Archive for June 2006

Commentary on Dobson’s commentary (see below)

June 29, 2006

James Dobson:

Gay marriage is like slavery, only worse

Plans for a constitutional amendment outlawing gay marriage came and went again a few weeks ago when supporters in the Senate fell far short of the two-thirds majority they needed for passage. But the amendment lives on as a political weapon for 2006, and Focus on the Family’s James Dobson is already fanning the flames with a commentary written for CNN…

see all of Tim Grieve’s Salon column at

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James Dobson commentary on marriage (ick!)

June 29, 2006


Media provides cover for assault on traditional marriage

By James C. Dobson
Special to CNN

Editor’s note: James C. Dobson is founder and chairman of Focus on the Family Action. He has a Ph.D. in child development and is author of the best-selling book, “Bringing Up Boys.” He’s currently working on a follow-up, “Bringing Up Girls.”

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado (CNN) — On June 7, the U.S. Senate voted for a second time on an amendment to define marriage in the U.S. Constitution as being exclusively between one man and one woman.

Again this year, the amendment failed to pass by a wide margin, falling 18 votes shy of a required two-thirds majority. The final tally was 49 in favor, 48 opposed.

Rarely has there been a greater disconnect between members of the Senate and the American people who put them in power. With the help of the media, which laid down “cover” by claiming voters didn’t care about marriage, 40 Democrats, one Independent and seven Republicans turned their backs on this most basic social institution.

Let’s examine the claim that traditional marriage lacks support in the court of public opinion. As it always does when conservative issues are being debated, the liberal press produced a series of trumped-up polls indicating the issue was of no interest nationally. However, there was another “poll” that the media completely ignored. In fact, there were 19 of them. They represented the 19 states in which voters overwhelmingly defined marriage as being between a man and a woman.

Not one state has chosen by popular vote to permit marriages between homosexuals. Support for the family has been affirmed in every instance.

In Mississippi, traditional marriage was approved by a whopping 86 percent majority. Other state votes registered similar wide margins: Nevada (70 percent), Arkansas (75 percent), Georgia (77 percent), Kentucky (75 percent), Louisiana (78 percent), Nebraska (70 percent), Missouri (71 percent), Montana (66 percent), North Dakota (73 percent), Ohio (62 percent), Michigan (59 percent), Oklahoma (76 percent), Utah (66 percent), Kansas (70 percent) and Texas (75 percent). Even states considered to be more liberal voted for traditional marriage, including Hawaii (69 percent), Alaska (68 percent) and Oregon (57 percent).

Indeed, on the day before 48 senators bailed on marriage, a 20th state voted on its own constitutional amendment. It was Alabama, which supported traditional marriage by 81 percent to 19 percent! A search of the database Nexis revealed that not one reference to this dramatic vote in Alabama was published in the print versions of The New York Times or Washington Post. There was virtually no mention of the story in other national newspapers. Yet, each of them devoted considerable coverage to the Senate’s defeat of the Marriage Protection Amendment.

CNN and the mainstream televised news networks uttered hardly a peep about the Alabama decision. Why was the issue buried? Because the “poll” in Alabama and 19 other states didn’t match the template put forward by those who wanted the amendment to be crushed. Their bias against the family is breathtaking.

As for the senators who voted against the amendment, the excuses they gave were pitiful. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, Sen. Lincoln Chafee, R-Rhode Island, Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minnesota, Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, Sen. Judd Gregg, R-New Hampshire, and many others thought they had the perfect alibi. They claimed that the issue should be handled at the state level. What hypocrisy!

All of these senators are smart enough to know that, first, it would create utter chaos to have 50 different definitions of marriage in one country, where every state is required by the Constitution to support the laws of the other 49. Come on, Senator McCain and company. You and your colleagues know better than that.

Second, senators wanting the states to define marriage are fully aware that the people will not be permitted to make their own decisions. Arrogant activist judges, most of them appointed by President Bill Clinton or President Jimmy Carter, will simply overturn the will of the electorate.

It has already happened in Nebraska, Georgia and Louisiana. Furthermore, nearly 20 cases in 10 states are currently pending that challenge the traditional definition of marriage. For example, a federal judge in Washington state is considering a challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act. And finally, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority in Lawrence v. Texas, made it clear that he and his colleagues are likely to redefine marriage when given an opportunity.

The senators who voted against marriage this month knew exactly what they were doing. The truth is they don’t give a hoot about the traditional family. The majority of them have voted repeatedly to weaken or undermine this great institution. Check the record.

Most of them consistently supported the marriage penalty tax, which for 32 years (1969 to 2001) imposed a heavier financial burden on moms and dads struggling to feed and nurture their children. Liberal senators are still trying to re-impose that outrageous surcharge even today.

So where does the issue go from here? Time will tell. It took William Wilberforce more than 30 years to bring about an end to Britain’s slave trade in the 1800s. Unfortunately, we do not have the luxury of a protracted victory.

If the battle to protect marriage takes even five more years, liberal judges and activists will have destroyed this 5,000-year-old institution, which was designed by the Creator, Himself. Even now, they are close to achieving that coveted objective.

I ask my fellow Americans to note the senators who did and did not defend marriage in its hour of need, and then to “vote their consciences” in 2006 and 2008. If large numbers of them do so, there could be some new faces in the Congress soon.

The angst of voters could also result in the election of a president who will fight for the preservation of the family. That would be sweet, indeed.

What is your take on this commentary? E-mail us

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer. This article is part of a series of occasional opinion pieces on that offer a broad range of perspectives that express a variety of thoughts and points of view.

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In Essentials, Uncertainty: PCUSA erodes ban on gay clergy

June 28, 2006

In Essentials, Uncertainty:

Presbyterian Church (USA) erodes ban on gay clergy.

by David E. Anderson, RNS, with reporting by CT | posted 06/28/2006 10:00 a.m.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) voted June 20 to allow local and regional bodies to ordain gays to the church’s ministries.

After nearly three hours of debate, delegates voted 298 to 221 to approve a complex proposal that allows local congregations and regional bodies known as presbyteries to bypass the church’s current ban on “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy.

Current rules from 1996 that require “fidelity in marriage … and chastity in singleness” will remain on the books, but local bodies can now allow exceptions to those standards. Those exceptions will be subject to review by higher bodies.

The proposal came from a task force that has spent four years studying the issue. “This is not an ‘anything goes’ proposal,” said the Rev. Blair Monie, the task force’s chairman.* The Rev. Stacy Johnson, a member of the task force, said the report was “not about sexuality but about the church” and how it moves forward in the midst of conflict.

A group of 14 Presbyterian renewal leaders responded in a statement, saying, “This recent decision marks a profound deviation from biblical requirements, and we cannot accept, support, or tolerate it.” The 2.3 million–member church has been debating the issue for nearly 30 years.

The so-called third-way proposal of the 20-member Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church revolves around a distinction between “standards” and “essentials.” It will allow individuals who cannot abide by Presbyterian “standards” to be ordained if local bodies do not find them in violation of the “essentials” required of new clergy.

The task force’s proposal was passed as a new “authoritative interpretation” of church policy that immediately goes into effect. Unlike previous attempts to rescind the ban on gay clergy, this policy will not have to be ratified by the denomination’s 173 regional presbyteries.

Copyright © 2006 Christianity Today.

* [Note] The PUP task force co-moderators were Gary Demarest and Jenny Stoner. Blair Monie chaired the GA’s Ecclesiology Committee, which held the hearings for the TTF report.

An Open Letter to my GLBT Brothers and Sisters in Christ, from Gene Robinson

June 28, 2006

June 24, 2006

An Open Letter to my Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

From V. Gene Robinson, Bishop in the Church of God in a blessed place Called New Hampshire:

Many of you have been writing to me, in the aftermath of General Convention, to ask what I am thinking, now that the Convention has called upon the Church to deny consent to the consecration of partnered people as bishops. Frankly, like all of you, my thinking is all over the map. But here is where I am, only a few days later.

First, let’s give ourselves some time to recover. In the first few moments of having the breath knocked out of us, we struggle just to breathe, unable to think about much of anything other than getting some oxygen back into our lungs. We have been dealt a blow that has knocked the wind out of us. Let’s be kind to ourselves, breathe a little, before we try to move on. Nothing has to be decided or done in the next few hours or days. Let’s catch our breath, remembering that breath is a powerful image of the Holy Spirit in the Old and New Testaments. Let’s allow ourselves to be re-infused with that Holy Spirit which has never abandoned us, no matter what the Church does or doesn’t do.

Let’s remember what DID happen at the General Convention. Faithful gay and lesbian Episcopalians showed up and witnessed to the power of Almighty God working in and through their lives. You would have been SO PROUD of Integrity, Claiming the Blessing, the Episcopal Women’s Caucus, The Witness, and countless other groups speaking on our behalf. Susan Russell, Michael Hopkins, Carol Cole Flanagan, Elizabeth Kaeton, Bonnie Perry and others too numerous to mention put their hearts, souls and every waking moment into representing ALL of us so very well and so faithfully. We owe them such a great debt. Faithful gay and lesbian Episcopalians were EVERYWHERE, witnessing to God’s saving grace in their lives – being so joyful and filled with God’s Spirit, there was no denying God’s love in their lives.

We gathered at Trinity Church to celebrate the eucharist as the people of God. Not only were the nave and balconies filled, but the basement and sacristy as well, with gay and straight alike proclaiming God’s love for ALL of God’s children. It was a glimpse of heaven, and of the Church as it ought to be. Let’s not forget that we have been given a foretaste of the heavenly banquet where the marginalized are given an honored seat at the table.

The Episcopal Church declared its opposition to any constitutional amendment – federal or state – which would short circuit gay and lesbian couples seeking the civil right of having their relationships legally acknowledged.

On Sunday, we elected a Presiding Bishop who is committed to the full inclusion of gay and lesbian people into the life and work and leadership of this Church. The Spirit was palpable, once again in Trinity Church, as the election balloting unfolded before our very eyes, pushing forward to the election of the first woman as Primate and Presiding Bishop. If indeed, as I have often said, this fight is really about the end of patriarchy, then that patriarchy was dealt an awesome blow in Katharine’s election. When the primates next meet, it will be a new day, and at the table will be a representative of the world’s majority – women – incarnate in our primate. Thanks be to God for that! You go, girl!

To our joy, the House of Deputies refused to give in to threats from within and without our Church, and decisively rejected the call to withhold consent from partnered people elected to the Episcopate. We thought that was the end of it. But alas, it was not.

Frank Griswold – who, let us remember, has been a sometimes reluctant, but ever faithful champion for us, and who has paid a great price for presiding at my consecration – brought back the “moratorium” resolution in a heavy-handed and inappropriate way (in my humble opinion). He seemed absolutely intent on getting this resolution through as a way of getting us all to the Lambeth table.

I don’t know whether or not our Presiding Bishop-elect was coerced or merely persuaded to join in this appeal, but it is clear to me that her support for such an action provided the push needed to convince the Deputies to adopt a resolution more prohibitive than the one they had rejected the day before. Gay and lesbian deputies, many in tears, not to mention our straight allies, rose to the microphones to pledge their support of our new primate as she goes off to represent us in unfriendly places, to “give her what she needs” to continue the conversation. The scene of gay and lesbian deputies, willing to fall on their own swords for the presumed good of the Church, voting for this resolution against their own self-interest was an act of self-sacrifice that I won’t soon forget.

Keeping us in conversation with the Anglican Communion was the goal – for which the price was declaring gay and lesbian people unfit material for the episcopate. Only time will tell whether or not even that was accomplished. Within minutes – yes, MINUTES – the conservatives both within our Church and in Africa declared our sacrificial action woefully inadequate. It felt like a kick in the teeth to the ones who had gotten down on their knees to submit to the will of the whole, even though the price of doing so was excruciating. Such a quick, obviously premeditated and patently cruel reaction from the Right can be seen only as the violent and unchristian act it was.

So what now?

It is too soon to strategize, too soon to know what it all means. But here are a few things I DO know:

The Spirit IS working in the Church. We cannot claim that the Spirit is working in the Church only when we get our way. We must continue to believe that that Spirit is working even when the Church takes an action which hurts us, when it seems to take us in the wrong direction. We are in this struggle for the long haul, and so is the Spirit. We cannot fathom at the moment how this turn of events serves justice. But God will not be mocked, and God will be our salvation. Let’s not forget that.

We are STILL loved beyond our wildest imagining. That was true the day before Convention; it is still true. This vote does change that. Just because the Church lost its courage, just because the Church was willing to sacrifice US for access to a conversation with Anglicans around the world (which they hardly seem ready to engage in themselves), it does NOT mean that God has changed. If you listen carefully, God is STILL saying to God’s lgbt children, “You are my beloved. In you I am well pleased.” This vote may say a lot about the Episcopal Church, but it says NOTHING about you and me as gay and lesbian children of God. Blessed Martin Luther King once said, “Pontius Pilate’s sin was not that he didn’t KNOW what was right, but that he lacked the courage to STAND UP for right.” Pray for the Church.

We are in this for the long haul. OF COURSE there are going to be bumps along the road, perhaps a few places where the road has washed out completely. The journey toward justice is neither a straight line nor easy. Just ask our brothers and sisters who are people of color, and still experiencing the pain of racism. Just ask our sisters who still pay the price of sexism and misogyny, both inside and outside the Church. We follow a savior who dealt with plenty of setbacks and disappointments – not to mention being “done in” by his friends. We are in good company here. But we won’t last for the long haul without Jesus! Let’s keep saying our prayers and listening to the One who knows and shares our burden.

We’ll be watching. Now that the Anglican Communion and the majority of Convention have gotten what they asked for, let’s see if anything changes. Will the rest of the Communion finally be willing to engage in the listening process promised for the last 30 years? Will anything be done in the domestic dioceses of this Church to move us along, or will this only be seen as a “blessed” respite from this debate? Will the Network dioceses and parishes give up their blatant drive to split this church apart and join us in our efforts to be reconciled, or will they only cry “not enough” and demand more? We’ll be watching – and we’ll want the “middle” to give us an accounting of what this Convention vote got them. And we’ll be asking, “Was it worth declaring us less than children of God, marked as Christ’s own forever?”

We are not defeated, for God is still with us. Let’s remember that at its best, the Church has pushed the “pause” button, not the “stop” or “reverse” buttons. If we continue to make our witness, and if those for whom this sacrifice was made continue to threaten and make one-sided demands, the Episcopal Church will see its mistake and find its prophetic voice again. Maybe it will even repent of the harm done to us in this faithless and fearful act. Time will tell. In the meantime, we are not defeated, nor will we be paralyzed by this sad and woeful action. Dwelling on what happened and why will not serve us or the Church well. We need to turn away from yesterday and focus on tomorrow.

We know how all this is going to end. It is not arrogant to say that we believe we know how all this is going to turn out. It will end with the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people in the life and ministry and leadership of the Church. It will take a long time. Some or all of us may not live to see it. But happen it will! In a strange way, I think the conservatives know it too. All we’re arguing about now is timing. It will be enough for each of us to play her/his own part. Each of us can provide a pair of shoulders for someone else to stand on, just as surely as we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us. This is a never-ending march toward justice for ALL, and NO ONE is going to be left behind. In the end, the reign of God will come. And oh what a privilege it is for each of us to play a small part.

We are worthy of God’s love – NOT because of anything we have done, but because God has MADE us worthy to stand before God through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As I said at Convention, the Gay Agenda is JESUS! If we keep that ever before us, in the end all will be well.

I love, respect, appreciate and honor each of you more than you could ever know. Please keep me in your prayers, as you will be in mine. And to God be the glory!


The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander

June 25, 2006

So this whole consideration of power that I spoke of in my earlier post really resonates with me. Even in college, I examined a number of issues from the perspective of money, power, and prestige as being inseparably interrelated.Today in church, the guest preacher’s sermon–based in part on the Hebrew Scripture lectionary lesson of David and Goliath–contained a summary of the book “The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander: From Preschool to High School — How Parents and Teachers Can Help Break the Cycle of Violence,” by Barbara Coloroso.

Even though this book is intended to be a tool for children being bullied, the minister said that the author’s analysis is applicable across the board in the analysis of power relationships.

The book’s publisher says:

It’s a deadly triad: bullies who terrorize, bullied kids who are afraid to tell, bystanders who watch, participate, or look away, and adults who dismiss the incidents as a normal part of childhood. Drawing on her decades of work with youth, this practical book by bestselling parenting educator Barbara Coloroso explains:

  • The three kinds of bullying; and the differences between boy and girl bullies
  • Four abilities that protect your child from succumbing to bullying
  • Seven steps to take if your child is a bully
  • How to help the bullied child heal and effectively discipline the bully
  • How to evaluate a school’s antibullying policy and much more

I intend to read this book and use it as material for an upcoming Adult Sunday School class that I will be leading. More later on this topic…

Where we go from here…

June 25, 2006

[A personal note: I attended GA as one under the umbrella of (but still brand new to) TAMFS. In addition to that affiliation, I have been involved with MLP nationally and locally, individually and congregationally, for years and years; and with CovNet as a local chapter leader (of a chapter that has chastised the national CovNet leadership for not being strong enough). I have also been active in the inclusive church movement through the Lazarus Project in Southern California. I consider my own best work to be at the grassroots level, and the bigger and wider the scope gets, the more painful it all gets for me.]


The Sunday morning Welcoming Worship during GA week was mutually arranged by representatives from MLP and TAMFS. The cooperation and mutuality was obvious. It was a delight to sing in the choir! There were numbers of people from the other progressive partner organizations–the Witherspoon Society, Covenant Network, et. al., in attendance–along with some “free agent” types who are not a part of or who would prefer not to identify specifically with any particular organization. It was also good to be with the good and kind people of Pilgrim Congregational Church (UCC) who hosted us and joined with us in worshiping the God we love. (In talking with one of the ushers, I found out that this is a church where they usually have 30-35 people in worship. Last Sunday, there were three busloads and numerous carloads of Presbyterians under their roof.)

The daily evening worship services were significantly smaller, but meaningful events throughout the week. They were co-coordinated and co-led by the Rev. Janet Edwards of MLP and the Rev. Beth Wheeler of TAMFS, chaplains of the respective groups. (By the way, Janet had to leave in the middle of GA to be with her father, who had a stroke. Janet and her family are in need of our prayers.) The personal spiritual consideration for each day was the question, “Where was God present for you today? Where was God farthest away?”


Something I don’t remember reading here is the fact that Robert Gagnon (, one of the key players among those who oppose us, not only served as a commissioner to GA, but he served on the Church Orders committee–the committee that had responsibility for the Heartland Overture and the other 21 overtures calling for the deletion of G-6.0106b. Gagnon took many opportunities to lecture the committee with his long-winded homophobic vitriol throughout the hearings. Even so, the committee vote to delete B was still 30-28 on a motion to disapprove. While I wouldn’t quite call this a “virtual tie,” I would call it very close–even with the other side having their “heaviest hitter” in the game.


So, it’s on to San Jose. California, where the civil situation for LGBT people is significantly better than in Alabama, and where we have far more of our own who can be in attendance at General Assembly.

And, sure, it is the goal of any social justice organization to put itself out of business. And wouldn’t that be great? But I don’t see it happening. Because there is always more light yet to break forth out of God’s holy Word, always more freedom to be found in service, always more work to be done.

One particular area where this is evident is in the work of the Theological Task Force on the Peace, Unity, and Purity of the church. The task force had a ridiculously huge charter to begin with: “The task force is directed to lead the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in spiritual discernment of our Christian identity, in and for the 21st century, using a process which includes conferring with synods, presbyteries, and congregations seeking the peace, unity, and purity of the church. This discernment shall include but not be limited to issues of Christology, biblical authority and interpretation, ordination standards, and power.” (see

BUT THE TASK FORCE DID NOT DEAL WITH POWER ISSUES! I heard it said multiple times at GA presentations, and on multiple occasions leading up to GA, by a number of people who served on the task force: Oh, too bad we ran out of time, or we would have explored power issues… Maybe, just maybe, *power* should have been their starting place.

Having attended their recent national conference in Atlanta, I know that this power issue is something being examined by TAMFS. Clearly, this is an issue that Jesus had to deal with, and one to which we are always called–and always WILL BE called. Justice knows no season, and justice cannot wait, and indeed now is the time for justice; but Dr. King said in 1965: “‘Let justice roll down like waters in a mighty stream,’ said the Prophet Amos. He was seeking not consensus but the cleansing action of revolutionary change. America has made progress toward freedom, but measured against the goal the road ahead is still long and hard. This could be the worst possible moment for slowing down.”

Like it or not, we’re in it for the long haul.


A few post-GA words

June 25, 2006


Here’s the final word on GA as pronounced by Google:

Google Alert for:
presbyterian gay “general assembly”
Presbyterians won’t ordain sexually active gays
Washington Blade – Washington,DC,USA
The Presbyterian Church (USA) voted against opening … in sexual relationships, but gay Presbyterians said … denomination’s 217th General Assembly in Birmingham …
Presbyterians: Non-celibate gays can be ordained
Atlanta Journal Constitution (subscription) – GA, USA
… Delegates at the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) listen Tuesday to arguments on whether to allow leeway on the ordination of gay clergy and …
Presbyterians to Decide on Gay Clergy
Washington Post – United States
… to allow leeway on the ordination of gay clergy and … Delegates of the Presbyterian Church (USA) listen to … Holy Spirit,” during the 217th General Assembly of the …

Honest! Those three articles were posted sequentially just like that!!!

I was one of the folks at General Assembly. I sat through hour after tortuous hour of committee hearings, followed by hour after equally grueling hour of plenary.

But know that for me, the best part of GA was the portion of the Overture Advocates’ presentation on the Heartland overture to delete G6-0106.b from the Book of Order that I witnessed. (Unfortunately, the task force committee was right next door at the same time, and I was in that room for part of the OA presentation.)

My opinions (speaking only for myself, and not for any organization) are that: (1) we did not make all of the gains that we so want and need to make; (2) passage of the task force report was portrayed as SUCH a loss to the conservatives that we need to consider it as progressive (e.g.: putting one foot in front of the other); and (3) of course we will not be “out of business” organizationally or in any other way until the homophobic and discriminatory standards applied to us are removed from the Book of Order.

For those of us who are in presbyteries who have not elected commissioners to the 218th GA in San Jose in 2008, I suggest that our work begins today. We must develop, identify, elect, educate, and pray with as many supportive commissioners as possible. It is more than just a matter of identifying who is with us after the commissioners have been elected. If we work hard to get the right people going in the first place, much of our work will be done (and I say that knowing and believing that “Holy Spirit blowing through the assembly hall” stuff…). In some presbyteries like mine, this will mean encouraging presbytery leaders to have some kind of study and discernment group process in place for the next two years–and then participating in that forum. This is hard and risky work, especially for those in conservative presbyteries who might be subject to charges being filed, but that is a way of being able to tell our stories to those who most need to hear them. And it is in the telling of our stories that hearts and minds are moved.

Finally, I have strongly mixed feelings about the Moderator, Joan Gray. It is a great sadness to hear someone say that she cannot believe that we are part of God’s intention. It was also painful to hear her say that “I have great respect for gay and lesbian people who want to be accepted for who they are and who want to do the work to which they feel called. But I don’t feel homosexuality is God’s will for creation. It’s uncomfortable feeling that way, but I’m comfortable being uncomfortable until the ‘still small voice’ speaks to my soul and I’m convicted otherwise.” When some of our folks met with her and said that they think she is still on the learning path, I take a little heart. But I think of this statement of hers as a challenge to us to live as that “still small voice” and to get her back to feeling a discomfort about being uncomfortable…

Grace and peace,
Sonnie Swenston

Sex, Spirit, Domination, Abuse, and Transformation

June 25, 2006

Arthur Waskow is a rabbi at the Shalom Center ( I thought of him and his work often during the past week at the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s General Assembly… particularly during discussions about Israel/Palestine and divestiture.

He has written a six-week series on “Sex – Spirit – Domination – Abuse – & Transformation.” Here is one of the articles:

Emerging Torah of Same-Sex Marriage
Rabbi Arthur Waskow


Twice in the Torah portion of “Acharei mot” we are told, “You shall not lie with a man as in lying with a woman.” (Lev. 18: 22 and 20: 13). Today this has become perhaps the world’s most contentious Torah teaching, far beyond the Jewish people.

Some have argued it prohibits all male-male sexuality. Others have argued that the verse must mean something else, for this “lying with” seems anatomically impossible. Is it only about casual or ritual homosexuality, not committed relationships? How did some of the greatest rabbis of the “Golden Age” in Spain write glowing erotic poems about male-male sex?

But let us go beyond these historical or midrashic questions, to look more deeply into Torah. Does Torah anticipate ˆ even intend — its own transformation? If so, under what circumstances?

Let us learn from a passage of Talmud (Baba Kama 79b) that cautions against raising goats and sheep in the Land of Israel. Since our forebears did precisely that, how could the Talmud have the chutzpah to oppose it? The Rabbis knew that since great and growing numbers of humans were raising goats and sheep there, these flocks would denude and ruin the Land. The world had changed, and so did Jewish holy practice.

Biblical Judaism professed three basic rules for proper sexual ethics: Have as many children as possible. (Gen. 1:28: “Be fruitful, multiply, fill up the earth, and subdue it.”); men were to rule over women (Genesis 3:16, where God says to Eve, “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you”; and sex was delightful and sacred (Song of Songs, throughout). Celibacy was strongly discouraged.

“Be fruitful and multiply” worked against homosexuality, but what shall we do today, when the Earth is so “filled” with human beings that the whole web of life is at risk, and so “subdued” by human technology that the world-wide climate is in crisis? Like the rabbis who wisely warned against raising goats, today should we be encouraging, not forbidding, sexuality that avoids biological multiplication? We might read the precept to be fruitful and expansive emotionally, intellectually and spiritually rather than arithmetically.

The rule that a man must rule over a woman left no room for a relationship of two men. Which should rule over the other “as with a woman”?

Is the rule of male dominance intended by Torah to persist forever? No more than the twin statement (Gen. 3: 17-19) that men shall “toil in the sweat of their brow,” wringing a livelihood from a hostile earth. We do not act as if Torah commands us to eschew the tools that ease our labor. Instead, we seek to shape a world in which work is far less toilsome.

These statements about toil, fruitfulness, and male dominance are not edicts to be obeyed but a map of post-Edenic history, to be transcended and transformed.

Through the deeds of human history, God has shaped the modernity that eases our work, makes women and men more nearly equal, and brings the human race to fill up and subdue the earth. So now we must ask ourselves, as the Talmud asked, what must we change in our new world?

In a world already filled and subdued by the human race, Rule 1, that we must multiply our numbers, may actually contravene God’s intention.

In a world where Rule 2, that men must dominate women, has been transcended so that men and women can be equal, one man can lie with another “as with a woman” without disaster.

The third basic rule — that sex is delightful and sacred — still stands. The Song of Songs embodies it. The Song points both beyond the childish Eden of the past and beyond the sad history that followed Eden; it points to “Eden for grown-ups.” In the Song, bodies are no longer shameful, as they became after the mistake of Eden; the earth is playful, not our enemy; and women and men are equal in desire and in power. God is no longer Father/Mother as in Eden, giving orders, but — unnamed — is inherent in the very process of life, as our parents become when we are fully adult.

The entire Song is the name of God.

Though the Song is on its face heterosexual in the love it speaks of, it describes the kind of sensual pleasure beyond the rules of marriage and family that has characterized some aspects of gay and lesbian desire. Today we can dissolve the walls that have separated sensually pleasurable homosexual relationships from rule-bound heterosexual marriage. We can instead encourage playful marriages suffused with joy and pleasure — for a man and woman, for two men, for two women.

At the Burning Bush, God took on the name “I Will Be Who I Will Be.” Instead of rigidly defending marriage as it used to be, we can honor the God Who Becomes by expanding the circles in which marriage — a new kind of marriage — becomes possible.