The Raleigh Rant

The church and homosexuality

The following opinion piece appeared in the Toronto Star on June 22 about the Catholic Church’s position on homosexuality:

The following 28-minute video appeared on the Facebook page of the Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church.  It is a summary report by the clergy and lay delegates to General Conference and offers a rationale for the recommendation by the Council of Bishops to form a study commission on homosexuality and to report to a special called session in 2018 of the General Conference.

The article and the video summarize the controversy in the Christian Church over the issue of homosexuality.  Both point to the fact that both clergy and laypersons are challenging the traditional dogma and doctrine of the church.  In the case of the United Methodist Church, our doctrine is spelled out in The Book of Discipline.  This was changed in 1972, and wording was added to establish a position about homosexuality.  We’ve been arguing about it at every General Conference since then (held every four years.)  This long argument over doctrine has weakened the vitality of the church and has taken energy from its primary mission of spreading the good news.

The General Conference is the legislative body; the various commissions, secretariats and Council of Bishops make up the executive branch; and the Judicial Council serves as the final authority on legal matters.

The report from the delegates of the Virginia Conference offered an inside look from the General Conference. It categorized the differences into four positions on same-sex marriage and ordination and noted the decline in membership in the American church. The result of the meeting in Portland was the appointment of a commission to make recommendations on how to preserve the unity and the vision of the church. The journalist who reported for the online edition of The Atlantic predicted a schism:

Read more: The church and homosexuality

The Deadly Triangle

The Deadly Triangle

The Pulse incident in Orlando combined the combustible mixture of homophobia, religion, and assault weapons into an explosion that rocked the nation. The reactions have been all across the board, depending upon people’s political persuasions. The big question remains: will another mass shooting change public policy in any way?

We’ve already seen “religious freedom” bills that legalize homophobic bigotry as a backlash against same-sex marriage. We’ve seen transgender people singled out for particular discrimination. We’ve had numerous calls for new gun control laws and bans of assault weapons, and the other side says we need more guns. We’ve heard the about the terrible state of mental health services in the US.  We’ve experienced a rapid growth of radical extremists of all stripes.  We’ve hunkered down in a state of fear, confusion, blame, and dug into our entrenched positions like the bunkers of WWI.  The bloody assaults continue in an expanding war zone, but solutions seem even further beyond the horizon.

      Violence as a strategic weapon of political and religious zeal isn’t new; it’s as old as history.  Only the players change on the world stage, and we’re witnessing act 2016.  Some have described the tensions in the US as the culture wars and the rise of religious militias across the world as a push back against modernism. The difference is that the wars are not limited to national states or even regional conflicts, but now we seem to be at war with ourselves, even within the Christian community. On June 14, the North Carolina Values Coalition and Keep NC Safe held a press conference at the NC General Assembly building to promote HB 2. They said the Orlando killer was a radical Muslim terrorist and not a homophone. Other Christian ministers have praised the killer, and the Lt. Gov of Texas commented "reap what you sow.".

      We have instantaneous communications all across the world, but little context or understanding of what is happening.  We had two great wars in the 20th Century that devastated nations and cost millions of lives, but they were not a new phenomenon.  They simply were grander in scale.  The conflicts now are as much about ideology as nationalism. We shrug it off and say we can’t get rid of all the mad men who are full of anger and have the means to kill a lot of people.  When we’re asked to pray for peace or comfort those who suffer, it has a hollow ring to it because we can’t see a path to the future. 

       Violence is still perceived as a viable resolution of conflicts.  In a world of uncertainty, we strike out at each other rather than cooperate.  We clamor for a small piece of hope that might provide some security while we lack good will and trust. Love will conquer all only when it is given a chance, and we only see glimpses of it here and there.  All of the LGBT vigils across the nation this week have talked about love and grieved for the victims and their families.  Many religious leaders and the President of the United States decried the violence against the LGBT community.  Even the Governor of North Carolina lowered the flags in memory of the disaster. But a few inside the NC legislature and others still see the murders as God’s will. How can we dialogue with such a perverse group of people?      

Status of HB 2

Status of NC HB 2

The Charlotte City Council tried negotiating with the leadership of the General Assembly to find a way to lessen the damages that are happening to the state’s economy, particularly Charlotte, which has been hard hit.  The General Assembly refused to budge on HB 2, and the council voted to uphold its anti-discrimination ordinance so it has come to a stand-off.

HB 2 was merely North Carolina’s version of the backlash that has been occuring in legislatures across the nation against the decisions of the courts (at many levels) supporting LGBT rights.  Some states have chosen to push “religious freedom” laws that provide exceptions that allow people to ignore or disobey federal laws and regulations simply by stating that those laws violate their religious beliefs.  North Carolina chose a much broader approach striking down all LGBT minority rights, including those regarding employment, housing, and public accomodations.  They nullified all local ordinances that provided protections for LGBT people.  The General Assembly said they didn’t nullify any of the policies of private companies or corporations, only public entities, such as cities, schools, and universities.

      These organizations are now caught in a bind between the President’s proclamation on transgender rights and their exclusion in HB 2.  The result has been a series of lawsuits filed in opposition and in support of the law by state, federal, and private plaintiffs.  It’s anyone’s guess how long these cases could be tied up in the courts.  In the meantime, the economic impact continues to grow.  Some rural legislators, who resent the urban booms, apparently don’t care about the impact of HB2 since the growth has largely missed the rural counties that are still hurting from the loss of manufacturing jobs from decades ago.  They have been left behind in the information economy in spite of efforts to expand broadband internet access statewide.

      It’s not just the politicians who are split on this issue, the churches are also divided.  The more progressive denominations have moved on, but the fundamentalists still insist on the Old Testatment’s citations about homosexuality.  Of course, those scriptures that cite such “abominations” also declare the same penalities for eating pork of shellfish.  At that time there was no separation of church and state, and the health codes of a desert country with no refrigeration were reasonable in avoiding certain diseases. If the fundamentalists really believe in  literally obeying all of the 613 rules of 1st Century Judaism, then they are behaving abominally for eating pulled pork. 

      The so-called culture wars are as much about education and economic class as religiosity.  For the first 100 years of this nation, the Bible was cited as justifying slavery, and we fought a civil war over the divide.  The abolition of slavery ruined the plantation economy and set back the South decades.  The modern South with the right-to-work laws and air-conditioning brought jobs and migrants from the North.  Then the small textile and furniture plants moved to even lower-wage countries, and those jobs aren’t coming back.  So many rural residients still survive on subsistence farming, particularly with the loss of their major crop tobacco. 

      Especially in the past year we have been reminded that racism is still endemic on this country, and the idea of society accepting queers is even more threatening to the status quo.  The folks on the bottom rung of the ladder need somebody to blame and to hate for their plight.

      The struggle of HB 2 is just beginning.

NC HB 2 consequences

            In the month since NC HB 2 was passed, the outcry from businesses, churches, and many other organizations, the Governor and the leadership of the NC General Assembly have stonewalled all the opposition to the bill.  They claimed that the bill was misinterpreted, manipulated by the media, and used by the opposition to further their agenda.  The Governor appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” even though he had avoided all questions from local media for weeks.  According to him, it was all a big misunderstanding, and all that was required was a little dialogue to smooth out the rough spots.  In spite of the fact that the bill was passed and signed within 12 hours with little opportunity for discussion even within the General Assembly, he only called for more discussion.  They have tried to frame the debate as between Christians and secularists, but most Christians object.

      The legislation already has caused severe damage to the reputation to the state, cost the loss of hundreds of jobs, and even the United Kingdom issued a warning about travel to North Carolina. The leaders have firmly stood their ground, ignored the protests, cancellations, and general ridicule.  They have defended their actions based upon the principle of defending “the public safety” and the urgency of the legislation because a Charlotte Ordinance was about to go into effect.  The ordinance was similar to dozens of other cities both nationally and within the state.  In other words, they continue to pander to the radical right who has been roused by the big lie and fear mongering.

      This legislation was a variation in the wording (but similar in effect) to legislation passed in other states defending “religious freedom,” which in several cases already have been overturned by the courts.  This trend clearly is a reaction to the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court declaring the U.S. Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional.  The result was to make same-sex marriage legal in all states. The so-called Culture Wars are in full passion and fit the mood of the hostile political debates that are dividing the nation before we even have an election.

      The LGBT community has been the target of the radical right for decades as they cling to the social norms of the 19th Century and refuse to acknowledge that public opinion is against them.  It really is a generational issue, where most young people could care less.

      Unfortunately the dividing line runs between North Carolina and Mississippi and the rest of the nation, and the citizens of both states are suffering the consequences.  There are six months until the elections, and the leadership of the North Carolina General Assembly has dug into the trenches and seems immune to the public outcry over their ill-considered actions.  The attitude of the past five years of “We’re in political control, and we can do whatever we damn well please regardless of how stupid it may be.” Meanwhile, the poor, the unemployed, teachers, minorities, and nearly everyone besides Art Pope suffer the consequences.

NC General Assembly challenged on discrimination law

            A sell-out crowd at the NC Policy Watch’s regular “Crucial Conversations” Tuesday heard a panel discussion on the law passed by the General Assembly last week (HB2) that rescinded the anti-discrimination ordinance recently amended by the Charlotte City Council.  The new law applies to all public entities in the state (not just Charlotte) and is effective immediately.

      Former legislator and Executive Director of the NC Justice Center Rick Glazier led off the discussion with a list of 18 legal issues with the law that was passed and signed in only 12 hours.  Aside from the bizarre breach in legislative procedures, the law has resulted in many unintended consequences.

Mayor Jennifer Roberts of Charlotte was thankful for all of the support in spite of numerous hateful emails.  She said, “Justice is not just for some people; it is for everyone.” The same ordinance has been on the books since 1968.   They just recently added LGBTQ wording regarding sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.  Numerous public hearings were held, and the public supports the ordinance, which only mentions public accommodations, employment and housing.  There also was no mention of setting a minimum wage; that issue was added and prohibited by the General Assembly. More than 200 cities have similar ordinances. She has lived in countries without the rule of law, where influence and corruption rule. She will be meeting with the city's lawyers to determine the impact of the new law.  The response to HB 2 has been swift, as hundreds of hotel rooms have been canceled as film crews left and three conventions went elsewhere.  They will continue to work against discrimination, but they have to live within state law.

Director of ACLU NC Chris Brook compared NC with the South Dakota governor and how he handled similar legislation.  When you pass a law in 12 hours, you don't know what it contains and what the consequences may be. Public officials are questioning what the impact will be and how to deal with it. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Colorado state law that over ruled a similar ordinance in Boulder.  He also explained the lawsuit that was filed Monday.

One of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit Joaquin Carcaño told his story that his insurance doesn't cover any transgender procedures or treatments. He works in HIV case management and travels extensively in rural areas, and now is fearful for his safety because of all the negative publicity about transgender people. He said, “We're not asking for special treatment; we only want to be treated like anyone else.”  The law will encourage public threats of violence and has no practical means of enforcement nor does it cite any penalties for violating the law.

Robert Chandler with the Small Business Owners Organization noted that they employ half of the private work force.  He commented, “We are a pragmatic and practical group, and two-thirds of our owners say the state should not deny LGBTQ people access to the same rights as others and would support federal legislation to enforce that.

Repeal of the legislation is unlikely since 72 state legislators are running unopposed in gerrymandered districts, and the majority who voted for HB2 did so because they could and don't face any political consequences.   Enforcement of the law has now been handed over to the state Human Relations Commission, which was defunded last year.  So it is unclear how it may be enforced or how quickly the lawsuit may be heard.