Thursday, February 28, 2008

He's Not; But What If He Were???

Because I pastor a large church in an urban area, I try to stay away from “partisan” politics in my public speaking and writing. I have no trouble speaking against senseless wars or naming racism or misogyny or homophobia wherever I may encounter it. I proudly encourage people to vote, and to vote according to their best judgment, their conscience, and in the interest of justice for all people. This I do without endorsing any candidate or without publicly supporting (or attacking) any political party. My assumption is that there are people of goodwill in all the political parties and that peace and justice and equal opportunity are issues that Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, and Greens can all support. So that is my personal policy in matters of electoral politics. I vote for the candidate of my choice, and I allow others to do the same.

However, without endorsing a party or a candidate, I must say that I am concerned about a trend that has developed of “accusing” Senator Barak Obama of being Muslim. Of course, he isn't Muslim, but in America he has a right to be.

In the land that guarantees freedom of (and from) religion, one isn't disqualified from public service because of his or her personal faith experience. When people use their religiosity as an excuse to legislate dogma, then I become nervous and cry out. That just means that extremists of any tradition are problematic; but faithful, honest, humble, quiet followers of any tradition get to serve their country in public service, all the way up to the White House, even as they worship in the way that is meaningful to them.

For the first time in my life I believe that all the possible candidates for president are people of integrity and goodwill. I can now say, “Vote for the Senator of your choice, but vote!” It seems clear that a senator for Arizona, Illinois, or New York will be our next president, and all three of these people have outstanding records of public service and commitment to their nation. So this isn't an endorsement of Sen. Obama. But it isn't fair to attack him for his faith, especially for a faith that ISN'T his; but I'm as concerned about the anti-Muslim sentiments as I am about his being falsely identified with a particular religion.

Jew, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Atheist, Other...this is America and "creed" should no more be used as a weapon of discrimination than race, ethnicity, age, gender, ability, or sexual orientation. Vote for any of the candidates based on their record, their rhetoric, and your belief in their capabilities and commitments. But please don’t vote against someone because he or she is a person of faith…whatever that faith may be. In the case of Barak Obama, his faith happens to be that of a Protestant Christian…but don’t hold that against him either.

--durrell watkins

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Remembering Loved Ones

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders…and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Anonymous (Hebrews 12.1)

My maternal grandmother was born on Feb. 17 and my paternal grandmother was born on Feb. 21. Both are now dead.

My paternal grandmother, "Mama D," (in the south grannies are often called "mama,"), influenced me in ways that I hardly recognized until after she died. She was a storyteller, a poet, a teacher, a traveler, and a fiercely independent soul. She was the first and one of the few in my family who took my aspirations as a creative-artist seriously and was the first to let me know that higher education was in my future. I never doubted it. She was stern in some ways, but she was a powerful figure and the truth is the two masters degrees that hang on my wall and the doctorate I am pursuing are probably in some measure the result of her influence. She would be very proud of my academic achievements.

My maternal grandmother, "Grandma," was the nurturer. She never traveled much and never had a career. But she gave me a home where I felt truly loved. I lived with her for my first two years of college and then I moved to finish my BA at a small liberal arts university 80 miles away. Thereafter, when I would "go home," that meant going to Grandma's house. She didn't understand all my dreams and plans, but she did support them. She was the first to accept the news of my "coming out," and she would show great pride in any accomplishment of mine, great or small. I don't think anyone has ever beamed with delight the way she always did when I would come home to visit her. She, too, is in no small way responsible for who I have become.

Mama D didn't understand my gay activism, and she was very conservative in her politics. Grandma was very invested in my going to college, but probably thought I was over doing it a bit with so much graduate school. But even though their grandson became a left-leaning, gay identified, artist-theologian which was probably beyond anything in their Arkansan frame of reference, they both are largely responsible for who I am.

Grandma died in July of 2004 at age 83. Mama D died in April of 2002 at age 85; but since they were both born in February, that is when my thoughts return so powerfully to them.

I loved my grandmothers; I inherited some of their best qualities, and I benefited from the ways that they knew to express love.

I share this deeply personal story because I am very aware of how much my grandmothers live in me. They live in my memory. They live in my character. They live in many of my accomplishments. My love for them lives on. Because they remain so much a part of me, I know that life has significance beyond our physical years. The season of Lent is leading toward that celebration that Christians call Easter. But Easter for me comes early each year…it comes in February when I remember that two special women live on in my life. I remember and celebrate the lives of “Mama D” and “Grandma” and I give thanks for the ways they show me that the power of life isn’t limited to the number of years lived. Our Lenten journeys are leading us to the hope of Easter – the hope that a life well-lived in some way will overcome death. And so it is!

(c) Durrell Watkins 2008

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Mutual Support

“Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6.2

Why are Weight Watchers groups so effective? Why is Alcoholics Anonymous so helpful to people? Why can two friends spend hours chatting without noticing the time flying by? Why are prayer ministries so often accessed? Why are grief groups so regularly attended? Perhaps it is because some burdens are too heavy to carry alone.

We often hold in our pain because we know that no one likes the habitual whiner or the chronic complainer. And, we don’t want to burden others every time we don’t get our way about something or every time we feel slighted or insulted. We don’t want to stir up strife and discontent just because we are annoyed or disappointed.

And yet, some pain is so genuine, so real, so legitimate, so overwhelming, that even the strongest of us can’t adequately cope with it alone and so we finally tell someone about it. Not only do we feel better for having detoxified our souls, but we also feel supported and cared about because someone took the time to listen.

Clinical depression may need medication, and minor bumps in the road may just require resilience, but true emotional agony needs to be released. A good friend, a therapist, a support group, a clergy person who will listen and respond with compassion may facilitate the healing opportunities we need.

Shakespeare counsels us in King Lear, “Who alone suffers, suffers most i’ th’ mind, leaving free and happy shows behind; but then the mind much sufferance doth o’erskip, when grief hath mates, and bearing fellowship.”

When we bear one another’s burdens, they do get lighter, and we are all able to live our lives more freely and with more joy.

--durrell watkins

Monday, February 04, 2008

Asking Liberating Questions

Weekly Devotional by Rev. Durrell Watkins, MA, MDiv

I grew up “knowing” certain things. I knew them because in my rural, southern environment, such knowledge was common. What I knew included:
God was male.
God was Christian (or at least, God wanted everyone else to be Christian).
Heterosexual love and attraction were OK…homosexual love and attraction were not.
Men were to be the head of their households.
Only men could be ordained for professional ministry.

But something happened early in my life. By the time I was nineteen I had to admit what I had really known since I was about 4…I was gay. This wasn’t a phase; it had been with me my entire life, and wasn’t going away. Denying it only delayed my ability to experience joy in my life as the person I was. Accepting that I was innately and unchangeably gay meant that I had to reconsider all of things that I thought I knew.

After studying scripture, theology, sociology, psychology, and my inner-most self, I came to believe that homosexuality is a normal part of the diversity of life. But that means that “they” (the people who taught me all those things I thought I knew when I was a child) were mistaken about the sinfulness of homosexuality. Once I really embraced that fact, I then naturally had to ask, “what else did they get wrong?” What is the likelihood that they only got one thing wrong? Maybe they were wrong about God’s preference for Christians. Maybe they were wrong about men having a divine right to rule the church, the home, and the world.

This is one of the many gifts gay and lesbian people have to offer the world. We were fortunate enough to have to question prejudices against us and learn to believe in our sacred value. And once we did that work, we then had the skills to question other beliefs…especially beliefs that give privilege or power to one group over another (men over women, U.S. over other countries, straight people over LBGT people, Christians over non-Christians, etc.). “The Church teaches” or “The bible says” or “Everyone knows” can no longer be the final word for us. Queer people have the ability (and perhaps the responsibility) to demonstrate the courage it takes to ask questions and to believe that our questions are more important than pre-packaged answers. And those of us who call ourselves religious must also ask the questions that will keep religion from being a tool of oppression against any group every again.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Homophobic Violence Strikes Again in Jamaica

Sunshine Cathedral
A Metropolitan Community Church
Affiliated with The Center for Progressive Christianity

1 February, 2008

According to a statement from JFLAG (Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals, and Gays) and confirmed by a report in the Jamaica Star online, there has been another homophobic attack in Jamaica. On 31 January, 2008 The Jamaica Star reported that intruders broke into a private home and attacked three men who were in the house.
The men who suffered the attack were accused of being “homosexual.” At least two of the men were brutally beaten and “chopped” with machetes, while the third is missing and possibly dead. The survivors apparently require extensive medical attention.

The leadership of Sunshine Cathedral Metropolitan Community Church unequivocally condemns this recent attack and we hope other people and organizations will speak out against unprovoked violence whenever it occurs.

To the survivors of this vicious and unwarranted attack, we at the Sunshine Cathedral offer our sincere wishes for a full and speedy recovery. We continue to pray for our sisters and brothers in Jamaica and we dare to imagine a day when goodwill, peace, and civility will triumph over human prejudices, hatreds, and suspicions.

We call upon all religious people who use religion to justify and promote their homophobic prejudices to see that the rhetoric of hate and condemnation contributes to acts of dehumanizing violence. We further ask all religious people to remember and share the spiritual values of love, mercy, justice, goodwill, kindness, and generosity. We ask all religious people to lift up and live by the Golden Rule, which is to do unto others as you would have others do unto you.

Finally, we call upon the Jamaican authorities to investigate this heinous attack and to do everything possible to protect all Jamaican citizens from future acts of senseless violence.

- End -

Contact: Reverend Robert Griffin, Director of Adult Spiritual Education & Christian Social Action, or Reverend Durrell Watkins, Senior Pastor,

Sunshine Cathedral
Fort Lauderdale, the Caribbean, and the World Wide Web