revised   06.07.30 --  Please reload/refresh....On the web since.1997.

click for information about these symbols of world religions and liberation movements


Return to MAIN MENU

a column by Vern Barnet printed monthly in CAMP.

 2005 Jan 1 - Jul 2007

Labels for Sexuality Seem Oppressive, Not Liberating

The discussion these pages have displayed about the word “queer” with Stephanie Bottoms, Jamie Tyroler and Don Charles attracted the attention of an international scholar at the national Interfaith Academies held here about which I wrote last.

The scholar was particularly impressed with the brilliant way Jamie negotiated the terminology and the problem of language for someone who wants to be honest in describing oneself but feels the inadequacy of the labels that are currently in use.

I feel the same way. I’ll explain, but first let me note  the editorial policy of this paper which provides a rich variety of views. I mention this because what I am about to say is politically incorrect. Few editors or readers of such publications will agree.

I have no problem saying, “I like guys.” What is not said is just as important as what is.

I will not say, “I am gay.” This expression implies sexual orientation, and I do not agree with the notion of orientation that most people hold.

Study of world religions has convinced me that orientation is a social construct, not a biological condition, just as gender roles are largely learned, not inherent. The West characterizes the male as active, the female passive; in Tibetan Buddhism, for example, it is the woman who is often considered active.

Most cultures have simply assumed that everyone is capable of both same- and opposite-sex behavior and had no conception of “orientation.” Thus Caesar, who missed few sexual opportunities, was known as “the husband to every wife and the wife to every husband.”

Religions prohibiting homosexual behavior usually did so because producing children was more important than pleasure — the same reason masturbation and coitus interruptus were condemned. The ancient Hebrews exemplify this perspective. The Talmud condemns celibacy. But the concern is behavior, with no conception of orientation involved.

Religions favoring same-sex relationships often did so as part of a conservative, age-structured educational process, as in the military system of ancient Sparta. There same-sex relationships and heterosexual marriage supplemented each other. The later Celtic
warriors also were expected to engage in same-sex love. Some traditions expect all young men to practice same-sex behavior as preparation for heterosexual marriage.

The Romans honored same-sex marriages and the Japanese samurai institutionalized same-sex unions. The Chinese in the Ming dynasty, many Native American and African tribes, and other European, Asian and South American cultures accepted such relationships. But they did so because of respect for  choice, not because of orientation.

Entire cultures, like the ancient Greeks, could make same-sex behavior normative because human sexuality is plastic, rather than fixed, which “orientation” implies. By the way, the term “homosexual” was invented by a German penologist in 1869. I think terms like “homosexual,” “gay,” and “queer” can be oppressive rather than liberating.

Sexual choice seems to be influenced by at least four factors: genetic, imprinting, conditioning, and situations.
In recent times, a genetic explanation has been favored, particularly by liberal religious groups, while conservatives have often argued that same-sex behavior is simply a choice.

Imprinting is an explanation derived from zoology which suggests that at a crucial age before one can remember, one profoundly notices someone of the same or opposite gender at the point of developing a sense of sexual identity or attraction or aversion.

Conditioning refers to social expectations. The universal male participation in same-sex relationships in ancient Sparta, for example, can be explained this way.
Situational sex includes experimentation and behavior by cowboys, soldiers, inmates and others temporarily deprived of opportunities with those of the opposite sex.
With few exceptions, religious history does not weigh these factors. It does suggest that human sexuality is far more individual than any categories can capture.

How Same-Sex Relationships

Same-sex behavior and relationships bedevil many Christian groups.  “God is love,” says 1 John 4:8, so I use the term “bedevil” to highlight the difference between a religion of love in theory with the practice of discrimination supported by churches. Society is enriched by mutually-consenting adult relationships, and God’s grace is extended by partners caring for each other.

One of the glories of the Catholic Church is its tradition of teachings of social justice. But its anti-sex hangover from Augustine has been manifested in our time by the hierarchy's cover-up of priestly abuse, besmirching the many honorable priests who devote their lives in love to their parishes. The problem the Church has with sex is clear when most Catholics disagree with the Church’s prohibition of the contraceptive pill. Most uncoerced Catholics also favor promising stem-cell research which might develop therapies for diabetes, Alzheimer's, spinal chord injuries, and dozens of other conditions, but locally the Church leadership has sought to advance theological propositions as if they were science.

Some mainline Protestant churches do a better job welcoming LGBT people into lay leadership. Some even affirm LGBT clergy. But other Protestants seem unaware how their theologies can be used to justify discrimination and even hate crimes.

Our culture, slowing moving toward legal equality for same-sex couples, could benefit from understanding other cultures. As I’ve written here before, most  cultures throughout history and across the globe have either tolerated or actively praised same-sex attraction.
This discovery, at odds with the common assumption of universal religious oppression on the basis of the single sample of recent Christianity, provides a special gate through which interfaith understanding can be pursued.

This month Kansas City hosts the nation’s first  “Interfaith Academies for Religious Professionals and Emerging Religious Leaders,” with a partnership among Harvard University’s Pluralism Project. Religions for Peace USA at the United Nations Plaza, the Saint Paul School of Theology, and the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council.
Scholars and students from around the country gather here for classroom study, visits to Orthodox Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, and Buddhist sites, and excursions to a Royals game and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

In addition, several events are open to the public, including a showing of Divided We Fall Monday, June 18 at 7:30 pm at the Tivoli Cinemas with an expert panel following, in cooperation with OpenCircle, 816 931 0738, Dr Tarunjit Singh Butalia, will be the lead respondent, followed by Dr John Thatamanil, Prof Yehezkel Landau, the Rev Peggy Thomas (from the Academies) and Kansas City  Star religion columnist Bill Tammeus. I’ll moderate the panel and audience Q&A.

Another event to which the public is invited is a “Religion and Media” panel Saturday, June 23 from 2 to 5 pm, at the Saint Paul School of Theology Holter Center, 5123 E Truman Rd. The panelist are Tom Fox (former publisher, and before that, editor of The National Catholic Reporter), Dave Helling (electronic and print reporter for The Kansas City Star), Jack Cashill (editor of Ingram’s), Fatimah Al-Zahra (former editor of the UMKC campus paper, now a law student), and Bill Norton (assistant features editor at The Kansas City Star including the faith page).

One of the five areas of exploration for each of the faiths to be studied is “how faith is applied to daily life in terms of spirituality and social engagement.” Among the many issues this includes is human sexuality, and same-sex issues in particular.

I hope you are proud that Kansas City has developed the interfaith infrastructure so attractive that we were selected for this well-funded pilot program. Let’s use this recognition to advance LGBT rights and spiritual values everywhere.

No-Complaints Campaign Turns Its Back to Injustice

Gay Pride may be a time for celebration, but it would not be happening unless a lot of people complained  years ago.

I write this in the context of a shallow, silly campaign for us to stop complaining.

On June 28, 1969, the New York Stonewall Riots marked a saving, transforming moment in the way LGBT folk related to the oppression against them.

Like Gandhi who used the Salt March to protest the British rule of India which forbade Indians to make salt by evaporating water from the ocean, and like Martin Luther King, Jr, who provoked confrontation when negotiations failed to remedy injustice, in 1966 Richard Leitsch, president of the New York City chapter of the Mattachine Society, organized a “sip-in” to test the rule against bars serving groups of three or more homosexuals.

This background and many other factors led to the 
Stonewall resistance, sometimes called “the hairpin drop heard round the world,” involving 2000 gender non-conformists fighting with 400 police officers.
One result was the formation of the Gay Liberation Front, which inspired similar complaints in Canada, France, the UK, Australia, and elsewhere.

The following year, perhaps 10,000 men and women paraded from Greenwich Village to Central Park.  Since those complaints, many American cities have created Gay Pride observances and the rights of LGBT people have advanced greatly.

So I regard the “no complaint” movement, no matter how well-meaning, as anti-gay. It is also anti-black, anti-peace, anti-women, and anti-justice in general.

It has no religious legitimacy. The Hebrew prophets were complainers. Jesus frequently ragged on the rich exploiting the poor. Muhammad confronted the selfishness he saw in his own society. One of the things I love about the Jewish tradition is its normalization of complaining, even arguing with God.

I am embarrassed that “no-complaints” bracelets — 4,500,000 so far distributed throughout the world — come from a well-meaning but insufficently thoughtful Kansas City congregation.

While needless complaining is not very helpful, this bracelet movement justifies thinking of religion as “the opiate of the people.” Get the churches to get people to shut up about what’s wrong with our political system, for example, and you can run the country the way you want.
Would we even have a country except for complaints? By far, most of text of the Declaration of Independence is a list of complaints and grievances.

The “no-complaints” movement is immoral not only because it disallows mentioning social ills but also because it suggests that religion is merely a personal thing. The New Age narcissistic focus on oneself sometimes closes the mind and heart to the needs of others, a bliss-ninny approach to the life of the spirit.

This approach is popular, and its narcissism is illustrated in an astonishingly insipid song, often sung in churches with the best of intent but with obvious grandiosity, self-absorption, and self-aggrandizement: “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” Why can’t it begin with George Bush?

Do you think this song, which fails even to hint of injustice, would have moved Gandhi’s or Martin Luther King’s followers to the corrective protests that challenged iniquity? Do you think folks at the Stonewall Rebellion were singing this song and wearing no-complaint bracelets?

Instead of the narcotic of that song massaging me the individual, the song that transformed America was “We shall overcome.” That’s plural. This song was an inspiration because it recognized the evil of the situation and the good that comes from folks working together.

The original seven deadly sins are Extravagance,  Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy, and Pride. Complaining is not on the list.

No, truth and justice are spiritual values. It is a religious obligation and a citizen’s duty to complain when injustice exists.

Faith, Suffering and AIDS

What is a sacred response to the suffering and death of the first generation of AIDS victims, and the continuing threat to life and dignity from what was first called “the gay disease”?

Several responses are now well-known. First, mourn and honor those lost. We are deprived of dear friends, wonderfully talented souls and those who did much good for others. It is right always to remember.

Second, we extend comfort and care; and we  work toward a cure for the disease for those surviving; and help them flourish. Whether it is participating in the AIDS walk raising money or in some other personal or professional way, we respond with action.

Third, we use dreadful occasions to help those caught in society’s homophobia to affirm the beauty of  people who love people of their own sex.

These are genuine faith responses, regardless of your religion. They arise from a universal spiritual capacity called compassion and from the universal spiritual command to seek healing.

But sometimes people offer another response to manage the theological pain of affliction. It is to say, “It is God’s will.” If this is meaningful to you, read no further, because I will challenge that view and I do not want to take from anyone the solace one may find in such a perspective.
If you are still reading, we will explore the problem of evil, the question of unmerited suffering, solutions for which are technically called “theodicy.”

For Christians and many others, the problem is this: If God is all-good, all-powerful and all-loving, how can God permit bad things to befall good people? If God can create a universe, why can’t he end AIDS, prevent terrorism and save a three-year old from being raped by her father?
As the poet Archibald MacLeish put it in his play, _J.B.,_ when his upright character is afflicted, “If God is God He is not good; if God is good He is not God.”

A traditional response is that, because of Adam’s sin, we all deserve eternal misery, but God, to show His mercy, blesses some, while the damned, in this life or the next, show His justice.

I don’t buy it. Why does God need the rape of a 3-year old to manifest His glory?

Nor does this theory explain why the universe was designed in such a way that many animals eat by eating others, sometimes ferociously, inflicting pain, tearing the body of the victim apart. The amount of suffering in the food chain is so staggering, such a God should be reported to the SPCA. Would it not have been more loving to design a universe with necessary nutrients, say, dissolved in accessible pond water?

Another explanation says that the price of free will is the possibility of choosing error and consequent suffering. But this argument also fails. An all-powerful God could have created a world where choices would be between two or more good things, such as peaches, apples and mangos. I don’t need the possibility of choosing a poisonous mushroom in order to exercise free will.

Another answer is that God afflicts us to help our souls grow. If that is so, then I can justify being very nasty to you to help you grow your soul. It is true that folks can grow through adversity, and we admire that; but folks can also grow through happy opportunities as well.

Among the most pernicious answers is that we always create our own problems. While unconscious desires may affect us, it is hard to hold babies burned in the Holocaust responsible for their misery, or to think they in some way chose their fate.

These answers and others offered throughout the ages are useless when we face undeserved suffering in ourselves or those about us.

The world is fallible and we are fragile; in this universe, our sacred response is not to roll up the mystery of life into an rationale, but rather to strengthen and enlarge the realm of love. Better than extending an explanation is extending love and finding joy in the relief we can offer, in the good that we each can do.

Go Ahead, Pucker Up

Fundamentally, homophobia is the fear of closeness with members of one’s own gender, not fear of LGBT people. In society today, straight men are homophobic when they fear their actions with other men might lead them to be regarded as queer. To a lesser extent, the same dynamic affects women.

In the infamous Snickers commercial, the lips of two guys chomping on a single candy bar meet, and the men are so alarmed by the accidental kiss that they have to prove to themselves and each other that they are not gay by doing “manly,” painful things, as if gays are not manly and as if hurting oneself is.

The two lesbians kissing recently at IHOP in Grandview, an incident that has attracted national attention, led me to wonder whether George Bush and his buddy Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah would be welcome there for pancakes. Bush shows no religious prejudice in the people he kisses — he doesn’t limit his kisses to Muslim men. Remember his famous kiss of Sen. Joseph Lieberman, a Jew, after the State of the Union address in 2005? And to celebrate Greek Independence Day at the White House, he planted a big one on Christian Archbishop Demetrios, primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America. Bush may bow to the religious right’s prejudice and enforce it on their behalf, but he seems liberated in his personal life, though that doesn’t do us much good.

One could argue that homophobia is more of a problem for straight than LGBT folk. It prevents them from being honest about themselves. A liberated straight friend told me recently that he was showing a house to a potential buyer, a burly military officer, certifiably heterosexual. In commenting on the yard, the buyer lowered his voice, looked around, and confessed, “I really like gardening.” My friend responded, “You don’t have to be embarrassed about that. Real men are great gardeners.” The buyer went one step further in looking at the kitchen. “Don’t tell anyone, but I like to cook, too.”

Sure, there are gay people who play sports and straight people who like ballet, but the stereotypes have hardly disappeared from our culture. Twenty-some nations, including the United Kingdom and Israel, welcome gays into military service, but not the United States, with its baggage of stereotypes.

It’s not so much fear of homosexuals attacking straights that keeps the military policy in place as it is fear that straight people might want to be close to friends in ways they think of as queer.

Homophobia is really a relatively recent phenomenon. In many traditions — think Fiddler on the Roof, for example — it was the custom for men to dance only with men. Now men dancing with men is a “gay” thing.

Behind the objection to the “public display of affection” between the two Grandview lesbians may be the fear among those who saw the harmless, non-sexual kiss that they, too, might be tempted to show affection to someone of their own gender and thus be stigmatized as gay.
Fortunately, more and more straight men are comfortable hugging and even kissing male friends, whether they are on the sports field or in a restaurant or in a private situation.

Some of my straight friends enjoy kissing me in public. On the lips. One friend, secure in his sexuality and his marriage, who doesn’t care what people might think, is actually pleased to model what liberated men are like. 

Another 100 percent straight friend from the Middle East knows very well about American homophobia but delights in exchanging kisses with me, even in the most public of places, where people are acquainted with one or both of us, and is not afraid to tell me he loves me in front of other people.

Isn’t this the way the world should be? Why should anyone, regardless of what he or she does with his or her genitals, fear being close to another person one cares about and showing it in a gesture of respect?

This is, pardon me, the Christian thing to do, as the New Testament repeatedly commands, “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” (Romans 16:16, 1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12) Variations include “Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss.” (1 Thessalonians 5:26) and “Greet one another with the kiss of love.” (1 Peter 5:14)
So if you are caught kissing your friend and someone complains, just say, “Hey, I’m just doing what God commands.”

Vote Brooks for True Respect

Alvin Brooks, I suggested some years ago in my Kansas City Star column, with due respect to the professional clergy in town, is the real pastor for the larger community.
 And now we have the opportunity to make him Mayor.  LGBT folks in Kansas City will want to vote for him, and if you don’t live in KC, you can help finance his campaign because Al is needed region-wide.

The role of mayor is far more than a technician. We have a city manager for that, although Al Brooks knows city government inside out, first as a police officer, later organizing the city’s first Human Relations Department and becoming the first African-American to head a department. Later he was promoted to Assistant City Manager. He currently is serving his second term on the City Council and has discharged his duties as Mayor Pro Tem with distinction.

But beyond vast experience in government, Al has served on countless community efforts, including founding the Ad Hoc Group against Crime.

The mayor sets the tone for the city and should have the ability, the experience, and the passion to recognize all citizens.

My work gives me the opportunity to know many public figures. No one is better fit for Mayor than Al Brooks. Bill Clinton met with Al to discuss urban issues. Even George Bush the First recognized Al as one of a “Thousand Points of Light” in America.

The LGBT community has been fortunate with Mayor Kay Barnes’ active support for our issues. She's even able to have some fun with us, including dressing up like June Cleaver to appear on the cover of this publication.

Mayor Barnes has endorsed Al. Al not only understands the social and political dimension of LGBT issues; he understands them personally. I am sure of this because I have experienced the wisdom of his intimate advice. I would call him a sage old man except his health and energy level surpasses many 30-year olds.

But most of my work with Al has involved interfaith issues. Since respect for religious differences represents the same style of respect for sexual differences, let me outline some of Al’s remarkable commitment to this dimension of civic life.

Al recently said, “I have spent my life trying to improve conditions for minorities and to build bridges between different racial, ethnic and religious groups. Since Sept. 11, 2001, I regularly read from the Qur’an, the Torah and the Bible.”

So let’s begin with Sept. 11. The Interfaith Council was scheduled to announce the area’s first interfaith conference. Unexpectedly, Al showed up as the announcement was made and TV images of the World Trade Center dramatized the need for interfaith understanding. Al and I met again later that day to discuss what could be done. His presence was life-giving at a Sept. 16 interfaith event in Johnson County, the first time some religious minorities had dared leave their homes after the terrorist attacks.

The following year, at the annual Thanksgiving Sunday with the Interfaith Council, he was recognized with an award “for his work as citizen and his career of public service locally and internationally celebrating religious pluralism and the dignity of the human spirit in compassion, justice, and leadership.”

CBS-TV came from New York to report on interfaith work here. When the national broadcast was screened at Union Station, Al was selected to introduce it.

The funeral of his own son, which Al himself led in incredibly dignified sorrow, involved leaders from several faith traditions.

Al organized an ongoing monthly interfaith dinner club so folks from all over the metro area could discuss their spiritual journeys in a fun, social setting.

My list outruns my space, but this is a sampling of a man whose insistent interest in diversity of all kinds requires not only our applause but now our votes and dollars, to focus on what Al calls our “human infrastructure,” to lead us into a truer community than ever before.


Let’s depart from the usual style of this column. It’s winter and it’s time to curl up with a Valentine’s Day story. Can you pick out the three types of love, caritas (impersonal love for fellow human beings), eros (impersonal sexual excitement), and amor (love of a special person)?

Once there was a handsome young prince whose father, a good king, was ailing, as was the kingdom. Dragons polluted the earth, monsters ruled the sea, and vicious birds filled the skies. Worms inhabited many people’s brains. Earthquakes shook the palace, concert halls, museums, and the sports arena.

The young prince determined to discover the cause of the growing doom. One night the prince had a dream. An older ruddy man said, “The cause of these calamities is the separation of the three parts of the Ring of the Cosmos. You must find and rejoin them together.”

“If this be so,” said the prince, I will find them so that my people may be freed of their agonies, and I will love you forever.” With that, the prince unbuttoned the older man’s trousers and kissed him. When the prince awoke, he was eager to fulfill his pledge.

He went to his father. “My son,” the king said, “We must learn if others have had such dreams. Additional details might help.”

“Wow,” said the prince. Could we announce a reward for anyone who reports a dream about the Cosmic Ring?”
 “Sure,” said the king. “Why don’t you promise to sleep with anyone who has such a dream?”

“Great idea, Dad,” said the prince. And the next morning at the palace door there were 832,040 men claiming dreams about the Cosmic Ring.

So the prince, who in all things was prodigious, called them his Fibonacci Friends and took them camping by a stream, and the prince spent the night with each of them (he could be quick). In the morning, he asked those with dreams to sport with him in the waters.

But all were worn out except for one older ruddy woodsman who swam by and said “I dreamt of the cosmic tree, described in countless myths, you know, like in the Garden of Eden and the tree under which the Buddha was enlightened. Think of a tree’s  annual rings, such as this, O prince!” And he gave the prince a segment of a tree trunk.
 “Wow!” said the prince, “a ring from nature, like the orbit of the earth around the sun and our picture of the rings of electrons around the atom’s nucleus.”

Suddenly vicious birds appeared and scared all the men back to their wives except for the woodsman who said, “I can show you a second ring if you make love to me again.”

“I’ll do anything to free my people from these damn birds, monsters, ailments, and quakes,” said the prince.
 Later the woodsman said, “O prince, my lips make a ring, my bottom is a ring, and blessed be the ringed alimentary canal. And with your love, you have indeed blessed top and bottom.”

“Wow!” said the prince, “a ring from personhood: matabolism’s route, respiration’s cycle, and the spirit’s embrace.”

Just then a dragon, belching fire, sauntered by, and the two decided to go to town. The prince needed to buy the woodsman a new Speedo, anyhow. But the dragon’s updraft sent them into the clouds where they saw images of all people arrayed in a huge circle with every heart beating in rhythm as the word “justice” pulsated in the air.
 “The circle of humanity must be circumscribed with the cause of justice,” said the woodsman.

As they descended on magic carpets into the center of the sports arena, the prince said, “We must ring out justice for the community, for all society, for the world.” A microphone was thrust in front of him for an impromptu press conference. “By the way, justice includes equal rights for lovers, and peace among all nations,” he added with a naked grin.

The woodsman held the ideas of the tree rings, the mouth’s circuit, and the circle of society. When the prince kissed him, the rings were intertwined like gold that formed a gorgeous ring much, much too big to fit on the finger of the prince.

The prince spoke to the woodsman, “Man of my dream, you know where it goes and I will love you forever.” But when it was in place, it became invisible to all but lovers.
 The wise woodsman said, “the torments stop as you and every man see nature, selfhood, and society intimately joined by the urge to love.”

And with the woodsman, the prince paraded around the kingdom and put a clip on YouTube showing where the Ring of the Cosmos was safely placed; and behold, the dragons decided to behave, monsters went back to the movies, the birds picked up the wreckage from the earthquakes, and the multitude of worms vacated all brains and eased the buildings back into place like new. And the king recovered and give the prince a raise in his allowance.

America's Greatest Gay Preacher

One of America’s greatest preachers is gay — and he is coming to Kansas City Jan. 20. No, I don’t mean Ted Haggard, the former head of the National Association of Evangelicals and pastor at the New Life Church in Colorado Springs until his anti-gay marriage stance was challenged a couple months ago by Mike Jones, a former male hustler, who revealed their relationship over recent years.

Kansas City’s Baptist guest is free of scandal. He outed himself in 1991. That fall he decided he had to respond to a conservative Harvard student magazine that published a collection of anti-gay articles. On the steps of the church where he served (and continues to serve) he said, “I am a Christian who happens as well to be gay.”

True, he used to be a Republican. In fact he gave invocations at the inaugurations of Ronald Reagan and the first George Bush. When he changed his registration, he explained his former party allegiance: “A native of Massachusetts, I was brought up on a very simple political syllogism: Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves; Abraham Lincoln was a Republican; therefore, vote Republican.” He said he was also “proud that the first black senator in Congress since Reconstruction was Edward Brooke, a Republican from Massachusetts.”

When I interviewed him by phone for my Kansas City Star column earlier this month, he was scathing in his condemnation of the “deceit” about the Iraq War perpetrated by the current administration.

He has accumulated over 30 honorary degrees, has a lectureship named for him at Cambridge University, has preached for British royalty, was profiled on “60 Minutes,” was named as one of “The Best Talkers in America,” and has written over a dozen books, one of which, The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart, is on a list of the top 100 LGBT non-fiction books.

In that book he writes, “No credible case against homosexuality or homosexuals can be made from the Bible unless one chooses to read scripture in a way that simply sustains the existing prejudice against homosexuality and homosexuals. The combination of ignorance and prejudice under the guise of morality makes the religious community and its abuse of scripture in this regard, itself morally culpable.”

He is Peter J. Gomes, Professor of Christian Morals at Harvard University.

One of my colleagues, a Harvard alum, says he is the kind of speaker who wows you even if you disagree with him.

The Wikipedia entry on Gomes notes that Gomes is celibate.

So I asked him about that. I wanted to clear up any misunderstanding about that entry, to be sure he was not saying that being a homosexual is good so long as you do not engage in homosexual behavior.

Gomes said his lifestyle choice was personal choice and not necessarily appropriate for others. Just as Roman Catholic priests elect celibacy, so he finds celibacy suits him. ”It is a calling, not a requirement,” and he applauded committed monogamous same-sex relationships. “Sexuality goes with being human,” he said, and celibacy is one possible choice in recognizing one’s humanity.
 While Gomes’ academic and pastoral positions, his scholarship, his race, and his eloquence make him a powerful spokesperson for equality, let me mention one more of his virtues.

He understands America and its ideals, which he traces back to the famous “city on a hill” sermon by a compassionate governor Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630 just before their ship landed. John Winthrop articulated the hope that, beyond material prosperity and power, America could become a place where people cared about each other, a community for ethical and spiritual life.

Gomes says that ideal has been “damaged” at home and abroad. His lecture at Country Club Community Church will focus on changes that must be made to restore that ideal. For information, visit

Religion and acceptance

“I think religion has always tried to turn hatred towards gay people. Religion promotes the hatred and spite against gays. . . . I would ban religion completely,” said Elton John recently.

There is a lot to support this notion. The latest effort of the Roman Catholic bishops to inject compassion into condemnation of same-sex behavior hardly trumpets the glory of love. The self-hatred that fallen mega-church pastor Ted Haggard feels toward himself exhibits the widespread homophobia and internalized homophobia within the Evangelical Christian community.

But the opinion that religion “promotes hatred and spite against gays” is more wrong than right. Two thirds of the world’s religions have accepted — and sometimes revered — same-sex relationships. Even Christianity tolerated such love into the Twelfth Century.

An increasing library of books documents the fascinating interplay between sexuality and spirituality. Here are two recent contributions from Harrington Park Press.

Men, Homosexuality, and the Gods by Ronald E. Long presents tantalizing pictures of sex in the ancient world, among American Indians, and in Jewish and Buddhist history. His Christian chapter is far too short to provide a fair overview of that faith but nonetheless offers a couple valuable guideposts.

Here are some fun facts from the book.  “Among Romans, . . . a man whose masculinity had been challenged could defend his virility by boasting of his homosexual conquests.”

“Chinese culture in general found the fact that some men might be sexually attracted to other men perfectly natural . . . .”

While Christian theology has often found sex justified only for procreation, “the Qur’an explicitly permits sex for pleasure’s sake.”

A custom among traditional Filipinos involved an older man greeting “a boy by reaching into his pants, cupping his genitals, and commenting on how much the boy is growing.”

Long presents a parallel practice from ancient Greece by quoting an outraged father in a Greek play: “Well, this is a fine state of affairs . . . . You meet my son just as he comes out of the gymnasium, all fresh from the bath, and you don’t kiss him, you don’t speak to him, you don’t feel his balls! And you’re supposed to be a friend of ours!”
 Imagine parents of one of Marc Foley’s pages protesting that Foley hadn’t given such attention to their son!

So one value of this book is that it vividly demonstrates how different cultures and their faiths construct sexuality. Sex may be biological, but sexuality is conditioned by culture.

But the more important virtue of this book (the word virtue comes from the Latin vir for “man”) is its exploration of understanding sex not in terms of gay and straight but rather in “pitcher” and “catcher” terms. As this idea is inflected in various cultures, we begin to see the possibilities of freedom from sexual categories altogether.

The press’s other book is Sex and the Sacred: Gay Identity and Spiritual Growth by Daniel A. Helminiak. The book too defensively strains to justify homosexuality as a spiritual path but may be exactly what some folk need to help them work through the crap they have picked up from exposure to oppressive religion.

Less a history and more a practical manual to deal with the social, political, and religious realities most Americans face, the book’s vision of spirituality embraces atheists as well as Christians. Still, the interpretation of Jesus as a “model for coming out” may inspire those whose love of their faith needs the support and repair that too many churches do not offer.

These two books are among the continuing signs of awakening and healing in society today. They’d make good holiday gifts.

Curing the afflicted

You cannot understand religion if you exclude the passion for healing. Think about the religious groups that responded to the AIDS crisis in the early days, not only answering other churches who talked about the “wages of sin” but also setting up centers for care and support for research.

Think also about the many hospitals founded by churches, the ministry of Jesus with the sick, the medicine Buddha, the Navajo medicine man, and the cure which is the Qur’an itself in Islam. The central concern of faith in one way or another is salvation, and the very term in English is derived from the Latin for “health.”

Missourians vote Nov. 7 on whether to make the state a place where politicians cannot impose their own theological perspectives on the rest of us. A Yes vote means that responsible and ethical research on early stem cells can continue and the legal therapies and cures will be available in Missouri.

Some object that such research kills helpless babies. It does not.

One technique, SCNT (somatic cell nuclear transfer) does not use fertilized eggs, so this method represents no theological problem at all. Nonetheless, opponents try to scare the public by saying this method is cloning. In fact the amendment would make even the attempt to clone a human being illegal.

The other technique uses fertilized eggs. Some people honestly believe these eggs are actual human beings. But theologians differ. And no scientist can tell you when an egg becomes a person, or, to use theological language, when “ensoulment” occurs.

* Many contemporary Catholics think this happens at the moment when the sperm and egg fuse.

* Other Catholics think it cannot happen until after the possibility of twinning has passed; otherwise, the soul could be split in two or one of the twins would get the soul and other would have no soul.

* Others say it is when implantation in the womb occurs.

* St. Thomas Aquinas said it was at quickening — 40 days after conception, a view held by many Muslims as well.

* Dante thought it was when the brain structures are developed.

* Most traditions say a person emerges at birth.

The Supreme Court did not answer this theological question, but took a practical approach in the abortion case and said that generally state medical regulation is Constitutional after viability, after the second trimester. Our legal system does not recognize a person until a child is born, and most parents name their children at that time.

Currently about a thousand of fertilized cells are legally destroyed every day from in-vitro fertilization clinics. In a fire, your priority is to rescue the one 5-year old remaining in the building over any number of such undifferentiated cells in petri dishes.

Should what would otherwise be medical waste become a benefit leading to possible cures?

The promise of such research is an urgent religious question because, as I mentioned, healing is a central concern for people of faith. The possible cures for Parkinson’s, cancer, heart disease, sickle cell, ALS. multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, spinal chord injuries, diabetes, and many other conditions inspire religious attention and support. What we learn could lead to an actual cure for AIDS.

The rabbinical association of Kansas City  unanimously supports the amendment. Episcopal priest and former Senator Jack Danforth, an opponent of abortion, enthusiastically endorses stem cell research. A Methodist minister, former mayor and now Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, with clergy of many other Christian traditions, along with Buddhists and Muslims and others, feels pursuing such cures is not only moral but obligatory.
 When theology cannot offer certainty about abstract questions, the duty to do all we can to cure those afflicted leads me to vote for the research that Amendment 2 would protect.

Truth and Falsity

Last month I had a great time with the Catholic “HOPE” group meeting at the Cathedral for the Immaculate Conception. My assignment was to discuss how world religions view same-sex relationships.

The true-false quiz I used to get the discussion going was so popular that I thought CAMP readers might like to give it a try. Do your best and then I’ll give you the answers.

1. T/F  About two-thirds of human cultures have tolerated or esteemed same-sex relationships.

2. T/F  There were no “homosexuals” until 1869.

3. T/F  The King James translation of the Bible (1611) is named for an English ruler who said, “Jesus had his John, and I have my George.”

4. T/F  Heterosexual marriage has not been a Church sacrament during most of the two thousand years of Christianity.

5. T/F  In some city-states, ancient Greek parents were embarrassed if their teen-age sons by a certain age had not been abducted by older men.

6. T/F  In some New Guinea tribes, boys must be inseminated by men in order to help the boys become men, and in order to prevent the boys from becoming pregnant, a lime-eating ceremony is conducted. But an older man who tries to receive the semen of a younger man is considered a monster.

7. T/F  The world’s first “novel,” the Sumerian/Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh, is about a same-sex friendship between Gilgamesh and Enkidu..

8. T/F  “He who claims that he experiences no desire when looking at beautiful boys or youths is a liar, and if we could believe him, he would be an animal, and not a human being” was said by a Muslim legal scholar in the 12th Century.

9. T/F  Same-sex relationships among Buddhists were prevalent in Japan in the 16th Century.

10. T/F  The berdashe (or more properly, the Lakota winktes, Navajo nadles, Cheyenne he man ehs, and the Crow badé, for example, or two-spirit people), men who play the social roles of women (or vice versa), are highly revered.

 ANSWERS: All are true, though #2 is a trick question. The word “homosexual” was invented in 1869. The concept of “homosexuality” as an orientation is still foreign to many cultures today, where same-sex activity is regarded as what some people sometimes do, but these activities do not necessarily define their identity

It is difficult for us to read early civilizations and those untouched by our own  culture because of our preoccupation with romantic and sexual love. Our movies, our commercials, and our personal conversation shape our attention in this direction. But in other cultures, people focused not on love and sex but on heroism, agricultural cycles, and religious and political traditions.

That's why in many of them, same-sex activity was nothing like the “wedge issues” that characterize today's politics. Knowing this makes it easier to understand, for example, how David and Jonathan, who made a vow of love to each other, could have had a sexual relationship without the Bible explicitly saying so. If I tell you that I just married a young couple, Jack and Jill, you will assume they have a sexual relationship without my having to say so directly. Homer does not tell us the favorite positions of Achilles and Patroclus because their sexual behavior is not the subject of the Iliad.

Even in some cultures officially hostile to same-sex behavior, private relationships are no concern nor are they an impediment to marriage so long as social forms and obligations are honored. We might call that hypocrisy, but we view things in terms of the individual rather than the stability of society.

Here’s a bonus question: Where can you find these busts of the Roman Emperor Hadrian (76-138 AD) and his beloved partner Antinous, who Hadrian had declared a god?

ANSWER: The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art here in Kansas City.

What did the "word" really say?

Religious homophobia in our largely Christian culture derives from literalistic interpretations of the Bible enabled by a Kansan. Fundamentalism, which picked up force about 1900, has affected domestic concerns like education (think the Scopes Trial and the current Kansas Board of Education) and foreign affairs, especially in the Middle East,      arousing Christians fascinated with tales of Armageddon and sinners “left behind” at “the Rapture,” the return of Christ to earth.

Those who see 9/11 as part of this unfolding cosmic drama have a widely influential edition of the Bible to help them interpret the horror of news like 9/11 as part of a world view in which abominations like homosexuality will rendered eternal judgment.

How did this focus on the “end-times” originate? While early Christians expected Christ to return before they died ( I Thess. 4:15), an interpretation was devised whereby these ancient texts applying to ancient peoples were molded into a forecast for our own time. The key doctrine is “dispensationalism,” a framework for viewing Biblical stories from Adam on, into the future, as an historical process of pre-ordained stages.

I asked Dr. Richard Childs, a retired psychiatrist expert in these matters, to describe its propagator.  He says:
 “The Scofield Reference Bible has had more influence on the religious beliefs of American Protestant fundamentalists than any other book, by far. Although it was first published in 1909, neither the extent of its influence nor the fraudulence of its author, Cyrus Ingerson Scofield, ‘D.D’ (1843-1921), are understood by most Christians.

“Scofield was a lawyer who served in the 1872 Kansas legislature; in 1873 he was appointed US  Attorney for Kansas by President Grant. He served only six months before resigning in an embezzlement scandal and absconding to Canada. Several years later he surfaced to practice law in St. Louis. In 1879, while serving a six-month jail sentence for forgery, he underwent a religious conversion. He began to practice as a Congregationalist minister and was ordained 1883.

“An August 27, 1881 editorial in Topeka’s The Daily Capital referred to Scofield as a ‘late lawyer, politician, and shyster generally’ whose career was characterized by ‘many malicious acts.’ The editorial called him a ‘peer among scalawags.’

“A gifted con man, Scofield posed as a great Bible scholar, although he never attended a seminary and was never graduated from a recognized academic institution. His ‘D.D.’ is bogus.

“That such a man could achieve the profound influence that continues to this day is remarkable. . . . Scofield embraced the fundamentalist doctrines of biblical literalism and inerrancy. To these, he added the newly concocted theological notions of premillennial dispensationalism that purvey the controversial end-times ideas of the Rapture, the Tribulation, the Antichrist, the Millennium, and the Battle of Armageddon. Today’s best-selling Left Behind series of religious fiction is based on Scofield’s dispensationalism, as are many of the ideas of Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and others in the religious right.

“Scofield embedded these bizarre ideas in the voluminous notes printed alongside the biblical text in The Scofield Reference Bible. Many accept his notes as inspired by God. Too few understand the source of these beliefs that continue to distort the world-view of a strident minority of religious conservatives today.”

A different image of Christianity is presented by the movie, The Saint of 9/11, shown Sept. 11 at 7  at the Tivoli. It honors Father Mychal Judge, a homosexual priest who served as chaplain to the multi-faith New York City Fire Department.

The memory of 9/11 reminds us that religion can be used to justify the violence of the “Rapture,” or it can live as compassion in the lives of those like Mychal Judge.


When comics fifty years ago presented superheroes like Batman (what was his relationship to Robin?) and TV ran the series about the Lone Ranger (what was his relationship to Tonto?), a pattern of rescue was revealed in the American consciousness that may, ironically delay the achievement of full liberation for the LGBT population. It will take several paragraphs to show this, so be patient with me, please.

I was fortunate to study with the mythologist Joseph Campbell before he was made famous by what was then the most popular PBS series ever created, “The Power of Myth.” Myths are stories that pattern our ways of thinking about the world, usually unconsciously. The anecdotes of commercials are incipient myths calculated to shape our behavior.

Campbell believed that myths of heroes have three parts which can be described as a spiritual journey: departure, initiation and return. In his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, first published in 1949 and now a classic, he illustrates each of these three segments with stories from around the world.

But American tales were the focus of Robert Jewett and John Lawrence in their 1977 book, The American Monomyth. In analyzing comic book heroes like Superman before the movies spiked the stories with romantic involvement, they applied Campbell’s three-part scheme and found something missing.

First they quoted Campbell: “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day in­to a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there en­countered and a decisive victory is won; the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”

Then they noticed that comic book heroes, and early TV ones like the Lone Ranger, who appear from nowhere or who live in disguise, assist a community helpless to save itself, and then ride off into the sunset or resume living in concealment. The Lone Ranger may kiss his horse, but he does not become part of the community he has saved.

What is missing, they say, is Campbell’s third stage where the deed or illumination of initiation is shared with the community. They worry about this pattern because it suggests that only a hero with superhuman powers can save the community from disaster. These superheroes defy the limits that constraint our merely human form. They sometimes break the laws of nature. They violate legal standards. They are too good to be restrained by rules and too superior to be part of the community. The stories reveal no spiritual growth in the character since he his born with super-powers, rather than gaining insight and wisdom as a result of his initiation.

Jewett and Lawrence think this characteristic pattern or “monomyth” derives from the Christian story of redemption, where super-hero Jesus comes into the world from beyond, saves it and then leaves it, ascending into heaven, instead of working with the rest of us. Helen Gray’s July 15 Kansas City Star story about Superman quotes several theologians on the parallels between this superhero and Jesus.

Christians can respond that Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to replace him, that he did respect the community, now called “the church,” and that his long-overdue return is imminent.

But Jewett and Lawrence’s 2002 book, The Myth of the American Superhero, is not reassuring. They suggest that the American pattern of focusing on a charismatic individual rather than the community weakens the community and democracy.

And here’s my point for the LGBT community: Are we really a community? Or do we hide behind masks, our true identities unknown by the rest of society? Do we expect a charismatic leader to save us from the disabilities the laws enforce and the prejudice that constrains our brothers and sisters? Have we purchased the American Superhero myth or will we find more abundant life by strengthening the community with the illumination of our ordinary gifts?


Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit drew an overflowing and enthusiastic crowd at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church June 24. Although several speakers welcomed him before he spoke, no official from either local diocese offered a word of welcome to him, even though he has just observed the 50th anniversary of his ordination. The fact that Topics to Go, the group inviting him here to speak about homosexuality and the church, felt that a Catholic facility was out of the question for his address is itself a measure of the Bishop’s courageous sense of mission as he seeks to comfort and encourage LGBT Catholics.

Gumbleton was embarrassed when he learned his brother was gay. His brother had heard the Church’s condemnation of  his “abomination,” married, had four children, and tried not to be gay. When he decided to come out, he divorced his wife (they are still friends) and wrote a letter to the bishop and other siblings, which Gumbleton at first refused to read. Eventually Gumbleton realized he had received inadequate training and began an earnest study which led him to propose what eventually became “Always Our Children,” published in 1997 by the US Catholic Conference. The pastoral document affirms the inherent worth of LGBT folks and counsels parents to love them.

“You don’t have to tell me to love my child!”  is one kind of response Gumbleton heard. For such parents, the document may be a tiny step forward, but  for many others ready to disown their children, it was really big.

For the first time, the Bishops’ pastoral accepts the notion of sexual orientation, rejects “reparative therapy” which tries to change homosexuals into heterosexuals, affirms that GLBT persons are “beloved of God as they are,” and insists that the fundamental human rights of homosexuals must be protected. This means the Church should be fully inclusive; gays should even be encouraged to be extraordinary eucharistic ministers.

Obviously the folks at St. Agnes Church, which dismissed their gay music leader recently, were not attentive to the Bishops’ pastoral.

Using various documents, Gumbleton sketched the doctrine of the primacy of the conscience for Catholics. For example, before his elevation as Pope Benedict, then Cardinal Ratzinger said that the conscience must be obeyed even over the order of the pope.

The 1965 “Church and the Modern World” condemns all modern war because it is impossible to prevent innocent non-combatants from injury and death. Yet this principle is routinely violated by those whose conscience permits them to soldier.

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a Catholic in good standing, in his conscience supports capital punishment against the clear teaching of the church, and says any Catholic who obeys the church is unfit to be a judge. He has never been denied communion because of it.

Why then cannot two people of the same sex who love each other and wish a stable relationship in good conscience be accepted and treasured as participants and leaders in the Church?

To critics who insist the Church cannot change its teaching on sexual ethics, Gumbleton recited some history. At one point, any intercourse without the clear intent to produce children was sinful. (Masturbation was considered worse than rape because rape could result in pregnancy.) Now the rhythm method accepts the value of sex with the clear intent not to produce children.

Although I am not Catholic myself, supporting those pursuing justice within the Church for GLBT people will help us all. For that reason, I encourage you to learn more about the Topics To Go folks. Email me and I’ll put you in touch with them. Their Sep. 16 program examines matrimony.


Several times this column has briefly mentioned what is often called the world’s first novel, The Epic of Gilgamesh, and this month I’ll tell the story about the friendship of these two studs.

The ancient Sumerians and Akkadians created several versions, undoubtedly based on even earlier traditions. Their account of a great flood is thought to be the source of the tale of Noah in the Bible. The story of Gilgamesh was related in a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, and appears today in many translations and retellings, the best of which may be Gilgamesh by Stephen Mitchell.

One early scene taught me about friendship with the power of spiritual myth. I’ll explain, but first the ancient tale.
 King Gilgamesh brings the arts of civilization to the city of Uruk, whose people, first grateful, then  pray for relief from his braggadocio and insistence on deflowering maidens on their wedding night. To challenge the arrogance of Gilgamesh who thinks he has no equal, the gods create Enkidu, half-man, half–beast, in the fields. He is “tamed” by a sacred prostitute. He follows her to the city where he determines to challenge Gilgamesh.

As Mitchell summarizes, “The battle is as silly as a schoolyard fight, yet there is something beautiful about its energy [with] a deeply erotic element.”

Gilgamesh’s mother had told her son he would meet a mighty and beautiful hero who he would take into his arms and embrace him the way a man carresses his wife.

But Gilgamesh is outraged by the challenge. The two men wrestle to the point of mutual exhaustion — and respect. The opponents are able to say to each other, “I know who you are” in the most intimate way. They become the very best of friends.

After one of their adventures, a goddess seeks to seduce Gilgamesh. When he spurns her, she makes Enkidu sick. Gilgamesh, full of grief, seeing the death of the man he loves as himself, laments in a wail so powerful that echoes through the millennia to us today.

Finally he realizes that he, too, may die, and seeks the secret of immortality from him who survived the Flood. Braving incomparable dangers, Gilgamesh follows the instructions to obtain a plant which restores youth. Before he can eat it, a serpent swallows it.

Now understanding that even he, like others, cannot escape death, he returns to Uruk, resolved to live each remaining moment fully, compassionately. Immortality can be achieved only in doing good for others.

I came to understood this story, or at least part of it, because of a transcendent experience when I was in theological school. As president of the student association, I welcomed the incoming students, one of whom was especially congenial. We quickly became pals. One evening somehow the conversation turned from our studies and rock music to how we felt about each other. We made a startling discovery: we were actually intensely competitive with each other. We heatedly enumerated our rivalry in many ways.

All of a sudden, without any forethought, we found ourselves on the floor, wrestling with each other . . . to the point of mutual exhaustion. We were thrown into a different state of consciousness. Our aggression was extinguished, our admiration heightened. When at last I was able to speak, the spontaneous word from my chest recognizing him was “Enkidu,” and he called me “Gilgamesh.” If you had entered the room and asked which of us was Vern and which Brad, neither one of us would have responded. In mythic awareness, we were Gilgamesh and Enkidu. We knew the myth from the inside.

Thirty-five years later, our letters to each other still begin with those names.


The world’s first “novel” explores the meaning of immortality, with the god-man Gilgamesh and his beloved Enkidu. The Buddha is sometimes represented in erotic relation to his disciple, Ananda. The first humans in the Inuit culture were two men (Adam and Steve, if you will). Even that stereotypical womanizer Greek god Zeus could not resist the charms of Ganymede and made him his cup-bearer, a permanent position, rather than a passing fancy. The Hindu god Shiva is still worshiped as a penis, and Agni, the fire god, swallows Shiva’s semen.

But what about Jesus, the figure considered divine by many in our culture? If The Da Vinci Code, which claims that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married, can receive so much attention when there is little to support for that claim, imagine the furor if folks actually looked at evidence that Jesus liked guys.

Of course the idea is not new. John is known as “the beloved disciple.” Throughout the ages, stories about Jesus’ love of men continued. Ironic for the Bible-thumpers is King James I, for whom the famous English translation is named. James, whose beloved was George Villiers, Earl of Buckingham, is recorded as saying, “Christ had His John, and I have my George.”

But in 1958 an ancient text was discovered  which supports the tradition regarding Jesus loving men.

Of course, the formation of the gospels is a difficult and technical field, and for details I suggest consulting the Wikipedia entry and the notes in the Jesus Seminar edition of The Complete Gospels. And these concerns are part of a larger question, explored most notably by Albert Schweitzer in his classic book, The Quest for the Historical Jesus, which asks whether, regardless of our relation to the Jesus of faith, we can ever have a reliable historical account, since even the four canonical gospels present very different images of Jesus.

Nonetheless, it does appear that in Alexandria at least by the first century, there were two versions of Mark in use, one for the public, and the “Secret Gospel of Mark,” intended for the advanced. Some have insisted that the Secret Gospel must be a hoax, but the fact that the text solves the gap in between the two parts of Mark 10:46 is a strong argument for its authenticity. Authenticity does not mean it is factual, but it does mean it was the belief of the ancient writer.

What does the text say?

The first fragment, placed after Mark 10:34, tells of Jesus raising a young man from the dead. The text continues, “The young man looked at Jesus, loved him, and began to beg to be with him. Then they left the tomb and went into the young man’s house. (Incidentally he was very rich.) Six days later Jesus gave him an order; and when evening had come, the young man went to him, dressed only in a linen cloth. He spent that night with him, because Jesus taught him the mystery of God’s domain.”

The second fragment follows the first part of Mark 10:46, “Then they came to Jericho.” The newly discovered text simply reports, “The sister of the young man whom Jesus loved was there, along with his mother and Salome, but Jesus refused to see them.”

Remember that according to tradition, Jesus was never married, an unusual situation for a Jewish leader of his time. Also recall that Jesus, without any reported qualms, healed the centurion’s servant, a euphemism in those days for sexual partner.

Whatever your faith, in every religion with which I am acquainted, sometimes in corners darkened by today’s persistent prejudice, there is evidence  of same-sex love as a spiritual path of wonder, power  and majesty.
 What can anyone be more proud of than love?

    For the special CAMP AIDS issue, I wrote that my fright twenty-five years ago of pogroms against homosexuals led by fundamentalist folks was largely overdrawn. Instead, courageous religious leaders, along with others in medical, legal, and other fields, played key roles in transforming the fear of the disease, at first associated with gays, “into the beginning of a cultural healing that we have the responsibility to continue, in memory of those we have lost and to create a more wholesome future.” 
That work is before us. 
    “Cut up the concubine!” was one of the rallying cries as theocrats gathered early this spring at the Omri Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C., according to religious scholar and author Elizabeth A. Castelli of Barnard College. I’m drawing on her report as an example of the forces mounting against us. 
     Inventing a hoax history of this nation, people like Phyllis Schafly, Tom DeLay, and Gary Bauer were there to help. Kansas Senator Sam Brownback was on the schedule but was detained elsewhere. They feel that America needs to be restored to its roots, which appear different in the theocrats’ fantasy than in historical fact. They see people like poor Tom DeLay and Navy Chaplain Lt. Gordon James Klingenschmitt (who was ordered to stop violating Navy interfaith protocols) as persecuted Christians. The fact that DeLay has been criminally indicted for violating campaign finance laws is proof that Christians are under attack. 
     Other people’s sexual interests are a big deal for them, and Brokeback Mountain got predictable attention. Jews and Christians there did not confine their concerns to a panel entitled the “The Gay Agenda: America Won’t Be Happy,” but blasted people who love people of the same gender with a loving God’s eternal damnation. 
     Did you, dear reader, know that a cabal of homosexual elites are planning to control America? Well, what is a “real Christian” to do about this? 
     First, language must express Biblical truths. Instead talking about “homosexuals” and “gays,” Lou Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition advocated replacing those terms with “sodomites” and “the perverted ones.” 
     Castelli writes, “ Some speakers read graphically explicit material found on gay websites to the conference, apologizing profusely for the shock and disgust they knew they would be generating but insisting that it was necessary for the participants to confront this material. By the end, one was left with the distinct impression that the organizers and participants in the conference spend far more time than the average gay person thinking about, talking about, and fantasizing about gayness.” 
     For many of us, taking our issues to the courts has been often how to get our civil rights protected.  The Bill of Rights is our ultimate witness. Therefore, the theocrats are attacking fair-minded judges. One panel called “The Judiciary: Overruling God,” gave Republican Missouri Representative Todd Akin a chance to exclaim with all the extended and grave deliberation of which he may be capable, “We haven’t impeached a judge in a while; it might be fun!” 
     Christians who respect what Jesus said about caring for the sick and the poor and the jailed just don’t understand the public meaning of the Gospel, according to Rick Scarborough, president of Vision America. Instead, as Janet Parsgall who identifies herself as “a war correspondent in Babylon,” says, Jesus means that they must fight not just the war that sodomites and others are waging against Christians, but fight against the war such perverts are waging against God Himself. (If perverts are not defying God, they are at least captives of iniquity.) 
     The document prepared for theocrats to sign supports the Marriage Protection Act, opposes hate crimes legislation, and warns judges. 
     Some of these folks are already in government, and their political theology  justifies “Christian” militarism against the rest of us.

     Yes, there still are preachers and other bigots who call AIDS “the gay” disease and preach that it is God’s punishment, the sign of damnation, the wages of sin, for those who follow perverted ways. The infected person was blamed for behavior causing the disease. The epidemic (now pandemic) was discovered in 1981 and was  originally called GRID, or Gay-Related Immune Deficiency. The disease was renamed AIDS in 1982 when it was shown that half of those infected were not be gay. 
 People who are most confused about how HIV is transmitted are religiously and politically conservative. Perhaps about 20% of the population now stigmatize those with HIV/AIDS. Infected people have been characterized as disorderly, given to unnatural passions, of weak will, and blemished with other personality defects. 
     Those early years were frightening, as friends began to die and it seemed that the public would enact strong measures against those they thought were spreading the disease. With no known cure, the public was moving toward panic. 
     Then people of real faith took action. Drawing on the best of the Christian and other traditions, using stories like that of the Good Samaritan, churches and other groups organized facilities for those affected by the disease and began public education campaigns. Perhaps the involvement of the churches was critical in turning around public opinion. The attitude shifted from fright and anger to compassion and a desire to help. Spirituality overcame accusation. 
     Ironically, in this new context of sympathy, AIDS opened up discussion about same-sex behavior. Those who were dying often talked about their sexuality for the first time to their families and friends. What had been hidden could no longer be kept quiet in the anguish of loss. As a better understanding of AIDS emerged, the conversations could focus less on dealing with issues of stigma and more on personal questions. 
     Obviously, not everyone was able to be open. For example. Fr Thom Savage, S.J., of blessed memory, the extraordinary and inspiring civic leader and president (1988-96) of Rockhurst University, left Kansas City as his illness began to affect him. How his friends throughout all segments of the community—for he touched many—wished he had been able to speak about his situation! While his decision, no doubt influenced by his profession and prominence, to suffer privately must be respected, how we still yearn to have given him the assurance that he was deeply loved! His signal contributions — including interfaith work — continue to shape his institution and the life of our community. 
     Still, looking back these twenty-five years, I am amazed at how wrong I was in fearing  pogroms against homosexuals led by religious types. Instead, courageous religious leaders, along with others in medical, legal, and other fields, played key roles in transforming the fear into the beginning of a cultural healing that we have the responsibility to continue, in memory of those we have lost and to create a more wholesome future.

     Rabbi Alan Cohen of Kansas City’s Beth Shalom Synagogue was correct to call Missouri House  Concurrent Resolution No. 13 anti-gay. The measure generated opposition from Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Unitarian Universalist and secular speakers at a press conference March 8 where he spoke at the Country Club Congregational Church. 
     The Resolution does not mention LGBT issues but it lays the ground work for discrimination by specifying majority rights for the state to recognize, in this case Christian practices. It is a short step to deciding what “Christian” is, and then to enforcing a particular Christian view of sexuality on everybody. 
     It is true that some Christians interpret their faith to embrace same-sex love, and some, like North Carolina’s Mitchell Gold, are proclaiming Christian values abhor prejudice. 
     But a lot of work is still required before the typical Christian response is gay-affirmative. 
     So the better response to the House is to recall our American heritage of religious freedom. Here are some basic facts: 
     * The US Constitution is a completely secular document. There is no mention of God or Christianity. Nothing in it supports the idea that the government is based on the Ten Commandments. 
     On the contrary, the First Amendment, later applied by the Fourteenth Amendment to the states, guarantees freedom of religion by allowing the government to pass “no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . . .” 
     * Treaties are second only to the Constitution in legal supremacy, so the treaty ratified in 1797 is important. It says, “the government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion . . .” 
     * The Missouri Constitution states that “no preference shall be given to, nor any discrimination made against any church, sect or creed of religion, or any form of religious faith or worship,” and the Kansas Constitution states that “no preference be given by law to any religious establishment or mode of worship.” 
     * Our founders, unlike the current White House occupant, were hard wore their faiths on their sleeves. In the entire collection of George Washington’s papers, including official documents and private letters, he never mentioned Jesus Christ. He did write letters appreciating Muslims, Jews, Christians, and atheists and defended government neutrality in religion. 
     While the Declaration of Independence acknowledges a universal power, it is not law. When its writer, Thomas Jefferson, became president, he created the metaphor of a “wall” separating church and state. He took scissors to the New Testament and removed miracles ascribed to Jesus who he considered a great  teacher but not God. In his “Notes on the State of Virginia,” he wrote. “It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. . . . It is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself.” 
     * “In God we trust” was added to our currency on 1864 by the North during the Civil War; and in  anti-Communist hysteria, “Under God” was added in 1954 to the 1892 Pledge of Allegiance. Both violate the spirit and care of our nation’s founders. 
     * We citizens include American Indian, Baha'i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Pagan, Sikh, Sufi, Unitarian Universalist, Zoroastrian, Freethinker, and other faiths, all equal in the eyes of the law. This resolution would profane the American tradition of religious liberty and move us toward making religion a slave of the state. For self-anointed politicians to politicize faith is a spiritual power-grab citizens of conscience must resist. They need to be solving problems with health care, the roads, and education, not dictating theology. They can’t manage the budget — do they think they can manage religion? Why are they creating religious division? The rabbi is right. It is anti-gay. 
     Religious conformity leads to sexual conformity. Both must be resisted with the virtues of diversity.


Yes, there still are preachers and other bigots who call AIDS “the gay” disease and preach that it is God’s punishment, the sign of damnation, the wages of sin, for those who follow perverted ways. The infected person was blamed for behavior causing the disease. The epidemic (now pandemic) was discovered in 1981 and was  originally called GRID, or Gay-Related Immune Deficiency. The disease was renamed AIDS in 1982 when it was shown that half of those infected were not be gay.

People who are most confused about how HIV is transmitted are religiously and politically conservative. Perhaps about 20% of the population now stigmatize those with HIV/AIDS. Infected people have been characterized as disorderly, given to unnatural passions, of weak will, and blemished with other personality defects.
 Those early years were frightening, as friends began to die and it seemed that the public would enact strong measures against those they thought were spreading the disease. With no known cure, the public was moving toward panic.

Then people of real faith took action. Drawing on the best of the Christian and other traditions, using stories like that of the Good Samaritan, churches and other groups organized facilities for those affected by the disease and began public education campaigns. Perhaps the involvement of the churches was critical in turning around public opinion. The attitude shifted from fright and anger to compassion and a desire to help. Spirituality overcame accusation.

Ironically, in this new context of sympathy, AIDS opened up discussion about same-sex behavior. Those who were dying often talked about their sexuality for the first time to their families and friends. What had been hidden could no longer be kept quiet in the anguish of loss. As a better understanding of AIDS emerged, the conversations could focus less on dealing with issues of stigma and more on personal questions.

Obviously, not everyone was able to be open. For example. Fr Thom Savage, S.J., of blessed memory, the extraordinary and inspiring civic leader and president (1988-96) of Rockhurst University, left Kansas City as his illness began to affect him. How his friends throughout all segments of the community—for he touched many—wished he had been able to speak about his situation! While his decision, no doubt influenced by his profession and prominence, to suffer privately must be respected, how we still yearn to have given him the assurance that he was deeply loved! His signal contributions — including interfaith work — continue to shape his institution and the life of our community.

Still, looking back these twenty-five years, I am amazed at how wrong I was in fearing  pogroms against homosexuals led by religious types. Instead, courageous religious leaders, along with others in medical, legal, and other fields, played key roles in transforming the fear into the beginning of a cultural healing that we have the responsibility to continue, in memory of those we have lost and to create a more wholesome future.

Time for A Prayer Breakfast of Repentance?

Anti-gay and other hateful remarks filled the room at last year’s Mayors’ Prayer Breakfast, but this year, the Feb 22 episode was filled with declarations valuing diversity.

This year no mention was made of the fact that the offense last year was so great, and efforts to get a statement then respecting diversity so difficult, that Kansas City Mayor Kay Barnes, after frustrating negotiations, announced she would not attend this year’s breakfast. Her courageous leadership no doubt woke up the business, philanthropic and governmental leaders who decided last year’s fiasco must not be repeated. Last year was repudiated this year, clearly and decisively, if subtly.

As about 30 area mayors were individually introduced to the thousand guests, the absence of the mayor of the very city in which the event was held was a silent but powerful reminder — one might even say, judgment — that this year’s breakfast was on the edge.

Debra Shultz, chair of the committee which uses the government title “mayors’” but which is not legally connected with any government and on which no mayor serves, is retiring from her position after four years. She reviewed her tenure in some detail but made no reference to the turmoil last year for which others thought she was at least partly responsible.

During the half-hour devoted to introductions, welcomes and patriotic exercises, Leawood Mayor Peggy Dunn, made it a point to declare that the gathering represented every faith and race.

Then it was time for the invocation — this is after all a prayer breakfast — and the 90-second prayer by Ramon Murguia pointedly embraced the full diversity found in our community.

In introducing the featured speaker, MC Tom Bowser, chair of the Chamber of Commerce, noted that our community is strengthened by its diversity of beliefs and races — and, with some appreciative laughter from the audience, he added “Republicans and Democrats.”

General Richard B Myers, who recently retired as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, avoided the political and partisan potholes of last year’s speaker. He framed his speech to address the breakfast’s theme of emphasizing “ethics, morality and spirituality.”  The spiritual principle guiding his career, he said, was the Golden Rule. He read the two different versions in the New Testament and said that all religions have similar precepts and read examples from several faiths.

He illustrated the importance of considering how others would like to be treated and acting accordingly with illustrations of how American service people have been embraced abroad because they follow this spiritual maxim. He did not mention Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo or the hundred thousand we have killed in Iraq.

Further, military chapels embrace all religions; they unite people of all faiths, he said. Because those in service demonstrate respect for all faiths, Iraqi leaders held a Christmas party for US military leaders.

In short, the military does not tolerate discrimination “of any kind,” he said. I was astonished that he seemed unaware of the fact that openly gay and lesbian folks are discriminated out of the service.

The concluding 60-second prayer by Steve Penn once again trumpeted the morning’s theme when he uplifted “different religions, backgrounds and races.”

So the prayer breakfast was a success, with 2 1/2 
minutes of prayer out of a  98-minute ceremony.

Yet I wish we had a prayer breakfast unconnected in name with civic officials where prayers of repentance replaced prayers of pride. The corruption, incompetence, profiteering, cronyism, and mismanagement which led to a dishonest and immoral war and fail to provide those fighting it with adequate armor or an intelligent civilian strategy, is our fault. We have nurtured new breeding grounds for terrorists and subverted our own democratic heritage at home. We need to repent of allowing an administration of desecration, destruction and death to continue in our name.

March 19 is the third anniversary of the worsening war, even though “mission accomplished” was declared May 1, 2003.

How We Love

I hate “spiritual” love. It bores me to death. I know we are supposed to praise it, but I prefer the love that rises within the body as the body apprehends the body of the universe, perhaps in another single body. It is life-affirming love.

The Christian writer C S Lewis probably deserves credit for a familiar scheme for classifying kinds of love on the basis of four Greek words.

* Storge is something like affection from familiarity, as in the love family members may have for each other, or as travelers who are thrown together for a time may develop.

* Philia, friendship, on the other hand, is a bond between people who share interests, such as teammates, co-workers, or a regular companion for the Symphony.

* Eros is romantic or sexual attraction, sometimes considered a madness because it often impairs the judgment of those it afflicts. Cupid’s arrows suggest the wounding that may be part of the experience.

* Agape is love in a general rather than a personal sense. Lewis uses the term to mean selfless love, but the ancients used it to express the love of truth or love of one’s country. Christians have used the term to designate the way God’s care for the human race, best shown in the sacrifice of Jesus.

Religious folks often assume agape is the superior type of love. Even if they allow for eros, it is considered less spiritual.

The three Christian virtues named by Paul are faith, hope, and love. Paul uses agape, translated into Latin as charitas, from which our word charity derives.

But I don’t think these schemes work very well, either linguistically or as we live our lives. For example, philia is often understood to mean brotherly love, as in the city Philadelphia, even though the scheme assigns that meaning to storge. And words like philosophy, the love of wisdom, suggests the term encroaches on the domain of agape.

Other religions have various terms for love. In Hinduism, for example, kama is erotic pleasure, as in the Kama Sutra, the famous love-making manual. Karuna means loving kindness or compassion. Bhakti is the devotion one offers to God.

While distinguishing various types of love may be useful in drawing necessary boundaries for our behavior, these categories can also be traps. If we force our feelings into categories, we repress the luscious subtleties which course through our being. Love cannot be fitted into neat compartments This is why it is sometimes hard to make decisions about how we express love. Sometimes how we love the very same person may change from moment to moment, but we have a right to expect a range of consistent behavior in ourselves and others.

You don’t become spiritual by thinking about God when you are making love. You become spiritual simply by loving. And by accepting all the joy and uncertainties that love entails.

The split between sacred and secular love represents a failure to see how the whole universe is unfolding with a love that sometimes seems gracious and sometimes tragic. Love is like that.

Those who separate spirituality from the body might contemplate Bernini’s famous sculpture, “St. Teresa in Ecstasy,” completed in 1652. Notice the Cupid-like angel with  his phallic arrow aimed at Teresa whose appearance is indistinguishable from orgasm. This image, not by a theologian but an artist, suggests how impossible it is to distinguish the erotic and the spiritual. Or to say it another way, love can not be separated from a bodily experience. Even abstract “love for humanity” is mere sentiment, unworthy to be called love, unless it moves the body to action.
 Happy St Valentine’s Day!

A Speech for Every Citizen

Last year the anti-gay, single-religion proclamations of Bill Dunn, Sr. at the Mayors’ Prayer Breakfast led to an uproar when the organiziers refused to state that its purpose was non-partisan and honored all religions. The group has announced that  its speaker this year, Feb 22, will be Kansas City native and recently retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard Myers. As honored as he may be, and as proud our city may be of him, his prestige and Kansas City origins are overshadowed by the Mayors’ Prayer Breakfast committee’s apparent determination to further violate and divide the community. So what should he say? Here is my fantasy:

Good people of Kansas City: this occasion’s purpose is, through prayer, to celebrate and deepen our sense of community, embracing gay and straight, every race, the full political spectrum and all spiritual paths.

I say this at the outset because I’m sure many of you were astonished when  you heard I was chosen  to be the speaker. As a public figure identified with a war that some have called unnecessary and incompetent, I appear to be about as non-controversial as Cindy Sheehan would be on the other side.

You must be asking, “What were the organizers thinking? After the distress and division caused by last year’s partisan and self-righteous speaker, why did they not seek a speaker who would not appear to further insult the comity of the community? Will they never learn? Do they still not get it — or are they deliberately destroying this honorable prayer-breakfast tradition in order to further their own partisan and narrow religious interests?”

Your speaker last year has every right to his views and to promote them publicly. I have spent my career defending his freedom — and yours as well. The question is not his right to speak. The question is whether an occasion such as this should be subverted for narrow ends.

I think not, just as a wedding is not the time for political speeches, and a funeral is not the time for protesters to parade their understanding of Leviticus.

We are a nation of many peoples, and that is our strength. We have found ways of separating our private convictions from those that must govern public life. Thus, while I may personally agree with Jesus and Catholics that divorce is wrong, I recognize that my nation contains people who interpret the New Testament differently than I do, and therefore civil law rightly permits divorce.

I have fought for the right of the Jehovah’s witness to refuse blood transfusions, but I also have fought for the right of society to allow those who disagree with this stance to seek medical care that respects their different religious convictions.

I am ashamed of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy governing homosexuals in the military. The only people this policy serves is the wedge-issue politicians. Our nation’s security is damaged by this policy, especially when we need competent linguists, intelligence officers, and other soldiers who are gay  whose excellence is undeniable.

While religions who disapprove of homosexuals have every right to do so within their own organizations, they should not command the US Military.  Some of these religions have death penalties for same-sex acts, but our government protects citizens against such acts  favored by personal religious opinions.

To force conformity of religious views on gay rights, a woman’s right to choose, stem-cell research, the teaching of evolution in science class, marriage, and other such matters would be theocracy, not the democracy which I have pledged to defend.

Finally, when we pray for America, let us also pray for the whole world, as we may be reminded to do by the Gospel song, “He’s got the whole world in His hands.” Yes, I pledge allegiance to the United States of America, but our allegiance must now also include the vision of Isaiah, who saw that the divine is not the property of a single nation, but the gift to all. And in this community, this prayer breakfast should belong not just to those on the right or the left, but to every citizen.  I pray that it may be so.

Mysterious Ways

Here’s the story, or at least the part of it I know, about how Mayor Barnes came to speak with such high regard about gay activist, Roger Goodin, who died several years ago, at the Table of Faiths luncheon Nov 10.

You may remember that at the Feb 11 Mayors’ Prayer Breakfast Bill Dunn, Sr., chairman emeritus of J.E. Dunn Construction, used the occasion to attack  librarians, judges, believers in civil liberties, and  the gay community.
 I immediately, politely, registered my concern with Mr. Dunn at the conclusion of the event (see my CAMP columns for March and April), wrote him a letter (to which he has never responded), and wrote the  following to the chair of the breakfast committee:

“So much wonderful effort again went into the Mayors’ Prayer Breakfast this morning, it was a shame for it to become a partisan brawl. While Mr. William Dunn, Sr., has every right to his own religious viewpoints and to express them, when he referred with moral imprimatur to November’s election, the event became in effect a political rally in which the unwilling were forced to participate. The Mayors’ Prayer Breakfast should be about the spirit, the unity that brings us together, not about partisan promotion. In my view it was unethical of your speaker to violate the non-partisan intent and expectation of the event.”

When it was clear there would not be a favorable response from the committee, I thought Dunn’s damage to our community should be discussed publicly, so I wrote a column in The Star Feb 23 which elicited so much public reaction that The Star eventually published the text of Dunn’s remarks.

Meanwhile, Mayor Barnes sought a statement from the committee that would provide guidance for future planning to avoid such an offense in the future. She even volunteered to be the keynote speaker at the 2006 breakfast “to reaffirm the intended inclusive nature of the event.”

The committee rejected her suggestions. On March 1, she issued a statement reporting her disappointment and announcing that she would “not participate in nor attend next year’s event.” She said, “I am notifying the many individuals who contacted me about their displeasure with this year’s event about my decision.”

Meanwhile, members of the Interfaith Council, some of whom were at the breakfast, began planning an event which would mark the Council’s new status as an independent organization. (From its formation in 1989 through last year, the Council was a program of my organization CRES, and I felt it was now strong enough to function on its own.)

Lama Chuck Stanford of the Rime Buddhist Center, the Buddhist member of the Council, wrote the Mayor with suggestion that she might preside over a metro-wide event at which the values of diversity might be celebrated. She liked the idea.

A committee was formed and the Table of Faiths luncheon was planned.

Over 600 people attended the $45 a plate luncheon, with some paying $1000 for a table, quite a remarkable result for the first year of what will become an annual event.

So LGBT people, let’s hear it for — Mr. Dunn! His perverse and intolerant views roused a faithful community to respond with a strong affirmation that Kansas City celebrates its diversity. So, ironically, good, much good, has come from what appeared to be an evil morning.
 And certainly let us praise Mayor Barnes who, failing private efforts to move the situation forward, took a clear and strong public stand against “the tone and content of the [Feb. 11 Dunn] keynote address.”

And let us praise Mayor Pro-Tem Al Brooks, who was a key luncheon planner, unfailing in his devotion to acceptance for all people, along with Jewish co-chair Gayle Krigel, Muslim co-chair Mahnaz Shabbir, co-chair Lama Chuck, Council convener David Nelson, and the entire Council with membership from American Indian to Zoroastrian, who are working hard to make Kansas City “the most welcoming community for all people.”

0512 CAMP'S HEADLINE extra
Flesh Made Holy

The movie hasn’t even come to Kansas City yet, but already Ang Lee’s western, “Brokeback Mountain,” is the topic. Anyone wishing the original story by Annie Proulx can email me.

After surprising themselves by making love, one cowboy, 
Ennis, says “I’m no queer.” Jack replies, “Me neither.” But their love, even after they marry women and beget children, continues.

The history of religions demonstrates that human beings engage in all sorts of wonderful sexual behavior that is a sacrament of the flesh. Often it just didn’t matter whether it was a same-sex or an opposite-sex sacrament.

I mention this fact because our language and ways of thinking now include “sexual orientation,” an idea developed in 1869. Many “straight” people using this idea defend LGBT people by saying that “they are born that way,” helpless to do anything about who they are attracted to.

I worry because this way of thinking can imply and perpetuate a “victim mentality.” We are attracted to some sports, or arts, or careers. We choose the food we like, the music we buy, the movies we see. What’s wrong with saying we can choose the people we  love sexually?

The ways people are sexual arise from many conditions including cultural expectations, who one happen to meet, and the circumstances in which one finds oneself. If cowboys Ennis and Jack had not by chance had that cold night on Brokeback Mountain, they may have never discovered their capacity to be so joyously sexual with another man, and might have lived totally “straight” lives.

And soldiers, sailors, prisoners, and others deprived of female company, might be sexual with guys simply because no women are around. And the ancient Greeks, with plenty of women around, expected same-sex behavior among all males.

This suggests “orientation” is more a theoretical construct and a psychological identification rather than a fleshy reality. Turning behavior into an identity can limit us.
 What does this mean religiously?

Perhaps it means that trying to define the indefinable — love — fails to respect the Infinite. Even raw sexual energy is beyond explanation if we really allow it to move through us and free us from the confines of who we think we are.

But as the story tragically demonstrates, there can be a price to pay if we open ourselves up to the sacred and discover our larger selves,  The problem is not with the lure of the sacred, but with a society that refuses to recognize it, and the dishonesty that is required of those forced into hiding their experience of the sacred from those who would oppress them.

The Religious Right’s political efforts to marginalize people who love those of their same sex are, ironically, profoundly secular, unconnected to the holy character of love, or, as the movie website calls it, the “force of nature.” The Religious Right wears religion as a fashion statement or a team identity, rather than sharing the heart pulsing with love and the joy of existence. Saying how love must arise, be packaged, transported, delivered, and received blasphemes the ways love becomes flesh.

The Christmas story is about divine love becoming flesh, God born human form. This is not the time to examine the texts that suggest Jesus slept with a young man, or the claims that he was married, or that Jesus was chaste. But this season, called Advent, is a time to celebrate the insight revealed in his  birth story, much like stories  about Moses, the Buddha, Confucius, Hercules, Krishna, and others. That insight proclaims that the miracle of incarnation — spirit, literally, in flesh — is momentous because it opens us to what is beyond us.

Time may have fractured and frustrated Ennis and Jack, but it was their openness to the birth of the unexpected in flesh that revealed the Eternal. Is it just an accident of language that “coming,” the meaning of Advent, is a synonym for orgasm?

Whatever your faith, the spirit is flesh made holy.

Eminent Scholar of Religion and GLBT Supporter to Speak Here

He is adamant in defending sexual minorities. He is 86 years old, the son of missionaries in China, a life-long Methodist, and universally beloved for his classic text, The World’s Religions, three editions of which I have used over the years in my college classes. PBS’s Bill Moyers did a 5-hour series with him called, “The Wisdom Traditions.”

I first met Huston Smith when I was a doctoral student at the University of Chicago Divinity School. He visited the campus with a film documenting what his colleagues at MIT said was impossible: a single human being vocalizing three distinct pitches at the same time. He had made the discovery of Buddhist monks doing just that in a previous trip to Tibet, and returned with a crew which produced the film.

The last time I saw Smith was in April when, with retired Methodist pastor Harold Johnson, we went to Smith’s parents’ graves in Marshall, MO. In the car we talked about many things, including how we all had come to fuller understanding of human sexual variations. While details are not appropriate here, Smith’s commitment to full rights for gays and lesbians was expressed in the strongest terms.

Our paths have crossed many times over the years, at international conferences and in Kansas City. He helped the Vedanta Society celebrate a 1995 anniversary by discussing mysticism. In 1996 he outlined his thesis for Why Religion Matters, published five years later. His defense of American Indian sacred drug practices led to court decisions and he was here in 1997 to discuss his One Nation Under God: The Triumph of the Native American Church. His Cleansing the Doors of Perception is a rare, honest look at the religious use of psychoactive plants and chemicals.

In 2003 Smith was here to honor his 1938-39 roommate at Central Methodist College, Elbert Cole, on Cole’s retirement as director of Shepherd’s Centers of America. Last year he presented a lecture series at the Country Club Christian Church, at which there was no doubt about his condemnation of the Iraq War.

When his publisher encouraged him to consider a tour to advance his new book, The Soul of Christianity, he suggested contacting me to make arrangements for Kansas City.

In turn, I asked Jamie Rich, Open Circle managing director, to help with the logistics. Jamie says, “LGBT people marginalized and cast out by American Christian fundamentalism should listen to what Huston Smith is saying.  Smith has dedicated his life to teaching people the common wisdom of the world’s great religions. So many in our community mistakenly believe that a majority of the world religions stand against us.  But, the true pluralistic message is one of inclusivity and 
understanding, not separation and fear. Thanks goodness there are scholars like Huston Smith among us to remind us of the truth.”

We asked Lama Chuck Stanford, whom Smith treated to lunch a year ago when Chuck was visiting Berkeley where Smith lives with his wife,  Kendra, to host Smith’s visit at the Rime Buddhist Center, 700 W. Pennway. Chuck said, “The Rime Center is open to all people, and we are grateful that Huston Smith’s life-long embrace of diversity, compassion, and wisdom will be evident by his presence and his amazing ability to articulate profound truth.”

Chuck said that Buddhism recognizes that sexuality, like any powerful force in people’s lives, requires respect, and “this applies without distinction to folks whatever their sexual preferences.”

I’ll have the pleasure of interviewing Smith Oct 10 Monday 7:30 pm, and questions from the audience are also invited. In order to open the event to as many as possible, we’ve arranged for those who purchase a book in advance get in free. Otherwise, tickets are $9 advance and $12 at the door. For information, call Open Circle (816) 931-0738, or visit

Sex and Religion

 I saw eXposed: The Making of a Legend at the recent KC Gay and Lesbian Film and Video Festival. The “Legend” is Buckleroo, a gay porn film I have not seen. I gather Buckleroo explores the question, “What do we really want — hot sex with lots of partners or a stable, supportive relationship?”

While conventional morality and presumed maturity clearly selects the second option, a review of world religious history, and particularly the honored role of the temple or sacred prostitute, suggests that there may be no one answer for everyone at every point in one’s life.

In what has sometimes been called the world’s first novel, The Epic of Galgamesh, at least three thousand years old, it is, ironically, a female temple prostitute whose actions initiate the meeting of Gilgamesh and Enkidu, who become lovers.

But let’s postpone the historical survey for a month or two. Let me instead make a point about studying religion: Despite what you may have been taught, nothing stays the same. How could it? Theological ideas and religious practices are constantly reinterpreted as the culture itself changes.

So to examine a question of, say, temple prostitution in our own time, we have to look for how a similar dynamic is expressing itself today, however fragmentarily. We have thrown the sex workers out of the temple and into the street. Or maybe onto the movie set. Or into the ads in the back of The Pitch. Or maybe the impulse can be found in the go-go boys in the bars.

Sex is a big deal in all religions, and they seek to interpret it, and in varying degrees control it, because it has the potential of revealing basic, sacred energies from which our lives arise and find meaning, and thus can upset the existing social order or vested interests. Even the monastic who practices celibacy is honoring the power of sexuality as he seeks to incorporate it or transform it into his quest for transcendence and service to others.

I became interested in this way of looking at things from a friend whose interest one time led him to ask an Indian sage where he could find sacred sex. The sage responded, “Go to the most unlikely places, the places despised by mainstream, secular culture. Go to the gay theaters.”

On a trip out of town, he found a gay theater. A porn film was playing as he entered. When it was over, a naked youth appeared on the stage and began playing with himself. When he was hard, he moved into the audience, up and down the aisles, so everyone could admire his erection and put dollar bills in his socks. Finally he returned to the stage and proudly ejaculated.

My friend’s response was contradictory. On one hand, being well-trained by our culture, he thought, “What a terrible thing for this young man to expose himself, to be forced by the financial conditions of his life to prostitute himself this way, to violate his privacy, to share with strangers something so personal.”

But the stronger reaction was the more basic, and, as he described it to me, the more spiritual. He said, “This man was so comfortable with himself, obviously enjoying himself as he captured the interest of others that he was celebrating the power of manhood and blessing others with that. It was healthy, honest, brave, liberating, warrior-like and lover-like, wholesome. And despite my conditioning to think of sex, and particularly porn-type sex, as dirty, I was so surprised and overwhelmed by the experience that it seemed, well, holy. The sacred power of sexuality had manifested itself. And theater had become a temple.”

I argued a bit. “But surely you don’t think others in the theater had the same religious experience you had.”

My friend said, “What you bring to the experience influences the experience. For many people wanting just to get your rocks off has nothing to do with religion, but that only shows how perverted and fragmented our understanding of the spirit in our culture has become.”

“Religion: The Terrorists’ Best Weapon”

Recently I was asked by my own Rotary club to speak about the relationship between terrorism and religion. I could think of no better title than “Religion: The Terrorists’ Best Weapon.” I expressed dismay that the arena of faith, to which my career has been dedicated, is also the arena from which violence often emerges.

The specific religion does not seem to matter, although the monotheistic traditions seem more likely to produce the kind of self-righteousness that supports harming innocent people in order to advance a political cause cloaked in the language faith. Protestant and Catholic terrorists in Northern  Ireland, the Israeli and Palestinian violence in  the “Holy Land,” the attacks on New York, Madrid, and London in the name of Islam, are recent examples of an ancient theme.

In the Hebrew Bible, Numbers 31, God commands the children of Israel to burn villages, kill all the animals and the men, and slaughter the women except young virgins who are to be enjoyed by the terrorists. Similar divine commands are recorded in Joshua 6, Judges 21, Deuteronomy 20, and elsewhere. We don’t often read this stuff, but is there in Scripture  to justify today’s terrorists.

The concept of Holy War is not Islamic; war in Islam may in some circumstances be necessary but it is never holy, despite prejudiced media translations of jihad. Christians developed the idea. The Crusades are such a shameful example that thinking people hesitate to speak “Crusade” in modern contexts. Oops, Billy Graham used the term.

The American attack on Iraq, a nation that offered us no threat, is widely seen in the Muslim world as the work of an avowedly Christian president. Bush’s political indebtedness to oppressive Israeli and corrupt Saudi governments further discredit Christianity in the eyes of many Muslims.

While most of us are now focused on foreign terrorism, Christian Identity and other groups continue
in our own county. With the growth of the radical religious Right, we can expect fanaticism to increase, and targets to include not just abortion clinics and individuals like Matthew Shepard, but also those, even churches, who uplift justice and equality.

An example. Following the July 4 vote of the United Church of Christ General Synod to endorse equal marriage rights for same-sex couples, St. John’s Reformed UCC in Middlebrook, VA, was vandalized with anti-gay graffiti and fire in the sanctuary.

“The perpetrators of this attack against a sacred space have been trained to hate by faith leaders who tell them gay people are sick, and by state and federal governments that are working to enshrine discrimination in their constitutions. It is the responsibility of all people of faith to denounce this attack and stem the tide of homophobia that is flooding our country,” said the Rev. Steven Baines, steering committee member of the National Religious Leadership Roundtable.

Recently I had the pleasure of preaching at Southwood UCC and was heartened by the hymns and liturgy of justice and peace. Southwood is one of a growing number of congregations in our own area who understand their worship and their work in the world must embody the sacred orientation of love.

Nobel Prize winner Steven Weinberg has written, “With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things — that takes religion.”

There is no doubt that religion is used to justify violence, racism, sexism, economic and environmental exploitation, and homophobia. But the search for meaning in life, which is one way of describing religion, cannot and should not be expunged.

Instead the task is to re-center religion on experiences of the holy, what atheists might call the awesome. The energy of sex and the majesty of love are awesome manifestations of the spirit. Gay folks need not only be included in the purification of faith but can be leaders with their experiences of overcoming the pervasive threats to the holiness of personal authenticity.

America, the Uptight

SIDE, Turkey.-- One of the delights of this region is watching the way men relate to each other. Antalya, Izmir, Konya, Ankara, Istanbul – it’s all the same. When they greet, they kiss. When they walk, one may have his arm around the other, or they may    hold hands. Boys do it, old men do it, business men do it. There is frequent touching, from grooming to brief massage. Turkish men are much freer to show their affection and regard for one another than most Americans are.

Some years ago in Allahabad, India, I was listening to a lecture with a married friend. When the lecture was over, he took my hand. For a split second I was shocked, but quickly caught myself. “I’m in India, not the USA,” I remembered. We walked several blocks with fingers entwined before circumstances naturally led him to release my hand.

A married American friend born in another culture who has lived with American repression for many years told me how painful it was for him to meet a friend from that culture at the airport and be unable to greet him as he would be greeted in his own culture because it would be misinterpreted. His friend was saddened that what seemed to him so natural was in effect prohibited.
In brief, America is uptight.

It was not always so. Photos of men together before the Civil War show affection. That disastrous conflict, though necessary, seems to be part of the development that made men fearful of closeness, or expressing closeness. Men used to write extravagant letters to each other in language we now reserve for erotic love. We know Walt Whitman liked guys, and how, but Leaves of Grass, with the ambiguity of language in his time, was not a homosexual manifesto.

For only a fraction of human history has the notion of sexual orientation existed. In understanding and regulating affectional and sexual behavior, different cultures have created different categories. In some Islamic cultures, for example, older men might fondle younger men simply as an expression of affection or admiration. What was prohibited was penetration. But because no one knows what happens in a private relationship, we cannot be sure, to cite one puzzle, whether Rumi and Shams were genital in their affection.

Do we need to know? The culture emphasized family stability; the social order should not be violated or disrupted. But private behaviors kept private did not threaten community commitments. Removed from that cultural context, what that culture considered respectful, we might call hypocritical. But in its own world, it worked, and maybe there was less distress about sex than in our own society.

Even in our own culture it is sometimes difficult to know when a particular  behavior should be considered sexual. Sometimes the courts are called upon to decide. Do we have the right to impose the categories our culture has developed in understanding how others have experienced love? The categories of straight, gay, and bi simply don’t seem to work within most civilizations.

As children, we naturally touch--to explore, to connect. It is very sad that  elementary teachers today must be guarded in how they relate to their students. The natural impulse to hug the kids must be disciplined.

In the process of our society moving toward full liberation of everyone, declarations of identity seems to be a necessary stage. But deciding what behavior, in what circumstance, with whom, is part of the straight.identity or the gay identity, is a game that for too many has become a burden, not a liberation. There are a lot of “straight” people who feel this burden, and a lot of “gay” people too.

We’ve come some distance. In some circumstances, American men, and not just football players, can now hug each other in public Kisses are still rare. But some day we’ll see men holding hands walking through the Plaza like I see here in Turkey, and the issue of sexual identity will not even cross our minds.

Gays: Giving a Lot More than They Get

 Gay Pride month may rightly recall the famous who helped to create civilization as we know it in every field — military (Alexander), music (Leonard Bernstein), art (Michelangelo), poetry (Shakespeare), acting (Marlon Brando), cuisine (Craig Claiborne), politics (Barney Frank), athletics (Billie Jean King), entertainment (Johnny Mathis), children’s literature  (Hans Christian Andersen), my personal favorite in religion, King James, after whom the most famous English translation of the Bible was named — and countless more.

However, this month may also be a good time to consider the contributions gays make to heterosexuality. In his 1992 book Body Theology, Christian theologian James B. Nelson identifies several ways his understanding of sex as a life-long heterosexual has been deepened by learning from gays. Informed by his comments, I’ll co-mingle my own.

1. Gay sex frees religion from justifying sexual behavior as procreation. Why sex needs to be justified at all — it is a self-evident and natural pleasure — arises from societies where patriarchal control, certainty about parentage, the need for children to help with the work and a sense of immortality through progeny. Influenced by dualistic philosophy, early Christian writers like Augustine decided that erotic pleasure itself was sinful and that sex could be justified only for the purpose of begetting. In the course of Christian history, masturbation was considered more sinful than rape because rape at least offered the possibility of procreation. Gay sex, which may arise from pleasure, affection and commitment, models for heterosexuals a sexuality free from necessary procreation.

2. Gays may have a more fluid sense of sex-role identity. Thus gays may model a richer possibility of personhood for straights. Women and be strong, men can be caring. We are born with infinite capacities, and we need not let cultural stereotypes tell us who we are.

3. Gays who have intimate friendships with members of their own sex can awaken in heterosexuals their need for deep friendships with members of their own sex as well. Nelson calls this “intimacy envy” among straights. At some level of awareness, many heterosexual men feel deprived by not having loving, non-sexual relationships with other men because they fear being thought gay. But sensing the rewards of same-sex friendships more openly displayed by gays can liberate straight men to companionate and emotional friendships with other men.

4. For Nelson, gays who have dealt with their sexuality can teach heterosexuals to embrace their own sexuality more completely. The difficulty our society has in dealing with sex suggests that at some level heterosexuals are troubled by sex. We are born body and spirit together, but our dualistic culture separates the spiritual from the physical. The many “gay spirituality” publications can lead heterosexuals as well to integrate body and spirit.

While Nelson and most CAMP readers probably accept the notion of “sexual orientation,” an idea I cannot find supported in religious history, Nelson does recognize that most of us have a wider capacity for sexual interest than our culture yet admits. Still, perhaps some progress has been made in the “straight” world since Nelson wrote. The “buddy” movies, the acceptance of gay models in advertising and, paradoxically, the reactive forces of the anti-gay marriage efforts may be signs that gays are contributing not only to art, engineering, soldiering, medicine, government and such, but also to a healing of the sexual distress which in many ways still characterizes our culture.

Of course, the religious tradition of the West, misconstrued by many to be uniform, has often been friendly to same-sex commitments. And other religions have fully endorsed same-sex explorations. We are recovering these insights. Heterosexuals no longer expect to be limited to the “missionary position.” Gays are contributing to straights as we all pursue the liberation of the spirit. Let’s be proud about that.

Love, Not Sex

 Here is scene #15, “Love, not Sex,” edited here for space, from The Hindu and the Cowboy and Other Kansas City Stories. The play, scripted by Donna Ziegenhorn, emerged from interviews with nearly 70 area residents from many religious background, from a now-elderly Jewish survivor of a Nazi concentration camp to a young Muslim, an American Indian, an atheist, a Buddhist, and so forth—all local stories of great power, all true in message though fictionalized in some details. Produced in many venues around town, the play is available for additional bookings. Email me and I’ll help you bring this celebration of diversity to your group.

This scene begins as a dialogue between a newspaper Columnist and a Reader at the columnist’s desk.

C. I write features for the newspaper. Today’s Valentine’s Day, and I wrote about  . . . [R breaks in.]

R.  David and Jonathan. You have no right to include them!

C. Excuse me. What are you upset about?

R. Your article. Today’s article.

C.  I wrote about love.

R.  That’s exactly what I mean!

C.  Sir, what’s your concern?

R. Homosexuality. . . . You’re condoning homosexuality. . . .
C. I’ve written about loving relationships. Muhammad and his wife, Khadija, from Islam. Rama and Sita from the Hindu Ramayana and . . .

R. and Jonathan and David from the Bible!  You’re using them to show that, that they were having a, a relationship.

C. I’m writing about love.

R. The Bible condemns homosexuality. Leviticus 20:13.

C. I’m writing about love, not sex.

R.  “If a man lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death.” [C attempts to interrupt . . .]

C. Sir? Sir.Why are you focusing on sex?

R. What clearer justification could there be?

C. Justification for what?

R. That God hates that sin. I won’t associate with people who commit it. . . .

C. Who’s making you associate with people who commit it?

R. My son. [Pauses.] Straight A student. Star athlete. Football player. Comes home to tell me he’s in love with a team mate.

C. What did you tell him?

R. I told him to get out of the house and never come back.

C. You were true to your justification.

R. Yes, I believe God hates

C. Were you true to your heart?

R. Stop writing about homosexuality. It’s wrong. And I don’t want to read otherwise. . . .
Later, to audience:

I’d been a football player too. Another player, a team mate, turned out to be gay. One afternoon in the locker room, a few of us ganged up on him. We pushed him around, called him a fairy, worse. Grabbed his helmet away and said he wasn’t fit to play on the team. [Pause.]
 He went home that night and shot himself. Felt guilty all those years but convinced myself I was justified. In my mind, never allowed the guy the face of a full person.

Sure did now. My son’s. I got on the phone. Called my son and told him the whole story, right up through seeing his face. Said I was ashamed for what I’d done and for what I’d said to him too. Let him know nothing would destroy my love for him. Invited him and his friend to come home, spend the weekend with us.  When they came, they were sitting there on the couch together.

Then, strange thing, out of thin air as I’m chatting with them, a figure takes form above them. Wearing a long white robe, arms open wide. It was beautiful. Looked  right at me and said, “You’re loved. All of you.”

Mayors' Prayer Breakfast

Editor’s Note: William H Dunn Sr, chairman emeritus of J.E.Dunn Construction, provoked continuing controversy when he spoke at the Feb 11 Mayors' Prayer Breakfast, attend by about a thousand business leaders. Last month’s column argued that his comments provide an opportunity for the gay community to join with others also attacked on what was expected to be a reverent and unifying occasion. Mayor Kay Barnes announced March 1 that she would not attend next year’s breakfast because the committee declined to take appropriate action. Additional information is available on the CAMP web site.

Dear Mr Dunn: You may remember me. After others had spoken with you following the Mayors’ Prayer Breakfast, I approached you with my hand extended. Very politely I said, “Thank you for the many wonderful things you have done for Kansas City. But you might like to know that the ACLU has not prevented children from reading the Declaration of Independence because it has the word ‘God’ in it.” You would not shake my hand. Although no one else at that moment was seeking your attention, you turned away from me.

Sir, I am a clergyman. Can we talk a little religion?
 Thou shalt not bear false witness. Your remarks attacked the ACLU falsely. As a civic leader, you have a responsibility to get your facts straight. You should be ashamed for repeating a Right-wing distortion so severe it is simply a lie. I’d suggest a big donation to the ACLU with your apology.

You also attacked the ACLU because it believes the Boy Scouts should not discriminate against gays. I have been a Scout organizer and featured speaker. My son is an Eagle Scout. But he refuses to be active any more because he abhors its discriminatory policy of excluding qualified people from being a part of this otherwise wonderful program. Would you exclude me?

You certainly have the right to your opinion and to express it. But at a prayer breakfast with many kinds of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and other faiths represented? You, sir, blasphemed the non-sectarian character of the Mayors’ Prayer Breakfast by insinuating your own views are the only possible religious and ethical views.

Jesus said nothing about gays, about which you spoke. He warned many, many times about the dangers the rich face, about which you said nothing.

Your company motto is “Building lasting relationships,” and indeed you and your company deserve much applause for the contributions you have made to United Way and other worthy efforts. I also salute your business focus on relationships above profits. But with the Mayors’ Prayer Breakfast you have damaged many relationships. The community is in uproar. Almost every day, weeks later, comments about your speech appear in the paper. Almost everywhere I travel in this city, people are talking. Do you hear? Agency leaders and workers who depend on your funding tell me they are intimidated from expressing their opinions publicly. You have thus distorted democracy.

The Mayors’ Prayer Breakfast Committee, despite repeated requests from many quarters, has thus far been unable to issue a statement that the intent of the breakfast is non-partisan and non-sectarian. Others are contemplating an alternative event. You may not only have defiled the very platform on which you spoke; you may have destroyed it.

You, by violating the spirit of the Mayors’ Prayer Breakfast, have not deepened our reverence for each other, but set us at each others’ throats. You have the power to study what you said, to consider its effects, and to repent.
 In sadness and with hope,
 The Rev Vern Barnet, DMn

The Wrong Spirit

So many people were offended by remarks at this year’s Mayors’ Prayer Breakfast and continue to consider  what should be done that GLBT folk have a tremendous opportunity to join with others — librarians, judges, believers in civil liberties, to name a few — who, along with the gay community, were attacked in what seemed to be a calculated and deliberate effort to marginalize and stigmatize those with different views.

That morning, as soon as I reached my desk after returning from the Feb. 11 event, I wrote Debra Shulz who leads the affair, this year with over 1200 tickets sold:

“So much wonderful effort again went into the Mayors' Prayer Breakfast this morning, it was a shame for it to become a partisan brawl. While Mr. William Dunn, Sr., has every right to his own religious viewpoints and to express them, when he referred with moral imprimatur to November’s election, the event became in effect a political rally in which the unwilling were forced to participate. The Mayors’ Prayer Breakfast should be about the spirit, the unity that brings us together, not about partisan promotion. In my view it was unethical of your speaker to violate the non-partisan intent and expectation of the event.

“Afterwards I politely introduced myself to Mr. Dunn and thanked him for the many wonderful things he has done in the community. I also carefully said — in words no greater in number than what you see here — that I thought he had been misinformed about the situation in which he made the claim that the ACLU is preventing teachers from reading the Declaration of Independence because it contains the word “God.” He would not respond to me or even shake my extended hand. This is not the spirit of democracy and not the spirit of the Mayors’ Prayer Breakfast.

“I talked with a number of people afterwards who shared my disappointment, including those who said they agreed privately but could not be open in their disappointment because of business arrangements. [Mr Dunn is chairman emeritus of J.E. Dunn Construction.] Such informal pressure is not good for democracy. Your speaker took advantage of the situation. . . .

“May I respectfully suggest that your future speakers be instructed not to intertwine their partisan views with their remarks on this important annual occasion. . . .”

I have yet to receive a response from Ms Shulz, though everyday since, almost everywhere I go, regardless of the event, business and religious leaders and elected officials initiate conversation about what should be done.

The committee that plans this event must be held responsible for the corruption of a morning intended to promote unity in the highest spirit of kinship into an event where gays and others were attacked. If the breakfast leadership had done a better job — and it has been repeatedly warned to do so — the entire community would not have been embarrassed and besmirched by such licensed bigotry, well-timed to do maximum damage on behalf of a few people who apparently want to control the event and oppress ordinary folk into silence, like the businessman I mentioned in my note to Ms Shulz. We have urged her for several years to do better. Perhaps now she will listen to the many voices now raised more vigorously than ever. And if others of us would speak up a bit more bravely, this madness could be ended.

GLBT folks, families, and friends may feel often that we bear the brunt of prejudice, but we are in the company of a vast, good crowd of people who are now speaking up against all forms of bigotry. As I write this for deadline, I understand the committee is preparing a public response to the controversy. Let us hope it renounces the use of its forum for damaging the community and instead embraces the spirit of diversity.

God and Love

What is it like to fall in love? What is it like to find God? Perhaps the experiences are very much the same. The whole world changes. What has been ordinary is now holy. Everywhere you look, you see the sacred beckoning you or rejoicing with you.

The Bible says, “God is love” (I John 4:16), but no one has written about the identity of love and faith better than Jelaluddin Rumi. He says love’s freshness and wonder is what makes life worth living.

“Wherever you are and in whatever circumstances you find yourself, strive always to be a lover--and a passionate lover at that. This is the true religion. All others are thrown-away bandages,” he writes. Theological speculations are not nearly as important as the power of love, which brings us to life: “If anyone wonders how Jesus raised the dead, don’t try to explain the miracle. Kiss me on the lips.”

How did Rumi come to insist on the centrality of love in the life of the spirit?

When he was perhaps 37, he met another man, Shams, then 60. Their love is a quite a story.

Rumi was born in 1207 and became a respected scholar near what is now central Turkey. One day Sham of Tabriz, a wandering dervish, appeared at his door and asked a question so profound that Rumi fainted, literally falling to the floor in love. “What I had thought of before as God, today I met as a person,” Rumi wrote as he experienced “the spreading union of lover and beloved.”

Others did not appreciate their unending conversation and constant companionship.  Rumi’s students felt neglected. “I used to be respectable and chaste and stable, but who can stand in this strong wind and remember these things,” Rumi wrote. The scandal eventually caused Shams to disappear.

When Rumi got word of Sham’s whereabouts, Rumi sent his son to bring Shams back. When they were reunited, they fell at each others’ feet so that, in the curious words of one report, “no one knew who was lover and who the beloved.”

But the problems again emerged. This time Shams answered the door and disappeared. Some think another of Rumi’s sons had him killed.

Rumi’s loss and grief became a metaphor for our yearning for God and God’s yearning for us. Rumi’s longing for his friend became song and poetry and dance. He founded the order of mystics called “Whirling Dervishes.”

Rumi discovered that he could find his beloved when he looked within himself, and that everywhere he looked he found embodiments of his friend: a stone, a field, a jug of water. The love that persists after a shattering loss, or the love that can be learned from the sound of a flute or a piece of bread, reveals its divine source.

But we may not be open to the miracles about us until yearning breaks us open. The spirit can dance, even in loneliness, if one does not try to repair what is missing, and if one hears the direction of God in the absence.
The act of surrender in faith is like surrendering to the uncertainties of love through which we live a life beyond mere expectations. The life of faith and the decision to love without condition provide no assurances of safety or charms against disappointment. But faith and love do enable us to come out of hiding, to honor our yearnings, to know and be known in the deepest ways. Rumi writes of this yearning: “The tambourine begs, ‘Touch my skin so I can be myself.’” Or again, “When bodies blend in copulation, spirits also merge.” Skin with skin and spirit with spirit, love is the mirror and the one holding the mirror through which the whole world is revealed.

Are sex and spirituality two seperate realms?

This is about sex. Be patient.
Deserving or not, I’ve received awards from Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and other organizations. In 1989 I organized the Kansas City Interfaith Council and led it through 2003. But I also have disappointed folks of many faiths.

My earliest interfaith efforts were on behalf of Christian-Jewish relations. However, when Sharon came to power in Israel, I questioned his policies, and this angered some local Jewish leaders. While I distinguish the honor of the Jewish tradition from the Israeli government, others say to question anything Israel does is anti-Semitic. When I think “Islam,” I think of 1.2 billion people and a heritage which made the Renaissance possible. When they think “Islam,” they think ten million Palestinians, some of whom presently want to kill Israelis.
Knowing I have many Muslim friends, one local Jewish opinion maker actually said to me at lunch, “I would like to meet one Muslim who is not a terrorist.” I condemn violence, whether by the Jew who killed Rabin, the Muslim who killed Sadat, the Hindu who killed Gandhi, or the Christian who killed Martin Luther King Jr. Religion distorted by politics is pretty ugly.

To drive a wedge between my Muslim friends and me, an effort within the Jewish leadership was undertaken to question my sexuality. I was amazed because many Jewish leaders strongly support human rights for all people.

It didn’t work. Although homosexuality is an extraordinarily difficult topic for many Muslims, I lost not a single Muslim friend.

But how do Muslims regard same-sex love? A Muslim in the audience at an interfaith panel discussion of sexuality last fall at UMKC rudely presented his hostility to same-sex behavior as Islamic. In Islam, the “punishment” for homosexuality varies among the legal systems from the lenient Hanafi to the harsh Hanbali. Some Muslims note there is no clear condemnation of same-sex behavior in the Qur’an. Others cite the story of Lut (known to Jews and Christians as Lot) in the story of the city Sodom. However, the Hebrew Bible says the sins of Sodom were pride and neglect of the poor (Ezekiel 16:49), and some Muslims interpret the Qur’anic verses to refer to the Sodomites’ inhospitality to the guests, specifically their attempt to rape their guests, not a condemnation of consensual same-sex activity.

In both Judaism and Islam, sexual pleasure is characteristically viewed positively, where much of the Christian tradition, especially since Augustine, has justified sex only for procreation, not pleasure. Of the monotheistic traditions, Islam has the richest legacy of same-sex love poetry, where the lovers realize union with divine through their ardor. Despite Islamic laws, de facto acceptance of male same-sex behavior has been widespread, sometimes under cover, so to speak, sometimes quite openly.

For many Kansas City Muslims, it is a topic simply not discussed. I suppose this is like “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Still, two years ago, the Kansas City Interfaith Council, including Christian, Jewish and Muslim members, unanimously endorsed the mission of the Youth Violence Prevention Project: “to prevent abuse and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth and those so perceived in the Greater Kansas City Metropolitan area.”

People of all faiths ought always to search for deeper understandings of the blessing of love, wherever it appears.


    “Do you want the government telling you who you can or can’t marry?” A question thus phrased would get a resounding No from the American population. Why, then, did so many anti-gay marriage measures pass this November? It is because they were cleverly packaged as a “defense of marriage.” 
     We know this is Bible-thumping hypocrisy. If those defending marriage really wanted to follow literally what Jesus said, they would outlaw divorce and remarriage (see Mark 10:11). 
     When the Missouri constitutional amendment was debated this spring, good people argued against it by saying that “it is not needed – there is already a law against same-sex marriage.” Frankly, I found this disgustingly defensive and ineffective against those who said that “activist judges” could overturn the law and so a constitutional amendment is needed to “protect marriage.” 
     An assertive, rather than a defensive, campaign is required against a federal amendment. We should propose a “Freedom to Marry” amendment to guarantee the right to any consenting couple. 
     In my column here last month, I outlined how many faiths have tolerated – in some cases celebrated – same-sex relationships. The politician who said that for five thousand years marriage has always been about one man and one woman is not only anthropologically and spiritually challenged; he is ignorant even of the Bible he says he loves. To mention one contrary example: Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines. 
     People who love justice should turn on the light and get the facts out, not shiver in the darkness and hope the Big Bad Right doesn’t bruise them too terribly much. Let’s  celebrate a society enshrining pluralism and the religious diversity which embraces couples of the same sex living in marriage. 
     Polls divining the meaning of the last election have been misinterpreted by both Left and Right to claim saliency of “values” issues like gay marriage and abortion. A year ago I would have been pleased if a candidate questioning the Iraq war garnered 35 per cent of the vote, so the actual 48 per cent looks pretty good. But Kerry failed a winning majority because he failed his duty to speak the truth about our actual peril. To my knowledge he never effectively identified the incipient destruction of democracy by the growing secrecy, deception, and totalitarianism of the current administration at home and  imperialism abroad. 
     A basic religious value is truthfulness. America was mislead. Almost 70 percent of Bush’s supporters think that there is “clear evidence” that Saddam Hussein was intimately involved with Al Qaeda. A third of them think we actually found WMD in Iraq. And more than that think that most countries supported our invasion of Iraq. Listing the administration’s lies about the budget and other matters would fill this publication.
     Segments of the media increasingly become administration propagandists. The federalization of education ought to alarm conservatives. The indebtedness of “faith-based” organizations to government funding and the consequent reluctance to criticize the source of that funding, the outrageous use of church membership lists for political campaigns, the politicization of science, the prosecution of honest journalists, the constriction of views in Bush’s tightened cabinet, the prospect of Supreme Court justices that morph liberty into ideology . . . . 
     We have two years, friends of freedom, to balance the administration with a Congress that might value truth.

    Are sexuality and spirituality two separate realms? Many folks think they are. Yet most religions have celebrated them both as expressions of sacred power. True, the sacred can be dangerous, but it is also alluring, and that is why different cultures have developed different ways of respecting and enhancing the passions. In most faiths, sexual appetite is regarded a divine gift. 
     Still, one frequent misconception is that religions condemn same-sex desire. In fact, most cultures and their religions have approved of, or at least tolerated, same-sex behavior. Some have valued it highly. 
     Religions prohibiting homosexual behavior usually did so because in their cultures,  producing children was more important than pleasure — the same reason masturbation and coitus interruptus were condemned, as in the texts of the ancient Hebrews. Those who use biblical passages to justify prejudice should be told that King James, for whom the most famous English translation of the Bible is named, was a flaming lover of men. 
     Religions favoring same-sex relationships often did so as part of a conservative, age-structured educational process, as in the military system of ancient Sparta. There same-sex relationships and heterosexual marriage supplemented each other. The later Celtic warriors also engaged in same-sex love. Some traditions expect all young men to practice same-sex behavior as preparation for heterosexual marriage. 
     The Romans honored same-sex marriages and the Japanese samurai institutionalized same-sex unions. The Chinese in the Ming dynasty, many Native American and African tribes, and other European, old Arabian, Asian and South American cultures accepted such relationships. 
     Well into the modern era, same-sex unions were blessed within Christianity in a ceremony celebrating love, with wine, a kiss, scripture readings and joining of hands before the altar. 
     (Early Christian heterosexual marriages were civil, not religious. Marriages between men and women arranged property rights and paternity. Unlike same-sex unions, they did not originate from affection. For this reason, they were not sanctified in the church. Heterosexual marriage was declared a sacrament in 1215.) 
     Knowing this may be of little use the next time you make love, but knowing this can be helpful in dealing with the overwhelming oppression about sexuality that still characterizes our culture. It doesn’t have to be this way. 
     Political and social powers have always sought to control sexuality because it is such a basic force in how we relate to each other. In some cultures, marriage partners were selected by the families, not by the partners themselves. While this had the value of protecting the visible structure of inheritance, it also often generated an unacknowledged pattern of extra-marital relationships and same-sex behaviors. In our time, many extremist churches have been enlisted in a political struggle. They seek to perpetuate rules from the ancient world on people today who increasingly value discovering what is meaningful in their own experience, rather than in what others say should be meaningful to them. 
     Sharing one’s body with another person responsibly is an act of faith as one yields to the primal urges and yearnings, and accepts the devotion of one’s partner. Surely the wonder of the flesh is the movement of the spirit.