Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Prayer for Pope Francis

At most of the pope's public appearances last week in the US, he asked audiences to hold him in prayer. And so, let us pray for Pope Francis.
Prayer for Pope Francis 
(by Rev Dr Durrell Watkins)
God of grace and goodness,
our Helper and Healer,
Source of light and love,
our Guardian and our Guide,
We pray for our fellow minister and laborer in your vineyard, Francis, Bishop of Rome.
We honor his gentle spirit.
We admire his humble nature.
We give thanks for his appreciation of the Golden Rule.
We remember Jesus saying, "Blessed are the peacemakers," as Francis calls for disarmament and for the end of wars.
We hear his challenge to care for the earth, for the poor, for the displaced, for the sick, and we hear in his words Jesus' call to care for these same children of God.
We give thanks not only for his official role and duties, but also for his ministry of presence which he shares so graciously and consistently.
We have seen him eat with the homeless.
We have seen him visit prisons.
We have seen him pray with Catholics and Protestants, Jains and Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs, Jews and Muslims.
We have seen him love and bless children, and touch the infirm with the power of kindness.
We have witnessed him trying to soften the rhetoric on divisive issues over which good people honestly disagree.
We have heard him ask the question in response to your gay and lesbian children, "Who am I to judge?"
What gifts these signs and symbols are to the world!
We pray now for the pope's continued good health, for his on-going happiness, and for his good example and witness to inspire Christians and non-Christians alike throughout the world.
And we pray, also, that the light of hope, justice and inclusion would shine even more brightly through him.
We pray that he may come to see same-gender loving people not only as honest seekers who should not be harshly judged, but as good people who have been blessed by you to be what we are in the world! May he take steps to lessen homophobia in his denomination and to heal those who have been harmed by homophobia's toxic venom. And may he very soon speak out clearly against physical and psychological violence done to same-gender loving people, especially violence that is committed in God's name, which is using the Sacred Name in vain.
We pray also that this seeker and lover of justice will come to see that a male privileging hierarchy has marginalized, insulted, and even wounded women; may he at least consider that you do call women to ordained ministry and "in Christ there is neither...male nor female" but we are all part of the creation that you call good. May he not only venerate the mother of Jesus, but respect all women and see them as equals in the work of ministry.
And, we know that gender identity isn't simply binary. May he come to see those of us who are transgender and gender non-conforming as children of God, deserving of respect, dignity, and fair treatment.
We are not asking that he be other than he is, that his heart be manipulated by super natural forces, or that he be untrue to his conscience; what we are praying is that this one who seems to care for people, who seems open to new learning, who seems to be willing to see "that of God" in others, follow those inclinations further so that he might be a voice of hope and healing, justice and inclusion for even more people who have been forgotten, dehumanized or demonized by church, state, society or culture.
We simply hope that this good man will see the goodness in all of your children, and add his gentle voice to uplifting those that religion has mistakenly put down for far too long.
We wish the pope well in his good endeavors, and we choose to believe that he can be one of the heroes who can right past wrongs and bring more people to your feast of all-inclusive and unconditional love. May it be so.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

What Religious Freedom Is...and Isn't

Dr. Durrell’s Spiritual Prescriptions

What Religious Freedom Is…and Isn’t
     Freedom of (and from) religion is a primary American value. American history is religious history. From Native American Shamanism to Catholics seeking freedom from Protestant persecution, from Quakers seeking freedom to practice their quiet worship and courageous pacifism to Jewish people fleeing persecution and pogroms in Eastern Europe, from new religions such as Christian Science and Latter Day Saints (Mormons) experiencing and expressing religious devotion in ways that differed at the time from the mainstream to the birth of Pentecostalism, from Eastern gurus coming to the United States to teach meditation, reincarnation, and the unity of the human family to the beginning of the predominantly LBGT Metropolitan Community Churches…our nation has been a place where religion has flourished and religious people have been able to form strong communities.
     This heritage of religious freedom, religious experimentation, and religious living is one that I think we should honor. We aren’t a Lutheran nation or a Catholic nation or an Eastern Orthodox nation or a Muslim nation (or even officially a “Christian” nation), but we are a nation where all of those religious experiences and so many more can be found, shared, and practiced openly. That really is quite wonderful!
     But lately, we are hearing a lot about “religious freedom” in a different context. The term isn’t used as much recently to describe our freedom to be religiously diverse, to be religious or not, to worship at home or synagogue, church or coven, mosque or shrine, but rather, “religious freedom” is now being used as an excuse to limit civil liberties and equal opportunity; as long as one claims one’s prejudice against another group is a religious value, then he or she (according to the flawed argument) should be able to use business or even government positions to deny members of that group service. Those who would use “religious freedom” as a weapon against gays and lesbians (or any other group they dislike) aren’t celebrating our freedom to worship as we choose; they are insisting that their prejudices should have the weight of religious devotion, and their religion should trump all other religious convictions, social institutions, and public contracts. They don’t want religious freedom; they want the power to deny freedom and equality to others and they want religion to be the unquestioned authority that gives them the power to do so.
     World history is littered with battles between kings and popes, Catholics and Protestants, Muslims and Jews, Muslims and Christians…each side insisting they had the divine authority to call the shots. And the current “religious freedom” argument is but one more attempt to use a myopic and tribal understanding of religion in a way that denies the full humanity of others.
     I value and celebrate religious freedom, but very simply, using religion as an excuse to marginalize gays and lesbians has nothing to do with religious freedom; it’s just one more attempt to demonize and dehumanize “the Other.” Religion at its best will resist such oppressive ideology.
     Religious freedom is the freedom to worship as we wish; it is not a gay-bashing license. 

Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins is the Senior Minister of Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale.

9/16 issue, Florida Agenda 

From Defense to Decision

Dr. Durrell’s Spiritual Prescriptions

From Defense to Decision
     In my evolution as a Queer spiritual leader and activist I have experienced three phases so far.
     Phase One:  Defense. I spent the early part of my ministry deconstructing the bible passages that were used to promote homophobia and to demonize and dehumanize same-gender loving people. I passionately pointed out that the biblical narratives never condemn same-gender love or attraction. Every time the bible seems to be critical of homosexuality (and there are only about half a dozen verses in the entire bible that can be given a homophobic spin) it is always in the context of prostitution or rape (behaviors that exploit or abuse someone). People in love, choosing to be together, enjoying each other’s company (and each other’s bodies) is never condemned in the bible.
     Phase Two:  Offense. I moved from trying to de-fang the apparently venomous verses used against gay people to playing a version of “Find Queer Waldo” in the pages of Holy Writ. With glee I would discuss the vow of devotion that one woman makes to another in the story of Ruth, a vow that has often been featured in heterosexual wedding ceremonies, “Ask me not to leave thee or to return from following after thee; for whither thou goest, I will go and where thou lodgest, I will lodge. Thy people shall be my people and thy God my God. Where thou diest I shall die and there I will be buried…”
     Similarly, I would beam with joy as I told the warrior love story of Jonathan and David (who made a vow to one another). Jonathan affirmed that he loved David as if David were his own soul; and David declared that he loved Jonathan in a way he could never love women.
     Boaz (from the Ruth story) seemed a little gay to me. Ebedmelech who rescued a prophet from a well seemed a little gay to me. Lydya (who was central in a women’s community) in the book of Acts seemed possibly lesbian to me. It was interesting to me that the Apostle Paul went to Mytlene (Lesbos!) where he might have had friends. In fact, Paul seems pretty gay to me! I even had questions about at least one of Jesus’ disciples.  Gay people know one another, and I had a great time finding my gay and lesbian sisters and brothers in the stories of my leather bound bible.
     Phase Three:  Decision. I am now at a point in my life where I don’t need to be defensive nor do I need to go on the offensive. I don’t need to persuade fundamentalists that they are wrong about homosexuality nor do I need to find affirming tidbits in scripture or loopholes in the so-called “clobber passages” to justify my existence. I love the bible, but I don’t depend on any particular interpretation of it to give my life value. I have decided to celebrate my sacred value and to insist that all people be treated fairly and with dignity regardless anyone’s religious belief (or prejudice masquerading as religious belief). I have decided that I won’t play biblical tit-for-tat and that I will simply trust my experience of life, which includes who and how I love. And I invite other spiritual seekers and persons of faith to do the same.

Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins is the Senior Minister of Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale.

9/2 edition of the Florida Agenda

LBGT Spiritual Leader, John McNeill Dies

It is with great sadness that Sunshine Cathedral announces the departure of John J. McNeill from this experience of life to the next. Father John made his transition Tuesday night.
A Jesuit, a scholar, an activist, a prophet who proclaimed God's unconditional love for LBGT people, Rev Dr John McNeill touched countless lives and inspired many ministries. He was a blessing to this world for 90 years and he will be missed. We extend love to his faithful spouse Charlie and to all who counted Father John a friend or mentor.
A courageous and indefatigable laborer in God's vineyard, Father John challenged Catholic hierarchy and cultural homophobia while affirming the goodness of human bodies, relationships, and sexuality. He was a hero and his memory will bless all who hold it.

McNeill's books:
The Church & the Homosexual
Taking a Chance on God
Freedom, Glorious Freedom
Both Feet Planted Firmly in Midair 
Sex As God Intended 
Father John's Documentary:
Taking a Chance on God

Work included:
Serving in WWII (POW)
Earning a PhD from Catholic University of Louvain 
Serving as a psycho-therapist
Teaching at LeMoyne College, Fordham University, Woodstock Seminary, and Union Theological Seminary
Co-founding the NYC chapter of "Dignity" (an organization for LBGT Catholics)

What Scholars Say About Homosexuality & Christianity

"A new consciousness has arisen. A decision has quite clearly been made. Inequality for gay and lesbian people is no longer a debatable issue in either church or state. Therefore, I will from this moment on refuse to dignify the continued public expression of ignorant prejudice by engaging it. I do not tolerate racism or sexism any longer. From this moment on, I will no longer tolerate our culture's various forms of homophobia. I do not care who it is who articulates these attitudes or who tries to make them sound holy with religious jargon." Bishop John S. Spong

"Homosexual orientation has no necessary connection with sin, sickness, or failure; rather it is a gift from God to be accepted and lived out with gratitude... Human beings do not choose their sexual orientation; they discover it as something given." John McNeill, PhD

"Not even the strictest fundamentalist or Biblical literalist gives the same authority and moral weight to every word of scripture. Few of us would hold Paul’s injunction against women appearing in church with their heads uncovered to have the same moral weight as Jesus’ injunction to forgive our enemies. Few of us are willing to be bound by all the commands given to us in the Biblical text – otherwise, we would give all we have to the poor to follow Christ, redistribute all the land every 50 years, refuse to charge any interest on our loans/investments, share our worldly possessions communally as did the early Church, and refuse to support our nation’s defense budget in accord with Jesus’ commandment not to resist evil. We have come to understand certain things as acceptable in the Biblical culture and time, but not in our own – among other things, polygamy and slavery – which few Christians would promote despite their acceptability in Biblical times. As we approach the Biblical texts about homosexuality, we must not conveniently change our stance to one of asserting that every word of scripture is inerrantly true and universally binding on all people for all time." Bishop Gene Robinson

“…the Bible does not discuss committed gay relationships…[and] the Bible condemns numerous activities that today have social sanction, such as divorce, while it speaks in favor of slavery…
[Some] argue that just as Christians need not abstain from pork or prawns, so they need not abstain from same-sex sexual encounters - in other words, the Levitical codes are utterly irrelevant. The story of Sodom in Genesis 19 condemns lack of hospitality and the threat of rape, not homosexual love (see Ezekiel 16:49).
Scholars still debate exactly what Paul intended by "unnatural" relations in Romans 1, and what the Greek term arsenokotai in 1 Corinthians 6 and 1 Timothy 1 actually means…it appears in the context of crimes against others: adultery, kidnapping, murder, greed. Clearly the loving gay couple does not fit into this context…
[We need to realize that] all readers interpret. Nobody takes everything in the Bible literally. When Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, "If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off" (Matthew 5:30), most readers, appropriately, conclude that he is not advocating self-mutilation. We decide what to interpret literally and what figuratively. Similarly, we determine what to practice and what to ignore, we decide what is time bound and what is universal. Many churches that do not ordain women on the basis of 1 Timothy 2:12 ("I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man") have no problem with women wearing "gold, pearls, or expensive clothes," which is decried three verses earlier. Likewise, the Bible condones slavery; today we do not.
We read biblical texts on sexual practices selectively. For example, again from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus begins by citing Deuteronomy 24:1-3: "Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce." He then continues, "But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity (the Greek is porneia), causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery" (Matthew 5:31-32). Offering no such loophole for unchastity, Mark 10:11-12 makes the statement harsher. And yet the divorce rate in industrialized countries hovers near fifty per cent.
In order fully to understand the Bible, there must be attention given to the cultural context in which it was written…

The biblical discussion is ultimately one of how we manifest love of neighbor … thus giving the "love of neighbor" the quantitative edge over passages possibly concerned with same-sex relations). This love means we cannot demonize people. It means we have to address all humanity as in the image and likeness of the divine, with the same needs for a helper and the same hopes for a welcoming community. It means, for those of us who find the Bible to be important in our lives, we stand before it in some humility, as we try to figure out how to interpret it in our own lives…
The conservative probably will not be convinced by my suggestions…[but] both [conservatives and liberals] can recognize that the Bible should be a rock on which we stand, rather than a rock thrown at others.” New Testament scholar, Amy Jill-Levine, PhD