Monday, December 28, 2015

People of Faith Don't Always Have to Take Themselves Too Seriously

Religion at its best should be joyous. One should take delight in laughing at the ridiculous (though, sacred stories are usually only ridiculous when taken literally). Virgins and 90 year old women getting pregnant, dead guys refusing to stay dead, small picnic baskets that feed thousands, using a feeding trough for your baby's bassinet, talking donkeys and snakes, magic fruit that gets you evicted if you eat it, every species on earth squeezing onto a cruise ship, a guy having an extended stay inside a fish...there are some deep and profound philosophical truths in all that if we look for them, but on the surface, that's some funny shit!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Holiday Wishes for the LBGT Community

The Holiday Season is meant to be joyful.
During Hanukkah, we recall the story of a limited amount of oil keeping Temple lights burning for eight days in a row. The Hanukkah miracle reminds us that during our times of uncertainty, there is an inextinguishable light of hope within us.
During Christmas we imagine the innocence of baby born in humble circumstances but celebrated by angels; that baby reminds us that we are each a child of God.
Kwanzaa honors African heritage and celebrates the gifts, skills, and contributions of descendants of the West African Diaspora. Kwanzaa challenges us to affirm and appreciate our diverse global family.
And the New Year is a time for releasing the past and looking with hope and expectation toward the possibilities that lie ahead.
No wonder the holidays are filled with gift giving, feasting, prayers for peace, and songs of wonder and joy. It is a sacred season.
However, for LBGT people, it can also be a lonely season. We’ve made many advances in recent years and we’ve overcome many obstacles, and yet there are those who do not celebrate our legal and cultural victories with us. The Right Wing of both politics and religion threaten at every turn to do all that they can to reverse recent advances for LBGT rights and equality. Christian fundamentalists have doubled down on their anti-gay rhetoric. Municipalities have proposed ordinances that would deny many people the protections they need if LBGT folk are included in the mix. And some families, influenced by the worst of politics and religion, have abandoned their LBGT family members, or told them they are welcome home for the holidays only as long as they don’t mention their sexual orientation.
For LBGT people, the holidays can bring up old wounds, or subject them to new insults, new experiences of rejection, or fill them with remorse for not having supportive, loving families that embrace them for they are.
So, to LBGT people who have formed strong, healthy families of choice: Congratulations and Happy Holidays! You are demonstrating the healing power of love.
To LBGT people who remain in the closet, or attempt to return to the closet at least in part in order to spend time with relatives during the holidays, my heart goes out to you and I beg you to affirm your own sacred value. You may never persuade your relatives that you are who are meant to be, but please don’t let them persuade you that you are not. You are part of the beautiful rainbow diversity of humanity.
And to all allies of LBGT people, loving parents and siblings, cousins and friends, aunts and uncles, grandparents and godparents who love your Queer family member not in spite of who they are, but who love them exactly for who they are, let me tell you that you are heroes and your love and compassion will enrich lives and touch hearts in profound and life-giving ways.
The Holidays are meant to fill us with hope, joy, and goodwill. As LBGT people often need those very blessings at this time of year, my wish for our entire community is that the best of the Season will fill our hearts and bring healing to our world, or at very least to our experience of it.
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins is the Senior Minister of Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale.
This column was originally written for the Florida Agenda

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

The Frightening Revival of White Supremacist Rhetoric

I grew up among white supremacists, homophobes, misogynists, anti-Semites, and xenophobes (I had an uncle by marriage who was truly a despicable bigot in almost every regard). I was surrounded by violent rhetoric, fear, anger, hatred of the other, and all strangely wrapped in the language of Christianity...but it wasn't a Christianity that promoted peace, goodwill, tolerance, love of neighbor, welcome of the stranger, or a celebration of human potential. Jesus wasn't presented as a model of integrity, as a symbol of healing, or as an example of living in communion with infinite Goodness, but rather was a "savior" who was the key to the cosmic country club for some and the great avenger who was going to kick ass and take names at the end of time (and those who were going to face peril far outnumbered those who were going to find heavenly rewards)...and the worst part of this scenario was the agitated and perverse glee that many expressed while yelling their threats of damnation while being oh so certain that they were exempt from it. It was not religion at its best, in fact, it left wounds that took decades to heal from; it inspired my life's work of offering an alternative narrative, an option of being "Saved From Salvation" (note my book of the same name).

I mention this, because the same demographic of people who used Jesus as a gate-keeper and the bible as a weapon and who embraced racism, heterosexism, and misogyny at least as passionately as they embraced their version of religion (though, their prejudices were often affirmed as central tenets of their faith) are the ones (that I see) who are now rallying with horrifying boldness around the anti-immigrant, anti-Brown, anti-Muslim rhetoric being touted in recent days.
Franklin Graham, Donald Trump, and Anthony Scalia have embraced without apology or timidity the language of white supremacy, and are gaining political ground by doing so.
It is devastating to realize that over 60 years of civil rights work and advances are being undermined so openly, so energetically, and with the support of so many Americans. Of course, I dare not give up hope that "the better angels of our nature" will prevail, but in many ways they seem to be bringing up the rear right now.

Those of us who value diversity, the rule of law, opportunity, and equality must speak out, and we absolutely must vote in every single election.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

A Message & a Prayer In Response to Recent Anti-Muslim Statements

Dear Friends,

Some of us know very personally how hurtful and dangerous it is to be a target of prejudice. We know how frustrating it is when an individual or a group within our larger community does something wrong and all of us are blamed even if we disagree with the action. We know that hate does not heal hate and fear does not heal fear.

So we, in particular, ought to be uneasy when we hear public leaders, religious and political, calling for the expulsion of Muslims from the US, and/or for blocking Muslims from coming into the US. Decency, compassion, and a memory of history calls us to speak out when entire communities are targeted, marginalized, or vilified. We, who are religious, must also value the FREEDOM of religion. Freedom of religion is not the freedom to impose our religious values, but to worship as we choose (if we choose to worship at all).

In my parents' lifetime, Jewish people were denied entry into some countries where they might have been safe while Jews en masse were being incarcerated, tortured and killed in Europe. In my parents' lifetime, American born people of Japaneses descent lost their homes and livelihoods in this country as they were rounded up and incarcerated for no reason other than sharing a heritage with a political enemy. In my parents' lifetime, there was a great deal of anti-Catholic rhetoric when the first Roman Catholic won the presidency. And in my lifetime, there were several states where every act of love or romance shared between persons of the same gender was a criminal act.

We who know the pain of being targeted simply for being who we are cannot be silent when other groups are treated so unjustly. Even Jesus, whom Christians wish to follow, had to endure the insulting question, "Can anything good come from Nazareth?" Isn't it time to dispense with the rhetoric of hate and exclusion?

And so, not only do I feel the obligation to name the problem of racist and xenophobic slurs coming from some leaders (and I am thankful for those leaders who openly reject such rhetoric), but I also feel the need to ask all who would be faithful to resist such rhetoric as well. There are frightening events in our world, and we do want to respond to violence and terrorism, but blaming those who have not participated in acts of terror will not keep us will only cause pain for the innocent.

In response to divisive, fear mongering rhetoric, I offer the following prayer. It is in times of challenge that we must cling to our highest ideals and best principles, and prayer can help us do just that. Let us pray:

God of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar,
God of Isaac, Rebecca, and Ishmael,
God of the East and of the West,
God of Jews, Christians, and Muslims,
God of all life, all love, all hope, and all compassion,
We see acts of violence done in your name by people of various religions,
and we hear public voices condemning religions rather than seeking to hold
individuals that blaspheme their religion with violence accountable for their reprehensible actions.

But we who are of Irish or Italian or Mexican descent,
We who are of African or Caribbean descent,
We who are Jewish or Catholic or Mormon or Jehovah's Witnesses,
We who remember our mothers and grandmothers having to fight for the right to vote, to work, to have control over their own bodies,
We who are same-gender loving people,
We who are transgender or gender non-conforming,
We who had our Native cultures decimated or whose families were interred for their Japanese heritage,
We know that the language of bigotry is the language of fear, of hate, of division, and that no good thing comes from it.

And so, today, during this holy Season of Peace and Goodwill, we pray for our Muslim sisters and brothers, that groups that dishonor their faith by using it as an excuse to do violence will cease their troubling, and that those who refuse to distinguish between bad actors and an entire global community will be healed of their prejudices.

May we remember that in every religious tradition there are those who dishonor and misrepresent the tradition, including our own; but nevertheless, all people are the children of God, and religion, all religion, at its best seeks community, justice, compassion, generosity, and peace.

May we who have been demonized or dehumanized in the past never resort to treating others in the ways that hurt us so deeply, even as we work and wait and wish for peace and justice in all the world.

In the spirit of our common humanity,

Rev Dr Durrell Watkins
Senior Minister
Sunshine Cathedral

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Don't Be A "Fool" About the Bible

While biblical tit-for-tat is my least favorite game, it can help liberate those who have been tormented by scripture. 
Someone told me today that i was a lost cause (as a gay person who refuses to say my gayness is a sin) and that he didn't need to say more about it because the bible warns against arguing with "fools." My response:
"The bible also says that labeling someone a fool gets you on the fast track to hell. I assume that verse from the sermon on the mount isn't one you take literally (nor should's idiomatic, meaning that if you insult someone they may respond in kind...if you call people names you may 'have hell to pay'), if we can contextualize and critique that verse, we should do it with all sacred texts, thus making them liberating rather than tools of bigotry and oppression." 

Religion Will NOT Make Your Straight

Here's what most fundamentalists don't seem to know.
Many LBGT Christians not only gave God permission to strike them straight, but spent years begging God to do so. But God didn't, because not even God can heal what is not sick!
Many LBGT Christians try to love their neighbor as themselves (though their fundamentalist Christian neighbors make it very difficult).
Many LBGT Christians spend every day in communion with God, living lives of kindness and generosity, worshiping faithfully, studying the scriptures diligently (which says so much about them since fundamentalists have used the bible as a weapon against them).
You keep telling gays to ask Jesus to fix them as if that never occurred anyone...what you don't seem to realize is that when they prayed, "Please God heal me!" that God did...God healed them of their internalized homophobia, God healed them of the pain the church inflicted on them, God healed them of their fears, God healed them of the mistaken notion that they needed to be healed.
Jesus won't make a gay person straight (that is both impossible and unnecessary), but the sincere prayer of gay Christians has been heard and answered time and again. Christ is present in their consciousness, the scriptures are alive in their hearts (as a comforting rather than condemning message), and they are committed to the words of the prophet Micah: "This is what God requires of you, ONLY to do justice, love mercy, and live humbly."
The reason gay Christians (and gay Jews and 12 steppers and Buddhists, etc.) are not persuaded by angry arguments is because they have their own experience of love, mercy and grace and no one can take that away from them.

Why Do You Think That Gay's Not OK?

Today's fundy fanatic: "Don't ask me to say that homosexuality is okay, because it is not."
Today's Durrellian retort: "Why is same-gender love not okay? Because there are 6 verses in ancient texts say so (or so you think)? The same texts that call for killing non-virgin women, forbidding women to teach men or speak in church, that forbid tattoos and pork and shellfish, that call for the slaughtering of Canannites, that allow faithful people like Job to be tortured to make a point, that allows men to have multiple wives but forbids divorce, that allows child abuse and slavery...those texts also include 6 verses (that can each be deconstructed to be about forbidding rape, exploitation, and idolatry and never condemning love or even mutual attraction) that you think make same-gender love the most intolerable thing in the world? That isn't just, that isn't compassionate, and that isn't sane. You don't have to like gays, but stop wrapping your fear and hatred in the language of religion. You dishonor your religion when you do, and you hurt gay people who only wish for you to stop and otherwise would never treat you the way you treat them."

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

You Don't Need to be Saved from Your Queer Reality

Yesterday Franklin Graham invited LBGT people to visit his Facebook page today (Dec 1). Who am I to refuse such a gracious invitation? So, I did visit the page today. The message was not anything new from Mr Graham. It was the same old "I love you enough to tell you the truth" bit, and his "truth" is that same-gender love and attraction (as well as gender non-conformity) is a sin and Jesus can save you from sin if you confess and abandon it (there's always a catch). Anyway, the language was a bit softer than it sometimes is from him and his followers, but the message was the same, insisting that LBGT people are flawed and in need of being "saved" from who they innately are.

That is such a soul crushing message that has literally ruined and even ended lives (and torn families apart). I feel a passionate responsibility to offer people, especially young people, a counter-narrative. So, as an invited guest to Mr Graham's thread (I'm Queer and he invited the whole Q-verse, so that includes me), I have spent the day posting a different message. I'm sure i've been accused of party crashing/trolling, but I don't care. Lives are at stake. And every post I've made (the same 6 over and over, plus 2 or 3 more once each) has earned a plethora of condemnations, people telling me I don't know the bible (as if they just forgot to mention it in seminary), that I serve "satan", that I'm leading people to hell, that God loves me "but" (ain't there always a "but"?), that i'm a false prophet...whatever, I know who I am so I don't care. I did crash the Haters for Jesus party, so I have to take whatever they throw out. But there's a 16 year old Pentecostal kid in South Carolina, a 14 year old Baptist kid in Tennessee, a 20 year old Catholic kid in Indiana, a 56 year old Seventh Day Adventist in Oklahoma who has struggled with self-loathing, guilt, fear and shame for a lifetime...and these victims of LBGT bashing shouldn't have to hear that poison one more time.
So, yes, I poked the bear today. Yes I was invasive, confrontational, and relentless in sharing a counter narrative in desperate hope of reaching at least one tormented person in order to offer them a word of hope. While literally dozens of people spewed their most toxic venom at me, there were others who "liked" my posts and who thanked me for sharing a more inclusive, kinder, more inviting gospel. But again, my deepest hope is that someone somewhere is daring to hope tonight that they are God's miracle and not God's mistake.

Below I share my various messages to the FG community. If any of them appeal to you, please share them. Simply credit the author (Durrell Watkins) and hashtag Sunshine Cathedral (#SunshineCathedral @suncath). The work for LBGT equality, and the healing work to rescue those who have been taught to hate themselves is not yet over.

A. "To all LBGT people who are told you are a mistake, that your love is wicked, that God isn't big enough to embrace you as you are...I know that such a message has tormented many of you and caused division in your families. I know that you have tried to date away, pray away, and deny away the truth of who you are. I know you have languished over rejecting religion which seems to have rejected you or hating yourself so religion would accept you. But there is another narrative for you to consider. Progressive religion, science, and human compassion are all on your side. God is love and is present in YOUR love. You are as you were created to be. Your life is not a sin. Your sexual orientation is god's gift to you. On this issue FG is wrong. Pray this prayer: God help me accept myself and let me know that your love will never and can never let me go. Help me to love myself. Heal my heart from the pain inflicted by those who have used your name in vain. Heal the wounds of homophobia in my heart, in the church, and in the world. Amen.
Share this message and prayer with someone today."
#DurrellWatkins #SunshineCathedral @suncath @DurrellWatkins

B. "I'll atone for many things but never for who I love. I would not choose to go to a homophobic heaven or serve a homophobic God. If I must choose between an invisible God and my flesh and blood husband I choose the love that has given me joy in this life. Any God that would make me give up the love of my life is a monster. I wonder how many self righteous fundies would give up their wives or husbands for a deity (and how could they ever love or trust such a deity?)"
#DurrellWatkins #SunshineCathedral @suncath @DurrellWatkins

C. "You guys get that your 'theological argument' is just a well rehearsed opinion (however much you try to blame it on God), right? and your opinion is not supported by science, nor will it ever trump one's lived experience. I know my relationship with God, you don't. I know my heart, you don't. And I know the joy and the blessing of my relationship, you don't. So your opinion means not a darn thing compared to the life I live, the spirituality I experience, and the love I share. You will never have an argument that will make me not know my sexuality to be a gift and a blessing, and my love to be a source of joy. And no threat of an imaginary after life hell would make me accept a hell on earth, the hell of shame and fear that you are trying to impose on others."
#DurrellWatkins #SunshineCathedral @suncath @DurrellWatkins

D. "Jesus touched the untouchable, loved the unlovable, confronted injustice, and affirmed those that religion had condemned (Deut says that Canaanites should be destroyed, but Jesus healed the Canannite woman's daughter and praised her faith...Samaritans were told they weren't 'real Jews' - like fundamentalists tell others they are not real Christians, but Jesus told a story of a GOOD Samaritan, the one who showed kindness when religious types were being legalistic without caring for hurting people...Jesus taught the golden rule and I promise that Graham and his followers would not want to be dehumanized and demoralized and demonized the way the way LBGT folk are by them...Jesus told the rich young ruler that generosity/kindness was the way to be in eternal relationship with God [sell all you have and share it with the poor]...Jesus healed on the Sabbath even when religious traditions and rules forbade it).
Jesus wasn't about rules, legalism, condemnation, shame, or hurting people. He gave people their dignity back. He saw goodness in everyone. He even prayed for his persecutors at the end of his life. That is my Jesus...the embodiment of compassion, kindness, and unconditional love.
I have two favorite stories about heaven:
1. Everyone when they die winds up in the same banquet hall. Catholics and Protestants, Muslims and Jews, Atheists and Buddhists, Nice people and mean people, Gays and Straights, Men and Women...the people who think that is a beautiful scene are in heaven, those who think it is a disturbing scene are in hell. We are all embraced by the one Power and Presence, but those who need to be better than others, saved while others are lost will be miserable while those who rejoice that there is a Love that excludes no one for any reason will be very happy - in heaven.
2. People approaching the Pearly Gates have to deal with Peter. Peter grills people to see who is acceptable and who isn't. Peter turns 2/3 of the people away. While he is dealing with people at the gate, in the background is Jesus helping those Peter rejected climb over the wall into Paradise. Religion wants to keep people out...Jesus won't let anyone be excluded.
That is my Christ, my Way Shower, my Anointed One, my Example, my model of how to live as a Child of God."
#DurrellWatkins #SunshineCathedral @suncath @DurrellWatkins

E. "Gay (or str8) is not a choice, but accepting ourselves and loving ourselves and rejecting homophobia is a choice. Same-gender love and mutual attraction is not a sin; homophobia is. Repent of your sin and be saved from your myopic, outmoded views of a wrathful god who can't see or appreciate sacred love that two people share regardless of their gender identities."
#DurrellWatkins #SunshineCathedral @suncath @DurrellWatkins

F. "People quoted isolated, ancient texts written by people who thought the earth was flat to justify denying women ordination, to justify child abuse, to justify wars, to justify slavery, to justify decimating native cultures, to justify condemning people of other religions, and to demonize and demoralize same-gender loving people. Every time people use the bible to shame, vilify, and manipulate others, to label them sinners or threaten them with damnation for being different, they are using God's name in vain, they are making religion seem cheap and petty, and they are
hurting people.
LBGT people, you are part of the creation that God calls very good. You are, just as you are, made in the divine image. God's love, to be love at all, is all-inclusive and unconditional. And if God condemned anyone, it wouldn't be for who they love.
LBGT people, I am an ordained minister with two seminary degrees and I promise you that you will not be rejected by a loving god for any reason, least of all for being honest about who you are or for loving another person, regardless of his or her gender identity.
God is infinitely better than those who insist that their prejudices are God's.
You may make mistakes for which you will need to make amends, but being gay or lesbian or transgender is not among them. Your ontology (your "isness") is simply what you are by accident of birth. There is no sin nor shame in that. And mutually shared love can never be wrong. Reject any religion that says that God rejects you." #DurrellWatkins #SunshineCathedral @suncath @DurrellWatkins

G. I feel a passionate responsibility to offer people, especially young people, a counter-narrative to the homophobic rhetoric disguised as "the gospel.". So, I have spent the day posting a different message on Graham's thread. 
I am not trying to change those who insist their prejudices are God’s own, and that God cannot figure out a way to be in relationship with same-gender loving people…that makes God seem mean, petty, and bigoted, but we each are entitled to the god we choose. I have no hope of changing one person who is committed to her/his homophobia, but I hope with all that I am that same-gender loving people (and gender non-conforming people) will hear that the anti-gay message spewed today is not the only religious message; it’s not even the only Christian message.
I am aware that my presence and my thoughts are not welcome on this page, but I was willing today to be an unwelcome presence for the sake of LBGT people. God loves you and wants you to be happy. Your love is sacred. You will not be rejected by God, and certainly not for being honest about who you were born to be or for loving anyone genuinely, no matter what their gender may be. Mine is a minority view on this thread (but a majority view in contemporary biblical and theological scholarship, social science, medical science, and behavioral science) and I offer it today in love for those who feel unloved and unlovable. And even for those who persecute LBGT people with the language of religion and threats of eternal torment (for love yet!), I thank you for engaging me today. A very few (not many) were kind and gracious about it, but even those who didn’t know how to be still heard me out, and I appreciate it.
Blessings to all (and especially to my LBGT sisters and brothers and our allies, among whom we can count the Divine). #DurrellWatkins #SunshineCathedral @suncath @DurrellWatkins