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A Belated (But Still Relevant) Response to the President’s State of the Union Address

Nearly a month ago, fellow Open Tabernacle collaborator and creator of the unique and deeply thought-provoking blog Bilgrimage; William Lindsey suggested to me that I post an analysis of President Obama’s State of the Union address– particularly in light of and regarding the greatly rumored reference to the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. Given that at the time I was having a hard time coming up with a topic for my next posting I readily accepted this proposal. However, for numerous different reasons its taken me awhile to get around to reflecting on what the President actually said in his speech. But now, I am blessed to finally have the opportunity to do so.

Most of the speech that night was composed of rhetorical signs by the President to assure the American people that the economy was still the most important issue on his mind–as it is for most individuals in these perilous times. For the first two thirds of the speech President Obama recounted how difficult these times are for all citizens of this nation and gave numerous examples (most notably the economic Stimulus) on how initiatives taken by his administration had not ignored these circumstances but had instead bolstered and strengthened the economic infrastructure of our country from plummeting to disaster.

Another small, but crucial, segment of the President’s speech resonated personally with me in a profound way. President Obama spoke of how the importance and availability of meaningful and genuinely qualitative outlets of scholastic education can never be underestimated or taken for granted. He then went on to propose measures that would make college more affordable to children that come from working families and suggested that individuals who chose careers in public service to the country would have their entire allocations of debt from student loans revoked and eliminated after ten years. All of these things sounded great to me as a high school graduate who is still struggling and finding methods to make my way through college.

Then, came probably the most anticipated segment of the speech. During a period in which he reflected on our nation’s defining sense of character and ideals that distinguish us from other countries he reflected on what it means to truly be recognized as being “created equal” in accordance with the the words of our Constitution. He recognized the passage of the Matthew Shepherd Act which now finally enshrined under federal law the criminalization of discriminating or committing acts of violence against a person because of their sexual orientation. And then finally, came the line that everyone had been waiting for–the President promised to “work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are.”

It was a stunning moment, one that for me, almost brought me to tears and–in a small way–briefly catapulted me back to that unforgettable night of two years before in which Barack Obama had won the presidential election and the sentiments of hope and change seemed so imminently tangible and real. After so many disappointments during the previous year, many had become disillusioned with the President when some campaign promises were not fulfilled as quickly as some would have preferred. I myself had many reservations, probably the chief of them being when the President journeyed to New Jersey to promote his Democratic candidate in the gubernatorial race there while ignoring a ballot initiative in the nearby state of Maine, which was simultaneously occurring, that strove to repeal the legalization of marriage equality which had been signed into law earlier that year. In the end, hate, ignorance, and fear lamentably won out and voters chose to strip gay and lesbians of rights that had been afforded them by the state’s legislature just months before. In the face of all of this, President Barack Obama remained silent…

I’ll admit that during a fit of rage following the news of this incident I briefly asked myself if a President Hillary Clinton would have brought any swifter deliverance of movement on promises concerning LGBT rights. Whether President Obama chose not to comment out of fear for reaping politically unwarranted results or offending potential allies will probably never be known.

However, during the speech, the President had a chance to reaffirm his commitment to LGBT rights and he did so concretely during his State of the Union address. Another encouraging and noteworthy point worth mentioning is how and what kind of operation he framed repeal of DADT as. After he swore the discriminatory military ban, off the cuff, he described it as being “the right thing to do.” It was using this same language and within the same moral framework that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the U.S. Armed Forces; Admiral Mike Mullen, would describe lifting the ban declaring, “It is my personal belief that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do” and defining it as a matter of “integrity” during a hearing in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee just a week following the President’s deliverance of the State of the Union.

So, just to be clear; the President of the United States, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as the Secretary of Defense on numerous occasions, have all described lifting Don’t Ask Don’t Tell as a matter of justice and upholding the nation’s Constitutional promise of equality for all. When this matter is viewed as affording a minority their due rights under the law as a matter of civic justice and not just a concession to a group of selfish individuals the traditional parameters of this contentious debate are significantly changed.

Here, the question isn’t what constitutes marriage under the law but simply whether an individual, who may be slightly different from the average fold of most Americans, should be afforded the same protections and dignity given to all citizens of this country under the law. Polls show that even if the issue of same-sex marriage is still a hotly contested issue when the statistics are analyzed state by state–the matter of allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly (when it comes to all areas of their lives, including who they love) is one where the majority is solidly in favor of repeal, even among the Republican Party.

Perhaps this is the most appropriate context for the debate on the morality of homosexuality in our nation to be carried out. Even though it certainly isn’t the first place one might look to advance the cause of equality and tolerance within society it definitely is an area where almost everyone can affirm the sense of patriotism, fidelity, and allegiance held by all those who chose to enter it and put their lives on the line for the sake of our nation’s protection and freedom. If equal treatment can’t be afforded to our nation’s most treasured citizens in uniform who else can expect legitimately to enjoy it?

Once our nation has reflected and moved beyond this issue the Church cannot be left behind but eventually must affirm as well that there is no precondition to clothing oneself with the “armor of God” (Ephesians 6:11-18) and being an emissary of the Good News of Jesus Christ. The question is, when will the whole of Christendom realize this fact and come to terms with it? How much longer will it take to become an acknowledged fact?


7 Responses

  1. When will the whole of Christendom acknowledge what fact, and come to terms with what?

    • That being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender isn’t a hindrance to being a Christian…

      • Phillip:

        What demonination says that it is a hindrance to being a Christian?

  2. Phillip, thanks for the shout-out.

    And I’m glad to see this article, which captures your reaction to the president’s State of the Union speech very well.

    I share your hope that there will one day come a day when the churches recognize that the pain they are now inflicting on gay and lesbian people–many churches, but not all–is as unjustifiable as the church’s complicity in “holy” wars, misogyny, racism, and anti-semitism has been.

  3. Well specifically David; Roman Catholicism, the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, Eastern Orthodoxy, and most other evangelical Protestant denominations, with the excpeption of the United Methodist and Presbyterian churches here in the U.S. beginning to take a more moderate and inclusive stance…

    • Phillip,

      The last time that I checked my Catholic Catechism, it didn’t say anything about homosexuality being a hindrance to being Christian, nor being Catholic.

      And, do you really believe that anyone who disagrees with the Church’s position is allowing the Church’s position to influence their position on the matter?

  4. Well, it says that the expression of homosexual acts is “intrinsically disordered” and says that the homosexual inclination is “objectively disordered” and says that those who are thus oriented have chastity as their only option to strive toward holiness because sex is seen as only sacred and legitimate when carried out within the context of heterosexual matrimony. All of these statements can be found on the Cathechism of the Catholic Church paragraphs 2357-2359.

    Secondly, just because one now disagrees with the Church’s position doesn’t mean that I haven’t considered it in depth. For quite some time, I tried to live in strict accordance to the letter of the Church’s position. Every time I acted on any kind of sexual impulse that was not sanctioned under the rubrics of the Catechism I fled to Confession, and this unhealthy habit turned into a weekly cycle of guilt and repetition.

    After awhile, I entered into a period of research and reflection and was exposed to numerous different authors with whom I had not been previously aware. Fr. Edward Schillebeecx, Fr. Hans Kung, Fr. Richard McBrien, Sr. Joan Chittister, Garry Wills, and the late, great Fr. Karl Rahner, all of these individuals showed me that on certain particular issues it is not wrong or forbidden to point out and pay attention to trends that occur within the Church that may not carry behind them the best of intentions–and may infact be at their very essence, unjust and unwarrented.

    What has happened with most of us I assume is not a complete disregard and outright rejection of the Church’s official position on these matters. We know it well, it’s just, that after prayer and reflection we have come to the conclusion that certain things that are considered the norm–in doctrine as well as in practice–may not be as coherently connected to the true Spirit of the Gospel that Christ preached as the leaders of the Church would have us believe. Basically, on certain things, the Holy Father and prelates are just misinformed, drastically.

    I tried, intensely, to reconcile myself to the Church’s position and convince myself that a life of chastity was my own way of carrying my cross in imitation of Our Lord’s ultimate salvific Act for us all. Yet, as time went on I asked myself, “If the Church doesn’t think that a homosexual orientation is in itself a sin, then why have I always felt this way since childhood?” “If Catholicism disagrees with mainline Evangelicalism that a homosexual orientation is a choice, then why not admit that this orientation may indeed be God-given and not shaped by circumstance or environment?” To so many of us who are attracted to persons of the same-sex, this is our experience, and this is how we have always seen things, it’s nothing chosen…

    That’s all I’m saying, I have studied and reflected on the Church’s position with great consideration and thought, but in the end, I cannot except it. Because of that, I think I am no less a member of the Catholic Church than the next person. It was St. Thomas Aquinas himself who said,

    “Anyone upon whom the ecclesiastical authority, in ignorance of true facts, imposes a demand that offends his clear conscience, should perish in excommunication rather than violate his conscience.”

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