Wednesday, December 26, 2012


I once again allowed myself to get into a fight on someone's blog. It began with my poorly put attempt to shed some light on life in the US, where of those who are most often publicly proclaiming their faith on Jesus, also say some outrageous things about rape, marriage equality, school prayer, and the murders in Newtown. The blog's owner was very critical of our Presiding Bishop for not mentioning Jesus often enough by name in her Advent and Christmas messages to the members of the Episcopal Church. (I thought that we knew who she meant by the Prince of Peace and whose birth we are celebrating!)

Inevitably the thread moved far away from the content of the PB's message to the "apostate" positions some Episcopalians have taken on abortion and marriage equality, as well, somewhat strangely, to an assertion about I "think of evangelicals." Of course, it is clear to anyone who reads The Thin Tradition that I disagree with many positions that evangelicals have taken in recent years. But I also disagree with some positions that liberals have taken and those disagreements do not have much to do with what I think about brothers and sisters who identify themselves as progressive or evangelical.

In thinking about the comments about marriage equality that one evangelical Anglican cleric posted on the blog, I wonder how evangelicals will respond to the growing acceptance in this country of committed same-sex unions. As more and more young people raised in evangelical congregations have LGBT friends, how will they deal with the possible conflict between what they have been taught and what they see when these friends fall in love? Will the quality of the love they see, even the holiness of that love, encourage them to rethink the position they were taught was the only truly Christian one? Will they become, as I have become, revisionists, having convictions that are different from those they once held? I hope so.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Where Are the Poor?

As we move closer to next month's election, I have been struck by the fact that there has been little mention in the campaign of the needs of those among us who are poor. We have heard a great deal about the difficulties of the middle class during the Great Recession, but we have heard little about those in our country who are poor and getting poorer.

It makes sense for campaigns to focus there attention on middle class Americans, still a larger part of the population than the poor, but is it right? If government makes things better for middle class Americans, will the benefits trickle down? Families struggling to pay the mortgage certainly could use help, but what about the families that need a decent place to live and can only dream about one day having a mortgage?

For years I had the following quote from President Roosevelt tacked on the bulletin board in my office.
The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.
Since the Great Depression, we have made the kind of progress of which FDR spoke. There are fewer older Americans living in poverty, chiefly because of Social Security and Medicare. Poor children are more likely to be healthy, chiefly because of Medicaid and nutritional programs like WIC and Food Stamps. Poor families have better access to adequate housing because of programs like Section 8. But our work isn't done and in the wake of the Great Recession the very programs that have helped us make this progress are being threatened with budget cuts.

What is particularly sad about the proposals to make cuts in the funding of these programs is that they are short-sighted. Money spent on early child health care and nutrition saves us money in the future. These expenditures are investments which have been shown to provide good returns. Like the infrastructure investments that we need to make, these investments in poor children and their families are investments in the kind of America that we want.

When I vote next month, I will vote hoping that the people we elect will continue to make these important investments, investments in a better future for all Americans.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Apology Tour

Several Kenyans are suing the United Kingdom, claiming that they were tortured by British soldiers during the Mau Mau uprising. Although I had long assumed, as a confirmed Anglophile, that such atrocities could not have occurred in British colonies, I think the claims of torture are most likely true.

Reading about the case got me thinking about the GOP claim that the President went around the world apologizing for US actions in the past. Although the "apology tour" charge has been given PolitiFact's Pants on Fire rating, what is so wrong about apologizing for things our government has done wrong? What is wrong with a bit of repentance?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Dear Mr. Romney

Thank you for reminding me about my dependency upon the government. I had not realized how dependent I had been until your recent comments about the 47% were reported. I guess my dependency started very early when, because my mother couldn't afford private schools, I had to depend upon the government for my education from kindergarten through high school. I tried to be self-reliant and attended a small private college, but dropped out half through the first year. Then I was back into dependency, attending a state university. When I took a year off in the middle of college, I was still dependent on the government as I worked in Washington and Wilmington, Delaware in the VISTA program. I was able to escape from government dependency when I spent three years at the Episcopal Divinity School and remain free of it for about fifteen years, although I may not have been as free as I thought as my salary was paid by donations from church members who got to take the charitable giving tax deduction and I lived in church-owned housing which was exempt from property tax. When we bought a house and got the federal subsidy in the mortgage interest tax deduction, my level of level of dependency increased and it got worse when I went to work for county government in Buffalo, New York. I managed to break free again for a decade, but then I retired and became dependent upon Social Security and Medicare.

As dependent as I have been, I do pay taxes. Not only the payroll taxes that even the working poor pay, but also federal and state income taxes. That, of course, means that I am supporting the crippling dependency of other Americans, of those who depend upon government for public schools, for Medicare and Medicaid, for school lunch programs, for fire and police departments, for public transportation, and even for clean air and water. Maybe that means that we are all dependent on government "of the people, by the people, for the people" for so much that is important to us. Maybe depending upon others is not the evil that you seem to think it is. Maybe, if you become our President, you will learn how to be President not only for the privileged and independent Americans, but for all of us, dependent or not.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Hard Choices

One of the messages that has come from this week's GOP Convention is that Republicans are willing to make hard choices while Democrats aren't.

I find that puzzling as there has been little evidence that Republicans in Congress have been willing to make hard choices about the federal budget. Locked into a no new taxes ideology, many in the GOP are unwilling to see that one of the hard choices that must be made is to raise taxes. Budget cuts will not be enough to eliminate the deficit, and the trickle down theory that low tax rates for the rich will magically revive the economy and raise federal revenues is just a theory. What does work is making sure that middle and low income households have enough money to spend. Increased demand for goods and services creates jobs. A million dollars in the wallet of one person does not create as much demand as one thousand dollars in the wallets of one thousand working people.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Honest Politicians?

I have become a fan of PolitiFact, installing it's app on my iPhone and iPad. The app allows me to check on the truthfulness of statements made by politicians and the PACs that support them. I particularly like PolitiFact's Pants on Fire rating, given for statements that aren't simply false, but outrageously so. 

The sad reality of the political climate today is that both parties' presidential and vice-presidential  candidates have earned Pants on Fire ratings. 5% of 56 statements by Vice-President Biden earned the rating, as did 1% of 603 statements by the President. Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney's running mate, earned the rating for 9% of 22 statements. Mr. Romney won that rating for 9% of 161 statements. 

Michael Steele, the former Chairman of the Republican National Committee, was interviewed on Thursday by Jon Stewart. One of Mr. Steele's comments was that with new communication technology people may challenge false statements made in political campaigns. I am not optimistic, given that PolitiFact's check of 18 statements posted on Facebook found that none were true and that 28% of them earned the Pants on Fire rating.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Rape is Rape

The current controversy over Rep. Akin's comments about "legitimate rape" and his later use of the phrase "forcible rape" sent me to search for another term, aggravated rape. Criminal codes often provide for this more serious charge being made when the rapist causes additional bodily harm or in cases of gang rape. But rape is rape whether the rapist is brutal or gentle, whether the rapist is a stranger or a friend or her husband. Rape is rape because she didn't consent or was too young to consent or not able to consent. Rape is always violent, a violation of another person, always forcible, and never legitimate.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Rand and Ryan

I have to admit that I have never read anything that Ayn Rand wrote and have only watched part of an interview in which she explained her philosophy. It is pretty obvious, however, that her philosophy is inconsistent with Christain faith. That raises a fundamental question about Paul Ryan. How could this faithful Roman Catholic embrace Rand's philosophy so enthusiastically? I understand that he has recently said that he rejects it, but that statement seems inconsistent with his earlier statements at a meeting of the Atlas Society and his requirement that his interns and staff members read Rand's books. If he has had a conversion experience and no longer agrees with Rand's philosophy, I wonder how that conversion might change his views on the role of government and might lead to a new Ryan budget that more clearly reflects his Catholic faith.

Just wondering.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


I was sorry that I had to decline an invitation to work for Elizabeth Warren's campaign this Saturday. For democracy to work citizens have to do more than vote. Working for a candidate is only one way to help make democracy work. We can also hold our elected officials' feet to the fire, letting them know our views on important issues and holding them accountable for their actions or their inaction. Doing that effectively requires that we do our research about the issues and think through how our own values would best be translated into public policy. That may seem like a lot of work, but that's the kind of work that lobbyists do to try get the values of their clients translated into public policy. If we don't want public policy to be shaped by others, we need to invest some of our time in becoming effective advocates for our own values.

Benjamin Franklin was asked, at the close of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, whether we had a Republic or a Monarchy. Franklin responded, "A Republic, if you can keep it." Keeping it is work that all of us need to do.

Friday, August 3, 2012

What's in a Name?

During the years that I was at Saint Matthias Church, I often chided my colleague amos acree for the way that his denomination had captured two of the titles which might well be claimed by all Christians - The Christian Church and The Disciples of Christ. amos did not mind the chiding at all, as he does not take himself all that seriously. He told me once that when people see his habit of putting his name in lower case as a sign of his humility, he corrects that misperception. Using lower case gets him noticed and remembered.

Names are important and, in spite of my chiding, I understand how his church came by its two names. But some names can be a little off putting. A lot of Episcopalians get irritated when Roman Catholics refer the their church as simply the Catholic Church, as if Anglicans didn't belong to a catholic church. We also hear stories, many of them apocryphal, about how there was a schism in the Church of God and those who left are calling themselves the True Church of God. But a true story about a church plant near me made me wonder how the planters chose the name, Next Level Church. I read the article to see if there was an explanation, but couldn't find one. That left me with the uneasy feeling that these brothers and sisters in Christ might imagine that their church is a level higher than other churches. That is very dangerous thinking for any Christian. All of us are, as Luther pointed out, at the same time sinners and justified by grace and grace alone. All of us are called to walk humbly with God, because that is how God walks with us.

I pray that this new church plant will reach unchurched and dechurched people with the Good News of God's love. And I pray that if they are imagining that theirs is a church a level above others God would forgive them.

Thursday, August 2, 2012


The controversy over Chick-fil-A's desire to have a store in Boston not only caught me by surprise, it also revealed how little I knew about the company. Our daughter had to correct me when I got the name wrong and mispronounced it. But even starting late I have formed some opinions about the controversy.

1. Mayor Menino did not abuse his authority when he urged the company to reconsider its plans to locate in Boston. Although the letter was on official stationary, he was careful to limit his comments there to his personal opposition to a store in Boston.

2. If the Mayor has said elsewhere that he will block the granting of a license to Chick-fil-A, I think that would be an abuse of his office. It would not, on the other hand, be an abuse of his office if he encouraged people to express their opposition to Chick-fil-A's plans.

3. Ido not care how good the chicken is. I will not support with my business a man whose views are so contrary to mine and I hope Chick-fil-A decides to stay away from Boston.

The Bottom Line

We will probably never see more of Mr. Romney's tax returns and we will be left wondering if he is hiding something. But what we do know now is that Mr. Romney's overall tax rate is less than most of ours. That is because the tax code is designed, maybe not intentionally, to benefit those who can afford to hire tax advisors to lower their liability. To eliminate that inequity will require more than eliminating the Bush era tax cuts for folks with incomes above $250,000. It will require a major overhaul of the tax code, one that will not be about soaking the rich, but about establishing greater fairness. Given the size of the the deficits in the federal budget, the overhaul of the tax code may mean somewhat higher taxes for most of us, as it seems impossible to me that budgets can be balanced simply be cutting expenditures. However, I agree with one of the early investors in Amazon that it is middle income households that are the true job creators as they have enough disposable income to buy things. Companies don't hire more workers unless there is more demand for what they produce. Any overhaul of the tax code that leaves more money in the pockets of the very rich and less in the pockets of middle income households will not be good for the economy.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Yes We Did

Having gone to YouTube to watch Rowan Atkinson's wonderful performance at the opening ceremony of the Olympics, I stayed and browsed through some of my favorites, e.g., The Spanish Inquisition. Among my favorites was a music video, Yes We Can, featuring a 2008 campaign speech by candidate Obama and singing by some of his supporters. The video got me thinking about the accomplishments of the past three and a half years. 

Yes we did: 

  •  End don't ask don't tell 
  • Help save two of the big three auto companies
  • Preserve the jobs of teachers, fire fighters, police officers
  • Move towards health care for all
  • Support movement towards democracy in North African nations
  • Create protections for ourselves and our neighbors in our dealings with financial institutions

  • That's not too shabby.

    Yes we did!

    Tuesday, July 24, 2012

    Lord I Lift Your Name on High

    I was watching a video of a group of high school students singing this song and thought I heard a change in the words. Instead of "from the grave to the sky" I thought I heard "from the grave to the world." it was probably my imagination, but what I thought I heard got me thinking about this fairly popular song.

    First I think "to the world" is better theology than "to the sky." Although the newer testament witnesses to Jesus' ascension, the story does not end there. The disciples of Jesus were sent into the world to be the Body of Christ sharing in God's mission of transforming the whole creation.

    Second I thought about another phrase in the song, "our debt to pay." I do not subscribe to the substitutionary theory of the atonement, but I do believe that Jesus paid a debt, i.e., Jesus responded to God's love in the way that we ought to - "to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God." (Micah 6:8) What we owe God, the One who created us, and loves us, is precisely what Jesus offered to his Father. That debt he paid perfectly, but that does not let us off the hook. As communities of disciples we are called to accept the challenge laid before us by the prophet Micah and to offer "our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice" to God. We are called to share in the missio Dei, Christ's work of reconciling the world to God.

    Saturday, July 21, 2012

    He Had Compassion For Them

    These words from the Gospel for this Sunday are not only about how Jesus sees the world, but about how we ought to see the world. God invites us to suffer with those who suffer, just as Jesus suffered with those he encountered in his ministry. And like Jesus our suffering with ought to move us to action, not only to bring healing and comfort to those who suffer, but also to work to remove the causes of suffering whenever we can. The move from caring to advocacy is often a difficult one for us. Sometimes the causes of suffering are hard to define. At other times there are political forces that make our efforts seem futile.

    We often need courage to move out of our comfort zones and speak truth to those in power. Several years ago a friend of mine was engaged in a campaign to rid her neighborhood of abandoned buildings, some of which had become drug houses. She and others from her Roman Catholic parish had arranged to meet with a housing court judge in his chambers to discuss one particular house. They asked the judge to order the immediate demolition of the house. When he told them that he did not have the authority to do that, my friend said, "Your honor, that response is unacceptable." A short time later, in open court, the judge ordered the demolition of the building.

    How are we to show compassion in the wake of the killings and woundings in Aurora? I think we need to get out of our comfort zones and demand what our employees in Washington - the President and the Congress - have been unwilling to give us, sensible gun control laws.

    Wednesday, July 18, 2012

    Theology Matters

    Theology has a bad name in certain quarters. Clergy and laity alike often think of theologians as ivory tower academics with little or no experience of or commitment to the Church. That is unfortunate because theology matters. Although how we think about God is not as important as our faith in God, our willingness to trust God, it does matter. Over the nearly forty years as a person in holy orders, I have a met a number of people who think of God as a stern judge waiting to squash them if they were to step out of line. Thinking about God in that way tended to make them fearful and rule bound, unwilling, to use Luther's phrase, to risk sinning boldly. It also tended to make them judgmental of others, bolstering their own fragile sense of self-worth with the idea that, as bad as they were, there were others, even in their own circle of friends and acquaintances, who were much worse sinners.

    We need a revival of theological thinking in the Church, not just in theological schools, but in our congregations. Given how shamefully we have treated the environment and how uneasy many of us are about our own creatureliness, we need to rethink our understanding of the doctrine of creation and of our responsibility as stewards. We need to rethink our understanding of the Atonement, saving it, if you will, from presenting a picture of an angry Father demanding the death of his loving Son. And we need to rethink our understanding of the Church itself, leaving behind both a life boat understanding of it and all of the trappings of establishment and seeing it again, or for the first time, as a community of disciples sharing God's love with the world.

    Theology matters, perhaps now more than ever as the Church comes to grips with the end of Christianity's de factoestablishment in North America. We need to learn, perhaps from our Jewish neighbors, what it means to live as diaspora communities of faith, embracing our new minority status as a gift that frees us to engage more freely and fully in God's mission in the world.

    Thursday, June 28, 2012

    Thank you SCOTUS!

    I think the title says it all.

    Wednesday, June 27, 2012


    A letter in today's Boston Globe made the interesting claim that the health insurance mandate should not be viewed as a mandate but as a tax incentive. I found the argument persuasive, because we have used the tax code to support and even encourage certain behaviors. Homeownership, saving for retirement, getting married, and raising children are all encouraged by the tax code. Now we can add, if the Supreme Court doesn't rule it unconstitutional, having health insurance.

    Critics of requiring or, as I see it, encouraging the buying of health insurance have made a distinction between this mandate and the requirement of havng car insurance. Their argument is that one can choose not to own a car, but the choice of not being alive is very different. I will grant them that, but I think that misses the clear parallel between the two requirements. States require car insurance to be sure that there is money to pay for injuries that occur in traffic accidents. The millionaire could argue that he has enough resources to pay for those himself and should not have to buy insurance, but that argument has been rejected by legislatures in adopting the mandate. The health insurance mandate exists for the same reason, to be sure there is money to pay for health care. In both cases the mandate aims to prevent costs being shifts to other persons, in the case of those injured by an uninsured driver, or to institutions, in the case of a person without health insurance receiving free hospital care.

    I hope the Supreme Court doesn't strike down the mandate, but if it does, I suggest that we go back to Congress and get a tax incentive for having health insurance added to the tax code.

    Monday, June 25, 2012

    Religious Liberty

    Our brothers in the Roman Catholic hierarchy have launched a campaign, Fortnight for Freedom, against the birth control mandate being imposed on religiously affiliated institutions that serve the public. Their argument is that, even though those institutions will not have to pay for the inclusion of birth control in the health insurance they provide their employees, they will still be paying for it indirectly, as, one must assume, will all the rest of us through our insurance premiums.

    They are, of course, right, as there is no free lunch. Someone has to pay. However, that is the entangled nature of things in our society and economy. We cannot avoid paying for things we don't like, things that may well be contrary to our deeepest religious convictions. Pacifists pay taxes that support the military. Home schoolers pay taxes that support public schools. Texans who oppose the death penalty pay taxes that are used to execute people. There is no way to avoid this entanglement, as my mother learned when she refused to pay the portion of her federal income tax that went to the Pentagon.

    The Bishops have also complained that agencies like Catholic Charities have had to stop providing adoption services because they would be required to provide them to gay and lesbian couples, in violation of the Church's teaching. The problem with that objection is simple: the adoption programs were financed with money from state governments. When you want to use government funds, you need to be willing to follow government rules.

    I have some simple advice to the Bishops. If you don't like living in a secular republic where governments have to decide how best to provide for "the general Welfare," I know a small theocratic state in Italy where you might prefer to live. Or, if that doesn't suit, perhaps you might want to stop whining and grow up.

    Friday, June 1, 2012

    What Kind of Campaign?

    Last Sunday I celebrated the 62nd anniversary of my baptism by presiding at the Eucharist at Trinity Church in Topsfield, Massachusetts. In her sermon, our rector, Jo Barrett, challenged us to think of how the Spirit is leading us - in our personal lives, in the parish, in the wider world. Jo's challenge got me thinking about how the Spirit might be leading us in this election year, not how I feel myself led as I decide how to vote, but how all of us are being led. What came to me, and maybe it was of the Spirit, is how much we need election campaigns with no demonizing of any of the candidates or those who support them. We need campaigns that focus on issues of public policy and the experience and character of the candidates.

    I am not optimistic about our getting what we need, but, as always, I can hope.

    Wednesday, May 23, 2012

    Forsaking All Others

    There has been, as one would expect, a lot of talk about marriage equality in the past few months, especially since the President's announcement about his support of it. Although his support of it is not surprising, a great many odd comments have been made about it, some accusing him of changing his position for purely political reasons. I happen to think that there is nothing odd about a state senator supporting marriage equality in Illinois, but deciding not to do so as a US senator. Different roles often call for slightly different positions. What should be obvious is that the President has been a supporter of the rights of Americans who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered.

    More troubling to me than the critical comments about the President's position, have been assertions that marriage equality puts us on a slippery slope to accepting polygamy. Most of those who make these assertions are Christians, arguing that same-sex marriages are inconsistent with Biblical marriage. Of course, anyone who has actually read the Bible knows that there is not just one pattern of marriage seen as acceptable. However, these critics of marriage equality do get one thing right. Over time Jews and Christians came to believe that monogamous lifelong unions were, if you will, God's will. In western democracies these have also been accepted, with perhaps some waffling on lifelong, as the one kind of relationship that deserved legal recognition. Sadly, what we have now in the US is both lifelong monogamy and serial monogamy. There is, I think, no reason to believe that marriage equality will do anything to increase the incidence of serial monogamy. It will not destroy what its critics like to call traditional marriage.

    There are two qualities of marriage that I think are just as likely to be true in same-sex as in opposite-sex marriages, and may, for a variety of reasons be more likely in same-sex marriages: mutuality and fidelity. When a couple marries in the Episcopal Church, they include in the statement of their intention to forsake all others. I often like to point out to couples that the others should include anyone or anything that becomes more important than one's spouse, but the most obvious meaning of this is that what the Church describes as a union in "heart, body, and mind" is intended to be exclusive. I think one reason why fidelity is essential is because without it mutuality will not be possible. Even with fidelity, most married people find mutuality challenging at times. This may be particularly true for men married to women. Patriarchy is still a powerful force in society and it is often very hard work for men - and at times women - to leave the father knows best mentality behind. Mutuality means, as a colleague once said in a wedding homily, that it's not about me, it's about her. If I am in the relationship to get my own way, to get my needs met, then I am not committed to mutuality. While all healthy relationships do involve mutuality, the mutuality that is intended in marriage, that union of heart, body, and mind, is not possible in polygamous relationships. We cannot give ourselves wholly and unconditionally to more than one person.

    Like the domino theory on the 1960s, the slippery slopeargument against marriage equality sounds hollow. What rings true, and what the wider society needs to hear from Christians, is our support for lifelong monogamous marriages marked by fidelity and mutuality, our belief that it is such marriages that most of us will flourish.

    Tuesday, May 15, 2012


    I bullied another student when I was in junior high. I only did it once. A friend and I decided to gang up on a classmate we didn't like, although I cannot remember what it was about him that we didn't like. Things went as planned until somehow the boy we were bullying got me down on the floor, sat on my chest, and punched me in the nose. My nose broke and I learned a lesson.

    Not that bullying was wrong, but that I wasn't much of a fighter.

    I learned the more important lesson much later as I began to hear stories about kids who didn't fit in being bullied. Perhaps Mitt Romney hasn't heard those stories or hasn't made the connection between the bullying that happens every day in America and the "pranks" that he did when he was at Cranbrook. Maybe Romney doesn't think bullying is serious. It is and what Romney and I did as teens was wrong. Not a a little high spirited horsing around, but ugly use of power to hurt and humiliate another person.

    I like to think I was lucky to have had my nose broken that day in junior high. Maybe if I had succeeded in my bullying I would have kept on doing it. If the stories from Romney's fellow students at Cranbrook are accurate, he was a more successful bully than I. As hard as it can be to own up to our bad deeds, I think Romney would do us a great service by admitting that what he did was bullying and join other leaders in taking a stand against bullying

    Saturday, May 12, 2012

    Marriage and Diocesan Autonomy

    In a recent post Fr. Eric Funston pointed out a distinction between marriage, a relationship governed by the state, and matrimony, the Christian sacrament. In describing marriage he said that it was a relationship which the parties could not dissolve by themselves, but only with the consent of the state.

    As I read his post I recalled my use of the metaphor of marriage to describe the relationship between an Episcopal diocese and the Episcopal Church. When a group of Episcopalians get themselves organized enough to want to form an Episcopal diocese, they ask that this new diocese be admitted into union with the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, the highest authority within this hierarchical church. The organizing convention of the new diocese has to agree to abide by the Episcopal Church's rules, its Constitution and Canons. 

    It was the use of the word union in describing the new Diocese's relationship with the Episcopal Church that led me to use the marriage metaphor to talk about that relationship. Granted, the metaphor isn't perfect, but I think it helps us as we consider those dioceses whose conventions have voted to leave the Episcopal Church. While there is no canonical provision for such a separation for dioceses within the US, there is provision for dioceses that were organized outside the country. It provided that such a diocese could request to become part of another church within the Anglican Communion. Those requests would have to be agreed to by the General Convention. Taking that canonical provision as a starting point, I concluded that the only way that a diocese could divorce itself from the Episcopal Church was with the consent of the General Convention. Both the diocese's organizing convention and the General Convention agreed to the union, so only the two bodies together could dissolve it. While a marriage can be dissolved without the consent of both parties, that only happens when a civil court agrees with the party seeking the divorce. As there is no court in the Anglican Communion to settle these divorce questions, the mutual consent of both parties would be required for an Episcopal diocese to leave the Episcopal Church.

    Friday, May 11, 2012

    Marriage Equality

    Yesterday I got involved in a long and perhaps fruitless discussion on Facebook of the President's announcement. I tried to restrict my comments to civil marriage, but religion has a way of creeping in. I made an argument there which I had first heard made at the Chautauqua Institution by the Rev. Oliver Thomas, a lawyer and a Baptist minister. Thomas argued that religious people need to make secular arguments when they engage in public policy discussions in order to be effective. I said that arguing that God prohibits same-sex intimacy simply is not an effective or perhaps even valid argument in a discussion of civil marriage equality. For arguments to be effective they need to address the question of whether marriage equality contributes to the common good. I understand that framing the question this way would seem unnecessary if we believe that marriage is a right, but I find that that argument, like the religious arguments, is not particularly effective. 

    A few of those posting comments did accept the challenge to frame their comments in secular terms. Two arguments against marriage equality were made, one focusing on the procreation and raising of children, and the other on a perception that gay and lesbian people are not capable of fidelity. The latter argument is a mean-spirited red herring that it is almost impossible to engage. Over time I thnk that warped perception will disappear as people have more and more friends who are married to persons of the same sex. The argument about children is worth engaging, although we do not require that married couples procreate. The evidence is that children raised by same-sex parents are just as healthy as children raised by opposite-sex parents. The idea that children must be raised by a father and a mother is a new one in human history, as children have, until recently, been raised in extended families and other wider circles of adults. The modern nuclear family is, in fact, not at all good at raising children by itself, nor matter the sex of the parents. 

    After reading an excellent post at Tobias Haller's blog In a Godward direction, I found myself translating a religious argument into a secular one. In the Episcopal Church's Book of Common Prayer, the purposes of Christian marriage are laid out. Only after listing the couple's "mutual joy" and "the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity" does the description of purposes include "the procreation of children." That purpose statement seems to me to be a valid one for any marriage. If we believe that marriages have played an important role in the making married adults better people, people who contribute to the common good, then why would we deny the society the benefit that will come from allowing same-sex couples to marry?

    Thursday, May 10, 2012

    What Now, North Carolina?

    My colleague Mike Kinman, Dean of the Cathedral in Saint Louis, wrote a letter to the editors of his local papers and posted it on his blog, Come Together, with an explanation of why he had taken such a public stand on marriage equality. The post is worth reading and I posted comments which I share here with some editing.

    I have already posted about the NC vote, expressing my view that fear was the motivator for many who voted for Amendment One. I hope that that two conservative mentors that Mike mentions in his blog post  would have opposed the amendment because of their awareness that an amendment of this sort about an issue where there is such a diversity of convictions is bad public policy. 

    A few years ago someone writing in The Atlantic suggested that the best path for dealing with this marriage issue was through allowing the states to decide. We now have a handful of states trying what The Atlantic writer would call the marriage equality experiment and the results will be there for other states to see as they consider the question. (The divorce rate in Massachusetts went down a bit in the year after the Commonwealth got marriage equality.)

    North Carolina has, sadly, locked itself into a position where changing its marriage laws will be much harder. The federal courts may end up declaring Amendment One unconstitutional, not the ideal way for change to happen, as it provides ammunition to those who enjoy attacking "activist judges."  If the Defense of Marriage Act is overturned and NC refuses to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples who were legally married elsewhere, there will be some couple who will sue the state in federal court. I would discourage any of the same-sex married couples that I know from moving to NC unless they want to engage in that kind of court case.

    Wednesday, May 9, 2012

    Thank You, Mr. President!

    I think the title says it all.

    A Sad Day

    The decision of the voters in North Carolina was a sad one. I give thanks for all those religious leaders who took a stand against Amendment One, but it seems that fear won. The fear that somehow allowing people of the same sex to marry one another will destroy the marriages of opposite-sex couples. The fear that children who see healthy same-sex marriages might choose to be gay. The fear that same-sex couples might show us that there is a way to have marriages of equal partners. What is also very sad about this Amendment to North Carolna's Constitution is that, unlike the First Amendment to the US Constitution, it does not protects rights but denies them. Imagine how our First Amendment would read if those who wrote Amendment One had written it - freedom of religion and speech and peaceable assembly for opposite-sex couples only, or only for conservative Christians, or only for property owning white men. A sad day, but in time the people of North Carolina will see the truth about marriage equality and that truth will set them free.

    Monday, May 7, 2012

    The Elizabeth Warren Controversy?

    Driving back home at noon today I heard a Boston journalist say that he would not have checked the minority box that Elizabeth Warren checked even though he is 1/16th Native American. He said it in a way that seemed to me to convey the assurance that his decision was the only reasonable one and that Warren's decision must, therefore, be open to severe criticism. I disagree. The decisions we make about seld-identification should rarely be open to challenge. There is no evidence that Warren's decision to self-identify as having Native ancestors was made with the intention of furthering her career, nor is there any evidence that it did. Absent any evidence of the sort, her decision should go unchallenged. 

    The manufactured controversy reflects not only the way in which politics often "majors in the minors" but also a tendency which people have to want to define the Other. Pigeonholing people makes life seem less complicated, although that is a delusion. Pigeonholing people is also a favorite pastime of many privileged folks. Thus Romney, whose privileged status should be obvious, tries to pigeonhole Obama with comments about his having spent too much time at Harvard. (Doesn't Romney have a Harvard degree or two?) Attempts to classify others or to denigrate their decisions about their identities are not as much about understanding as about power. If we can successfully put someone in her place - it's more often her place than his - then we have power to get what we want, often, maybe usually, at the expense of the other person. 

    Whether it's a refusal to allow Warren to claim her family's story of a Natve ancestor, or a refusal to refer to groups by the name they choose for themselves - remember the consternation with which some white folks clung to calling Americans of African descent "colored"? - or even the uneasiness many of us feel about using the pronouns that transgendered people claim for themselves, at heart it's about power. At its best it's about our power to have a way to understand the world around. At its worst it's about the power to control others, to make them what we want them to be, rather than who they know themselves to be. 

    If Elizabeth Warren isn't elected to the Senate, I hope it's about the issues and about the experience and character of the candidates and not about the non-issue of Warren's self identification. The citizens of the Commonwealth deserve that.

    Friday, March 23, 2012


    I have been listening to Reading Lolita in Tehran during my drives to Episcopal Divinity School. One of the author's observations about the veil got me thinking about the dangers of establishing an official religion and other less official entanglements of religion in a society. Azar Nafisi's grandmother had always worn the veil in public and had objected to an earlier regime's banning of it and objected to the Islamic Republic of Iran's making its wearing mandatory. For her it was an expression of her faith and not something that government should prohibit or require.

    When religious expression or membership in religious organizations becomes mandatory or even socially expected, religious faith is at risk. Both de jure and de facto establishment of religion is dangerous. Even the current political squabbles about candidates' religious faith is dangerous, as it tends to make religious faith, or its semblance, a requirement for political office. I don't care whether a candidate's ethics are based on religious faith or on some other foundation. What I care about is whether or not a candidate has ethics with which I have substantial agreement and whether I agree with a candidate's policy positions. An atheist with whose ethics and policy positions I agree is for me a better candidate than a Christian with whom I have serious disagreements. My faith informs my politics, but it is a candidate's politics that matters to me.

    We are living in a time when, with few unfortunate exceptions, most Americans are quite happy with the disestablishment of religion. While the US has never had an officially established religion, Christianity in its various expressions has been our de facto established religion. That is no longer the case and that is a very good thing for religious communities. Religious faith and practice is becoming counter-cultural and faith communities have increasing freedom to be faith communities and not simply defenders and supporters of the status quo. For Christians this means new freedom to be disciple communitites sharing in Christ's mission in and for the world. It means rejecting, as Luther did, an establishment theology of glory and embracing the theology of the Cross. Far from being nostalgic about the good old days when churches were full because going to church was what we did in America, we can rejoice in the freedom that comes with disestablishment and be about the business of being Church.

    Wednesday, March 21, 2012

    Poisonous Righteous

    Recently I got drawn into a discussion about the Anglican Communion on a conservative blog and found that I was more concerned about scoring points than I was about seeking common ground with others in the discussion. As I stepped away I recalled a phrase from the Moxy Früvous song about the Gulf War - poisonous righteous. Although I was taking some pains to keep my posts irenic and civil, I know that I really thought those with whom I disagreed were idiots and enemies out to destroy all that was good in the Communion. I saw how easy it is to cross the line between committed to my understanding of the truth and poisonous righteous.

    Thursday, February 9, 2012

    Crises of Conscience in a Pluralistic Society

    There has been a flurry of comment about the decision of the Obama Administration not to grant to Roman Catholic hospitals and universities an exemption to the requirement that their employee's health insurance cover contraceptive. There has been a lot of misinformation about the decision, just as there has been misinformation about how much of Planned Parenthood's services are for abortions. I suspect the misinformation has something to do with how poor a case there is for cutting funding to Planned Parenthood or for allowing Roman Catholic hospitals and universities the requested exemption. What is true is that Roman Catholic institutions that serve the public are facing a crisis of conscience. How are they to continue to fulfill their missions without violating their consciences by paying for contraceptives which they believe to be immoral?

    Crises of conscience are not new, and having lived through my own, I have some sympathy for the boards of these Roman Catholic institutions. During the Vietnam war, and even earlier, some Americans, including my Quaker mother, believed that was wrong for them to support the military with their tax dollars. Some chose to  do what might be called living off the grid, making so little actual income that they did not have to pay taxes. My mother, however, worked as a college librarian and didn't have that option. She did have the option, which others took, of refusing to pay that part of her taxes that went to the military budget. She did that, knowing that the IRS would try to find a way to get the money. IRS tried to get her employer to garnishee her wages, but the college refused. Then the IRS went to her bank and the bank allowed the IRS to take the unpaid taxes out of her account. 

    I admire the way my mother dealt with her crisis of conscience. Knowing the power of the government to get what it wanted, she simply refused to make it easy for it to collect her taxes. In the end, her taxes were paid, but under protest. In a pluralistic society with people who have all sorts of strong convictions, including religious convictions, there will frequently be conflicts. We cannot avoid crises of conscience, but we can deal with them graciously, recognizing that our convictions are not the only ones that matter.

    Sunday, January 22, 2012

    The Food Stamp President?

    A lot has already been written about the reasons for the increase in the number of people receiving Food Stamps during the past three years and I see no reason to repeat the litany of one factors. What has emerged during the GOP campaigns is some clarity about the economic assumptions of a possible Republican administration. One assumption is that the most imrportant contributor to job creation - maybe even the only contributor - is lower taxes for the job creators, that is, rich Americans. Seemingly missing from the GOP job creation equation is the financial health of middle class Americans, the people who would be buying the goods produced by the new employees of the job creators. The availability of capital is important, but less important than the availability of a healthy market for new products. As someone observed recently Amazon would never have succeeded in Africa because there would have been no customers to buy what Amazon was selling.