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Keeping the Faith The Newsletter of the Interfaith Working Group
April 2003

Transgender Reform Rabbinical Student

In response to the recent admission of Reuben Zellman to Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), which would make him their first transgender rabbinical student, Rabbi Marla Feldman, Director of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement:

On behalf of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, I welcome the recent decision of HUC-JIR to accept a fully qualified student who has transitioned from one gender to another.

Transgenderism remains a virtually unspoken and unaccepted element within our society; this has led to discrimination in a number of areas: health care and insurance coverage, access to public facilities and a variety of legal issues. Transgendered individuals are frequent victims of hate crimes and employment discrimination.

In light of the urgent need to show support for this often victimized group, the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism recently adopted a resolution supporting the inclusion and acceptance of transgender and bisexual individuals within our Movement, and supporting. Legislation that opposes discrimination based on gender identity and allows individuals to be treated under the law as the gender with which they identify.

Throughout the Reform Movement's history, we have worked tirelessly to fight discrimination, support equality, and strengthen the rights of minorities and women. We are committed to defending any individual from the discrimination that arises from ignorance, fear, insensitivity, or hatred. The decision to admit Reuben Zellman on his own merits is an important step in bringing our Movement's practice in line with these beliefs.


Transgender Marriage Ruling in Florida

Florida Circuit Court Judge Gerard O'Brien went against recent rulings in Texas and Kansas by declaring a marriage valid even though the husband had originally been legally female. The judge awarded custody of the couple's children to the father. His wife had been trying to claim that the marriage was invalid and that she should get custody, even though she had always known about his legal gender change. The Family Research Council rant about the case concluded: "Here we see how medical technology conspires with grotesque interpretations of the law to inflict further damage on the family."

Arkansas Nightmare

The American Civil Liberties Union is challenging officials at Jacksonville Junior High over repeated punishment of a fourteen-year-old student for being openly gay. In a letter to school officials, the ACLU demanded that the school stop violating his ights and remove from his record (by March 21) all unconstitutional disciplinary actions taken against him or face legal action.

The ACLU letter said that school officials outed the gay student, Thomas McLaughlin, to his parents against his wishes and have forbidden him to discuss being gay while at school; forced him to read from the Bible; and disciplined him for being open about his orientation.

"My school forced me out of the closet when I should have been allowed to come out to my family on my own terms and when I thought it was the right time. And now the school has been trying to shove me back into it ever since," McLaughlin said. "I'm through with being silenced, and I don't want this happening to other gay kids at my school."

Battin' 1000

In his March 7 Falwell Confidential, Jerry Falwell reported on the creation of Battin' 1000, an organization of current and former major league baseball players, coaches, and executives organized to raise funds for the anti-GLBT, anti-contraception, anti-abortion American Life League. Two players involved are graduates of his Liberty University. The least surprising name connected to the group is Tom Monaghan, former owner of the Detroit Tigers and Domino Pizza, and one of the largest individual contributors to religious right causes. The American Life League lists Archbishop Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee as the group's chaplain.

Georgetown Coming Out

The March 4 edition of the Georgetown Hoya included a commentary from a 1999 graduate of Georgetown who describes himself in the opening paragraph as President of the Georgetown University Committee for Crucifixes in the Classroom, Grand Knight of the Georgetown University Knights of Columbus, Treasurer of the Philodemic Society, Georgetown Academy's Man of the Year, one of Georgetown's unofficial Defenders of the Faith, and a gay man. In the commentary he says, "I just wish I'd spent less time saving Georgetown's Catholic identity and more time trying to come to terms with my own identity as a gay man." After describing his experiences as a gay student at Georgetown and offering advice to gay students to help them avoid the same mistakes, he concludes, "Most of all, know the love of God for you. He made you, holds you in the palm of His hand and loves you as you are."

Conservative Reconsideration Coverage Continues

Articles about a possible reconsideration of anti-GLBT ordination and marriage policies in Conservative Judaism appeared in the March 15 Los Angeles Times and March 24 Newsweek. The extensive Los Angeles Times article noted upcoming debates in the Episcopal Church USA and Presbyterian Church (USA) and suggested the possibility that the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards could issue multiple conflicting rulings, thus leaving policy decisions to individual seminaries and synagogues. The very short Newsweek story was titled "Jews: Oy, Two Boys?"

Presbyterian Church (USA)

In two separate cases the General Assembly PJC upheld Rev. Katie Morrision's ordination, and ruled that the Moderator acted inappropriately in trying to encourage petitioners for a special meeting to withdraw their signatures, but the prosecution failed to meet its burden of proof (showing actual harm), and there will be no special meeting to deal with non-discriminating congergations and clergy.

Rev. Stephen Van Kuiken of Mt. Auburn Presbyterian will be tried April 8 and 9 by the Permanent Judicial Commission of the Presbytery of Cincinnati for not discriminating on the basis of orientation in ordination or gender in marriage. Soulforce will be at the trial, and has been invited by the congregation to conduct nonviolent resistance training at Mt. Auburn.

The PCUSA News Service released obituaries of the Rev. Fred Rogers (PBS's Mr. Rogers), who attended Sixth Presbyterian in Pittsburgh (a More Light congregation), and the Rev. Howard Warren, affectionately known as "God's glorious gadfly," who proclaimed the "wildly, extravagant, inclusive love of God" during his years of advocacy for the full inclusion of gays and lesbians in the life of the denomination.

Gender and Religious Diversity in Utah

On March 1, The Salt Lake City Tribune ran an article about Rev. Sean Parker Dennison, South Valley Unitarian Universalist Society, who was born female and is the first openly transgender senior UU minister in the country. On the same day Salt Lake City's other major paper, the Deseret News, ran an article about welcoming congregations in the area, including interviews with UCC, MCC, Episcopal, and Reform Judaism clergy.

ELCA

The ELCA News Service reports that several members of the Conference of Bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America questioned a decision by the board of the ELCA Division of Outreach to formally acknowledge the relationship between the division and Lutherans Concerned North America. According to the news service, "Many bishops suggested the decision may have inadvertently signaled an endorsement by the whole church of a political position and a potential change in ELCA policy related to blessing same gender relationships and ordination standards."

Episcopal Church, USA

Claiming the Blessing--a coalition of Integrity, Beyond Inclusion, and diocesan Oasis ministries--is committed to obtaining approval at the 2003 Episcopal Church General Convention of "a liturgical rite of blessing, celebrating the holy love in faithful relationships between couples for whom marriage is not available, enabling couples in these relationships to see each other in the image of God." A sixteen-page PDF document with the coalition's theological position, including a forward from Integrity president Rev. Michael Hopkins and an interview with Walter Brueggermann, is available at www.integrityusa.org.

The Episcopal News Service reports that the House of Bishops received a report from their theology committee on the "Gift of Sexuality" and voted to receive the report with thanks and to offer it to the church for study and reflection, "though it does not reflect in all points the views of all members of the House." The report was the product of an eighteen-month study by a committee of six bishops and seven theologians. The news service said that the report addresses "the controversial issues of blessing homosexual relationships and ordaining non-celibate homosexuals." On these two questions the study concludes, "...because at this time we are nowhere near consensus in the church regarding the blessing of homosexual relationships, we cannot recommend authorizing the development of new rites for such blessings;" and calls on those responsible for ordination to remember that "decisions...made in one diocese have ramifications on others. We remind all that ordination is for the whole church."

The Board of Integrity responded to the report, noting that it did not result in a "Mind of the House Resolution," and calling the vote to receive and commend the study the document's "sharpest criticism...and most significant failure." The board's response called the report "a political statement, designed, we suspect, to build on the fragile foundation of collegiality which has been carefully constructed in the House of Bishops over the past few years;" and states that they were "deeply distressed by the condescending, dismissive, clinical tone of the piece" and "astounded that the document seems to be blissfully ignorant of the conversation which has been taking place in the church for the past thirty years."

MSNBC

San Francisco radio talk show host Michael Savage has been given a national cable television talk show by MSNBC, prompting complaints from GLAAD and other organizations. On his February 27 radio show, Savage denounced his critics as "stinking rats who live in the sewers" and said that he would use his pull with Attorney General John Ashcroft to have them investigated. We wrote one of many letters to MSNBC asking why they were giving him even more of a platform than he already has with his book, web site, and radio show.

Church State Separation: A Keystone to Peace

We highly recommend Church State Separation: A Keystone to Peace by Clark Moeller, a new fifty-two page paper from the Pennsylvania Alliance for Democracy exploring three questions: What benefits has church-state separation added to society? To democracy? And to institutional religions in the United States? For information about the availability of paper copies, contact PAD at PO Box 366, Harrisburg, PA 17108-3056, or mail@padnet.org.



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