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All are welcome (and we mean it): the Rev. James Brooks-McDonald.

photo:Alicia Solsman

Open Faith

Religious congregations in Schenectady unite to say they believe God welcomes all sexual orientations

 

Amid all the attention heaped upon right-wing evangelicals’ political power and Muslim-Jewish feuds’ staying power, one group of Schenectady congregations recently found a way to create some headlines of their own last weekend—by fostering agreement.

“We embrace the notion that all people are embodied, sexual creatures,” begins the Litany of Sexual Inclusiveness, a uniform statement read by the clergy of six local churches and one synagogue during last weekend’s services.

“We rejoice in the role all sexual orientations play in the divine community,” continues the litany.

And that’s exactly what the members of this diverse coalition did during the weekend’s services, in an effort to show that intolerance toward gays and lesbians doesn’t have to be the norm among America’s many faiths. Similar versions of this litany—altered only to account for the various congregations’ styles of worship—were provided for the worshippers at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, the Congregation Gates of Heaven (a Reform Jewish synagogue), the First United Methodist Church, the Emmanuel Baptist-Friedens United Church of Christ (a merged congregation), the First Unitarian Society of Schenectady and Grace Lutheran Church.

“We wrote [the litany] together and we each tweaked it for our own faith traditions,” said the Rev. James Brooks-McDonald of St. Stephen’s, who included the litany in last Sunday’s service.

“The media seem to only give the voice of the religious right when it comes to this sort of inclusion,” explained Brooks-McDonald, “so rather than complaining, we decided that we should do something about it.”

Brooks-McDonald said it was this desire—to show that the voice of the intolerant religious right does not speak for all congregations—that inspired the creation of the litany and their coalition, dubbed the Schenectady Congregations for Sexual Inclusiveness. He acknowledged that not all of the St. Stephen’s congregation shares this perspective regarding gay and lesbian members, but added that a truly accepting congregation should include a diverse range of opinions.

“I wouldn’t expect a diverse congregation to agree on everything,” he laughed. “But if I was the only one saying this, it would be disingenuous. There is great support for this decision here.”

While support for the litany and its message seemed abundant inside the walls of St. Stephen’s and the other houses of worship for coalition members, it remains to be seen what reaction this move will bring about among some of their less-welcoming peers.

Both Reform Judaism and Unitarian Universalism have long welcomed gay and lesbian members, and officially sanction same-sex marriages, but a task force appointed by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America recently released a set of cautious recommendations for the church’s dealings with gay and lesbian members [“Let’s Talk About . . . Love,” Reckonings, Jan. 20], that declined to sanction same-sex marriage or the ordination of noncelibate gays and lesbians.

Despite the United Church of Christ’s welcoming stance towards gay and lesbian members, Emmanuel Friedens may receive a mixed response to the weekend’s litany, as fewer than 50 of the country’s American Baptist churches have taken a similar position.

The First United Methodist Church also distanced itself from some of its peers with the weekend’s litany, as a lesbian minister was recently defrocked by the denomination for violating the church’s policy against actively gay clergy. The Schenectady church is one of only 193 congregations in the nation to go against this decision.

At St. Stephen’s, however, this difference in policy hits exceptionally close to home. While the Episcopal Church voted last year to ordain an openly gay bishop from New Hampshire, the final decision on whether to allow same-sex unions and ordinations falls upon the bishops of each diocese. The Rt. Rev. Daniel Herzog, bishop of the Albany diocese—of which St. Stephen’s is a member—has opposed such activities, and even offered to take under his wing parishes in New Hampshire that didn’t want to be served by a gay bishop.

While Brooks-McDonald admitted that this difference of opinion might make things complicated if either a same-sex union or ordination of a gay or lesbian member were to come up within the congregation in the near future, he said that he hoped that the Schenectady coalition’s actions might pave the way to make such things more accepted around the region.

“We were able to find agreement among seven different denominations, and we’re hoping that it doesn’t stop here,” said Brooks-McDonald while waving to one of his congregation’s young members at the end of Sunday’s mass.

“This—this was just the beginning,” he laughed.

—Rick Marshall

rmarshall@metroland.net


Overheard

overheard: “You want TAP, you sons a bitches, then respect property.”

—an older Assembly staffer, upon finding the Legislative Office Building elevator littered with “Restore TAP” lapel stickers.

 



What a Week

Who’s the Sore Loser?

Republican State Sens. Nancy Larraine Hoffman and Olga Mendez lost fair and square last November, but someone in the Senate isn’t taking the loss lightly. Constituents of both districts (Central New York, and East Harlem/the Bronx) are seeing previously promised grant money disappear. A spokesman for Majority Leader Joseph Bruno claims the grants are simply under review, but locals say they’ve been notified of denial. Graceful loser Hoffman has asked Bruno to reinstate the funds.

Creating the Friendly Crowd

The presidential bubble of agreement made a stop in Fargo, N.D., last week, as more than 40 people were refused tickets for a Feb. 3 taxpayer-funded speech by President Bush. Local ticket distributors received a list of barred audience members beforehand, including one librarian, two high-school students, several university professors and the city commissioner—all outspoken opponents of some presidential policies. Ticket distribution is under the oversight of the White House, but the current administration has denied any knowledge of the blacklist.

Conservativism Over Common Sense?

Across the country, some parents are keeping their kids home on big drinking nights like New Year’s Eve and letting them drink at home, to keep them from driving home drunk from a bar, or party. But now, as with one case in Rochester, parents who allow their teens to have parties at their homes are being arrested and are facing jail time and fines. Meanwhile, recent AARP polls show that 67 percent of Texas Republicans support medical marijuana.

Love Lost for the Lackey

Presidential buddy Alberto Gonzales was confirmed as attorney general last week, despite sidestepping questions about a 2002 memo in which he called the Geneva Convention “quaint.” Gonzales received a record 36 “no” votes in the Senate (35 Democratic, 1 Independent). John Ashcroft actually received more support from Democrats during his confirmation. Many attribute this high level of opposition to Gonzales’ close ties with the current administration and a perceived willingness to bend rules intended to protect war prisoners—including Americans—from torture.

 



Is SpongeBob a union man? Informational sponge handed out by members of Local 34.

Scouring for Sympathy

Armed with informational sponges, newspaper union takes a swipe at TU contract offer outside the Hearst-sponsored Home Show

Thousands of Capital Region residents visited the 25th Annual Great Northeast Home Show last weekend (Feb. 4-6), an event held at Albany’s Pepsi Arena and the Empire State Plaza. Most of them walked away with something—for the most part, either promotional materials from contractors, or home-improvement-related products and information. On Saturday afternoon, however, many went home with something else: informational sponges distributed by Local 34 of the Newspaper Guild/Communications Workers of America.

Union members were protesting their lack of a contract with the event’s principal sponsor, the Hearst Corporation-owned Albany daily paper, the Times Union. A little less than a third of the 270-plus Times Union employees from Local 34 took their complaints to the streets around the Pepsi and the Empire State Plaza. The sponge they passed out argued that the workers were being “squeezed” by the paper’s “stingy offer.” An info card bundled with the sponge (in a Ziploc bag) went into greater detail:

“We’re getting SQUEEZED. In contract talks, the Times Union is demanding to gut our pensions if we want a meager raise, to hike our health-care costs [and] to eliminate overtime for some employees—all to maintain high corporate profits.”

According to Tim O’Brien, union local president and TU staff writer, the union brought 2,500 sponges in 50 bags, and distributed close to 2,000 of them.

The union, O’Brien said, has been in contract negotiations for seven months. (The contract expired Aug. 1.) “There’s been a lot of movement on our side of the table,” O’Brien said, but “very little on the other.”

According to Times Union vice president and general manager Robert S. Wilson, the paper is offering a 3-percent raise, and a total increase in wages and benefits of $496,000. He added that the latest union proposal, which the paper rejected, would amount to an increase of more than $2,000,000 in wages and benefits. Wilson argued that the 3 percent was “very generous.”

O’Brien explained that, yes, the Times Union has offered 3 percent, but argued that this actually amounts to a 1 percent raise, with the other 2 per- cent wiped out by employees having to pay more of their heath insurance. Also, O’Brien said, the TU wants to cut $400,000 from the pension fund.

“The Times Union will tell you that their offer is bigger than the first year of the last contract,” O’Brien said, explaining that this doesn’t take inflation into account. He compared this to someone saying, “I’ll buy a gallon of gas from you at 2000 rates.”

O’Brien also said that the TU has long been engaged in a pattern of cost-cutting, and can afford a more generous wages-and-benefits package. He noted that vacancies remain unfilled for a long time, the paper has cut the size of the editorial staff, and “the number of circulation district managers has gone down.”

Nobody from the Times Union approached the union members outside the Pepsi, O’Brien said, but the Albany police ended the distribution of sponges. The cops told the union that while protesting is allowed, “distributing materials requires a permit.” At first, the newspaper said that it would file a grievance against the union for violating the no-picketing clause in their collective bargaining agreement, but the TU’s Wilson said they decided against it, since the circumstances of Saturday’s action was more in the nature of “leafleting,” not picketing.

The action at the Home Show was unusual for the union; O’Brien said that “we’ve always tried to work these things out at the bargaining table.” According to the union’s Web site, a bargaining session is scheduled for today (Thursday, Feb. 10).

—Shawn Stone


Loose Ends

A judge in New York City has ruled in one of the several lawsuits filed in New York state by same-sex couples seeking marriage licenses [“First Comes Love, Then Comes. . .” April 8, 2004]. State Supreme Court Justice Doris Ling-Cohan ruled that the provision that limits marriage to heterosexual couples violates the equal-protection promises of the state constitution. As marriage-equality advocates celebrate, Mayor Bloomberg has said he will take the case to the Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court. . . . After five months, all charges were dismissed against David Oehl [“Ripples of Protests Past,” News-front, Feb. 4], who was arrested while protesting the Republican National Convention last summer. This frees Oehl to join a civil suit against the city, which he says he plans to do. . . . Gov. George Pataki has again [“Call Off Your Dogs,” Newsfront, June 17, 2004] proposed in his executive budget to cut mandatory inspections of pet dealerships and breeders. He last proposed it around the time of a high-profile arrest of a couple who had been breeding dogs for animal cruelty, but the Legislature rejected it. . . . Schenectady Mayor Brian Stratton has backed down from his proposed ban on slaughtering livestock in the city [“Got Your Goat,” Looking Up, Jan. 13], but he has introduced a new one that would ban the keeping of livestock in city limits, which he says would have the same results. . . . Albany County is joining other counties and New York City in a lawsuit that accuses pharmaceutical manufacturers of overcharging counties for drugs they purchased through Medicaid [“Health Gouging,” Newsfront, Nov. 18, 2004].



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