Pilgrim Pathways: Notes for a Diaspora People

Incarnational Discipleship

Forward: Other Winners in the U.S. 2012 Elections

So, you may have heard that Pres. Barack Obama (D) and VP Joe Biden (D) were re-elected to a 2nd term Tues. night, November 6th, 2012.  But you may have missed the many OTHER victories for social justice in the USA. There were also some losses, as Pres. Obama himself has emphasized, progress comes in fits and starts and zig-zags rather than a straightline.  This post is a summary of as many of the victories and losses as I can find so that we get some idea of the current “lay of the land” as we prepare for the next struggles.  I list these in no order of priority, just as I remember them and find links:

  1. Women’s Rights won big.  The new Congress in 2013 will have a record TWENTY (20) female U.S. Senators, up from 17 this time. On the one hand, this is pitiful. 1/5 of the U.S. Senate will be female when when women are 51% of the nation? When women have had the right to vote since 1920? Clearly, sexism is still alive and well in the USA.  BUT, it is improvement: Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) mentions that when he was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1986, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) was just elected as the first Democratic woman elected to the Senate in her own right. (Before then, widows of deceased Senators were appointed to serve out the remainders of their husbands’ terms–something that still happens.) Only 39 women have EVER served in the U.S. Senate since the body was created in 1789! The new Senate in 2013 will have 16 Democratic women [Diane Feinstein (D-CA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Kay Hagan (D-NC), Patty Murray (D-WA), Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and the newly elected Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), & Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)]and 4 Republican women [Susan Collins  (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) will be joined by Deb Fischer (R-NE), an ultra-conservative. Two other GOP women senators: Olympia Snowe (R-ME), and Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX), retired this year.]  All 8 of the men running for House and Senate who opposed abortion even in cases of rape were DEFEATED.  Women’s health, including the funding of Planned Parenthood, and coverage for contraception, were reaffirmed.  Most of the men who ran and won as Democrats were also strongly committed to women’s rights.  New Hampshire became the first state to have all female leaders: Electing Maggie Hassan as Governor (D-NH), and replacing two GOP men with Democratic women: Rep.-elect Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH-01)–reclaiming a seat she lost in 2010–and Rep.-elect Anne McKlane Kuster (D-NH-02). NH already had 2 female Senators: Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), neither of whom were up for reelection this year. For the first time, every state legislative body had at least one female member.  After the 2010 mid-terms, Republicans launched a nationwide war on women’s rights, especially reproductive rights, with huge state legislative restrictions on abortion and attempts at restriction on contraception. However, equal pay for equal work, and other women’s rights were also under assault. The victories of Tues. did not completely reverse or end these assaults, but they did constitute a major rejection of this agenda. Women were key to the reelection of the president: with an 18% gender gap between the 2 candidates.
  2. LGBTQ Rights won several victories.  The reelection of Pres. Obama means that the GOP threat to reintroduce “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” into the military was rejected.  In addition, marriage equality was legalized by ballot measure in Maine, Maryland, and Washington State, the first time marriage equality was implemented by popular vote. Further, Minnesota, though not yet affirming marriage equality, strongly defeated a state constitutional amendment to define marriage as “between one man and one woman,” again, the first time such a ballot measure in the U.S. was defeated at the ballot box rather than in the courts.  In Iowa, an attempt to unseat one of the state’s Supreme Court judges who had ruled in favor of marriage equality in 2009 was defeated.  In NY, Rep.-elect Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY-18) became the first openly gay man who is MARRIED with adopted children elected to Congress and the first openly gay Rep. from NY.  Likewise, Sen.-elect Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) will be the first openly lesbian U.S. Senator. The re-election of President Obama also was the first time an incumbent president (and VP!) endorsed marriage equality, wrote marriage equality into the party platform, and campaigned on marriage equality–and WON re-election! That and several legislative victories at the state level means that more progress for LGBTQ folk is surely on the way because of Tuesday’s elections:  Several more states will either enact marriage equality or civil union laws (usually an interim step toward full equality as voters see that the sky does not fall, but also that civil unions are still a form of 2nd class citizenship) between now and 2014. At the federal level, I expect a full court press to enact the Employee Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA), preventing workplace discrimination against LGBTQ folk and either Congressional repeal or Supreme Court rejection of the ’90s-era “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA) which prevents same-sex married couples from receiving the same federal benefits as heterosexual couples.  The next 4 years could even see the first U.S. Supreme Court Justice who is openly a member of the LGBTQ community.  Clearly, LGBTQ rights are on the march–a stunning turnaround from 2004, just 8 short years ago, when attacks on LGBTQ folk, and especially on marriage equality, was a winning strategy around the nation.
  3. Economic Justice. The gains here are more modest, but real. The reelection of Pres. Obama and an enlarged Democratic Senate means that Obamacare will be fully implemented, not repealed or watered down further, that GOP plans to voucherize Medicare, eliminate Medicaid, and privatize Social Security are off the table, as are deep cuts to social programs and education across the board.  Michigan voters repealed their state’s “emergency manager” law which had allowed for corporate dictators to usurp the elected government of any city that faced fiscal difficulties (like something out of the “Robocop” movies–set in Detroit!). Voters in CA rejected an attempt to end all union participation in the political process (while allowing corporations to continue unabated).  CA also voted to raise taxes on the rich and to a temporary sales tax increase, to fund education instead of facing more layoffs.  As well, CA achieved a Democratic 2/3 supermajority in both chambers of the legislature, enabling it to overcome the infamous Prop. 13 , enacted in 1978, which reduced property taxes to pre-1975 levels and then required 2/3 of each House of the legislature to raise them for any reason–leading to CA’s epic budget woes.  The new CA legislature will be able to forge a workable budget AND end Prop. 13 forever–a law which had allowed a tiny, tax-hating GOP minority, to rule the majority for decades.  In San Antonio, voters approved a tiny sales tax increase to fund quality Pre-K education.  Even in Texas, conventional wisdom to the contrary, Democrats CAN campaign and win on tax increases IF the public knows that they will fund worthwhile things.  Voters in a few cities around the country also approved small increases in the minimum wage.
  4. Civil Liberties.  Voters in FL killed an attempt to amend the state constitution to allow taxpayer support for religious institutions and activities (in clear violation of the U.S. Constitution’s 1st Amendment).  They also blocked attempts to ban use of public funds for abortions and contraception and blocked an attempt to block implementation of Obamacare in the state.  They rejected legislature control over judges.  Voters in Colorado and Washington State legalized cannabis and in MA authorized medical cannabis.  Although it sets up potential conflict with federal law, it shows the end is in sight for the failed “war on drugs” and that a new, sane drug policy will emerge. Prohibition fails and regulation works.
  5. Diversity and inclusion.  With the election of Sen.-elect Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Hawai’i sends the first Buddhist to the U.S. Senate. And with the election of Rep.-elect Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) to Hirono’s old House seat, Hawai’i also sends Congress its first Hindu member–who plans to be sworn in on the Bhagavad-Gita. They join 2 Muslim members of Congress.  Native Americans were key to the election of Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) in North Dakota.  Hispanic/Latino voters were a decisive factor in the reelection of Pres. Obama and several other races. Asian-Americans also made gains in representation. The days when old white men ruled everything are ending, something that fills many with fear. But those of us who have embraced inclusion and diversity since the Civil Rights movement welcome the coming rainbow society with open arms.

Losses on election day include: Cannabis legalization in Oregon and medical cannabis legalization in Arkansas.   Michigan voters failed to guarantee the right to collective bargaining in the state constitution, although that right is still part of MI law. CA tried and failed to abolish the death penalty by ballot measure–with only 48% of the public approving.  Death penalty abolition is making gains, but they are not uniform by any means.

There is clearly much work left to be done. But there is no denying that Tuesday night was a good night for social justice in the USA.

November 8, 2012 Posted by | civil rights, economic justice, GLBT issues, human rights, justice, labor, religious liberty, sexual orientation, U.S. politics, women | Leave a comment

The Practices of Just Peacemaking

In preparing for an extended defense of gospel nonviolence, I first reminded readers of basic principles of Just War Theory, the major ethic of Western civilization on war and peace issues for the last 16 centuries. I then pointed to internal weaknesses of JWT as noticed by proponents of the tradition themselves. Those weaknesses were noticed by several church groups during the 1980s and 1990s who called for a “positive ethic of peace.” We need an ethic, many voices said, that not only tells when it is permissable to go to war and under what conditions wars may be fought justly, but tells us how to make peace without appeasement, how to pursue peace justly. Pacifists agreed. So, with my mentor, Glen Stassen, taking the lead, a group of theologians, biblical scholars, international relations experts, and people with much experience in peacemaking, developed a new ethic, “just peacemaking,” whose practices are catching on because they combine moral seriousness with pragmatic realism. The new tradition is spreading despite the setbacks of global terrorism and preemptive war doctrines in the 21st C.

One note: Although Just Peacemaking has been uniting pacifists and those in the just war tradition in active work for peace, it cannot replace either of those older ethics. The best efforts of peacemakers sometimes fail and wars break out. When that happens, the pacifist will refuse to fight or support the war and the just war theorist will evaluate the particular war before deciding to support or not. Both can, of course, continue to work on peacemaking efforts during the war. Just Peacemaking, then, should be seen as a complimentary ethic, rather than a replacement for either pacifism or Just War Theory.

The 10 Practices of Just Peacemaking:

  1. Support nonviolent direct action. First coming to global attention in the campaigns of Gandhi and King, this practice has spread globally in many contexts. Nonviolent direct action is a strategy that lances the festering boil of violence and injustifce and often produces healing without the resort to war. Boycotts, strikes, citizen embargoes, marches, mass civil disobedience, shunnings or (by contrast), actively fraternizing with enemy soldiers, accompaniment, are just some of the nearly 200 methods so far catalogued in the menu of interventions and defensive strategies being developed by nonviolent direct action campaigns. Support for such campaigns, studying when they work and when they fail and finding ways to make them stronger naturally reduces the numbers of wars and violent revolutions.
  2. Take independent initiatives to reduce threats. In situations of conflict, an arms buildup or any form of escalation can lead to or expand a war. But so can unilateral disarmaments or appeasements. What is needed is a series of surprising, independent initiatives that reduce threat levels and act as “confidence building measures” that often open up new possibilities of peacemaking. It is important that such actions are public, visible, happen at the times announced, and invite reciprocation.
  3. Talk with the adversary using proven methods of cooperative conflict resolution. Some politicians have refused to negotiate, claiming that speaking with party x should be a reward for good behavior. This is ridiculous. Strong leaders are not afraid to talk. One has to talk to make peace. Conflict resolution methods have developed which enable smart negotiators to be tough on the problem, rather than tough on the people involved. In every field, from business to foreign policy, principled negotiation techniques are making proven headway. Ignoring these practices for ultimatums or, by contrast, appeasements, is foolish.
  4. Acknowledge responsibility for conflict and injustice and seek repentance and forgiveness. Seldom is all the blame for a war or conflict only on one side. Acknowledge the wrongs your side has done and repent and seek forgiveness. This invites reciprocation and healing. It used to be believed that only individuals can repent or forgive; groups and nations could not, nor ever acknowledge any wrongdoing without appearing weak. To the contrary, such repentance has often led to healing and failure to do so has led to resentments and future wars. The experience of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Committee greatly strengthened this practice and many nations are using it as a model.
  5. Advance Democracy, Human Rights, and Religious Liberty. It should go without saying, but recent years have proven otherwise: One cannot and should not try to “advance democracy” by means of military invasion or coercion. Democratic movements must arise indigenously. Established democracies seldom go to war with other democracies and, not needing to fear uprisings from repressed peoples, can spend much less on military budgets. (The U.S. is a glaring exception here, but is thereby becoming less democratic; more a plutocratic oligarchy.) As Roger Williams, Richard Overton and others knew long ago, the lack of human rights and religious liberty is a major cause of war. Protecting and spreading these norms works for just and lasting peace.
  6. Foster Just and Sustainable Economic Development. Patterns of economic hardship and exploitation can lead to “resource wars,” and poor people become desperate and are thus vulnerable to recruitment by terrorist fanatics (or power-mad government demagogues) offering cheap and easy solutions through violence. Fair trade, development that works with rather than against healthy eco-systems, these things are not only just in themselves, but win “hearts and minds” that can otherwise be seduced into violence.
  7. Work with emerging cooperative forces in the international system. Everything which works to connect nations makes wars more difficult. Actions which weaken international institutions and cooperative forces make wars more frequent and more likely.
  8. Strengthen the United Nations and International Efforts for Cooperation and Human Rights. Goes with # 7. The UN is far from perfect. It needs internal reform. But its efforts to promote global health, end poverty, spread human rights norms, and make peace have, despite all this often proven successful in its 50 year existence. Those efforts, and similar developments such as the International Criminal Court, need to be strengthened. “Lone wolf” foreign policies which undermine the UN and the international system are perceived by others as imperial and sow the seeds for future wars.
  9. Reduce offensive weapons and the weapons trade. Okay, to a pacifist like myself, all weapons are “offensive,” but this refers to weapons whose nature makes them more useful for attack than defense. Work to eliminate “weapons of mass destruction,” (chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons) are vital–and no nation can simultaneously work to prevent the spread of these weapons, and insist on its own right to possess them and develop more. Further, some “conventional” weapons are, by nature, more offensive, such as cluster bombs which do much more damage to civilians than combat troops and landmines which, long after wars are over, continue to kill and maim civilian populations. Efforts to ban these weapons, often supported by prominent military figures, must be supported. The same goes for the weapons trade. The more people one sells weapons to, the more likely one is fomenting war. The U.S. is the largest dealer of arms–leading to its troops often facing weapons “made in the U.S.A.”
  10. Encourage Grassroots Peacemaking Groups and Voluntary Associations. Many of the above practices must become common among diplomats and policy elites, but some, such as nonviolent direct action, can be done by anyone. Also, peacemaking cannot be left to elites and experts. Grassroots groups can often take independent actions for peace before governments and they can and must pressure governments to make their own efforts for peace.

People often ask me as a pacifist, “If you are against war, what are you for?” It’s a fair question and the above practices are a large part of my answer. They also help Just War folk. After all, if war is to be a “last resort,” then one needs concrete ideas of what “resorts” can and must be tried first. One can explore these practices specifically regarding struggles against terrorism here.

August 4, 2012 Posted by | blog series, human rights, Just Peacemaking, nonviolent activism, pacifism, peace | Leave a comment

Why I Am a Straight Ally in the Struggle for LGBT Equality: A Testimony for Family & Friends

I’m behind on this blog.  Among other things, I’ve promised a personal tribute to New Testament theologian Walter Wink, who died a few days ago. I’ll have to publish that on Sunday, I guess.  A Facebook conversation with one of my nephews last night prompted this blog post–more than the heartbreaking passage of Amendment 1 in North Carolina (defining marriage as one man and one woman–thereby not only banning same-sex marriage, but also same-sex civil unions, domestic partner benefits and protections even for unmarried heterosexual couples, etc.) on Tuesday. It was also a greater prompt than Wednesday’s surprise announcement by President Obama that he has finished “evolving” and now fully supports marriage equality–both heart-stopping events for different reasons.

Last night, one of my nephews, a college student active in the LGBT rights group on the campus of Virginia Tech, and who came out last year while at university (although he started coming out at the end of high school), thanked me for my efforts as a straight ally.  Actually, I’m not sure I’ve done all that much.  Yes, I wrote a blog series on “LGBT Persons in the Church: The Case for Full Inclusion.” I’ve preached some sermons along this line in places where they’ve seldom heard a Christian support LGBT equality.  I spoke against and voted “no” in 2000 when the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship voted to include a rule against hiring any personnel or endorsing any missionaries who were out, non-celibate lesbian, gay, bi-sexual or transgendered persons. (I think the CBF actually said, “practicing homosexuals,” but that language is misleading and I won’t use it.) When I returned home from that meeting, I recommended to our congregation (and they followed through) that we cease to be members of CBF and not contribute to their missions.  I voted “yes,” in 2004 when the Alliance of Baptists, the small denomination to which I and my congregation belong, endorsed marriage equality.  (The Alliance was already strongly on record for LGBT rights, including ordaining out LGBT persons for ministry and endorsing out LGBT missionaries. Several Alliance congregations had already performed same-sex weddings by 2004–some in states where these marriages would have legal recognition and some, like mine, where the state would not recognize what God’s people did in blessing covenantal unions.) After the 2004 elections resulted in 11 states, including KY where I live, writing discriminatory bans against same-sex marriage into their state constitutions, I urged my congregation (already a leader in LGBT equality fights–with many persons in our congregation well ahead of me in actions taken and leadership shown) to lift our flag higher by joining The Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists (AWAB), a network of gay-affirming Baptist congregations–mostly, but not entirely, in American Baptist circles.  Since 2000, I have spoken and marched more on these kind of issues than before–but it is minor compared to other justice causes and very minor compared to what others have done.  So, I’m not sure I deserve my nephew’s praise.

I take that praise as a goad to do more–to be more worthy of the title “straight ally” in the struggle for LGBT Equality.  But whether I am a strong ally or a weak one, I didn’t really start out trying to be an ally in this movement whatsoever–and this is a good chance to state why I’ve become a straight ally (however weakly or poorly) and what led me, precisely as a Christian, to take such a stance.

First, I should say, that, although I never sought to be an ally in this struggle, nor did I seek to be an adversary or opponent, much less an LGBT enemy.  I’m not saying that I didn’t grow up with homophobic and heterosexist prejudices–that would be nearly impossible in this culture. I don’t think there are any non-racist American whites–just recovering racists who struggle for racial justice while also seeking constantly to root out hidden racial prejudices and keep repenting and struggling toward greater sanctification in this area.  I don’t believe there are any men in this or other patriarchal cultures who are completely non-sexist–just those of us who keep repenting of our sexism and keep struggling for sex and gender justice in home, church (synagogue, mosque, etc.), and society and seeking greater sanctification in our own lives.  I must say the same thing regarding homophobia and heterosexism–I seek to be a recovering homophobe and recovering heterosexist. One of my hopes is that there can be generational progress as well as individual progress.

But even from childhood, I did try somewhat to swim upstream on these issues when I first became aware of them in the 1970s.  The issue of marriage equality was nowhere on my radar, but I join my parents in opposing former Mouseketeer and orange juice saleswoman, Anita Bryant, in her hate-filled witch-hunt against gays in public schools who were supposedly “recruiting” because they couldn’t reproduce.  My mother was furious that Bryant was using her fear-mongering as an excuse to get FL to vote against the Equal Rights Amendment (and this bait-and-switch was successful)–and, from this, we both learned that there is a profound connection between patriarchy and homophobia.  I had one gay teacher (that I know) and he was amazing–the man who first made history important for me. I knew him to be a person of integrity who had no designs on anyone’s children–except to get them to fall in love with learning.  By contrast, in those far off days, I knew several male teachers sleeping with high school girls and two female teachers sleeping with high school boys. The former were at risk of prison for statutory rape, but the same abuse of boys by adult women was only considered “contributing to the delinquency of a minor,” and there was little risk of prosecution in those days. Fathers of boys seduced by a female teacher would probably have patted the kid on the back and thanked the teacher for “making a man out of my boy.” (These attitudes seem archaic–but maybe not. We seem to be going backward in so many areas lately.) So, I early on opposed laws which singled out “homosexuals” for discrimination–the more so after an elderly Jewish couple whose lawn I mowed (Holocaust death camp survivors with numbers tattooed on their arms) told me about the “men of the pink triangle,” the gay men and suspected gay men whom Hitler rouned up and sent to death camps right along with the Jews.

But I didn’t have any openly gay friends in high school. In the 1970s, in Florida, few teens “came out.”  I knew a few of those who did, but we were only aquaintances and, as they embodied many stereotypes, they made me uncomfortable. I squirmed around them even though I stopped those who tried bullying.  My attitudes were mixed. In my late teens I became a born again evangelical Christian and so adopted the common evangelical view that “homosexual practice” is sinful. (It was a long time before I believed differently.) But I rejected as clearly unbiblical the view that such actions were worse than other sins and needed to be singled out for special condemnation. As a young, liberal, social justice activist (even then), it bothered me that more Christians were angry about the supposed growth of the “gay agenda” than were angry about poverty, war, capital punishment, racism, damage to the environment.  Also, I had to sympathize at least a little bit with gays who were bullied. As a born again Christian, I was trying to be celibate until marriage–and in many circles this led people to suspect I was gay. I was also involved in theatre and chess, and was socially awkward around girls (even with 3–and later 4–sisters!). So, I know what it’s like to be called “faggot,” and “queer,” and even though I am heterosexual, I didn’t want others called such names, either. And I was sometimes the victim of violent bullying–and I knew that gays had it worse.  So, my teen years were marked by very, very mixed feelings. I thought “homosexuals” were sinning, but I thought those harming them were guilty of greater sins.

When I briefly joined the U.S. Army at 17 (leaving as a conscientious objector), I discovered a small piece of what closeted gays have to endure in the military–and this was before even the “compromise” of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” much less the recent ability for gays and lesbians to serve openly in the armed forces.  Even straight men in the military would act “hyper-masculine,” because anyone suspected of being gay would be beaten by gangs of their peers. Some even died and the military did little to investigate their deaths.

By the early 1980s, when finishing college and heading to seminary, I mostly wanted this “issue” to leave me alone. I wanted to help revive the older 19th C. evangelical tradition in which evangelism and mission went hand-in-hand with campaigns for social justice.  I was and am an opponent of the Religious Right.  But I knew that “evangelical” did not used to mean “political conservative.” In the 19th C., evangelicals–born again, on-fire, holy-rolling, revive-us-again, Jesus-loving, hard-preaching, GOSPEL living Protestant Christians–were often the leaders in such social struggles as: the abolition of slavery, women’s education and women’s right to vote, the end of child labor, prison reform, workers’ rights, including the rights of organized labor to organize and engage in collective bargaining, the rights of immigrants, racial justice, peacemaking and the abolition of war.  Today, I would say that the struggle for LGBT equality fits seamlessly in that tradition, but as I headed off to seminary I couldn’t see how it fit.  I read a few revisionist biblical interpretations but didn’t find them exegetically or hermeneutically credible and I was (and remain) committed to biblical authority in the church.  I don’t mean “inerrancy,” which is a heresy from the late 19th and early 20th C., but the authority of the Word of God speaking in and through the human words of Holy Scripture in power and authority. I hold to that to this very day.  I agreed that Christians should defend the civil rights of gays and lesbians versus those who wanted to deny employment and housing, etc., but I thought that those who wanted to ordain out and non-celibate gays and lesbians were simply jumping on a bandwagon. I wanted Christian social activism to flow seamlessly from the gospel and not be driven by whatever fad of political correctness came along–and that’s what I thought the “gay Christian” movement was.  But I did not rest easy in this view. My conscience was guilty.  I suspected that I was guilty of special pleading.

The AIDS epidemic complicated matters, to say the least.  On the one hand, the attitude of the Religious Right that AIDS was God’s punishment for homosecual sins absolutely horrified me. How could anyone worship a God they believed was capable of such things??? And the illogic floored me, too. I knew that lesbians were the group least at risk of catching the HIV virus.  Yet no conservative argued that this was a sign of God’s special approval of lesbianism.  Yes, risky lifestyles, gay or straight, increased the risk of infection–which in the ’80s meant death, horrifying and 100%. There is a degree of self-punishment in passing one’s body around like pieces of baloney, regardless of whether one catches any diseases or not.  Sexual addiction is self-degradating and sex outside of covenant love almost inevitably involves exploitation and abuse (things which are not easily avoided even with covenantal structures in place). And I could see that, socially, AIDS had much in common with leprosy in Scripture and that Jesus would expect the church to minister to AIDS victims in exactly the same way as He healed lepers.  But AIDS linked sex and death very closely and this made it difficult for most people to think clearly–it made them, including me, to some extent, victims of fear.

I compartmentalized those feelings and concentrated on other areas–although I began meet gay and lesbian Christians who lived lives of discipleship and holiness that put mine to shame–and this was a chink in my armor.  To my shame, I refused to seriously investigate the issues (biblical, psychological, theological, etc.) until after I was married.  I remember–and am deeply embarrassed by this memory–that when I first went to the seminary library to check out every book I could on the many related LGBT subjects that I kept flashing my wedding ring in the air–subconsciously afraid that someone would think I might be gay. Why the fear? Why was I so insecure in my sexuality? It is not easy to confront such images in my past.

By the 1990s, I had “evolved,” sort of.  I had joined a gay-affirming congregation.  I had come to embrace one sexual ethic for everyone.  I had come to endorse the ordination of out gays and lesbians, to advocate for full equality of LGBT persons in church and society. (It did take me longer to understand what “transgendered” meant and that Transgendered persons are not “homosexual” at all.) But I wasn’t very loud about it.  I wanted to be hired to teach theology and ethics in evangelical contexts and I knew that being an out-front advocate of LGBT equality would make this difficult–and I knew that my degrees from evangelical institutions would make it unlikely that I would be hired by mainline Protestants who were more gay-friendly.  I thought that if I simply had academic freedom to “teach all sides of the issues,” I could keep my integrity.  I was very afraid that if my views on LGBT equality were known, I would lose influence on issues that were vitally important to me: peace and nonviolence, racial and gender justice, economic justice for the poor, etc. Others could take up the cause of justice for LGBT persons–none of us can do it all.  I tread this path  for most of the 1990s. But as more LGBT persons “came out” to me, I knew my silence was harming them–especially as American society seemed to become more homophobic and heterosexist than ever.  By 2000, I decided that by virtue of being a married heterosexual white male with a Ph.D. in theological ethics, I had, ipso facto some social power–even if not very much because I was always at the bottom of the academic heirarchy.  It finally dawned on me that I needed to take some risks on behalf of LGBT persons with less power, whose very lives could be at risk if they spoke out.  Coming out as an ally might cost me some jobs (it has), but it likely would not lead to humiliation, eviction from home, family, or congregation, and not to legal charges or loss of life.  All of that could be true for LGBT persons, whom I now knew included friends and at least one family member (one of my wife’s brothers).

The elections of 2004 pushed me, too. The Republican Party put bans against same-sex marriage as amendments into 11 state constitutions–and it was done simply to turn out more rightwing voters in order to “re”-elect George W. Bush president.  What horrified me the most about this was that I knew that George W. Bush didn’t really care about this issue.  Laura Bush is in favor of same-sex marriage. Dick Cheney’s daughter is an out lesbian.  Thousands of lives of LGBT persons were harmed and they weren’t really the target–just an excuse to advance OTHER (equally bad, in my view) political agendas.  That brought the men of the pink triangle back to my mind.  And I couldn’t pretend that LGBT equality was a “lesser cause,” however worthy, than economic justice, racial or gender justice, or peace and nonviolence–all causes that were originally closer to my heart.

So, stumblingly, and fearfully, I became a straight ally.  Since that time, the “issue” (and no person likes to be thought of as “an issue”) has become more personal for me.  We Baptists don’t really have godparents, but my daughters’ unofficial godmother is lesbian.  I have participated in the ordination of several out gay friends, now.  And my daughters were flower girls at a lesbian wedding–in a state where this has no legal standing at all. Two brothers-in-law are out gays and one is a Presbyterian minister.  And, about a year ago, as I said at the beginning, one of my nephews came out in his first year at university–and his mother, my sister, is a much more conservative evangelical Protestant than I am–a devotee of the Religious Right I have spent my adult life opposing. She’s been as supportive of her son as she knows how, but I have felt compelled to give more open support. My nephew’s “coming out,” (and becoming an activist) has subtly (without his asking at all) pushed me to do more–just as the thanks he gave me, which I don’t really deserve, pushes me to go further and risk more.

Even with setbacks like NC’s Amendment 1 (and NH, MD, MN, and Washington State may see similar rollbacks on election day in November), I’ve been thoroughly amazed at the rapid pace of progress since 2004.  And my daughters’ generation cannot see what the fuss is about.  I don’t mean to downplay the bullying in school, not at all, but their generation has known many more out gays and lesbians personally, adults and people of their own age, as well as far more celebrities than in my generation. (My mother’s generation didn’t realize Liberace was gay and my generation didn’t know Elton John was gay! We seriously had no gaydar at all.) I cannot explain to my daughters why Ellen deGeneris lost her 1990s sit-com by coming out of the closet.  They grew up on Will and Grace and their favorite news anchor is openly lesbian Rachel Maddow.  Polling shows that from Gen X onward even evangelicals are far more accepting of gays and lesbians than their elders. (Younger evangelicals are even MORE anti-abortion-for-any-reason than were those of my generation, so this change is NOT a result of simply going along with the wider culture.) And, although young people are leading the way, polling shows that ALL age groups, including the 65 and older (which is the most anti-gay) and all demographics, are becoming more accepting of LGBT equality–though at different rates.  Frankly, I have more hope for social progress here than on other pressing concerns which seem to be moving the other direction. But it is no time for resting.  As progress is made, those who are most homophobic and heterosexist, most fearful of change, are getting desperate.  They are enacting laws they themselves predict will be overturned within 20 years–just to set back the changes as long as possible.

So this Christian straight ally, along with everyone else who cares about justice, has more work to do.

May 12, 2012 Posted by | "homosexuality", civil rights, ethics, GLBT issues, human rights, justice, sexual orientation | 4 Comments

Connecticut Votes (Again!) to Repeal the Death Penalty!

Last night, Wednesday 11 April 2012, the lower chamber of the Connecticut legislature followed its senate in voting to repeal that state’s death penalty.  Again. CT voted to repeal the death penalty in 2009, but then-Gov. Jodi Rell (R-CT) vetoed the legislation.  This time Gov. Daniel Malloy (D) has vowed to sign the bill. This makes CT the 17th state in the U.S. to either abolish the death penalty or to forbid it from the time of statehood onward. It is also the 5th state in the last 5 years to abolish the death penalty.  We may get two abolitions this year since CA, with the nation’s largest death row, is attempting to repeal its death penalty by ballot measure this November.

Meanwhile, congratulations to CT!

April 12, 2012 Posted by | capital punishment, civil rights, ethics, human rights, Just Peacemaking, political philosophy | Leave a comment

International Women’s Day: U.S. Ranks 78th (!) in World for Women in Government

Today is the 101st International Women’s Day.  Women have certainly made progress the world over in the last century, but the disheartening thing for this father of daughters is how far they still have to go–globally and here in the U.S.A.  Britain’s newspaper, The Guardian has the hard data.  Women are 51% of the global population, but there are only 2 countries where women have at least 50% of the national legislature: Andorra and Rwanda!  The U.S. has never had a woman president or even nominee by a major political party. And both times that a major party nominated a female Vice Presidential candidate (Democrats nominated U.S. Rep. Geraldine Ferraro of NY as former VP Walter Mondale’s running mate in 1984 and Republicans nominated Gov. Sarah Palin of AK as Sen. John McCain’s running mate in 2008)–24 years apart(!)–she was briefly a boost, but ultimately a drag on the ticket which led that party to defeat. Currently, there are only 17 countries where women are head of government, head of state, or both.  The good news is that this is nearly double the situation in 2005.  The bad news is that women are very poorly represented in government everywhere.  The global average is only 19%.  The Nordic countries do the best, with Sweden and Finland at 42% represenation in their respective parliaments.  The United Kingdom, which has had one female Prime Minister (Margaret Thatcker, a Tory, from 1979-1990, the longest serving PM in British history), is currently a dismal 53rd in female representation in parliament. But the U.S. is even worse, 78th in percentage of women serving in Congress (either chamber).

This isn’t to deny the progress made in other areas.  One third of the U.S. Supreme Court is now composed of female justices –which is still below many other countries. Canada, for instance, also has a 9-member Supreme Court, but 4 of them are female and one is the current Chief Justice.  3 of the last 4 U.S. Secretaries of State have been women.  Women head more Fortune 500 companies than ever before, though still a minority.  But the percentage of women in Congress actually DECREASED in 2010, for the first time in decades. And now we have a major candidate for U.S. president who believes that women should NOT be employed outside the home, but should stay home and homeschool the children.  (As an individual choice that some make, I support this, where it is economically feasible. In a world where one income seldom keeps a family of four in even the lower middle class, however, this is unrealistic for the vast majority of families.  And even where it is feasible, I support it only if it is something chosen equally by the couple, not something imposed by law or social pressure.) What’s next? Arguing that women be denied the right to vote? To drive cars (as in Saudi Arabia)? To own property in their own names?

Meaning no disrespect at all to the many men who champion the rights and wellbeing of women, but it seems to me that this lack of proportional representation is DIRECTLY related to the suppression of women’s rights globally and in the U.S.  Would we seriously be debating whether or not insurance should cover birth control if the number of women in Congress (and state legislatures) represented their 51% of the population? Would anyone DREAM of having an all-male panel to debate the subject? Is there any way that the average pay for women would STILL be only 77% of male pay for the same job if women were even close to 50% of our state legislatures and Congress? Would sexual harassment penalties go unenforced or rape underreported if women were proportionally represented?  Would misogyny be openly defended as “freedom of religion” or “free speech” if women were 51% of legislatures? I highly doubt it.

I am not putting women on a pedastal. I do not believe in their moral superiority.  Alas, when they are elected, they seem to vote for wars and injustice as often as their male counterparts, more’s the pity.  They can be just as blinded by race and class as men.  Electing a woman for president will no more automatically usher in a golden age than electing the first African-American did.  The system is rigged to keep the most progressive from ever getting that far, it seems.  But the injustices that are heaped on women AS women would almost certainly decrease with greater representation BY women.  And proportional representation is central to democracy.  Electing more women to all levels of government is simply more just.  That doesn’t make any woman X better as a candidate than any man Y. Character, platforms, etc. still make all the difference.

But women have had the right to vote in this nation since 1920. So, why are we still 78th in the world in female Congressional representation in 2012?  We need more women in all levels of government and I hope both major parties in the U.S. nominate female candidates for president in 2016.

101 International Women’s Days. So far come, but, O, so far to go.

March 7, 2012 Posted by | civil rights, feminism, human rights, justice, U.S. politics | Leave a comment

Persons of Interest

Old bumpersticker, Feminism is the radical belief that women are people. 

I always liked that bumpersticker, but I thought that, like all good satire, it was hyperbole.  Until the events of the last few weeks, I didn’t think that “women are people” was a very controversial idea.  But apparently I was wrong.

I am a what feminists call a “woman-identified man.” I am a male feminist. (I am also a recovering sexist, like every other male. My wife and daughters will tell you that I am a work in progress. But I do work at it.) I grew up in a family of strong women. My late mother very mildly identified with the Second Wave feminist movement of the late ’60s and ’70s. I say “mildly” because, while earlier in her life she had been a bit player in the Civil Rights movement, Mom never marched with NOW, much less burned any bras. But she voted for the Equal Rights Amendment and refused to vote for any politicians who were against it. As a divorcee with 4 kids (she later remarried my wonderful adopted father, Lynsey White), she worked 2 jobs and had to put up with tons of crap.  She raised my sisters to be strong, independent, women. She must have influenced me to rise above the sexism of my context, too, because for 21 years, now, I have been married to an ordained Baptist minister and the oldest of our 2 daughters is named after the feminist theologian who introduced us. Our family belongs to a church with a woman pastor (not my wife) and a diaconate body with more women than men in it.  My daughters have grown up in a context in which the equality of the sexes was assumed. My biggest worry, sometimes, was that they wouldn’t realize the obstacles they would still have to face. Well, I no longer have THAT worry.

What’s next? An attempt to repeal women’s voting rights? Adopting the Saudi laws that prevent women from driving? Going back to the days when women couldn’t own property in their own names–or lost control of that property if they married? Will these “sex-is-only-for-procreation” types ban marriage between post-menopausal couples? Will these “fear-the-female-orgasm” types decide to bring Female Genital Mutilation (clitorectomies) to the U.S.?  Just how far will they go?

This is a war on women and women’s health–and a denial of women’s personhood. It denies moral agency to women–men have to make their reproductive and health choices for them.  Well, not this man. I stand with my late mother, my wife, my sisters, my pastor, my daughters.  They are not “sluts,” Rush.  They are not “bitches,” Newt.  They are not “witches.” They are strong, free women. And when they march on your little minds, I will be right there beside them.

March 4, 2012 Posted by | civil rights, feminism, human rights, women | Leave a comment

My Liberal/Progressive Agenda II: FDR’s “Second Bill of Rights’

The cause of FDR’s presidential career was economic justice.  FDR himself was born to wealth, but his experience with polio sensitized him to the suffering of others, especially the poor.  Eleanor pushed Franklin on racial justice via strengthening civil rights protections, but FDR was cautious because he needed to keep Southern segregationists firmly in the New Deal Democratic coalition in order to have the large Congressional majorities that made the New Deal reforms possible. He was also semi-tone deaf to struggles for equality of the sexes despite his partnership with Eleanor–an equality in a White House couple not seen again until Jimmy & Rosealynn Carter and not surpassed until Bill and Hillary Clinton–and despite appointing the first female cabinet head.  But on economic justice FDR was such a champion that other wealthy people called him “a traitor to his class.”  In his last State of the Union, in 1944, Roosevelt was already dying and had to address Congress via radio from his bed rather than in person.  In this speech, FDR outlined an agenda for a series of Constitutional Amendments that would form a “Second Bill of Rights” for American citizens. But Roosevelt died in office and, although Truman defended and attempted to expand the New Deal with the Square Deal, Republicans made comebacks and, after Truman desegregated the military, they cooperated with conservative Southern Democrats to make certain that no part of the “Second Bill of Rights” ever got a floor vote in either chamber of Congress.  Meanwhile, much of that vision was incorporated into new constitutions in Europe and Japan–with input from Roosevelt appointees throughout the post-war world.  This is one reason–before Cold War fever painted any effort at economic justice as a form of the dreaded COMMUNISM–that many other nations have leaped ahead of the U.S. in terms of economic justice.

As with FDR’s pre-war Four Freedoms, I believe that his 1944 “Second Bill of Rights” should inform any contemporary progressive/liberal agenda.  It certainly informs my own vision.  Below I excerpt that 1944 State of the Union speech with commentary on its applicability for today.  Bold Face and Italics are my emphases.  Notes in brackets [ ] are my commentary.

11 January 1944, State of the Union, Franklin Delano Roosevelt:

To the Congress:

This Nation in the past two years has become an active partner in the world’s greatest war against human slavery.

We have joined with like-minded people in order to defend ourselves in a world that has been gravely threatened with gangster rule.

But I do not think that any of us Americans can be content with mere survival. Sacrifices that we and our allies are making impose upon us all a sacred obligation to see to it that out of this war we and our children will gain something better than mere survival.

We are united in determination that this war shall not be followed by another interim which leads to new disaster- that we shall not repeat the tragic errors of ostrich isolationism—that we shall not repeat the excesses of the wild twenties when this Nation went for a joy ride on a roller coaster which ended in a tragic crash.

When Mr. Hull [Cordell Hull, a former Congressman and Senator from TN, FDR’s Secretary of State, who later won the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in the creation of the United Nations] went to Moscow in October, and when I went to Cairo and Teheran in November, we knew that we were in agreement with our allies in our common determination to fight and win this war. But there were many vital questions concerning the future peace, and they were discussed in an atmosphere of complete candor and harmony.

In the last war such discussions, such meetings, did not even begin until the shooting had stopped and the delegates began to assemble at the peace table. There had been no previous opportunities for man-to-man discussions which lead to meetings of minds. The result was a peace which was not a peace. That was a mistake which we are not repeating in this war.

[snip]

The one supreme objective for the future, which we discussed for each Nation individually, and for all the United Nations, can be summed up in one word: Security.

And that means not only physical security which provides safety from attacks by aggressors. It means also economic security, social security, moral security—in a family of Nations.  [FDR is planting the seeds of U.S. acceptance of a future United Nations. U.S. refusal to join the old Leagure of Nations was a major factor in its failure and U.S. isolationism was a major factor in the rise of fascism leading to WWII.]

In the plain down-to-earth talks that I had with the Generalissimo and Marshal Stalin and Prime Minister Churchill, it was abundantly clear that they are all most deeply interested in the resumption of peaceful progress by their own peoples—progress toward a better life. All our allies want freedom to develop their lands and resources, to build up industry, to increase education and individual opportunity, and to raise standards of living.

All our allies have learned by bitter experience that real development will not be possible if they are to be diverted from their purpose by repeated wars—or even threats of war.

China and Russia are truly united with Britain and America in recognition of this essential fact:

The best interests of each Nation, large and small, demand that all freedom-loving Nations shall join together in a just and durable system of peace. In the present world situation, evidenced by the actions of Germany, Italy, and Japan, unquestioned military control over disturbers of the peace is as necessary among Nations as it is among citizens in a community. And an equally basic essential to peace is a decent standard of living for all individual men and women and children in all Nations. Freedom from fear is eternally linked with freedom from want.  [No external national security strategies which ignore economic justice at home or abroad is possible. Economic injustice is a major seed of instability and war.  In our own day, poverty makes it easier for terrorists to recruit followers.]

There are people who burrow through our Nation like unseeing moles, and attempt to spread the suspicion that if other Nations are encouraged to raise their standards of living, our own American standard of living must of necessity be depressed.

The fact is the very contrary. It has been shown time and again that if the standard of living of any country goes up, so does its purchasing power- and that such a rise encourages a better standard of living in neighboring countries with whom it trades.

[Snip. FDR outlines the sacrifices needed to win the war and calls for unity and shared sacrifice.]

Therefore, in order to concentrate all our energies and resources on winning the war, and to maintain a fair and stable economy at home, I recommend that the Congress adopt:

(1) A realistic tax law—which will tax all unreasonable profits, both individual and corporate, and reduce the ultimate cost of the war to our sons and daughters. The tax bill now under consideration by the Congress does not begin to meet this test.  [What a contrast to the gross irresponsibility of the Bush admin. which claimed that invading Iraq would “pay for itself” and which continued to cut taxes, especially on the wealthy, during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars–with costs now somewhere between $3 trillion and $4 trillion and Republicans STILL unwilling for the wealthy to pay their fair share! ]

(2) A continuation of the law for the renegotiation of war contracts—which will prevent exorbitant profits and assure fair prices to the Government. For two long years I have pleaded with the Congress to take undue profits out of war. [Whereas the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were viewed as opportunities for the Bush and Cheney families and their friends and allies to increase their wealth through sweetheart deals with corporations such as Haliburton and KBR in which they had huge interests!]

(3) A cost of food law—which will enable the Government (a) to place a reasonable floor under the prices the farmer may expect for his production; and (b) to place a ceiling on the prices a consumer will have to pay for the food he buys. This should apply to necessities only; and will require public funds to carry out. It will cost in appropriations about one percent of the present annual cost of the war.

(4) Early reenactment of. the stabilization statute of October, 1942. This expires June 30, 1944, and if it is not extended well in advance, the country might just as well expect price chaos by summer.

We cannot have stabilization by wishful thinking. We must take positive action to maintain the integrity of the American dollar.

(5) A national service law- which, for the duration of the war, will prevent strikes, and, with certain appropriate exceptions, will make available for war production or for any other essential services every able-bodied adult in this Nation.

These five measures together form a just and equitable whole. I would not recommend a national service law unless the other laws were passed to keep down the cost of living, to share equitably the burdens of taxation, to hold the stabilization line, and to prevent undue profits.

[snip  FDR calls for national service whereas Bush told everyone following 9/11 that they should just go shopping.  He then urged Congress to make it easier for military personnel to cast votes in U.S. elections even while deployed in war zones. ]

It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth- is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill housed, and insecure.

This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.

As our Nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race, or creed.

Among these are:

  • The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the Nation [The right to employment commits the nation to a full-employment policy.  Usually this is primarily done through private enterprise, but in recessions or depressions, government should be willing to hire the unemployed directly for meaningful national service–as in the New Deal programs of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) which created much infrastructure, the Rural Electrification Project, and the Civilian Conservation Corps (the CCC) in which camps of young men planted trees, dug irrigation ditches, prevented run-off and soil erosion, etc. for stipends which often meant the difference between life and death for entire families.  Contemporary adaptations might include federal and state governments hiring youth for summer work in cities painting roofs white to lower lower heat indices and save electricity.]
  • The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation [Beyond minimum wages to a living wage, i.e., a salary that allows a family to live above poverty levels.]
  • The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living [In FDR’s day this was a call for price supports. It was a reminder that farmers entered depression in the 1920s, years before the 1929 Stock Market crash.  In our day, I would think that this commits us to work for family farmers against agribusiness and for local, healthy food, over mass-produced with genetically modified seeds and hormone-injected cattle and the prison conditions of much livestock in factory farms. This hurts not only small farmers, but the health of the nation, and the ecology of the planet.]
  • The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad.  [We have far too many monopolies and semi-monopolies today. Even the founding philosopher of capitalism, Adam Smith, said that monopolies made free markets impossible.]
  • The right of every family to a decent home.
  • The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health.  [Healthcare must be viewed as a human right, not as a commodity sold to the highest bidder.]
  • The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment. [This vision commits us to building a strong “social safety net” that includes adequate pensions for retirees, universal healthcare, and unemployment insurance, with job re-training and, where necessary, direct employment by the government.]
  • The right to a good education.

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens. For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.

One of the great American industrialists of our day—a man who has rendered yeoman service to his country in this crisis-recently emphasized the grave dangers of “rightist reaction” in this Nation. All clear-thinking businessmen share his concern. Indeed, if such reaction should develop—if history were to repeat itself and we were to return to the so-called “normalcy” of the 1920’s—then it is certain that even though we shall have conquered our enemies on the battlefields abroad, we shall have yielded to the spirit of Fascism here at home.

[Snip remaining.]

The remaining paragraphs show that FDR did not envision each of these economic security rights as becoming Constitutional Amendments, although he did think they needed legislation enacted by Congress.  But I think many of them should be enshrined in the Constitution itself:

  • The right to employment.  As a Constitutional right, this would force economic policies that care more about full employment than Wall St. profits.
  • The right to a living wage.  We would not have the huge income inequality of the 1% vs. the 99% today if we had living wage laws indexed to the cost of living. We would need to define a living wage as a wage or salary sufficient to keep a family above the poverty line.
  • The right of farmers to adequate remuneration. I am uncertain whether this could be a Constitutional guarantee, but it should be part of the platform for any progressive political party and should lead to legislation and policies which prioritize family farmers above agribusiness.
  • The right of businesses, large and small, to fair competition instead of facing monopolies.  Again, I think what needs to be a Constitutional Amendment (especially in light of the stupidity of the Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. United States) is the clear statement that Corporations are not people and have only the rights guaranteed by their charters.  But we need updated and strengthened anti-trust laws that break up monopolies from all these huge mega-mergers that drown out competition and produce “too big to fail” companies that either require taxpayer bailouts or whose fall harms large sections of the economy. “Too big to fail” must equal “too big to exist.”
  • Housing as a Constitutional Right.  This would require adequate amounts of low-income housing–and decent standards for that housing.  Between the end of the Great Depression and the beginning of the Reagan-era, homelessness was rare in this country. When I was a teen in the 1970s, the “housing problem” was the problem of inadequate housing, of slums and shacks. Then came “Reaganomics” and an explosion of homelessness that grows worse each year. We must end the blight of homelessness in this country.
  • Healthcare as a Constitutional Right.  This would not demand a particular form of universal healthcare, but would remove it as a “for profit” enterprise.
  • A strong social safety net need not be a Constitutional Amendment (although a Constitutional guarantee of adequate retirement pension would finally stop all efforts to privatize or poorly fund Social Security), but we must have strong laws for old age pensions, unemployment insurance, disability insurance, and the like.
  • Education as a Constitutional Right.  This would not rule out private schools or homeschooling (although all parents who choose to home school should have to pass the same teacher certification requirements as public school teachers), but it would mandate a STRONG, FULLY FINANCED public education system, for primary and secondary education.  All who have the mental ability and desire to pursue college/secondary education should not be prevented by financial barriers.  Education should be free and compulsory for primary and secondary levels and as close to free as possible for the college/university level.

February 26, 2012 Posted by | blog series, civil rights, economic justice, human rights, justice, political philosophy, U.S. politics | 4 Comments

My Progressive/Liberal Agenda, I: FDR’s Four Freedoms

As the U.S. hurtled down the path leading to its joining World WarII, Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt (D) outlined his goals for a post-war world order in a State of the Union speech to Congress  called “The Four Freedoms.” Because FDR died before the war was over, this agenda was not implemented fully here in the U.S. Ironically, people from FDR’s administration wrote parts of many of the new constitutions in post-war Europe and Japan, so that Roosevelt’s vision was adopted (and sometimes improved) far more fully outside the U.S. than inside.  I still find his vision compelling–an agenda that should form at least the core of any progressive/liberal platform.

Let me be clear:  I am a Christian pacifist. I do not accept FDR’s assessment of the righteousness of America’s wars or their “necessity.”  What I find compelling is vision of a post-war world order.  I believe I can disagree with FDR on war, even war as a means to peace and security, and still agree with his vision.

I reproduce relevant excerpts of  FDR’s Four Freedoms speech below and use bold face and italics to highlight the key dimensions of a progressive/liberal political platform.  Delivered on 06 January 1941 to the Congress of the United States as the State of the Union.

[Snip]

The nation takes great satisfaction and much strength from the things which have been done to make its people conscious of their individual stake in the preservation of democratic life in America.  Those things have toughened the fiber of our people, have renewed their faith and strengthened their devotion to the institutions we make ready to protect.

Certainly this is no time for any of us to stop thinking about the social and economic problems which are the root cause of the social revolution which is today a supreme factor in the world. For there is nothing mysterious about the foundations of a healthy and strong democracy.

The basic things expected by our people of their political and economic systems are simple. They are:

Equality of opportunity for youth and for others.

Jobs for those who can work.

Security for those who need it.

The ending of special privilege for the few.

The preservation of civil liberties for all.

The enjoyment of the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living.

These are the simple, the basic things that must never be lost sight of in the turmoil and unbelievable complexity of our modern world. The inner and abiding strength of our economic and political systems is dependent upon the degree to which they fulfill these expectations.

Many subjects connected with our social economy call for immediate improvement. As examples:

We should bring more citizens under the coverage of old-age pensions and unemployment insurance.

We should widen the opportunities for adequate medical care.

We should plan a better system by which persons deserving or needing gainful employment may obtain it.

[Snip–FDR calls for personal sacrifice in the time of war, including paying higher taxes with the rich paying more than the poor. He also warns against war profiteering–and promises government crackdown on those who try it–completely the opposite of the way the Iraq War was made into get rich quick schemes for members of the Bush Administration and their allies.]

In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

  1. The first is freedom of speech and expression — everywhere in the world.
  2. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way — everywhere in the world.
  3. The third is freedom from want, which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants — everywhere in the world.  [i.e., Freedom from Want is embodied in a just economic order in which all have enough and the gap between the rich and the poor is relatively small and it is fairly easy to move from one social class to another.]
  4. The fourth is freedom from fear, which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor — anywhere in the world.

That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called “new order” of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.

To that new order we oppose the greater conception — the moral order. A good society is able to face schemes of world domination and foreign revolutions alike without fear.

Since the beginning of our American history we have been engaged in change, in a perpetual, peaceful revolution, a revolution which goes on steadily, quietly, adjusting itself to changing conditions without the concentration camp or the quicklime in the ditch. The world order which we seek is the cooperation of free countries, working together in a friendly, civilized society.

This nation has placed its destiny in the hands and heads and hearts of its millions of free men and women, and its faith in freedom under the guidance of God. Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights and keep them. Our strength is our unity of purpose.

To that high concept there can be no end save victory.

_____

Freedom of speech and expression.

Freedom of religious belief and practice.

Freedom from want (i.e., the presence of economic justice).

Freedom from fear (i.e., massive global arms reductions so that it is difficult if not impossible for any nation to invade another).

I don’t think that these goals, by themselves, constitute an adequate progressive/liberal political philosophy for the 21st C.  But they are a good beginning and I would find any political vision or philosophy that did NOT include these four freedoms to be woefully inadequate.

In my next installment in this series, I will also draw from FDR–this time from his proposed “Second Bill of Rights.”

February 25, 2012 Posted by | blog series, civil rights, economic justice, human rights, justice, political philosophy, politics, religious liberty, U.S. politics | Leave a comment

Nobel Peace Prize 2011: Shared by 3 Women Peace & Human Rights Activists

The Norwegian Nobel Committee (appointed, as mandated by Alfred Nobel’s will, by the Storting, or Norwegian Parliament) has announced that for 2011, the Nobel Peace Prize will be shared equally by three (3) women, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee, and Tawakkol Karman, “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.”  The Nobel Peace Prize has often been shared by two individuals (or an individual and an organization), rarely by three individuals, and never by more than three individuals.

Each of these women has long been involved in nonviolent human rights struggle, especially for the rights, safety, and well-being of women and children.  They have also pushed for women to be treated by nations and international organizations as equal participants in peacebuilding efforts, especially post-conflict peacebuilding. This goes against the long history of women and their concerns being ignored in the normal negotiating process that leads to peace treaties.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (1938-) is the current President of Liberia, the first woman to be democratically elected head of state of any African nation. A Harvard-educated economist, Sirleaf had served as Assistant Finance Minister in the administration of William Tolbert from 1972-1973. Later she was Finance Minister from 1979 to 1980, when the democratic government was overthrown in a coup d’etat by the dictator Samuel Doe. Sirleaf fled the country, one of only 4 members of Tolbert’s cabinet to escape execution, and took jobs with international agencies. She returned to Liberia and was placed under house arrest and had to flee again. At the outbreak of the first Liberian civil war in 1997, she initially supported insurgent leader Charles Taylor’s fight against the dictator Samuel Doe, but later repudiated and denounced him as his war crimes became public knowledge.   A second Liberian war raged from 1999-2003.  At the end of this, Sirleaf returned to Liberia, supported the transitional government’s de-armament process, the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Committee and efforts to heal returned child soldiers (who had been both victims and victimizers). She ran for President under the new constitution in 2005 and won. Two decades of civil war had left Liberia with no infrastructure, nearly universal unemployment, raging ethnic and tribal animosities, and mountains of debt. Sirleaf managed to get the international community to cancel almost all of Liberia’s debt and has encouraged international investment. Using Liberia mineral wealth, she has restored some of the infrastructure (most of the capital of Monrovia now has electricity and running water, again) and has helped to re-build schools and hospitals throughout the country. She signed into law a Freedom of Information Act, the first of its kind in Africa.  But, Liberians, like Americans, think presidents can achieve miracles overnight so Sirleaf is nowhere near as popular at home as she is admired abroad. After all, unemployment remains about 80%!  Also, though Sirleaf has waged battle against corruption, it has proven to be difficult to stamp out and several of her cabinet members have been fired for scandals.  Further, many believe she should have worked more on reconciliation between ethnic groups and less on rebuilding the institutions of government and the nation’s infrastructure.  So, Sirleaf is far from being assured of reelection next month (and she broke a 2005 campaign promise to serve only 1 term if elected). But whether or not she is reelected, the 72 year old Sirleaf is well-deserving of being a Nobel Peace Laureate.

  Leymah Roberta Gbowee (b. 1972-) is known as “Liberia’s Peace Warrior.” A mother of six (6) children, Gbowee is a human rights and women’s rights campaigner. Born in central Liberia, she moved to the capital, Monrovia, at 17–just as the first Liberian Civil War broke out! She trained as trauma counselor and worked with the child soldiers of Charles Taylor’s rebel army.  Surrounded by death and destruction, Gbowee realized that if the country were to ever have peace, it would have to be mothers who brought it–mothers tired of seeing their dreams for their children shattered by the horrors of war.  Gbowee formed the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace in 2002. She organized the Christian and Muslim women of Liberia to pray together for peace and to engage in nonviolent demonstrations for an end to the civil war.  Gbowee, a Lutheran Christian, spread her movement to the churches and mosques and they forced a meeting with then-president Charles Taylor, getting him to attend a peace conference held in Ghana in 2002. Together with fellow Lutheran woman Comfort Freeman, Gbowee founded Women in Peacebuilding Network (WIPNET), whose nonviolent actions finally brought an end to the Second Liberian War in 2003, the abdication and exile of Charles Taylor, and a transitional government that paved the way for democratic elections in 2005. Wearing white t-shirts (to symbolize peace), Gbowee and the women of WIPNET marched by the thousands throughout Liberia. They formed the documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell, which has been used to spread the women’s peace movement to other African nations such as Sudan (now South Sudan) and Zimbabwe where the women are also using prayer and nonviolent tactics to petition for peace and human rights.

  Tarwakkol Karmen (1979-), a Muslim feminist and human rights activist in Yemen, represents the Nobel Committee’s acknowledgement of the “Arab Spring.” She is a journalist by profession and has chafed for years under press restrictions in Yemen’s dictatorship.  She is a senior member of al-Islah , the main opposition party in Yemen. In 2005 she founded Women Journalists Without Chains, an organization dedicated to democracy and freedom of the press.  As soon as Tunisia’s nonviolent movement toppled its dictator, Karmen pushed for a similar movement in Yemen. Photos of her heroes (Mohandas K. Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela) adorn her home. In a country wear most women are forced to wear all-black niqueb,  or full head covering, Karmen wears an open-faced head scarf, usually white with flowers, as a symbol of women’s dignity and defiance to the dictator Salleh and the oppressive culture.  She insists that Islam itself does not demand the niqeb, but that it is a sign of outmoded patriarchal culture, instead.  She has pushed for laws against the wedding of women younger than 17 and against violence against women and children.  Since the outbreak of the Arab Spring, Karmen has led in march after march in Yemen’s capital, been arrested and beaten. Her life and the lives of her children have been threatened by the government, but she presses onward. To the nonviolent pro-democracy movement, Karmen is known as “The Mother of the Revolution,”–a revolution that is, at present, incomplete since Salleh clings to power by the use of massive violence against his own people–as he done for 33 years, now.  Karmen and her fellow Yemeni nonviolent revolutionaries are undeterred.  She has dedicated her Nobel Prize to the entire movement. (Many within the movement have proposed her for president in a post-Salleh Yemen, which would make her the first democratically-elected female leader in any Muslim-majority nation, if it happens.)

Largely because of its longevity and the large monetary awards accompanying it, the Nobel Peace Prize is the most widely recognized and prestigious peace prize –despite ambiguities in Alfred Nobel’s will and oddities in the Norwegian Nobel Committee that have led to some bizarre recipients (e.g., Teddy Roosevelt, Nicholas Murray Butler, Henry Kissinger, Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres, & Yitzhak Rabin) and even stranger omissions (e.g., Mohandas K. Gandhi, Thich Nhat Hanh, Dom Helder Camara, Fr. Daniel Berrigan, S.J.).  The committee has too often neglected women. Prior to this year, only 12 women have won the Nobel Peace Prize in its over 100 year history.  But this year’s prizes are to be celebrated by all who believe in nonviolence, human rights, democracy, and the full equality of women.  I look forward to watching the ceremonies in Oslo this December and reading their speeches and lectures. I pray continued success to these brave women and the movements they lead.

 

October 8, 2011 Posted by | heroes, human rights, Just Peacemaking, justice, Nobel Peace Prize, nonviolence, nonviolent activism, peace, Peace & Justice Awards, peacemakers, political violence, violence | Leave a comment

A Brief History of Christian Peacemaker Teams

One of the most dynamic and creative organizations working for peace in the world is Christian Peacemaker Teams which works out of deep commitment to gospel nonviolence.  CPT works for peace by “getting in the way” of those who would make war.  They train teams of volunteers in the techniques of nonviolent direct action and the methods of conflict resolution (or conflict transformation) and send these teams into situations of conflict–wars, civil wars, armed buildups, undeclared wars, violent oppressions of workers, etc. The teams then attempt various ways of disrupting the conflict and working toward a just peace: sometimes physically imposing their bodies between armed belligerants, sometimes documenting violence and/or human rights abuses and publicizing them to the world, sometime trying to create space for dialogue, sometime accompanying indigenous human rights workers as “nonviolent bodyguards.”

Although it has become a broader, ecumenical Christian movement, CPT is rooted in the witness of the Historic Peace Churches (Mennonites, Friends/Quakers, Church of the Brethren). In 1984, at a meeting of the Mennonite World Conference, Mennonite theologian Ronald J. Sider challenged participants to give new life to the historic peace witness of Mennonites by being as committed to nonviolent peacemaking as members of the world’s militaries are to the violent defense of their respective countries.  Sider’s challenge fell on receptive ears. A series of conversations started among Mennonites (especially in North America) about ways in which “nonviolent armies” and “nonviolent reservists” could be employed.  By 1986, a retreat of 100 persons put out a call among Mennonites and the Church of the Brethren for the creation of Christian Peacemaker Teams–volunteers supported by churches, trained in nonviolent forms of conflict intervention, who would go to areas of conflict at bold risk of their lives. In 1988, Gene Stolzfus was hired as the first staff person.  By 1992, CPT had sent teams into Iraq, the West Bank of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and Haiti.  Later delegations went to the Chiapas region of Mexico, Bosnia, Winnipeg, MB (negotiating between First Nations and the Canadian government), Colombia and elsewhere.

In the middle of the second U.S.-led war with Iraq, CPT gained far more visibility when a delegation was captured by Iraqi insurgents and held for several weeks. One member was executed. The rest were freed by U.S. military action.  While peacemakers saw this action by CPT as heroic and many were attracted to such serious peacemaking, the rightwing media in both the U.S. and U.K. denounced CPT as naive tools of terrorists whose presence did more harm than good.  There were even calls for the U.S. govt. to investigate CPT for possible terrorist links and to put members’ names on “no fly lists.” CPT was not intimidated and continued its nonviolent peacemaking efforts in Iraq.  (Note: The Bush admin. was particularly hostile to CPT because of two things–first, Bush’s own claims to being a “Christian president” who was supposedly invading Iraq on God’s orders. Second, CPT had earlier been the first to document and publish the U.S. torture of prisoners at the notorious Abu-Ghraib prison.  The passing of the Bush era, however, has hardly led to an embrace of CPT’s convictions or methods by the Obama administration. Far from it.)

Initially, CPT was sponsored only by the 2 largest Mennonite denominations in the U.S. (now both merged into Mennonite Church, USA) and the Church of the Brethren. But CPT sponsors now include (to date): The Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, The Congregation of St. Basil (Basilians, a Roman Catholic priestly order), Friends United Meeting (Quakers), On Earth Peace (the major peacemaking program of the Church of the Brethren), The Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, Every Church a Peace Church, Mennonite Church, Canada, The Peace and Justice Support Network (of Mennonite Church, USA), and Peace and Justice Ministries (of Mennonite Church, Canada).  CPT, which is expanding its regional offices in Mexico, Canada, and the UK, invites other Christian groups to sponsor this growing ecumenical peace witness.

Current CPT delegations include nonviolent peacemaking efforts in Iraq, Palestine, Coluombia, the U.S.-Mexico border, the African Great Lakes region (based in Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo, but also including work in Uganda), and support for aboriginal justice in the U.S. (groups working for Native American rights) and Canada (groups supporting the rights of First Nations).  Additional sponsors, funding, and volunteers could allow for other delegations.  (Among the places which have asked for CPT type nonviolent intervention are Syria, Lebanon, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Costa Rica, South Sudan.)

The specific Christian identity of CPT (even in its name) has both strengths and weaknesses: On the plus side, it operates out of a clear Christological center and supported by a specific spirituality. This gives its peacemaking efforts depth and its members unity. However, in areas where “Christianity” is identified with either Western (especially U.S.) military imperialism or with coercive missionary efforts or both, such preconceptions can get in the way of CPT’s peace efforts–as seen in its capture by Iraqi military dissidents in 2005.

The challenge remains:  What would happen if Christians developed the same discipline and self-sacrifice to nonviolent peacemaking as armies devote to war?

September 5, 2011 Posted by | heroes, human rights, Just Peacemaking, nonviolence, nonviolent activism, pacifism, peace, peacemakers | 2 Comments