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UM Bishop Joins Gay Rights Anti-Marriage Press Conference on Capitol HillEric LeMastersMay 27, 2011
A droning, meditative chant to the “Buddha of infinite life and light” introduced the Human Rights Campaign’s “Clergy Call” May 24 press conference, ending a two day gathering of religious activists urging Congress to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) banned IRD from most of the “Clergy Call” gathering, calling IRD “actively hostile” to the organization’s agenda, citing the IRD’s past coverage of the Clergy Call event in 2009. Several denominational representatives, including United Methodist Bishop Minerva Carcaño of Phoenix and United Church of Christ (UCC) Bishop Geoffrey Black, joined the Capitol Hill press conference. A chief focus was repealing the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) – which allows states to choose whether or not to recognize same-sex marriages from other states – the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), the Student Non-Discrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act.
Clergy draped in exceptionally colorful vestments and umbrellas converged on the Upper Senate Park lawn after a morning of prep work for that afternoon’s lobby visits. The press conference began with an invocation from Hawaiian Buddhist clergy, who led the (mostly Christian) activists in an incantation to invite “all the Buddhas of the universe to be present” at the gathering.
HRC President Joe Solmonese kicked off the series of clergy statements at the press conference, rejoicing that larger and more influential denominations have supported gay membership and ordination – specifically citing the recent decision by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to revoke its sexual standards.
“Today, whole religious groups have dropped all barriers to membership and leadership,” Solmonese elated. “The largest strains of Judaism in the United states, as well as Lutherans, Episcopal, UCC, MCC [Metropolitan Community Churches] denominations, and just this month, the Presbyterian Church – they have opened up their doors to all people regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.” The mention of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) drew cheers from the crowd.
Winnie Varghese, Episcopal priest and member of the National Executive Council of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship, cited her denomination’s history of support for gay issues over the past several decades.
“Episcopalians have fought for equal treatment under the law for LGBT persons as a matter of supporting the official position of the Episcopal Church – often at times of intense opposition and little public awareness of the importance of these issues,” Varghese said.
Varghese asserted that gay advocacy within the church is a matter of urgency, arguing that church members “must be activists on the side of fairness as a matter of our faithfulness.”
“Laws that create a civil society, that demand mutual respect and fairness in our public life, are foundational to the society that we as Christians are commanded to create,” Varghese said. “Discrimination on the basis of gender expression or sexual orientation are [sic] incompatible with the teachings of Scripture and the church, and make it impossible for us to live our religious and civic lives in harmony.”
Presbyterian Church (USA) minister and activist Bruce Reyes-Chow urged the gathered activists to “no longer be silent about the struggles facing LGBTQ people. Let us no longer be silent! The time to speak is now.”
UCC President Geoffrey Black emphasized the inclusive, no-questions-asked policy of his denomination. “Our motto tends to be: No matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome at the United Church of Christ,” he said to applause. He, along with other speakers at the event, urged repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act and the adoption of new “laws that serve to make communities safe and free from discrimination for everyone.”
Bishop Minerva Carcaño similarly spoke in the hope of a more “open” denomination. “Those of us who are United Methodists among you continue to believe that we United Methodists have open hearts and open minds. But you have fully given us the witness of what that means in all of its depth and all of its significance,” Carcaño told the crowd of activists. “And so we United Methodists among you and so many other United Methodists covenant to work with you and work among ourselves until that day comes that our United Methodist doors are open as well.”
The United Methodist church still officially holds homosexuality to be “incompatible with Christian teaching,” according to its Social Principles, and defines marriage in both church and civil society as the union of man and woman. Thanks to the church’s growing overseas African membership, United Methodism is unlikely to liberalize its sexual standards.
“Our states and this country will find a way to build strong and healthy communities when we fully accept that in all our diversity of sexual orientation, economic status, race, culture and even immigration status, we are all persons of sacred worth,” Carcaño declared. Her Desert Southwest Conference is among the fastest declining areas of United Methodism.
Carcaño also is a prominent activist for liberalized immigration laws and open borders. She compared the plight of immigrants to homosexuals.
“I have come to see the deep intersection of the work we must do together for justice for the LGBT [lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender] and the immigrant communities,” Carcaño explained. “Those have for too long been the victims of hate and violence. Both the LGBT and immigrant communities struggle every single day for the right to employment without prejudice.”
“I am convinced, however – fully convinced – that together, we can overcome hate and discrimination of every kind and build communities of faith in the nation and the world that will one day value all of God’s people,” Carcaño concluded to applause.
The HRC banned IRD from attending the “Clergy Call,” except for the public press conference, citing IRD’s being “actively hostile to LGBT equality.”
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