Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Some thoughts on courage

Originally posted last night at the Independent Bloggers' Alliance

At the end of the work day, I do a brief scan of blog headlines to try to get up to speed on what's happening out there in the wide, wide world (channeling the Poky Little Puppy). This evening, a predominant theme is that the Democrats "caved" on Iraq. Quite honestly, I'm not sure what I think about that. The thing is--I just don't have the time or interest to follow this story (and others like it) closely enough to have a genuinely informed opinion on what constitutes necessary political courage versus wisely playing the cards you've been dealt. So, guess I'm not cut out to be a political pundit.

But I've been thinking a lot about courage in the past 24 hours, after hearing this man speak at a forum at my church

His name is Davis Mac-Iyalla, and he is the founder of Changing Attitude-Nigeria, a support group for Gay and Lesbian Anglicans, and he is visiting the United States to call attention to the persecution of LGBTs in his country. Even attending a GLBT-affirmative event--something I didn't have to think twice about here in central Ohio would subject me to tremendous risk if I lived in Nigeria. If a draconian "Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act" were to pass, the penalty for being openly "straight but not narrow" would be a five year prison term.

From time to time, I have wondered, if Demetrius and I were born at a different time...if we had met in 1964 rather than 1984...would I have had the courage to follow my heart and marry outside my "race". It's not an easy question to answer. Mind you, part of the difficulty is my tendency to ask pesky, practical questions, such as, "Where would we have met?" and "How likely is it that we could have spent those long, casual hour together with our mutual friends?" But the basic question I ask myself is, "Would I have the courage to be that kind of pioneer? Could I really be that brave?"

Last night, I was faced with a new question: "Would I have the courage to risk my personal safety--possibly my life--in order to make hostile religious and political authorities acknowledge that I exist?

That's an easy one, and I can answer it right now.

No. Freaking. Way.

So I couldn't help but be awed, humbled, and impressed to hear Davis tell his story. From a statement on the first anniversary of Changing Attitudes-Nigeria,
In the first year, we have many achievements to be proud of, including our impact on the life of the Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion, which had previously denied that lesbian and gay people are members of the church. The Church was so disturbed by our visible presence that it attempted to discredit the organisation, at the same time falsely claiming to be open to gays.
At last night's meeting, Davis Mac-Iyalla described being arrested after one of the early meetings of his organization. He and his fellow members were beaten, and were held for three days without food or water (and without charges), before finally being able to get the bribe money so that his jailers would release him. And not long after that experience, he led the first national meeting of CAN, which was attended by over 1000 GLBT Anglican Nigerians.

I encourage you to read more about Davis Mac-Iyalla and Changing Attitudes-Nigeria. This is not an Anglican issue, or a GLBT issue, or a Nigerian issue--it is, quite plainly, a human rights issue.

The Daily Office (Sponsor of Davis Mac-Iyalla's U.S. tour)
Changing Attitude UK (The director of this organization was instrumental in helping Davis get Changing Attitude Nigeria up and running)

Also posted at My Left Wing, Street Prophets, Booman Tribune, and ePluribus Media

Update with regard to funding:

The people who wish to silence Davis and others like him are very well funded.

Changing Attitudes Nigeria is not. Josh Thomas, who arranged Davis Mac-Iyalla's U.S. tour, and who operates the Daily Office web site, is helping him raise the money needed to continue his work in educating the rest of the world about the plight of GLBT people in Nigeria. Donations are being accepted here.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

GLBT Leader of Changing Attitude- Nigeria to speak at St. Stephen's

GLBT Leader of Changing Attitude-Nigeria, Davis Mac-Iyalla, will speak at St. Stephen's, Columbus on May 21 at 7:00 p.m. The Anglican Church of Nigeria has pressured the Nigerian government to pass the most sweeping anti-gay bill in the world, aimed at silencing Mac-Iyalla, director of Changing Attitude-Nigeria, a support group for Gay and Lesbian Anglicans.

Mac-Iyalla has been falsely arrested after printed materials were found in his car, beaten and held for days. He's received death threats and been forced to flee his home.
Mac-Iyalla has accepted an invitation from the Episcopal Church's Executive Council to address them June 11-14 on what's really happening in the Church of Nigeria. He is also scheduled to appear in New York, Chicago, four cities in Ohio and the San Francisco Bay Area, where he hopes to meet seminarians and their professors.

St. Stephen's Episcopal Church and University Center is located on the campus of The Ohio State University
30 West Woodruff Avenue, Columbus, Ohio 43210

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Standing up (and sitting down) for justice

I got a letter from my church this week, in advance of B.R.E.A.D.'s upcoming annual assembly, reminding me of what an appropriate choice it was to call this the Nehemiah Action Assembly. At last year's assembly, in his opening reflections, Rabbi Howard Apothaker provided an excellent (and, at times, humorous) retelling of the story of Nehemiah calling an assembly, including what, for me, was the most memorable line:

G-d does not just want us to do justice. G-d is *waiting* for us to do justice. G-d is *expecting* us to do justice. G-d is saying, "Get off your tuckus and do justice!"
Since one of the main issues being addressed at this Monday's assembly is predatory payday lending, the Nehemiah reference is quite fitting. From the letter my rector sent:

The fifth chapter of Nehemiah tells the story of how the governor of Jerusalem, Nehemiah, calls a great assembly to deal with a situation that is jeopardizing the rebuilding of the community. The situation has to do with the charging of interest to those resettling Jerusalem at such rates that people are sliding into poverty and slavery. Nehemiah, though governor, does not have enough power to make the nobles and officials of Jerusalem stop this blatant practice of usury. This is why he calls the great assembly. Confronted by the people, the moneylenders and the governing leaders, who allowed this debilitating practice, change their minds.

The parallels to predatory payday lending are so many that I can only list a few here. Interest rates that can exceed 390%. Fees tacked onto fees tacked onto fees until a $500 loan can only be retired by a payment of $3000. There are few regulatory statutes over payday lending in the State of Ohio. What B.R.E.A.D. is asking is not the end of payday lending but a just interest rate that cannot exceed 36% and the passage of regulations that would bring payday lending institutions into line with accepted banking and lending rules. The Nelson-Talent Amendment, passed by the United States Congress, that exempts military families from the worst excesses of payday lending is what we are seeking.

This is a statewide issue and B.R.E.A.D. has already begun meeting with state representatives and others who may be helpful in passing some new statutes. Payday lenders, though, are well financed and well represented by lobbyists in the legislature. We will need a great assembly on May 7 if we are going to use our people-power to combat the injustice of predatory payday lending. That is where you come in.

And the letter goes on to say that the only offering that is being asked of us is our time. With the kind of hours I've been working for the past few weeks, my time is a rather precious commodity. Yet I am mindful of the fact that powerful people are only able to get away with this sort of usury because ordinary people don't stand up. Heck, often we don't even *know* these things are going on, because we're so busy trying to keep our *own* heads above water.

But things like this are important, so I'm gearing up for a drive to the other side of town after work on Monday, to once again be "packed like sardines for justice". Because, well, I gotta. In a recent essay, BrimStone was explaining why the God of Fred Phelps and Randall Terry sucks. And I was thinking, mine doesn't suck, but s/he sure can be a bit of a nag sometimes. Always calling us, again and again to, "Get off your tuckus and do justice!"

Please click here for the information about tomorrow's meeting, and pass it along to anyone you know in central Ohio who might be interested.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

B.R.E.A.D. Action Meeting

Nehemiah Action Meeting
Temple Israel
5419 E. Broad St.
Monday, May 7, 2007
6:15 pm-Registration

√ Increase the ability of families below 200% of the poverty level to become homeowners, start small businesses, or increase their education by quadrupling local IDA programs;

√ Effect new regulation on payday lending to reduce the amount of interest that they can charge on short-term loans from 400% to 36%;

√ Increase Access to Healthcare by supporting state legislation to increase coverage for families and increase state support for the Columbus Neighborhood Health Centers;

√ Celebrate the implementation of a new model truancy reduction program.

Please wear a BREAD hat (available at Action Meeting @$5.00) or other head covering in respect of Jewish tradition.
The Wikipedia page on payday loans has a good overview of some of the controversy around these businesses. There is also an overview on the Center for Responsible Lending web site and more information at Policy Matters Ohio.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Day of Prayer in Action

We Believe Ohio Puts Prayer into Action on National Day of Prayer at Statehouse

“Day of Prayer in Action” Includes Meetings with More than 20 State Reps and Senators

Clergy and lay leaders of We Believe Ohio will put their prayers into action at the Statehouse this Thursday, the National Day of Prayer, to call for passage of a moral budget. Meetings are scheduled with 22 State Representatives and Senators -- including 8 Democrats and 14 Republicans, most in positions of leadership -- as well as Lieutenant Governor Lee Fisher.

Because the state budget reveals of the values and priorities of Ohio, clergy and lay leaders from across the state, including a bus load from Cleveland, will gather in Columbus to fulfill their duty, right and responsibility as people of faith to advocate for a budget that is just and compassionate. Specifically, We Believe Ohio will ask legislators to:

· Resolve long-term funding inequalities in public education by targeting parity aid to 60% of the districts most in need and increasing in funding for early childhood education -- because every child in the state of Ohio is entitled to have the opportunity to receive a quality education.

· Lift the cap on the Housing Trust Fund -- because We Believe Ohio acknowledges God’s call that we cares for the poor, the wayfarer and the stranger.

· Raise parents' eligibility for Medicaid to 100% of the Federal Poverty Level and allow a buy-in for uninsured children in families with incomes over 300% of the poverty level -- because our Creator desires health and wholeness for all people and quality healthcare is a God-given and constitutional right.

Statewide clergy leaders of We Believe Ohio are available for comment. Please contact Katie Barge at or 202-481-8147 to arrange interviews.

WHAT: Day of Prayer in Action”

WHO: More than 75 clergy and lay leaders of We Believe Ohio.

WHEN: The National Day of Prayer, Thursday, May 3, 2007

10:30 AM: Prayer and Preparation (First Congregational Church, 444 E Broad Street in downtown Columbus)

12:30 PM: March to the Statehouse

1:00 PM—3:00 PM: Meetings with State Representatives and Senators inside the Statehouse

WHERE: First Congregational Church and the Statehouse

We Believe Ohio is a coalition of clergy and lay leaders that launched in 2006 to unite diverse religious voices to achieve social justice. We Believe Ohio considers the inclusion of religious traditions and perspectives critical to the creation of informed public policy, while respecting the Constitutionally-mandated separation of church and state. We Believe is committed to acting and speaking in public ways on behalf of the poor, the voiceless, and the unrepresented.