Tag Archives: gay marriage

The Journey to Support Gay Rights

kim davis pastor

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

As I mentioned yesterday I was overjoyed when the Supreme Court of the United States legalized Marriage Equality for American citizens who are Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Queer, and Transgender. That being said, there are still many inequities that people in the LGBTQ community face, and in many places that are movements to legislate laws which are little different than Jim Crow on homosexuals. Thus as a Christian, and as a Priest I will continue to lift up my voice in support of my friends in the LGBTQ community. That being said I think that it is important for my readers to know I got to the place where I have become an advocate for the rights of my friends in the LGBTQ community.

Frankly my journey has been a long strange trip. Most of my life I would have considered myself a conservative Christian and a career military officer, most of that as Pa chaplain. Generally people with similar backgrounds to me do not end up as advocates for Gays and Lesbians. But throughout my life and career I have had problems with the way other Christians and fellow military members treated Gays and Lesbians. Even in the days that I considered homosexual behavior to be sinful, I had a hard time condemning, ridiculing or supporting those who sought to harm homosexuals in any way, including fellow clergy, members of my former church or fellow officers or chaplains.

Now I know that there will vehemently disagree on what I believe and stand for, believe me I have been called everything but a white man by some people, including some that I used to count as friends. Likewise I have been threatened by others. But as I see it I have to stand up for what I believe and defend those whose civil rights are constantly under attack by people who not only condemn them in this world, but to everlasting damnation as well.

But this my friends is my long strange trip. It is what I believe with all my heart, and why I pray that the Supreme Court will legalize Gay marriage throughout this land. though I am not Gay, this matters to me. I have too many Gay and Lesbian friends who have endured hellish persecution for people who call themselves Christians and claim to be defending Christian values when they forget that the most important part of the Christian life is to love, love even your enemies, both real and imagined. But I digress…here is my journey…

I have been in the military coming up on 34 years between the Army and the Navy. That is a long time. When I enlisted and through the first two thirds of my career I can safely say that I fell rather strongly on the conservative-Christian side of the social issues debates. Over the years, especially the last seven since I returned a changed many from my time in Iraq, I have evolved significantly on most of these issues where although I while consider myself to be rather moderate I now fall decidedly on the liberal side of most social issues.

A lot of this has to do with the attitudes that I saw in churches that I was associated. Many people in my former denominations endorsed policies of the Christian Dominionist or Reconstruction movements, that basically upended First and Fourteenth Amendment protections and if enacted would basically turn the country into a theocracy. I have written about those things time and time again so I won’t elaborate on them now.

It was not only the policies, it was the attitude towards the LGBT community that really bothered me. For some reason it seemed that to many of my friends and colleagues that homosexuality was the only unforgivable sin, and not only that that homosexuals were somehow less than human and not entitled to the same rights as any other American citizen. Not only that they were blamed for every economic, social, foreign policy or natural disaster. Hurricane, blame the gays. Stock market crash, blame the gays, the 9-11 attacks, God’s judgment on the United States because of the gays. You name it, blame the gays, and that my friends still happens every day.

But my journey to accepting and fighting for Gays and Lesbians began a lot earlier.

When I first enlisted in the Army in 1981 it was not uncommon for gay slurs to be hurled at soldiers as a matter of course, especially at young men who did not appear manly enough or women who wouldn’t put out sexually when it was demanded of the. They were queers, fags, dykes and worse. There is a scene in the movie Full Metal Jacket where R. Lee Ermey, a man who actually was a Marine Corps Drill Instructor berates one of his recruits:

Gunnery Sergeant Hartman: Where the hell are you from anyway, private?

Private Cowboy: Sir, Texas, sir.

Gunnery Sergeant Hartman: Holy dog shit! Texas? Only steers and queers come from Texas, Private Cowboy, and you don’t look much like a steer to me, so that kinda narrows it down. Do you suck dicks?

Private Cowboy: Sir, no, sir!

Gunnery Sergeant Hartman: Are you a peter puffer?

Private Cowboy: Sir, no, sir!

Gunnery Sergeant Hartman: I bet you’re the kind of guy who would fuck a person in the ass and not even have the goddamn common courtesy to give him a reach-around. I’ll be watching you!

The sad thing is that such behavior was still common even in the 1990s and though not nearly so pervasive still happened on occasion in after the 9-11 attacks. But those taunts really bothered me and when I was commissioned as a Medical Service Corps Officer in 1983 I met gays in my officer training, they were closeted but they were targets. When I served as a company commander in 1985-1986 I had a number of gays and lesbians in my unit. As I mentioned before they were among my best and most trustworthy soldiers, always going the extra mile.

Meanwhile the unit had the highest drug positive rate in Europe when I took command and had so many real disciplinary and criminal cases on the docket I was told by the Group Commander to “clean that company up.” But when I got down to It I realized that I was so overwhelmed with the real criminals that I didn’t want to harass or prosecute my best soldiers, including those gays and lesbians. That was a watershed. While other commanders sought out gays in order to prosecute them and throw them out of the military I was protecting and promoting them, not because they were gay, but because they were excellent soldiers.

When I went to my next assignment as a personnel officer at the Academy of Health Sciences discharges of trainees for being gay was common. I know because I had to sign off on every discharge packet before it was sent for approval. Since we had five to seven thousand students at any time, both officers and enlisted I did not know the details of most of the stories nor meet the individuals concerned.

However, in 1987 I was given the responsibility of helping soldiers diagnosed as HIV positive with their career options. I also helped officers from the Army Medical Department draft the Army’s policies for those infected with the AIDS virus. At the time many of the Christians that I went to church with believed the myths and lies being promoted by leading Evangelicals about AIDS and displayed a tremendous amount of distain and even hatred towards gays and others infected or dying of that disease. I was dumbfounded that people who preached the love of God had neither compassion nor empathy for those suffering.

I left active duty to attend seminary at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. There I knew a few closeted homosexuals and lesbians who had deep faith in Jesus, were outstanding students and potentially outstanding pastors or chaplains but who had to remain closeted. After I graduated when I was going through my Clinical Pastoral Education Residency one of the men I graduate with did a one unit internship. During that time he made the agonizing decision to come out as Gay. For him there was much to lose, but his example was inspiring and I still stay in touch with him. I also met a chaplain from the Metropolitan Community Church who had been raised in a Black Pentecostal church. He was an amazing and compassionate minister.

In the hospital setting I worked with a lot of homosexuals, of which many were Christians who suffered in their churches as their pastors and friends railed against homosexuals. When I served as the installation chaplain of an Army base I hired an organist who was gay. He worked for the National Guard as a civilian and was a Log Cabin Republican. He grew up in a very conservative church and though he had deep faith was not welcome in most civilian churches. At the time I was a fairly new  in a very conservative denomination and my bishops held that giving communion to Gays was forbidden, in fact they called it a sin. However, when he presented himself for communion, knowing his faith I took the advice of a conservative Missouri Synod Lutheran chaplain, don’t ask, just trust the grace of God in the Sacrament. That became my model of ministry from then on. I never mentioned it to my bishop. Thankfully he never asked or I would have had to be honest. This encounter brought more homosexuals to the chapel, and the chapel community which was composed mainly of military retirees and National Guard personnel welcomed them.

In civilian churches of my old denominations I knew Gays and Lesbians who struggled and tried to do everything they could to change, but no-matter how hard they tried, how hard they prayed, how many times well-meaning friends attempted to cast out their demons in rituals similar to exorcisms they struggled and suffered. Most eventually drifted away because they knew that they would not be accepted.  I have had friends in church whose children came out as gay or lesbian. Some loved and accepted them, others turned them away. Judy and I have always done what we can to support them as we would the children of any friend.

That understanding of God’s grace as well as what I believed were the fundamental Constitutional and human rights of Gays and Lesbians brought me to where I am today.

I know that a lot of conservative Christians have and will condemn me for these beliefs and actions, but for me honesty, integrity, empathy and love have to take precedence over hate, blame and prejudice, even when that prejudice is clothed in the words or faith and righteousness. I just figure that once we begin to use religion to condemn others and bolster our own political power that we are no better than people like Al Qaeda, ISIL or the Taliban. We are no better than the Inquisitors or others who destroyed cities and massacred people, even other Christians because they didn’t believe the right way.

I believe that it is just a small step from hateful thoughts and words to actions that end up in genocide. The “German Christians” of the Nazi era demonstrated that to a fine degree. The authors of the Bethel Confession, including Dietrich Bonhoeffer who protested the German Christian alliance with the Nazis noting:

“every attempt to establish a visible theocracy on earth by the church as a infraction in the order of secular authority. This makes the gospel into a law. The church cannot protect or sustain life on earth. This remains the office of secular authority.

That I believe with all my heart and that is why I will support and fight for the rights of the LGBT community in order to ensure that they have the same rights and privileges of any citizen. Otherwise what does the rule of law mean? What does the Constitution mean? What does that sentence in the Declaration of Independence that:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men…” 

Abraham Lincoln wrote in 1854 concerning the rights of Blacks, something that is certainly applicable as well to homosexuals: “the standard maxim of free society …constantly spreading and deepening its influence,” ultimately applicable “to peoples of all colors everywhere.” 

That my friends, especially my conservative Christian friends who do not understand why I would speak up for the LGBT community, is why I do it. So in the words of my favorite heretic Martin Luther I state today: “Here I stand, I can do no other. So help me God. Amen.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Born that Way: A Star Trek Episode for Today

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Judy and I were watching a Star Trek the next Generation video the other night and both of us were moved by it. The episode called The Outcast from season five, involved an encounter where the crew of the Enterprise assisted people of an androgynous race to find a missing shuttlecraft.

The androgynous race had believed that they had evolved beyond gender, and members who felt that they were either male or female were outcasts, and subjected to what we might call reprogramming, something quite like what some Christian conservatives call “reparative therapy” or “conversion therapy” in which homosexuals are forced to renounce and deny who and what they are. 

In the Star Trek episode a scientist, of that race named Soren meets the crew of the Enterprise and finds that she is attracted to Commander Riker. It is a highly emotional episode, and when her leaders find that she is attracted to Riker they put her on trial. During that interrogation she is given the chance by Riker to deny who she is and blame the situation on him, but she cannot. Instead she declares the truth about who she is, a truth that is shared by so many of the homosexuals and lesbians that I have come to know over the years. Her argument is so compelling, and has been stated in similar ways by so many of the people that I have known.

“I am female. I was born that way. I have had those feelings, those longings, all of my life. It is not unnatural. I am not sick because I feel this way. I do not need to be helped. I do not need to be cured. What I need, and what all of those who are like me need, is your understanding. And your compassion. We have not injured you in any way. And yet we are scorned and attacked. And all because we are different. What we do is no different from what you do. We talk, and laugh. We complain about work. And we wonder about growing old. We talk about our families, and we worry about the future. And we cry with each other when things seem hopeless. All of the loving things that you do with each other, that is what we do. And for that, we are called misfits, and deviants, and criminals. What right do you have to punish us? What right do you have to change us? What makes you think you can dictate how people love each other?”

The leaders of the planet reject her argument and she is subjected to the reparative therapy against her wishes. When Riker attempts to rescue her she rejects the attempt. When I first saw the episode when I was in seminary I was conflicted because I understood that the heart of the matter did not deal with someone being a heterosexual, but toward how we as a society and as members of the Christian faith community have treated homosexuals and lesbians for millennia.

I know and have known many homosexuals and lesbians, many of them Christians, many much more conservative in their faith than me. Sadly, their families, their faith communities, have rejected most of them and until the past few years denied the rights enjoyed by heterosexuals, inside or outside of marriage, including the right to have their partner with them when they die.

Who is to dictate whom people love and the manner in which they love each other? What would I, or you do if someone in a church, or the government, or even our families told us that we could not be who we were born to be? And honestly, what would we think if people tried to change us against our will and against every fiber of our being? Would that not be a crime against our humanity?

That is the question that all of us have to ask, even when we claim that God only blesses certain relationships while ignoring the other clear commands of scripture? When I see people who have multiple divorces, and adulterous relationships condemn homosexual couples who only desire to legally marry and remain with the love of their life, I am appalled, for I know many same sex couples who have been faithful to each other and lived together for decades before their relationships were recognized as legal and proper, even if some religious people disagree.

My commitment is to care for and accept people no matter what their sexual orientation is. As a priest and pastor I can do nothing else. Of course some will disagree with me and that is their right and I will not take freedom away from them, but I do ask that they not impose their beliefs on same sex couples and thus deprive them of the same freedoms the rest of us enjoy.

While the Supreme Court has recognized that gays and lesbians have the Constitutional right to marriage based upon the 14th Amendment and the Civil Rights Act of 1965, that right is still being assailed by its opponents; most of who are conservative Christians.

This is about civil rights and human rights, and at the same time the religious freedom of gay and lesbian Christians who have been denied the right other heterosexual Christians have always had; the right to have the marriage they entered into and blessed by their ministers as legal. For too many centuries those defending the faith, including Popes, bishops and kings engaged in the same relationships that they persecuted others for doing. The list of these defenders of the faith is long, and the people often illustrious and sometimes infamous.

I think that it is time that we learn to accept people for who they are, and not who we think that they should be.

Have a great day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Gays Get Unalienable Rights Too

re-criminalize-sodomy

Anti-gay Christian protestors outside the Supreme Court

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

In the next day or two, Kim Davis, the Recalcitrant County Clerk of Rowan County will go back to work after Federal Appelate Court Judge Jim Bunning released her from jail after holding her in contempt of court. He released her because other clerks were issuing the marriage licences that she had refused to Gay couples. If she does not interfere with clerks who have pledged to continuing to issue the licences this will probably blow over, but if she interferes with or punishes her employees the stage is set for her quick return to jail, something that her biggest supporters including Mike Huckabee seem to want to happen. 

But lost in all of the ranting of Conservative Christians regarding their right to discriminate in the name of Jesus amen against the legal rights of Gays, Lesbians and others of the LGBTQ community is what is happening to the gays.

From the supporters of Mrs. Davis you almost always hear the claim that Gays are trying to get special rights and persecute Christians. If that claim were true, which it is not it would be troubling. Likewise the claim that Christians and others who oppose Marriage Equality are now the victims of systematic government persecution and oppression is equally fraudulent. 

Their claims to being persecuted are an affront to all Christians who have really suffered and died for their faith in Christ. Likewise the claims of Mrs. Davis’s lawyers and the politicians, pundits, and preachers who support her, that she is “like a Jew in Nazi Germany” utterly demeans the lives of the Jews persecuted by the Nazis in the 1930s and the six-million Jews slaughtered by them during the 1940s. 

The claims of these so-called Christians are repugnant and embarrassing. Any Christian with a modicum of honesty, integrity, and ethics should publically repudiate then. Sadly, most, caught up in the emotions generated by the rabid anti-gay politicians, pundits and preachers, don’t know enough history, fact, or Christian theology to do anything else but to follow these charlatans as they lead the church to the abyss, just as the leaders of German churches did during the Nazi era. 

The fact is, that for the first time in our history Gays and others of the LGBTQ community have almost equal rights to all other Americans citizens, the rights so eloquently written in the Declaration of Independence by Thomas Jefferson that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. – That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men….”

upstairs lounge massacre

Burned bodies of gay men after the Up Stairs Lounge in New Orleans was attacked in 1973, 32 men died. The suspect, a gay man who had been thrown out escaped police custody. Witness testimony was dismissed by investigators. Media buried the story while talk radio hosts mocked the victims. No one cared, even most churches which refused funerals for victims because they were gay

And which were finally enshrined in the Constitution by the 14th Amendment, an amendment which from the time it was ratified has been hated by the opponents of liberty for people that they despise, be it based on race, color, religion, nationality, gender or sexual preference. That amendment is precious and there are some co-called conservatives who actually want to get rid of it. I think that it should be memorized by everyone who believes in freedom:

“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

So, Gays are getting rights that they never had before and their critics whine about being oppressed and persecuted for trying to use their religion to deny those legal rights. But how is the right to deny legal rights to others a sign of oppression? I guess it is if you believe that your religious rights trump all other rights because God trump’s all, except maybe Trump.

Mini-StonewallGay Rights protest in 1965

But really, I want you to try to imagine what real oppression is like, that is the official, government sanctioned oppression that Gays went through, until very recent times. I guess if you never served alongside honorable people who put their lives on the line for their country, but who could be tried as criminals simple because someone outed them as being Gay it wouldn’t occur to you why this is so important. But government sanctioned oppression and even violence was a fact of life for gays until very recent times, and this is the kind of country that Kim Davis and the preachers, politicians and pundits who support her would like to return.

Imagine if your activities were monitored, catalogued and reported by local, state and Federal police agencies.

Imagine that police detectives and informants were allowed to spy on your activities.

Imagine that police, acting in the “name of the law” under the merest pretense or spurious accusation could invade your home, business or institution and use physical violence to subdue you, even if you had done nothing wrong.

Imagine if a business rival or a spurned lover desired to ruin you, your business, or your career and professional reputation with only an accusation.

Imagine if the price of your freedom was to name names and condemn others.

Imagine if even suspicion of your activities was considered as grounds for termination of your employment, or prevent you from receiving a promotion.

Imagine if those same suspicions could brand you as a felon with the results of being forbidden to vote, the loss of property and employment rights. 

Imagine that if you went to a bar that if you looked in any direction but straight ahead that you could be charged with accosting others.

Imagine that anyone, anywhere who had knowledge of your behaviors could use that knowledge to have you kicked out of the military, law enforcement or government employment, usually with a felony conviction. 

Imagine that your behavior, even discrete behavior in your own residence could get you locked in a psychiatric hospital and quite possibly the use of drugs and surgery to to include, lobotomy, castration or chemical sterilization “correct your illness” without your consent. 

Imagine if you were a faithful member of your church, were conservative in your theology and politics and supported all the causes of that body, but one aspect of your behavior could lead to your excommunication and banishment from that community. 

stonewall-riots

Police attack Gays in San Francisco during the White Night riot on May 21st 1979. 

I guess if it was your behavior or your beliefs that led to such treatment you would cry foul, you would protest, that you would claim that you were the victim of discrimination; and my friend I say that you would be correct. That would be persecution. Sadly the Kim Davis and those claiming to be victims of “massive anti-Christian” persecution are only being prohibited from crushing the freedom and liberty of people who they consider sinners, not from practicing their faith in any way.

That my friends was the America and Great Britain that Gays lived in the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s, portions of which remained enshrined in law until very recently and which a number of high powered and influential politicians, pundits and preachers of the Christian Right would like to go again.

Sadly there are young Gays and Lesbians who take the rights that those who went before them for granted. Thankfully, they have grown up in a more tolerant society, but few know what happened to people just like them in the not too distant past. It should not be forgotten. 

So, when you think about those special “legal rights” being given to a “vocal minority who want to destroy America” ask which America? The one where we all enjoy the right to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness or the one that denies those rights to certain types of people who have done nothing wrong other than being who they are. Of course those who seek to abridge these basic human rights and freedoms, almost all do so in the name of their God and religion which they use to buttress and validate their prejudice and hatred.

Think about it.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil war, History, laws and legislation, LGBT issues, News and current events, Political Commentary

With Bible in Hand: Anti-Gay Christians & Religious Tyranny

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Protesters outside Judge Bunning’s Home

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

As I write this I can almost hear people echoing these words of Reverend Brown in the movie Inherit the Wind being uttered by some of my less than happy readers against me:  “Oh, Lord of the tempest and the thunder, strike down this sinner, as thou did thine enemies of old in the days of the Pharaohs! Let him know the terror of thy sword! Let his soul, for all eternity, writhe in anguish and damnation!”

But then, what’s new? Since I have stopped the hijacking of the site by such commentators that is all they can do. I tolerated their crap for too long, my generosity was treated with contempt, so screw them. I totally agree with the words of Frederick Douglass who wrote:

“Indeed, I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity. I look upon it as the climax of all misnomers, the boldest of all frauds, and the grossest of all libels…He who is the religious advocate of marriage robs whole millions of its sacred influence, and leaves them to the ravages of wholesale pollution. The warm defender of the sacredness of the family relation is the same that scatters whole families, — sundering husbands and wives, parents and children, sisters and brothers, — leaving the hut vacant and the heart desolate. “

According to some readers I represent and stand alongside a vocal minority that is intent on destroying America, minority that is despised and hated by many people in the name of their God. The group I speak of are homosexuals, and their supporters which include me, as well as those people who actually support the rule of law in this country. The 14th Amendment, which was the basis of the Supreme Court’s majority ruling in the case of Obergfell v. Hodges, the ruling which legalized Marriage Equality in all 50 States says:

“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Sadly, the opponents of Marriage Equality, or for that matter of any kind of civil rights for Gays use the same arguments against the rights of Gays that their Christian ancestors, in both the North and the South did to defend the institution of Southern Slavery. In His book Christianity’s Dangerous Idea, British Evangelical-Anglican theologian Alister McGrath observes how “the arguments used by the pro-slavery lobby represent a fascinating illustration and condemnation of how the Bible may be used to support a notion by reading the text within a rigid interpretive framework that forces predetermined conclusions to the text.” Then he asks a dangerous question, a very important question for modern Christians who might be tempted to support a position using the Bible to deny the rights of others for the same reasons today, “Might not the same mistakes be made all over again, this time over another issue?”

When I see the rabid politicians, preachers and pundits supporting the right of a public official to violate the civil liberties of others in the name of their interpretation of scripture, it is troubling. In this case they support Kim Davis, the Recalcitrant County Clerk of Rowan County Kentucky. Mrs. Davis violated the oaths of office that she took, defied the Governor of Kentucky, as well the rulings of multiple courts including the Supreme Court of the United States and was jailed on contempt of court charges.

integration is a sin

It wasn’t that long ago that people used the Bible for this

Sadly I see disturbing parallels in their arguments to the arguments of Christians in the North and the South before the Civil War regarding slavery, and the disenfranchisement of newly emancipated African Americans following the Civil War, during Reconstruction and during the Jim Crow era.

The supporters of Mrs. Davis view the world through the lens of Manichean dualism. Those who agree with them, agree with God and those who do not, are evil, and deserving of no liberty, nor life. Before the Civil War, Southern theologian James Henley Thornwell presented the conflict between northern evangelical abolitionists and southern evangelical defenders of slavery in Manichean terms. He and many others believed that by arguing for abolition that Christian abolitionists attacked religion itself. It was not just an attack on their belief in validity of the institution of slavery, it was an attack on their faith. Thornwell wrote:

“The “parties in the conflict are not merely abolitionists and slaveholders,…They are atheists, socialists, communists, red republicans, Jacobins, on one side, and friends of order and regulated freedom on the other. In one word, the world is the battle ground – Christianity and Atheism as the combatants; and the progress of humanity at stake.”

Thornwell was joined by Robert Lewis Dabney, a southern Presbyterian pastor who later served as Chief of Staff to Stonewall Jackson in the Valley Campaign and at Seven Pines and who remained a strident defender of slavery, and opponent of civil rights for blacks long after the war was over. Dabney’s words remind me very much of the words of the militants speaking up for Mrs. Davis and condemning all who support the rights of Gays. Dabney wrote:

“we must go before the nation with the Bible as the text and ‘Thus saith the Lord’ as the answer….we know that on the Bible argument the abolition party will be driven to reveal their true infidel tendencies. The Bible being bound to stand on our side, they have to come out and array themselves against the Bible. And then the whole body of sincere believers at the North will have to array themselves, though unwillingly, on our side. They will prefer the Bible to abolitionism.”

But I think one of the most reveling are the words spoken by the Reverend William Leacock of Christ Church, New Orleans declared in his Thanksgiving sermon of 1860:

“Our enemies…have “defamed” our characters, “lacerated” our feelings, “invaded “our rights, “stolen” our property, and let “murderers…loose upon us, stimulated by weak or designing or infidel preachers. With “the deepest and blackest malice,” they have “proscribed” us “as unworthy members… of the society of men and accursed before God.” Unless we sink to “craven” beginning that they “not disturb us,…nothing is now left us but secession.”

The very personal nature of Leacock’s complaint in his sermon about abolitionists following the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 is startling when you compare it to the words of so many anti-LBGT politicians, pundits and preachers, some of who even urge civil war and secession if they do not get their way. Mike Huckabee says that Davis being jailed on contempt of court charges “removes all doubt of the criminalization of Christianity in our country.”

The invective against Judge Bunning, a Republican who was appointed to the bench by George W. Bush, and all who support the law is reaching the level where frustrated supporters will resort to violence. It has happened before. In fact, one of the leaders, of the protest outside Judge Bunning’s home yesterday on charges of “violating the law of God” was the Reverend Flip Benham. Benham is no stranger to precipitating violence against those he deems violators of God’s law by stoking the fear and anger of his followers. In 2009 one of those followers, murdered a doctor who performed late term abortions in the man’s church. Likewise, Benham has stalked others and he has defended the murderer of others. If he can motivate people to kill abortion providers, why not gays and their supporters? Thus I have legitimate concerns for the safety of Judge Bunning and anyone who gets in the way of Benham and his followers.

Mrs. Davis was released jail yesterday, and ordered her not to interfere with the issuing of gay marriage licenses. Judge Bunning released her because he was satisfied  that her office is “fulfilling its obligation to issue marriage licenses to all legally eligible couples.” Her supporters will claim this as a victory, but it will not change the law, and I imagine that if she interferes with her subordinates, Judge Bunning says that she will end up back in jail. She and her lawyers and Mike Huckabee exited the jail to the cheers of their supporters. Their words and actions showed a arrogance and defiance of law that only American Christians of our era, as well as the ante-Bellum South, and the Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras seem capable. We will see what happens, I am not optimistic so long there is a dollar and political point to be gained. 

With this “victory” the lawyers who led her down the primrose path to jail will move on and leave Mrs. Davis behind if she complies with Judge Bunning’s order. Their “success” will encourage others to do the same. These politicians, preachers and pundits who led this charge want a conflict, and they need a conflict to legitimize themselves. They also need it to make lots of money donated by their followers without accomplishing anything. They hate Gays, and liberals and make their money playing the victim, when it is they who seek to deny the rights of others. One of their most influential writers, an adviser to Rand and Ron Paul expressly said so:

“The long-term goal of Christians in politics should be to gain exclusive control over the franchise. Those who refuse to submit publicly to the eternal sanctions of God by submitting to His Church’s public marks of the covenant–baptism and holy communion–must be denied citizenship, just as they were in ancient Israel.”

North’s words apply to everyone who stands against his interpretation of Christian Dominionism.

But with Bible in hand they will go forward, and I am reminded of the words of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird:

“Sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whiskey bottle in the hand of (another)… There are just some kind of men who – who’re so busy worrying about the next world they’ve never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results.”

These people are a scary bunch. Their right to discriminate against others based on their religious beliefs matters more than the Constitution, and matters more than bearing a true witness of God’s love to the world.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Heaven, Hell, Homosexuals & Kim Davis: The Pandora’s Box of Political Religion

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Kim Davis Greeting Supporters (above) Her Pastor Below

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Kim Davis, the recalcitrant County Clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky has now decided that the reason that she cannot issue marriage licenses to Gays is that it is a heaven or hell decision, in other words, if she complies with the court order she will quite possibly go to hell. Actually as a theologian and historian I find this fascinating, and regardless of what happens next in this sorry saga, we must remember the words of Captain Jean Luc Picard “But she, or someone like her, will always be with us. Waiting for the right climate in which to flourish, spreading fear in the name of righteousness….”

Davis, who was elected to the office last November, following her mother who held the office for the 37 years prior, makes $80,000 a year to serve as the Country Clerk and one of her big duties is issuing marriage licenses to citizens of the county. The only problem is that Marriage Equality is the law and gays are entitled to the full rights of all citizens based on a Supreme Court ruling which said that based on the 14th Amendment that Gays, like all other American Citizens were legally entitled to the same rights as all other citizens. Likewise it appealed to the Civil Rights Act of 1965. By refusing the recalcitrant County Clerk of Rowan County Kentucky is in violation of the law. However, because she is an elected official she cannot be fired. She can only be impeached by a state legislature whose members need the votes of her supporters in the state. 

Mrs. Davis is an Apostolic Pentecostal Christian. Her Church, Morehead First Apostolic Church belongs to the United Pentecostal Church International. This denomination is one of the early Pentecostal denominations in the United States, founded in 1905 during the Pentecostal Awakening. It split from another Pentecostal denomination, the Assemblies of God over the issue of the Godhead. The United Pentecostals reject the traditional understanding of Trinitarian Christianity. Their theology is Monotheistic and they interpret the references to Father, Son and Holy as modes in which God reveals himself. In other words, God was the Father, and then the Son, and then the Holy Spirit.

According to mainstream Christianity since the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. the theology of the United Pentecostals was considered heretical, by all Eastern and Western branches of Christianity. This means, and I hate to be a theological hard ass here, but technically, they are not Christian, because they worship a different God. Now personally, I am not such a hard ass and believe that God forgives a lot of bad theology, even my own; but the United Pentecostals don’t, and here is where it gets really interesting.

The United Pentecostal Church believes that in order for a person to be “saved” that they must first repent of their sins. No problem there, I think repentance is a good thing. Next one must be baptized, and here is where it gets tricky. If you are not baptized “In Jesus’ Name” your baptism doesn’t count. Sorry all you folks that were baptized “in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” you may have repented but you are not saved and yes you are heading for that eternal vacation on the Lake of Fire, so don’t forget your asbestos water skis.

But that’s not all my friends; to Kim Davis and the United Pentecostals you must also be baptized in the Holy Spirit with the evidence of Speaking in Tongues. If not, by their doctrine you are going to hell, and don’t forget to go to bathroom first because it is “damnation without relief” and if you do not go it will be a very uncomfortable eternity. But wait there’s still more…. Even if you a member of these churches, like Kim Davis is and you make it through those first three gates, you can still go to hell; you have to Persevere to the End, that means that she must wear those frumpy clothes, no makeup or jewelry, and avoid doing sinful things and that is kind of tricky because there are so many ways to screw up. No wonder she is afraid of going to hell for doing the duties required by the law.

I find it fascinating that Mrs. Davis and her supporters are so hell bent on making sure that homosexuals cannot get married, or enjoy the same rights as other citizens and condemn homosexuals all to hell based on their interpretation of the Bible. Interestingly enough many of her big supporters are Trinitarian Evangelicals and other Conservative Christians, who by doctrine Kim Davis and the United Pentecostal Church does not consider Christians.

This is the fascinating part. Her biggest defenders and her lawyers are all Trinitarian Christians who Kim Davis and her church believe are going to hell, at least which is what their doctrine says, and these wonderful Trinitarian Christians are so full of animosity to homosexuals that they will defend a person who believes that they too are going to hell with those horrible homosexuals. Imagine, if Kim Davis and her church are right, Mat Staver, lawyer from Liberty Counsel will be sunning himself on the banks of the Lake of Fire with the homosexual that he so loathes, and I hope he takes some tanning oil. The irony is rich, but I digress….

You see this is the problem when you decide to let theologically and historically ignorant religious fanatics run government. But that is the morass that conservative Christians in the United States have created for themselves. Ever since the 1970s when Jerry Falwell began the charge the situation has got increasingly stickier with every passing year. Odd alliances are made by groups who all believe that they have to only way to salvation and that all others are going to hell. The problem is that this alliance cannot hold. Should the Religious Right ever get control they will start persecuting each other in the areas that they are strongest, because it is an alliance of convenience and in their hearts they despise each other almost as much as they do the gays. It will Balkanize and fracture our society beyond belief; but then who cares so long as our religion wins.

Robert Heinlien observed, “Almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so.” That is what Davis and her backers want, if they cannot stop the law they want legal authority to disobey it while getting paid to administer it as government officials.

Is it no wonder that James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and others of our founding fathers were so adamant about separating church and state? Madison said why this is so necessary, “The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries.” And why Conservative Atheist Christopher Hitchens remarked “How dismal it is to see present day Americans yearning for the very orthodoxy that their country was founded to escape.”

Mrs. Davis can hold whatever religious views that she desires, and she can chose to worship the God of her choice and take her chances on landing in hell or heaven. However, her duties as an officer of the government require her to carry out the law. If she cannot carry out the law her choice is to resign. She has no right to be paid by the government and then substitute her religious beliefs for law she is to carry out, and thereby sabotage the law, which is meant for all citizens. Since she is unlikely to resign, cannot be fired, and most likely will not be impeached, there is no remedy for the citizens of Rowan County, none of who are able to get a marriage license. It reminds me of the days when White officials in the South defied Congress and the Courts to defend Jim Crow Laws in the 1959s and 1960s. 

Let’s turn this around for a second and put Mrs. Davis standing at the counter trying to get a marriage license following one of her three divorces. Imagine how Mrs. Davis would have felt if some hard-assed Trinitarian Catholic Christian denied her application for a marriage license due to her three divorces, and his belief that divorce was a mortal sin and that to issue a marriage license violated his religious beliefs.

That my friends is the path that Mrs. Davis and her supporters are taking us down. It is the path where a personal belief trumps the law, and one’s duty as an officer of the government to carry out that law.

Mrs. Davis needs to resign, or face the consequences. She will be considered a martyr for a cause by people who she, if she actually believes the teachings of her church, are going to go to hell alongside of the homosexuals that they are defending her from. I love that irony, and since Davis and many of her supporters would probably beleive that I am going to be damned for my support of the civil rights of Gays then I will have to agree with Captain Jean Luc Picard who once said “If we’re going to be damned, let’s be damned for what we really are.”

Make it so…

Peace

Padre Steve+

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In Exclusion of All Others: Kim Davis & God’s Authority

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Thomas Jefferson so eloquently and correctly observed, “History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance, of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes.” It appears that we have some Christians stooping to that “lowest grade of ignorance” which Jefferson noted.

I have been holding back on the case of Kim Davis, the Clerk of Rowan County Kentucky who has strenuously refused to issue marriage licenses of Gay couples based on her “strongly held” or “sincere” religious beliefs. After the rule went into effect she has refused to issue marriage licenses to anyone in her county, citing fairness. Personally when this started I thought this was a publicity stunt by the Christian Right, and especially her lawyer, Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel, the legal activist wing of Liberty University and that it would blow over in a few days.

But then forgot just what a self-righteous bigot and extremist that Staver is when it comes to this issue. He has made a fortune demonizing gays over the years and his words are always extreme, polarizing, and play to the basest prejudices of his audience; angry, politically charged conservative Christians. Yes, in some ways this is still a publicity stunt, because Staver and others like him are using Davis, a woman who according to what Jesus said is an adulteress, having been married four times and divorced three, to make a profit and her a martyr for their cause.

So I was wrong and the circus continues. Davis disobeyed orders from the Governor and Attorney General of Kentucky to comply with the law; she has lost in every court including the entire U.S. Supreme Court. Interestingly enough the conservative Supreme Court Justices who were in the minority in the Obergfell v. Hodges case which legalized Marriage Equality; Scalia, Roberts, Alito and Thomas, refused to hear her case and summarily dismissed her appeal. But she still continues.

Today, after the Supreme Court ruling Davis still refuses to obey the law and do the job that by law, and the dictates and responsibilities of the government office she occupies that she is supposed to do. Citing “God’s authority” for her refusal, Davis has again refused to issue marriage licenses. The fact is that she is denying the rights of every couple in Rowan County to a marriage license is of no concern. The fact that if you swear an oath as a public official to uphold the law, likewise, is of no concern to her. All that matters are her rights, not the people she swore an oath to serve, not the law.

It is being framed by Davis, Staver and their allies as s test of religious liberty, in that Mrs. Davis cannot in good conscience issue a marriage license to a Gay couple because it violates her religious beliefs. I do not disregard those beliefs, I defend the beliefs of people like Mrs. Davis on a daily basis. I do not agree with her but I agree that she can believe whatever she wants. But there is an important caviot to this, Mrs. Davis is not a private citizen. She is an officer of the government who has certain legal responsibilities, among them issuing marriage licenses to eligible people in Rowan County, Kentucky. She took an oath to carry out the laws of the State of Kentucky, and she is not doing that. If she does not to comply she needs to resign or face the legal consequences of her actions.  No officer of the government at any level gets to chose what laws they will obey and which they will not. Her actions violate the 14th Amendment rights of all her citizens, as such they are unconstitutional. This is not like abortion where many medical professionals can opt out of based on a conscience clause. In those cases those physicians refer to others. In this case, which is qualitatively different that abortion, in that it does not involve life or potential life, Mrs. Davis gives the people of her county no option. She is the only one who can issue these licenses and she refuses to do so.

The reality is that no one is forcing Mrs. Davis to change her opinion on Gay marriage. She can do that as a private citizen and in her church, but she cannot use her beliefs to deny the legal rights of others. To allow her to do so would set a dangerous precedent, but it seems neither Davis, her lawyers, or many conservative Christian state and local politicians and activists understand this. Once you set the precedent that a public official can use their religious rights to deny the rights of others you open Pandora’s Box. Our founders understood, that, James Madison correctly observed, “Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other sects?”

Can you imagine what Staver’s reaction if a fundamentalist Moslem County clerk decided to not issue a marriage license to a Christian, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist or an unbeliever of any kind? You can bet that he would not be defending that Moslem’s right to disobey the law. Instead, he would be apoplectic and claiming that the Moslems were attempting to impose Sharia on non-Moslems would be demanding that the official comply with the law or go to jail.

What if an Orthodox Jewish elected official refused to work alongside or in the same office as a Christian woman? Would Staver defend him? I think not.

But that is the problem here. Davis and so many others like her believe that their sincerely held beliefs trump the law, and their sworn duty as public officials. My friends, to allow that is to open the way for a theocracy, where in the name of God and the church, the rights of non-believers are disregarded. Sadly, it goes beyond simply refusing rights, but it ends up in religious tyranny and persecution; “witch trials,” the killing of “heretics and unbelievers.” In fact as far as Gays are concerned, there are militant Christian proponents of theocracy in this country who openly state that Gays should be killed, and they are not limited to the fringe of the late Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church. Some of them are frequent speakers at Republican campaign rallies, Tea Party events and court major conservative political leaders and candidates for office.

Barry Goldwater of all people warned us about them as early as 1981, “Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.”

As much as we want to believe differently, we are not nearly as civilized or tolerant as we claim to be; and the words in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” only apply to a certain in group; in Davis’ and Staver’s case, Christians. All others, especially Gays, need not apply. Believe me, while people like Davis and Staver are a minority they are benign. Their words and their actions demonstrate that. Like the Nazis of the 1920s they claim to be the victims and decry laws that do not allow them to discriminate. Should they ever gain the reins of power, or more likely, succeed in carving out exemptions in the law that allow them to discriminate against others based on their personal, strongly held religious beliefs; they will become tyrannical, and Davis, even without a shred of law to back her up is behaving as a tyrant, and being applauded by many so-called Christians.

That is something to ponder.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Not to Be Alone: Why Gay Marriage Matters

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I have been thinking about the profound legal and moral implications of the Supreme Court ruling on marriage equity, the Obergfell v. Hodges case. One of those impacts in in a very simple and human concern, the ability of people to be with their loved ones during medical crisis or when they are dying. I saw the profound implications of not having this right when I was a young chaplain doing my hospital residency at Parkland Hospital in Dallas, Texas 1993 and 1994. This is the story of those two encounters and how they changed me.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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For me it is still hard to comprehend, a young chaplain; two relatively young men dying of AIDS, two partners, two families and two radically different experiences of humanity, faith, religion and authentic loving relationships.

I was still a relatively inexperienced minister and chaplain back when I was doing my Pastoral Care residency at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas Texas back in 1993 and 1994. Yes I had graduated from seminary. Yes I had a bit of chaplain experience as an Army National Guard chaplain and as a counselor at a major evangelical Christian ministry, and yes I had experience in dealing with AIDS as a Medical Service Corps officer in the Army.

Despite that, I was so ill prepared to deal with the massively different treatment of people dying from AIDS from their families. Families that in some cases shared the same Christian faith as me. I think that is one of the things that young ministers struggle with when they enter the nether world between life and death, mortality and immortality, faith and unbelief in the real world. When I was in seminary the senior pastor of the mega-church that I attended told a story about being approached by a family member of someone who was very sick and in hospital. The person wanted him to visit them while they were a patient. He had been their pastor for years. When they ask him if he would come, he refused. He recounted that the “parishioner asked just how sick he would have to be to get a hospital visit?” The pastor told us his response. He laughed and said “you don’t want to be that sick.” The congregation laughed and I was devastated.

The pastor was a leader in the New Apostolic Reformation, a friend of John Wimber, Rick Joyner and others who helped to pave the way to the heartless, unfeeling, political “Christianity” and “Dominion theology” that is in vogue with the Tea Party and Religious Right today. When I questioned him about his comments later he told me that thought that pastoral care of those in his congregation, especially in regard to hospital visits was “below his office as an apostle, that others had that responsibility.” The thing that disturbed me the most was that he had ordained me as an Evangelical minister in that church to be a chaplain barely two years before this. I had respected him and now I felt a tremendous sense of emptiness when I left his office.

So when I began my pastoral care residency at Parkland I found that I had a lot to learn about the real world of religious faith, religious hypocrisy and religious hatred and intolerance.

Early in my residency I dealt with a number of AIDS cases. I wrote about one of those cases last night, although that was not really early in my residency, it was closer to the end of it. There were two cases besides that one that made such deep impressions on me that I can never forget them. Both involved young, white, homosexual men dying of the complications from full blown AIDS. Both came from very “Evangelical Christian” families (both were Southern Baptist) and both were being grieved by what we called then, their “significant others” as well as their biological families. But that was where the similarities ended.

The first case was in the second month of my residency, when I was the chaplain for the Medical ICU, before the Pastoral Care Director wisely moved me to the Trauma and Surgery department. A patient came to us, a man, about my age, a successful architect with many friends who was experiencing pneumonia brought about by his immunodeficiency brought about by HIV.

When he arrived he was still able to communicate and he had many of his friends as well as his significant other visiting him. They loved him and he loved them. There was a sense of community and if I dare say real family as they visited. In those first few days I got to know him and these people, most of who were homosexual but not all. There were a number of women there, who I am sure had the patient, who was a remarkably handsome man, been a heterosexual, would have loved to have been his wife.

My encounter with him, before his condition worsened to the point that he had to go on a ventilator and was sedated was transforming. He grew up in the church, knew that he was homosexual, attempted to live with it and finally came out as gay, and was disowned by his family. Despite this he became a highly successful architect, had many friends, was active in charitable works, and still maintained his faith in Jesus. I came to appreciate him, the man who for was for all purposes his spouse and his friends.

However, when his condition deteriorated his estranged family, the people who had disowned him, rushed to his “rescue.” In good Christian form they brought their pastor who though their son was unconscious proceeded to preach at him regarding his need to “repent” and “to come back to Jesus.” The family also took advantage of the law. They were his biological family and next of kin. They banned the man’s partner and friends from his room as he lay dying.

The family’s pastor preached at the dying man and glared at the people closest to him while he was present.  I was appalled by his, and their behavior. While they isolated their son from those closest to him and allowed their pastor to condemn him as he died, I remained with his partner and friends. I prayed with them, I cried with them, I embraced them. When the family left I went with them to be with this young man’s mortal body. We prayed and after the nurses prepared his body and the doctors completed their final notes, I walked with them as we took his body on that long trip from the ninth floor to basement, where the morgue awaited. I still cry when I think of this encounter, of how supposedly Christian people would not only keep their son, who they had rejected and condemned from those who loved him the most as he lay dying.

A couple of months later I was in my element as the Trauma and Surgery Department Chaplain, but I still had on call duty where I was responsible for crisis situations anywhere in the house. One of those wild nights I got a call from the nursing staff of Nine South, the Medical Step Down unit where the lady that I wrote about last night had passed away, but that was still in the future.

This time there was another young white man, another partner, another family. This young man was not in the ICU fighting for his life, he was passing away in the quiet solitude of his room with his mother and father, his partner and his friends at his side. Like the other young man he was a man of faith. He loved Jesus, he loved his family and he loved his partner.

He was from the area west of Dallas, the area between Fort Worth and Abilene. His mom and dad were ranchers, dad was wearing his cowboy hat, a plaid shirt, classic western Levi’s jeans and cowboy boots. His mom was wearing a simple dress. Both were thing, tanned and their faces lined by the sun and weather and from being out on the range with their cattle. The young man who was with them, the dying man’s partner was casually dressed but though he was from the same area was not a rancher.

I spent time with all of them. The contrast between the “Christian” parents and pastor of the first young man could have not been more profound. Like the architect’s parents, they were Christians. In fact they were Southern Baptists who attended a small country church in the town that they lived. By any sense of the word they could be described as “Fundamentalist” Christians, but unlike so many fundamentalists they focused on loving God and loving people, even people that so many Christians reject out of hand.

I arrived as the patient was breathing his last. I remained with him, his parents, partner and friends as he passed away, and when his parents asked I offered a prayer commending his soul to God. As I did this his partner was in a state of near collapse, exclaiming “I have no one now, I am alone!” His grief was overwhelming, he had no legal status, in the eyes of the law he meant nothing, though the man that he loved had just died. My heart was rent, and I held on to him.

As I did, the patient’s father came alongside of us. The father said to the young man “You are not alone, you are our son now, we love you.” When this dear man said this we all were in tears, as I am right now. I stayed with all of these dear people as the nursing staff prepared the young man’s body to go to the morgue. At some point the parents escorted their son’s now widowed partner out of the hospital. Mom and dad walked on either side of him as they left the ward. If there was anyone couple on this either who were true Christians, it was this dear couple. As we parted I could not hold back the tears, and the father of the deceased gave me a hug and thanked me for being with them and honoring his son.

I remained with the nursing staff and the internal medicine resident as they complete their duties and took the young man’s body to the morgue. After that I went back to the emergency room where some of the nursing staff, including a RN who at one time had been an Assemblies of God pastor, but was now an avowed atheist who loved to torment chaplains, except me, comforted me in my grief. It is funny that an atheist would be comforting the chaplain after such an event, but then if I do believe in God, why can’t I believe that anyone cannot share in the grief of others and of comfort and care.

It was a story that I could only share with my pastoral care residency supervisor, in our residency group and with my wife Judy, as I knew if I shared my experience at church that at best I would only be humored, and most probably be ostracized. In fact I had to keep that story pretty much under wraps until 2010 when was told to leave the church which had ordained me a priest, for among other things speaking out for the rights of Gays, Lesbians and the LGBTQ community. By then I had met and served with far too many Gays who were far better Christians than most of the Christians who condemned them not to do so.

But, in a way it was a step to freedom because I realized that what I had been taught for so long was so horribly at odds with the message of Jesus.

Two deaths, two men, two partners, two families, two experiences of God’s grace, two experiences of a common humanity and the experience of one very flawed, but no longer confused chaplain…

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