Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Symbolic Gesture: Harvey Milk, Billie Jean King, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom

I've written a book on gestures in the life of communities of faith. Gestures matter, whether they are personal or communal. A shake of a hand in fellowship--or the refusal of a handshake of welcome or peace--matters in the fabric of a community.

Public gestures matter as well to a society. In this case, the public gesture of honoring Billie Jean King the tennis star, and Harvey Milk, the slain gay activist, with the Presidential Medal of Honor, matters. While I would like to see the Obama Administration also lift DADT and DOMA, the honoring of King and Milk matters for the good of all in the public square. It is one more sign that we are not second class citizens.

Of course, it is the White House trying to win our support as a voting block. Let's call it what it is.

Click here for more.



Monday, July 27, 2009

WA State: A Slight Step Back

In WA state, the "Everything but Marriage" domestic partnership law, which was going to go in effect this last Sunday, is being challenged by the anti-gay marriage folks. If the anti-gay forces collected enough signatures--and counting then begins this week to see if they have enough signatures--then the law will not be in effect and will be up for a vote in November.

Here's the situation:

Last year, lawmakers expanded it to give domestic partners standing under laws covering probate and trusts, community property and guardianship.

Under state law, opposite-gender seniors also can register as domestic partners.

Sen. Ed Murray, a Seattle Democrat and gay lawmaker who spearheaded the original law, said the state has taken an incremental approach in the domestic partnerships "so we could engage citizens in a conversation and not a cultural war."

"What proponents of Referendum 71 want to do is engage in a cultural war," he said.

The referendum wouldn't overturn the underlying domestic partnership and its first expansion. But it would roll back the additional rights granted this year.

As of this week, more than 5,700 domestic partnership registrations had been filed in Washington since the first law took effect in July 2007.

Click here for more.

Here's the thing: the state in which I live in, pay taxes, and am guaranteed to certain rights and protections as a citizen of a state, regardless if one is gay or straight. This should include civil marriage as well. This should--in a perfect world--include marriage, since marriage is a contractual arrangement through and arbitrated by the state. This is a civil marriage. Communities of faith should have the ability to choose who it will or will not celebrate a wedding with, and thus a marriage, based upon its own theological framework. Thus members of the UCC and Episcopal Church clergy can openly bless a marriage, gay or straight, while Presbyterians, Methodists, and Lutherans cannot openly bless a gay marriage.

Thus in the state of WA, the state lawmakers made it possible for people who are gay or straight to share all the benefits of the state that married couples do, except that domestic partners were not legally "wedded." That is the right of the state to make that decision.


Pace! B

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

I AM Baptized

At yesterday's Presbytery meeting, my friend David Huffman preached on Martin Luther's phrase, "I am baptized," and included in these words the gesture of everyone placing their hand upon their forehead and saying the words "I am baptized."

These words, and this affirmation comes from Martin Luther who wanted Christians to be sure that we did not only say "I was baptized on such-and-such a date," but that we live a life of baptism daily, living into the vows first uttered at our baptism as Christians.

There are days that I need to practice this simple gesture, just like Martin Luther did, remembering my baptism by simply placing my hand, open palm, upon my forehead and simply uttering the words, "I am baptized," remembering that I am God's and nothing can ever tear me out of or away from the Creator's love. Baptism is an act of God's doing, enacted by members of Christ's body as a sacramental ritual, as a living out of the Great Commission (Matt. 28). No matter what vicious and scurrilous things may be said about me for living honestly and openly as a man of God, who is a dad, and who happens to be created as someone whom the world calls "gay," I am part of God's good creation, for I am God's.

So when life gets a little heavy, a sadness and frustration sets in, I will say, as did my Christian forbear Martin Luther that "I am baptized" along with this explanation behind the power of such a gesture:

"Thus, we must regard Baptism and put it to use in such a way that we may say: 'But I am baptized! And if I have been baptized, I have the promise that I shall be saved and have eternal life, both in soul and body'. . . . No greater jewel, therefore, can adorn our body and soul than Baptism, for through it we become completely holy and blessed, which no other kind of life and work on earth can acquire." (LC IV:44,46, Kolb/Wengert, 462)

I, Brett, am a Christian. I am a dad. I am gay. I am baptized.



Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Not Running

After a long talk among family members last week, the decision was reached that I shouldn't run for a seat on the Chapel Hill/Carrboro Community School Board. It was decided that I could run--if I wanted to--in two years, after my son graduated from high school.

And yes, a large part of the decision was made upon how it would effect my son. As he has said to me often, "You don't know what it is like having an out spoken gay dad."

He is right: I don't know. But he is teaching me well...and quickly.

I will continue to blog those lessons.




Well, friends: I'm almost--almost--back to normal.

Last Thursday, at 7 A.M., I took the dogs out to our backyard and noticed that the downspout of our gutter system on the side of the house--the L joint--had fallen off, along with the black hose that takes water away from the house. I reached around the L joint to put it back to place, and with my right hand moved the black hose when I received a sting and blood was drawn on the left middle finger. I rushed into the house, washed it off, took off my ring, and ran outside to see what it was that hit me. I thought it was yellow jackets because I killed a nest of them a week ago. And there, underneath the L joint, was a copper head snake.

A snake bite!

I ran in and flipped open the computer to find out what to do: the hospital! I went to the Family Clinic and they said I had to go to the hospital ER because they didn't have any anti-venom.

For six hours I had to sit in the Emergency Room. They did a blood test to find out if my blood was OK. By OK I mean that the red blood cells were working fine. Venom tends to make the red blood cells expand and explode, making it impossible for water to move among the cells.

Lesson learned: baby copperhead injects 100% of its venom, and are thus more dangerous. Mature snakes have more control of the venom and only inject part of the venom in the first bite as a warning, saving the rest of the venom for real prey.

Two Tylenol tablets later, I was sent home.

But the swelling was bad: went all the way "up" to my elbow.

Today, only the middle finger feels some pain.

Back to writing...and healing.

My friend Alan said that it was possible that what the snake imparted to me is venom of wisdom. Here's hoping that there was some wisdom injected into me.

Good to be back.



Friday, July 17, 2009

Episcopalians Approve Blessing of Gay Couples...Officially

The Episcopalians are showing us the way toward equality among God's people by now endorsing a blessing of gay couples. So along with lifting the ban/moraritorium on lesbian or gay bishops, now this: blessing gay couples.

Click here for more.

The world is watching with awe and wonder.

Pace! B

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

NYT Announces Opening Any Ordained Ministry to Gay Men or Lesbian Women

Here's the headlines from the

The bishops of the Episcopal Church voted at the church’s convention on Monday to open “any ordained ministry” to gay men and lesbians, a move that could effectively undermine a moratorium on ordaining gay bishops that the church passed at its last convention three years ago.


Click here for more.



The Episcopal Church: Next in Welcoming LGBTQ People as Clergy

Following in the pathway blazed by the UCC--who openly ordain out-LGBTQ people--the Episcopal Church in the USA seem to be following that very same path. Coming out of their General Convention in Anaheim, CA, there is this resolution:

The House of Bishops today passed D025 with only slight amendment and by a margin of almost two to one. They affirmed full access to the discernment and ordination process to gays and lesbians. Surely the Holy Spirit was moving through and around their discussion tables. Thank God and thank those bishops who had the courage to stand up for pono. The Archbishop of Canterbury is going to be most unhappy!

Here's the resolution. Read very carefully the fourth, fifth, and sixth Resolveds.

Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring, That the 76th General Convention reaffirm the continued participation of The Episcopal Church as a constituent member of the Anglican Communion; give thanks for the work of the bishops at the Lambeth Conference of 2008; reaffirm the abiding commitment of The Episcopal Church to the fellowship of churches that constitute the Anglican Communion and seek to live into the highest degree of communion possible; and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention encourage dioceses, congregations, and members of The Episcopal Church to participate to the fullest extent possible in the many instruments, networks and relationships of the Anglican Communion; and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention reaffirm its financial commitment to the Anglican Communion and pledge to participate fully in the Inter-Anglican Budget; and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention affirm the value of "listening to the experience of homosexual persons," as called for by the Lambeth Conferences of 1978, 1988, and 1998, and acknowledge that through our own listening the General Convention has come to recognize that the baptized membership of The Episcopal Church includes same-sex couples living in lifelong committed relationships "characterized by fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God" (2000-D039); and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention recognize that gay and lesbian persons who are part of such relationships have responded to God's call and have exercised various ministries in and on behalf of God's One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church and are currently doing so in our midst; and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention affirm that God has called and may call such individuals, to any ordained ministry in The Episcopal Church; and that God's call to the ordained ministry in The Episcopal Church is a mystery which the Church attempts to discern for all people through our discernment processes acting in accordance with the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church; and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention acknowledge that members of The Episcopal Church as of the Anglican Communion, based on careful study of the Holy Scriptures, and in light of tradition and reason, are not of one mind, and Christians of good conscience disagree about some of these matters.

The amended resolution returns to the House of Deputies for its concurrence.


The Spirit of God, who embraces all of us, seems to be moving in our world, upholding Paul's words that there is being birthed a "new heaven and a new earth."

What do you think of this story?



Friday, July 10, 2009

Refuse to Sign

I know several UCC ministers who have taken the action of not doing any wedding ceremonies until people who are LGBTQ are free to wed as well as straight people. The movement is called "Refuse to Sign."

In, there is an article on the movement. Click here for more.

In essence, this is the key argument for Refuse to Sign: separation of Church and State:

Headed by John Tamilio and Tricia Gilbert of Pilgrim Congregational United Church of Christ in Cleveland, the Refuse-to-Sign campaign seeks to make the division between church and state clearer, as it concerns the issue of marriage.

Supporters of the campaign argue that faith leaders have, by default, become agents of the state, signing off on marriage licenses -- whether or not they agree with the state's policy on marriage. By asking clergy to refuse to sign marriage certificates, they hope to make a distinction between the obligation of the state to afford equal rights to all and marriage as a religious sacrament.

In short, the Refuse-to-Sign campaign says, while churches have the right to choose whether to bless same-sex couples, states should not have such a choice, and have a duty to extend marriage certificates to all who seek them.

Here's the link to Refuse to Sign: click here.

I think they have a point: there are two weddings that occur when we clergypersons perform weddings. One of them is the state and county: When I perform a wedding, I also sign a "certificate of marriage," a piece of paper given by the state. It is a contract. In fact, I usually have the couple sign it before the wedding itself because it is hard to track down everyone after the wedding.

Let me state this again: the couple signs a certificate issued by the civil government. I am the officiant and witness, and the bride and groom sign it, as do two other people. Five all in all. We don't have to have a worship service to sign it. There are quite a few other people who can sign it as officiant, e.g., Justice of the Peace at a local prison (this happened in one wedding where I was tapped at the last minute). Again: a certificate of marriage is a matter of the state, and the state decides who all can sign it. I mail the certificate back to the county offices once signed. The couple is then registered with the county, state, and federal government.

We even acknowledge in the PCUSA that marriage is, on the one hand, a "civil contract" (W-4.900), while teasing out further in our description of marriage that "for Christians (on the other hand, my addition) marriage is a covenant" (W-4.900).

This covenantal service is central to my understanding of what is a Christian wedding that I may perform as a Minister of the Word and Sacrament, which is an action of the church. According to the PCUSA, in a Book of Order, a wedding is "a service of Christian worship, (and) the marriage service is under the direction of the minister and the supervision of the session (W0-1.4004-.4006)." I can choose to wed or not to wed a couple (W-4.9002b).

What the state does re: weddings and marriages, and what the Church does with weddings and marriages are different things. There is a separation of church and state in weddings.

What do you think?


Pace, B

Thursday, July 9, 2009

A Letter to the PCUSA's Committee on Civil Unions and Christian Marriage

The Rev. John Shuck of Elizabethton, TN, wrote this letter to the PCUSA Committee on Civil Unions and Christian Marriage, which I found on-line on

A response to the PCUSA’s marriage committee

In response to your article requesting folks who wrote an email to the committee on civil unions and marriage to send y'all one too, here ya go!

Dear Members of the Special Committee on Civil Unions and Christian Marriage:
I have been a minister in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) for 17 years. During my ministry I have officiated at ceremonies for over 100 couples including gay and lesbian couples. I don't know if I am supposed to call these ceremonies between the same-gender couples marriages or not. They should be marriages in the eyes of the state in which they were performed and in the eyes of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) They certainly were as holy and sacred as any other marriage at which I have had the honor of being an officiant. These couples need the legal protections that marriage offers.

The marriages for gay and lesbian couples are an important part of my ministry of pastoral care. It is an important part of my current congregation's ministry. To be blunt: It is time for the rest of the church to catch up. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has an opportunity to atone for its sins. It is a sinful organization that discriminates against its LGBT sisters and brothers – its own children.

I have put up with bullies my whole life from the playground to the boardroom. In the playground, gay and lesbian kids (or those perceived as such) are bullied with words (fag, dyke, queer) and too often with fists. In the boardroom clergy who advocate for equality are bullied with threats of reduced pledges, threats to leave the church, threats of church court cases. Sometimes these threats even materialize. The purpose of all of these threats and bullying is to keep gays and lesbians in the closet and to keep allies silent. It is discrimination and it is as ugly now as it has ever been.

The only way to stop bullying is to stand up to it. You as a committee have a chance to do that right now. The church has been bullied for the last 35 years by a right wing intent on controlling the lives of others and spewing hatred by hiding behind a few select verses in the Bible. I don't know if you have any idea how much pain, how many suicides, how many families have been torn apart by ignorance and fear that comes straight from the pulpit. Here is a common story from my neighborhood.

Frankly, I don't expect much from your committee. You likely will come up with some lame report that tries to pacify the right wing out of a desire for unity. In the meantime, a church that can't stand up to bullies will continue to allow its own children to be rejected and forced to live as second-class citizens.

Just in case there is a chance that you will do the right thing, here is what you need to do:

Propose that the 2010 General Assembly:

  1. Allow clergy in the six states (and in any future state) that have legalized same-gender marriage to sign marriage licenses and solemnize these marriages in the church.
  2. Affirm that clergy may consecrate marriages (in the eyes of the church) for same-gender couples even in those states that have yet to legalize same-gender marriage.
  3. Change the definition of marriage from one man and one woman to two people in all relevant documents.
  4. Modify the Directory for Worship to create marriage rites suitable for same-gender couples.
  5. Advocate for marriage equality throughout the United States.

I doubt you will be able to pull all of that off although you should try.

The following is the bare minimum. To the moderates and liberals on this committee, you must not give in on this. At the very least, you must allow freedom of conscience for clergy and for sessions regarding pastoral care to LGBT people. This includes freedom of conscience regarding all rites and observances regarding marriage.

Good luck.

Rev. John Shuck, minister
First Presbyterian Church, Elizabethton, Tenn.

Click here for more.

Bravo to Rev. Shuck.



Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Looking Over the Fence: The General Gathering of Episcopalians in Anaheim, CA

Those of us who are part of Christian communities of faith like to see what is going on in each other's denominations in re: to LGBTQ concerns, for they have a way of letting us know what we may face in our own community of faith.

Consider the Episcopalians. They are meeting for their General Convention in Anaheim, CA, a.k.a., Disneyland.

What is on their agenda is similar to what will most likely be on the agenda of many of our denominations in the coming year(s): blessings of same sex marriages. The Archbishop of Canterbury is due to make a visit for three days and meet with the LGBTQ group, Integrity. Of course, Rev. Dr. Rowan Williams was more active in blessing same sex unions and ordination of LGBTQ people before becoming the latest Archbishop of Canterbury.

For more, click here.