Thursday, December 01, 2016

World AIDS Day 2016

We've come so far. In the beginning, we didn't even know what to call it. We didn't know how it was spread. Now, we can medically keep viral loads undetectable and therefore unspreadable. Now, thanks to PrEP, no one need contract HIV. Now, because of combination therapies (conveniently packaged in a single tablet), we can live vibrant, healthy, and long lives. Now, we can (and in Broward Co., do), have a zero rate of transferrance from mother to child. Now, HepC co-infection is less threatening as HepC is curable. And now, because of much research on many fronts, some scientists believe a cure could be found within a decade. This WAD, I bless the memories of those we lost too soon. I bless the courage of those who survived and those who did not. And I bless the power of hope that has sustained us all this time. And, as I have since the 80s, I continue to pray for a cure for AIDS...I know its on the way! Amen.

Dear God, we continue to pray for a cure for AIDS. We are thankful for life-saving therapies. We are thankful that we can prevent the spread of HIV. We are thankful that medical advances continue to be made. We bless the memories of those we have lost along the way, and we continue to hope and pray for a world where AIDS is a memorial to human resilience but no longer an incurable infection. This World AIDS Day, we remember. We hope. We give thanks. Hear our prayer, O God. Amen.

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Prayer for the Wave of Violence that Continues in our Society

"We want to ask you to heal our fears and our hatreds, O God, but you will not force healing upon us. We must be willing to face our fears and exorcise our hatreds.
You will not make us kinder, more tolerant, or more just than we choose to be; but, when we make space for healing, when we are willing to be willing to explore the possibilities of positive change, please move quickly in those spaces and let miracles begin to take shape in our world.
When we dare, however briefly or hesitantly, to see all people as children of God, may healing begin in that fragile and fleeting moment.
We are tired of hatred.
We are exhausted from fear.
We ache from the constant rhetoric that demonizes the Other.
We are left thirsty from the tears we have shed; we are desensitized to the image of blood flowing in the streets. We deserve better. We need to do better. We can do better. As we make the effort, bless our effort that it may finally make a difference.
We so desperately want the war on human dignity to cease and peace and justice and compassion to prevail in our hearts and in our lives and in our world. Let it be so. Amen." Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

#BlackLivesMatter

Monday, July 04, 2016

Independence Day Prayer

INDEPENDENCE DAY PRAYER
By Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

God of hope and liberation,
As we celebrate our independence and our liberties this holiday, may we also be mindful of liberties that have been denied over the years to people because of their race, gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, age, or life-circumstances.
May we rejoice over the moments in our nation's history where we have attempted to atone for the sins of exclusion, bigotry, and injustice.
May we be glad and grateful for the 19th Amendment, Civil Rights legislation, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Marriage Equality; and may we not be satisfied with the progress that has been made, but let us continue to seek to guarantee "liberty and justice for ALL."
Let us work to keep LBGT teens safe.
Let us value peace over war, and prosperity for all rather than privilege for a few.
Let us remember that valuing the right to worship freely and to practice one's faith openly is not a license to discriminate against others or to marginalize those we fear or dislike.
Let us remember that our ancestors came to this country from other places, and let us in their names welcome and respect those who come here still seeking a better life.
God bless our nation and the community of nations.
Let peace prevail in our hearts.
May wisdom guide our leaders.
And may we acknowledge the sacred value of all people within our borders and beyond. Amen.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

I am a progressive person of faith

I am a person of faith. I am a seminary educated, ordained minister. I pray. I study the scriptures. I am also a resident of the 21st century. Being a person of faith does not make me an imbecile. I can affirm the value of spirituality and work to build religious community and still know that climate change is real, evolution is a fact, same-gender love and attraction are natural, bisexuality is a thing, transgender people are part of the wonderful diversity of humanity, no religion has all the answers (or has even asked all the questions), no religion is "God's favorite" (though we are each free to choose, navigate, and adapt our favorite), cruelty isn't okay (even if you think you have a bible verse condoning it), women aren't inferior to men in any way, women are THE experts on women's health and women's bodies, all people have sacred value, and using religion as "fire insurance" (trying to secure privilege or avoid torment in a possible future existence) is the least noble, most selfish, and least compelling reason to embrace religion. I just really needed to say that. (dw)

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Christian Fundamentalists' Lie About the President's Faith

To the Right Wingers who are using the Orlando tragedy to say Pres. Obama is a secret Muslim and a Terrorist organization sympathizer (and who seem to believe that one equals the other), I am frankly exhausted with your willful ignorance and chosen hatefulness. If you have emerged from your cave ever in the last few years you know perfectly well that...
1. The President was a member of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago
2. The President, while in office, has visited (and even "preached" at) Christian congregations.
3. The Obamas, having the entire District of Columbia and surrounding suburbs to choose from, chose to send their daughters to a Quaker school.
4. His Christian bona fides not withstanding, we have freedom of religion in this country; so, if he were Muslim it would be completely okay. "Christian" is not a requirement for POTUS.
5. The overwhelming majority of Muslim Americans are peace-loving patriots who are as impacted and devastated by terrorism as anyone else.
6. It was Obama who eliminated Bin Laden (HELLO???!!!!).
7. It is our current president who has authorized on-going military strikes against terrorist groups in the Middle East.

So, please, for the sake of all things decent and sane, STOP using "Muslim" as an insult or as a word meant to stir fear, STOP intentionally lying about the president's faith (and if he ever decides to convert to Islam, just congratulate him and move on with your sad little lives), and STOP trying to connect him to terrorism when he has combatted it more effectively than any president to date (we can take issue with drone strikes and undeclared wars that don't have congressional approval, but we can't say he's not taking a fight to the terrorists ferfucksake!).

Just stop lying. Just stop hating. And while you're at it, stop pretending to be outraged that 103 people who come from a community that you have demonized and dehumanized and damned and insulted and vilified and rejected were hurt or killed. You've gleefully threatened them with hell since day one; now that 103 of them have gone through it, don't pretend that you are suddenly filled with compassion for them (and if you really are, then do the healing thing and offer an apology for the hate speech you've supported that leads to such violence).

That's all.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

A Weary but Committed Optimist

I am an optimist, not by nature (by nature I'm a cynic) and not by nurture; by nurture (the way I was reared) I am at least a 4th generation worrier. But by decision and determination and practice, I am an optimist, even when it's difficult to be (which of course is when optimism is needed the most!).

Optimism by choice can be exhausting.
When people PASSIONATELY will defend easy access to military grade weapons no matter how many innocent lives are lost to them, it's hard to remain optimistic.
I really am not asking you to turn in your derringer, or if you live in the piney woods of East Wherever, I am not asking you to stop hunting; we are just talking about reasonable restrictions on some types of weapons. Our own past and other countries have shown that such sensible actions will reduce gun violence.

When a group finally achieves civil rights and some measure of social equality and the immediate reaction is legislation that says all of that is void as long as someone says their religion demands discrimination, it's hard to remain optimistic.

When individuals make terrible choices, and their entire religion or culture or ethnicity is blamed (even by people seeking high office)...when that sort of unmasked bigotry seems to flourish, it's hard to remain optimistic.

When haters and lunatics gain power because ridiculously high numbers of people don't vote, it's hard to remain optimistic (and when those who do get power make it even harder for those who wish to vote to do so, it's hard to remain optimistic!).

When hate and fear, homophobia and transphobia, racism and xenophobia, misogyny and violence, hate speech and demagoguery seem to have all become mainstream, it's hard to remain optimistic.

BUT I WILL. I must. I have given too much of myself, offered too many sacrifices on the altar of  the gods of optimism to give up now.

What if my efforts to maintain and share optimism utterly fail, what if there is evidence to show me that it will fail? I will remain optimistic anyway!

What if some days my optimism feels false and naive? I will cling to it all the more stubbornly!

What if some days, and today could be such a day, optimism feels like a heavy load almost too much carry? Then I will drag it behind me, however slowly, but I will not let it go.

Some days, it's hard to remain optimistic. So what? It's too precious a gift to let go. That we have been given the power to choose optimism means we have also been given the responsibility to to do so. And when enough of us do so, and we remain optimistic long enough, things do change for the better. We've seen it; we've lived it.

May the victories of optimism in our memories inspire us to embrace it again and again, day after day, and never let the tides of fear, hatred, and division wash away our holy optimism. May optimism energize us to do what we can, to say what we must, to stand tall until we are knocked down, and even then to dare to believe that more possibilities exist for us.

I am a weary optimist, but an optimist nevertheless. Just owning that truth fans the flames of peace and joy within me. I remain a preacher of the Gospel of Optimism. Now, it's time to put that optimism work; please join me in doing just that. (dw)

Monday, June 13, 2016

Bigotry in the Name of Religion is Still Bigotry and It Has Consquences

The killer in Orlando was apparently outraged by seeing two men kiss in Miami, and his reaction was to kill 49 people in Orlando. Obviously he was mentally ill, and he may have been influenced by extremist ideology, but Heterosexism/homophobia was his primary motivation. Two people expressing affection angered him to the point of committing mass murder. Religious leaders and politicians whose rhetoric continuously dehumanize and demonize same-gender loving people are giving unstable people tacit permission to commit violence. Hate speech, even when disguised as a stump speech or a sermon, fuels the fire of violence. Enough blood has been spilled. I will not "agree to disagree" when it comes to the sacred value of LBGT people. Your opinion is not equal to someone's life. We must insist the bigots own their hatred and its consequences and stop blaming it on "God."

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Not the 1st Night Club Massacre

43 years ago this month a bar that doubled as a church in New Orleans was attacked. It was an act of arson that killed many people. It is devastating that history has repeated itself, that another gay bar In the South has been attacked leading to multiple deaths. Some will use this incident to stoke the flames of homophobia or islamaphobia or to launch a defense of military grade weapons for civilians. But I hope most people will appeal to "the better angels of [their] nature" and not fall into that trap. Let's mourn the losses, and reject the hate, and start to build a better world where all people are valued.

Prayer for Orlando

Dear Friends, 

Early this morning many of us learned about the mass shooting at a gay club in Orlando last night. We are always sad when senseless violence takes innocent lives and when irrational hatred disrupts our communities. 

Sunshine Cathedral remembered the victims of the attack this morning at our worship services. In sermon and in prayer and at Communion we called to mind the victims and their loved ones. Additionally, Sunshine Cathedral clergy are present this evening at a community vigil in Wilton Manors and at a rehearsal for "Not in My Town"...an opera about the murder of gay student Matthew Shepherd in Wyoming. 

The leadership at Sunshine Cathedral is holding Orlando in prayer today. We are wishing the injured complete recovery, and we are joining with people all over the world in mourning for those who were killed. We are also grateful for first responders and medical personnel who have worked vigilantly to help as many people as possible. 

Let us not use this incident as an excuse to fuel old fears, hatreds, or prejudices. This is a moment that can bring out the best in all of us and bring all people together to work for a more peaceful and just world. Let us do what we can to be a healing force in our world. 

We wish comfort for the families of people who were hurt or killed last night, including the family of the shooter who was also killed. And we call for an end to the hate speech that inspires acts of violence. Let us make every effort to summon the power of healing love in this difficult time. 

May the Sacred Power of Life bless us and keep us as we embrace hope and healing, and as we commit to being a force for good in the world. Amen. 


Yours in shared sorrow,

Durrell SIg 
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins 
Senior Minister

Gay Bar/Holy Ground

Gay Bar/Holy Ground
Durrell Watkins

The first time a man kissed me was in the only gay bar in the small town where I lived. Years of fun, community, and romance would soon after take place in another gay bar in another small town in the Quachita mountains. Visits to other gay bars in the Ozarks and in Northern Louisiana followed. Later, I discover a whole network of gay bars in Dallas and Fort Worth. Eventually I would find my way to gay watering holes in New Orleans, San Francisco, Chicago, Tulsa, Little Rock, Houston, Austin, and of course, New York. Even in middle age, there are some gay bars that I frequent in Fort Lauderdale.
Dance clubs, cabarets, drag bars, leather bars, S&M (stand and model) bars, bar and grills...it's where my people gathered. I made friends. I felt at home. I even found my "calling" in a Country & Western bar in Dallas. I picked up a brochure about a "gay church" and my life and future was forever changed.
Gay bars were oases, safe havens, sanctuaries for people of my age cohort and older. One might call them "holy ground." We were welcome, affirmed, and celebrated to the sacred beat of "thumpa-thumpa" when other places only sought to dehumanize us. Gay bars helped us feel sexy, vibrant, worthwhile. Gay bars raised money for AIDS and other charities. Gay bars were wonderful worlds unto themselves.
In such a sacred shrine, 50 people lost their lives last night In Orlando, FL. 53 continue to fight for theirs. A sacrilege has been committed. Not only has human dignity been assaulted, but a safe place for LBGTQQIA folk has been desecrated. I hope the Queer community of Orlando will reclaim their sacred space and reconsecrate it with courage, hope, resilience, and determination. I hope that temple of queer community will serve forever as a landmark to LBGTQQIA people, and I hope the lives lost there will be remembered and that glasses will be raised in that place to honor them.
Fallen comrades, rest in peace.

Friday, May 06, 2016

THOUGHTS ABOUT HILLARY CLINTON

 Hillary is no saint, and God knows she's a strong and strategic leader, but I really resist blanket condemnations of her character. She kept her marriage in tact when the most conservative among us would say she had a right to leave. She found a way to forgive humiliating indiscretions, and move forward to serve her country in spite of it all.
Yes, she raises money, but not just for her campaign, but for the party and for people running for all kinds of office at every level. Yes, she is highly paid as a speaker (should a First Lady/Senator/Sec of State speak at every garden club and elementary school for free?) but at least in the past would give give most (maybe all) of those monies to charity.
I may disagree with a position or two, or in skeptical moments wonder if some of her motivations are about personal success in her chosen field, but our country has developed a habit of enjoying believing the worst about her, and that isn't fair and it isn't helpful.
Trump meanwhile can insult women, immigrants, Muslims, poor people, even veterans and is given pass after pass. What makes his every gaffe forgivable and Hillary's every action and motive questionable?
I know what it is like to lead groups large and small for years at a time and have some people be willing to believe the worst when an accusation or rumor is hurled. Maybe that's why I can't do it to Secretary Clinton. I started by saying she's no saint, but neither is she a monster. I hope more people will consider that to at least be a possibility.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

It’s About Power and Privilege, NOT Safety

It’s About Power and Privilege, NOT Safety
By Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
My father was a public school teacher in the South in the early days of desegregation. Arguments against desegregating the schools included the need to protect “women and children.” Racists perpetuated unsubstantiated fears that racially mixed classrooms and playgrounds would result in “women and children” being harmed. There were no data used to support the notion that diversity increased danger, but facts never deter the fear mongers.
In my coming out days, gay teachers could be fired, gay people in the military could be expelled, gay people in schools, parks, or bar parking lots could be assaulted (often with very little help from law enforcement). Gays were preached against in pulpits, denied jobs and housing, cut off from their families, and forbidden access to youth organizations, and all because they somehow were seen as threatening. I once read in my hometown paper an editorial that said gay people “infested” public restrooms like roaches. To protect the children, we were told, we had to dehumanize, demonize, and ostracize gay and lesbian people. “Sodomy laws” criminalized our very expression of affection in multiple states, and marriage equality was a fantasy that almost no one actually entertained. Gays were a danger, the anti-gay narrative insisted, and for the safety of our families we had to treat same-gender loving people badly.
Now that gay characters are featured on television dramas and comedies, marriage equality is a reality, gay athletes and journalists often “come out”, and many faith communities embrace (and even celebrate) same-gender loving people, the idea of tormenting gay people in the name of public safety seems archaic, foolish, and even cruel. But homophobia is still with us, rest assured.
Now, the infamous “bathroom bills” are in the news. Once again, a community is targeted, vilified, demonized, and excoriated. Again, women and children in particular are being “protected” by dehumanizing an entire group of people, namely, transgender people. The targets change over time, but the tactics of hate and division remain sadly the same.
And again, there are no data to suggest that accommodating transgender people gives cover to dangerous predators. However, by demonizing and targeting transgender people, these “bathroom bills” are making transgender people less safe in their own communities. If we can see “the Other” as something less than human, then cruelty toward “the Other” will certainly follow.  It always does.
The unfounded arguments that minorities are more dangerous or more prone to anti-social behavior aren’t new; they are time tested weapons of bigotry used to dehumanize people in order to create hysteria that protects the privilege and power of the majority for a while longer. It’s time we see through the mendacity of such arguments (and legislation), and demand fair and equal treatment for all people, regardless of their gender identity, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, nationality, or physical ability. Letting people use the bathroom won’t pose any extra danger to our communities, but teaching generation after generation to hate, will.


Wednesday, April 06, 2016

We Must Not Be Silent

My dear friends,
 
By now you have undoubtedly heard about state legislatures once again dehumanizing and demonizing same-gender loving people and people who do not fit into false gender binary constructs. It is heartbreaking.
 
It was naïve to think that peddlers of bigotry would quietly accept the SCOTUS marriage equality ruling and it was myopic of LBGT organizations to not prepare us for such eventualities. Nevertheless, we cannot be silent as states continue to devalue their LGBTQQIA citizens.
 
To the councils and legislatures of municipalities and state halls of government, we must raise our voices with the prophet Amos to say, “Let justice roll on like many waters!”
 
To houses of worship and those who preach a pugnacious piety rather than a liberating gospel, we must raise our voices with a contributor to the Book of Isaiah to say, “Sacred space is to be a house of prayer for all people!”
 
To the holders and keepers of power and privilege who use every means at their disposal to enforce bigotry, division, and oppression, we must raise our voices with a legendary liberator to say, “Let my people go!”
 
To those who use religion, tradition, and sacred texts to demean and diminish the Queer children of God, we must raise our voices with an early church writer to say, “God is love and WHOEVER lives in love lives in God and God lives in them.”
 
Dozens of anti-LBGT laws and ordinances have been proposed in the last several months in multiple states and municipalities. These laws claim to protect religion (though people remain free to worship wherever and however they choose), privacy (while publicly demonizing LBGT people), and personal safety (portraying LBGT people as predatory, violent criminals lying in wait to harm innocent victims); but in truth, these laws are little more than attempts to legalize discrimination against people who have suffered throughout history for simply being different from the majority. These hateful laws do not advance liberty but deter it and people of conscience and character, courage and conviction must resist these attempts to oppress Queer people.
 
Of the many proposals to legalize and legitimate discrimination, North Carolina takes the lead in passing what is widely regarded as the most sweeping anti-LBGT legislation in the US. Justice workers are calling the new draconian law a “hostile takeover of civil rights.” Mississippi recently passed similar anti-LBGT legislation as did Georgia, but unlike North Carolina and Mississippi, Georgia’s governor vetoed the reprehensible bill.
 
We are currently in a climate where Muslims are routinely slandered, women are frequently insulted, immigrants regardless of documentation status are viewed with suspicion, transgender people are portrayed as a threat, and gays and lesbians are continually called “sinful” for their love and attractions. What is worse is that this despicable climate is encouraged by various political and religious leaders. It would be absolutely immoral for us to be silent in this growing climate of hatred.
 
Some political leaders, some religious leaders, some business leaders, and some community leaders are speaking out, and God bless them for it. It is now time that we all speak out. With our charitable giving, our spending, our speech, our votes, with every tool at the disposal of decent people, we must try to turn the tide of hatred and honor our national pledge that affirms “liberty and justice for ALL.”
 
I can promise you that the leadership of Sunshine Cathedral will not be silent while LBGT people and others are constantly vilified and attacked. We will with as much fervor as ever affirm the sacred value of ALL people, and we will declare boldly and consistently that religion used to promote discrimination is misused. We will not passively allow religion to be the weapon used to oppress LBGT people or anyone else. 

In the name of all prophets, preachers, and poets of Justice, we will not be silent. Your continued, faithful, prayerful support of Sunshine Cathedral will help our collective voices be heard. Our work is not yet done...
 
Your fellow laborer in the vineyard of justice,
 
Durrell SIg 
 
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Senior Minister

Thursday, March 24, 2016

A Justice Seeking Holy Week

It's Holy Week, and while the pageantry of waving palms, sharing a water ritual, recalling ancient stories, and finally, on Easter Sunday, celebrating the resilience of life, is all quite marvelous, cathartic, therapeutic, and engaging, it is also important to remember that all of it is inspired by a prophetic voice that imperial power tried to silence with extreme violence. That voice could not die, or at least it would not stay dead. It would rise up in the power of community and continuously seek to give people their dignity back.

And so, on this Maundy Thursday of this Holy Week I affirm the sacred value of same-gender loving people. Legislatures may try to silent queer voices, but they will rise to new heights.

Today I affirm the dignity of transgender and gender non-conforming people. Municipalities and state legislatures may try to demonize and dehumanize transgender people but the dignity of trans lives will not be erased by hate speech or fear mongering or oppressive legislation.

Today I affirm the sanctity of women's bodies and women's sovereignty over their bodies. Misogyny may try to control women and limit their choices but Justice will not abandon Her daughters.

Today I affirm the right of Muslims to live peacefully in this country without vilification or harassment. I affirm their freedom of religion and their civil liberties.

Today I affirm the courage of refugees who risk everything and leave behind all that is familiar to keep their families safe and to build a new life in what are too often unwelcoming environments. I take to heart the biblical mandate to welcome the newcomer.

Today I affirm the imperative of every person who can vote to do so at every opportunity.

Today, let us turn over the tables of hate and division and call out the peddlers of fear and bigotry and let us declare boldly that our society is meant to be a House of Goodness for All People. If this is to be a truly Holy Week, it must be a week where injustice is challenged and hope is lifted up.

Too many people have known their own Via Dolorosa, way of suffering. In Holy Week, let us not be content to accept the suffering, but let us address it and move forward to the promise of Renewal that Easter represents. Amen.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Right Wing Prayer Rallies Do Not Offer Me Comfort

A notorious figure from the religious right is insisting that our country is trouble, is having a moral crisis, has somehow offended God, and is need of some sort of spiritual restoration. He is conducting prayer rallies in state capitals all over the nation. While I am a person of faith  and a person of prayer, there is something about this that doesn't sit well with me.

I'm 49 years old and my entire life I've heard the religious right proclaim the end of days is at hand, that America has gone to the dogs, and that there is a need for "revival"...the economy has flourished and lagged during those decades, Justice has been carried out and denied, wars have been launched and avoided...sometimes things were mostly good, and sometimes things were challenging, but the rhetoric of "the sky is falling" has remained constant. I believe it is a ploy to keep people scared and agitated so they will comply with religious authority.

The US has never been a theocracy, and those who want to return it to that which it has never been are not seeking "revival" but religious autocracy. I'm glad for anyone who prays for our nation to be kinder, more prosperous for all citizens, more open to those seeking a home, more generous to those who are not in the majority, but prayer rallies meant to encourage a far right theocracy will not make America greater...in fact, they may contribute to its downfall.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Not Worried YET About Voter Turnout

So, I see people lamenting about the less than robust Democratic primary turnout. Let me throw some positive spin on the situation. The GOP turnout is apparently hearty. That's good (people engaging in politics is a good thing). However, they started out with close to 20 candidates, and still 5ish that are hanging on. Perhaps there are only two REAL contenders at this point, but still, that was a lot of candidates each with a fan base, and some of those former candidates have thrown support to some of the survivors. That's a lot of energy. 

Meanwhile, the Dems have two (really), and and while the discourse between their camps is disappointing sometimes, in reality, neither camp REALLY believes the other would be a disastrous choice. So, if I'm marginally more in favor of Clinders over Santon, but could pretty easily live with Santon instead of Clinders, I might be less motivated to take off work early to cast a vote. 

So, I'm not worried yet about primary turnout. I am choosing to hope that regardless of primary numbers, people come out in DROVES in November to vote. 

Women's sovereignty over their own bodies, the survival of marriage equality, the continuation of economic recovery, access to higher education and to healthcare, a non-hijacked supreme court, and true religious freedom (including the freedom to live safely as a Muslim, or as a non-religious person, or as a gay-positive/pro-choice/transgender-affirming religious person) are all on the line. I'm guessing those issues will be much more compelling when it just a two person race. I do hope so. 

So, Dems (and 3rd partiers), the GOP is showing us how to be good, engaged citizens throughout the process. Let's thank them and follow their example. But in any case, get your asses out there, stand in line in the rain for hours if you must, and VOTE (and demand that your vote be counted if there are any shenanigans) in November. A lot is at stake.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Sunshine Cathedral: More than an MCC

     Sometimes people will refer to Sunshine Cathedral as “MCC” (which stands for Metropolitan Community Church). But Sunshine Cathedral is so much more than a Metropolitan Community Church!
     Sunshine Cathedral is currently affiliated with Metropolitan Community Churches (a denomination founded by and for LBGT people in 1968), and  is also affiliated with the Divine Science Federation International (Divine Science is the oldest of the New Thought schools of thought; New Thought emphasizes the power of positive thinking, the unity of all life, and the omnipresence of God).
     Additionally, Sunshine Cathedral is an affiliate of the Global Justice Institute, an independent ministry housed at MCC New York that focuses on social justice throughout the world. Sunshine Cathedral also participates in the pension plan of the American Baptist Churches USA (which is also used by the International Council of Community Churches), and Sunshine Cathedral is in the process of applying for affiliation with the Progressive Christian Alliance (and other ecumenical organizations). In the past, Sunshine Cathedral has held affiliations with The Center for Progressive Christianity and the International New Thought Alliance.
     Sunshine Cathedral’s staff ministers hold licenses and ordinations from MCC, Interfaith organizations, Divine Science, the Assemblies of God, a Baptist denomination, and Centers for Spiritual Living. The Samaritan Institute at Sunshine Cathedral is the religious education program for the Sunshine Cathedral, the diaconal training school for Sunshine Cathedral members who wish to pursue ministry as a deacon, and it is also a ministerial training school for the Divine Science Federation International!
     Sunshine Cathedral members and friends come from New Thought, Protestant, Roman Catholic, Old Catholic, Unitarian Universalist, Jewish, Muslim, and Humanistic traditions. So, while Sunshine Cathedral began as a Metropolitan Community Church, it has become so much more! Please do not refer to your deeply ecumenical church as just “MCC”…we are Sunshine Cathedral, a different kind of church!

Hate the Sin of Homophobia, Not the Homophobic Sinner

We knew that those who oppose marriage equality would not just go away. Legislatures and political candidates are calling for laws and constitutional amendments that would attempt to continue to dehumanize, demonize, and demoralize same-gender loving people.
The evil of state mandated discrimination should horrify all good people, but what is as bothersome to me is when the extreme Religious Right has the temerity to claim that denying them the opportunity to discriminate is somehow discriminatory toward them!
Religious people do not have to welcome LBGT folk into their congregations (decency would demand that they do so, but no law requires it). Religious people are free to even teach their children to hate LBGT people (again, decency is trampled upon in such a case, but not the constitution). Both freedom of religion and freedom of expression entitle one to be a jerk, but those freedoms do not extend to denying LBGT people full citizenship and full equality.
Now, in response to the Queer community demanding full and equal citizenship, the far Right will accuse us of being “intolerant.” What a bizarre argument! If we do not thank them for their intolerance, then we are intolerant of their intolerance, which, they insist, makes us intolerant. That would be, by the way, a prime example of nonsense.
You can't condemn people and say that is your religious right to do so, and then say those who resent being condemned are intolerant of your religion! Religion is about how YOU relate to the God of YOUR understanding; it is not about YOU deciding who is unworthy of dignity and respect.
Yes, gays will no longer tolerate being bullied. Yes, gays will insist they are fully human and deserve equal rights. Yes, gays will call out homophobia and bigotry no matter how much one insists that such hatefulness is faith-based. No one wants to deny anyone their religious experience; we simply deny that any religious experience is a good enough excuse to oppress the LBGT community.
Finally, those who swing religion like a club will say, “We hate the sin but we love the sinner." I don’t consider being called a sinner terribly loving, but also, that phrase is ridiculously misused. “Hate the sin, not the sinner” or “hate the sin, love the sinner” are derivatives of something Gandhi said. He was referring to the "sin" of colonization. Gandhi, in his non-violent way, was telling people to hate oppression without hating the oppressor. The Religious Right has stolen that phrase to justify their prejudices, cheapening their own religion and dishonoring Gandhi's intent at the same time. The truth is, fundamentalists don't wage war on every "sin” but have a couple of hot topics they focus on and when called out on it, then refer to that old, tired, trite, misunderstood sound bite to justify their prejudices.
I suppose in response to their hateful, myopic attacks on the LBGT community, we should hate their sin of homophobia without hating the self-righteous perpetrators of that sin, but even without hating them, we must resist their attempts to marginalize us.

Durrell Watkins is the senior minister of
Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale.
Sunshine Cathedral is a “different kind
of church.”

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The "Spirit" Isn't Necessarily the Cure for Disagreements

My pneumatology, like my theology, christology, and ecclesiology, is rather "low." Important, of course, but I don't use words like "god" and "spirit" (or even "the universe") to suggest that groups, even principled organizations, are somehow guided infallibly by cosmic forces. In my spiritual view and experience, devout, sincere people can  make mistakes. In my understanding, organizations can mean well and ask the god of their understanding for assistance and still do really bad (or at least, ineffective) things. "God told me" and "trust the spirit" and "just pray about it" and "God will provide" are trite phrases that can become utterly meaningless, and worse, abusive. Honest disputes, real questions, faithful disagreements, and differences of opinion do not suggest an unwillingness to be open to spiritual insights. When church people disagree, and choose to hide behind tired old verbiage of simple piety rather than respectfully addressing the honest differences, they are neither honoring the Divine particularly nor are they offering anything helpful to a possible resolution of differences. My having an opinion that differs from yours is not an affront to the Olympian deities! However, someone insisting that honest disagreement is a mistrust of spiritual energies does cheapen the religious enterprise.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

A Global Justice Church

Sunshine Cathedral is a Global Justice Church!
     On February 9th, the Sunshine Cathedral Board of Directors voted unanimously for Sunshine Cathedral to partner with the Global Justice Institute.
     GJI sends out press releases and calls to prayerful action in response to a number of justice issues throughout the world, and often sends representatives to justice-seeking and consciousness raising events, such as peace conferences, the 50th Anniversary Celebration of the Selma to Montgomery March, a gay pride parade in Jamaica, a visit to an AIDS orphanage in Africa, etc. GJI also does important on the ground work in places where it is very dangerous to be lesbian, gay, or transgender; such work has included encouraging people in Malaysia and training women in Pakistan to have a trade so they can be independent and safe.
     The Global Justice Institute was originally comprised of MCC spiritual activists from around the globe …They were passionate about the Gospel as a radical social manifesto and about the belief that Queer rights are human rights.
     GJI’s work quickly expanded to include projects or partnerships in Pakistan, Malaysia, Latin America, the Caribbean, Canada, parts of the United States, Eastern Europe and parts of Africa.
     They were committed to the Yogyakarta Principles and to general guidelines that stipulated GJI would
     *go only where invited
     *assume there was a lot to learn
     *listen to those who hosted GJI teams
     *forge partnerships
     *respond when required
     *understand that the  priority was always the furtherance of the human rights effort on the ground
     GJI adopted a Mission Statement that read in part: “to be an agent of change by building bridges that liberate and unite voices of sacred defiance…in acts of justice.”
     The Global Justice Institute was started by MCCers but as of 2011 is a separately incorporated 501{c}3 that is housed in the offices of Metropolitan Community Church in New York City (a church with a passionate outreach to homeless LBGT youth).
     The Rev. Elder Pat Bumgardner is the Executive Director of the Institute. The Institute is incorporated in New York State and its bylaws comply with requirements therein.
     Sunshine Cathedral’s partnership with and support of the Global Justice Institute will allow us to reach more people not only with a message of hope but also with life-changing aid. With this partnership, Sunshine Cathedral is officially a Global Justice Church.

Remembering Antonin Scalia

It is bad form, and probably bad karma, to rejoice when an enemy falls. So, while Justice Scalia used his power and influence to marginalize, demonize, and dehumanize same-gender loving people, even so, I wish him the peace in death that he denied so many in life. The only condition I place on my blessing is that free from the limits of society and physicality, he might know and deeply regret the pain he caused. And my prayer is that the forces of homophobia and hatred that Scalia represented may never do psychological or spiritual damage to any person or community ever again.
Jesus said to bless those who curse you, and so, I bless Scalia's memory - may it inspire us to always work for "liberty and justice for ALL" and may it serve to remind us that we must be diligent against hate, and while we work against hatred, may we also be intentional about not allowing it to infect our own hearts even when remembering those who were not always just toward us. And may those who loved and who will miss Justice Scalia be comforted in their time of grief. Amen.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Don't You Hate It When God Tells You To Do Something That Makes It All Worse?!

In the beginning was the Logos...the Reason. Sometimes, preachers or denominational councils will say that God told them to do a thing, or that the Spirit revealed a thing, and that is meant to silence any questions or debate (e.g., the top LDS leader recently said that God told him to exclude children of gay couples from the rite of baptism). But if the thing that God supposedly told one person or one small group causes outcry, pain, distrust, mass anxiety, and if Reason isn't part of the process (but rather a divine dictate that can't be proven is the final authority ...how convenient for the one/s God directed), then a healthy hermeneutic of suspicion is in order. We don't have to agree with him, of course, but the Apostle Paul thought that "God is not the author of confusion..." Something to think about when autocratic decisions are trying to be forced in the name of God and the result is utter chaos.

Friday, January 29, 2016

A Prayer for Metropolitan Community Churches in a Time of Great Need

My prayer for the movement (Metropolitan Community Churches) to which I have given half my life so far. It represents my heart only. The movement has barely more than half the churches it had a decade ago, and morale within the movement seems to me to be at an all time low. This is a pivotal moment for the movement; all heart-felt prayers are needed at this time:

Goddess of Justice, Lord of Love, Healing Presence, Guiding Light:

In this blessed moment we pause to give thanks for MCC Founder Troy Perry's vision, his courage, his willingness to affirm the sacred value of all people. Through him, you opened doors that had been closed for far too long; through the movement he launched, many of us found a home, a family, a purpose, and a reason to celebrate who you called and created us to be.

MCC told LBGT people that they mattered. MCC was the embodiment of healing love during the worst of the AIDS crisis. MCC let people in the pews realize that "God" is not a boy's name. MCC changed the world.

But somewhere along the way, we collectively stopped believing that we were uniquely called to do a new thing. Somewhere along the way, we decided we wanted to "fit in." We were tired of fighting, especially after surviving and even winning so many battles. We longed for validation from the "mainstream." And increasingly, we got it. Our righteous indignation which fueled holy Queer activism softened, and as our passion waned, our effectiveness began to wane as well.

In a time when religion is being questioned and old attitudes are being challenged, we had a chance to be something different, fresh, beautifully radical. But instead, we turned our fears, frustrations, and uncertainties into internal battles. We fought for internal recognition. We fought for privilege within our diminishing ranks. We fought to protect the status quo. We fought for the thrill of fighting rather than to achieve any noble purpose, and when the thrill was gone, we continued to fight out of sheer habit. And now, the once compelling vision is buried and we see no angel to roll away the stone to let the vision rise to new life again.

The question so many ask today is, "What shall we do?" And that question seems to have many answers. Some will stay in a declining movement. Some will become radically ecumenical and join multiple organizations, not giving 100% of their devotion and support to any. Some will simply slip away. Some will end their relationship with MCC and start new relationships. We see these options being embraced already.

We have worshiped the deity of the past, the golden calf, Apis the bull-god of yesterday, and now our dreams and hopes are scattered; our tomorrows will be beautiful, but also dispersed. What we have known and devoted so much of our lives to is fading before us, and it is impossible to go back, and we seem to lack the courage and vision to be new again as a movement, so we must be new as individuals and as separate parish communities.

Where we failed, forgive us.
Where we allowed fear to win, forgive us.
Where we allowed personalities to trump possibilities, forgive us.
And whatever the future holds, help us to make the most of it and to thrive in the new day.

Bless Troy, your anointed prophet who changed, and in many cases, saved our lives. Bless those who will continue moving forward. We may never again be the MCC slaying the Giants of homophobia, parting the waters of terror in the age of AIDS, turning the water of discrimination into the wine of marriage equality, and showing the world that worship can be prophetic, energetic, empowering, and ridiculously fun, but let us also never forget that we were that MCC, and whatever we do or become next, that history is part of us and will be part of all future successes.

The days ahead cannot be known to us today, but what we can know is that individually, we still have work to do, and in our communities of faith, we still hold a sacred vision, and we know that as we remain faithful to our highest and best understandings, to our deepest and strongest hopes, to our truest longings to be your love in action and your healing hands touching people in this world, you will continue to work through us and lives will still be changed and blessed, and the world will be better because of our faithfulness.

In your good time, heal our grief, but let us not wait so patiently to do good in the world. We'll embrace healing as and when it comes, but we can't wait for healing to continue to build communities of hope, celebration, and Justice-love. So, let us be about our divinely appointed work, help us do it well, and fill our tomorrows with blessings that are better than any we've known so far. That will be a great miracle, but we believe in miracles. And so it is.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

HIV: Memories & Hope


     It was the 1980s. I was in college. I was home for the holidays and met some of my old high school friends in a local bar. We hadn’t been “out” in high school (some of us were still sorting out our feelings and attractions) but we had each discovered and happily accepted our sexual orientation since graduation. It was great to be back home and together, living out loud as the people we were meant to be. Our level of connecting and sharing was richer, deeper, and more profound than it had ever been. Living in the power of truth has that effect, doesn’t it?
     During one of those heart to heart and soul to soul conversations that young adults like to have late at night in dark bars, I said to one of my friends, “I’m so scared of this AIDS stuff that’s out there. I don’t know what I would do if I got it.” Without missing a beat, my friend responded, “I have it.”
     I was devastated. It was more than concern for my friend, however. There was a level of terror that swept through my body as if I had been given the diagnosis. You see, it was the first time someone I knew had been diagnosed with the HIV virus. His self-disclosure made it all very real to me. If he could get it, anyone could. I could. It was no longer just a news story; it was as of that very moment part of my life.
    My friend was luckier than many in those early days. He went from nutritional therapies to monotherapies to combination therapies. He survived as treatments advanced. And when the day came for me to tell him that I had sero-converted, he was supportive, loving, and encouraging. He showed me that a diagnosis need not define us or steal our joy.
     One day many years later, my healthy, athletic old friend, who had proven that the human spirit is potentially indomitable, drowned while on vacation. After going toe to toe with HIV with remarkable success, an undercurrent at a Delaware beach is what ended his life. It seemed surreal. My grief was powerful and long-lasting.
     It’s a new year, and somehow this new beginning brought to mind these ancient memories, but the memories are accompanied by a sense of gratitude for the strides we’ve made in HIV care since those uncertain days. The memories also stir within me a hope that people will no longer contract HIV (it is preventable). I hope those who are HIV positive will become aware of their status and get life-saving treatment. I hope people will lovingly remember those we lost too soon. And I hope that HIV awareness and activism continue until all who are positive are liberated from shame and stigma, all who are HIV negative remain so, and at long last, a cure is found.
     AIDS isn’t over yet, but I still believe that it can be defeated if we will remain vigilant. May this new year be a happy and healthy one for all of us.


Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins is the senior minister of the Sunshine Cathedral in Ft. Lauderdale

written for the Florida Agenda