Saturday, September 28, 2013

Azusa and Adam and I

Congratulations to Dr. H. Adam Ackley for the courage he has shown in his decision to come out as a man after teaching theology for 15 years under the name and gender of Heather Ann Clements.

It's not easy to enter a classroom with good cheer and high energy, day after day, year after year, and teach at the college level.  How much harder to do it while struggling with one's gender identity.  

I was deeply moved when I watched his sermon "Come As You Are: God's Good News for All People," in which he comes out as transgender to friends in his Christian community, a Church of the Brethren.

Ever the professor, he explains that he chose the name "Adam" because it appears in Genesis, where it means "creature made from the dust of the earth."  In the Hebrew, he explains, ha-adam (the earth creature) is made from ha-adamah (the earth) in Gen. 2:7.

The beauty for him of taking "ha-adam" as his name is that the term specifically includes both male and female (Gen. 1:27).  He follows Phyllis Trible's brilliant insight that before the creature is put to sleep to create male and female, it has no gender.  Eventually Adam becomes the first name of the male in the Genesis story.

Thus Dr. Ackley's choice of the first name Adam evokes the complex interaction of Holy Scripture and personal gender identity in his life.

I also want to thank Dr. Julia Stronks, lawyer and political science professor at Whitworth College, for her careful analysis of the legal and religious dimensions of Azusa Pacific University's response to Dr. Ackley's transgender status.

In discussing whether APU has the legal right to fire Dr. Ackley, she writes, "Clarity in a contract is important." 

So is charity in a Christian institution.

As Paul said, "Though [a Christian university] speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, [it is] become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal" (1 Cor. 13:1).

I once applied to teach in the English department at Azusa Pacific, and things progressed as far as a job interview in which I was informed that APU had recently fired two professors in connection with same-sex issues. 

"Would it bother you to teach here in light of that information?" the interviewers asked. 

"Oh no," I lied.  "I could live with that and teach here.  I don't agree with the decision to fire them, but I would not feel it necessary to take on an issue that occurred before I arrived."

As it turned out, APU decided not to hire me, and I decided to confess that it actually would bother me and that I needed to withdraw my application.  Our letters crossed in the mail.   

If APU couldn't even hire a married woman like me in 2001 because of my views on homosexuality, I'm not surprised that they quickly dismissed Dr. Ackley in 2013.

Their decision lacked charity.  Their self-justifying words might as well be smashing cymbals.  

As Dr. Stronks noted in her analysis on the EEWC website, "We see through a glass darkly" (1Cor. 13:12).

APU reveals this truth through its actions.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Holy Pope!

Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus.

After reading excerpts from the interview with Pope Francis published today in America, the Jesuit journal, I am moved by the holiness of this man.

Veni, sancte Spiritus.  Sustain him.  Give him a long life.  He's already 74 years old--long live the Pope.  May he reach 94.  

This pope has all the right answers on many questions.

When asked, "Who are you?" he replies, "I am a sinner."  We haven't heard those words from a pope in a long time.  

When asked last month whether he approved of homosexuality, he said, "Who am I to judge?"

Like Jesus, he bends to write on the ground and refuses to throw any stones (John 8).  

Today he added, "Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?  We must always consider the person."

I hear Jesus's voice speaking these words--answering a question with another question, opening the questioner to a wider perspective.

"God is in every person's life.  Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else--God is in this person's life.  You can, you must try to seek God in every human life."

His answer to "What should be the role of women in the church?" is wanting, but it is also humble:  "We must therefore investigate further...We have to work harder to develop a profound theology of the woman... The challenge today is this: to think about the specific place of women... [in] the authority of the church...."

Pope Francis is an essentialist: "...a woman has a different makeup than a man."  And why wouldn't he be? He says, "I am a son of the Church," and the Church has strictly separated its sons from its daughters for ten centuries and more.  

Nevertheless, he is willing to learn.  In six months he has opened up for discussion policies that have been long been protected as inviolable.  

Today he said that the church needs to spend less time fighting abortion, gay marriage, and contraception--more time serving the poor and marginalized.

The Roman Catholic Church is a train moving through a long dark tunnel, and today we have turned a corner.  We can now see a pinprick of light far ahead of us. 

For several years I've been predicting that Rome will bless the ordination of women by 2050, but today I'm thinking maybe I need to move up that date.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Bearing Fruit

"In God's garden of grace, even a broken tree bears fruit," says Rick Warren in an interview tonight on CNN.

He and his wife Kay walk where parents fear to tread, down a path of grief after the death of their son Matthew as a result of mental illness.

I was moved by their words in this interview.

I too have lived with the fear of losing a child and perhaps come close to it.

There are many televangelists and charismatic pastors of mega churches, some of whom like Jim Bakker and Ted Haggard are known for their hypocrisy.

Rick Warren, however, is a genuine man of God.

"Beware of false prophets," said Jesus.  "You will know them by their fruits.  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit" (Matthew 7:15-20).

I give thanks and praise to God for the life and witness of Rick and Kay Warren as they move with grace through this tragedy and use it to help others.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Being Baptist, Single, and Pregnant

Ayaanah Gibson was starting her first year of college in South Carolina at Benedict College--private and affiliated with the American Baptist Church.

But she gave birth in her dorm room over Labor Day weekend, alone and apparently too scared to go to a hospital.,0,7329633.story

Ayaanah died after losing consciousness, probably from loss of blood.  The baby may have been stillborn.

Her crime?  Being female and having intercourse.

The baby's father is no doubt alive and well, perhaps unknown.

Last December, probably about the same time she was filing her college applications, she made a mistake.

This tragedy is a modern replay of the biblical scene recorded in the Gospel according to John, chapter 8: religious leaders planning to stone a woman in Jesus presence.

In this case those who would stone her were present only in spirit: family? friends? her church back home in Sacramento? the college administration, which might cancel a scholarship or kick her out of the dormitory?

We don't know the details, but we do know that it was not safe for her to be female and pregnant as a student entering college.

Apparently she wouldn't give up her dream of going to college, and she did not give up the pregnancy during the first trimester.

Two lives were lost.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Thawing at the Frozen Vatican

Hooray for Pope Francis!  Traditions frozen for a thousand years or more are being taken out of storage and reexamined.

Last month it was the Pope speaking candidly on same-sex issues within the Vatican.

This week Archbishop Pietro Paolin, second in command to the Pope, is announcing that the requirement of celibacy for priests should be open for discussion.

Since 1074 CE, priests in the Roman Catholic Church have not been allowed to marry.  Orthodox priests and Protestant priests and pastors do marry.  

Pope Gregory VII felt it was important that priests "escape from the clutches of their wives."  Just a touch of misogyny there.

Catholics are still not allowed to discuss whether women can be priests, whether use of birth control is okay, whether same sex relationships can be blessed by the church, etc.

But a flexibility on marriage of priests in 2013 heralds flexibility on other issues in the years to come--and by around 2050, we will see women ordained as priests with the blessing of Rome.  

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Stay the Course: Immigration Reform

While a tyrant holds the world's attention in Syria, the US Senate and House of Representatives seems to have forgotten about its own urgent agendas.

We zigzag from one crisis to the next--children killed in Sandy Hook, floods and tornadoes, women and children and others gassed in Syria--while legislation that can do long-term good is forgotten.

As a nation, let us focus our efforts this fall on immigration reform.  Contact John Boehner, speaker of the House of Representatives.

Ask him to schedule a vote on immigration reform as soon as possible.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Our Own Sarin Gas

Four nations in the world have chemical weapons, and the largest nation is the United States, according to Democrat Rep. Alan Grayson of Florida on CNN.

Why do we have chemical weapons?  When is it okay to use them?

1) on our enemy if we are attacked in some way?

2) on some nation or group as a preemptive strike?

Would these weapons kill civilians as well as soldiers? Children as well as adults?

Perhaps we should first dismantle our own supplies of sarin and other gases before we try to dismantle Syria's.

Monkey with Grenade

"The way the US behaves toward the Islamic world is like a monkey with a grenade." 
       --Zbigniew Brzezinski , security adviser to President Carter 1977-81, quoting someone else today on CNN.

What a relief to hear President Barack Obama announce that he will seek the approval of Congress before approving military intervention in Syria!

His words moved me deeply.  I spent a moment fighting back tears.

Yes, we are a stronger democracy when we have a president who consults with the House and Senate before launching missiles.  I am so grateful that we have this president and that I voted for him.

I don't know the best response toward the poisoning of 1,429 people in Syria with sarin gas.  

Should the US send missiles--and kill more people--to say that this massacre is wrong?  

Soli Ozel, professor at Istanbul Kadir Has University, says that a US attack would turn Bashar al-Assad into a hero resisting US.  

Should the UN intervene militarily?  I'm not even sure of that.  Joining into a war may not be the best way to end that war.

Reports of children and adults being gassed in their sleep turn my stomach and remind me of Auschwitz.  

Nevertheless, killing to stop killing is questionable.

One thing is surely right: more debate until at least the US and perhaps the UN can come to a decision based on input from many people.

Sexy Weddings

Weddings are all about sex: a commitment to being sexy and sexually available to one's partner for the next fifty or sixty or seventy years.

So how could a pastor cancel a wedding on the basis of a bride's sexy dress?

The U.S. is still so influenced by its Puritan roots.

Yesterday I attended a Mexican-American wedding in Richmond, California, where sexuality was joyfully celebrated.

The bride, her bridesmaids, her mother, and most of the women present showed ample cleavage.  Several guests wore gorgeous jeweled gowns with backs open to the waist, the kind you see when watching the Academy awards.

I felt awkwardly over-covered, under-endowed, and light-haired.  Very northern European.  

What fun to be immersed in another culture: Mariachis followed by banda music, guests from Jalisco and Guadalajara and Chihuahua, ten hours of hearing and speaking Spanish.  

The Puritan desire to hide sexuality seemed so quaint in this context.  

That pastor in Houston needs to expand his thinking.  Thank you to Demetria L. Lucas for calling his action to wider attention.