Saturday, February 15, 2014

Something Good from DOMA

Can I really be feeling grateful for the Defense of Marriage Act? Surely not. But stay with me... 

When President Clinton signed DOMA into law, I thought it was a terrible injustice. And it was. Denying same-sex couples federal recognition fed our national discrimination. It wasn't just  a cop-out but a betrayal. Over 1,000 rights and responsibilities our society grants to and expects from married couples were institutionally and legally denied.

So of course I am thrilled this week. U.S. District Judge Arenda Wright Allen in Virginia struck down the ban on a same-sex marriage that voters passed in 2006. A federal judge in Kentucky ordered officials to recognize same-sex marriages (or, as I prefer to think of them, marriages) performed in other states. And even in Texas!, a federal judge heard a challenge to the same-sex marriage ban. What a week!

The wave has been building. Federal judges in Utah and Oklahoma overturned voter-approved restrictions on marriage. And challenges are mounting nation-wide.

These are baby steps toward equality, but still they are steps. And it doesn't take an infant long before she's slopestyling in Sochi.

How did all this happen? In a word, DOMA. Or, more to the point, the Supreme Court case overturning DOMA in United States v. Windsor,  last June.

Justice Kennedy's logic was clear: the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees equal protection under the law to everyone. Even Justice Scalia, who dissented from the Court's opinion, could see the writing on the wall separating church and state: if state bans on same-sex marriage violate equal protection, they will fall.

I'm conflicted because I opposed DOMA. It was bad law. It harmed couples. It hurt families. It told tens of thousands of kids their parents weren't legitimately married in the eyes of their country, and it denied them the rights and protections every child should be able to expect from his or her family, from tax credits and insurance benefits to parent-teacher conferences and doctor's visits. It did real and lasting damage.

But if we hadn't had DOMA, it couldn't have been so clearly and forcefully invalidated by the Supreme Court. The striking down of DOMA set in motion what I believe is the inevitable fall of every anti-gay marriage law in the land. 

There's no way of knowing how quickly our marriage laws will change. We see pushback in Missouri where the House just passed a bill to legalize discrimination in the name of religious freedom. I doubt the Show-Me State will be the only one. There's no way of knowing how quickly our collective national heart will change. But it's clearly opening up. And there's no way of knowing if DOMA and its demise have hastened or postponed the human rights progress we are currently seeing. 

What's clear to me is  that we have a long way to go to achieve true equality and justice. But the DOMA decision and others based on it clearly show we're on the right path. Now more than ever we need churches, people of good faith, friends, neighbors, relatives, employers, investors—in short, everyone, because we all have a stake where matters of justice and equality are concerned—to stand up and speak out. 

Our nation has struggled with forms of discrimination from the beginning. We've made great strides overcoming our institutional and personal prejudices of religion, economics, race, and gender. I'm not clueless about the distance we still have to travel. But I'm proud to part of a generation of Christians, old and young, who understand the Kin-dom of God is not some abstract future fantasy but something we help to realize here and now. It co-creates with justice. It celebrates the power of love.

So, here's to Virginia, Kentucky, and Texas, and the eventual dismantling of discrimination in these places my family has called home. Here's to Oklahoma, Utah, and Nevada! where state laws areIgv held to the high standards of the 14th Amendment. And yes, here's to Missouri and every other state that wants to discriminate—say it loud enough so we can all hear what our own prejudices sound like, and we will see the way clear to change our ways. Thanks, DOMA, not for the damage you did but for reflecting so clearly our own prejudices that we couldn't help but overturn you. 

Finally, and most importantly, here's to those whose long-suffering love has endured the hellfire of discrimination and the brimstone of oppression, for they will know the in-breaking Kin-dom of God. 

Thursday, February 6, 2014


I just got back from a three day shared decision-making workshop in Boulder, Colorado. It should have been called a consensus immersion, a baptism by every voice in the room. Never mind that the workshop was run by a school district for its principals, teachers, staff, and administrators. 

For me, it was all about church.

I thought I had a pretty good handle on consensus decision-making before I went. After all, I serve a church that's never voted on anything. Spirit of Joy Christian Church makes all its decisions by consensus, seeking full agreement before acting. It means we don't always act quickly, but we do act together. This is how it's been since the church was founded 14 years ago. 

Still, I learned a lot. We put every voice in the room, named our fears and hopes, found not just common ground but new ground, and learned to move from deliberation to action.

One thing I learned, although our facilitators didn't use this image, is that when we make decisions by consensus we're much like a jazz orchestra. Every voice matters. Get input from everyone and we'll find common chords and rhythms, underlying beliefs and goals, and we'll all express them in our own, unique way. 

Unless every voice speaks, something is missing. 

When every voice speaks, we can speak and act as one.

Patterns emerge when everyone gets their say. Fears and hopes alike are shared, anxieties and possibilities. And when each instrument takes its turn, with the rhythms of a common cause that support and feature every instrument, every voice, the decision at the end is good. Not mob rule, not the chaos of an orchestra warm up of scales and arpeggios each in their own independent key. But music you want to keep time with.

I began to imagine our church like an orchestra. Each person has their own voice with its own range, timbre, volume, and color. Every voice matters. Each person is a gift without which the whole just doesn’t feel complete. Sure, if we all speak at once about everything, it’s chaos. But together, we're good.

Symphoneo in Greek means to match, agree, harmonize, or fit together. It’s from roots that mean “together” and “to sound” or “to speak.” Spirit of Joy decided at the beginning that all decisions would be made by consensus. So, how can the symphony of our life together make beautiful music and not just noise?

The theological roots of consensus, especially as we have decisions we need to make, are worth exploring. With decisions facing us about the building, our purpose, future ministries, and the funding and support of current ones, it’s a great opportunity for us to make sure all voices are in the room, and to talk explicitly about how we come to consensus.

What’s more, our way of making decision matters to our character. Does our decision-making honor each person’s full faith and integrity? Does it acknowledge our deepest fears as well as our highest hopes? Does it lead all of us to new ground that is fully shared? Does it teach us new ways to think and open new windows through which we all see God? If so, we will be highly motivated to carry out the actions we agree will approach our goals.

I'm excited to lean in and listen, keep time, offer what I can, and become together a symphony of hospitality, spiritual exploration, intellectual integrity, justice, advocacy, and peace.