are welcome (and we mean it): the Rev. James Brooks-McDonald.
congregations in Schenectady unite to say they believe God
welcomes all sexual orientations
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.
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.
rejoice in the role all sexual orientations play in the divine
community,” continues the litany.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
was just the beginning,” he laughed.
“You want TAP, you sons a bitches, then respect
older Assembly staffer, upon finding the Legislative
Office Building elevator littered with “Restore
TAP” lapel stickers.
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
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
SpongeBob a union man? Informational sponge handed out
by members of Local 34.
with informational sponges, newspaper union takes a swipe
at TU contract offer outside the Hearst-sponsored Home Show
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.
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:
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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).
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].