This week, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that gay and lesbian couples in that state are legally entitled to marry, thereby entitling them to the same "legal, financial, and social benefits" as heterosexual couples. The topic now seems destined to continue as one of the most controversial issues in America, and will likely play a prominent role in next year's election debates.
Over the past decade, this "family values" question has become very difficult, and polarized by both the Religious Right and the cultural Left. To move forward, we must simply refuse the false choices being offered by both sides.
The Left has misdiagnosed the roots of our present social crisis, mostly leaving out the critical dimension of family breakdown as a fundamental component of problems like poverty and violence. These issues are not just important to the Religious Right, or simply bourgeois concerns. We do need to rebuild strong and healthy two-parent family systems. We desperately need more families with moms and dads and kids, strong male and female role models in both "nuclear" and extended family systems. It's not a matter of whether that should be "the norm"; it simply is the norm in this society and every other one. The question, rather, is how that family norm can be a healthy one.
Right now family breakups, broken promises, marital infidelity, bad parenting, child abuse, male domination, violence against women, and the choosing of material over family values are all combining to make the family norm in America more and more unhealthy. A critical mass of healthy traditional families is absolutely essential to the well-being of any society. That should be clear to us by now, especially in neighborhoods where intact families have all but disappeared.
But the Right has seized upon this agenda and turned it into a mean-spirited crusade. 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.
This week, thousands of people from across the country are traveling to Miami to protest the Free Trade of the Americas Agreement. Among them are my daughter and a group of other students from Goshen College in Indiana. This past weekend, I talked with them before their departure to encourage their efforts:
While you're consumed with all the logistical details of your coming trip, I hope you take time to remember that you are in a long chain of people struggling for justice. In my lifetime alone, that chain has stretched from the civil rights movement to Vietnam to Central America to anti-apartheid to nuclear disarmament to Iraq Wars 1 and 2, and, for me now, working to overcome domestic poverty.
I've learned a few things along the way. One important lesson is that there are things in life worth being for and things worth being against. And that sometimes to be for something, you have to be against something else. Although it's called the "anti"-globalization movement, these protests are also "for" something very important. The movement has said it in a wonderful slogan - "Another world is possible." The prophet Isaiah, nearly 3,000 years ago, described that world. If you compare his vision to the world these free trade agreements would create, you understand the reasons you are going to Miami.
It's your basic thug-shoots-cop, cop-shoots-thug, cop-and-thug-become-best-friends story. And it couldn't have happened without a government willing to allow traditional African principles to inform a concept of restorative justice that seeks to return wholeness and balance to the community of both victims and perpetrators. Read how the country that brought you the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has launched a bold model for criminal justice.
CharityAdvantage serves thousands of nonprofits
through technology programs:
LAPTOPS!.........Laptops from $395
COMPUTERS!...Pentium II's from $149/Pentium III's
COMPUTERS!...New Intel-powered from $399
MONITORS!.....Monitors from $49
MICROSOFT!.. Save up to 70% Office XP @
$129/Office XP Pro @ $149
WEB SITES!......Only $99 setup & $29 monthly for
DONATIONS!...American Nonprofit Technology
There's an old joke that Wheaton College students aren't allowed to have sex because it might lead to dancing. That's all about to change - at least the dancing part - as Wheaton, one of the most prominent conservative evangelical Christian colleges in the U.S., is officially sanctioning its first all-campus dance. Until the 1990s, dancing was allowed only with "members of the same sex or at a square dance," according to the Associated Press, though for the last decade, a special dispensation had allowed dancing with "spouses or relatives at family events such as weddings." Now, students and faculty are free to get their groove on anytime, anywhere - as long as they avoid behavior which may be "immodest, sinfully erotic or harmfully violent." While the college's own eschatological scholars may be scrambling to determine from exactly which bowl of God's wrath this sign of the Apocalypse has been poured, one graduate and mother of a current student voiced another concern: "They MAY dance at Wheaton. Whether they CAN dance is another question."
Visit the newly updated http://www.practicingourfaith.org to explore and grow stronger in a way of life shaped by Christian practices. Now featuring an online library of free downloadable resources - study guides, essays, sermons, and more. Apply for a grant of up to $10,000 to strengthen Christian practices in your local community. Sponsored by the Valparaiso Project and funded by Lilly Endowment, Inc.
The White Ribbon Campaign (WRC) is a worldwide effort of men working to end men's violence against women. The WRC is currently seeking supporters to bring the White Ribbon message to their workplace, school, union hall, faith group, community center - anywhere men gather - during White Ribbon Days, November 25 - December 6. Participating in White Ribbon Days is as easy as distributing ribbons, flyers, and posters, and encouraging others (especially men and boys) to think about the issue of ending violence against women. It's a time to demonstrate that by working for gender equality and an end to violence against women, men will benefit along with women by participating in healthy relationships, breaking free of gender stereotypes, and living a life free of violence.
Thank you. Thank you for your thoughful, inspired writing, your faith perspective, and your world awareness. Thank you for going against the grain of our misdirected cultural Christianity. Thank you for your wake-up calls and subsequent calls to action. Thank you for your generosity - I appreciate your putting entire articles from your print magazine online so we can easily share them with non-subscribers. You are obviously more concerned with getting out the message than making a buck. Hopefully our sharing of these online articles will not only enlighten, but bring you more paying subscribers. God's continued blessings on your important work.
Hope E. Ferguson writes from Argyle, New York:
I am disturbed by the divisive tone of David Batstone's article ["The Religious Right votes. Do you?" SojoMail 11/12/2003]. Higher than politics, and the labels of left or right, should be our love for Jesus Christ, and our fellowship with fellow believers because of HIM. I belong to a church that probably is majority "religious right." On political issues I am often the dissenter. I oppose the pre-emptive war in Iraq and the policies of the Bush administration. I come from an activist family who was in the forefront of the civil rights struggle. Yet, I still have fellowship with my brothers and sisters in Christ, despite political differences. Jesus prayed that we all would be one. Based on upbringing, background, socio-economic class, and a number of other factors, we will not all agree on political issues. But believers in Christ ought to love one another, forgive one another, and yes, agree to disagree on matters temporal, while being in agreement on things eternal.
Peter Hanley writes from Annandale, Queensland, Australia:
I was amazed at David Batstone's assertion that possibly less that 50% of SojoMail readers are registered to vote, but it explained a lot of things to me. As an Australian, I feel a real love-hate relationship towards the U.S. Last Saturday I watched aghast at a history of the CIA's dirty tricks aimed at keeping the rest of the world "in our place" as client states. Zaire, Vietnam, Cuba, Chile, Central America.... Millions suffered and died and continue to die as a result of U.S. foreign policy. Yet I greatly respect and admire the courage and tenacity of groups like Sojourners "who walk to the beat of a different drum." I admire individuals like Michael Moore who take the system on head-on and realize from the sales of his books and other reports that millions of you feel like I do about what is happening. But why don't you vote? For heaven's sake get out there and register to vote so we can get a U.S. that respects human rights and not $$ rights.
Chaplain (Major) George W. Holston writes:
Once again, you are going off tilting at windmills [Re: Action Alert: Close the School of the Americas]. I was stationed at Ft. Benning for almost four years. The curriculum taught at the School of the Americas is the same material taught at the Army's Command and General Staff College at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, except the language is Spanish. The course content carries a significant ethical and human rights element. In fact, the ethical decision-making process serves as the foundation for the problem-solving exercises. One of the missions of the School of the Americas is to prevent a repeat of past human rights abuses on the part of the officers trained there. Perhaps, if your office would take the time to look over the curriculum - none of it is classified - you might change your attitude. Perhaps not.
Rev. Thomas W. Shepherd, former operations sergeant, Allied Student Training Division, Ft. Benning, Georgia (1969), writes:
Some of the graduates [of the School of the Americas] have been leaders in Latin American democracy and great role models. Do you want to close every institution that graduates someone who goes wrong? Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Notre Dame - what school doesn't produce heroes and villains? Is it not, in fact, your unbending pacifism that slants this opinion? Will you approve any school that teaches the military arts and sciences - West Point, the Naval and Air Force Academies, Sandhurst? In a less-than-perfect world, reasonable men and women must be willing to stand guard against those who would do the terrible things you have listed here. If there is some disconnect between the goal and the result, that proves above all the present imperfection of humanity and the need for legitimate military power in pursuit of honorable objectives. I assure you, those principles are taught at the School of the Americas.
Boomerang is an open forum for all kinds of views. The views expressed are not necessarily those of Sojourners. Want to make your voice heard? Send Boomerang e-mails to the editor: