Wednesday, August 18, 2010

What's Wrong with Prop 8

Marriage is a touchy issue and the debate over marriage equality is one that often generates more light than heat. Partly this is due to the fact that despite our nation's commitment to a separation of church and state, they often intersect and marriage is one of those intersections. Like most clergy, I not only preside over religious marriages, but over the civil institution of marriage as well, when I am called upon to sign marriage licenses and thereby act as an agent of the state. For me, the issue is less complicated because I believe that my Christian faith sanctions all marriages by any and all people committed to live together in fidelity, honor and love, and because I believe that Jesus' message was clear, that family are the people who love you, irrespective of gender or blood.

But for many traditions, marriage is about procreation, a sacrament. For these traditions, the struggle to accept marriage equality is more difficult. Luckily for them, there is a separation of church and state in this country. No law can require them to sanction or perform any marriage they do not approve of. Civil Marriage, is a legal institution, not a religious one. Some clergy and traditions, like me and mine, are happy to perform these marriages because they are, in our understanding valid. But if we did not, no law could make us. That is what is wrong with Prop 8, it takes that choice away for all people and it denies the benefits that go with the institution to people based on who they are. That separation of church and state goes both ways and right now, under current laws, there is no choice for anyone, those GLBT folks who wish to marry or the clergy who wish to transmit God's blessings on them. Equality under the law, freedom of choice, freedom of religion, all of these are being denied under proposition 8. That's not only shameful, it's anti-American. If you don't believe in marriage equality, that's your right, but it is not a license to deny the rights of your fellow Americans.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Mosque Controversy Continues

As the politicians of both parties succumb one after the other to the hysteria surrounding plans for a mosque in lower Manhattan, we can see how fragile religious liberty really is in this country and why those of us who care about it need to make our voices heard. Recently, democratic congressman Steve Israel joined the nay-sayers by characterizing the efforts of Imam Feisal and his group to go forward with the project as "insensitive." But it is the opposition that is insensitive. Sensitivity would be demonstrated by a willingness to recognize, as President Bush said, the we are not at war with Islam, but with a small group of extremists who are as likely to persecute the Sufi Muslims who are building this peace center as they are Christians, Jews or any other people they don't agree with. Sensitivity would not demonize this effort at creating a venue for peaceful understanding because it happens to be Muslim-initiated, but would rather see this for what it is: an opportunity to demonstrate that we in the United States practice what we preach, religious liberty for all. Sensitivity would recognize that the whole world is watching to see if we really do embrace moderate Muslims with open arms or if we are against all Muslims, as the extremists claim. Finally, sensitivity would recognize, as New York's mayor and President Obama have, that freedom is either for all, or for none and that if we suspend that freedom for those we do not understand or for anyone, we are not the nation we claim to be. The people of lower Manhattan have voiced their support for this project. The mayor of New York is standing up for New Yorkers of every faith to worship how and where they choose. Clergy of every faith are standing with Imam Feisal because Jews and Christians, as well as Muslims and people of every faith understand that we are called to love the stranger, embrace the outcast and seek peace. To attack this mosque is to attack our constitution, our liberty and more importantly, our faith. Let's hope that Imam Feisal and his group are able to stand fast and move ahead- for all of our sakes.

The Furious Flight Attendant

What do the travails of Mr. Slater, the flight attendant who found instant celebrity with his dramatic exit from his job have to do with the Interfaith Alliance? Well, a lot actually. Because Mr. Slater's temper tantrum and the response to it by so many people is one more indicator of one of our nation's most pressing problems: the loss of civility (and maturity) in our public discourse. Lauded as some kind of folks hero, what this man did was throw a public hissy fit for reasons that remain unclear, curse out the people he had contracted to serve, then endanger public safety as he released an emergency slide, slid down it and ran away. Far from being heroic behavior, his was a selfish and hostile act. The fact that he has been applauded reminds us of the sad reality that we have lost the ability or even the understanding of why we need to exercise self-control and restraint in our public discourse. We see that reflected in the mud-slinging and hate speech that has come to dominate cable TV "news" shows, and, ultimately in the polarization of our society. As we seek to live together in this increasingly complex and multi-cultural society, it becomes more and more important that we be able to disagree civilly, that we are sensitive to one another and that we learn restraint and self-control. Mr. Slater's behavior was the opposite of that. It was infantile and inappropriate, that it is seen as otherwise is not only a shame for all of us, it bodes ill for our society.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Religious Liberty at stake in plans for Downtown Mosque

The recent controversy over plans to develop a Mosque and community center in the "ground zero" area of Manhattan is very poignant reminder of just how far we have yet to go in terms of the protection of religious liberties in this country, but also a proclamation in some ways of how far we have come. On the one hand, we see angry and outraged protesters being egged on by opportunistic politicians seeking to fan the fires of bigotry and fear for their own political gain. The ADL, in a decision that is disappointing to say the least, has unfortunately joined this effort in a move that puts a lie to its own history of defending religious tolerance.

On the other hand, Mayor Bloomberg is standing tall for the principles of liberty and equality before the law for all Americans by standing with the supporters of the project, which include not only the Community Board representing the area in which it is proposed, but responsible religious leaders of every faith and the majority of the people who live in the downtown area.

Religious liberty and the right to worship where and how one wishes is one of the foundational liberties on which this nation is built. The unspeakable acts of September 11, 2001 were an attack on those foundational liberties by a group of terrorists who would deny those rights to anyone who does not think or worship as they do. In addition to the many other of their fellow Americans, about 200 Muslim-Americans died in the World Trade Center attacks. What more fitting tribute to what this nation stands for than a Mosque to be built alongside of the churches and synagogues already in the area. Those who oppose this effort are fighting against those very liberties that the heroes of 911 died to protect. They have missed the point and their actions are un-patriotic, inconsistent with the faith traditions of Christianity and Judaism among others, and misguided and simply wrong. The peace center at the new Mosque will hopefully become another place of dialogue, understanding and hope. It deserves the kind of courageous support that the Mayor and the people of downtown Manhattan are giving it. We all need to support it as well.