Friday, June 26, 2015

In the News: Argus Leader

South Dakotans on gay marriage ruling: Joy, disappointment

Watch a noon Friday celebration in downtown Sioux Falls by residents who agree with the decision by the Supreme Court to legalize same-sex marriage across the United States.

State must begin licensing same-sex marriages, attorney general says

South Dakotans are reacting today to the Supreme Court's legalization of same-sex marriage across the United States. It was a closely divided ruling that will stand as a milestone in its 226-year history.
The justices ruled that states cannot deny gay men and lesbians the same marriage rights enjoyed for thousands of years by opposite-sex couples.
Pennington County issues same-sex license
Sioux Falls residents:
Linda Barker: "I think it's a long time coming... We are ecstatic."
Mary Dejong: "I am thrilled and a little surprised. There have been a lot of defeats in the past but now we are really grateful."
Suzie Frioli: "We are glad that South Dakota is progressively moving forward. A lot of people are excited. We are."
Judy Struck: "It will be a very controversial issue that will probably have some states fighting it."
John Wilka, lawyer: "I'm glad. Hatred and bigotry will not go away. It's a process." - Sara Bertsch
Sen. John Thune was among those who disagreed with the court's decision.
"The court has issued its opinion, but on this particular issue, I do not agree with its conclusion," Thune said. "I support traditional marriage." - Jonathan Ellis
Rep. Kristi Noem: Brittany Comins, Rep. Kristi Noem's spokeswoman, said the congresswoman also disagreed with the ruling.
"Rep. Noem believes marriage is a special bond between a man and a woman," Comins said. - Jonathan Ellis
Sen. Mike Rounds, a longtime supporter of marriage between a man and woman, also opposed the ruling.
"Today's ruling is a blow to state's rights," Rounds said. "I believe states have a constitutional role in setting their own policy on marriage. Marriage is between a man and a woman, and traditional families play an important role in the fabric of our society." - Jonathan Ellis
State Rep. Steve Hickey, a Republican from Sioux Falls, said he's not surprised by Friday's decision and likened the ruling to Roe v. Wade.
"We saw yesterday the lengths this court will go to justify bad policy. Today's ruling is no surprise. What can be said has already been said. My encouragement to people of faith is to buckle up. Today is as significant or more than the day Roe v. Wade was decided. That ruling gave us 55 million dead children. Time will tell what this ruling brings." - Joe Sneve
Attorney general: South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley says the state must begin licensing same-sex marriages. Jackley issued a statement saying that he disagrees with the ruling, but that the state must now recognize same-sex marriages and begin to issue licenses to same-sex couples.
"It has always been my position that the citizens of our state should define marriage, and not the federal government," Jackley said in a written statement. "Five members of the U.S. Supreme Court have now determined neither the States nor our citizens have the right or the ability to define marriage. Because we are a nation of laws the state will be required to follow the court's order that every state must recognize and license same-sex marriage."
The statement came at 10:30 a.m. No same-sex couples in Minnehaha County had applied for marriages licenses by that time, according to Minnehaha County Register of Deeds Julie Risty, who said she was waiting on direction from the state Department of Health and Attorney General. - John Hult
Bishop David Zellmer, South Dakota Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, in a statement to pastors: Who to marry is a decision most congregations leave to the pastor. Your congregation may choose to do this in the current circumstance as well, but there should be a clear understanding between pastor and congregation council whether the pastor will preside at weddings for same-gender couples. In our ELCA, pastors are not free agents; they are called by congregations (and in some cases by the Synod Council or the Churchwide organization). We do not understand ministers of Word and Sacrament to act on their own authority, but in accordance with the agreements and policies of the ELCA and under the call of their congregation. Still, honoring their "bound consciences" pastors cannot and will not be required to preside at the marriage of any couple, other-gendered or same-gendered.
Bishop Paul Swain of the Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls: The 5-4 decision of the United States Supreme Court redefining marriage is not a surprise but still a sad development.
I fully support the statement made by the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), the Most Reverend Joseph E. Kurtz, Archbishop of Louisville, and its characterization of the Court's decision as harmful to the common good.
I also fully concur in his call to be people of faith, hope and love. Faith in the unchanging truth of marriage as God intended; hope that this truth will once again prevail in our society; and love of all our neighbors even those who disagree or punish us for our faith and moral convictions.
Sioux Falls residents, attorney John Wilka and Minnehaha County Register of Deeds Julie Risty comment on the Supreme Court on Friday legalizing same-sex marriage across the United States.
Dale Bartscher, the executive director of the Family Heritage Alliance in Rapid City, blasted the ruling, saying it was the most "egregious rejection" of traditional morals since the court legalized abortion in Roe v. Wade.
"The Supreme Court launched an unprecedented attack on religious liberty and traditional marriage," Bartscher said.
Bartscher described the ruling as a "watershed moment in American history," and he predicted that his organization and others that support marriage between a man and a woman would find ways to challenge gay marriage.
"We are evaluating a 103-page ruling from the Supreme Court," he said. - Jonathan Ellis
Bishop Bruce Ough, Dakotas-Minnesota Conference, United Methodist Church: The ruling will win praise from some United Methodists and trouble others, Ough said in a statement. On one thing many United Methodists agree: The decision likely will add urgency to a longtime denominational debate on the church's position on homosexuality. Church law bans clergy from conducting same-gender marriages and forbids churches from hosting such ceremonies.
"While The United Methodist Church does not engage in partisan politics, we welcome all people and believe all have sacred worth, " Ough said. "Today's legal decisions by the Supreme Court will undoubtedly increase the call for change from a sizeable segment of our church membership and clergy that finds our official policy unjust."
SDSU student: Graciela De Reza, vice president of the Gay Straight Alliance at South Dakota State University, was in San Francisco when the Supreme Court ruling came through Friday morning.
"It's an amazing kind of celebration going on," De Reza said. "It's just overwhelming to know that equality and justice has won over for the United States."
De Reza said she hopes this decision will bring more visibility to the college's Gay Straight Alliance group and that its members will feel more accepted by the community.
"This has proven that love has no boundaries, and that there's a positive movement going on and positive change going on in the United States," De Reza said. - Megan Raposa
Rep. Karen Soli, a Sioux Falls Democrat and a retired Lutheran clergy, welcomed Friday's ruling, a reaction she might not have had years ago.
"I believe it's time," she said. "In my own journey through the years, early in my life I wouldn't have felt that way but I've grown to understand that homosexuality is not something most people have a choice about. It's our job in society to accommodate them in ways that make it possible for these folks to be part of our society. It's time."
Although retired and no longer officiating wedding ceremonies, Soli said she'd be willing to conduct same sex marriages if she was still actively serving a congregation. - Joe Sneve
Transgender pastor: Sioux Falls native the Rev. Megan Rohrer, the first transgender pastor ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, sent out a tweet within minutes of hearing the Supreme Court ruling. In it, she recognized that not everyone would rejoice at the news.
"#Remember, we celebrate while others weep. Justice comes in pieces. We yearn for more and our hearts are also with those who mourn," she wrote.
"What is victory for one group means the other group feels it lost something," she said later in a phone interview. I try to feel sensitive to the needs on the other sides of the issue, to celebrate justice but also to feel really respectful of those who are experiencing great needs in their life." - Jill Callison
Sioux Falls couple: A Sioux Falls man says he got a second marriage proposal from his partner following the news that same-sex marriage is now legal in the U.S. Bob Weldland, 27, says his partner texted him at work, asking if he would "marry me again." Weldland says he learned of the U.S. Supreme Court's opinion from his partner and that it still feels very surreal. He says the move is a "step in the right direction" but says same-sex couples still have an uphill fight.
Weldland and his partner consider themselves married under God. They plan to get married by "government standards" this summer. They were united in a Minnesota ceremony in 2010 before gay marriage was legal in that state. - Associated Press
Married gay couple: "It's no longer gay marriage, it is now just marriage across the United States," said Mark Church.
He answered the phone Friday with a note of elation in his voice. He and his husband, Greg Kniffen, were one of six same-sex couples to challenge South Dakota's ban last May.
Today, they described their initial reaction to the Supreme Court's ruling as, "overjoyed."
"We feel vindicated that we were on the right side of this argument all along," Kniffen said.
The Sioux Falls couple looks forward to having their marriage recognized in their home state.
"Your everyday life now is just like everybody else's," Church said. "There is not a next step. We finally have legal recognition for marriage. We have the acceptance that my partner is just as important as your husband or someone's wife. We are the exact same, no matter what." - Megan Raposa
ACLU: Heather Smith, the executive director of the ACLU of South Dakota, said the justices affirmed what 60 percent of Americans believe: That freedom to marry is a fundamental right for all.
"Today's historic Supreme Court ruling means same-sex couples will soon have the freedom to marry and equal respect for their marriages across America," she said. "This ruling will bring joy to families, and final nationwide victory to the decades-long Freedom to Marry movement."
The ACLU planned to hold a celebration at noon outside Meso, 220 S. Phillips Ave. in Sioux Falls, where it would hand out wedding cake. - Jonathan Ellis
Gov. Daugaard: Gov. Dennis Daugaard's reaction was lukewarm. The governor said he would work with Attorney General Marty Jackley to evaluate what the ruling means for state and local governments.
"I would have preferred for this change to come through the democratic process, rather than the courts," Daugaard said. "We are a nation of laws, and the state will follow the law." - Jonathan Ellis
Sen. Brock Greenfield, a Republican from Clark who's endorsed several measures to preserve traditional marriage in South Dakota, called Friday's decision "judicial activism at its worst."
"They've taken upon themselves redefining something that's at the very fabric of our nation and our society. It's a concern because marriage historically has been a religious institution, a sacred institution," he said. - Joe Sneve
Lucky's bar at 224 S Phillips Ave. will host a "Marriage Equality Celebration" at 5:30 p.m.

In the News: Argus Leader

 Reposted from the Argus Leader

Jill Callison, 11:18 a.m. CDT June 26, 2015

Within minutes of hearing that the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled same-sex marriage is legal in all 50 states, a Lutheran pastor sent out a tweet sympathizing with those who would be dismayed by the announcement.

", we celebrate while others weep. Justice comes in pieces. We yearn for more and our hearts are also with those who mourn," wrote the Rev. Megan Rohrer.

What makes her remarkable is that Rohrer might have been expected to do nothing but celebrate. After all, she is the first transgender pastor ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and stuck with her childhood denomination even when it was against church rules to be ordained. She was raised Lutheran in South Dakota, where she graduated from Lincoln High School and Augustana College.
In August 2009, however, the ELCA agreed to allow congregations to call pastor in "publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous same-gender relationships." Rohrer was officially ordained in 2010. In 2014 her wife and she traveled to Hawaii and were married.

As a pastor, her first response to the Supreme Court ruling was excitement "because weddings are fun to do," said Rohrer, who returned to South Dakota last weekend to officiate at a cousin's wedding. "I was particularly excited for friends in South Dakota who have long been waiting to be married."

Then she thought of the November day in 2008 when the United States elected Barack Obama as its first black president. That same day, California voters banned same-sex marriage. There was cheering in the streets for Obama's victory and tears of sadness for those who lost the chance to marry.

Rohrer also thought about the funerals that are taking place in Charleston, S.C., where nine black people were killed by a single gunman who has expressed racist views.

"A large part of our community is deeply mourning racial injustice at the same time Pride (events) is happening," Rohrer said. "What is victory for one group means the other group feels it lost something."
Her attitude, Rohrer said, is shaped by growing up in South Dakota, living in a small community where your best friend might hold polar-opposite political or social justice issues.

Rohrer said she happily will return to South Dakota to perform same-sex unions, although people who don't want to wait could travel to states where it is legal, including Iowa and California. She doubts that South Dakota will be able to perform such weddings for some time.

"In San Francisco they had pre-ordered marriage licenses that say 'spouse and spouse' not 'husband and wife,' " she said. "I imagine South Dakota probably didn't pre-order them."

Rohrer also expects legislation to be proposed that will attempt to chip away at the Supreme Court ruling and other roadblocks before same-sex weddings can start in South Dakota.

"We've seen it happen in other states that already passed it," she said. "I think you'll get there. It might take longer."

***Update: South Dakota has revised its marriage-license software making the wording gender neutral. Pennington County has issued a marriage license to two women.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Poverty, Lutheranism and a Circle Round-Economy: Is it Time to Reform Again?

Almost 500 years ago Martin Luther began a reformation centered on the idea that paying money for forgiveness was not the way a church should operate.  

After a near death experience with a bolt of lightening, Luther reversed course on his overly anxious, rule following faith.  He believed that God had already gone all-in to forgive and reconcile people and there was nothing we could do to screw up this reconciliation that God had already assured through Jesus' life, death and resurrection.

Lutherans, and I speak primarily about the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) where I am rooted, have echoed this reformation spirit on in our singing, preaching and praying.  

Yet, almost 500 years later, we haven't figured out how to reform the economy of our churches.  

If all people are equally deserving of access to God regardless of how much money they have or can give, then why are so many churches closing when their economic ability to pay the full time salary of a pastor or paying for their church building dwindles?

What happened to the idea that a pastor was in charge of a parish, or a geographical region?  That meant that when someone in the neighborhood was in need, the pastor was there for them and their family.  If pastors invested as much time learning to love the things that the people in the neighborhood love as we do in learning about the hierarchy's plans for raising money from the dwindling congregants and congregations, perhaps communities would feel like a church in their neighborhood was a gift. 

Some congregations believe that a successful pastor must spend more of their time "on the clock" in the congregation where the trickle up money was offered to them.  Letting this big givers shape the clock of the pastor and determine the issues that are important to them is sliding back to the very thing Luther inspired reformation against. 

If our offering is truly going to God and the pastor's job is to serve God's people then giving money to the church is not a democratic vote on how the pastor spends their time.  I believe that God loves all the people in the neighborhoods around the church.  And if the money that pays the pastor is God's money in action, then God would likely vote that the pastor love and serve all of God's children, not just those who make it to church on Sunday.

Grace Lutheran in San Francisco:
I'm not suggesting pastors never care about their members.  My congregants will tell you that I love them mightily.  I'm learning to love what they love, I'm working to repair, repaint and ensure that our property is safe and welcoming.  I also made the budget the main focus of my first year at the congregation.  Together, in my first ten-months at the congregation, we shrunk the church's 2014 deficit from about $50,000 to about $2,000. 

We did this by partnering with other congregations and non-profits, caring for the poor, through wise investments and only spending the interest of our savings.  In addition to decreasing our deficit we also raised over $30,000 for other groups.

Lest you think this is the kind of economy that is only possible at a large church with wealthy members, remember that my congregation called me with a unanimous vote of 16 and the 20-30 members who join us for worship are mostly retirees. 


Currently the ELCA struggles with how to grow and serve congregations in what could be called a trickle up economy.  This means people who attend church, give money and some is then given to local Synods and then the Synod gives a portion of this money to the national churchwide programs. The money trickles up the church hierarchy. Trickle up is the extreme response to the reformation.  It flips the trickle down economy that was seen as unfair during the first reformation on its head, but it doesn't solve all the problems the reformation sought to address.

The trickle up economy is rooted in mistrust that others will not handle money correctly or share it fairly.  On the local level, congregations share with others less than they should because they selfishly fear that other congregations will take "their" resources, members or do better than "us."   Forgetting that it is God's money, when it comes to our money we are proclaiming mistakenly that God can/should only show up in our sanctuary on Sunday.

Of course, there are always exceptions to every generalization and stories about generosity are applauded at meetings, evangelism classes and in Lutheran publications.  Yet, local gatherings have begun to look more like infomercials to ensure the trickle up of money and less like events that celebrate and highlight the new ways and stories of God present in our neighborhood and world.

Dublin Street Art
Today, I encourage Lutherans everywhere to join me in living a circle-round economy.  This means money trickles up, down and sideways.  I think this circle-round economy is what Synod's and the churchwide office envision too.

I recently went to a meeting where an outside group got really confused about why it seemed like all the San Francisco Lutheran churches and non-profits were always giving money to each other.  Supporting special projects or helping each other get through a rough patch, the congregations and non-profits cooperate so much that outside groups wonder if they are too financially entangled.

What this outside organization saw as a red flag, I call a double rainbow.  For the past decade I mostly raised money for one homeless non-profit.  Over the past few years I started raising funds for more groups - particularly when there was nothing in it for me personally.  My fear was that people would give less to my favorite group when I started to add other great projects to the list.

Instead, the opposite happened.  Those I had helped to raise funds worked harder to help me with my favorite projects, because I had worked so hard for them.  Those who had given in the past gave more and new people learned about my work when I cared about something that was their favorite thing.

This year I'll be hosting lots of fundraisers.  Some will be for the groups closest to my heart (Grace Lutheran and Welcome).  Others will be for collaborative groups I'm a part of: SF CARES, the Castro Lion's Club.  Also this year, I'm going to host fundraisers for other congregations and organizations: St. Francis and Santa Maria y Martha Lutheran churches and Project Homeless Connect.

Our funds trickle to the side when a congregation is in need.  Congregations may wonder if helping will affect their own ability to meet their economic goals for the year, but if we knew other congregations would have our back when times are hard, sharing would be easy.  And more often then we know, funds trickle down from Synod and churchwide offices.  Sometimes to accomplish big goals (fight malaria, end hunger and povery) our money needs to trickle up.  

What are some practical ways we can support the circle-round economy?

Build up the Lutheran Brand: Whatever funds are currently being put into developing informercials and print campaigns designed to inspire a trickle up giving, should be put into media campaigns to rebuild the Lutheran brand.  For example, if the Synod had tv spots and ads in print media celebrating the welcome of Lutherans or our justice work it would benefit all congregations, not just those with wealthier congregants.  It would even inspire circle-round giving in congregational budgets.  I know I'd use some of our congregations advertising budget to help pay for Lutheran branding.  

And don't forget social media is free.  What if we were able to get #IamLutheran to trend?  Even if most of the people inspired by the project never step foot in my church, if it helps with evangelism in a church that can't afford advertising, I'd be delighted. 

When St. Paulus Lutheran and Grace Lutheran gave away ashes in the Civic Center Bart station the most common question we were asked was "what faith are you?"  When we answered Lutheran, people exclaimed "oh good!"  But, they didn't know there were Lutheran churches in the neighborhood.

What if all the people who thought "oh good" new where their local Lutheran church was and that they were welcome there. 

This is just one example of how we can reform our thinking about giving and participate in a faithful circle-round.  What are your ideas about how we can inspire a trickle-round economy?

In the News: Bay Area Reporter

Mixed reaction
to Jenner interview


Bruce Jenner during the ABC interview last week. Photo: Courtesy ABC

There was mixed reaction from trans community leaders to former Olympian Bruce Jenner's announcement that he is a woman and undergoing a gender transition.
Jenner's news, made during a two-hour prime time interview with veteran journalist Diane Sawyer on ABC's 20/20 , showed him as humorous, somewhat nervous, and candid in his realization that "for all intents and purposes I am a woman."
Much of the interview was conducted at Jenner's Malibu home.
Jenner explained his transition this way: He feels he was created by God who said, "Hey, let's give him the soul of a female and let's see how he deals with that."

"So, here I am," Jenner said, choking up. "Stuck – and I hate the word – a girl stuck in a guy's body. I hate that terminology. I'm me. I'm a person and this is who I am ... My brain is much more female than it is male. It's hard for people to understand that, but that's what my soul is."

Jenner, 65, who won the gold medal in the decathlon at the 1976 Olympics, is known by millions for his participation in the hit reality series Keeping Up With the Kardashians. He did not state a new name during the interview, which was seen by an estimated 16.9 million viewers April 24. Sawyer also said during the program that for now, Jenner has not indicated that a new pronoun be used.
That fact rankled some who watched the show.

Veronika Fimbres, of San Francisco, who is a transgender woman, said that she was "uncomfortable" with Jenner's continued use of male pronouns.

"He is holding onto his straight male white privilege, which he seems reluctant to acquiesce," Fimbres said. "I can only hope that his good intentions have a good outcome."

Pastor Megan Rohrer, the transgender leader of Grace Lutheran Church in the Sunset district, had no issue with Jenner's continued use of male pronouns. But Rohrer, who prefers gender-neutral pronouns, acknowledged that pronoun usage could be a slippery slope. 

"It's a gray space," Rohrer told the Bay Area Reporter. "Jenner wanted he/him to be used in the ABC interview, so you could ethically go with that. GLAAD guidelines say that you use the pronouns expressed by the person." 

Sawyer's interview touched on many topics. Jenner spoke of his relationships with his family – his four biological children with two ex-wives, and his two biological children and four stepchildren with ex-wife Kris Jenner. Neither his former wives nor his children with Kris Jenner nor the Kardashian children appeared on camera. His four eldest children did appear on camera and voiced support for Jenner.

He recalled his struggles with gender dysphoria during his childhood in Tarrytown, New York.
Jenner also stated that he had begun undergoing hormone therapy as early as the 1980s with the intention of transitioning. But he stopped. "I lost my nerve," he told Sawyer.

Jenner drew a distinction between sexual orientation and gender identity. 

"Sexuality was totally different than what my issues were," Jenner said. "And I always felt heterosexual." He also added he had never been with a man. "I am not gay ... as far as I know, I am heterosexual."

Sawyer brought up the issue again later in the program, asking if Jenner would consider himself a lesbian after transitioning if he dated women. He did not agree, finally describing himself as "asexual – for now."

Throughout the program, educational bullet points were shown, such as one explaining, "Sexual identity is who you go to sleep with. Gender identity is who you go to sleep as."

During the interview Jenner acknowledged being a Republican and said he hoped to present transgender issues to party leaders like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Kentucky) and House Speaker John Boehner (Ohio). He said that he's "not a fan" of President Barack Obama, but gave him credit for saying the word "transgender" during the State of the Union address in January.
Fimbres wondered if the Republican leadership would accept Jenner. Log Cabin Republicans, a lobbying group for LGBT conservatives, did issue a statement after the interview welcoming Jenner into the fold. 

The program did point out the high level of violence directed against transgender people, particularly transwomen of color. Jenner also made it clear that he does not consider himself a spokesman for the transgender community.

Fimbres was happy that the show acknowledged the violence that transgender people face. But she was displeased with what she called Jenner's "dissing" of Obama.

"Bruce Jenner is not the face or spokesmodel of trans folks to me," Fimbres said. "He still needs more counseling and guidance as he continues on his journey." 

In the immediate aftermath of the interview, many LGBT people took to social media, describing Jenner as a "courageous hero." But not all saw him that way.

"Anyone who chose to go through the journey of gender transition is courageous and strong," Cecilia Chung, a transgender woman and longtime community leader, wrote on Facebook April 25. "Jenner is no exception. To go through this private transformation in front of the camera is going to add multiple layers of complexities and inherent risks."

Chung also wrote that she thought Jenner had the best intentions, but that she has no faith in the mainstream media. "Let's hope for the best for Jenner's upcoming documentary series and for the media to respect his journey," she wrote.

Chung was referring to Jenner's upcoming reality show that will air this summer.
Rohrer said overall, the Jenner interview was a "sign of progress."

"When people are given the freedom to make their own choices about their bodies, faith, and politics our world is a better place," Rohrer said. "There were days when all trans people had to answer medical questions the same way or they wouldn't get approved."

Added Rohrer, "The fact that Jenner's story and imagined future is different from mine and other trans people is a sign of progress."

Thursday, March 19, 2015

In the News: West Hawaii Today

Vision event to benefit Kona’s homeless

The Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity is partnering with Project Vision Hawaii, the Kailua-Kona Lions Club and pastor Megan Rohrer from the Welcome Ministry in San Francisco to put on the Kona Vision Event to benefit homeless people and other low-income people with their vision needs. The event will take place from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at the Old Kona Airport Park Makaeo Events Pavilion.

Dr. Susan Senft and Jenn Brown, staff at Island Eye Care Inc., will administer free eye exams. Free glasses will be ordered for attendees and later distributed by the church’s HERO Ministry. The Hawaii Island HIV/AIDS Foundation will offer HIV/HCV screenings. Lisa Lea, a SNAP outreach specialist for Hope Services, will assist people with SNAP applications. Representatives from the West Hawaii Community Health Center will provide information about services offered at the center and information about signing up for health insurance. Sarah Huddy from the Kona Commons SuperCuts will offer free haircuts. A free meal, blood pressure, and blood sugar screenings will also be offered during the event.

For more information, contact the church office at 329-5733 or visit

- See more at:

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Ethical Case for Autism

As the first openly transgender pastor ordained in the Lutheran Church, I know the difficulty that comes from judgment, fear and bad science.  Having spent the past thirteen years primarily working with the homeless and hungry in San Francisco, there have been moments when my family has raised eyebrows and perhaps wished my life was safer or easier to explain their Midwestern neighbors and friends. 

As I slogged through the hard won battle with the Lutheran church to recognize LGBTQ pastors fully, there was something comforting about knowing there was a large community walking with me, supporting me and praying for me.  Yet, as I listen to GOP Presidential hopefuls, conscientious objectors to vaccinations and chirpy talk shows blithely validate parental desires to prevent, repair or erase autism; I wonder where my community is.

Diagnosed on the autistic spectrum, with what used to be called Aspergers, my autism is one of the best things about me. While Aspergers is considered mild on the autistic spectrum, I believe my autism makes me more ethical and better at my job. 

The ability to hyperfocus makes me extremely good at research and sticking with a task until it is complete.  In 2014 this gift helped me publish 3 books, create an award winning illustrated documentary and create a succulent labyrinth garden at the church.  

My literal thinking and joy of following ethical rules means problems society has unnecessarily complicated seem simple to me.  I believe the solution to homelessness is housing and to hunger is food.  These na├»ve assumptions compelled me to do my part and in 2014, I helped get nearly 1,000 homeless individuals eye exams and prescription eye glasses and received an honorable mention as an Unsung Hero of Compassion by His Holiness the Dali Lama.

There are countless examples of people who excel at their jobs, because of autism.  Having a brain that sees the world differently, may annoy and scare parents, but it helps our world become more innovative.  Parents may wish their autistic kids were more social, but in a work situation these same behaviors might help a brilliant worker stay focused when office mates are gossiping and wasting  hours on social networking sites.

If you’re still not on board with my ethical argument for autism, consider these two examples.  First, consider the ethical impact of exposing children to the world’s most infectious, preventable disease.  Now consider the ethical impact of an autistic child.   Jenny McCarthy, the notorious parent of an autistic child, during her Dirty, Sexy, Funny show on Sirius XM, reported that her autistic son called the police on her when she was illegally texting and driving.  McCarthy was unremorseful and shared that instead of ending the dangerous habit of texting while driving; she instead threw her son’s phone out the car window.    

Rule following, when the rules are deemed ethical, is one of the “symptoms” of autism.  Sounds horrible, right? 

It took decades to discredit reparative therapies that sought to erase or retrain sexual and gender identities.  Similar therapies for autistic children mask or hide characteristics of autism without the consent of the children living with autism.  While it may be important for the parents of autistic children to force their children to be more sociable and to learn eye contact, we should also be able ethically talk about the harm this can kind of therapy can cause.

For example, some individuals with autism experience touch as painful.  The therapeutic method sometimes used to eradicate this “symptom” from children is to hold them tight and not let go.  The idea is that the child can learn to endure the pain.  This method is repeated until the child stops exhibiting a negative response to being held. 

We’ve decided it’s abusive to inflict physical pain on adults to get them to stop having a gay identity, why is it ok to inflict pain on children to prevent their autistic identity?

Some may argue that my space on the mild end of the autistic spectrum clouds my judgment on this issue.  They may be right.  But until autistic children are given the ability to advocate for their own needs and wishes, it may require high functioning autistic adults “coming out” to raise awareness on this issue.

Minimally, we miss the point when we limit our conversations about the measles outbreak to the question of whether or not parents can choose to vaccinate their kids.  We must ethically question the motivations those of the parents, who go to dangerous lengths to try to eradicate autism from their children's lives.  Like so many other kinds of diversity that teach us about what it means to be human, we should instead ask how we can learn from people living on the autistic spectrum.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A Trip to Romance Faith - Latest Living Lutheran Post

Today, as I stood in the Jordan River (see photo), I remembered both Jesus' and my own baptism. This trip is a part of an expedition I'm on to discover the wonders of God.

To date, I've seen six new wonders, two natural wonders, visited the most sacred places of Buddhism, Judaism and Christianity, got as close as non-Muslims can get to Mecca, dipped myself in four sacred waters, listened to the Dalai Lama and visited 10 countries. In the next week I'll visit two more wonders, have an audience with the pope and learn about early Christians in Egypt and Turkey. -

Read the rest at: the ELCA's Living Lutheran