly linked. If women are not equal participants in a faith community, then GLBT people have not been accepted there either. So there is a good reason for LGBT people to be cheering on those working for the ordination of women in male dominated faiths. Not that we wouldn’t be doing so anyway. It is both a justice issue and a spiritual one.
Most of the reaction to Weber State University’s decision to name their Center for Family and Community Education after Boyd Packer has been about how offensive this is to the GLBT community here. The more I think about it, however, the more I realize how much harm he has done over the years to all the families in Utah. Because of his words, faithful Mormon families believed they should reject their GLBT family members. As a result, Mormons who realize they are gay have left the church, left the state, and too often committed suicide. Almost nothing is more traumatic to a family than a suicide, particularly when it is a young person.
Virtually every Mormon has gay relatives. With one of the highest birth rates in the country, and many families having 5 or more children, the odds are great that every LDS person will have at least one child or one sibling who identifies as GLBT. Then there are all the aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins who families have ostracized because of Packer’s words.
To lift him up as someone who has supported families is just wrong.
Sign the petition below to have Weber State reconsider this decision. There is also a link to a news article about this.
- Gay is Great! 6/2/2013 (theresauuco.wordpress.com)
Today is pride Sunday. Many of our members, both gay and straight, are not in church this morning because they are attending the parade and celebration down in Salt Lake City. That is great! That is so gay!
It is interesting how much tone can matter. If I had said, “That is great” or “That is so gay” it would have drawn a very different reaction from this mostly straight but hardly narrow group that is gathered here today.
When I attended seminary, there were a number of students there who identified as transgender and the issue of pronouns came up. It can be awkward. The solution was to simply ask what individuals preferred and then try to be respectful of their wishes. People made mistakes, however. Gender cues are complicated and cultural norms run deep. One of my professors, understanding this, said, “Whatever you call me, it will be OK, as long as you say it with love.”
Another story comes from when I worked for Social Security. I was in a meeting with other line managers planning a strategy for handling a large workload that was coming soon. We wanted our plan to be approved by our boss, so we were discussing how to approach them. One of the other managers said, “We don’t want to queer the deal.”
Without thinking about it, I said, “Joe, some of us think that would be a good thing.”
There was some silence and then he turned bright red. There was some laughter in the room and he said he hadn’t meant it that way, and I just said, “I know.”
He hadn’t meant anything by it, in fact; it was just a figure of speech. But he never used it again. He’d learned something.
Most of us do not go out of our way to hurt other people’s feelings. Sometimes it takes someone saying “ouch” before we know that something we have said or done has hurt.
This has been a banner year for GLBT rights. Marriage equality is now the law in 14 countries, 12 states and the District of Columbia. The Supreme Court will issue a decision this month on California’s Prop 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act. It is great to be gay in times like these. It is a level of progress that I never thought I would see in my lifetime. When I first came out, it was a crime in most states to engage in sexual activity with someone of the same gender. Then again, this country used to have segregated drinking fountains and schools. The struggle for desegregation was a long and bloody one.
I will never forget the image of George Wallace in 1963, when he was the Governor of Alabama, standing in a doorway at the University of Alabama, trying to prevent two black students from entering.
There are a lot of public schools in this country named after Martin Luther King, but I don’t know of any named after George Wallace.
He was and remains a symbol of racist bigotry. Naming a school after him would be hurtful to African Americans and others.
Some of you probably know where I am going with this.
Yes, I want to talk some about Weber State University’s decision to name their Center for Family and Community Education for Boyd K. and Donna S. Packer.
It is a tricky and controversial topic. The folks at Weber State are our friends. Many members of this congregation work and study there. Others are former students. The University has been very supportive of our OUTreach program. Still, their decision indicates to me that Gay is still not so great here in Utah. Of course we knew that. This legislative year statewide non-discrimination ordinances failed yet again. (Stuart Reed, the state senator who represents Ogden was one of the prime opponents of that legislation by the way. He said he could not support legislation that condoned immorality.)
Other states have the freedom to marry, but here many people have to stay in the closet for fear of losing their jobs or their homes.
It isn’t right and Boyd Packer, like George Wallace standing in the schoolhouse door, has been standing in the way of justice and equality for the people of this state.
Let me say clearly that I have no problem with honoring someone who is active in the leadership of the LDS church.
A Gordon Hinckley Center for Family and Community Education would not give me heartburn. It would not cause my heart to ache. I’d be OK with Thomas Monson too, or pretty much anyone other than Boyd Packer. The LDS church has contributed a lot of very good things to Utah. It is appropriate to recognize that. It is also important to understand that the LDS church seems to be trying to change how it responds to gay people. The changes are coming mainly from internal pressure, from the people in the pews. There are literally hundreds of devout Mormons marching in the Pride parade today, carrying signs and speaking out in support of equality.
The LDS church believes in ongoing revelation, and I am confident that eventually they will come to understand that God does not make distinctions based upon either sexual orientation or gender. In other words, and you can call me crazy, but I think that someday Mormon Lesbians will hold the Mormon priesthood.
Let me say another thing, slightly off subject, but important. We need to be very careful in how we talk about the LDS church here in this congregation. Followers of that faith are on their own search for truth and meaning. It is not OK to mock their theology or their spiritual practices. Every religion has its quirks. Some would think our flaming chalice is a bit odd, for instance. There are also hundreds of jokes about the number of Unitarian Universalists it takes to change a light bulb. We can make those jokes and laugh at them.
It’s kind of like the difference between saying, “That is so gay” as a gay person or an ally and saying “that is so gay” in a disparaging way.
Respect for the worth and dignity of others and recognizing that all religions contain at least some truth, does not mean, however, that we should be silent when people are being hurt. Respect sometimes means telling them that you don’t like something they are doing. Boyd Packer’s many statements over the years have hurt many people, most of them members of his own faith tradition. By this time, he must know they are hurtful.
Publicly honoring him is just not appropriate. Maybe the decision makers at Weber State just weren’t thinking. Maybe they were like my friend at work who “didn’t want to queer the deal.” Maybe. I hope so. I hope they did not realize how hurtful this would be. I hope they did not decide to go ahead anyway, despite knowing the pain they would be causing.
They clearly know now, if they did not before. Even if they do not change their decision, they have learned something.
When you can say “gay is great” and mean it, then you aren’t afraid to say “ouch” when something hurts. A least most of the time that is true.
I have another story. When I worked for Social Security I traveled a lot and often took a cab home from the airport shuttle stop. One time, fairly late at night, the cabbie yelled, “Move it faggot!” at another driver. It scared me.
I wanted to say something but worried that if he figured out I was a lesbian things might get really ugly. I stayed quiet and got home. He did not get much of a tip, but I didn’t say why.
About a week later, I was riding in another shuttle to my office through downtown Richmond CA. It is a low-income, primarily African-American community that was plagued by crime and gang violence. The driver started making cracks about the neighborhood, and about “those black people.” I was able to respond and said that I worked with a lot of the people that lived there, they were good people, and even more unhappy about the crime than he was because they had to live in the midst of it.
It felt safe to say something because I was obviously white. I did not feel vulnerable to a racist attack, verbal or otherwise. It took some courage, but not as much as it would have to confront the cabbie on his homophobia.
We need to forgive ourselves when we are silent because of fear. It will make it easier to speak up in other situations.
Utah is a funny place. I love it here. I really mean that, but it is a state full of contradictions. Salt Lake has one of the largest Pride celebrations in the country, despite the fact of no state level protections. It also has a very high percentage of same gender partners raising kids, despite the fact that it is against the law for gay couples to adopt or even to be foster parents. They can’t even foster a gay teen that has been kicked out of their family for being gay. It could make you crazy if you let it.
Still, there is progress, even here in Utah. People speak up when something hurtful happens. There is a dialogue at least, and time really is on our side. One by one, counties and cities have adopted non-discrimination ordinances. We even did that here in Ogden although it took a lot of hard work and dedication. The city council chambers looked like church, there were so many of us there week after week. We stood up for our religious principles, we stood on the side of love.
That’s so Unitarian Universalist!
Let all that we do be done in love.