Rest in Peace Paul

I received word a few days ago that my friend and ordination classmate Paul Reynolds died suddenly of a heart attack. You can read his obituary here.

Paul was a rare person. He wasn’t flashy and never called attention to himself and was often so quiet you could forget he was there. But what you didn’t know is that Paul always knew you were there. He had an uncanny ability to evaluate a situation and know what needed to be done, and he did it. We were in seminary together from 1990 to 1993 and things didn’t always go smoothly. There were about 25 of us and we were all trying to figure this priesthood thing out. There were conflicts, friendships that developed and ended, hellos and goodbyes, and painful decisions made. All through it while the rest of us were raging against this belief or that comment, Paul would stay in the background watching and listening. Later, he would quietly make sure that the kind word or reassuring affirmation happened where it needed to happen.

The last time we saw him was May of 2012 in Boston. He was navigating his work at MIT and priesthood and the difficulty of that balance clearly weighed on him, but you would never know it to talk with him. His heart was always so kind and generous, it’s no wonder that’s what eventually gave out. Rest well Paul, and enjoy the banquet feast of Heaven.

Pay No Attention to the Little Man in the Mayor's Office

Yes, San Diego has once again made headlines, and not for a good reason. Earlier this year we elected Bob Filner as mayor of the city. He is a democrat and I tend to support his positions, but I was uneasy pulling the lever for him. Previous to this he served in Congress for nearly 20 years and he had a reputation as a hothead with a hair trigger temper. In 2007 he was charged with assault after an altercation in the baggage area. The woman who got in his way appeared in ads for Bob’s opponent during the election.

Now we are hearing about charges of sexual abuse. Allegations in the last few weeks paint a picture of a man who, for example, suggested that a female employee should come to work without panties. There are also charges of groping, kissing, etc. Last week he acknowledged that he has acted “inappropriately” and that he needs help. Shortly after this he answered specific charges by saying he is entitled to “due process of law.” When one of his employees came forth yesterday, Filner denied the charges.

OK, let’s sort this out. Mayor Filner states that he is entitled to “due process of law;” that phrase comes from Section 1 of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution. It only applies to criminal proceedings; to the extent that nobody has seriously suggested the mayor be arrested, due process doesn’t apply.

The mayor needs to resign. The charges point to a pattern of behavior that is simply unacceptable and it makes day to day operations difficult. The women who work near him now need to worry about their own safety as a first priority, not the business of the city.

A common misconception with men like this is that they see this as a perk of being powerful. In reality these are men who are weak and want to be powerful and think this will do it. It’s inconceivable to the rest of us, but they honestly don’t think this kind of abuse is unwelcome or frightening. When confronted they downplay it, suggest they were “just kidding” or “just fooling around.”

It’s not playful or welcome. It’s unacceptable and does not serve the people of San Diego.

Can a Christian Celebrate Ramadan?

In the Muslim world this is the holy month of Ramadan where they celebrate gift of the Quran from Allah to the Prophet (Mohammed). As part of the celebration they fast from all food and drink from sunrise to sunset.

Our friend Lynn helped set up dinners where Christians like us share a meal with a Muslim couple. Last night after sunset we gathered at the home of a local Muslim couple (joined by another couple) and broke the fast.

On one level it was an ordinary dinner party. We talked about family and work, we were entertained by their daughters, and we ate terrific food. But on another level, it was extraordinary. I was thinking last night about all the people I wish were there: people who send me anti Muslim screeds, whose knowledge is dependent on exactly not sharing this meal. Whose “truth” is based on what they refuse to hear.

By being there we learned about how they came to the United States and want only to make a better life for themselves and their children (and grandchildren, and so on). We all benefit from them being here.

It was a good night and I’ll continue to pray for Ali, Emel, Ahmet, and Nur (and for Ali and Emel’s children who entertained us and officiated as food tasters).

The Justice Chronicles Volume 12: Marriage Gets More Inclusive

Last month the Supreme Court handed down decisions on United States v. Windsor (DOMA) and Hollingsworth v. Perry (Proposition 8). They covered different issues and made different claims, but both opened up marriage to gay couples.

This shouldn’t surprise readers of my writing, but I was disappointed with much of the news coverage. Most of what I saw from the major networks held up the decisions to “who won, who lost” and missed the reasoning behind the decisions. I was interested in this and also which justices landed on which side.

The DOMA case was 5-4; Justice Kennedy wrote the opinion and was joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. Justices Roberts, Scalia, and Alito wrote dissents; Justice Thomas joined the dissents of Justices Scalia and Alito.

DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act) was passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton in 1996. Basically it mandated that the federal government not recognize gay marriage even if the marriage is legal where it was performed. That meant gay couples who legally married were not eligible for such things as joint filing of income taxes, survivor benefits for Social Security, etc. The lawsuit was brought by the widow of a lesbian marriage; because their marriage was not recognized by the federal government the surviving member owed $363,053 in probate taxes. If not for DOMA she would not have owed anything (you automatically get all your spouse’s assets tax free when he or she dies). She claimed that the federal government must recognize all valid marriages, not just heterosexual ones. She was also able to show that DOMA caused her harm to the tune of $363,053.

The majority of the court (led by Justice Kennedy) argued that since states issue marriage licenses the federal government can’t decide which marriages are valid and which aren’t. Different states have different rules about who can marry (e.g. minimum age) and the federal government recognizes any marriage the state recognizes. DOMA puts homosexual marriages in a different case for no good reason

The dissents argue a few points. Justice Scalia argues that the court should never have taken the case (it’s a fairly technical point that he makes well). Most of the rest are what we’ve come to expect: that traditional (opposite sex) marriages are the norm because only they can produce children. They also decry the demonization they have suffered: opponents of same sex marriage are right only because they are demonized as homophobes and bigots.

In a sense they have a point: they are homophobes and bigots. The justices who dissented argue several points that make no sense and weak arguments: “this decision refutes the will of the majority,” “this decision goes beyond what everyone used to assume about marriage,” “this decision allows people to love one another in a way that offends me,” etc.

Simply put, this allows adults to marry each other. Granted, homosexual marriages cannot produce children but neither can marriages of heterosexual couples where the woman is post-menopausal or where one (or both) have been sterilized. We, who are heterosexual, cannot ban marriages that we find gross and icky. Marriages in the this country haven’t been homosexual, but in many states marriages weren’t biracial until 1967 (Loving v. Virginia).

The Proposition 8 case was more interesting in the lineup. The 5 person majority consisted of Justice Roberts (who wrote the opinion) and was joined by Justices Scalia, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan. Justice Kennedy wrote the dissent and was joined by Justices Thomas, Alito, and Sotomayer.

The Court ruled that they weren’t going to rule on the merits of the Prop 8 case because the defendants had no standing (they had no right to bring the case). The case originated with several gay couples who wanted to marry but were prevented by Prop 8; they filed suit against the state of California. In the first round the court ruled for the plaintiffs, and the state of California decided not to appeal. Supporters of Prop 8 stepped in as defendants, claiming that they had standing because they were the ones who collected the signatures for the ballot initiative. The Court ruled that they may have had standing during the process of putting the measure on the ballot, but once it passed, only the state of California could defend the proposition.

This was a mixed result for supporters of gay marriage. While this will allow gay marriages in California once again, it does not affect laws in other states. Many of us wanted the Court to go further and rule that Prop 8 is unconstitutional because the states don’t have the right to ban gay marriage. They wanted a gay version of Loving v. Virginia.

What next? Proponents of gay marriage have 2 routes: they can bring suit in a state that currently bans gay marriage, or they can start working on the state legislature level to pass laws that allow gay marriage. I’m guessing that groups will try both, and I suspect that the days of homophobia in marriage are numbered.