But first: An impromptu prayer service on behalf of persecuted members of the Baha'i faith in Iran will be held at 7 this evening at the Baha’i Faith Center, 6515 Independence Ave., Kansas City, Mo. For a recent commentary about this persecution, click here. As this annual report from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom says, Baha'is "are seen as heretics and are not recognized by Iranian authorities."
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For several reasons, I'm returning today to a topic I've written about many times before and no doubt will again -- the way faith communities, particularly Christianity, approach questions having to do with homosexuality.
There are two reasons I am doing this. One is that a Methodist pastor and I made a presentation about this subject -- specifically on same-sex marriage and what the church should do about that -- this past Sunday in an adult education class at my church. And I want to make a few points from that experience.
The other reason is an intriguing piece in the current (March) issue of The Atlantic, "The Velvet Reformation," which talks about the archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, who seems to have this difficult goal, according to the author of the piece: "to enable the church he leads to become fully open to gays and lesbians without breaking apart." To read the whole piece, click here.
The Atlantic piece suggests that Williams is trying to find a middle way in this contentious dispute, and in the process is angering almost everyone, though Paul Elie, who wrote the piece, says that "if this church cannot find a way forward on homosexuality, then none can -- and the clash between gays and Christians over marriage and the like may go on for much of the millennium."
Well, I'm not willing to place all my equality eggs in the Anglican basket, but I do wish Williams success in finding what Elie calls a way forward.
When the Rev. Diane Nunnelee and I spoke about this subject this past Sunday, we tried to offer people a vew of the widely varying history of marriage and the many, many forms it has taken over the years. To suggest that since the beginning of time marriage has always been between one man and one woman is simply historical nonsense.
We also tried to help people understand the difference between civil marriage and sacred, or sacramental, marriage. The two get conflated today when clergy act as agents of the state as well as representatives of their faith communities in the same wedding ceremony.
Civil marriage is what gives people all the legal rights, privileges and responsibilities of marriage, and in my view should be available both to heterosexual and homosexual couples so all may have equality under the law. Sacred marriage is what happens when a faith community blesses a union.
My proposal is for everyone who wants to get married first to go to the government and do the necessary paperwork for legal recognition of the proposed union -- not unlike the way we now go to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get a driver's license. Then any couple joined together legally in that way could, if desired, come to a religious community and seek a blessing. Whether they got that blessing or not, they still would legally be a couple in the eyes of the state. And faith communities would be free to say yes or no to same-sex unions according to their own theological beliefs.
Our constitutional mandate to treat all citizens equally under the law eventually will have to result in a system similar to what I've just described. And the sooner the better, as far as I'm concerned.
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MORE PAPAL TRAVELS FOR PEACE
Pope Benedict XVI plans to visit the Holy Land in May, and as part of that journey will spend some time at a mosque in Jordan. Good. The pope still has some repair work to do with Muslims after his 2006 Regensburg speech, and this is a laudable move in that direction. Perhaps he also can say a good word for the need for an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and offer his good offices to help with that.
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P.S.: This excellent analysis by JTA, the Jewish news service, of relations between Pope Benedict XVI and Jews does two things: It makes a point I've tried to make about this pope, which is that he sometimes seems to speak first and think through the ramifications of his words later. And it gives me a chance to remind you to go see the excellent exhibit at Union Station in Kansas City about Pope John Paul II and the Jewish people. It's called "A Blessing to One Another," and you'll find my description of it by clicking here. For a list of lectures and similar events connected with that exhibit, click here. Students from Notre Dame de Sion High School will visit the exhibit this week. Will you?
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ANOTHER P.S.: The annual AIDSWalk Kansas City will be held April 25, and as usual I'll be walking as part of the AIDS Ministry team from my church. If you'd like to help by making a donation of any size to help, click here.