The Raleigh Rant

Who is My Family?

Who is My FamilyI recently returned from a family reunion of relatives of my mother. She came from a large family of nine children, and some of her siblings also had large families so we had about 35 people attend of 2nd & 3rd generations. I am one of two surviving grandchildren of the Dahl grandparents who immigrated to this country in 1888.

Some of the relatives are interested in genealogy and have even done DNA testing. I created some family charts years ago but have not maintained the database, so it is out-of-date.

I also researched some of the records on my father’s side of the family that go back even further even though he had only four other siblings and his mother died when he was only three.

The lectionary a couple of weeks ago was on the Good Shepherd and about who is my neighbor. This past weekend caused me to consider who is my family? Christians claims that all people of faith are our family, but that is too broad a claim. My Bible study companions of 13 years are my closest family I suppose since all the members of my immediate family are deceased.

In the LGBT community, many people have adopted a family of friends and allies since their biological family may have disowned them. That happened to my partner years ago even though he eventually was reconciled with his parents. Adopted members of families often ultimately feel they must search their bloodline even though that sometimes ends in even more pain. Being gay was an issue I never discussed with my parents even though it was an open secret. Since I had two partners over a period of 13 years, it was not an issue that could be hidden even if they chose to ignore it.

The members of the small congregation I attend feel like family at their weekly dinner-on-the grounds every Sunday during the school year. Sundays always have been a lonely time for me because in times past they were reserved for time with my parents and sister when they were living. Although my partners did not attend church with me, we lived together and usually were together on the weekends.

Most advocacy groups like to pitch themselves are sort of like families since their members share the same opinions and/or beliefs. I reluctantly recently parted ways with the Reconciling Ministries Network since I no longer believe that the divisions within the United Methodist Church can be reconciled and that the denomination will split. That was the case with the other mainline Protestant denominations in recent years, and I don’t see that the Methodists will be any different.

A lot of folks like to joke about the political discussions and conflicts around the Thanksgiving & Christmas dinner tables where dissension often breaks out even among blood relatives. So what are the ties that bind? Whatever or whomever we chose to affiliate with may be the simplest answer. I consider my long-term friends as family since I have known some of them for decades. Even though we never lived together, our friendship and love feels like family.

Who do you consider to be your family?

Personal Reflections on Stonewall and LGBT Rights

Stonewall Was a Riot

The celebrations of 50 years after Stonewall in New York are permutating the posture of New York as the center of the universe. It is claimed that is where the LGBT movement began. Yes, it probably was the first large LGBT riot against the police, but it was not the first movement in the nation. There were a number of small organizations scattered around the country, some of which had more success than others. The Advocate, based in Los Angles, started national publication in 1969.

Yes, there were problems even in the big cities. Los Angeles had a notoriously homophobic police chief. The numerous gay bars in New Orleans were regularly raided by the corrupt police not to enforce morals but as a power play for more money. The riots over civil rights in 1968 all over the country had pushed LGBT issues to the background. People who were transgender were invisible as a matter of self-protection. Drag queens were called female impersonators and were popular in San Francisco and Las Vegas even though they were reported to have first started in the South. As the 60’s came to a close, the free-spirited sexual revolution faced a mean-spirited backlash.

My jobs in the 60’s left little time for political action, but I became more active sexually. I was firmly closeted in the 50’s, but by the mid-60’s, I freely enjoyed patronizing gay bars, baths, and restaurants without a hassle in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Dallas, Houston, and San Francisco. I picked up tricks in Mexico City. In 1967, I was living openly with a gay partner in Dallas in the gay district of Cedar Springs. I had a 35-year gap (1965 - 2000) in visiting New York City so I missed Stonewall. I also did not have the opportunity to visit Fire Island or Provincetown in their hey-day like some of my friends did.

I became more active in LGBT politics in the 70’s. The Texas Gay & Lesbian Task Force was formed, and a small publication This Week in Texas (TWIT) had statewide distribution in the bars. I recall going to a political rally at the AstroArena that drew thousands in Houston. I met Harvey Milk at a workshop in Dallas. The Advocate Magazine hosted a cocktail party at a large hotel in Houston for subscribers who lived in the “fly-over” zone of Texas. Obviously, they thought we lived in the wilderness. I “came out” in San Antonio. The first trial of a gay Methodist preacher was held there in 1976 that sparked a media frenzy.

The Republican Revival in the 80’s pushed LGBT issues to the background, but it was during the Clinton Administration that we suffered one of our worst setbacks. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was promoted as a compromise, but in practice it institutionalized discrimination in the military. It took 20 years to reverse that. Of course, the spread of AIDS sparked a backlash against homosexuals that was fueled by fear and promoted by right-wing politicians and religious groups.

The Supreme Court in 2003 struck down the sodomy laws and in 2015 allowed same-sex marriage. Unfortunately, there is still no federal law that bans discrimination in employment, public accommodations, or housing. The current trend is to promote laws at the state level to protect “religious rights,” i.e. the right to discriminate against LGBT people based upon religious beliefs. We still hear extremists who cry “kill the gays,” and they receive national notoriety for their hatred. The media coverage merely inspires more copycats. Unfortunately, transgender people of color remain the most vulnerable group. The Stonewall riots marked a time in history when the LGBT community decided to fight back, and thus they are well worth noting now

My views on the progress (or lack thereof) in North Carolina will require a separate article.

Divorce: Methodists’ Style

Divorce CourtIt’s time for the people of the United Methodist Church to have a divorce. Jesus condemned divorce, yet in our understanding of modern psychology we have come to accept it as sometimes a necessity. When people quarrel endlessly for 47 years, disparaging each other, and focusing on a single unresolved issue, then it’s time to move on.

We’ve heard pleas for reconciliation and discernment, and the Council of Bishops tried to open up church polity to more diversity. It failed, and with it we got a confirmed position of maintaining the status quo both in terms of doctrine and in church structure. Folks worry that the complicated structure of a connectional denomination that doesn’t have “independent” congregations will simply dissolve into nothing. The Episcopalians and Presbyterians did it and survived.

I’m not a “sore loser.” I simply believe that when we lose focus on the mission of the church to evangelize and to bring the good news to all nations, then we have the wrong priorities. The purpose of the church is not to be self-sustaining either in providing jobs for the clergy or the administrative structure of the organization. Our objective is not to enforce compliance with current dogma. Power plays and politics are just a sideshow.

Divorce always is a painful process and an admission of failure to fulfill our vows, but it is a better alternative to remaining in a destructive relationship that destroys the people involved. The pain and suffering of a divorce is less than continuing years of conflict that never can be resolved no matter how hard people may try. We’ve had commissions to study our problems and to make recommendations, but they didn’t work. The neo-colonialism of the Methodist structure has perpetuated a system of patronage and inequality. We’re trying to mesh many cultures without any effort at assimilation. Europe has faced this problem with a surge of refuges that we are only beginning to recognize. The United States has been a melting pot nation that has welcomed cultural diversity and yet brought people together in a community of tolerance and acceptance.

Now the United States is experiencing a clash of cultures, economic classes, and warring ideologies both political and religious. The United Methodist Church is only symptomatic of the broader breaches in our society. People claim we have become less Christian and more secular, but in fact we have become more representative of the many religious communities within this country. We’re quickly becoming less white, Anglo-Saxon, and protestant, and some in the existing power structure are frightened of losing control.

Let us separate with as little acrimony as possible and move on to a new structure with new hope and vigor and less fighting.

Come Holy Spirit, Come

Come Holy Spirit, Come

Jesus lived and died in an occupied country that was only a tiny troublesome corner of the Roman Empire. He also dealt with the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and Sadducees who collaborated with the Romans. He tried to stay out of politics, and his stories dealt with the concerns of the common people. So why should we mix religion and politics? The Republican Party has manipulated the evangelicals to do its bidding, regardless of the cost. Their booming issue now is religious rights, i.e. methods to skirt the law. The Democrats often have appeared hostile to organized religion and seem to favor the secular.

What is the role of Progressive Christians? John Pavlovich recently challenged us to try to answer that question. We do not want to become as hostile, but we cannot remain passive in the midst of such a crisis of the assault on moral authority in this nation. The language of doublespeak has infested even the church, much less the political realm. People don’t seem to matter; it’s all about power and money. What we call populism is a joke and an insult to the common people. How do we define the “common good,” and does it matter anymore? The goal of many people seems to be about winning the pot of gold and maintaining the privileged status of a few. Even a billionaire such a Ray Dalio recently commented on a 60 Minutes interview that we are in danger of losing our democracy due to our economic inequality and lack of opportunity for all.

Christianity has strayed at times over the centuries from the message of Jesus and the Good News, and we seem to be in another valley of deceit again. The church appears to be more concerned with searching out heretics than in serving, and the poor and disenfranchised are left to rot. Sure, we still do lots of good mission work and help in times of disasters, but so do the so-called heathens. We are divided not so much by theology as by a division of worldviews. Openness versus fear; love versus hostility; abundance versus scarcity. How can the Holy Spirit move in the chaos of such division?

In the most basic terms, the isn’t about who is right and who is wrong. Everyone thinks God is on his or her side. But how do we know what he wants? Yes, the Bible is a good guide, but too often it is merely used as a weapon. It is not a question of different interpretations; it is a matter of priorities.

The radical right has adopted two social issues: abortion and homosexuality as the litmus tests of religious righteousness. Nothing else seems to matter to them. Strange that Jesus never talked about either of them so are they just the sins of the 21st Century? Perhaps the objective was simply to create more divisiveness as a means to win elections? Pick a hot button issue and get elected or have some convenient bogeyman to preach against. Who are we to judge their motivation? The question is how can we reach across that chasm? How can we engage the power of the Holy Spirit to meet such a challenge? That is the issue of our times.

So What’s Next?

Early Spring in Raleigh

The uproar following the Special Session of the General Conference of the United Methodist Church has not subsided. The discussion has become more widespread and more heated both within the church and the media. Speculation is rampant, and at this point no one knows what the results will be. If I were placing bets, I would conclude that the Methodists eventually will split like the Presbyterians and Episcopalians did. I’m not in the political hierarchy of the church, in fact, I’m not even a member anymore so my opinion counts for very little.

On March 28th, Sacred Witness NC hosted a rally at the headquarters of the North Carolina Conference of the UMC to receive a petition signed by 1,300+ people opposing the Traditional Plan. Several hundred people heard a dozen or so speakers address their personal concerns, including the Bishop. It was indicative of similar actions across the nation as supporters of the Reconciling Ministries Network have risen up to express their concerns.

For the first time in years, I feel at peace and no longer in conflict with my church. I’m on the outside looking in: an interested observer but nothing more. I do not suggest that approach for anyone else. It simply was my decision for my personal physical and mental health

As for me, I’ve moved on to other things. I’m still involved with my local congregation and planning for an upcoming BBQ dinner. I’m slowly phasing out of RUM-NC and will miss Annual Conference for the first time in several years, I’m becoming more involved with the North Carolina Council of Churches. They have several initiatives that are of interest to me. They’re involved in discussions about immigration and gun violence. These long-festering issues are coming to a head in North Carolina, and the General Assembly is being pressured to take some action. I attended their legislative workshop at North Raleigh UMC.

We have more than enough local issues to deal with. The Mayor of Raleigh has announced that after a decade she has decided not to run again. Early reports predict a contentious campaign.

The regional transit authority, Go Triangle, has announced that it is abandoning the light rail project that had been in the works for a decade. The plan was opposed by Duke University and the NC General Assembly, and that effectively cut off state and federal funding. I expect that the lack of any plan will hurt future development in Durham and Chapel Hill for another decade as we continue to fail to cope with the rapid growth in population. Raleigh already was 20 years behind when it abandoned the Special Transit Advisory Commission (STAC) plan. We just don’t have the leadership in the state that politically supports public transportation. Charlotte is the only example of success.

I don’t have the money to become actively involved in the upcoming 2020 elections and don’t have a strong interest in volunteering at the local level. It’s way too soon to sort out the Democratic candidates, and it’s not productive only to oppose Trump. I wish we limited campaigns to three months as some countries do. The lengthy campaigns have become a tiresome process for the candidates, who face more of an endurance contest rather than exchange of plans and ideas. The public also has to suffer months of negative campaign ads.

Driving home from lunch recently, I passed miles of flowering trees in full bloom with a variety of colors, and the beauty stuck me emotionally. For a fleeting moment I felt happy.