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May 2005 Newsletter
Equal Marriage Rights
Interfaith Working Group Supporters' Pulpit
The essays, sermons and letters on this page (and linked from this
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Interfaith Working Group (IWG) prior to May 2005. The opinions expressed are those of the individual
authors, and should not be construed as
official IWG statements.
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Straight Folks Have Closets Too
by Rev. Dr. Beverly Dale
University of Pennsylvania
Published in The Daily Pennsylvanian, Tuesday, Oct.22, 1996
Copyright 1996 Rev. Dr. Beverly Dale.
Posted with permission of the author.
As the gay, lesbian and bisexual communities press the
importance of 'coming out' of the closet, they rightfully focus on
the closet of sexual repression, closets where one can hide one's
sexual orientation and pass for a heterosexual. The freedom to be
oneself and to live with integrity eventually compensates for any
trauma experienced in coming out. However straight folk have their
closets too. The rest of the community would do well to ask "Are we
out of our closets too?"
Ever hear of a student who has one personality at school and
a second one, totally different at home? Then there are the
students who pursue a particular career path because that is what
others want them to do even though they know their interests lie
elsewhere; the doctor who wanted to be an artist, the lawyer who
wanted to teach children. There is the student who brown-nosed an
exploitative uncle for most of his adult years. He chose to be the
nephew his uncle wanted him to be rather than who he really was
because there was a substantial inheritance he stood to gain. Never
bothering to ask "What do I really want in my life? What will make
me the happiest in the long run?" we simply choose the nearest
closet, sell our integrity and let others define us.
On the train to the suburbs I observed a young woman with a
really punk hair style. As she approached her stop she unfastened
the perky little pony tail on the top of her head and brushed this
smattering of hair to cover the punk style completely. Now perhaps
this was a compassionate action to placate parents who already knew
of her hair and her very non-suburban lifestyle. More likely
however, she was making a conscious choice to avoid letting her
parents know just how different and unique she really was. Quite
possibly she was returning to the suburbs to assume an identity
they wanted her to have. If that is the case she wasn't just
returning home, she was returning to a closet.
I remember when I couldn't understand why gays and lesbians
just didn't stay in the closet where it was safe, where they would
not be open to criticism and where they wouldn't be bashed. It
seemed a logical choice to me. That was before I realized I was
living in my own closet.
One day after taking a number of sociology and feminist
theology classes, I realized I had sold my soul to play societal
roles. I had not acknowledged or developed my own person, my own
skills, or talents. I had not really become Me. Instead I was
living the way others wanted me to. I was 'passing' for someone
else. And, I felt like I was dying on the vine. It was a slow
spiritual death. At that realization I knew my life lacked
integrity. I had to come 'out of the closet' if I was to grow.
Nothing grows for very long in a closet except mushrooms.
Coming out of a closet means choosing to come into the
open, into the sunlight. It means saying, "Here I am world. Now
deal with it," a stance not unlike the attitude taken by Denis
Rodman, a man who continually keeps the media in a tizzy because
they can't pin him down to a simple category.
There are always those who don't like who we are and who we
are becoming but this is true whether we live in the closet or not.
Wherever we sell our soul for others' approval or their
affirmation, for financial or political reasons, we are living in
Further there are always people in our lives who are willing
to control or manipulate us into their own image, especially if we
abdicate responsibility for defining ourselves. Mothers. Bosses.
Professors. Mentors. Preachers. Rabbis.
Coming out of the closet is a choice to live with integrity,
to live a life we have defined as appropriate for ourselves, to
live a life that offers us plenty of breathing room and growing
space. Billy Joel has it right when he writes "First they tell you
can't sleep alone in a strange place. Then they tell you can't
sleep with somebody else. But sooner or later you sleep in your own
space. Either way it's ok if you wake up with yourself." (My Life)
Because if I can't wake up with myself, then whose life am I
Starting to Learn the Ugliness of Racism
by Rev. Katie Day
Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia
Published in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Sunday, October 26, 1997
Copyright 1997 Rev. Katie Day
This summer, while on vacation at the Shore, I took my daughter up to
the boardwalk for a trip to her favorite establishment, the Dollar Store.
Guided by an instinct peculiar to 5-year-old girls, she made a beeline
to a back wall that displayed an assortment of Chinese-made
Barbie-wanna-bes. We stood beside another woman with her granddaughter,
slightly older than my daughter, but with the same wide-eyed adoration
for the icons with impossible figures. No Dads in this part of the
store; it was one of those female bonding moments.
Finally, my daughter made her selection - a dark brown doll in a
snazzy outfit. Immediately, the other little girl said "A black doll -
ULCH!" Her grandmother, almost in panic, said to my daughter, "Oh
honey, you don't want a black one. Look at all these pretty white
I was shocked, not only at the blatant racism but at their presumption
that this was more than a gender-bonding moment, but a race-bonding
moment as well - all of us were white. That seemed to signify to the
other woman and her granddaughter that we shared the same racist
beliefs and that they had permission to correct us if we strayed from their
sense of the norm. Racism is a powerful social force that leads us,
sometimes compels us, to feel comfortable crossing boundaries of tolerance
and social protocol.
I quickly led my daughter away, feeling protective of her in her obvious
confusion. She is, after all, a Mount Airy kid - her social world has
been a rainbow. She does not see the world in black and white, but
carefully describes her friends to me in terms of their personalities,
dress, hair... and sometimes skin ("tan," "chocolaty," "honey-colored,"
"freckley"). She is just beginning to know that some people are unfair
to others because of their skin color, but that seems absolutely
arbitrary, illogical and, well... unfair.
The fact that a stranger would not think her Barbie was beautiful
mystified her and broke my heart. She has a lifetime ahead in which
to learn the ugliness that is racism and how to confront it. The
journey just started sooner than this mom had hoped it would.
AIDS and Homophobia
The Rev. Benjamin Maucere
Sermon Preached October 19, 1997
At the AIDSWalk Service
First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia
Several years ago, actress Jody Foster began her Oscar acceptance speech by
saying, "I'd like to
thank all my tribes who have brought me to this day." We who are here
today represent many
tribes as well. We are young and old, and gay and straight, and many
colors together. Brought together today by threat and by promise.
The threat is AIDS. We've all been touched by it. As they say,
"uninfected does not mean unaffected."
We've lost too many people: friends, and lovers, brothers and sisters,
actors and artists
people who have touched us and people who have touched the world
no one is unaffected.
AIDS is an equal opportunity destroyer. Worldwide, the death count is
around 6,400,000 people.
Today, approximately 22,000,000 people are HIV positive.
World wide, 75% of all HIV transmission is heterosexual. It is
recognized as one of the leading
causes of death in adults 25 - 44 years of age in men and the fourth
leading cause in women.
Minorities, primarily African Americans and Hispanics, now constitute 54
percent of the more than
500,000 cases of AIDS reported in the US since the epidemic began in 1981.
AIDS is the number
one killer of African American men and women ages 25 to 44.
Hispanics make up less than 10
percent of the U.S. population, yet they accounted for 19 percent of the
AIDS cases reported in 1996.
And the tribes have responded. Communities of memory, hope, and struggle.
There are Interfaith, Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, and Muslim groups.
Groups for women and men, gays and straights, all
colors and classes, children and the elderly.
It was in 1981 that the US Center for Disease Control first noticed that
something was happening.
First they called it "gay cancer," then GRID or "gay related
immune deficiency. 128 people died of the disease that year.
The next year the term AIDS was used for the first time. It took six
years, and almost 40,000 deaths
in this country, before President Ronald Reagan first used the word in
public. Coincidence? I don't
think so. That same year, Vice-President George Bush was heckled when he
In this country, the phenomenon of homophobia been an integral part of our
reaction to the spread of
the disease. We who care about these issues may be a gentle people, but we
are an angry people as
well. AIDS is a disease. So is homophobia. It may not kill as many people as
AIDS, but it takes its
toll. I'd like to speak to the issue of homophobia from a religious perspective.
First, and most blatantly, homophobia causes physical violence. Because the
FBI does not keep
separate records for hate-crimes based on sexual orientation, it is
difficult to find out just how
pervasive such violence really is. One survey conducted by the San
Francisco Examiner estimates
"over one million hate-motivated physical assaults take place each year
against lesbians, gays, and
A survey conducted by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in 1984 found
that 94 percent of all lesbians and gay men surveyed reported being
physically assaulted, threatened, or
harassed in an antigay incident at one time or another. The great
majority of these incidents go
unreported. (Blumenfeld, p159.)
And what about the threats of violence? The subtle and sometimes
not-so-subtle intimidation that
keeps us in rigidly defined gender roles?
It is worst in adolescence. One gay member of this church told me that
"without a doubt, high school
was the worst experience of my life. Nothing has been as bad as high
school," he said.
A similar statement comes from Mary Griffith, a leading member of the
support group PFLAG -
Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. She speaks of the pain
experienced by her son, Bobby
Griffith. High school was the worst experience for him, as well.
From about the age of three, Bobby had seemed "different." He preferred
playing inside, liked
flowers, asked for a doll at Christmas . . . . As he grew up,
Mary feared that he might be gay. But as
a good Christian, she couldn't believe that Bobby could be "that
perverted and evil." As a good
Christian, neither could Bobby. He tried counseling, first to try and change.
When that didn't work, he
tried counseling to try and accept himself.
He lived through the pain, the ostracism, the doubts and confusion and
despair, only to commit
suicide at the age of twenty, in August of 1983. Mary now speaks, and
writes, and "tries to imagine
what it must feel like for young people to be convinced that no one
accepts them, not God, not
society, not even their own parents." She asks,
"How would such children feel?" (Blumenfeld, p84.)
It comes as no surprise to me to read that 1/3 of all teen suicides are
associated with the question of
sexual orientation, and that homosexual youth are from 2 to 6 times more
likely to attempt suicide.
Thinking and reading and writing on this topic brings back my own
struggles in adolescence. I
remember the social pressure around gender roles. I liked girls, in fact, I
preferred the company of
girls. I liked to cook, I didn't like sports, I liked to read, I wasn't into
fighting. Where did I fit in? Was
I a "real" man? The worst insult anyone could use was "sissy" or "fag!"
Whatever it was, I didn't
want to be one. I felt different enough as it was - I don't think I
could have handled being gay as well.
Gays and lesbians who live through such pressures are affected by
more than the humiliation and
ostracism. The socialization of their sexuality is inhibited. In adolescence
we learn about dating. We
learn to connect our sexual feelings to our romantic feelings - to understand
desire within the context
of relationship. Non-heterosexuals are forced to conceal their sexuality; to
explore it in secret; to
separate it from their relationships. Further, they are denied role models -
older women and men in
long-term same-sex relationships. As Adrienne Rich puts it,
two women together is a work
nothing in civilization has made simple.
Where does homophobia come from? Several years ago, this church offered a
workshop based on
based on the Unitarian Universalist Welcoming Congregation curriculum.
One of the exercises asked
us as participants to consider what we know about homosexuality and
where we learned it. Of
course, we learned a lot of stuff that just isn't true, and we learned it
from the playground, the streets,
from our parents... and from the church.
The Bible has been used in our culture to condemn homosexuality. A frequently
used text is Genesis,
Chapter 19. It reads,
The two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the
gateway of Sodom.
When Lot saw them, he rose to greet them, bowing his face to the ground, and
saying: "If you
please, sirs, come over to your servant's house to pass the night and
wash your feet; in the
morning you may rise early, and go on your way." But they said: "No, we will
pass the night in
the open." He pressed them so strongly, however, that they went over to his
house, where he
prepared a feast for them, and baked unleavened bread, and they ate. But
before they lay
down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the
people to the last
man, surrounded the house and they called to Lot, "Where are the men who
came to you
tonight? Bring them out to us, so that we may know them." Lot went out of
the door to the
men, shut the door after him, and said, "I beg you, my brothers, do not
act so wickedly.
Look, I have two daughters who have not known a man; let me bring them
out to you, and
do to them as you please; only do nothing to these men, for they have come
under the shelter
of my roof."
Sodom, of course, is the word from which sodomy is derived. It isn't really
clear what the people of
the town intended to do to the two visitors. "Bring them out to us, so that
we may know them," they
say. The Hebrew word yadha is translated here as know. It sometimes has a
sexual meaning - out of
the 943 uses of yadha in the Hebrew Bible, it is used ten times to denote a
sexual act. It does seem
clear Lot intends the sexual meaning in his unusual offer of his daughters.
The misogyny of his offer is
clear. Male guests are to be protected. Women - even women family members -
This story does not suggest a moral precedent that we should be following.
There are several other condemnations of homosexual practice in the Bible.
Those who would claim
to take the Bible literally and follow its precepts to the letter should
read it carefully. In the Hebrew
Bible, or what is commonly known as the Old Testament, the condemnation of
homosexuality is only
one aspect of a wide range of legal prohibitions. From Leviticus, we learn
that we should not trim our
beards, and should not masturbate, for both are condemned. The death penalty
is required for
adulterers and psychics. Take that, Psychic Network! The eating of rabbit,
oysters, clams, shrimp,
pork and certain insects is also condemned. But, you will be glad to hear,
if the insect has jointed legs
above the feet, like grasshoppers, crickets and locusts, they are ok to
eat. I could go on about Leviticus, but you get the idea.
Elsewhere the Hebrew Bible requires the death penalty for
bankers, for they lend money at interest.
(Ezekiel 18:5-18, Deuteronomy 12:19-20)
And, in Christian scriptures, the apostle Paul is a wealth of
information on how to run a society. He
tells us not to resist unjust laws - which means this country would not
have been founded - for he
says that "governing authorities are instituted by God."
(Romans 13:1.) He tells us that slavery is
acceptable, for it is written, "Let all who are under
the yoke of slavery regard their masters as worthy
of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be
blasphemed." (1 Timothy 6:1.) He
tells us that "women should be silent in the churches. For they are not
permitted to speak, but should
be subordinate, as the law also says. If there is anything they desire to
know, let them ask their
husbands at home."
Tell that to Anita Bryant, or to Phillis Schlafley! Or my wife and
Rev. Dr. Holly Horn!
The Bible is a book. The stories come out of the cultures in which the
storytellers lived. Our culture is
different, and we have rightly learned to move beyond the laws and
rigid rules to get at the larger
truths. The Bible contains much of value, for it is the record of the
striving of people to understand
their world, their conduct, and their relations to one another and to the
holy. Yet it is only one record
of these strivings. It must be tempered by reason, by common sense, and by
other sources of
Those whom I call the "irreligious right" use the Bible selectively, to
condemn people on the basis of
race, or religion, or sexual orientation. We must expose them for the
hate-mongers that they are.
They are acting contrary to the overriding tone of the Bible, which, in
spite of its anomalies and
contradictions, affirms love, hospitality, and kindness. It is simple,
said Jesus, when asked which
commandment of the law is the greatest. "You shall love the Lord your
God with all your soul,
and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first
commandment. And a second is like it:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments
hang all the law and
the prophets." (Matthew 22:36-40.)
What are we called to do? We are called to love one another, and to
fight for the rights of everyone
to be treated with dignity and respect.
We are also called to confront our own homophobia and heterosexism, and move beyond them. For
close to twenty-five years, the
Unitarian Universalist Association
has unambiguous in its support of
non-heterosexuals. In 1970, the General Assembly, our annual meeting of
representatives of churches
from across the continent passed their first resolution opposing
discrimination against homosexuals
and bisexuals. The Association formed the UNITARIAN UNIVERSALIST
Office on Gay Affairs in
1973. In 1980 we developed educational programs to help congregations
deal with their reluctance
to call non-heterosexual ministers, and several of my gay, lesbian, and
bisexual friends are now
serving UNITARIAN UNIVERSALIST churches. We affirmed gay and lesbian
services of union at
the 1984 General Assembly and voted to support gay and lesbian
weddings in 1995. Our publishing
house, Beacon Press, has sent copies of the book
Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price to
public libraries across the country and to members of the
Armed Services Committees.
Some would accuse us of "pushing the homosexual agenda." I am
proud that we can plead guilty to
such charges. For what is the homosexual agenda, but a human agenda?
An agenda that affirms the
right to love whom you chose - isn't this a basic human right?
Most of us don't like the concept of confession. We haven't done
anything wrong, we protest. But
I'm not talking about feeling guilty. We may not have done anything
wrong. But we can't help but be
homophobic - we grew up in a homophobic and racist and sexist culture,
and we have absorbed its
Beyond examining and changing our attitudes, heterosexuals are
called to be allies - to stand with and
fight alongside those who are oppressed due to their sexual orientation.
What does it mean to be an ally? The Welcoming Congregation Handbook
suggests some ways:
"Assume that, wherever you go, there are closeted gay people who are
wondering how safe the
environment is for them. Provide safety by making it clear that you
"Challenge heterosexism whether or not gays are present; do not always
leave it to gays to do it."
"When speaking of your lover or partner, point out that s/he is of the
opposite sex, implying that s/he
need not be. Or, in those situations where it is unclear whether you are
loving a woman or a man,
leave it that way."
"Do not assume that you know it all. Listen to gays. Read... and
learn about the reality of gay oppression."
This story is told in the Handbook:
A young friend of mine came up to me . . . and asked if I would read
something he had
written. When I said, "Sure," he explained that he had been elected the
leader of his Boy
Scout patrol and had written up some rules for the behavior of the
group. I wondered why
he had chosen me - until I got to rule number five, which read
something like this: "No one in
this patrol is to call anyone else a faggot or queer because these words
are insulting to gay
men, and gay men are some of the best people in our society." He
looked at me anxiously
and asked, "Do you think that's firm enough?" Whew! I was blown away.
And to think that
all that time I had been worried about his response to my lesbianism! I
told him the statement
was great and asked why he had decided to write it. "Well," he
explained, "I know that
you're gay, and George and Bill are gay, and Rick is gay, and you're all
really neat people,
and I just didn't think it was fair." (From The Welcoming Congregation:
Affirming Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Persons. Edited by the Reverend
Scott W. Alexander.
Boston: The Unitarian Universalist Association. 1990.)
We are called, in regard to homophobia as with all injustice, to make
common cause with those who
are oppressed. To affirm that when anyone is
threatened, we all are threatened. To know that when
anyone is attacked, we are all attacked. We are called to work for the
day when all men shall be
brothers, and all women shall be sisters, and all
children shall be children of us all.
Which is what we do today, together.
May it be so. AMEN.
Nehemiah 8:1ff and Luke 4:14-21
Preached at Tabernacle
January 25, 1998
Say the word religion and see what comes to mind for most people. The
probably conjure up for many people experiences of being judged, feelings
of guilt and
fear. It brings to mind images of pursed lips, disapproving glances.
Religion for many has
come to be seen as a constraining straight jacket that chokes out the joy
One of the biggest drawbacks to being a publicly religious person is
other people's expectations of what that means. I remember when I was in
my internship during seminary I went to the driving range to hit a few golf
never been a very good golfer, but the driving range can be therapeutic at
was a person there selling golf clubs and he let me try some of them out
and he was giving
me a free golf lesson at the same time. And his speech was rather, shall I
say, colorful at
times. We got to talking and he asked me what I was doing in Tucson and I
told him I
was interning at a church. His demeanor suddenly changed. He became
suddenly so . . .
respectful, so self-conscious. A wall instantly went up and his
interaction with me became
stiff and cautious. And something in me sighed.
That type of scenario has repeated itself time and time again and it has
me that we've gotten it all wrong. In spite of our impressions of it,
religion is meant to be
first and above all an expression of joy. Not an excuse for inflicting
judgment, not a
weapon for inducing guilt. Worship is meant to be an expression of the joy
from within us when we grasp the truth of God's love for us. When we touch
of life, How, as the song says, How can we keep from singing?
Ezra read the law to the people and they wept. And he told them, Stop. Stop
your weeping because this day is sacred to God. Stop your weeping and go
yourselves and for others a feast. If you want to demonstrate your
devotion to God do
not do it with tears. Do it with laughter. Do it with celebration. Do it
Joy is not to be confused with happiness because it does not depend on
circumstances. It is not a flighty feeling that comes and goes depending
on whether or not
we are having a good day. Joy goes deeper than our circumstances. It goes
anxiety or grief. In fact, it is not so much a feeling as it is a deep
understanding of life. It
is an understanding that God is always with us in good times and in bad.
It is the
knowledge that ultimately God's purposes cannot and will not be defeated.
How else to
explain the apparent paradox that the more oppressed a people are, the more
worship? There is a profound thankfulness simply for being alive. The
presence of God is
Last week the choir sang a song from South Africa called "Siyahamb'
kwenkos" "We Are Marching in the Light of God". Let me tell you a story of
A couple of years ago when the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church
Albuquerque they passed, by a narrow margin, what was known as Amendment B,
prohibits the ordination of "unrepentant" homosexuals. After the vote
hundreds of people
who were opposed to the amendment stood up and in silence moved down to the
the assembly.. They walked side by side, following a cross that was
carried before them,
they grieved, they cried, and then they began to sing. And they sang "We
are marching in
the light of God, we are marching in the light of God." And out of the
anger and out of
the tears, joy began to well up, the joy that comes from the Spirit, the
joy that comes from
knowing that God's love will prevail.
Joy is power. Joy breaks the chains around the human spirit. Joy renders
unconquerable. When our religion becomes joyless it becomes powerless as
Without the joy that comes from God's Spirit we become vulnerable to
we become fearful and unable to embody boldly the compassion of Christ.
The power of
Christianity is in its joy, a joy that comes from realizing the
indestructible nature of God's
love and the unavoidable reality of God's shalom.
Another story. It has been nearly 10 years now since the Jesuit priests
housekeeper were killed in El Salvador. I was attending seminary in the
area at the time. Several priests in the area organized a protest at the
Federal Building in
San Francisco to oppose our government's ongoing support of a murderous
military in El
Salvador, and several students from many of the seminaries in the Bay Area
join our Catholic brothers and sisters. We arrived in the morning all
dressed in black. We
had a prayer vigil on the sidewalk, and then we moved around, encircling
entrance to the building. Then we knelt down and we began singing a
chant. The riot
police were there, their heads and faces hidden behind helmets and face
hanging at their sides. After a few minutes the arrests began. The
singing to my right
became fainter and fainter as people were handcuffed and taken inside to
the jail. Then I
felt strong arms pull me up from behind and I felt the handcuffs fasten
tightly around my
wrists. We were herded to an elevator and taken up one load at a time.
elevator doors opened and I stepped out I was jarred by the sight of seeing
priests locked behind bars. But the thing that I remember most vividly is
that the whole
place was reverberating with song. Cell upon cell of people were singing
"Digo 'Si' Senor
en tiempos buenos y en tiempos malos. I say 'Yes' my Lord in all the good
times, in all the
bad times." In that moment I knew that joy was power. I heard the cell
door close behind
me, and I felt free.
And Jesus stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed
And he unrolled it until he found the place where it said,
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because God has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
God has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's jubilee."
Do not mourn. Do not weep, for our strength is in the joy of God which
the chains around the human spirit and rolls away the stone from the tomb.
Sing for joy
because Christ is with us. Sing for joy because hope is alive.