Monday, May 28, 2007

Rev. Susan Russell on State of Belief

From the May 26-27 edition of State of Belief

Welton Gaddy: Our long time listeners know that we've been following with great interest the conflict within the U.S. Episcopal church. The disagreement about gay clergy and the blessing of same-sex marriages has reached critical mass in recent months, with a handful of congregations leaving the U.S. church to join the Anglican Church of Nigeria. So it caught our attention last week when invitations were sent out for a once-in-a-decade gathering of bishops from the Worldwide Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal Church is a part.

Now curiously, among those invitations, there were two significant omissions: Bishop Gene Robinson, the openly gay bishop from New Hampshire, who was elected in 2003, and Bishop Martin Minns, the man who led the group *out* of the Episcopal church, were not invited to the Lambeth Conference, which is scheduled for next year. This decision by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the worldwide Anglican leader, has prompted a string of protests from both liberal and conservative members alike. Adding its voice to the chorus of complaints that shows a church on the brink of a permenant split is a group called Integrity, a coalition of lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Episcopalians. We're joined right now by the President of Integrity, the Rev. Susan Russell. She's speaking with us by phone from Pasadena, California--Susan, thanks for being with us on State of Belief.

Susan Russell: Thanks so much for giving me the opportunity.

Welton Gaddy: I have read Archbishop Rowan Williams through the years, and, unless I am completely off-base, he has expressed some very liberal views on homosexuality. Writing that condemnation of homosexuality is ambiguous, problematic, nonscriptural. Why wouldn't he invite Bishop Robinson to the conference?

Susan Russell: I think at this point, the Archbishop of Canterbury is frankly in a very unenviable position of believing he has to choose between his own theological position and deeply held belief and the unity of the communion. I personally think that's a false dichotomy--one that's being represented by those that are determined to continue the conflict brewing, and to, in many ways, blackmail the Archbishop into bigotry as the price for unity. I don't believe it's a price that we should pay, or, in the end, that we have to pay.

Welton Gaddy: Archbishop Williams openly criticized Martin Minns for splitting from the Episcopal church, and being installed, in fact as a bishop by the Archbishop of Nigeria. Since Bishop Minns and Bishop Robinson are the two ministers *not* invited, is Archbishop Williams equating the two as troublemakers for the worldwide communion?

Susan Russell: You know, I'm afraid that's exactly how that's being interpreted, whether that was the Archbishop's intent or not, that's certainly the impact. And again, Martin Minns, who actually is a delightful chap, and one I've known for many years, has chosen to put himself outside the bounds of Anglican authority, by being consecrated as a bishop and then deployed back by Nigeria, into the United States, across diocesan and provincial boundaries, with the stated goal of evangelizing the "apostate, heretic Episcopal church". His standing is discretely different from the duly elected, consecrated, sitting, serving Bishop of New Hampshire, who even the Archbishop of Canterbury recognizes is appropriately representive of his diocese.

And so in many ways, we've said it in our press releases and will continue to say it in the days and weeks ahead. This isn't just a snub of the Bishop of New Hampshire, or of gay and lesbian people. It really is an affront to the *whole* Episcopal Church, and I'm looking for the leadership of the whole church to come up around this, and to stand in solidarity with Gene and with the LBGT faithful in the Episcopal Church.

Welton Gaddy: Susan, I'm not sure this is a fair question, but it's difficult for me sometimes to tell the difference between appeasement and reconciliation and sheer politics when it comes to a church. Can you make a distinction between those?

Susan Russell: I think that's a crucial question. I don't think it's an unfair one--I think it's a hard one. And I think that's exactly the hard work we're engaged in right now as the leadership of this Episcopal church. What I've asked, what Integrity has asked--we have not called for a boycott of Lambeth, which some of our constituency would like to hear at this point. Instead, what we've called for is for our bishops to think long and hard about whether their prescence there is in fact complicity with discrimination. Is there a way for us to have our voices at the table in a way that moves the conversation forward and doesn't allow Gene Robinson and the LGBT faithful to be scapegoated. I'm not convinced there isn't a way--I don't know what it is yet. But we do have 14 months until Lambeth 2008, so we'll see what the days and weeks hold.

Welton Gaddy: Has Integrity ruled out a boycott of the Lambeth conference completely, or is it a "wait and see".

Susan Russell: I'd be very clear at this point all of the options are on the table. I haven't ruled out the Archbishop of Canterbury coming to his senses and inviting the Bishop of New Hampshire. But I think at this point, the faithful choice is to have all of the options on the table, and to get to work together with a broad constituency, committed to, not just unity, but unity within the Body of Christ, which, when I look at my scriptures, when asked What does the Lord require?, "to do justice" is very very high on the list, and I think that's something we need not to forget in these conversations.

Welton Gaddy: Susan, will Integrity be at the table talking as a vital part of this conversation, or will you also be ignored and others have to talk for you?

Susan Russell: That's another important question, and it's been an ongoing challenge in the Anglican Communion. Since 1978, the communion has committed *officially* to a process of listening to the voices of gay and lesbian people. Until very recently, absolutely nothing has been done to do anything other than talk *about* us rather than *to* us. We'll certainly be present at Lambeth next June, and we'll certainly be vocal. As to where we'll be included officially, again, I think that's still subject to some negotiation.

Welton Gaddy: Susan, you're a good spokesperson. Reverend Susan Russell is the president of Integrity, a grassroots organization of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Episcopalians. Thank you for being with us today and helping us better understand the situation here on State of Belief.

Susan Russell: Thanks again so much for giving me the opportunity.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Some thoughts on courage

Originally posted last night at the Independent Bloggers' Alliance

At the end of the work day, I do a brief scan of blog headlines to try to get up to speed on what's happening out there in the wide, wide world (channeling the Poky Little Puppy). This evening, a predominant theme is that the Democrats "caved" on Iraq. Quite honestly, I'm not sure what I think about that. The thing is--I just don't have the time or interest to follow this story (and others like it) closely enough to have a genuinely informed opinion on what constitutes necessary political courage versus wisely playing the cards you've been dealt. So, guess I'm not cut out to be a political pundit.

But I've been thinking a lot about courage in the past 24 hours, after hearing this man speak at a forum at my church

His name is Davis Mac-Iyalla, and he is the founder of Changing Attitude-Nigeria, a support group for Gay and Lesbian Anglicans, and he is visiting the United States to call attention to the persecution of LGBTs in his country. Even attending a GLBT-affirmative event--something I didn't have to think twice about here in central Ohio would subject me to tremendous risk if I lived in Nigeria. If a draconian "Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act" were to pass, the penalty for being openly "straight but not narrow" would be a five year prison term.

From time to time, I have wondered, if Demetrius and I were born at a different time...if we had met in 1964 rather than 1984...would I have had the courage to follow my heart and marry outside my "race". It's not an easy question to answer. Mind you, part of the difficulty is my tendency to ask pesky, practical questions, such as, "Where would we have met?" and "How likely is it that we could have spent those long, casual hour together with our mutual friends?" But the basic question I ask myself is, "Would I have the courage to be that kind of pioneer? Could I really be that brave?"

Last night, I was faced with a new question: "Would I have the courage to risk my personal safety--possibly my life--in order to make hostile religious and political authorities acknowledge that I exist?

That's an easy one, and I can answer it right now.

No. Freaking. Way.

So I couldn't help but be awed, humbled, and impressed to hear Davis tell his story. From a statement on the first anniversary of Changing Attitudes-Nigeria,
In the first year, we have many achievements to be proud of, including our impact on the life of the Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion, which had previously denied that lesbian and gay people are members of the church. The Church was so disturbed by our visible presence that it attempted to discredit the organisation, at the same time falsely claiming to be open to gays.
At last night's meeting, Davis Mac-Iyalla described being arrested after one of the early meetings of his organization. He and his fellow members were beaten, and were held for three days without food or water (and without charges), before finally being able to get the bribe money so that his jailers would release him. And not long after that experience, he led the first national meeting of CAN, which was attended by over 1000 GLBT Anglican Nigerians.

I encourage you to read more about Davis Mac-Iyalla and Changing Attitudes-Nigeria. This is not an Anglican issue, or a GLBT issue, or a Nigerian issue--it is, quite plainly, a human rights issue.

The Daily Office (Sponsor of Davis Mac-Iyalla's U.S. tour)
Changing Attitude UK (The director of this organization was instrumental in helping Davis get Changing Attitude Nigeria up and running)

Also posted at My Left Wing, Street Prophets, Booman Tribune, and ePluribus Media

Update with regard to funding:

The people who wish to silence Davis and others like him are very well funded.

Changing Attitudes Nigeria is not. Josh Thomas, who arranged Davis Mac-Iyalla's U.S. tour, and who operates the Daily Office web site, is helping him raise the money needed to continue his work in educating the rest of the world about the plight of GLBT people in Nigeria. Donations are being accepted here.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Interfaith New Sanctuary Movement to Launch

Some 20 Cities Give Refuge to Immigrant Families Facing Deportation

Religious leaders, confronting the unjust treatment of immigrant families, announced the launching of the New Sanctuary Movement. Supported by congregations from across the country, it is a multi-racial and multi-ethnic coalition that spans the political spectrum and pledges to open their doors, hearts and collective actions to the “moral imperative” of immigrant rights.

At a moment when large scale immigration with its attending social and economic consequences demand reform, the faith community has united to call for policies that are both effective and humane. They are embracing sanctuary seekers threatened by imminent deportations, detentions and the severing of family ties. In most cases the undocumented immigrants have American citizen spouses and children. The movement considers the sanctuary seekers the human face of a cause committed to arousing the voice of people of faith and awakening the moral imagination of the nation.

The New Sanctuary Movement will be inaugurated on May 9th with events organized by interdenominational congregations representing a rainbow of racial, ethnic and faith communities. Activities are scheduled in Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago, San Diego and Seattle. A number of other cities will hold prayer vigils in solidarity. The movement began as an echo of the 1980’s sanctuary campaign, but has gained momentum as stepped up raids, detentions and deportations spotlight what religious leaders call a “cruel and broken system.”

The sanctuary seekers include Joe Liang, 26, and his wife Mei Xing, 25. They have two American children ages 2 and 15 months. The couple fears being forced to return to their native China. They applied for asylum in New York but are both facing pending deportation orders. “There is nothing more important than giving my children a world where the possibilities are not simply a dream,” confides Chen. The family is being given sanctuary at New York’s Roman Catholic Church of St. Paul the Apostle, at 405 W. 59th Street (Columbus Avenue), Manhattan.

Three immigrants have sought sanctuary in Los Angeles including Juan Humberto. Juan sought refuge in the United States after his father was kidnapped during the conflict in Guatemala. He runs a successful gardening business and is the father of two citizen children. His mother, who also arrived as a refugee, is a U.S. citizen. However, because he lacked effective legal support at a crucial moment, he faces an order of deportation. Juan will receive physical sanctuary in St. Paul’s Lutheran church and will receive legal advocacy and pastoral support through a cluster of congregations which includes Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Catholic Church, Echo Park United Methodist Church, the Episcopal Cathedral Center, All Saints Episcopal Church and a Mennonite House Church.

The inaugural New Sanctuary Movement events will be followed by a rolling series of launches in other cities across the country. Congregations will collect signatures for the New Sanctuary Pledge and have committed to material, spiritual and physical support in their sanctuaries and among congregants.

The New Sanctuary Movement pledge outlines three goals including taking a public, moral stand on behalf of immigrant families and workers; opening the American people’s eyes to the suffering of immigrant workers and families under current policies; and protecting immigrants against hate, workplace discrimination and unjust deportation. They aim to enlist millions of people of faith through signing of the News Sanctuary Movement pledge and other moral and material support.

“A sanctuary is more than a physical place for the faithful to worship. It is a sacred space that guarantees compassion, protection and the love of God,” said Rev. Alexia Salvatierra, a leader of the New Sanctuary Movement and director of CLUE-CA. Rev. Salvatierra underscored the importance of family values as a cornerstone of American beliefs. “We are responding to a broken system that is increasingly creating broken families, and broken lives.”

Coordinated by networks in California, New York and Chicago, participating congregations will provide the sanctuary seekers with a range of support services including expert immigration lawyers, transportation to the work place, shelter, and financial assistance. Sanctuary will be offered to families where at least one parent has a deportation order that would separate them from their children and homes.

Steering committee member Kim Bobo, executive director of Interfaith Worker Justice, notes that the New Sanctuary Movement is an outgrowth of a longstanding commitment to immigrant rights. “Immigrants are an integral part of the faith community. Few Biblical messages are as clear as Leviticus which says, ‘the alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt.’”

Rabbi Laurie Coskey, also a member of the steering committee, agrees. “Churches, mosques and synagogues across the country have always opened their doors and embraced those who are new to our country. In turn, immigrants have given their time, energy and resources to grow communities of faith. Now we are called to shed light on those long hidden by shadows. God calls us to use our prophetic voice to denounce unjust laws that separate rather than unite people of faith.”

It is estimated that more than 222,000 immigrants have been subjected to deportation over the past year in the stepped up campaign by Immigration Customs and Enforcement. According to recent data, nearly one in 10 American families is of mixed immigration status in which at least one parent is a non-citizen, and one child a citizen. An estimated 3.1 million US citizen children have at least one parent who is undocumented.

In the early 1980’s, thousands of Central Americans sought refuge in this country’s churches after fleeing human rights violations at the hands of US backed governments and death squads. Twenty-five years later the urgency and demands have given life to a new movement.

Today, the immigrant populations are not confined to individuals fleeing political repression. They are workers who pay taxes, law abiding citizens and families seeking refuge from intolerable economic and social conditions. They have been in this country for many years, have citizen children and contribute to the society.

The leaders of the New Sanctuary Movement acknowledge the challenges. “The large-scale immigration of workers and their families is complex,” offers Rev. Reginald Swilley, a member of the Steering Committee and former board member of the San Jose, Ca NAACP. “The current immigration crisis is rooted in historical, global and economic causes that cannot be answered with simplistic or purely reactive public policy solutions.”

By lifting the veil of silence, telling the stories and providing a sanctuary, the faith leaders say they aim to contribute to national immigration reform. “Silence is complicit,” maintains New York City coordinator Father Juan Carlos Ruiz. “Through our actions we are calling for policies that are effective and humane.”

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Standing up (and sitting down) for justice

I got a letter from my church this week, in advance of B.R.E.A.D.'s upcoming annual assembly, reminding me of what an appropriate choice it was to call this the Nehemiah Action Assembly. At last year's assembly, in his opening reflections, Rabbi Howard Apothaker provided an excellent (and, at times, humorous) retelling of the story of Nehemiah calling an assembly, including what, for me, was the most memorable line:

G-d does not just want us to do justice. G-d is *waiting* for us to do justice. G-d is *expecting* us to do justice. G-d is saying, "Get off your tuckus and do justice!"
Since one of the main issues being addressed at this Monday's assembly is predatory payday lending, the Nehemiah reference is quite fitting. From the letter my rector sent:

The fifth chapter of Nehemiah tells the story of how the governor of Jerusalem, Nehemiah, calls a great assembly to deal with a situation that is jeopardizing the rebuilding of the community. The situation has to do with the charging of interest to those resettling Jerusalem at such rates that people are sliding into poverty and slavery. Nehemiah, though governor, does not have enough power to make the nobles and officials of Jerusalem stop this blatant practice of usury. This is why he calls the great assembly. Confronted by the people, the moneylenders and the governing leaders, who allowed this debilitating practice, change their minds.

The parallels to predatory payday lending are so many that I can only list a few here. Interest rates that can exceed 390%. Fees tacked onto fees tacked onto fees until a $500 loan can only be retired by a payment of $3000. There are few regulatory statutes over payday lending in the State of Ohio. What B.R.E.A.D. is asking is not the end of payday lending but a just interest rate that cannot exceed 36% and the passage of regulations that would bring payday lending institutions into line with accepted banking and lending rules. The Nelson-Talent Amendment, passed by the United States Congress, that exempts military families from the worst excesses of payday lending is what we are seeking.

This is a statewide issue and B.R.E.A.D. has already begun meeting with state representatives and others who may be helpful in passing some new statutes. Payday lenders, though, are well financed and well represented by lobbyists in the legislature. We will need a great assembly on May 7 if we are going to use our people-power to combat the injustice of predatory payday lending. That is where you come in.

And the letter goes on to say that the only offering that is being asked of us is our time. With the kind of hours I've been working for the past few weeks, my time is a rather precious commodity. Yet I am mindful of the fact that powerful people are only able to get away with this sort of usury because ordinary people don't stand up. Heck, often we don't even *know* these things are going on, because we're so busy trying to keep our *own* heads above water.

But things like this are important, so I'm gearing up for a drive to the other side of town after work on Monday, to once again be "packed like sardines for justice". Because, well, I gotta. In a recent essay, BrimStone was explaining why the God of Fred Phelps and Randall Terry sucks. And I was thinking, mine doesn't suck, but s/he sure can be a bit of a nag sometimes. Always calling us, again and again to, "Get off your tuckus and do justice!"

Please click here for the information about tomorrow's meeting, and pass it along to anyone you know in central Ohio who might be interested.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Predatory Payday Lending

That's the issue that B.R.E.A.D. (our local church based social justice group) is taking on at next week's meeting. According to George, our rector, this is the first issue the group has taken on where there are actually lobbyists working against us.

Unfortunately, because I'm working these 10-hour days this week, I don't have time to research and put together a good post about the issue. Hopefully George will find the time to e-mail me the sermon he gave about this issue a couple weeks ago, because that was a good summary of what we're dealing with, and why it's important.

In the meantime, the Wikipedia page on payday loans has a good overview of some of the controversy around these businesses. There is also an overview on the Center for Responsible Lending web site and more information at Policy Matters Ohio.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

It's May!

Click here for Alexandra Lynch's diary about Beltane.

Every time this month rolls around, without fail, I get this song in my head:

It's May! It's May!
The lusty month of May!...
Those dreary vows that ev'ryone takes,
Ev'ryone breaks.
Ev'ryone makes divine mistakes!
The lusty month of May!

Couldn't find it on YouTube though. Phooey.

Still want some tunes, so I'm going with What a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong.