Monthly Archives: May 2009

The Case for Methodist Amendment One: Professor Tex Sample

Time for another video about the United Methodist Church’s Amendment One. This one’s from Tex Sample, Professor Emeritus of Church and Society at St. Paul School of Theology, a UM seminary in Kansas City, Missouri. Prof. Sample is also a noted author of ten books, most recently 2008’s Earthy Mysticism: Spirituality for Unspiritual People.

Also discussed is the Worldwide Nature amendments. Another discussion of these amendments may be found in this page from the West Ohio Conference, recognized as groups one and two.

This amendment was approved by a clear 2/3 majority of the General Conference. If you are a pastor or other representative at an Annual Conference, I encourage you to allow the United Methodist Church to welcome all people, not just some. Vote for Amendment One.

Local War Hero Plays by Rules, Still Fired

I found some more information on Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach, the latest member of the armed services fired because for being gay. There’s also a local connection to me; it turns out that he grew up in my local area, graduating high school from one of my school’s rivals. Because of this connection, the local newspaper has some personal and previously unreported information.

Among the new (at least to me) information:

  • The Board of Inquiry hearing was held on the anniversary of the death of his father, himself a retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel. (It looks to me like Arthur Fehrenbach died in the line of duty. Can anybody verify that?) UPDATE: Lt. Col. Fehrenbach’s sister Angie Trumbauer says in the comments section that Arthur Fehrenbach died after retirement, not in the line of duty. Thanks, Angie!
  • His presence as a gay man is considered a danger to morale even though no one on base knew he was gay, and unfit for service in spite of his nine air medals.
  • Even Lt. Col. Fehrenbach’s family didn’t know he was gay until a week ago.

One important lesson for the estimated thousands of lesbian or gay servicemembers currently serving is that even if they don’t ask and you don’t tell, you are never safe from persecution.

Another lesson: They’re not just taking your service, they’re taking your veteran’s benefits.

  • Lt. Col. Fehrenbach will lose $46,000 a year plus medical benefits for the rest of his life because he won’t be permitted to serve less than two more years until he’s eligible for full retirement.
  • With an honorable discharge, Lt. Col. Fehrenbach would receive $80,000 in separation pay. Since he’s fighting the discharge, he will receive nothing at the end of his 18-year career.

Lt. Col. Victor J. Fehrenbach
Lt. Col. Victor J. Fehrenbach

Here’s the article from the Dayton (Ohio) Daily News (by Margo Rutledge Kissell):

Air Force Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach, a decorated military weapons systems officer who grew up in the Dayton area, is being recommended for discharge after 18 years of service for homosexual conduct, an Air Force spokesperson said.

The move has made Fehrenbach, who was born at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and graduated from Wayne High School in Huber Heights, a face on the controversial Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy for gay military personnel because of his high rank and distinguished career.

“Victor is a great human face that shows the problem that is ‘Don’t ask, Don’t Tell.’ This is happening every day,” said Kevin Nix, spokesman for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a national non-profit organization that is providing Fehrenbach with free legal counsel.

Fehrenbach, 39, an assistant director of operations for the 366th Operations Support Squadron at Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho, said Wednesday, May 27, that he was outed by a civilian acquaintance.

Fehrenbach’s sister, Angela Trumbauer of Huber Heights, said her brother served in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo and was awarded nine air medals, including one for heroism during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

“Now the Air Force is telling him he is no longer worthy of wearing the uniform because he is gay,” she said. “It’s out and out discrimination.”

Fehrenbach said he kept his private life so private that no one he flew with or worked with in the military knew he was gay.

“I kept it very, very quiet. My family didn’t know until last week,” he said in a phone interview Wednesday, May 27.

Fehrenbach said he decided to tell his seven older brothers and sisters and his mother that he was gay and was being discharged from the Air Force because he wanted to go public with his story.

“In my heart I knew I needed to fight,” he said, adding that everyone in his family, including his mother, agreed with him.

Fehrenbach followed in the military footsteps of his late father, Air Force Lt. Col. Arthur J. Fehrenbach, a navigator whose last duty station was Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

A board of inquiry hearing was held April 15, on the 30th anniversary of his father’s death.

“This was one date that had a major impact on my life, twice,” said Fehrenbach.

The board, made up of five colonels, listened to all the evidence and recommended an honorable discharge after finding “continued presence was inconsistent with morale, good order and unit cohesion,” Fehrenbach said.

The recommendation for honorable discharge is moving forward to a review board and ultimately will work its way up to the secretary of the Air Force.

“There is a glimmer of hope but we don’t know of any case in 12,500 that have gone through where a service secretary has retained someone after they have been recommendation for discharge,” he said.

Fehrenbach graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1991 on a full, four-year Air Force ROTC scholarship. He earned a bachelor’s degree in international relations.

“I think 9/11 sort of gave everyone a renewed purpose and I was more dedicated than ever and really never planned on leaving,” he said.

A public information officer there on Wednesday released a statement from Air Combat Command out of Langley Air Force Base stating: “Lt. Col. Fehrenbach is being processed for administrative separation for homosexual conduct, as defined by Air Force instructions implementing federal law, specifically, 10 USC 654. This law requires the Department of Defense, and in turn the Department of the Air Force, to separate from the armed forces members who engage in or attempt to engage in homosexual acts.”

Fehrenbach said a civilian acquaintance in Boise told officials at his base last May that Fehrenbach is gay. That launched an Air Force investigation that lasted more than three months.

Initially, Fehrenbach planned to take “a quick, quiet and honorable discharge” but as the months went on, “it was sort of eating away at me this wasn’t right. The law wasn’t right and it was unconstitutional.”

He thought that in his unique position as an officer with a distinguished career, he might be able to “effect change and help thousands of people who have been unjustly discharged.”

Fehrenbach, just two years away from a 20-year retirement, stands to lose the $46,000 a year in retirement benefits, plus medical benefits, he would receive for the rest of his life.

Under the honorable discharge he would receive $80,000 in separation pay.

Fehrenbach said his discharge hearing was delayed until this year because of President Barack Obama’s commitment during the 2008 presidential campaign to move to end the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.

Fehrenbach still holds out hope the policy will be changed under the new administration.

Fehrenbach expects to receive a final answer on his case by September, based on how long past cases have taken.

The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which is providing free legal representation to him, has posted a petition on its Web site hoping to get the Air Force to allow Fehrenbach to continue serving. The petition notice, to be sent to the Air Force secretary, points out the military spent $25 million in taxpayer dollars to train him and that Fehrenbach was hand-picked to be part of a team to protect the Washington, D.C. airspace after 9/11.

“Our country cannot afford to lose Lt. Col. Fehrenbach, especially when we are waging two wars,” the notice states.

Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach is added to the ever-growing list of servicemembers fired for the crime of being gay. The list also includes:

President Obama, you have the distinct authority to stop firing honorable men and women until Congress can get this policy repealed, and yet you do nothing. Next time a soldier is sent home in a pine box, remember: You did this.

A Video Message to My Fellow Civil Rights Supporters

We have a lot of work ahead of us, both in California and across the country, but there’s an important step, a first step, that I’m not sure everyone’s taken yet. Weird how well this speech from 1976’s Network fits so well today.

I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It’s a depression. Everybody’s out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel’s work, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there’s nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there’s no end to it.

We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TVs while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

We know things are bad -worse than bad. They’re crazy. It’s like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don’t go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, ‘Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won’t say anything. Just leave us alone.’

Well, I’m not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get mad!

I don’t want you to protest. I don’t want you to riot – I don’t want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn’t know what to tell you to write. I don’t know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street.

All I know is that first you’ve got to get mad. You’ve got to say, ‘I’m a HUMAN BEING, Goddamnit! My life has VALUE!’

So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it, and stick your head out, and yell, ‘I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!’

I want you to get up right now, sit up, go to your windows, open them and stick your head out and yell – ‘I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!’

Things have got to change! But first, you’ve gotta get mad!… You’ve got to say, ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!’ Then we’ll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis. But first get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it: “I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!”

California Supreme Court Upholds Prop 8; Denies Civil Rights

Well, it finally happened. The California Supreme Court released their ruling (pdf) on the Prop 8. As many (including me) had predicted, the Court refused to strike down Prop 8.

In fact, today’s decision runs exactly counter to May 2008’s decision, in which Chief Justice Ronald George wrote, “Affording same-sex couples access only to the separate institution of domestic partnership, and denying such couples access to the established institution of marriage, properly must be viewed as impinging upon the right of those couples to have their family relationship accorded respect and dignity equal to that accorded the family relationship of opposite-sex couples.”

There’ll be time for detailed analysis later. Right now all I can bring myself to do is post this brief passage from George Orwell’s Animal Farm.

For once Benjamin consented to break his rule, and he read out to her what was written on the wall. There was nothing there now except a single Commandment. It ran:

ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL
BUT SOME ANIMALS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS

After that it did not seem strange when next day the pigs who were supervising the work of the farm all carried whips in their trotters.

Church of Scotland Bans Talk of Sexuality

After upholding on Saturday the appointment of Scott Rennie, an openly gay minister, to Queen’s Cross in Aberdine, the Church of Scotland dodged the expected Overture to ban future openly gay ministers by appointing a Commission to examine the issue for two years, then banning discussion of the issue until the Commission’s report is given in 2011.

There’s a lot of information in that run on sentence, so I’ll let The Herald (Glasgow) unpack it for me.

The Church of Scotland has banned the ordination of gay clergy for the next two years along with any public discussion of the issue only two days after approving the controversial appointment of a homosexual minister.

Following a ruling by the General Assembly in Edinburgh yesterday, Kirk members are now effectively banned from talking about the issue outwith the church, including the media.

The only people who can discuss human sexuality are those connected with social committees such as the HIV/Aids groups.

Meanwhile a special commission will be set up to examine the issues thrown up in recent weeks and the wider issue of same-sex relationships. It will report in 2011.

The two-year moratorium was part of a “deliverance”, or motion, moved by Rev Dr John McPake from Mossneuk church in East Kilbride, which will see the special commission established.

The move had echoes of the Kirk’s stance when the world’s eyes were upon it in 2007, when same-sex relationships were on the agenda. Dr McPake said: “I am not appealing for silence, I am appealing for disciplined debate.”

The move will not affect the appointment of Mr Rennie whose appointment at Aberdeen’s Queen’s Cross church was approved on Saturday night.

The decision – swung in a 326- 267 vote – raised fear among traditionalists of a possible split in the Kirk.

Rev Ian Watson, an opponent of Mr Rennie’s appointment, called for a decision to be reached sooner.

He said: “We’re really tired of this debate. I really don’t know how much longer the church can sustain this debate.”

I’m not so sure about this one. I’m generally of the mind that it’s best to get things out in the open, even if the result isn’t what I would hope for. (One of the reasons I’d be a horrible politician.) On the other hand, there are all sorts of cultural, procedural, and historical nuances in the Kirk that make this more complex for an outsider like me.

Here’s something: Over 400 commissioners present and eligible to vote on the appointment of Rev. Rennie on Saturday night chose not to vote at all. Maybe these 400 commissioners are sympathetic but not yet ready to publicly declare their conviction. Could it be that the leaders of the Kirk are giving them an extra two years to gather themselves to join the fight?

If so, Rev. Rennie and his allies in the Kirk have their work cut out for them.

Gay Minister’s Appointment Upheld by Church of Scotland

Wonderful news coming from the Church of Scotland tonight. The General Assembly has rejected an objection, allowing an Aberdeen church to appoint Rev. Scott Rennie, a gay minister in a committed relationship.

The Church of Scotland last night [Scotland time] backed the appointment of an openly gay minister.

Commissioners voted 326 to 267 in favour of appointing the Rev Scott Rennie, 37, currently at Brechin Cathedral, who had the support of the majority of the congregation at Queen’s Cross in Aberdeen and the presbytery.

But the move sparked strong protest from traditionalist members which rippled across the world, with more than 12000 Christians from as far afield as Africa and the US signing an online petition against the appointment.

There had been concern that the vote could cause a split in the Church. Much of the four-hour debate was hemmed in by detailed legal discussion of Church procedural law amid claims from the floor of “a fudge”.

The gathered commissioners at the supreme court meeting of the Church of Scotland heard how left handed people were once considered “not normal”, how in Roman times faithful homosexual relationships were accepted, and how the Kirk had previously changed its mind over controversial issues such as its stance on female ministers.

Scott Rennie, new Minister at Queen's Cross in Aberdeen
Scott Rennie, new Minister at Queen's Cross in Aberdeen

Mr Rennie said last night: “The same talk was about when women were ordained and I think that argument suits those that don’t want any change.”

He said there are “many” gay ministers in the Church and rejected claims that his sexuality contradicts bible teachings.

“We don’t stone women, we don’t stone adulterers, we’ve moved on from that,” he said. “The living word is Jesus and I think the question is, what would Jesus have done?”

Mr Rennie, who was married and has a child, was appointed minister of Brechin in Angus 10 years ago. The controversy erupted after 12 members from Aberdeen presbytery, none of whom are members of Queen’s Cross, raised complaints over the appointment.

This is not the end of the debate at this year’s General Assembly. Debate is set to begin Monday as the Assembly considers an “Overture” that states: “That this Church shall not accept for training, ordain, admit, readmit, induct or introduce to any ministry of the Church anyone involved in a sexual relationship outside of marriage between a man and a woman”.

Given tonight’s vote and the limited coverage I could find of the Overture, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to be hopeful. But for tonight, congratulations to the congregation at Queen’s Cross and their new minister, Scott Rennie. Most of all, thanks and congratulations to the Church of Scotland for taking a major step in this long and winding struggle.

The Case for Methodist Amendment One: Rev. Eric Folkerth

Another minister has taken on UMC Amendment One, this time Rev. Eric Folkerth of Northaven UMC of Dallas, Texas (North Texas Annual Conference).

Rev. Folkerth gave this sermon on February 8, 2009. Give special attention beginning around 9:00 for background on the amendment and why it’s necessary. The scripture used is from Paul’s first letter to the Church in Corinth.

1 Corinthians 9:19-23 (NASB) For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law.

To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.

By the way, Rev. Folkerth‘s wife is a Texas District Judge. (You’ll figure out why you need to know that when you get there.)

[wpaudio url=”http://blog.mattalgren.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/eric-folkerth-all-means-all.mp3″ text=”Rev. Eric Folkerth: All Means All”]

This amendment was approved by a clear 2/3 majority of the General Conference. If you are a pastor or other representative at an Annual Conference, I encourage you to allow the United Methodist Church to welcome all people, not just some. Vote for Amendment One.

Rev. Scott Rennie’s Fate to be Determined Saturday

The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland will be voting on the continued ministry of Rev. Scott Rennie tomorrow, May 23rd. Debate is being scheduled, but it sounds like the vote will definitely come before the sun sets.

In preparation for the vote and in support of Rev. Rennie, a group of evangelicals has submitted the following letter to The Herald (Glasgow). (Kirk=Church)

Faithful same-sex relationships do not preclude a relationship with God

The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland is faced with a difficult subject: homosexuality in the church. We want to assure the Kirk of our prayers. We are evangelicals who believe that Scripture does not condemn homosexual relationships. We are made up of heterosexual and homosexual Christians.

These are, of course, deeply personal questions. As a result of the traditional view on homosexuality, it has been our experience that many gay and lesbian Christians have been forced down a path of self-hatred, which all too often leads to loss of faith, breakdown or even suicide.

After much wrestling, prayer and heartache, we have come to understand that God affirms loving, faithful same-sex relationships.

As evangelicals, we believe in the authority and supremacy of Scripture, and wholeheartedly affirm “the holy scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the word of God, the only rule of faith and obedience” (Westminster Larger Catechism 3) without question. We understand the various positions within the church and believe it is a difference of interpretation, not biblical authority, that characterises our debate.

We stand with the historic orthodox Christian teaching of “justification through faith alone” – that a person is made right with God because of the work of Jesus Christ and it is faith in Him that brings us into relationship with God.

This is the heart of the good news that Scotland and the rest of the world, whether gay or straight, needs to hear from the church.

No-one is excluded from a relationship with God (or service for Him) because they are in a relationship with someone of the same gender.

We affirm the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ and the apostle Paul that all the law is summed up in love for God and love for our neighbour (Mark 12; Romans 13). We can see nothing in Scripture or our calling as God’s people – both gay and straight – where a loving, monogamous same-sex relationship is inconsistent with this summary of the requirements to live a holy life. We pray that the General Assembly will follow the example of Jesus, who reached out to the marginalised, the suffering, the oppressed and those on the fringes, and who continues to do so today.

We are not just “out there”. There are thousands of faithful people sitting in pews, standing in pulpits, working in Kirk Sessions who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered.

We urge the assembly to embrace the message of transformational grace and inclusion, to stand for justice and mercy and signal the openness of God’s compassionate love to his children, straight and gay. A vast and growing number of evangelicals and others across the world do not exclude homosexuals but understand that the church has erred in its rejection of them. Will the assembly send a clear message of God’s love and welcome, or one of rejection and fear?

Dr Ralph Blair, Davis Mac-Iyalla, Martin Stears-Handscomb and Sarah Hill, Rev Colin Coward, Rev Benny Hazlehurst, Cindy McCarron, Jeremy Marks and Rev Ruairidh MacRae, 37 Annette Street, Glasgow.

(Representing 10 evangelical organisations.)

Whatever comes of this, here’s the part the Church most needs to hear: “There are thousands of faithful people sitting in pews, standing in pulpits, working in Kirk Sessions who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered.”

This isn’t a matter of keeping a certain kind of person out of the Church; we’re already there and we aren’t going away. This is a matter of allowing us to live open, honest lives as part of the Body of Christ.

CA Supreme Court Ruling Tuesday at 10:00 (PDT)/ 1:00 (EDT)

The California Supreme Court announced today that their ruling on the legality of last November’s Prop 8 will be released on May 26, 2009 at 10:00 (PDT)/ 1:00 (EDT).

The California Supreme Court has announced that it will issue an opinion in three cases challenging the constitutionality of Proposition 8 at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, May 26, 2009. (Strauss v. Horton, S168047; Tyler v. State of California, S168066; City and County of San Francisco v. Horton, S168078.) Tuesday at 10 a.m., the opinion will be available on the California Courts Web site at this link: http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/opinions/.

I firmly believe the Court will rule against us. Not because of right vs. wrong (I honestly don’t see how they could vote against us on those grounds, based on the new precedent set in last May’s decision and the way unconstitutional way Prop 8 was put on the ballot), but because pragmatically it’s safer to vote in our opponent’s favor.

We’re a known quantity. They know how we’ll react if they uphold it (see:November 2008), and they know it won’t last. They also know it’ll surely be a smaller response than they’ll get if the overturn it and have to face the unknown response that the Religious Right would whip up. Let’s face it, their audience is larger than our whole community, and a court overturning a popular vote is easily spinnable.

Here’s another case where I really hope I’m wrong, but I’m not counting on it.

The countdown to disappointment has begun.

Learning History: He Got Away With Murder

I’d planned to post this last night, but found myself without an internet connection. Better late than never…

Thirty years ago yesterday, the verdict for the murderer of Mayor George Moscone and Harvey Milk was announced. Dan White, former policeman and San Fransisco Supervisor alongside Milk, would serve the shortest sentence in prison possible.

The riot that came after the verdict would become known as the White Night riot. This bit of newscast video is from that night.

Harry Britt, Milk’s appointed successor: If you remember the violence that started all this, it was Dan White’s violence. I feel that the jury was violent this afternoon by treating Dan White in a way that nobody’s every going to believe they would have treated a black person or a gay person or someone who did not fit Dan White’s image. They were saying that the spirit of Dan White, with all of its pettiness, all of its meanness, and all of its violence right below the surface, is okay. And in so doing were very violently attacking the memory of George Moscone and Harvey Milk. We’re reacting with anger because we are angry.

The following day, reporters went looking for someone to apologize for the riots. Randy Shilts gives the reaction in his book The Mayor of Castro Street: the Life & Times of Harvey Milk

They came up empty. Harry Britt told them, “”Harvey Milk’s people do not have anything to apologize for. Now the society is going to have to deal with us not as nice little fairies who have hairdressing salons, but as people capable of violence. We’re not going to put up with Dan Whites anymore.” The reporters were shocked that a public official would condone violence. Britt was shocked that they would expect anything else. The journalists asked if such a riot would not set back the gay movement. “No one has ever accepted us,” Britt snapped. “What sets a movement back is not violence. What sets us back is Uncle Toms.”

Newspeople scurried to try to find a gay leader who would apologize. They had a tough time. “Political and cultural leaders haven’t apologized for creating a jury where Dan White is a hero and for creating a jury where Dan White can be found a moral man incapable of cold-blooded murder,” snorted Bill Draus, the new president of the Harvey Milk Club. “They have a lot more to apologize for than we do.”

I found a detailed account of the riot from Leland Frances here. You should also read the account of Fred Rogers (not that one), the owner of the Elephant Walk, the target for police brutality during the riot.