The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Moving On: Dean, Obama, the Dems & Religion

For anyone who noticed the lack of posts yesterday, between Rush Limbaugh’s penis and Barack Obama’s holy roll I found myself a bit worn out. That, combined with work and family, made me decide to take a day off from posting. It also gave me a day to take in the reaction to Obama across the blogosphere, and the reaction to the reaction across the blogosphere.

Having taken it all in, I’ve pretty much come to the same conclusion I did after YearlyKos. (Crossposted my Obama post to my DailyKos diary, and got further comments there.) For me it basically comes down to this being the apparent direction that the Democrats are going in, and it’s where lots of people want them to go. I don’t particularly like it, because it’s a road I don’t think I can go down with them, but — as I said before — I can’t fight everybody, let alone convince everybody. So, let the Dems do what they will. I’ll just do what I can.

Maybe I just get scared because I share the same (legitimate, I still think) concerns as others about the mingling of religion and public policy. Maybe I just get frustrated because I can see the destination, or at least I think I can, and I don’t understand why we’re taking the long way around to get there. There isn’t much more to say on the subject.

Well, maybe there is. In looking at all that was said in the aftermath of Obama’s speech, a few things occurred to me.

First, in response to the earlier post, a few people pointed out to me what Jim Wallis said following the Goodridge decision came down concerning same-sex marriage in Massachusets.

To say gay and lesbian people are responsible for the breakdown of the heterosexual family is simply wrong. That breakdown is causing a great social crisis that impacts us all, but it is not the fault of gays and lesbians. It has very little to do with them. Their civil and human rights must also be honored, respected, and defended for a society to be good and healthy. It is a question of both justice and compassion. To be both pro-family and pro-gay and lesbian civil rights could open up some common ground that might take us forward.

There is a middle way. We can make sure that long-term gay and lesbian partnerships are afforded legitimate legal protections in a pluralistic society without changing our long-standing and deeply rooted concept of marriage as being between a man and a woman. That should continue to be the theology of the church and the way our society best orders itself.

But do we really want to deny a gay person’s right to be at their loved one’s deathbed in a hospital with “family restrictions”? Do we also want to deny that person a voice in the medical treatment of his or her partner? And do we really want all the worldly possessions of a deceased gay person to revert to the family who rejected them 30 years ago, instead of going to their partner of the last 20 years? There are fundamental issues of justice and fairness here that can be resolved without a paradigm shift in our basic definition of marriage.

And I have to admit that coming from an evangelical like Wallis, those words are pretty encouraging. So, I may have been wrong about him. But there was something in what he said that brought something else to mind. He spoke about justice and fairness to our families, and implied that we should have a right to at least some of the rights and protections of marriage. But it felt like the discussion stopped short of something. (I say this not having seen the full text of Wallis’ remarks. )

It wasn’t until I a couple of article about how people in different LGBT communities across the country are dealing with matters of faith. The first was a discussion in which a panelist from a Methodist Church said something I haven’t yet heard articulated in any discussion on the national level.

“Homosexuals and heterosexuals both have sacred worth,” said panelist and St. Marks Methodist Church representative Tom Shafer. “We say ‘you can be homosexual but don’t practice it.’ We have a real conflict in the Methodist Church.”

And again something jumped out at me from these word a Catholic bishop offered to same-sex couples.

Bishop Shaw himself has gone so far as allowing clergy to bless gay couples throughout the diocese, but stopping short of permitting them to officiate at weddings, citing church canons as obstacles.

Nevertheless, “God once again led us beyond what we imagined might happen when same-sex marriage became legal in the commonwealth, and as often happens, the church is scrambling to catch up to God,” he told the faithful.

“History reveals that God is inclusive, not exclusive, and I imagine that God delights in people who are willing to offer themselves in service to the church or commit themselves to one another, regardless of whether they are gay or straight.”

Gay people have “sacred worth” and “god delights” in them when they commit themselves to one another? Radical concepts coming from mainstream christian denominations, at least if you ask me. And maybe if these are the people, or at least some of the people, Obama and Dean are reaching out to then maybe I have less of a reason t be concerned than I previously thought.

But I wish, and hope that they will take the next step beyond the words quoted above, in which ministers actually place gays & lesbians affirmatively within context of their faith. From there it seems just a step or two more to being able to affirm equality and justice for gays & lesbians from within the context of one’s faith.

Both Obama and Dean are in the press now; Dean answering his critics (one of which I am) about his 700 Club appearance, and Obama responding to discussion of his speech this week. And both men spoke of being a Democrat because of their values.

From Dean:

The Democratic chairman also made efforts to point up points of agreement between his party and evangelicals.

“I’m a Democrat because of my values,” he said in the Brody interview. “My values include inclusiveness, not leaving more debt to our kids than we have ourselves. My values include wanting our values to drive our public policies. My values include not having kids go to bed hungry at night. Those are values I bet I share with the vast majority of evangelicals.”

Dean also said, “One of the biggest things Democrats worry about is what’s on television, our culture, and the lack of spirituality.” While stating his opposition to the criminalization of abortion, Dean said, “What we have in common with the evangelical community is that we want to have fewer abortions than we do,” but added, in a subtle swipe at the Bush administration’s position on HIV prevention, “We ought to make sure there’s not just abstinence but family planning is used to get rid of abortion.”

He goes on to talk about amplifying the Democrats’ position on same-sex marriage in ’08, saying that the matter should be left to the states, but including a caveat.

“My view is that we have to equal rights under the law. Our platform says that marriage left to the states. And I think we will amplify our position in the next platform in 08. I think we will make it clear to all states that they must give full equal rights for LGBT families. It will be left to the states to decide how, but there will be no room for banning domestic partnerships or civil unions.”

Obama, too, related faith & values to Democratic positions on various issues.

Well, I still think it’s important in our campaigns to talk about the issues that matter to the people: health care, education, making sure that we’re safe from terrorism. Those are still going to be the core issues of our politics. My point was that we should also be able to talk about the values that underlie those policies, and acknowledge that issues of moral concern, issues about how we raise our kids, issues about common good, that all those issues are legitimate parts of the public discourse as well.

… Well, look, there are going to be differences on issues, and not all these issues that touch on religious faith are easily resolved. I mean, the fact of the matter is is that there are going to be contentious debates around abortion and gay marriage, and that’s part of our democratic process. My simple point is to make sure that we don’t get so locked in to a particular perception about how one party or the other thinks that we miss the enormous complexity and diversity of religious views all across the country.

So, the Dems are trying to reach out to one group without losing support of the other. (And, yes, I know there are gay evangelicals out there too.) And who knows? Maybe they will pull it off.

It looks like Dean and Obama will get to have the dialogue they seek. It’s not one I think I can participate in, because I either don’t share the faith or have too many personal issues with religion to participate in any effective way. But when Democrats are speaking to evangelicals and other religious folk, I hope they don’t back away from gay issues — as they seem to be promising they aren’t and won’t — when and where they come up, and instead will follow in the footsteps of the the speakers quoted above, and affirm their support of equality and justice for LGBT Americans from the context of their values and faith.

Based on what I’ve been reading from other religious folks, it doesn’t seem all that hard to do, and among the faithful there appear to be those who are have “ears to hear” if Democrats are willing ot do that.

One Comment

  1. I always hate to hear the “historical, long rooted tradition” cliche.

    [quote]without changing our long-standing and deeply rooted concept of marriage as being between a man and a woman[/quote]

    First of all, Wicans allowed same sex unions, something as old as christianity itself, and as far as “keeping tradition” alive, what about the tradition of slavery? Our ancestors were slaves longer than they have been freed – does that mean we should keep up the tradition and I should become a house-slave? Hell no, because injustice and inequality isn’t right and maintaining those injustice because of some deluded historical allegience is repugnant and disgraceful.

    Pfcourse, given that Obama and Hillary will both be running, and both believe the same thing, it’s really a rock and a hard place on who will make this a better world for gays. I tend to favor Obama, but I feel he’s catering to the conservatives. If he spoke out he would alienate his christian supporters, and most republicans and we would lose in 2008 and the republicans would win.

    Surely there has to be a pro-gay liberal black man out there, who will unleash the shackes placed upon us by right win neocons?

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