Archive for February, 2014

Arkansas Episcopal diocese deals with transgender priest

February 28, 2014

An Anglican website reports on a transgendered priest who, until recently, served at an Episcopal Church in Pine Bluff.

The Rev. Greg Fry, priest-in-charge at Grace Episcopal Church in Pine Bluff, told his congregation Sunday morning that he is transgendered and identifies himself as a woman, apparently becoming the only working member of the Episcopalian clergy in Arkansas ever to make such an announcement.

Arkansas Episcopal Bishop Larry Benfield announces that the pastoral relationship between the priest and Grace Church has been dissolved. Benfield observed, “I hope that we never reduce the struggles that we all face in our lives to snap judgments that are best suited to sound bites, just as I hope that we do not make decisions based on fear of the unknown.”

If I may be allowed an observation, and these are my personal opinions, it might be good for everybody to take a long deep breath and try to remember that we profess to be followers of Jesus. Let us presume, for the sole purpose of making a point, that the minister being discussed is the rottenest, low-down, depraved sinner on earth. Would it not follow that he is most in need of our prayers? Are we not required to help restore sinful people to a right relationship with God? Or does that apply only to people with whom we are comfortable?

The reporter notes, “a transgender person is one who identifies with or expresses a gender identity that differs from the one that corresponds to the person’s sex at birth. Transgender orientation is independent of sexual orientation.” This is a somewhat technical matter and one must presume the general accuracy of the definition. All stories have space limitations and every reporter has a deadline. News is never comprehensive.

There is, I think, I general misconception that gender identity at birth is always a matter of instantaneous observation, but there are a surprising number of cases in which determination of gender is not at all straightforward. There are medical experts who routinely deal with such cases. Moving on from that starting point, it is not difficult to imagine that an individual might be misidentified from the earliest stages.

We all need to understand that there is a difference between gender “dysphoria” (the predicament of the priest in Pine Bluff) and cross-dressing. The former is a condition of gender confusion. I learned all this during my almost 40 years in radio, but am by no means an expert. So far as I can tell, the situation this young man finds himself in is yet another symptom of the Fall. Paul reminds us in Romans 8 that the creation is groaning in expectation of a coming time when everything will be back in a proper relationship with God.

Whether this individual should be in public ministry is another question altogether. I am not part of the Episcopal diocese, so it would be wise to show some restraint. As a traditional Anglican, I have nothing to brag about. Our bishops have shown themselves to be broken men. We all struggle against our fleshy nature. None of us have any right to do anything other than pray for the Episcopal Church and get on with the business of spreading the gospel to those who need it most.



The Brewer veto and religious liberty

February 27, 2014

There has been a good deal of crazy talk and harsh words cast about concerning the now vetoed Arizona legislation that would have defended individual religious liberty. Personal attacks (“bigot,” etc) are the typical tolls of those who have no real argument. Although I am not expert on the matter, my inclination is to back the proposed law and to bewail Governor Brewer’s executive action which killed it.

This does not make me a “wing nut” or some kind of social extremist. Anybody who knows me would find such accusations to be almost hilarious. The fact is that I have been subjected to a certain amount of criticism by my Evangelical brothers and sisters for not holding a more vehement and hateful position toward homosexuals. But how could I? The fire-breathing stuff is fairly easy for those who don’t get out much, but I know plenty of gay folks and, so far as I can see, most are fine people.

My wish is that they would “repent.” That is a biblical word that actually means “change.” Now, that is certainly not as easy as it sounds and one must appreciate the power of such factors as sexual desires. Just look around and tell me if you honestly think gay people are the only ones who should change. It is my opinion that homosexuality is “hard-wired” into the personality and that I should be very understanding of other people. In other words, one should get the two-by-four out of your own eye before fishing the speck out of the other guy’s (Matt 7:3-5). Call me a bigot, but that means exactly nothing.

Gay people deserve to have jobs and all the other necessities of life and the rights of citizenship. I do not happen to think that this extends to the recognition of “gay marriage,” but I am in the minority on that. I am not entitled to personally belittle gays any more than the majority is entitled to call me ugly names. Do not, under any circumstances, compare me to the KKK. Those people have a historic reputation as murders and domestic terrorists.

This brings us to the Arizona legislation. It is not an extremist rant to suppose that people have a right to act on their religious beliefs. It ought to be pretty obvious that this does not extend to rationalizing away criminal acts or depriving anybody of the rights associated with property, life, and citizenship. If the baker opposes gay marriage and backs it up by not accepting the wedding business that might come from it, so be it. It is a question of conscience and religious practice, which should generally trump just about any other interest. Our founders were familiar with real religious persecution and had a fear of what might come from religious passions.

A good deal of the dumb stuff in this supposed conversation has come from my side, so let’s get a few things straight here. The definition of “Evangelical” is of no relevance to the discussion. Whether or not Lydia (a wealthy woman in the book of Acts)  sold anything to pagans matters nada. I imagine that Paul probably sold one or two of his tents to scoundrels. Let us not loose sight of the crucial issue.

Those who lack of sense of history fail to recall that the governing documents in the old Soviet Union granted freedom of religion. The thing they prohibited was the actual exercise of religion. It is exactly the same issue faced by Arizona lawmakers and Governor. It is the same thing, an identical denial of personal religious freedom.

I mean no harm to gay people -ever. I regret those self-proclaimed religious authorities who do wish ill for their fellow human beings, all created in the image and likeness of God. Our mutual failure to deal with this important issue bodes nothing but evil.



A cold night in Arkansas

February 21, 2014

Homeless folks lost a devoted friend in the early hours of Thursday as Dennis Beavers departed this mortal life. I only met him once or twice, but my wife Marie (who is a devoted advocate for the homeless) knew him better. Dennis was the kind of man who could be called out any hour of day or night to bring a pair of shoes to some stranger who also happened to be so unlucky as to be without a regular address. He was tireless in pursuit of an exhausting ministry.

Maire is a regular volunteer at the Arkansas Dream Center. She organizes the clothing good people donate for fellow human beings who have fallen through the so-called “social safety net,” Marie is part of what Little Rock politicians and business types sneeringly refer to as the “homeless community.” The unspoken implication is that, if are are in need, it’s your own damn fault.

It is an odd thing that those who so easily and bluntly criticize those without possessions or influence are, at the same time, incapable of self-criticism. “It is not my fault that some people are having a hard time. Maybe if they would clean up and get a job (like me!) things would go better for them.” Around these parts, we prefer to never look at the homeless and there is certainly no place for them anyplace worthwhile people might visit.

It was on one of those untypically bitter cold nights that I spent a little time down at the Arkansas Dream Center near downtown Little Rock. Around one-hundred people were able to enjoy a hot meal, take a shower, get some warm clothing, do some laundry, watch a movie and spend the night in a warm safe place. We take a lot for granted. We expect the closets to be full of perfectly fitting  clothes, the furnace pumping out warm air all the day and night. Did I mention the refrigerator? There is another nicety the homeless cannot even imagine. Some of the individuals so easily tossed aside are children. They should find jobs, I guess. Most of us would lose our minds by the second day of doing without, but things run smoothly where the poorest come together.

There was an elderly black man spending this particular night indoors. Well spoken and accustomed to work, he related the story of a recent eviction. It was a mistake, a miscalculation. Too many months behind on rent, and there will be consequences. This gentleman gave his age as 72 and recounted some of the small jobs recently held. Blame? This worn out man put it all on himself. It was a mistake. It was the kind of thing that, for most of my friends, would be quickly corrected by a few strokes of a pen or keystrokes on a computer. A little carelessness can be a death sentence if you are extremely poor, so be careful.

Imagine being in your early 70s, and still looking for little jobs to pay the bills and keep a roof over your head. The gentleman did not complain. Mistakes are made and those little errors have consequences. He should have planned better, no doubt. This fellow probably has another job by now and maybe even some sort of cheap set of rooms. Many of the homeless people have jobs, but struggle with medical bills and the needs of small children. Yes, they should have planned better. Not everyone is as intelligent or doggedly ambitious as the self-made individuals who run this world.

During the recent cold, a man froze to death under one of the bridges, but it is said that many of the homeless like living that way. Who could possibly deny such worldly understanding? Dennis Beavers, from an unworldly perspective, gave of the most precious things he possessed in service of a class of people generally considered to be despicable. He gave his own life energy and personal devotion, always seeing the divine image in every human being. To say that he will be missed would be a cruel and meaningless cliche.

Even though Dennis tried, no one person can do it all. He leaves so many gaps to be filled, but it may be that this need is his bequest to those who knew him well and those who admired his tenacity from a safer distance.

   May thy rest be this day in peace, and thy dwellingplace in the Paradise of God. (1928 BCP, 319)