Thursday, June 25, 2009

The UUA has announced a new campaign against hate crimes, "Standing on the Side of Love." Hate crimes are definitely something we've had enough of in the last year:

July 27, 2008: Jim David Adkisson enters the Tennessee Valley UU Church and kills two people and wounds more. He says in his manifesto, "This was a hate crime: I hate the damn left-wing liberals."

May 31, 2009: Scott Roeder enters a Lutheran Church and kills Dr. George Tiller. He is quoted as saying on a blog, "Bleass [sic] everyone for attending and praying in May to bring justice to Tiller and the closing of his death camp."

June 10, 2009: James Wenneker von Brunn enters the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and kills a guard. Von Brunn ran an anti-Semitic website and had connections to hate groups.

What is striking about these three, in comparison to all the other horrible hate crimes that happen, is that they all took place in places that should be places of peace, where we honor people's inherent worth and dignity. That is no accident. The location was part of the point in each of these. These crimes are about denying the inherent worth and dignity of different groups of people.

Current UUA President Bill Sinkford said, in response to the Holocaust Memorial Museum shooting:

Hate crimes strike against our nation’s highest values—equality, justice,
and diversity. People of conscience must answer ignorance and anger by standing
with the victims on the side of love and tolerance. As a nation we have to get
beyond violence as our first response to difference. We need to find a way to
move toward the beloved community, not in spite our differences but in
celebration of them.

I've been searching for a way to respond individually, and a way for our church to respond to this increase in violent hate crimes. Our monthly commUnity forUm series may provide an opportunity, if we can find the right spin that makes this make sense for a forum. Meanwhile, I'll be looking to the "Standing on the Side of Love" campaign for ideas.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Thoughts While Staying Home from GA

Unitarian Universalists from all over the country have headed off to Salt Lake City this week for our annual General Assembly, which starts tomorrow. The twitter reports, blog posts, and facebook status updates are already pouring in, and I'm enjoying reading them, for I will not be at General Assembly this year.

General Assembly is where we vote on the business of the association, and it's an important year this year, for two major reasons. The first is that it's our first contested presidential election in eight years. (In case I forget this fact, there are about eight e-mails from the two candidates that pour into my inbox daily, despite the fact that I've already mailed in my absentee ballot.) During all this time I did not endorse a candidate. I believe that both candidates are good and worthy people. The lists of endorsements are so long that an endorsement of a small-town minister like myself wouldn't even merit an e-mail anyway! I haven't seen in any of these e-mails, however, something like "group of small-church ministers endorses the Rev. ...." which would be interesting. I know who large-church ministers endorse. I know who famous ministers endorse. I know who religious educators, district executives, and former UUA presidential candidates endorse, however, and that's just going to have to be enough information to go on. The presidential election is the only thing that can really be voted on by absentee ballot, as by-law changes, actions of immediate witness, and the like cannot be voted on, and other officer elections are uncontested.

The second big issue is that there will be a resolution voted on from the Commission on Appraisal which will, they explain, if passed, give us a year to study the Principles and Purposes before voting again on their resolution to change the Principles and Purposes next year. I can usually only go to GA every-other year, finances being what they are, and Minneapolis being more convenient than Salt Lake City, and wanting to be there for that second vote if needed, I thought I would go next year instead of this one. I disagree with the way they are presenting the Principles and Purposes vote, as well, however. I believe we've already been studying this issue, and this vote should be one of two votes needed to change the by-laws. I would not vote for a resolution I disagreed with simply to give more time for discussion. Especially since, in this case, discussion doesn't do anything to change the situation based on the discussion. After the first vote, it cannot be amended before the second vote. My advice: make up your mind now and vote your conscience. Surely there's enough information on it out there that this vote can be a meaningful one, not just a rubber stamp for the process.

I'm sad that I can't be at General Assembly this year. I miss seeing my colleagues from other districts. I feel more out of touch with the latest ground-breaking events of our association and the newest books or creative thoughts. Every year I've missed I've planned to watch videos or live feeds of it, but I rarely do. Perhaps this year will be the first. They're certainly making virtual attendance at GA more possible. Hopefully soon we'll be able to vote from afar on more than just the president.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Back to the HRC Clergy Call...

I finally found video of the HRC Clergy Call 2009 press conference:

And here's the link, so you can jump to whichever person you want to watch:

HRC Clergy Call 2009 Press Conference

UU minister Rev. Manish Mishra does a very fine job, so if you only watch part, I recommend him. Most of the speakers were excellent and inspiring, though, so the whole thing is worth a watch.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Human Rights - Coming to Jackson Anytime Soon?

For several years, the Jackson Human Rights Commission has been putting up a proposal for a Civil Rights Ordinance to the Jackson City Council. It has been repeatedly referred back to the committee for further work. Here's the first paragraph of the latest draft:
It is the intent of the City of Jackson that no person be denied the equal protection of the laws; nor shall any person be denied the enjoyment of his or her civil or political rights or be discriminated against because of actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, height, weight, condition of pregnancy, marital status, educational association, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or HIV status. As used herein, "perceived" refers to the perception of the person who acts, and not to the perception of the person for or against whom the action is taken. (Source: PFLAG)
Last night, the City Council tabled it until the July 14 meeting, and referred it to the city attorney for review. Ten people spoke up about the ordinance at the meeting, myself included. Only two were against it: one representative of the American Family Association, who apparently has spoken before the council on this issue before, and a deacon of Village Hope Church who spuriously linked the issue to same-sex marriage, saying that people had voted against same-sex marriage in this state and that the voters would therefore be against this, too. Personally, I think that a lot of people put marriage in a protected category and would still be willing to extend basic civil rights to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. To make a jump from a vote several years ago on same-sex marriage to this issue is a logical fallacy. And those of you, gentle readers, who know that I also teach English composition, know how I feel about logical fallacies.

I gave a copy of a letter to the council members, and then read it after introducing myself. Here's the text of the letter (I omitted the paragraph about businesses when reading it, because an HRC member had already covered this ground):

Dear Jackson City Council Members,

I represent a small historic church in Jackson County, Michigan. However, despite our small numbers we have taken an active roll in our community in support of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. Because of this work and our stance of being a Welcoming Congregation for lgbt members, we have now and have had in the past many members of our church who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. They are a valued and important part of our worshipping community, and we celebrate this diversity. Many of our members are residents of the City of Jackson, and even more work in the City of Jackson.

Recently I asked members of my congregation to share letters with me about the discrimination they have faced. I received a dozen letters from people about the discrimination they have experienced or witnessed. One wrote about being asked, like other employees, to write a short description of herself for the company newsletter. She modeled hers after the others, but was told they couldn’t mention her partner. Another told of how he had invited his coworkers to his wedding, and then was repeatedly harassed as a result. Others talked about real harassment and even violence in their schools growing up. These are the true experiences of Jackson residents. They have lived lives in which they have experienced repeated discrimination and harassment.

I talk specifically about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people because I know many of them, have heard their stories of being fired or denied housing because of being open about who they are. But these stories serve as a perfect example of why we need an enumerated list of groups that experience discrimination to be in our policy. Because existing laws have not protected them. The truth is, that without enumeration, it is legal to discriminate on the basis of anything we haven’t specified it is illegal to discriminate on. And I do know people who have been denied employment because of their marital status, number of children, pregnancies, weight, and many of the other things we are talking about this evening.

One thing I would like to specifically address, as a clergy person, is the role religion has played and will play in this question. Often, the major objection to passing an ordinance such as this is a religious objection. But it is important to realize two things. First, the religious people in this area are not unified on this issue. Second, this is not a matter than should be decided on the basis of religion. We have separation of church and state, and it is your role to decide what is best for the city, not ours. This brings me to another point. People often argue, mistakenly, that churches will have to hire people that they do not agree with, either because of sexual orientation, or because of religion itself. This is erroneous. Separation of church and state guarantees that there is a religious exemption—we do not have to hire anyone that we have a legitimate religious objection to for a position in a religious institution.

For businesses that are not religious institutions, the truth is that many would welcome your passing an ordinance like this one. It makes it easier for people to do what they know is right, rather than bending to pressure, when they have a strong rule to rely on. Making it clear that we are a city that promotes good work environments will make us a more attractive location for employers. Many Fortune 500 companies, and some of the largest companies in our states, have similar policies that they have created. Experience with states and municipalities that have non-discrimination policies show it is also false that such policies lead to more litigation.

Thank you for your time shared considering this important matter. If there is one thing I have learned in my own experiences with various minorities, it is that the more you come to know people whose experiences and lives are unlike your own, the more you come to understand the inherent worth and dignity that all humanity possesses, and the more you see the necessity of laws that uphold and protect those who experience discrimination and hate crimes simply for being who they are. We appreciate your important work in legislating on behalf of all of us.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Answering Violence

Part of me really does understand, I confess, the mindset that leads to things like the murder of Dr. Tiller this weekend. If you passionately believe that abortion is murder, and you work yourself into a place where you're comparing him to Mengele in the holocaust, as was done by some, isn't it the right thing to do to kill him? By doing so, you're saving potentially thousands of lives. The argument of those who advocate for violence against abortion providers is essentially that they are living in an unjust state that condones murder. Going through the state process is unthinkable while people are being slaughtered. It must be stopped.

We glorify this sort of thinking all the time in our society. Our superheroes are the ones who take the law into their own hands and battle what they see as evil. Superman, Batman, and the rest of the superhero vigilantes usually pick targets that culturally we all agree on as evil (and usually in those stories, the law is trying to catch the same bad guys, as well). But we also glorify the rebel outsiders, like Hans Solo and Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia, fighting against the corrupt state. It's not a far stretch, and some people clearly make that stretch, to see our own government as the one that needs fighting against. I'm not blaming the media, mind, I am saying the media reflects our societal values.

I am not personally a pacifist. If I was, this would be easier to explain how it is wrong. I admire greatly the pacifists who can take the hard line that violence is always the wrong option. If you take that line, the argument against this sort of violence is clear. But I do believe there is a point one can come to where war is justified, and where rising against your own state is justified. I think there are many countries where revolutionaries have been justified in fighting for their own freedom. I think there are dictators, like Hitler, who needed to be stopped.

Given that, it is much harder to answer this violence and show it is wrong. It is not my line, that I would draw, where violence is justified. But it is theirs. And I personally think that it's quite possible that abortion is, after all, murder.

But just as I said that violence is sometimes necessary, that opens a door to say that there are times and ways and places where killing another person is justified. And that opens the door for abortion, as well.

And I have one value that trumps it all: freedom. I do firmly beleive that women must be allowed to control their own bodies. And that means we have the right to choose not to support another life growing inside of us. Whenever. Period.

The problem is that absolute thinking about ethics can lead one to extreme ends, like taking up arms and committing murder. Real life, however, is much more nuanced. Deontological ethics, an emphasis on hard and fast absolute rules, will lead to this absolute thinking.

Our faith, our ethics, are much more nuanced. As Unitarian Universalists, we live in a space of nuance and ambiguity. Rather than believing, for example, in a literalist understanding of the Bible which gives hard and fast rules with absolute consequences of Heaven and Hell for following or breaking those rules, we live in a place based on an ethic of care, or love. The ultimtae, God, for us is about ultimate caring, love. The rules we follow are based on an ethical system of relationship and caring as the ultimate goods.

My heart and soul cry out against this violence, but I struggle to put into words the ethics that would answer this logical ethical argument for violence. But the answer is, must be, always will be no, this violence is not justified. And it is terrorism.
ter⋅ror⋅ism  [ter-uh-riz-uhm] – noun 1.the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, esp. for political purposes.