Monday, April 27, 2009

News from the Heartland of America

The New York Times has a report today (Gay Couples Line Up to Marry in Iowa) about the implementation of the court-ordered approval of same-sex marriages in the state of Iowa. Iowa joins the states of Connecticut and Massachusetts among those who allow such unions to be called "marriages"; and this group will be joined by Vermont in September of this year. There, the legislature passed a measure to legalize same-sex unions as marriages; and then overrode, by one vote, the governor's veto of that bill. In a related report (via a link in the news articles cited above), the states of New York, New Jersey, Maine and New Hampshire are all states where legislative efforts to change the law to extend marriage beyond the traditional understanding of "one man, one woman" have gained support -- read, gained votes -- in recent action. California, for a time, also allowed the legal recognition of same-sex unions as "marriages" under the law, until the voters there approved an amendment to the state Constitution providing otherwise. Arizona was one of a number of states in which a similar amendment to the state constitution was approved by the voters.

During the election campaign, the discussion of this particular measure (Proposition 102) was lengthy and, at times, heated. This discussion, by the way, took place in a group about baseball! My family and parishioners know that I am an avid follower of baseball, and especially our home team, the Arizona Diamondbacks. (You can join the conversation by clicking the link and becoming a member.) I mention this primarily to say that what I am about to say here is substantially the same as what I had to say there and then. What brings all this back is the change in Iowa. As one radio reporter said, "If it can happen in Iowa, it can happen anywhere."

There is no reason that I can find to suggest the slightest possibility that the reporter is wrong. I don't think anyone was terribly surprised when Connecticut and Massachusetts redefined marriage to include same-sex unions. In the same way, I don't think anyone is terribly surprised to find that the proposal is gaining support in New York, New Jersey, or New Hampshire -- notably progressive states (maybe it has something to do with the "New?"). Maine might be a surprise; but Maine is also more likely to be among the progressive states, than, say, Idaho or Arizona. I'm not sure what the status is at the present time in Hawaii; but it was there that same-sex unions were first recognized, however briefly, as marriages. Wouldn't want Hawaii to be left out! Also, it seems clear from the report that the effort in these states in the northeast corner of the country will recognize same-sex unions as marriages by way of an act of the legislature, following Vermont in doing so. This is not at all what happened in Iowa, where a court has imposed this decision, as in Massachusetts; and where the legislature failed to act, again paralleling, to a degree, what happened in Massachusetts.

From the point of view of a citizen, and as someone who has worked in state government, and who has taught history and politics, I can say that I would rather that the court did not impose such a decision in opposition to the will of the people -- or, at least, a majority thereof -- even as I concede that one of the reasons for having a judiciary with the power to act is to prevent the minority from being the victims of the oppression of the majority. There is also no reason whatsoever that I can find in law to require government to accept the Christian definition of marriage. That the state has done so until now is more a reflection upon the view prevailing among the voters who choose their elected officials to represent them, than anything inherent in the governmental charter of our land. It is theoretically within the power of the state to define marriage, and to extend the benefits, privileges and responsibilities conveyed by a state's recognition of marriage, in any way it chooses. Whether that definition is "one man, one woman," "two men," or "two women" is immaterial in this perspective. I cannot help but point out that there is also no reason for the state to stop at two. Is that some sort of marriage "magic number?" Why not allow polygamy? Why not allow polyandry? Why not allow "group marriages?" After all, the arguments being advanced today in favor of the approval and acceptance of homosexual marriages can, with a few minor changes in terminology, be used almost word-for-word in favor of these other "alternative lifestyles."

There's an interesting dynamic at work in Iowa, according to the report in the Times:
Civil magistrates can also choose not to marry same-sex couples, but they will then be barred from marrying any couples, legal experts said. At least one magistrate announced last week that he no longer intended to perform marriages.
I don't recall where I read it, but someone suggested that the state simply "get out" of the issuance of licenses of marriage. In a way, Iowa has taken the first "baby steps" in that direction by changing the registration form to identify the persons to be united as "Partner A" and "Partner B"; and allowing them to designate who is the bride, who is the groom, or who will simply be known as, "spouse." Let the state do what it needs to do to protect the public safety and to maintain order: do its "due diligence" to ensure that the persons seeking to enter into the union that the state is going to sanction are eligible to do so; and to provide for the orderly and just distribution of the assets, liabilities, and any "subsidiary corporations" (i.e., children) that may result from the merger of Partner A and Partner B in the event of the death of a partner, or at such time that the merger is dissolved by legal action (i.e., by divorce).

By leaving marriage exclusively to the church, and by defining whatever the state thinks as suitable for unions under a different name, the major concern that I have -- that the power of the state may be brought to bear upon the faith community to compel the acceptance of what is not acceptable from our point of view, or to exact punishment for failure to comply -- is minimized, if not eliminated. I don't think that's likely to happen; but time will tell. It also introduces a problem for those of us who will only see marriage as between one man and one woman when others, especially children, ask why the "rule" is one way for the Church, and another way in the world. So far, we haven't really had to have an answer for them. It's time we start preparing one; as well as beginning to prepare for the day when the issue is no longer in Massachusetts or Vermont of California or Oregon, but right here at our front door.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Questions and Answers

Christ is risen! Xpucmoc Bockpece!

As we moved through the services of Holy Week, time seemed to disappear -- at least, when we were in church. It's a blessing when you are disconnected from the aspect of "stage managing" what is taking place, and can instead listen to the words of the hymns and the prayers. There can come a most profound moment when the love of God for us in Jesus Christ arises in your heart in the midst of the service. There were several such moments on Great and Holy Friday, during the vesperal Divine Liturgy on Saturday, and during the Divine Liturgy of Pascha itself. By the time we celebrated the Vespers of Pascha early Sunday afternoon, there was a strong feeling of peace and calm and joy. How wonderful it was... while it lasted.

Alas, it was gone, all too soon. Back to a world of answering the telephone, of paying the bills, of typing up another service that we will need for this week -- and another week of commuting as our daughter returns to the last few weeks of student teaching for the semester. I gave some serious thought to changing the name of this to, "Observations from the Highway to Hell," as I could undoubtedly rant exclusively on that topic, day after day. I know... Boring! Please don't. I won't.

While trying to go to sleep last night, my mind was turning over questions such as, "Why is it that when time is not an issue, the road is always open and you make all the lights; while when you leave a bit behind schedule, traffic is always heavy and you get stopped at every red light on the route?" There were several other questions of no importance in the same category; but then the questions got more serious. "Why is it that we do things when we're more or less anonymous -- as when we're in our cars -- that we would never do face-to-face?" "Why do we value ourselves more highly than we do others?" "How can one human being degrade and destroy another?"

Then the questions became "God-questions." I recognize that some of these came to mind from typing up the details of the Molieben service during Holy Pascha -- which bears very little resemblance to the "ordinary" general molieben. Those familiar with the molieben service will know that there is a petition in which we pray for the deliverance of our city, and every city and town, from a list of calamities, some man-caused, others from natural causes, such as earthquakes. There are a great many moliebens served at our cathedral in San Francisco. Why are there earthquakes there, when we offer so many prayers for deliverance from them? Are our prayers worth nothing? Or would there be even more earthquakes if there were suddenly to be no more uses of the molieben prayer?

The last question, of course, cannot be answered in this world, in this life. Only God knows the answer -- and He ain't sayin'. The answer to the preceding question is that, of themselves, our prayers are completely ineffective, until the Lord, in His love for us (even when we are sinners), chooses to act upon them.

The only answer I can see is that we must trust in God; certainly no great revelation there. But, if nothing else -- for one of the possible answers to the question about the apparent ineffectiveness of prayer is that there is no God -- our trust in God in the apparent absence of any good reason to do so becomes, in a strange way, an affirmation of our faith, and so becomes a lifeline, an anchor, a safe haven from the storms of life. Given the alternative -- that everything here, life itself, is accidental, having developed or evolved in the absence of God -- the results for us all are too terrible to contemplate. Just one example: if everyone felt their life, being an accident of the universe, and so without purpose, how much worse would the freeway be?

But where there is life, there is hope; and with the victory of our Lord Jesus Christ over death, we certainly have reason to hope. Truly, He is risen!

Friday, April 10, 2009

The headline reads:

Faith Groups Increasingly Lose Gay Rights Fights

The article cites the following cases:
  • A Christian photographer was forced by the New Mexico Civil Rights Commission to pay $6,637 in attorney's costs after she refused to photograph a gay couple's commitment ceremony.
  • A psychologist in Georgia was fired after she declined for religious reasons to counsel a lesbian about her relationship.
  • Christian fertility doctors in California who refused to artificially inseminate a lesbian patient were barred by the state Supreme Court from invoking their religious beliefs in refusing treatment.
  • A Christian student group was not recognized at a University of California law school because it denies membership to anyone practicing sex outside of traditional marriage.

Notice who is affected: A photographer; a psychologist; a group of medical doctors; and a student association at a law school. Now, when it comes to the fourth group, the claim -- a claim that is increasingly acquiring the force of law -- that, "if you accept money from the government, you must play according to the rules made by the government" might -- let me say that again: MIGHT apply. Most student groups recognized by their university are also granted funding, or a space in the student union building, or some other benefit; and so they can certainly be said to be receiving (financial) support from the government. But, leaving that student group for the moment, the other three are clearly instances of people in business who are doing their best to follow their moral compass, as they have learned it from the faith group with whom they are involved.

There should be an incredible uprising of outrage against these actions taken by the government. Why should anyone be forced to extend their services to someone living a way of life that, to them, is unacceptable?

Sometimes, when questions of this sort are asked, the reply from those who do not have a problem with what is happening will offer the "Jim Crow" laws of the southern states after the Civil War, which persisted into the 1960's, making "legal" (which does not, necessarily, also mean, "moral") discrimination against people on the basis of the color of their skin. But there has yet to be conclusive proof that one can no more select their sexuality than their skin color; that we are "helpless" when it comes to our biological background. People of color are born that way; but can it be said with absolute certainty that sexual orientation operates in the same way? The court of science is still investigating the matter.

I sometimes wonder of those who want to make the argument that their sexual orientation is "pre-set" at birth recognize the slippery slope they have created in order to make acceptable in society the practice of homosexuality. Why stop there? Doesn't the same argument apply to make legal -- and then acceptable -- polygamy? Polyandry? Group marriages? The agenda of those who advocate sexual relations between adults and minors -- "Sex before eight, before it's too late?" Those who advocate sexual relations with animals? How can anyone say with a straight face that all of these other practices are not acceptable, but that homosexual practices are not to be included with any of these others? Indeed, when it comes to polygamy, we can actually cite examples from the Old Testament where polygamy was an acceptable practice: Abraham, Jacob/Israel, and Solomon all immediately come to mind. Polygamy has more of an historical basis for acceptance than does homosexual activity. Why isn't that practice acceptable? Why shouldn't it be legalized between consenting adults?

Sorry. I get kinda worked up when these things happen. Last week, of course, it was the decision by the court in Iowa that same-sex marriages must be offered by the State, despite a law on the books that provided otherwise. I didn't get into that topic then because I have already said something about that -- if not here, then in other places around the internet. In short, I believe that the state is perfectly within its rights to offer, in the secular realm, the benefits traditionally associated with marriage to other forms than would be acceptable to most Christians: same-sex, polygamous, polyandrous, and so on. But it's one thing to make such relationships legal; it is another thing entirely to force religious groups who do not agree to act contrary to their faith. Yet that is what is starting to happen. Consider this part of the article cited above:
Some legal analysts suggest that religious groups that do not support gay rights might lose their tax exemptions because of their politically unpopular views.

Those of us who are among the faithful must recognize that the culture is turning against us, and we must prepare ourselves accordingly. First, they will tax our churches. OK, fine: we'll pay the tax. Then they'll take our churches, probably as a result of our losing a lawsuit for violating the "civil rights" of a gay couple who have been refused a request to be married in our church. Fine. We'll meet elsewhere. Some of us, particularly church pastors and leaders, may be imprisoned for violating these "civil rights"; or for "hate speech" because we dare to say that sexual activities outside of marriage as we define it are sinful. It that's how it must be, it must be. But we will not be silent. We will not cease to speak the truth of the faith once delivered to the saints. We must not, and will not, by God's grace, deny our Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ, nor distort what we have been taught through the holy Scriptures and the Orthodox Church.

Since when has anyone had a "civil right" to have their picture taken? Since when has anyone had a "right" to insist a doctor perform a procedure to which the doctor objects? As for marriage, there is not, and never has been, a "right" to marry in the Church. That has always been a privilege, subject to the requirements of the Church, and no other power can dictate what is, and is not, acceptable.

Dark times are coming, little children. Get ready...

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

On the Highway to... Salvation?

As we crept along this morning in the rush-hour traffic on the freeway, I had plenty of time to enjoy -- and memorize -- a bumper sticker on the car in front of mine. It read:

The Flying Hamster of Doom Rains Coconuts on Your Pitiful City!

I like it. As far as I know, it doesn't mean anything -- unless it's something like the Flying Spaghetti Monster -- also an amusing diversion. If nothing else, it's something to chuckle about at 5 m.p.h. in a 65-m.p.h. zone...

I'm on the freeway because I hate driving in rush hour traffic. Perhaps you recall a Disney cartoon featuring Goofy. As "Mr. Walker," he is kind, polite, gentle, helpful -- everything a good Christian should be. But when he gets into his car, and becomes "Mr. Wheeler" -- well, the folks at Disney left no doubt -- horns sprouted from his forehead, and his behavior was, well, devilish. I don't know that I qualify to be Mr. Walker; but I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that I am Mr. Wheeler.

It doesn't make sense; and it certainly isn't how I start out. A prayer always comes first, for safety in travel; and I usually ask as well for grace to restrain whatever it is in me that goes berserk on the highway. It even works -- until someone goes zooming past in the right hand lane, or cuts me off in traffic -- and then you don't want to be in the car with me. One of the worst things is when the stretch of road we're on goes from two lanes into one lane, and we have to merge. Sometimes -- usually because I'm not a regular traveler on that road, I may be in the lane that disappears. When that happens, I turn on my turn signal, and creep along, waiting and hoping that someone will let me over without my having to force the issue. More often than not, I know the route, and am already in the proper lane before it becomes difficult to do so. When I encounter someone who is in the disappearing lane who is responding as I do, I let them over. The driver who zooms past me (especially when there is a three or four car-length gap behind me), and then insists on my yielding the right-of-way... We've got a problem. If I can, I'm right on the bumper of the car ahead of me, playing low-speed chicken -- daring the other driver to hit me. If the car manages to slip in -- or I lose the game of chicken -- I'm sure I'd spike a blood pressure meter, and the language that comes out of my mouth... Oh, my.

Yes, I confess all this; and yes, I do regret it -- later. So that's why, during Great Lent, I'm taking the freeway at least part of the way. It gives me a chance to turn away from being "Mr. Wheeler," and in a very small way, try to become someone who is peaceful, gentle, humble, and "un-possessive" of the lane I'm driving in. By God's grace, I hope to change...

Monday, April 06, 2009

On the Comeback Trail

It's been a long time since this blog received any attention from me. At a certain point, the mere effort of trying to write an entry became one of the most difficult tasks imaginable. "What's the point?" is the question I'd most often ask myself. "Who cares what you think?" From there, it is a very short distance to, "No one reads your blogs, anyway." From there, it's almost no distance at all to writing nothing at all.

Then, for a time, as I would watch the news or read reports on the internet about the presidential election campaign in 2008, I would consider returning here -- but, as was the case with the election itself, the results of the vote were all too obvious; and so there was virtually no incentive to say anything.

However, it has been brought to my attention that I have the responsibility to speak out -- and not just to speak, but to proclaim the Truth -- and that my silence is a mark against me. I have no argument to counter that observation. As such, even though we have just (barely) completed the grueling fifth week of Great Lent, with the feast of the Annunciation services just hours away, and then Holy Week and Pascha -- despite all that, I have made a pledge to return to being present here, and at my other site (Rumblings from a Desert Cave), where I post the sermons I've written. The goal as of now -- is this too ambitious? -- is to post at least once a week.

Once upon a time, there were friends who read what was here, and made comments, and were notified whenever new material was added. I don't know if anyone is still listening; but here we go...