Wednesday, April 1, 2009

What Really Matters?

Hooters Calendar Girl Melissa PoeImage via Wikipedia
Recently I posted about the Butler County policy on adoption that gives "preferential" treatment to "traditional couples".  I came out opposed to our pastor's characterization of the policy, as it has been publicized anyway, as "immoral and hateful".  Honestly, I think one of the reasons I posted it was that I was hoping someone could convince me I am wrong (or at least would try to).  Like every other progressive person in the world, I like to think of myself as being "open minded" and liberal.  And sometimes (rarely) I even care about being politically correct.  So, a policy that discriminates is something I should clearly be against.  Right?  I mean discrimination is wrong.

However, I think sometimes in our efforts to be open minded and inclusive, we go to far and try to overlook legitimate differences in people.  We were created equal, not the same. Being equal in value does not mean that each of us doesn't have different traits and characteristics that actually do matter in everyday life.  Taking the idea of equality to the extreme of not discriminating at all get us things like the guy who sued Hooters restaurants because they wouldn't hire him to wear the little orange shorts and serve the Hooters clientele.  I'm sorry. But, back in my Hooter's days, I did not want to see a guy in the shorts. It would be absurd for Hooter's to hire male wait staff. Being an attractive female is part of the gig at Hooter's.  Should I, in the interest of being inclusive, hire a dyslexic accountant who has trouble reading numbers? I cite extremely ridiculous examples to make a point.  Clearly, there are times when we would all agree discrimination is a good thing.  There are times though when the situation is not so clear.  A few years back there was a professional golfer, Casey Martin, who has a physical disability that makes it impossible for him to walk the courses they play on the PGA Tour.  He arguably had everything else it takes to play on the tour.  The only exception he was asking for was to be allowed to ride in a cart.  My first thought was "Of course.  Let the guy ride in a cart."  But, many players on the tour argued that the miles of walking they do during the course of a round and four days of a tournament is part of the game.  They are often playing in hot, humid conditions. Conditioning (laugh if you like) has actually become a part of golf.  Should an exception have been made for Casey or is being able to walk the course part of playing the game? This is one of those situtations that is debatable.

When I was younger, I desperately wanted to be like everyone else.  I wanted there to be no differences.  As a black guy growing up in a mostly white environment, I just wished we could all be the same and I didn't want to recognize there were any differences between myself and my white friends.  As I've gotten older, I've learned to not only accept differences but to appreciate them.  Until very recently I didn't have any gay friends. That may have been partially due to my homophobia.  But, mostly I think it was due to just not being in an environment where I had a lot of opportunities to get ot know gay people.  That has all changed. Now, I know several gay people I'd like to think of as friends.  I can't say the fact that they are gay makes no difference.  It does.  It actually, in some ways, makes them more interesting.  In this society, to be comfortable enough with yourself and your sexuality to be openly gay takes a special kind of person.

Recently I was on the search committee for our church as we sought a new pastor.  We had tons and tons of candidates to consider.  I know you're not supposed to consider (discriminate) based upon age and gender and all of that stuff.  We even had to ask the laywer on the committee what questions we could ask candidates.  But, I'd be lying if I said I did not consider those things.  Typically, a younger person would bring more energy to the job than a guy who had been a pastor for 20 years.  I would have preferred a woman because I think having a woman pastor at a progressive church would be a great thing.  Older people would bring more maturity, stability, the ability to read people to the job.  A black person would be able to relate to the discrimination and social injustice our church tries to fight.  A white male would probably have been pretty low on my list of preferences.  

We ended up extending the call to Mike Underhill.  Mike is an older (relative to other candidates we considered), white male.  Mike is also gay.  I can't say that any of these characteristics of Mike were not considered in my mind.  The fact that Mike is older was a plus, I thought.   It could also have been a detriment.  But, after meeting Mike, I knew it was a plus. While it's hard to say if Mike will still be leading Nexus in 20 years, the fact is right now he brings maturity and experience from his former career that is a stabilizing force at Nexus. The fact that Mike is a male was a slight negative, in my opinion.  The fact that Mike is gay gives him the experience of dealing with discrimination that I think is beneficial in the role he is playing at Nexus.  To pretend all of these things about Mike don't matter would be to miss the point of non-discrimination, IMO.  Even the fact that Mike is gay is something, in and of itself, that is both a benefit and a possible detriment to the position.  Unfair discrimination would be to look at any one of these factors and eliminate a person from consideration based on it.  But, to consider each of them as one factor among many is perfectly legitimate.
The question, to me, comes down to "What really matters?".  In the case of adoption, the welfare of the child is the most important thing.  What really matters is how the person or couple adopting the child will impact the child's life and where we think the best place is for the child.  I think it is naive to pretend that society views gay couples the same way as they do heterosexual couples and I would have to wonder what type of impact this might have on a child.  I think it's just plain silly to think a single parent doesn't have to work a lot harder than a couple to raise a child.  Children take time and energy and we each only have so much of those things.  I've now met the couple mentioned in the article (Michael and his partner) and the beautiful little girl they want to adopt.  I've only met them in passing. But, I can tell they care for her deeply just from the little bit of time I've spent with them.  I can tell they would try their best to make great fathers for her. I would not deny them being able to adopt her based solely on the fact that they are gay.  I wouldn't dream of it.   But, I think considering the fact that they are gay, and what impact that might have on the little girl, as one of many factors, is not unfairly discriminatory.

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21 comments:

Alex said...

I had considered weighing in on the previous blog about the subject, but didn't quite know how to word my feelings.

First, I agree with the evaluation that in many circles equal is equated with sameness to the detriment of the beautiful fabric of humanity that our differences create.

However, my gut leads me to believe that when there is not a clear need for such a hierarchy (like maybe there would be if there were much too many decent homes and too few children who need placement or a frequent occurance of "all things being equal" either of which is highly unlikely) then an explicit preference is purely meant to be a statement that can only come (IMO) from a place of self rightousness.

If I were in such a position should I make a similar rule regarding fundementalists based on anecdotal evidence of those I know who were truamatized by such an upringing?

I don't know, to exploit the issue of parentless children to make a (what seems to me as a value) statement does seem a bit immoral to me. But like I said, this is a gut reaction and I could be way off base.

PS - I love your blog, you have a lot of insightful things to say.

brian said...

Alex,

Thanks for weighing in! As I said, I think I was looking for some push back on my position. I've been thinking about it a lot.

Living in Butler County and knowing how conservative it is, I have little doubt there is something more to this decree than meets the eye. However, the decree itself, the way it is worded, doesn't present a problem to me. I'm not concerned that homosexual couples or single people can't be good parents. I'm not saying that married heterosexual couples would always be better. And, I know all things are never equal. But, theoretically, if they were, I think a child would more likely have an easier time growing up, in this society, with a heterosexual couple. And, I'm just wondering if it's really wrong to acknowledge that?

Having grown up in a fundamentalist home (and still recovering from the scars), your point on the trauma caused that upbringing is a good one.

Lastly, I think what you may be saying is that this is being exploited as an opportunity to make a value statement. Heterosexual married couple-good. Homosexuals couples or singles- bad. If that is the case, I completely agree that it is immoral. And, again, reading between the lines, that may be exactly what they are trying to say.

Again, thanks for your thoughts. I appreciate you taking the time.

Peace,
Brian

Don said...

"I think a child would more likely have an easier time growing up, in this society, with a heterosexual couple. And, I'm just wondering if it's really wrong to acknowledge that?"

Given the state of our society today, I think you are correct. And, no, I don't think you are wrong to acknowledge that. This is such a tough issue. My son has talked to me once about this issue. I think he would like to have a child someday. For now, his response has been for his partner and him to buy a puppy.........

Alex said...

Easier? Perhaps.And acknowlegdement is fine. But I don't know that fostercare and adoption systems are really in a place to splice hairs on ease of growing up based on societal standards. I'm sure Pagan kids get discriminated against just as much (if not more in some locations) as kids with gay parents. I think it is wrong to accomadate discrimination with these rules that don't just say "hey, it tough". If there is nothing inherently deterimental to the child, then I don't think it makes a good rule. It just sounds a lot like the arguments my parents tried to feed my siblings and I against interracial marriage ("think of the children!"), just smells fishy. the kids I know in queer families are just as dysfunctional and healthy as the kids in hetro married families. No more, no less. And I'm sure the same will be true for my little girl.

brian said...

Good points, Alex. And even if it were true that a child in the home of a homosexual couple would have a more "difficult" time, it doesn't mean we should never place a child there.

Funny you should mention the interracial marriage thing. Out of 10 nieces and nephews, 9 of mine are bi-racial. I don't think it's nearly as big a deal as it was a few years ago.

Someday said...

I am not very current with what the adoption laws are right now, so all I can do is give an opinion based on how I believe things "ought to be".
If unmarried heterosexual couples are able to jointly adopt a child, then legally, unmarried gay couples should be afforded the same opportunity if all other things are equal.
I prefer that those who adopt are married, but as long as single people are able to adopt, then questioning that persons sexuality is a violation of their privacy and blatant discrimination. Being gay is not illegal,
Personally, I believe that gay marriage should be legally accepted by our government. It's a question of liberty and freedom. Unfortunately, because it is not yet legally accepted in most places, this means that gay couples do not have any more right to adopt than unwed heterosexual couples. Allowing one group to adopt based on their sexuality is discrimination.
I understand the wish to shield children from any future pain. But as already has been suggested, that becomes a slippery slope. Are you willing to write questions on an adoption application that asks a person what their sexual orientation is? Are you just as willing to ask what their religion is? Are Hindu parents less able to raise a child than a Catholic? Would you ask them what their shoe size is? A mother with amazingly large feet can be laughed at by the child's peers and called names like "Bigfoot". That could cause a lot of pain.

Blessings

brian said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Someday.


One could say this policy doesn't unfairly discriminate against gays because it gives preferential treatment to married heterosexual couples over heterosexual couples that are living together- the same as it gives them preferential treatment over homosexual couples. However, of course, gay couples cannot marry in Butler County.

As for what we are willing to put on the adoption application, I don't know what's on there. But, I would assume that a home visit or some such thing to find out what the home environment is like would be done. An openly gay couple living together wouldn't need to be asked on the application what their sexual orientation is. And, the policy is not based on sexual orientation. It's based on the home situation, as I understand it.

You kind of hit at the point of my post when you start asking about religious beliefs and the shoe size of the mother. Don't you? The question is what things really matter and how much do they matter?

Kansas Bob said...

Not much to say today Brian.. just want you to know how much I appreciate your sharing about Nexus and about how you chose Mike as your pastor. Were there any deal breakers in the selection process for you or the team as a whole?

brian said...

Hi Bob,

Deal breakers? Do you mean theoretical or that we actually ran across? As an "open and affirming" church and one that says we welcome questions and non-conformity, we have had discussion like how much of our theology does someone have to share to be a member? Where do you draw the lines? Obviously, we wouldn't hire a pastor who preaches atheism or one who is a Satanist. While we affirm relationship that are not heterosexual marriages, we do not affirm harmful sexual relationships or relationships without commitment.

So, there are hypothetical limits on who we would have hired as pastor. In terms of the actual candidates we considered there were "deal breakers" like they were more focused on finances than on spirituality or they simply seemed way too inexperienced with "life" to be at the head of a church that needs a lot of care.

Kansas Bob said...

Thx Brian. How much of your collective theology does someone have to share to be the pastor? Were there some deal breaker theological issues in the nature of those you and I have discussed?

brian said...

Bob,

The problem with a "progressive" church is defining what our "collective theology" even is. I'm much less literal than most people in the church. We do have a type of creed people recite when they join the church. But, I think if someone objected to part of it, it would not really be a problem.

From my perspective, what brings us together is more our values than our theology. Whether one believes in a literal virgin birth is not as important as one believing in working to bring about the Kingdom on Earth by bringing social justice and unconditional love to the world.

We did put out a church vision statement and filled out a profile about what things are important to our congregation in looking for a pastor. The search committee matched the responses from the congregation to the responses of the applicants on the same set of questions. There were not so much individual deal breakers as there were broader differences.

Kansas Bob said...

"what brings us together is more our values than our theology"

..very well put Brian.. probably true of most churches.

brian said...

I said: "what brings us together is more our values than our theology"

Bob replied "..very well put Brian.. probably true of most churches."

Well, I can't speak for most churches. But, I can say that most churches I've been in it's theology and theological litmus tests that define the group. Step over a line or not agree with one of their five points (or 10 or 15) and you're out. I think that what brings people together should be values because I think values are much more important than theology.

We did do a book study on a great book called the Phoenix Affirmations which attempts to kind of systematize progressive Christianity. I think that the vast majority, if not all, of the people at Nexus would agree with the way the Phoenix Affirmations describes our "faith".

Peace,
Brian

Kansas Bob said...

I have been a part of three churches that have done pastoral searches and orthodoxy has never really been an issue.. probably because the applicants for the position understood the type of church that they were applying to.

So the narrowing down of the candidates was not really about theology but more about other things like vision, values and mission.. and of course personality.. probably similar to the way that you all narrowed down the candidates.

You probably did not have any Word of Faith, Methodists, Episcopalians or Baptists applying.. did you have any fundamentalist CoC folks apply?

I guess all I am saying is that the applicants probably screened you all before you had a chance to screen them.

Have a great weekend!

brian said...

Bob,

You are absolutely right that all of the applicants screened us before we screened them. The search process in the United Church of Christ is fantastic, IMO. I've never done it anywhere else. And this was my first time here. But, they had us make up a profile that was circulated within the UCC. I don't think it ever went outside the UCC and I know we didn't do any newspaper ads or anything like that. The pastor saw our profile (which is extremely detailed) before ever applying. We saw their profile (which is about a 30 page document) before we ever talked with any of them. So, there was a lot pre-screening going on. Plus, if you were uber-conservative, I doubt you'd be applying for the position of pastor in the UCC anyway.

You have a great weekend, too.

Peace,
Brian

clhsketch said...

Do you personally know any same sex parents raising children together Brian? I ask this because I think if you were to examine some of these families, you would see that what a child really needs is love - no matter the gender of the parent. And the whole business about it being harder on kids with same sex parents is bull. I grew up a fat kid and that was hard. Others grow up with a lot worse like abusive parents, drug/alcohol addicted parents, etc. And lets face it, sometimes it is hard to be right when everyone else is wrong - that's what sucks about living in a repressive society. Never the less, if the child has love and honesty from their parents, more likely than not, they will grow to be strong, lovely people - whether their parents are straight or gay. Let society say what they will. If they're not against you for one reason, it will be another. The progress in progressive should mean something, just like the Christ in Christian should mean something. The primary question in adoption is "Can this person/couple offer this child a stable environment where they will be nurtured and loved?" If the answer is yes, then they should be able to adopt the child, regardless of their sexual orientation.

As for the differences between the sexes, yes there are differences but have you ever heard of the ancient wisdom - it takes a village to raise a child (too bad Hillary took over that phrase)? It is a very modern phenomenon to expect that all the education, love, and discipline that a child needs to grow can come solely from their parents. It is ultimately both the parents and the extended family of humanity that raises its children. So, if you have two daddies, then perhaps auntie can step in to offer a female perspective.

That's my two cents about the matter.

brian said...

Cortney,

Thanks for your thoughts.

I do know one same sex couple raising a child. Not well. But, that's not really the point. I completely agree that same sex parents (and single parents) can offer a loving, stable, nurturing home. And, I am well aware there are a number of factors that determine how "hard" it is to grow up in a home. I tried to make it clear that a couple being homosexual is only one factor among many. It's not the only factor. It's not even the most important factor. The question is should it be a factor at all?

I just don't know that the right thing to do is to ignore the potential impact of being raised by a homosexual couple or a single parent could have on a child. IMO, in the case of adoption, the interest of the child trumps all. It trumsps any social experiment. It trumps any "rights" of the potential adopting parents. It trumps any need to be politically correct. Every child should be placed in the home that is "best" for them.

I'm very familiar with the village to raise a child concept. And, certainly a female role model from outside the home could supplement what a child might be lacking being raised by two daddies. As a parent myself, Ty and I certainly are not the sole role models for Kayla and Shayna. But, we are the most readily available and for a good part of their lives, their primary role models. I don't think that we can ignore the importance of modeling roles for our children in their development. Again, I'm not saying a child raised by homosexual partners or by a single parent is going to come out not understanding male/female roles. But, it seems intuitive to me that that would make it easier.

Don said...

Brian- Don't know if you heard that Cliff (Hazelbaker) over at boldgrace.com died this morning of brain cancer.

brian said...

Don,

I had not heard. I'm stunned. I only met him once. But, he was a great guy with a great family. I didn't even know he was sick.

I am stunned.

Kansas Bob said...

That saddens me too Don.

Don said...

Cliff was diagnosed less than two months ago. Check out boldgrace.com for the witness he and the family gave as things progressed. What a guy. A loving, conpassionate man!