You couldn’t swing a rainbow cat at Equality Forum’s History Panel without hearing that phrase. In fact, social justice has been one of the recurring themes at the panels I’ve attended so far, suggesting that the movement is entering a newer, more mature phase and looking toward the day when we can move beyond the identity politics that circumstances have required of us to date.
Of course, one is entitled to expect that the panel of religious leaders would emphasize social justice, and the LGBT rights movement within that context. Although some misguided religious folks seem to spend most of their time on the attack against everything from our community to Obamacare to women’s reproductive rights, any religion (or part thereof) that takes its founding messages to heart invests both belief and blood in ameliorating the difficult conditions in which many people live.
But I was nonetheless heartened (not quite amazed, but…) at the panelists’ willingness to be as direct and forceful as they were. Perhaps the most progressive of the lot were Timothy Safford, who is the Rector at the historic Christ Church Episcopal Church in Old City, Philadelphia. I’ve been there. Two of our closest friends are congregants, and when my partner David had the honor of being named godfather to their second child we attended the baptism. Safford, who’s straight and married, will be one of the three officiants at tomorrow’s blessing of some 100 same-sex unions.
The Episcopalians, of course, are known and celebrated (well, by some) for their progressive stand on women’s issues and for being increasingly welcoming to the LGB (and, to a lessser extent) T community. Safford and his gay twin (at least as far as dress was concerned — they looked as though they’d decided to confuse us by selecting almost identical clothing for the event) Rodger Broadley, Rector at St. Luke and the Epiphany, had a nice sort of back and forth on issues ranging from the debt the LGBT movement owes to the women’s movement (Safford is particularly eloquent on this point), and on the on-going struggles between the U.S. church and the “home office” back in Britain. With a second gay (lesbian, in this case) bishop to be ordained soon in L.A., both men expect that the U.S. church will be “voted off the island” and made to forge ahead, alone. But that didn’t seem to trouble them, and — oddly, to some — they thought it important not to walk away from the table no matter how exasperated and angry they became. Safford expressly decried his own “moderation” in supporting the compromise reached a few years ago, by which Bishop Gene Robinson’s ordination was “traded” for a promise to ordain no more openly gay or lesbian clergy. As Broadley so movingly put it: “Who are we to tell God who can serve?”
Approaching issues of history and faith from a more academic perspective was L.A. Rabbi Denise Eger. She explained the evolution of the various movements (less formally, “branches”) of Judaism on LGBT issues; as might be expected, the Reform and Reconstructionist sects embraced their LGBT fellow worshippers decades ago, with Conservative Judaism by now fairly far along on that path. She also mentioned that even the Orthodox branch had recently begun discussing our issues, and not in the kind of negative dismissive way that might have been the case earlier, but in a real effort to come to terms with the reality that can no longer be ignored.
Interfaith matters are an area of special interest to Eger, and she described the efforts of a female Muslim cleric in L.A. who is now trying to apply reform principles to that religion. Her comment reminded me that all four of the panelists — as good as they were — represented only the Judeo-Christian tradition. The panel would have been even more compelling had it showcased clergy from Eastern religions.
Rounding out the panel was Francis DeBernardo, who is Executive Director of New Ways Ministry, which has been described as a “national Catholic ministry of justice and reconciliation for lesbian and gay Catholics. I’ll confess that I have trouble understanding why anyone who identifies as LGBT would consider himself or herself Catholic, but that’s my issue. Obviously, not all Catholics (in the U.S. or elsewhere) follow every pronouncement from the Vatican, and many see the Church’s undeniable good works (social justice, again, at least for the poor and the sick) as reason enough to stay. Thinking of what’s going on at the very top of the Church hierarchy these days (do I really need a link here, people?), DeBernardo said that reform within the Church has come at precisely those times when the Vatican leadership seems most ossified and out of touch. Perhaps the Church can get out of the sucking vortex that’s pulling it down, but I doubt it.
This post is a bit later than promised. I ended up attending the Tribute to Brian Sanders last night, staying out late, and then running from event to event today. The good news is that I’ve got tons to write about, and will be busy doing it well into next week.
BTW, the interview I did with David Boies earlier tonight will run on 365gay.com, not here — although of course I’ll provide a link and a summary when it posts.