A Slippery Slope

The capture of Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb general accused of masterminding the massacre at Srebrenica in 1995, is good news.

Ratko Mladic

It also is a painful reminder of the depravity that is alive and well in the world. This is nothing new, of course. Nations, and individuals, have, throughout human history, engaged in horrific crimes against whole groups of people, as well as individual persons in those groups. Think of the Middle Passage and chattel slavery in the U.S., untold violence in Ireland and Northern Ireland, Rawanda, and of course the Nazi Holocaust.

The seeds of such horrors were brought home to me on Tuesday as I visited Capitol Hill, lobbying for LGBT equality with other Virginia clergy. As we tried to enter the House of Representatives office buildings, we had to walk through throngs of angry protestors, both anti- and pro-Israel. The signs were ugly, and the shouting and screaming were, too.  I noticed mostly anti-Israel signs, but there were anti-Palestinian signs as well.

Police were very evident, and I was glad. Even though no one was killed, the level of rage felt frightening.  So it was unlike the actions of those, like General Ratko Mladic, who are accused of mass killings–and creating and filling mass graves.

Remains at mass grave at Srebrenica

Still, the slope is slippery, and it does not take long for deep hate to lead to murder, and group extermination.

Somehow, we must find a way to break the cycle of hate in Israel and Palestine so that it does not result in more violence. Please pray for peace.

I am in Washington, D.C.


I came back this morning to participate in Clergy Call, a biennial interfaith event sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign, bringing together clergy from all over the country to work together to change the national dialogue about equality.

I left here Saturday afternoon, after participating for a couple of days in the MCC People of African Descent Conference, and came back again Monday morning–preaching in Richmond in between–because both events are important manifestations of spiritually-grounded justice work.

I took the train early Monday morning, so I could sleep a bit, but still I stumbled in the first session, barely conscious. But it was not long before my aging body began to pick up momentum–the speakers were superb, and especially personal testimonies about justice work from the likes of Bishop Gene Robinson, Rev. Harry Knox, Rabbi Denise Eger, and Bishop Carleton Pearson.

We have real challenges in Virginia–it is an uphill climb to achieve justice for LGBT folks, and others, too–but I feel renewed. It is amazing what being with several hundred other activist clergy can do for your spirit.

Human Rights Campaign headquarters in Washington, D.C.

I also learned important things about social movements this afternoon from Beth Zemsky. I intend to apply the lessons at church and at People of Faith for Equality in Virginia–and tomorrow as we lobby members of Congress.

It is good for me to remember that God calls me, and others, to the work of justice and love, and that work requires intelligence, commitment, and most of all, faith.

Don’t Give Up, Sir.

I voted for Barack Obama for President. I say that to get my bias up front and out in the open right away.

At the same time, I do not always agree with him. No president is always right, or always wrong–although to read some commentators you’d never know it.

Still, I admire the man a lot. I like the way he keeps trying. I like the way he keeps showing up and saying stuff that needs to be said.

I disagree with those who think he gives in to the Republicans too easily. Sure, I often wish he wouldn’t do it, but still I know he is the guy who has to make sure something gets done. I am glad he takes governing seriously enough not to simply recite old mantras, and instead tries to make the best deal he can to keep things moving.

Actually, I think the man has guts.

What brought me to this today? I admire his willingness to continue to wade into the mucky waters of the Israeli-Palestinian dysfunctionality. I admire him for being willing to state the obvious, and tell both sides they have to give some ground.

I admire his willingness to call the bluff of Prime Minister Netanyahu. I have never admired that Israeli leader, even as I have admired many others, right and left. Unlike them, he has always seemed uninterested in peace. Unlike them, he has always seemed more self-righteous than real.

So, President Obama, thank you for trying yet again.

Don’t give up, sir. We can do it. Yes, we can.

Let Us Not Praise Some Famous Men

What is it with famous men? Why do so many of them seem to have a gene that causes them to humiliate their wives?

former Nevada Senator John Ensign
former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger

Now its former Senator Ensign and former Governor Schwarzenegger . . . but last year it was some ball player or another politician or an actor or a clergyman or evangelist. In a few months, or next week, it will be another one. And during this political campaign we’re going to have to endure a lot of speculation about former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich.

And lest you think this is limited to Republicans . . . think again. Men who are led around by their penises are found in all groups.

I’m gay so I tend not to run after women . . . but then I don’t run after men either. I love my husband too much, and I love myself too much, too.

There is something pathetic about a grown man acting like a teenager.

Fame or importance don’t excuse them. In fact, I think they are supposed to set an example. I am old-fashioned that way.

If you accept the mantle of leader, then part of the deal is to act like one. And a leader is a leader all the time, or he/she is not a leader any of the time.

Of course, if they admit wrong, God forgives them. I guess I do, too.

But I don’t forget.

Puff Away, Happy CEO!

I always give people the benefit of the doubt when I first encounter them. I also avoid judging folks when I know them, and I try not to judge people I have not even met!

Louis C. Camilleri

But Louis C. Camilleri tries my patience. He is the CEO of Philip Morris International, Inc. Recently, in response to a stockholder who is critical of the company making and marketing cigarettes, he said,

We take our responsibility very seriously. I don’t think we get enough recognition for the efforts we make to ensure that there is effective worldwide regulation of a product that is harmful and that is addictive. Nevertheless, whilst it is addictive, it is not that hard to quit. . . . There are more previous smokers in America today than current smokers. 

Where to begin?

First, as most any smoker will tell you, it is very difficult to quit. People do it, yes, but usually with enormous personal effort–and usually after many unsuccessful attempts.

Second, he actually seems unconcerned that his company makes, and markets, a product that is both harmful and addictive. I wonder how that feels when he is alone, by himself and looking in the mirror.

In the process, moreover, he provides evidence in the current efforts to eliminate government programs and instead trust our economic system to solve our problems. “Turn it over to private enterprise, and all will be well,” say many people who oppose government programs.

They have good points, of course. There are things companies can do well, very well. And there are things government cannot do well, and should not do.

But Mr. Camilleri reminds us that a top, if not the first, priority of business is to make money, to produce a return for investors–and if that means manufacturing and selling harmful, addictive products . . .  well, so be it.

Oh, Mr. Camilleri, thank you for your honesty, even if it seems misguided, incorrect, and even inept. I am praying for you–and I am trying not to get judgmental in my prayer, just asking for your well-being.

I also continue to pray for all my friends and their families and friends and all the others who are still trying to quit smoking, and those with emphysema.

Change Is in the Air . . . and We Need to Give It a Push

Public opinion poll results released yesterday reveal that Virginia voters are shifting their views on marriage.

In 2006, 57% of those voting approved a constitutional amendment prohibiting marriage–or any approximation of it, including civil unions–between same-gender-loving couples.

Now, according to the poll–conducted on behalf of the The Washington Post–47% of Virginians say gay couples should be allowed to legally wed. Those opposed constitute 43%.

This is not unexpected. Nearly three-fourths of poll respondents between ages 18 and 29 approve of same-gender marriages. As more and more of these people enter adulthood, the positive trend is expected to continue–especially as those in the over 65 age cohort, only 22% of whom support same-gender marriage, die off.

So, for the moment, it is a close contest in Virginia, but it will continue to get easier. Still, repealing a constitutional amendment is a lengthy and perilous process in Virginia.

Cynics among us think this is why opponents pushed through the 2006 vote. At the time, there was little danger of marriage among same-gender-loving couples being approved in Virginia. The General Assembly already had adopted HB 751, a statutory version of the constitutional amendment. The opponents, however, wanted to stave off the inevitable for as long as possible–so they acted while they still could.  It was, and is, a repeat, in different form and on a different subject, of massive resistance.

Of course, it also was an effort to continue the rightward trend on social issues begun in the earlier Bush years.

It is difficult not to feel some heartache, even bitterness, when one’s marriage, or one’s desire to marry, is subject to public referendum. Couples who have been together for many years justifiably feel wrongly judged. Couples who cared for or now care for–or want to adopt or foster–children wonder why their marriages are devalued by a society that claims to want stable homes for children.

We can take hope in the poll. History is on the side of opening up marriage to same-gender-loving people–just as history was on the side of those who ended the ban on inter-racial marriage.

In the meantime, however, we must continue to witness for justice and equality. That’s why it is important to share in the work of People of Faith for Equality in Virginia as well as Equality Virginia. If you have not yet signed up, here are links to their websites.



Take a few minutes today to connect, and join the mass movement that is reshaping Virginia. Public opinion is shifting, but it will take lots of work to change our constitution (and other laws, too). It will take all of us to create–and be–the change we seek.

Who’s a Saint?

Pope  Benedict wants his predecessor, John Paul II, to be named a saint by the Roman Catholic Church. Quickly. He is moving the process of canonization forward with uncommon speed, recently approving beatification of the former pope.

All that stands in the way of John Paul’s elevation to ultimate honor is verifying and accrediting accounts of miraculous healings done in his name.

This feels to me a bit like the process that former presidents and others often go through after they leave office. As the years go by, and we see all the mistakes of the president who replaced them, we begin to remember the former president more fondly, even if, when he left office, he was widely despised.

It also feels like sainthood by popular referendum. When John Paul II died, the crowds chanted his name along with calls for sainthood. Some speculate that Pope Benedict wants to deliver on their demands.

John Paul II was one of the most influential figures of the 20th century. He did much that is admirable: helping in a major way to end communist totalitarian rule in Eastern Europe, improving relations between Catholics and Jews, speaking out against the excesses of capitalism and raising up the concerns of the poor.

He also ignored the growing scandal over clergy sexual abuse, and may even have actively suppressed claims. He allowed Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then the head of the Vatican office in charge of church doctrine, to label homosexuality an “intrinsic evil.”

Was the main a saint? I doubt it. Was he a good man. Most certainly. Was he a complicated human being? Who is not?

Who might I nominate, if they asked me? Rev. Elder Troy Perry wins hands down in my book, along with the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, and Nelson Mandela. I might even consider former President Jimmy Carter, not so much for his presidency but what he has done in the 30 years since he left office.

Oh wait, they’re still alive. According to the church, only dead people–and only Christians–can be saints.

Tell that to all who will remember their mothers this Sunday–the ones who are dead, yes, and the ones who are alive.