Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Mark Sanford & Company: The Real Scandal

Everyone from David Letterman to UU minister/sexologist Debra Haffner has been commenting on the recent news about Mark Sanford. For those of you not checking the news, the GOP governor of South Carolina had been AWOL for a week, and admitted to running off to Argetina with his mistress.

And just before that, Republican Senator John Ensign admitted to cheating on his wife.

Not to mention John Edwards, Elliot Spitzer, Larry Craig, Jim McGreevey, Bill Clinton, ...

Already I've read someone muse if there's something in the mental makeup of politicians, or the culture of political life, which makes them so prone to sexual improprieties. Well, I don't think so. The only real difference between politicos and regular folks in this regard is their level of public exposure. Lots of people cheat on their partners; we just hear more about politicians doing it because they have the press constantly on their tail (pardon the pun).

What bothers me about all of this is society's skewed sense of ethics. No, I'm not talking about folks wanting to throw politicians out for being adulterers (although, given that Sanford actually abandoned his post, I'd say that was justifiable). I'm talking about the automatic assumption that monogamy somehow equals moral virtue. And while it's true that keeping one's promises is a reflection of that ... what if the promise a couple makes does not include being exclusive to one another?

Many people live lives of integrity and honesty in mutually fulfilling polyamorous relationships. Honesty does not require monogamy any more than good governance requires political dogmatism. And how refreshing would it be if a politician came out as having a happy secondary relationship with the knowledge and consent of their spouse and family.

Oh, yeah ... that already happened with Roy Romer. Don't remember that? Probably because when Romer and his family opened up about it, their refreshing honesty made it a non-issue.

That, to me, points to the real scandal behind adultery - the dodging and dishonesty, the futile attempt to hold onto one's office and power and prestige by worrying about what Mrs. Grundy would say. And the real problem is when they make political decisions based on that same short-sighted and cowardly approach.

It's time for politicians - and all of us - to start putting personal integrity above political image-making.

Friday, June 12, 2009

DOMA and Obama ... Oh, Boy!

During the 2008 Presidential race, I did a low-level tongue-in-cheek write-in campaign, complete with a running mate and a platform rooted in sexual freedom. The reason? Because even with all of Obama's rhetoric about LGBT equality and such, both his own words and my own experience made me skeptical. It was also a snub at the limits of our two-party system, where we are all told to hold our noses and vote for the lesser of two evils.

Sound extreme?

Well, judge for yourself. On the plus side, Obama has shifted Federal money and priorities from "abstinence-only" to comprehensive programs; supported reproductive choice and removed the gag rule to US funding of health programs overseas, and proclaimed June "LGBT Pride Month". On the reverse, Obama stripped family planning funding from his stimulus package, has yet to do anything about "Don't Ask Don't Tell" (see my earlier post) and now the Department of Justice has filed a brief supporting DOMA.

Oh, boy.

Many folks have made a comparison between Obama and John F. Kennedy. Given that JFK tended to pay lip service to racial equality and civil rights, looks like we have another parallel ... just not the kind we wanted.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Ethics of Kink & Polyamory

Well, it was bound to happen. “Anonymous” sends a comment to this blog, beginning:

So you dare to lecture people about morality … , you being a self described 'kinky polyamorous' UU? Thanks for the laugh.

Yes, the classic assumption that exploring different ways of expressing eroticism and intimacy automatically disqualifies you from engaging in ethical discussions. How original.

Oh, by the way – the reason I didn’t approve the comment? Because it wasn’t relevant to the topic it was posted under. The person wasn’t even responding to a post on this blog, but responding to a comment I made on another website. If you’re reading this, Anon, would love to know your rationale for doing so, instead of posting on the site in question. But, I digress…

So let’s look at how this person views anyone who dares to identify as kinky:

[D]o you really think it's a good thing for you to be led around by the nose by your various perversions? Isn't there any part of you left that wants to be free? Any part of you that wants to rise above it? And if the only "good" for you is your perversion and you view everything in the context of that, why would you expect anyone to take you seriously when you pretend to care about moral issues?

Wow, talk about leaps of logic! Yet every single one of these is based on a greater assumption that form is more important than context – that the outward mechanics of your actions are more important than the emotional and relational context in which those actions are done.

It also shows a total lack of knowledge about the ethics by which we in the BDSM and polyamory communities abide.
~ We believe first and foremost in consent – that people should know what they’re getting into, and actively agree to it, before engaging in it.
~ We believe in safety – that we do as much as we can to minimize the risks of harm, within reason.
~ We believe in compassion and respect – that we do what we do with the goal of cultivating mutual benefit and joy.
~ Above all else, we believe in honesty and integrity in all that we do, without which the rest would be impossible.

The problem, of course, is that too many people have distorted and superficial views about BDSM (“those people are into pain”) and polyamory (“they’re just swingers having orgies”). There is much more subtlety and complexity to the kink and poly communities than many would realize, just like every other community out there.

Nor are we “obsessed with sex,” as that nameless commenter would so easily like to believe. If we talk a good deal about sexual matters in our communities, it is not just because of our sexual and relational identities, but because there is so little intelligent discourse about the erotic in mainstream society.

So, yes, I do expect people to take me seriously about moral issues. Imagine if those principles of consent, safety respect, compassion and honesty were lived out more fully in everything that we do. Imagine if we really listened to one another, instead of jumping to conclusions and rushing to label someone’s differences as “just plain wrong.” Imagine if we measured right and wrong not by a dusty old rule book, but by love and joy.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

UUs and Sexuality: The Glass Half Full, Half Empty

For the past two years, I've had the privilege of knowing Dan, our ministerial intern here at Arlington Street Church. I wasn't the least bit surprised that he received high marks from the UUA's Ministerial Fellowship Committee. Dan is someone who is both compassionate and wise, pastoral and prophetic, drawing from both academic learning and personal experience to serve our faith.

When he finishes his internship here, he will be serving a UU congregation on the West Coast. So I couldn't help checking out their website.

And, once again, I read what's there with mixed feelings. When it comes to how many UU congregations address sexuality issues, I have a tendency to see a glass half full and half empty.

On the half-full side: They are a welcoming congregation for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender folks. Their social justice work includes a commitment to marriage equality and reproductive rights. They provide Our Whole Lives comprehensive sexuality education for teens. Looking at their sermon archives, I can find some sermons touching on sexuality issues. Like many UU congregations.

Then, on the half-empty side: You have to dig a bit on the website to find out that they are a welcoming congregation. Two of the three sexuality sermons were from way back in 2005. And no sign of a Safe Congregations Program, teaching Our Whole Lives to adults or other age groups, working for other sexual justice issues or learning about other sexual and gender minorities. Like many UU congregations.

I know, it sounds like I'm being picky. Then again, I've also seen the consequences of the "half-empty" side. Sure, it's great to have an inclusive church where all kinds of love are celebrated ... but when you have some particular issue involving sexuality, and need someone to talk to, and you're not quite sure how your church will deal with it because, well, they don't really talk about it ...

Get the idea?

My own theory is that too many religious liberals, UU and otherwise, take their liberalism for granted. A woman from another church related to me how someone in her congregation wanted them to say simply that they welcomed "all people" -- period, no labels or limits. As wonderful an idea as that may be, there is something to be said for reaching out to members of an excluded minority and saying specifically to them: "You are welcome here." Likewise, it is one thing for a minister or religious educator to tell her parishioners that they can talk to her about anything, and another to specifically offer a listening ear and open heart for those very issues which make people uneasy.

Unitarian Universalists have done so much work in this area, compared to other faith communities. But there's also a great deal more we can and should do. This is something that Dan and I have talked about, and see eye to eye on. So, as he goes off to his new ministry, here are my hopes for him:
~ I hope that he finds the time to preach at least one sexuality sermon from the pulpit, and to start more dialogue about it as a result.
~ I hope that he can encourage the RE Council there to consider expanding their offering of OWL to more age groups, espcially adults.
~ I hope that he can talk to the congregation's board about the UUA's Safe Congregations Program, so that they can feel more confident about the spiritual home they provide for their children and youth.
~ I hope that he can do more sexual justice work in the wider community, from reproductive rights to reaching out to the full range of sexual and gender minorities.

May seem like a lot, but I'm also not expecting him to transform the congregation overnight. Just help them to get started on transforming themselves.