The Ethical Implications of Public Policy
Services for GLBT Teens--Our Mission [May 2, 2013]. Anyone who has been paying attention to what has been happening in our schools and communities to boys and girls who have identified themselves or been identified as gay or lesbian cannot help but be distressed by what they see and hear. There are many problems faced by these young teens (and some even below the teen years) and I will not pretend to comprehend all the problems they face, but here are some of them: bullying and teasing, loss of friends, being “outed” by those they trusted, beaten and ostracized, humiliated, thrown out of their homes by parents, being killed, taking their own lives because they have lost whatever support system they might have once had, feeling alone because there is nowhere to turn and no one to turn to. Often their own schools, teachers and principals—and sometimes even their churches—are part of the problem as schools and school boards, as well as churches and ministers with misplaced values, fail to recognize their responsibility for dealing responsibly with GLBT youth.
The admonitions of Jesus are clear that harm to anyone especially a child and the failure to stand with victims of oppression against their oppressors are outside the fundamental norms and values of Christianity. I have been struggling with how to help these kids to the degree that I am able. I have concluded that using my long experience in various aspects of youth counseling (camp counselor and director, probation officer, private school teacher and administrator, and minister of United Church of Christ and Unitarian churches) using the mechanism of this website may be some help.
A new service and a new section of this website are being developed. It is a work in progress and will take a few weeks before it is fully operational, as I will be checking with resources in the GLBT community for appropriateness of language and resources. The purpose is to provide an online friend and counselor for teens and pre-teens in need and a non-religious but compassionate referral service to assist them in finding local resources to help. How much it will be used I have no idea but it is important that those of you who read this get the word out in your community, church, youth organizations, schools, local newspapers, etc., that there is a resource available on line that will protect the identity of anyone who contacts us. .
Senator Portman Changes His Tune [March 19, 2013]. Rob Portman used to believe that marriage between two people of the same sex was wrong. Why? Because the Bible told him so. His Christian faith told him so. His political party told him so. Now he supports marriage between two people of the same sex. Why? Because his son is gay. Because his Christian faith told him so as he concluded that “we are all children of God.” Isn’t this the same Christian faith that he said told him that gay marriage was wrong? So what happened here? It appears that his (Republican anti-Christian) values came up against the hard reality of family relationships, real Christian values, compassion and common sense—and Christian values won. Former Republican Vice President Dick Cheney, once a staunch defender of traditional anti-gay positions, famously also changed his mind when he discovered that his daughter was Lesbian.
We conclude that traditional Republican views about religion, family, marriage and gay sex are not worth much in the real world and are easily dispensible when they come up against real Christian values—the value of family over politics, the dignity of individual human beings over party policy, and the strength of compassion over campaign slogans.
Making Schools Unsafe for Children [6 March 2013]. The idiots who brought us the Scopes anti-evolution trial in Tennessee in our grandparents’ generation are at it again. A cabal of right wing politicians and fundamentalist Christian terrorists are attempting to make schools less safe for gay and transgender kids in Tennessee with proposed legislation that prohibits school personnel from saying anything inconsistent with “natural human reproduction” (a code phrase for heterosexual sex) and requiring that school teachers, administrators and counselors who learn that a student may be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) to report that information to his/her parents, supposedly in the interest of keeping schools safe because, as State Senator Stacey Camfield informs us in a classic non sequitur, homosexual acts are dangerous. In addition to catering to the worst human prejudices, this bill prevents sympathetic teachers from providing counsel to students or dealing with bullying to which students will inevitably be subject, stigmatizes gay youth for engaging in “unnatural” behavior and implicitly condones attacks on them by bullies, exposes students who are not ready to be “outed” to their parents to hostility and rejection at home, and deprives LGBT students of any meaningful support system either at home or at school. Jesus would be so proud of what these “Christian” bigots are doing in his name. [An update to this article published March 10, 2017 can be read here.]
Sequestration, Social Security and Morality [March 4, 2013]. As our short-sighted, politically inept and morally corrupt political parties struggle with each other to gain political advantage playing their embarrassing public games with our ballooning national debt and continuing governmental deficits, we note with dismay that the debate seems to be wrongly framed by the politicians as a choice between raising taxes to increase revenue or reducing expenses by cutting entitlement programs, particularly social security.
The Republicans should be ashamed of continuing to protect the top one percent from paying their fair share of taxes and for shamelessly pretending that attempts to close tax loopholes that favor some corporations over others and protect their rich friends constitute “increasing taxes.” However, the Democrats share the blame for the current standoff by allowing the argument over entitlements to be framed as “cuts” rather than as necessary “structural changes” to entitlement programs. I am in the cohort of senior citizens that receives social security retirement benefits and I oppose "cuts" to the existing program. Nevertheless I support modest changes to the structure of Medicare and Social Security that will improve their long term solvency and reduce their impact on the deficit—raising the age of eligibility to 70, eliminating early retirement at 62, gradually increasing participation requirements from the current 10 years to 25 years, and ending "double dipping" with other Federal retirement programs.
Consider that in the 1930s not many people lived to 65, so the retirement system could support a small percentage of eligible retirees. People at 70 today are in better mental and physical condition than their counterparts in an earlier era at 60, and they will live much longer than people did in the 1930s, so raising the age of eligibility is justified and necessary. When the system started, requiring only ten years of employment made sense, but the system has been in place now for 80 years and that low threshold for full retirement benefits makes little sense in the current economy. Moreover it encourages people to come to the U.S. for the last ten years of their working life to get full retirement benefits, a policy with clearly adverse consequences.
The sequestration fiasco could easily be resolved if the Republicans would stop their patently dishonest argument that closing tax loopholes is raising taxes and ending their obstructionist tactics to prevent raising income taxes by 2% on the wealthy, and if the Democrats would concede that changes to eligibility for entitlements are not “cuts.” It’s time for the posturing to end and for the deals to be made.
Christians versus Republicans [March 3, 2013]. Is there a Christian perspective on the economic mess we are in? Too often we look at problems in our society through an ideological lens and assume the solution lies in the form of our party slogans. That is not a criticism, just an observation since we all approach social and economic problems with some form of ideological bias. That said, however, it is important that we understand our bias both in terms of what it implies and what behavior is inconsistent with it. The Christian bias implies self-sacrifice, concern for others, and commitment toward positive social values with the goal of a more caring society that accepts the challenge to feed, clothe and shelter the least fortunate among us. Republican ideology implies just the opposite of Christian values—an inherent self-interest, unwillingness to commit one’s resources to bring about a more just and caring society (“no more taxes”), the reduction of public dollars to support social programs with the goal of eliminating them altogether (“smaller government”), and in particular reducing the social safety net of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid that protects the weak and powerless (“cut entitlement programs”).
To answer the question, yes, there is a Christian perspective and it is inconsistent with the stated philosophy and objectives of the current group of Republicans in the Congress. You cannot claim to be a Christian and support economic positions that are inconsistent with Christian values. You cannot support cutting the social safety net and simultaneously claim to be a Christian. The two positions are incompatible with each other. I am incredulous that this fairly simple and obvious point seems beyond the grasp of many “Christians in name only” who support the Republican economic positions.
Rebranding the Catholic Church. [March 1, 2013] Historian Timothy Stanley (Oxford U) was quoted in an article on CNN’s website (28 Feb 2013) suggesting that the problem with the Catholic Church is how it is perceived by the public and that its image needs to be changed by “rebranding” the product. He says, “When you rebrand a product, you don't change the content, just the packaging. The Catholic Church needs a pope who will communicate timeless messages in a new way.” His suggestions for rebranding? Reform the governing structure of the Church, overhaul the press office to improve public relations, and use English or German, rather than Italian, for its communications.
You can put lipstick on a pig, which is what Stanley proposes, but in the end it is still a pig. What needs to change is not the label but what is in the package. Contrary to Mr. Stanley, what needs reforming is its medieval world view and pageantry, its out of touch approach to moral issues, its tolerance of depravity among its clergy, its moral certainty, its arrogance with respect to other branches of Christendom, and its royal pretensions and titles.
What Luther came to realize, and what his recent disciple Dietrich Bonhoeffer taught, is that discipleship has a cost. The hierarchy of the Catholic Church (and most Protestant clergy, particularly among the mega-churches) are not willing to pay that price. If the Catholic Church wishes to rebrand itself in a way that changes its perception among the public it could start with acquiring some humility and acting more like Jesus and less like Pilate. It could dispose of its palaces and its scarlet robes and use the proceeds to house and clothe the poor. Or close the Vatican bank and end its fraudulent schemes and money laundering, empty its treasury of vast wealth, liquidate its extensive holdings of land and buildings, and use the proceeds to heal the sick, house the poor and feed the hungry. Its bishops and priests could serve in the bread lines of the world. They could stand with the powerless of the world against the powerful. Of course that will not happen. There is very little chance that the priests, and bishops and cardinals will actually dispense with their privileged status and pretensions and follow in the footsteps of Jesus. The cost of discipleship is just too much for the Church hierarchy to pay.
Making Democracy Work [February 21, 2013]. There is a myth expounded in social studies textbooks that democracy in the U.S. profits from the stability of a two party political system, a myth reinforced by the two parties that currently jockey for power and that cooperate with each other to prevent the emergence of a third party that could force compromise and more responsive government. Germany is a model that we could follow. Reuters reported today that Germany's parliament approved a new election law that will help smaller political parties.
Germany uses a proportional voting system under which voters cast two ballots: one directly for a candidate in his district and a second vote for a party. This second vote determines the distribution of seats in parliament. While the methodology used is complex, the practical effect is that regardless of whether a minority party wins a seat in any district, the party is awarded additional seats based on its percentage of “second votes.”
If we used that system in the U.S. strong minorities could not be blocked from seats in the House of Representatives and therefore their voice would be heard. Example: A Fictitious State elected 24 Republicans and 12 Democrats. Out of a total vote of 2,000,000, the party vote was Republican 960,000, Democrats 540,000 and Progressive Independents 500,000. Even though the Progressive Independents did not win a district vote they would still be entitled to 9 seats in the state legislature appointed from the highest vote getters for that party.
Christians who follow Jesus’ commitment to social justice could begin to work for a plan such as this to increase democracy and inclusiveness in our political structures and make the parties more responsive to the human needs of our citizens—needs that are most often ignored in response to big money and big corporations that use their money to control the two major parties.
Islamic destruction of cultural artifacts. [Feb. 2, 2013] We read with shock and sadness of the destruction of the ancient city of Timbuktu in Mali, and in particular the burning of the ancient library there, which held priceless and irreplaceable ancient books enshrining that country’s past in written memory. We apply the derogatory term “Philistines” (acknowledging an ancient people in the Near East) to those uneducated individuals in any era who have no appreciation of intellectual, literary or cultural tradition. We suspect that “Philistines” may be replaced in this generation by “Islamists” in acknowledgement of those radicals and intellectual terrorists who seem bent on destroying not only the artifacts of Western culture, but the reminders of their own cultural pasts, all in the name of Allah, who must be dismayed by what is done in his name. We are all losers when the dignity of any group or people is subject to terrorism in the name of religion.
The lesson of Newtown about school safety. [Jan. 30, 2013] Someone once said, I think, that those who failed to learn their lessons in history, or willfully distort history to their own ends, are doomed to look foolish and desperate when they misinform their uninformed members about what history teaches about the Second Amendment. The nominal head of the NRA did just that last week when he argued that “now is not the time” to deal with common sense gun regulation. If not now, then when? After the energy of our concern about guns and children has dissipated in the flood of other issues and concerns? Mr. LaPierre was wrong on so many points it is hard to know where to begin, but mentioning three may be enough for now. First, he deliberately quotes only part of the Second Amendment about gun ownership—the important qualifier being “a well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state….” That amendment occurred at a time when the U.S. did not have a standing army and needed people to bring their hunting muskets in the event of a British attack. Second, the “guns” under discussion were single shot muzzle-loaders. Third, the Constitution can be changed, as it has several times when it was wrong about issues—counting Negroes as 2/3 of a human being and preventing women from voting. New times and conditions require new rules and Constitutional provisions.