So what’s going on at General Assembly?

June 26, 2008 by · 5 Comments
Filed under: Religion 

My loyal readers may be wondering why I haven’t posted much about General Assembly.

The truth is that the kerfluffle about my blog and my local congregation has consumed most of my blogging energy.  I am following General Assembly, though this year it’s not with the thought of “I might get there someday” but rather “I’m never gonna get there”.

But I am following it.

So here’s what’s going on.

Sexuality and Ordination

The committees involved (the sexuality question kinda got split between two committees) passed resolutions recommending changes to the Book of Order or Authoritative Interpretations that would essentially allow two things:

  1. Scruples could be declared by an ordained officer at the time of examination.  The examining body (and only that body) would be able to decide whether or not to accept that scruple.  The word Scruple was not used.  This was passed as an Authoritative Interpretation.
  2. To reword G-6.0106b, replacing the famous “marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness” with:  Those who are called to ordained service in the church, by their assent to the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003), pledge themselves to live lives obedient to Jesus Christ the Head of the Church, striving to follow where he leads through the witness of the Scriptures, and to understand the Scriptures through the instruction of the Confessions. In so doing, they declare their fidelity to the standards of the Church. Each governing body charged with examination for ordination and/or installation (G-14.0240 and G-14.0450) establishes the candidate’s sincere efforts to adhere to these standards. This would essentially allow gay ordination in presbyteries or congregations that allow it.  This resolution also nullifies the 1978 and 1979 Authoritative Interpretations and any such later action that homosexuality is a bar to ordination.  This resolution also requires the examining body to be sure that the person is willing to assent to the ordination vows before approving them.

The committee also turned down an overture that would redefine marriage as between two persons, rather than between a man and a woman.  That committee turned back an attempt to solidify the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman, instead commenting that this issue is still in question in our denomination.

Big stuff, eh?  Remember that this is just the committee work – the whole General Assembly votes later.

The General Assembly as a whole passed a resolution to create a sexuality curriculum for youth, choosing NOT to state specifics about what must be included.  This was passed after a lively debate that included a minister from KY (speaking against the curriculum) revealing on the floor of GA that his daughter has or had a sexually transmitted disease.

Christian/Jew/Muslim Relations

The General Assembly last night commended for study the relationships between these religions, calling for tolerance and mutual respect.  The resolution originally included a clause stating that the God of Christians, Jews and Muslim was the same God of Abraham, but that was removed by the General Assembly as a whole.

Membership Vows

The committee passed a resolution calling for a Book of Order amendment that would require that members being received by a method other than Confirmation will also make a public profession of faith.  This replaces the overture that I wrote about previously that would have required specific membership vows.

Form of Government (Book of Order) revision

The committee is recommending that the draft be referred to a new task force consisting of the original task force and members of the Assembly committee considering it.  This group would consult with the presbyteries and bring back a revised recommendation to the next General Assembly.  It’s not quite a punt or ignore, but rather a “still needs work” decision.  This is just the committee decision – we’ll see what GA does but I suspect this will be what happens.

Confessions

The committee recommended that the Heidelberg Confession be amended to return it to a closer translation from the original German, correcting some license taken by the translators in the 1960’s.  This has the effect of removing the wording against homosexuality from the confession, though others claim that the original intent of the passage in question was to mirror 1 Corinthians.

The committee also recommended that a team be created to study the inclusion of the Belhar Confession in the Book of Confessions – to report back at the next General Assembly.

Some little but important stuff

The GA passed a statement that the Catholic and Presbyterian baptism should be recognized by the other denomination, subject to each denomination’s rules.  This means something to me, a Presbyterian married to a Catholic.

The GA passed full recognition and participation in Eucharist between the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church.  We can now take Communion in the other church without question.  This also allows for limited use of ministers from the other denomination and allows further talks on allow integration in the future.

The GA passed a Book of Order amendment that changes part of the definition of the office of deacon – substituting “compassion” for “sympathy”.

Can we agree to disagree about homosexuality?

May 2, 2008 by · 9 Comments
Filed under: Religion 

One of our moderator candidates, Bruce Reyes-Chow, confronts the elephant in the room in his blog post.

He asks the question of whether or not we can “be engaged in a community where the position is held in the contrary?”  If you feel that homosexuality is not a sin, can you stay in a denomination that declares it to be a sin?  If you feel that homosexuality is a sin, can you stay in a denomination that sometimes allows people to hold responsible positions who are homosexual?

Some people have voted with their feet.  (And that’s just a few)

I’ll start with me.

I am a strong supporter of gay marriage and gay ordination.  I do not feel that homosexuality is a sin, provided that it is exercised (“practiced”) within a two-person long-term committed relationship.  I would define marriage as between two people of legal age who truly intend to love each other and share each other’s lives forever.  If that happens to include God as part of the relationship, good, but I’m not going to say that non-church marriages aren’t valid.

I grew up with my parents telling me all sorts of things about gay people.  How they were all dirty, how they all had sex with multiple partners in bathrooms, that they did illegal drugs, and how most were diseased.  I remember one particular conversation with them so vividly that I can tell you that we were riding in the 1974 Ford Gran Torino station wagon southbound on Tenafly Road between Oak Ave. and Ivy Lane in Tenafly, NJ in approximately the year 1980.

Then I got involved in church beyond the local congregation.  I was a YAD to Synod in 1985, and subsequently the youth member of Synod Mission Council for 2 more years.  I went to the Youth Triennium in 1986.  At all of the big events, PLGC had a presence.  I bought the “Presbyterians Do It Decently and In Order” T-shirt mainly because it was a cool saying (and I bought it in lavender because pink was too girly), but while I was doing so I met the folks who staffed the booth at Synod.  I found some of them and some others at Triennium.  I discovered that the stereotype of gay people that my parents professed was not true.

Later, I left the church because of some negative experiences with judgmental people.  After that I started working with PLGC as their Presbynet coordinator.  About 5-6 years later I left PLGC because I was called homophobic when I dared to disagree with a particular strategy.  I’ve seen the ugly from both sides of this particular issue.

I have to note that my personal beliefs on this issue have remained the same for about 20 years.  I have read the interpretations of Scripture on the issue from both sides and I find the pro-gay interpretation more compelling and more in line with Jesus’ message of love.

Now the church.

This question really comes down to one big question – can we stay together and hold different beliefs?  This is nothing new – if it wasn’t homosexuality it would be something else.  In the early 20th century it was all about the virgin birth and other essentials.  Before that it was subscriptionism vs. experiential religion.  The history of the Presbyterian church in the USA (that’s not a denomination name, it’s a description) is littered with schism and reunions.  The schisms come from differences of opinion on what we today see as either no-brainer decisions (like women’s ordination) or nit-picky issues.  A review of history shows that the one lasting question is this:  Do Presbyterians need to universally subscribe to a well-defined list of doctrine elements, or is there room for variation in belief and practice?

Today the pro-homosexual folks are on the variation side.  Conservatives point out that if they are successful that we could someday reach a point where ministers are required to participate in ordinations of gay people just as they are required to participate in ordination of women.  That would put the pro-homosexual folks on the subscriptionist side.

Today the anti-gay folks are on the subscriptionist side.  That makes sense – the subscriptionist side is usually populated by people who feel most strongly about inerrancy of Scripture (as opposed to new interpretations of Scripture, as we had with slavery and women’s ordination) and more conservative beliefs.  However there are still bits of variation desired – witness those who are still complaining about women’s ordination years after it was settled.

I believe that our denomination is divided into 3 groups:

  • The right – folks who are traditional and want belief and practice to stay the way that they are today (or earlier).
  • The left – folks who believe that we are not seeing the new truths that God is revealing in our day and who feel that we are too strict in our interpretations of Scripture.
  • The middle – folks who just want to keep doing the work of the church and who want gradual change.

The middle is much larger than the other groups – probably bigger than the left and right combined.  They are also largely quiet – they are focused on doing the work of God.  They see the left and right as distractions who get all the attention and spend all of the energy of the higher-level governing bodies while causing people to turn away from the PC(USA) and church as a whole, and who spend all of the money fighting each other.

One of the things that was talked about a lot at the Moderator Meet and Greet last week in Lawrenceville, NJ was the loss of our young.  We lose our youth from the church when they graduate from high school (one person said “immediately after confirmation”) and the conventional wisdom has always been that they’d return when they had kids.  That’s not happening.  Our denominational average age is about 58 and climbing.

What isn’t being talked about is the effect that our infighting is having on potential members.  I know that I took a LONG HARD look at the church when I considered returning about 2 years ago (after almost 20 years outside).  I remembered church to be all about control of belief and action by a small group.  That’s really what the current fight is about – the control by those who believe in a well-defined set of essential beliefs AND practices of the membership at large (and the expulsion of those who fail to meet the standard – from leadership at a minimum).  I’m still wrestling with issues of control and “in-groups” within my congregation.  What I do know from talking to friends and co-workers is that Christianity as a whole has a bad reputation – it is increasingly seen as hypocritical and judgmental.

Additionally, there are signs that this question of homosexuality and subscriptionism are just the last gasps of the Modern world.  I work with youth, and have written previously about how I see homosexuality being perceived by those youth.  I believe that the church of the future will be somewhat different from the church of the present in ways that we’re just starting to understand, and that in that church homosexuality will be a non-issue – accepted by all.  It’s just a matter of time, and a matter of the Modernist leaders of today to retire and/or die off.  The acceptance of ambiguity and disagreement on little things is coming.

I am increasingly convinced that the fighting must stop.  But how?

Two options

We can stop the fighting in two ways.

One option is to agree to disagree.  That would require both the left and right to call a truce, and to wait for the Spirit to build a consensus on homosexuality.  There’s only one problem – this option would require that there be pockets of inconsistent practice for some time – some churches and presbyteries would ordain gays and other would refuse to.  The left is somewhat OK with this (they’ll rail about legalized discrimination in the “anti-gay” presbyteries) but this solution is anathema to the right which requires universal subscription to a set of rules.  Again, it really doesn’t matter that the current division is about homosexuality – even if we agreed today that all gays are to be excluded from the church (unlikely) we’d start fighting over something else – maybe the use of collection plates vs. baskets.

The other option is to separate.  To a certain degree this is in progress – The Layman maintains a scorecard of congregations leaving.  It’s important to note that there are only 55 congregations listed out of something like 10,000 – a rate of less than 1%.  The only question is how do you separate?  Normally (not that any separation is normal but this is the usual way) we separate by one faction breaking away.  We haven’t really tried a graceful separation yet.  The middle generally ends up remaining with the “non-leaving” side through inertia.  With a non-graceful separation each congregation has to decide whether or not they are upset enough to leave based on the issue of the day.  This process gives a lot of power to pastors – they have a ton of influence on their congregations and are often the only source of “what’s going on nationally” for their local membership.

A graceful separation would be harder.  That would require the national church (the General Assembly) to determine that there is an issue that we just can’t agree about.  Then each congregation would have to vote to decide which side of the issue they fall on.  This will in turn cause schisms in some congregations.  After the local votes the national makeup of the denomination would have to be rebuilt – some presbyteries would be absorbed into others and some would split down the middle.  We’d end up with two denominations.  Even so, some congregations and perhaps whole presbyteries would prefer to be union churches – being members of both sides.  If we’re going to separate, I think this is the more honest and faithful way.

Either way – separation is painful and debilitating to the denomination and it’s work.

So answer the question, Mark

OK, I will.

I don’t think we can agree to disagree about homosexuality.  I believe that the church will continue to decline for another 15-20 years, until Modernism mostly dies out with the baby boomers.  I also think that the world is headed for some huge upheavals in the way that we provide energy and food and how we feel about population growth, and that in a world where feeding yourself and others is in question the issue of homosexuality will be seen as an unimportant distraction.

Our religion has evolved over the last 2000 years.  We have moved from consensus (what really happened with Jesus?  Were you there?) to Authority (the iron will of the Catholic Church) to Intellectual Faith (from the Reformation) to Modernism.  We moved from “What is the faith?” to “We’ll tell you what the faith is” to “Let’s figure out what the faith is really about, in minute detail” to “You have to decide what the faith is yourself, but if you want to be part of us you have to match us on X and Y and Z”.  The next step is Individual Faith, where each person builds their own faith and the church is a resource for doing the work of faith (including bringing others to it) rather than the owner of faith.  That’s scary to Modernists, because it implies a loss of control over others’ faith.  That’s brilliant to Postmodernists, because it implies a gain of control over one’s own faith.

But we aren’t there yet.  We’re gonna continue to fight until we make ourselves irrelevant.  The only question in my mind is whether or not there will be a PC(USA) denomination in 20 years or whether it will have collapsed through an inability to accept each other’s uniqueness.  If there isn’t a PC(USA), there will be something else – God always provides.

So if you were going to the General Assembly, what would you do?

I’d do what everybody is going to do anyway – vote their conscience.  Look at the trends and listen to the younger folks there who can tell you what the church of the future needs to look like as they understand it today.  Fight if you must, compromise if you can, and try to reconcile with your brother (sister) when you grow apart.  Have faith that God is still in charge and that these things are happening for a reason, and that He’ll sort it all out at some point out of our control.

GA PJC tries to please everybody but pleases nobody

May 1, 2008 by · 10 Comments
Filed under: Religion 

The General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission issued a ruling in the case Jane Adams Spahr vs. Presbytery of Redwoods (218-12) this week.  I have an IQ well north of 100 and have read the entire Book of Order (and the annotated version), and I find the ruling confusing.

In 2004, the Rev. Jane Spahr conducted two “weddings” between two pairs of women.   All parties in the case admit that she called these ceremonies “marriages”.  She was charged with a violation of W-4.9001, which states:

Marriage is a gift God has given to all humankind for the well-being of the entire human family. Marriage is a civil contract between a woman and a man. For Christians marriage is a covenant through which a man and a woman are called to live out together before God their lives of discipleship. In a service of Christian marriage a lifelong commitment is made by a woman and a man to each other, publicly witnessed and acknowledged by the community of faith.

The Presbytery Permanent Judicial Commission dismissed the case, stating that there was nothing in the Book of Order or Authoritative Interpretations of it that prohibited a marriage between two people of the same gender.  This was appealed to the Synod Permanent Judicial Commission, which ruled that she had violated the Book of Order and a 1991 Authoritative Interpretation that stated that sessions should not allow same-sex unions to be held in their church if the ceremony is not clearly stated that it is NOT the same as a marriage.  She was given censure, the lowest possible punishment and what amounts to a slap on the wrist.

The General Assembly PJC used a curious bit of logic in reversing the Synod decision:

In summary, Specification of Error No. 1 is not sustained because by definition, “marriage is . . . between a man and a woman.” (W-4.9001) Specification of Error No. 1 and Specification of Error No. 2 are sustained because W-4.9001 does not state a mandatory prohibition on performing a same sex ceremony. The charge was for performing a marriage ceremony, which by definition cannot be performed.

Now, understand that I am an unabashed supporter of gay marriage and gay ordination.  I find this ruling to be curious.  This seems to me to be a bit of double-speak.  “X happened, but since the rules say that X can’t happen then X didn’t happen.”  This ruling completely ignores the fact that our rules are stated in the affirmative “X is Y” in order to draw boundaries around allowed behavior.  My conservative fellow bloggers are right in that this ruling calls into question the Book of Order’s ability to mandate any specifications of practice or definition for our worship.  One conservative blogger asks “What if I baptized my dog?”  Would the dog be listed on the rolls?  The Book of Order states that baptism is for “children of believers” or “adults” – it never states human.

I would personally prefer that the rules be changed in this case explicitly.  Let’s broaden the rules for marriage, or narrow them, but let’s not say “anything not ruled out by the Book of Order is acceptable”.  That’s simply not true.  Shoot – we don’t even define sin (except for sex outside of marriage, of course) but we have Rules of Discipline that assume we’ll know it when we see it.

I like our polity’s requirements for consensus and for making decisions face to face.  This is important – it’s really easy to throw stones at someone from afar (particularly over the Internet) but it’s another thing entirely to do it in someone’s presence.  Something happens when we are together than can change the equation.

I also like our polity’s flexibility.  I don’t want to see a day when the Book of Order is published in volumes like law books – covering an entire bookcase.  However, the role of the GA PJC (actually, the Presbytery PJC or Session, with backup from the GA PJC) is precisely to make decisions on where the boundaries are.  The General Assembly and presbyteries can’t do that in every circumstance without reducing our faith to a list of rules and regulations.  This ruling ducks the decision on semantic grounds.

I’m also particularly concerned with a new rule made here.  The new rule is:

We further hold that officers of the PCUSA authorized to perform marriages shall not state, imply, or represent that a same sex ceremony is a marriage. Under W-4.9001, a same sex ceremony is not and cannot be a marriage.

This is the PJC legislating from the bench.  It gets worse in the first concurring opinion:

We join in the foregoing Decision and Order (Decision). We understand the Decision to be an authoritative interpretation of W-4.9001, to mean that officers of the PCUSA who are authorized to perform marriages shall not hereafter perform a same sex union ceremony in which or with respect to which such officer states, implies or represents to be a marriage or the equivalent thereof. While the Commission did not find Spahr guilty as charged herein, in part because her conduct occurred under prior authoritative interpretations, we understand that future noncompliance with the authoritative interpretation of the Decision will be considered to be a disciplinable offense.

This is an example of a decision made by a rule-bound vice-principal in a cartoon that I remember watching once.  Kids were out skateboarding on school property, and when the vice-principal tried to give them a detention they pulled out the rules and showed him that there was no rule against it.  The rule was changed immediately.  Then the kids were playing roller hockey, the vice-principal got mad, the kids pulled out the book … and it continued for the rest of the episode until the rule book looked like a phone book.  This is a few PJC members saying, “You got away with it this time, but I’ll get you next time.”  Can they do it?  Yes.  Is it good for the church?  No.  If the church wants to prohibit ministers from performing same-sex marriages, it should do so with an amendment.  After all, this ruling already states that a same-sex marriage isn’t a marriage under the Book of Order!

Is this good for the church?

This ruling is clearly an attempt by the GA PJC to make an issue go away before a General Assembly meeting that will clearly be contentious.  This year we have the complete Form of Government rewrite to consider (a change that if anything makes the rules even blurrier), the fallout of the PUP report, and lots of difficult overtures.  We have the election of a new Stated Clerk which could substantially change the way the national office operates.  Also, the PJC in their G-6.0108 rulings in February and in this ruling are clearly showing a frustration with segments of the church using the judicial process to force consensus or at least obedience within the denomination.

Unfortunately, this ruling is really a lose-lose ruling.  The conservative side loses because one of of their primary targets “gets off on a technicality”, and because the practice of same-sex civil unions is not banned outright.  The progressive side loses because the practice of same-sex marriages is banned outright.  The center loses because this ruling is confusing and only serves to anger the folks at the extremes.  This ruling solves nothing.

I’m not sure that the GA PJC could solve the root cause.  The root cause here is a very deep split over theology.  It’s not about homosexuality.  It’s not about marriage.  It’s really about the split between legalistic Christianity and wide-open fully-accepting Christianity.  The two sides aren’t pro-gay and anti-gay – they’re pro-big-tent and pro-rules.  The PJC can’t fix that problem.  The General Assembly has only a tiny chance of fixing that problem.  It’ll take a decision by everybody to either learn to live with each other and support each other’s strengths, OR to split.

Washington State Marriages – Children Required

February 6, 2007 by · 16 Comments
Filed under: Life, Religion, Shoot Yourself in the Foot 

(My alternate title:  The Gay Rights Movement Loses A Supporter Again)

The gay rights folks in Washington State have gone too far.  Once again, they have found a way to piss off straight supporters in their bid for gay marriage.

The Washington Defense of Marriage Alliance is proposing a ballot initiative (957) that would:

  1. Require that heterosexual couples prove that they are able to have children before they can receive a marriage license, and
  2. Automatically annul any Washington marriage that fails to produce children within 3 years, and
  3. Require proof that couples married outside of Washington state file proof of procreation within 3 years of their wedding, or be labeled “unrecognized”, and
  4. Establish a process to prove procreation, and
  5. Make it a crime for people in an “unrecognized” marriage to receive marriage benefits.

This is clearly aimed at invalidating a ruling by the Washington Supreme Court that upheld the ban on gay marriage.  That ruling declared that a legitimate interest existed for the legislature to limit marriage to those couples that could produce children.

Carolyn and I have decided not to have children, for reasons that I don’t feel the need to go into here.  This would directly affect us if we lived in Washington.

The WDOMA folks clearly recognize that this is absurd.  They are hoping that challenges to this law would cause the Washington Supreme Court to overturn their previous ruling.

What this move fails to do is take into account the degree to which gay rights folks can anger their straight supporters.  Making my marriage illegal in order to try to make yours legal is not a good strategy.  It angers me.  I’ve been a strong supporter of gay rights, but if this type of move were to propagate across the country, I would drop that support – because MY marriage would be under attack by those whom I support.

Let’s face it – homosexual people are at most 10% of the population.  In order to have laws changed to support gay marriage, the support of a significant portion of the straight population is required.  This move – by directly attacking all heterosexuals INCLUDING YOUR SUPPORTERS – is doomed to fail.  Worse than that, it will erode the support of the gay rights movement among straight people.

Drop this attempt.  You are dangerously close to losing my support.  You NEED the support of straight people in order to achieve your agenda.

Are We Even in the Same Ballpark?

January 4, 2007 by · 4 Comments
Filed under: Religion 

Today, Toby Brown of Texas posted a blog entry that I find very disturbing.

He handles two different situations.

First, the Rev. Janet Edwards of Pittsburgh Presbytery held a marriage ceremony between two lesbians in September of 2005.  She was subsequently charged with performing a same-sex union by members of her presbytery.  The presbytery investigated and filed charges to be tried.  She was prepared for a trial, but the presbytery judicial commission dismissed the charges on the basis of being filed 5 days too late.  The conservative side cried foul and claimed that there was a setup to make sure the charges were late, but others state that the delay was accidental.

Now, Rev. Brown from Texas has decided to join a group of ministers (presumably from all over the country) to file new charges against her.  What those charges will be is unclear, but it seems that they will involve charges that she violated her ordination vows.

Sound like double-jeopardy to you?  Yeah, me too.  I’m sure that Rev. Edwards is ready for the trial, though.

This all flies in the face of the Definitive Guidance passed last summer in response to the Peace, Unity and Purity report from the last General Assembly meeting, in which presbyteries and session were exhorted to “outdo each other in trust”.  Our system is in danger of ceasing to be a church and turning into a bad TV lawyer show if ministers from all over the country are filing charges against other ministers who aren’t in the same presbytery, or even the same synod.  Such charges should be local, filed by people who are familiar with the details of the event and the people involved.

Rev. Brown’s second assertion is that any wedding that includes Christian elements and non-Christian elements should not take place.  His specific reference is again to Rev. Edwards’ gay wedding, where one of the women was Buddhist.  Rev. Edwards did what many ministers of all denominations (including Catholic) do all the time – they marry people of their faith to people of another faith.  Often the ceremonies include elements from both traditions to make each family comfortable – the alternative being two ceremonies (which also happens).

I am a product of a mixed marriage though not one that Rev. Brown would complain about – my wife is Catholic.  I was married in a Catholic mass (not just a ceremony – a full mass with Eucharist, though I did not partake).  The priest who married us told us about a wedding that he had performed between a Catholic and a Buddhist.  He stated that he was very clear to the participants about the issues that a mixed marriage can create, particularly if children are involved.

What bothers me most is the idea that Presbyterians are so strict that they cannot abide reaching out to people of other faiths.  This is an issue of hospitality.  If I had a Muslim visitor to my home, I would have no trouble if that person felt the need to get up at a certain hour and pray (as long as they were kind enough to try not to wake the rest of us).  Shoot, I can see Muslims in a Presbyterian church facing Mecca.  My own church houses a Jewish congregation on Saturdays, and has done so for decades.

Apparently, this is too much for Rev. Brown.  He expects that in his house, his rules will be followed (note the lowercase h).  And his definition of which houses are his seems to include all PC(USA) churches.

This leads me to wonder if I have unequally yoked myself with Presbyterians such as Rev. Brown.  (Personally, I interpret that passage to be more about morals than about religious practices, but Rev. Brown specifically mentions it in his blog post comments.)  I believe that it is a sin NOT to respect and honor the religious practices of others.  We might not choose them for ourselves or recommend them to others, but we should respect the choice of the person involved.  And when we put two people together in marriage, I would much rather recognize two religious traditions in one ceremony than drive one or the other person away from their faith.

So that leaves the question – did I make a mistake joining a denomination that has a significant number of leaders who hold such a different belief about people of other religions?  Did I make a mistake joining a denomination that has a signficant number of leaders who view respecting other religions as sin?

Let me know what you think.  I really am wondering whether my new Presbyterian membership is a mistake.

Gay Civil Unions in NJ – February 23, 2007

December 20, 2006 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Current Affairs, Life 

Governor Jon Corzine plans to sign the NJ Civil Union bill into law tomorrow (Thursday, 12/21/06) at the Trenton War Memorial.

The law takes effect in 60 days – in order to give various departments time to create/update regulations.  That makes February 19 the first day to get licenses.  That’s a state holiday (President’s Day) so February 20 is the first practical day to get a civil union license.  There is a 72 hour waiting period in NJ, so the first practical day to get married (I refuse to use the term “unioned”) is Friday, February 23, 2007.

Invite me to the wedding – my company makes great wedding gifts!

In somewhat related news – yesterday the Governor signed legislation to add “gender identity or expression” to the list of banned discrimination categories.

New Jersey Civil Unions – passage and other things that were changed at the same time

December 15, 2006 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Current Affairs, Life 

Yesterday, the NJ legislature passed a bill that will create civil unions between two people of the same gender, with the same rights and responsibilities as heterosexual marriages.  The term “marriage” was not used, the term “civil union” was used instead.  The governor is expected to sign the bill shortly – he has indicated that he will.

I have read the bill.  The writers of the bill were very comprehensive in granting equality to gay civil unions and marriage.  It looks like somebody did a search for the phrases “marriage” and “spouse” in state law and the bill amends each section to add civil unions.  There was clearly some intelligence involved – it wasn’t just a simple cut and paste.

I support civil unions and I believe that they should be labeled marriages.  I believe that they should be recognized in churches as well – including my Presbyterian Church (USA) denomination.  I hope that the gay rights activists will be satisfied with equality under a different name, and will let enough time go by before pushing hard to get the term changed.

While modifying the bill, a few other things that didn’t pertain to gay people were changed.  Here’s a list of some of them, and some other interesting stuff in the bill.

Any child born to a partner in a civil union becomes a child of both partners.  The same goes for adoptions.  Those children will be treated equally by the law as those born to married heterosexual couples, particularly in terms of divorce, custody and child support.

Interestingly, the law concerning sanguinity and marriage was modified.  The NJ restrictions were rather loose – first cousins have always been allowed to marry but you can’t marry your aunt or uncle or niece or nephew.  The modification was done simply by adding the same gender to each line – brother was added to the sentence about men, sister was added to the sentence about women.

The marriage license law was changed.  The old rule had the license issued in the hometown of the female.  If she was not an NJ resident, the license was issued in the hometown of the male.  If both were non-resident, the license was issued in the town where the wedding is to take place.  The new law changes it to allow that a marriage/civil union license may be issued in either party’s hometown – for both homo- and heterosexual couples.

NJ law concerning marriage of minors (under 18) requires the consent of a parent (and for under 16, a judge).  However, there was an old law that said if a minor boy managed to make any woman (“of good repute”) pregnant and was arrested for sexual intercourse with her, he could marry her immediately without consent.  This clause has been removed.

Anyone who could perform marriages can now also perform civil unions.  I believe that this includes lots of clergy who would rather not do so ….

Premarital agreements (aka prenuptial agreements) are now also allowed for civil unions.

Civil unions can be nullified for all of the same reasons that marriages can be annuled, EXCEPT for impotence.  Interesting.

Name changes are allowed for either partner in a civil union – just like marriage.  Ditto for divorce – you can go back to the name that you were using before the union/marriage.

“Civil union status” is added to the list of discriminatory areas prohibited by law in NJ housing, employment and the like – alongside “marital status”.  “Affectional or sexual orientation” have been on that list in NJ for some time.  This means that it is now illegal to refuse to rent to a couple who are in a civil union.

Domestic Partnerships (the precursor to these civil unions, which had far fewer privileges) are no longer allowed for couples of the same sex.  They continue to be allowed for couples over age 62 (a group where an actual marriage could cause negative tax implications).

A New Jersey Civil Union Review Commission will be established to study the implications of this law and determine whether or not it should be changed and/or added to.  That commission will also study the option of removing the Domestic Partnership laws.  The commission will report back every 6 months for 3 years.

Any Civil Union from another state that is legal in that state will be recognized in NJ.  I suspect that this includes Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut and California.

Interesting changes.  Only 2 things change for heterosexuals and those changes are minor and to the benefits of the parties involved.  The rest is simple equality.  I approve.

NJ Gay Activists – Pause While You’re Ahead

October 27, 2006 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Current Affairs, Life, Religion 

Gays and lesbians in NJ are celebrating the Supreme Court decision on Wednesday that will eventually give them the right to marry or enter an equivalent union.  However, some don’t believe that the decision goes far enough.

In this article, Steven Goldstein (the head of Garden State Equality) is quoted as saying that he will continue to fight for the term marriage to apply to gays and lesbians until there is “blood on these knuckles”.  He continues:  “We will outwork, outplay, outthink and demolish the other side”.  The Garden State Equality website says:

Those who would view today’s Supreme Court ruling as a victory for same-sex couples are dead wrong.  So help us God, New Jersey’s LGBTI community and our millions of straight allies will settle for nothing less than 100% marriage equality.  Let decision makers from Morristown to Moorestown, from Maplewood to Maple Shade, recognize that fundamental fact right now.

My day job is that of an IT Project Manager.  In both my college days and in the years since, I’ve received training in change management.  One fundamental principle of change management is that you must leave those impacted by the change enough time to process the change and make it a part of their world view.  Attempting to force a change upon masses who may not agree with the change in a short period of time by fiat is a bad idea – the change is doomed to be actively resisted at best and to fail at worst.  The bigger the change, the bigger the amount of time required to process it.  Any attempt to force change to happen faster merely causes a backlash against that change.  In the workplace that results in passive and aggressive behavior:  refusing to use the new process, intentionally working slowly to punish those forcing the change, excessive sick days, negative comments passed behind the backs of those making the change, etc.  In society, imagine failure to recognize the change as the best case, with actual violence as the worst case.

When a minority (numerically) wins a victory over the majority, they must behave as a good winner.  That means acknowledging the loser’s value even though they have not triumphed, and choosing not to emphasize the loser’s attributes/mistakes/ability.  “Yay, we won!” not “Yay, you lost!”  Then, the losers need to be given space to grieve for their loss and incorporate the new reality into their worldview.  Pressing for the next concession immediately is only going to infuriate those who are already wounded by the decision.  That puts them in fight or flight mode, and with societal change flight isn’t really a possibility.

This is a huge gain – in NJ in 178 days gays and lesbians will have full spousal rights after getting married/unioned.  It’s a complete win in all except the name.  Take the win, act gracefully, and if the term “marriage” is really so important come back later and push for it.  Come back in 2, 5, 10, 20 years and have the law changed to match what society is (will already be) doing – recognizing gay unions as marriages.  And that’s what my title means.  It’s not “quit while you’re ahead”, it’s “PAUSE while you’re ahead”.  Give the straight, non-supportive community time to process the change in their lives and build a track record where the world doesn’t end when the gay couple next door get married.

Let’s face it, time is on the side of the gay community.  Polls show that gay rights are increasingly supported by the public, and that the support is more positive among those who are younger.  Time will finally erase the stigma incorrectly applied to non-heterosexuals, but it will take time.  Just as it has taken time to reduce racism and gender bias.

Winners have a responsibility to losers to ensure that the loss is not so painful that the losers walk away from the game (or worse, change the rules to cause the winners to lose next time).  Losers have a responsibility to accept the loss and act graciously towards winners.  Both must do this because next time, they could be on the other side.

This principle is too often lost in today’s society, religion, and politics.

NJ and Gay Marriage

October 26, 2006 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Current Affairs, Life, Religion 

In case you missed it, the NJ Supreme Court made an important ruling on gay marriage yesterday.  In a 4-3 vote, the court ruled that while the NJ Constitution does not guarantee the right to “marry” to gay people, the court requires that the NJ legislature in the next 180 days pass laws to give all rights, privileges and responsibilities of married straight couples to committed gay couples.  Those include:

  1. a surname change without petitioning the court (after a marriage or union)
  2. ownership of property as tenants by the entirety, which would allow for both automatic transfer of ownership on death, and protection against severance and alienation
  3. survivor benefits under New Jersey’s Workers’ Compensation Act
  4. back wages owed to a deceased spouse
  5. compensation available to spouses, children, and other relatives of homicide victims under the Criminal Injuries Compensation Act
  6. free tuition at any public institution of higher education for surviving spouses and children of certain members of the New Jersey National Guard
  7. tuition assistance for higher education for spouses and children of volunteer firefighters and first-aid responders
  8. tax deductions for spousal medical expenses
  9. an exemption from the realty transfer fee for transfers between spouses
  10. the testimonial privilege given to the spouse of an accused in a criminal action
  11. the requirement for an employer to extend health care coverage to a spouse
  12. statutory leave to care for an ill spouse
  13. the requirement that a bequest is automatically revoked to a spouse after a divorce
  14. the requirement for an estate to pay for support and maintenance of a surviving spouse when a will is contested
  15. parentage, custody, visitation and child support rights when a child is born during a marriage
  16. support requirements after a divorce (alimony)

It is important to note that the minority set of 3 justices in this case filed a dissent stating that they would prefer to grant marriage rights to homosexuals immediately rather than letting the legislature take action.  That means a 7-0 unanimous vote for gay marriage in some form, and a 4-3 split on whether or not to use the word “marriage”.

At least one state legislator has announced her intention to create an amendment to the NJ constitution restricting marriage to one man and one woman.  Another legislator has announced his intent to create and amendment to the NJ constitution to specifically redefine marriage to include gay couples.  Yet another legislator has announced his intention to impeach all justices involved.

I applaud this ruling.  I want to make my feelings and beliefs very clear.

While growing up, I was subject to the misconceptions and outright lies about gay people told to me by my parents.  I remember one conversation in the car at about age 13 in particular – so vividly that I remember exactly where on the street we were when it took place.  In that conversation, my parents informed me that all gays were diseased, that they all had sex with anybody and regularly had multiple partners, and that they were all drug addicts.  In their defense I will state that we do have one gay cousin on my mother’s side who at the time did fit all of that.  My parents’ bigoted attitude is shocking to me, particularly given their more permissive and understanding attitudes towards racial issues, gender issues, and even those of other religions.  Since then their attitudes have softened a bit but they are still against homosexuality in general and gay marriage in particular.

Luckily for me, my church activities brought me into contact with homosexual people.  At events like the Synod meeting and the Presbyterian Youth Triennium I came in contact with Presbyterians for Lesbian and Gay Concerns (PLGC – now known as More Light Presbyterians).  I discovered a group of people who had the same life issues that I had – going to work, buying groceries, changing cat litter, etc.  These were folks wrestling with the same issues that I did – issues of faith, issues of life.  Unfortunately, these folks also had other issues – being accepted in society, being accepted in the church.

Shortly after that I found that I had some gay friends at college.  Again – just regular folks who prefer romantic partners of the same gender.  All of the same joys and concerns were there, including building solid romantic relationships with one person and searching for a lifetime partner.  The only difference was that I couldn’t talk to others openly about these friends for fear of what others might do to them.

And that has continued until today.  I have one good friend that I met through camp who is a lesbian and in the middle of her search for a soulmate.  She may have found that soulmate now and I celebrate as I watch that relationship grow.  She’s having to make up for lost time – the issues that society (and particularly the church) have with her sexuality have slowed down her personal growth in relationship areas but she’s moving along now and will probably catch up soon.

So – to be clear.

I am in favor of full equal rights for homosexuals.  I include bisexuals and transgendered people in that group.

I am in favor of full marriage rights under the name “marriage” for a joining of two people of the same sex.

I am opposed to polygamy.

I feel that polygamy, bestiality and pedophilia are often linked to homosexuality by those whose arguments against homosexuality are weak.  This linkage is false.

I am in favor of full rights including marriage for homosexual couples within the church.  I have read the biblical arguments for and against.  I remain unconvinced that the Bible passages used to prohibit homosexuality are actually speaking of a committed relationship as opposed to temple rituals or prostitution.  Additionally, there is clear speech from Jesus regarding marriage, but there is also clear speech from Jesus regarding divorce and we seem to be free to ignore that as well.  In short – in the face of contradictory biblical arguments I must go where the Spirit leads me, and that is this position.

I believe that all parties in this debate must learn to speak to each other.  The folks at both extremes talk past each other.  On the one hand, the gay lobby fails to take into account the beliefs and fears of those who oppose them.  On the other hand, the anti-gay lobby fails to take into account God’s creation of gay people, the fallacy of choice of sexuality, and the effect on people’s lives that accusations of antisocial behavior hold.

I look forward to the day that I can attend the wedding in NJ of my friend mentioned above.

Al Sharpton on Gay Marriage

March 16, 2004 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Miscellaneous 

Now, I’m no fan of Al Sharpton. I watched on TV from college as his marchers torched Teaneck, NJ after a police shooting – just a few miles from my family home.

On the other hand, I am a supporter of gay rights and gay marriage.

Today, on CNN’s Crossfire program, Al Sharpton appeared. He was asked about gay marriage, and he made a strong statement. I struggled to write it down quickly, so I might be slightly wrong in the exact words that he used.

Al called the issue “a weapon of mass distraction”. He also said:

“The question is not who you go to bed with, it’s whether or not you have a job when you wake up.”

You go, Al.

Maybe this will look good on Outside the Beltway Traffic Jam.