Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Washington Wind Sprint

I’ve never actually considered running a marathon – much less prepared for one – but I understand from people who know about such things that before you attempt to make it 26 miles you schedule some shorter distance runs to get yourself in condition. And so I’m thinking that my 36-hour trip to Capitol Hill and back might just qualify as a “wind sprint” in preparation for the General Convention Marathon looming now just a week away.

It was a terrible time to be away – no question about that. We were in final edit on our “Voices of Witness” video -- which is premiering at General Convention -- and my absence from the production team at a moment’s notice was problematic, to say the least. And not only was it Pentecost and Youth Sunday at All Saints Church, we were also launching an historic inter-faith peace initiative with noted author and columnist James Carroll here to present a major paper critiquing American foreign policy from a Christian perspective using the war in Iraq as a case study. But wait, there’s more – Archbishop Desmond Tutu was “stopping by” to give his blessing and be with us for worship at the 11:15 service. Even by All Saints standards it was a Big Ol’ Sunday – and I had to leave in the middle of it all to catch a plane that would get me to Washington in time to be part of the first-thing-in-the-morning “No on the FMA” events on Capitol Hill.

Flew to DC. Tried to convince my body that it was time to go to bed when David Letterman hadn’t even started yet in Los Angeles. Tried to convince my body it was time to get UP when the alarm clock and body clock were in definite disagreement. Dressed in what I hoped was Capitol Hill Appropriate (suit, collar and pearls … part of my strategic plan to debunk the myth that lesbians can’t accessorize) and headed off to “the hill.”

And I would be a big fat liar if I said I didn’t stand on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, looking down that long expanse of the Mall to the Washington Monument with its echoes of gatherings, protests and movements past and get all choked up. What a privilege to stand on that historic ground and bear witness to the freedom this great nation of ours holds as sacred trust by speaking against this shameful, exploitive attempt to write discrimination into our Constitution. How proud was I to stand at that podium and give voice to the 250,000 postcards sent by Americans all over the country urging a “No” vote on an issue that is (in words I happily borrow from +Gene Robinson) a weapon of mass distraction.

I was there as part of the HRC (Human Rights Campaign) contingent and after organizing our sign carriers and getting our postcards arranged in baskets by state-of-origin we arranged ourselves in front of the dozen-or-so cameras that had arrived to cover the press conference. My job was to speak – in three minutes or less – from a faith-based perspective on the issue at hand. Here’s what I said

I am the Reverend Susan Russell, an Episcopal priest and pastor from All Saints Church in Pasadena, California. I am here today representing people of faith who oppose writing discrimination into the Constitution in the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment. As an Episcopalian I have taken vows to respect the dignity of every human being and as an American citizen I have pledged allegiance to a flag symbolizing liberty and justice for all. The Federal Marriage Amendment violates both of those principles and so I believe it is imperative that people of faith opposed to legislating inequity step up and make their voices heard in this critical debate.

We have heard a lot about Christian moral values in the marriage debate and as a pastor I want to say that moral values are of deep concern to me. I am deeply concerned by the shocking lack of moral leadership offered by those who would focus the energy, resources and attention of this Congress on writing discrimination into the Constitution while the war in Iraq continues, the Gulf Coast reels from Katrina’s after effects, the AIDS pandemic worsens in Africa and genocide continues in Darfur. These are the moral issues my congregation wants Congress to be considering – not a Federal Marriage Amendment which is clearly a political move to bolster sinking poll numbers.

My son is serving in the U.S. Army on active duty. Last October I sat in the bleachers in Columbia, South Carolina as he graduated from boot camp and heard all those brave, young soldiers swear to "defend the Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic." It never occurred to me that a few months later I myself would be on the steps of the U.S. Capitol to defending the Constitution from those willing to exploit it for political gain. My son and his colleagues preparing to be deployed to Kuwait deserve better than that. America deserves better than that. And that’s the message we’re here to bring to Congress.

From there we went to the Senate office buildings to deliver baskets of postcards to the senators. My assignment was one of my own senators -- Senator Diane Feinstein -- and it was just a little surreal to be trooping through the office corridors with news cameras and still photographers click-click-clicking away – recording our every move. Senator Feinstein’s staff graciously received the postcards we brought and I brought back with me a mental picture of the earnest young staffers answering the phones in her Washington office tracking calls coming in from constituents – calls that were coming in fast and furious while we were there on with our “special delivery.”

And then back to the airport and the flights taking me back to L.A. where I’ll barely have time to pack and head back to the airport for Columbus. Was it worth it – this wind sprint to Washington in a week I didn’t have time to go? Absolutely. I have to count it “worth it” whenever we have the opportunity to put a face on the values we hold highest – whenever we have the chance to give voice to the voiceless – to do the speak truth to power thing.

Waiting to board the plane at the Washington airport I got a call from a reporter in Houston working on his “getting ready for General Convention” story. It was in talking to him that I was able to see the events of the last 36 hours both as preparation and prelude for the challenges we face in Columbus.

The exploitation of gay and lesbian families in the game of partisan American politics is what we went to Washington to protest. Writing discrimination into the Constitution is antithetical to our core American values and I believe it is critical that we hold to account those in this country would use the issue of marriage equality as a wedge to further polarize and divide a nation looking for ways to come together to solve the many very real problems we face.

The exploitation of the gay and lesbian baptized in the game of global Anglican politics is what we go to Columbus to prevent. Just as writing discrimination into the Constitution is anathema to us as American citizens so perpetuating the marginalization and oppression of ANY child of God must be anathema to us as Christians. We must hold to account those in this church who would use the issue of the full inclusion of gay and lesbian people into the Body of Christ as a wedge to further polarize and divide the Communion when we should be looking for ways to come together to solve the many very real problems we face.

Just as we said “No” to the Federal Marriage Amendment we must say “No” to any resolution that would place the burden for the unity of the Communion on the shoulders of a percentage of the baptized. Our vocations and our relationships cannot be used as bargaining chips to secure unity for some at the price of justice for all.


Catherine said...

Welcome back Susan! I watched different networks' coverage of yesterday's events at the Capitol and boy, was the HRC event "marginalized" in the alleged coverage! Quick snippets of the HRC speaker, a gentleman, and a super quick shot of the steps with the HRC group and that was it. Bless you for going on the "wind sprint" and bless you as you prepare for Columbus.

Eric Swensson said...

Dear Susan;
While it was good to hear that you got chills standing on the steps of Congress looking out on the mall, and I cheer you using the terminology of the baptized in your speech, I'd like to take issue with one thing at this time. You have picked up the left spin that the MPA is a political ploy. Why?
If Matt Damon, the author, began this campaign over three years ago, why is it at this time some devious ploy. Why treat the Alliance for Marriage with such disdain? The yare a legitamate group. YOu and your readers might take note of some of their board members:

Board of Advisors
(Partial Listing)

Dr. Walter Fauntroy
National Black Leadership Roundtable

Archbishop Charles Chaput
Catholic Archdiocese of Denver

Bishop George McKinney
Church of God In Christ

Bishop Nathaniel Linsey
Christian Methodist Episcopal Church

Thann Young
Agape African Methodist Episcopal

Vernon Shannon
AME Zion Church

Dr. Ray Hammond
Bethel AME Church

Sergio Navarrete, Ph.D.
Southern Pacific Latin American
District - Assemblies of God

Prof. John Coons
School of Law
University of California, Berkeley

Rabbi Yoels Schonfeld
Queens Board of Rabbis

Charles Ballard
Institute For Responsible Fatherhood

Prof. Hadley Arkes
Amherst College

Sonia Valdes
Christian Latin Business Association

Rev. Alberto Mottesi
Alberto Mottesi Evangelistic

Prof. John Finnis
University of Notre Dame Law School

Bob Laird
Catholic Diocese of Arlington, Va

Father Richard John Neuhaus
Institute on Religion and Public Life

Bishop Peter Beckwith
Episcopal Diocese of Illinois

Oscar Reyes
El Pregonero

Bowie Kuhn
Former Commissioner
Major League Baseball

Katherine Spaht
Louisiana State University Law Center

Prof. Carol Schreck
Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary

Parker Williamson
The Presbyterian Layman

JoAnne Lyon
World Hope International

Prof. Scott FitzGibbon
Boston College Law School

Prof. Michael Scaperlanda
University of Oklahoma College of Law

Jim Ortiz
Latino Coalition for Community
and Faith Based Initiatives

Prof. J. Budziszewski
University of Texas at Austin

Bishop Keith Butler
Word of Faith Int. Christian Center

Fred Estrada
Hispanic Clergy of Philadelphia
Dr. Patricia DeVeaux
African Methodist Episcopal Church

Niger Innis
Congress of Racial Equality

Cardinal Sean Patrick O'Malley
Catholic Archdiocese of Boston

Prof. Mary Ann Glendon
Harvard Law School

Jesse Miranda
Alianza de Ministerios Evangélicos

Dick Richardson
Director of Political Affairs
Black Ministerial Alliance of Boston

Daniel DeLeon
Templo Calvario

Steve Chin
Boston Chinese Evangelical Church

Bishop William Murphy
Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre

Amatullah Sharif
The Mosque Cares
Ministry of Imam W. Deen Mohammed

Prof. Gregory Koster
CUNY School of Law

Samuel Rodriguez
National Hispanic Christian
Leadership Conference

Prof. Marshall Breger
Columbus School of Law
Catholic University of America

Rabbi Barry Freundel
Kesher Israel

Lois Poag-Ray
Pilgrim AME Church

Rev. Herb Lusk
People For People

Rev. Won Sang Lee
Korean Central Presbyterian Church

Carmen Fowler
The Presbyterian Coalition

James Heidinger
Good News Organization
(United Methodist Church)

Prof. Lawrence Adams
University of Virginia

Bishop Stephen Jecko
Episcopal Diocese of Florida

Vitus Cheng
Chinese Bible Church of Maryland

Mary Cunningham Agee
The Nurturing Network

The Very Rev.
Canon David Anderson
President and CEO
American Anglican Council

Ron Sider
Evangelicals for Social Action

Richard J. Mouw
Fuller Theological Seminary

Prof. Lyman Johnson
Washington and Lee University
School of Law

Robert L. Woodson, Sr.
National Center for Neighborhood

Prof. George Dent
Case Western Reserve Law School

Prof. Teresa Collett
South Texas College of Law

Dave said...

I don't give two flying figs who supports exclusion and preventing the church from being a universal, catholic church. They're all still morally wrong.

And thank you, Susan, for all that you've done.

Dave said...

"Worldwide, 85% of new HIV infections are acquired heterosexually, with the greatest number in sub-Saharan Africa."

And even in the United States, according to the same source, less than half of all HIV transmission is through male-to-male sex. (Interestingly enough, female-to-female sex is the safest of all. Shall we make lesbianism the norm then, and abolish heterosexuality?)

I also find it very odd that the very LGBT persons who want to avoid the dangers of promiscuity and settle down into faithful pairings are the ones getting the most flak. Would you rather have HIV spread unchecked?

shindo said...

Hi Reverend Susan!
I just wanted to say thank you for speaking at Capitol Hill! I enjoyed your sermon when you came to St Paul's (San Diego) and spoke at the Integrity fundraiser the day before. Keep fighting the good fight! Don't let the obnoxious people get you down!

Unknown said...

The good news is that we aren't talking about "Same Sex Unions" anymore. We're talking about marriage, which is what this was all about in the first place. The whole same sex unions thingy was odd - a second-class status for people who were claiming full inclusion.

Now at least we're speaking plainly that we are addressing what is the true nature of this social and sacramental institution, marriage. I know we love to compartmentalize our life between what is civil and what is sacred (the old "wall of separation" thingy) but marriage is both a sacramental as well as a civil contract. We can wave "same sex blessings" or "same sex unions" goodbye because on this point, Andrew Sullivan was right. It's disingenuous.

So - are the scriptures clear about what constitutes marriage? That's one question (I think it is). The next question then is, does it matter what scriptures say about marriage (I think it does, but the Episcopal Church has been clear by its actions that it does not - we have the opportunity to repent of those actions and reaffirm Lambeth 1.10, but is that truly what the Episcopal Church wants to do? I am not so sure). Finally, what is the benefits of marriage in civil society? Is it healthy for society to promote marriage - and if so, does really matter what or who gets married? What issues are raised by society endorsing same sex marriage? There are health issues (though this is more for gay men than lesbian women since the, er, plumbing is different) - sorry I need to mention it, but we do have to take off our rose color glasses and speak plainly). Perhaps we will find the health risks worth the benefits to society - or will health care industry have a few things to say about the gay lifestyle as it is actually practiced? WIll straights want to pay for the added health risks? When we take off the rose color glasses, are we ready for what we may see? Are we ready now to do that?

Obviously, civil society does draw limits (no one is permitted to marry children or your pets or your light bulb) so we do have limits. If a spouse commits adultry - it not only hurts the marriage, but there is damage to society (more health risks and the breakdown of the family structure). Adultry is not tolerated as a healthy alternative in marriage - so yes, there are limits.

But now we are examining whether marriage in civil society should have those limits lifted, especially amongst consenting adults. For homosexuals, this means that they can marry within their gender. For those in the Mormon tradition, it may mean acknowledging their historic and sacred practice of marrying multiple partners. Perhaps for bisexuals it will mean marrying one or more of each. Perhaps it's a lifting of the prohibition against adultry. But the question for society is how does marriage benefit society and what limits should we enforce? How do we define marriage?

For those of us who are evangelical Episcopalians, our starting place is Scripture - and that is why this particular issue is the presenting issue. The question that is before the Anglican Communion is whether the Episcopal Church still places the same foundational authority in Scripture and the role of revelation in our common life together.

Joseph Smith thought he had a revelation from God that men could have more than one wife. General Convention believes they have a revelation from God that men can marry men and women can marry women. The Anglican Instruments of Unity continue to maintain that marriage is between one man and one woman. All cannot be right - someone is wrong. Who is it?

Marriage is both civil and sacramental. Decisions in one area affect the other. There is no wall of seperation when it comes to marriage. It goes deep to the very nature of our identity, not only in the Church but in our common life together as a nation and globally.

Is our journey one of new revelation or cultural reinvention? For those of us who are Episcopalians, we shall find out.


Catherine said...

Baffles me too, Susan, that we can be talking about your presence at the HRC rally on the Capitol steps and somehow end up talking HERE about STD's. Weird and off topic.

Let's focus people.