Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Gay Marriage and the Bible

The state of California has been all over the news lately for events other than earthquakes. It started when a slim majority of voters decided to ban same sex marriage. Many states, including my own, have enacted such bans. I have to say that as a conservative minister and counselor I would prefer that the state stay out of some issues. This is one of those issues. I just have a hard time calling sexual orientation a reason to deny any couple the chance to live a committed monogamous life. If I was asked to solemnize a same sex marriage, the couple would have to agree to much the same interview and counseling as any other. Unfortunately, my state prohibits me from performing the ceremony.

This paragraph will probably anger most who read it. I am not a psychologist or theological academician. My only degree is strictly honorary. Which may be, in part, why I can be annoyed yet mildly amused by people on both sides of this issue. Both sides have been throwing around the same two verses from the Bible's book of Leviticus. The problem is that they always take these verses out of context. I re-read Leviticus and had to really reach to find any substantial relevance. God spoke to Moses and gave him some pretty specific guidelines for acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Some of these guidelines were deliberately outside of The Commandments. Contextually, these guidelines were for Moses' time and situation. They provided Moses with a pretty simple hierarchy. I believe these guidelines were given to Moses to prepare him to lead a relatively small community in isolation for four decades. These guidelines gave Moses the tools to make sure that the community survived an extremely long and isolated journey. In fact, when I re-read it, it sounded like God was determined to protect the genetic viability as well as the physical and mental health of Moses' people based on their population, demographics, and circumstances. And the emphasis was on penalties for transgression. That is often an Old Testament theme. Are some of the described acts horrid? Of course! Are “all” of them horrid? Are every single one of the rules required for a population thousands of times larger today? Maybe “that” is a discussion we need to have. It really doesn't take a lot of deep thought to differentiate between love, sex, promiscuity, irresponsibility and violence. I think that as reasonable people, we must be able to contextualize religious text or it becomes meaningless prose. I am embarrassed that it has taken me nearly a half of a century to realize this.

I do have some concerns regarding homosexuality. These have come to me as friend, coworker, and extended family member as well as minister. I have discovered at least three subsets of the gay community. Subsets two and three deeply trouble me. The first group are people who were indeed born gay and are searching for a healthy, committed, and monogamous relationship. The second group is simply promiscuous and not particular. They are doomed to be spiritually damaged until they are willing to change. And the third, which to me is the most disturbing, are the people who call themselves gay but are using that as a coping device to deal with sexual assault. Often these violent assaults occurred during childhood. I have not found any study that quantifies any of this. And my observation is not scientific. But I have indeed met all of these people. And it bothers me that this is not part of the discussion in any measure.

I submit that the interview and counseling I would offer to a strait, gay or lesbian couple would be different. In fact, there are different concerns to address for every couple. I treat each couple as the situation dictates. Gay and lesbian couples present different circumstances to be recognized before the relationship issues. Denying that fact is just intellectually lazy. Perhaps it should be a little more difficult for any couple to get married. But should any couple successfully complete the interview and counseling process with me or any officiant, I would like the government to stay out of it. We have the experience. We care about the couples and take the time to know them. In my state, we have been licensed. I think that makes us uniquely qualified to decide who should be married by us or not.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A New Idea For Financing The Public Sector

Not one single new idea since George W. Bush. Is that what President Obama said? I accept that challenge. I realize of course that by virtue of being a Christian Minister my ideas can't be taken seriously by the President. ( That was sarcasm for all of the secular socialists) In fact, there are officials in government that assert that ministers are not entitled to voice any political ideas at all. I however will not surrender my rights as a citizen. And I have an idea.

Many people have expressed concern over the Federal Budget Deficit. I think it is an abomination myself. Many people have expressed disgust over the Income Tax. I likewise believe that it is bad economic policy and bad social policy. When I council individuals and couples, one of the overwhelming issues is always financial. This comes down to a few major economic factors. The first is that while young families find available mortgage opportunities, the explosive increases in real estate taxes “to triple digit millage in many jurisdictions” has made home ownership impossible to them. Then there is the recent “income tax scam” perpetrated by the Federal Government. Remember that? They changed the withholding tables but not the tax tables. So that in the last filing year, many families found that the refund they were counting on was gone like smoke in the wind. Or even worse, they actually ended up owing the IRS more tax. And then there is perhaps the most spiritually toxic of all, DEBT. Mortgages on houses that they can no longer afford. Car loans that leave them upside down on value versus loan balance. And the worst of all consumer credit and credit cards. Debt is spiritually toxic. Debt is something I always advise people to avoid. It is morally wrong for individuals. It is morally wrong for businesses. And it is even morally and ethically wrong for government.

So what to do? Step one is simple. We need a Constitutional Amendment banning all income tax for all time. At the same time this amendment also needs to permanently limit residential real estate tax to 1/20th of 1 percent of fair market value. The income tax does have to be replaced. And the best replacement is a National Sales Tax. This sales tax should be permanently limited to 15%. The 15% should be split in this way. 2.5% would be for use by the Federal Government. 7.5% would be for use by the State Government. 2.5% would be for use by the County Government. And finally 2.5% would be for use by Local Government. Every dollar other than the Federal percentage should be apportioned by population. Then let those jurisdictions prioritize the services their constituents want and need.

But what do we do about deficit spending and debt in the public sector? I think that there is an answer. How about this? If an individual whether elected, appointed, or hired to a public position (paid or unpaid) writes, votes for, authorizes, signs into law or implements any financial transaction, contract, or budget that results in deficit or debt (even in so called “out years”) shall be guilty of a Class C Felony. These people should be incarcerated for terms commensurate with the amount of the deficit. Yes! I want to criminalize deficit spending. That is accountability!

Now I do realize that I won't live long enough to see this happen. But wouldn't it be wonderful. People, businesses and government all living within their means. With liberty and justice for all.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

My Classmates Memorial Service

Since my ordination and before I have spoken at funeral services a few times in my life. However, I wrote a memorial for 21 of my high school classmates whom have departed since 1975. I delivered this memorial service on July 17, 2010 during our 35th class reunion. I found this experience somewhat different. While I knew of the passing of a few of my old friends, the news of the passing of most of them was fairly sudden. I found the flood of emotion came over me while I was asking my fellow surviving classmates to reflect on happy memories. Suddenly, the words I spoke from the books of Isaiah and John gave me the strength to finish the service. It never ceases to amaze me how powerful the words from the Bible can be. I am once again grateful that God has reminded me in a very personal way. I am also grateful that he gives me the strength to help others in some small way.