Monthly Archives: June 2011

The Gay Marriage Bill in NY and the Catholic Church: All Couples Deserved to be Called A Family

Last week, the New York State assembly passed a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in the state. Currently, the bill is one vote short of passage in the state Senate. Both supporters and opponents have been vocal on the issue. In particular, the response given in the New York Daily News by state Senator Roy McDonald, who supports the bill, in response to conservatives who criticize his position, made me chuckle. “You might not like that. You might be very cynical about that. Well, f—k it. I don’t care what you think. I’m trying to do the right thing.” Perhaps he should have left out the f-bomb, but sometimes its hard not to when you are passionate about something. If you are a supporter of same-sex marriage, as I am, it just makes you want to get up and shout, “You go Roy!”, doesn’t it?

However, many do not support same-sex marriage and see it as a detriment to society, including the Church that I love and to which I belong. The official position of the Catholic Church is that homosexual partnerships do not constitute “true” or “sacramental” families. On his blog, New York’s Archbishop Timothy Dolan vowed to oppose any bill that would radically redefine the essence of marriage. He writes, “shouldn’t we be more upset-and worried-about this perilous presumption of the state to re-invent the very definition of an undeniable truth- one man, one woman, united in lifelong love and fidelity?” I still remember my first encounter with this position, watching a video at mass one Sunday urging New Jerseyans not to support same-sex marriage because it would undermine the idea of the ideal family, showing us happy smiling pictures of moms, dads, and kids. If it wasn’t for the fact that back then I was still a shy, reserved high-school student instead of a college-educated young woman who has become more familiar with the tolerant, loving Jesus of the New Testament, I would have walked out.  Last time I checked-homosexuals are not to blame for undermining marriage. Us heterosexuals are doing a pretty good job of it! Husbands and wives who cheat on each other, deadbeat dads (and moms), parents who emotionally and physically abuse their children- this is what undermines the sanctity of marriage. Anthony Weiner, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Newt Gingrich, anyone?

Archbishop Dolan states that we must consider “the right of a child to be raised in a family with a mom and dad.” Yet, absent same-sex couples, there are already plenty of children not enjoying this “right”-children in single-parent households, children in foster care, orphans looking for a home. Furthermore, in not recognizing same-sex couples as families, children are denied other basic “rights.” According to Cristina Traina, Professor of Religion at Northwestern University, “the church puts the moral and sacramental status of parents before the basic, material welfare of their children.” Homosexual couples residing in states that do not recognize their partnership, are left vulnerable. These couples cannot inherit from a deceased spouse who helped support them nor extend important employer benefits, like health insurance, to their partners or children who may really  need them. They cannot make crucial medical decisions for one another, and are sometimes even denied visitation rights to a critically ill partner. In the case of divorce or the death of one parent, children of same-sex couples often do not have  rights to visitation with their non-custodial parent. Of course, we ask, why don’t these couples just move or hire a lawyer to ensure their protections? Its not that easy especially considering the current state of our economy. Many cannot afford these luxuries. Over 22% of gay and lesbian households have incomes under $30,000. In order to actually secure the rights of children in the United States, the Catholic Church should support the recognition of same-sex couples in all states.

Perhaps, most trouble is the recent stories of young children being denied admission to Catholic schools because their same-sex parents are living “outside of the Church’s teachings.” Yet, if we start basing admission to Catholic schools on the degree of parents’ adherence to Church teachings, would we not end up with empty school buildings? What about parents who use birth control? What about parents who are pro-choice? And shouldn’t what parents teach their children play a role in the decision? If two same-sex parents want their child to receive a Catholic education, that is a beautiful thing. Why is a child of a same-sex couple any less deserving? Jesus said “Let the children come to me”- he did not give any prerequisites- Jesus wants ALL the children to come to Him and its the Church’s responsibility to lead them to Jesus. I must add to this that the Boston Archdiocese is to be commended for setting guidelines to ensure that no group of students is excluded from admission to Catholic schools.

Personally, I do not believe that homosexuality is sinful or “intrinsically disordered.” But my point here is not to change the Church’s position on the morality of homosexual relations, but on its stance against recognition of homosexual couples and their children as families. Even if same-sex marriage is not sacramental by the Church’s standards, these couples deserve certain rights and protections. Furthermore, is family really about gender of one’s parents or is it about love? Gay and lesbian couples are capable of teaching and showing their children plenty of Catholic family values. What about the man who takes care of his partner when he is ill? What about the two women who work hard to provide their children with a college education, and shower them with love and support? What about the gay couple who regularly prays with their child, teaches them about Jesus, and tells them to love and respect all persons regardless of their race, gender, or religion?

To conclude, I would like to reflect on the story of the Samaritan woman at the well in John’s Gospel. This woman is shunned by her community because she has had five husbands and the man she currently resides with is not her husband (John 4:17-18). Yet, it is to her, that Jesus first reveals Himself to be the Messiah (John 4:25). And He uses this woman as an important part of His ministry, as “many of the Samaritans from that town believed in Him because of the woman’s testimony (John 4:39).” Jesus did not look at others with  judgment, but with love and open arms. So who are we to say certain families are    not real and who are we to make certain groups feel excluded from the community simply because of their lifestyle?


Women in Church Leadership- Not a Small Issue

During my morning ritual of reading the news online in between bites of cereal, I came across an interesting article in the Huffington Post entitled “Jesus is Still Surrounded By Too Many Men.” It discussed how most of us are likely unable to name a woman leader in evangelical Christianity and gave specific mention to a woman named Margaret Feinberg. Feinberg, a popular church speaker and the author of dozens of books, was named one of the 30 Christian leaders under 40 who represent “the future of the Church” by Charisma magazine in 2005.
Feinberg’s accomplishments are certainly commendable. However, her comments on the shortage of women’s leadership within Christianity, struck me as somewhat troubling. She says, “I wonder why we’re even talking about this when there are so many needs in the world?” She continues, “Now is not the time. When every starving person has food, when every homeless person has a place to live, when every well is dug, when AIDS has been eradicated in Africa, when all of our neighbors know Jesus, then we can sit and debate about titles and who should do what.”
Now of course if I were to be granted one wish- either to see women be ordained or world poverty completely eliminated- I would choose to see world poverty completely eliminated. However, we do not live in a world with such black and white choices. Feinberg’s view is troubling in that none of the things she mentions can be truly achieved while women are kept in a subordinate position. When women of all nationalities gain full equality and respect, and are able to equally share in leadership with men, the abovementioned goals are more likely to be achieved. While I do not intend to minimize the suffering endured by men in our world, many of the injustices plaguing society disproportionately affect women.
According to  Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza in her article Ties That Bind: Domestic Violence Against Women, households headed by women are more likely to be impoverished than those headed by men. Elderly women are twice as likely to live in poverty as elderly men.  Joanna Manning, a Holy Child nun who has traveled and worked in Africa, expresses that women in Africa, who enjoy less rights than us in the United States, are often threatened with physical violence or divorce if they withhold sexual intercourse from their husbands. These women often have more children than they can clothe, educate, and feed. In Saudi Arabia, women still cannot drive.  According to a survey conducted by the Thomson-Reuters Foundation, In Afghanistan, 87% of women are illiterate. An estimated 1,152 women are raped in the Democratic Republic of Congo each day. In Somalia, 95% of women undergo genital mutilation between the ages of four and eleven.
Here in the United States, women still make less than men do for the same job. Women are still more underrepresented in Congress than racial minorities. Just this past Thursday, the House of Representatives passed a bill to cut the Women, Infants, and Children program, which offers food and educational support to low-income mothers and their children, by $688 billion or 13%.
We cannot end poverty this way- not when women are not given equal pay for the same work, not when women occupy less leadership positions in global politics, not when thousands of women are raped and beaten each day. This world cannot become a better place when all these atrocities are happening on our planet.
Are these injustices the direct result of the lack of women’s leadership in Christianity? No. But the message a lack of women’s leadership sends to the world is a cause for concern and serves to only exacerbate the obstacles women face all over the globe. And when women suffer, it follows that children often suffer as well. How can we take a firm stand against China’s policy of favoring male children when the Catholic Church says that a woman cannot be a priest because she cannot image Christ as much as a man can? How can we say that women deserve to receive equal pay, adequate housing, and health care for their children, when so many Anglican priests have walked out and left their church so they could avoid having to work alongside women priests? As the most popular religion in the world, Christianity has a large impact on the beliefs and value systems of society. If women are subordinated within Christianity, the beliefs and value systems of society will too often reflect this position.
The quest for women’s equality in Christianity cannot be put on the backburner. It must continue alongside the quest to end war, poverty, AIDS, etc. The church’s actions and the composition of the church’s leadership must stop reflecting the idea that women are “less than” men. The minds of men and women, both black and white, both gay and straight, are needed to solve the problems that plague our society. What women do in the church and what their titles are is extremely important.

Beyond the Lies and Lapses in Judgment: The Bright Side of American Politics

          Are you fed up with politicians? …. Is that a yes?

            I thought so.
            Congressman Anthony Weiner recently admitted to sending lewd photographs via his Twitter account while engaging in online relationships with six women. Amidst this revelation, it has just been announced that his wife, Huma Abedin, aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is pregnant with their first child. Just like the Monica Lewinsky scandal back in the 1990s, the issue is not just the inappropriate behavior of a politician, it is the blatant lie told to the American people to cover-up one’s mistakes. Anthony Weiner did not just possibly ruin his political career, he hurt his constituents by sending the message that the people we choose to represent us are not people we can trust.
            Prior to the Weiner scandal and the revelation that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger carried on an affair and fathered a child with the family’s former maid, a Gallup poll taken in September 2010 reveals that only 4% of Americans hold a great deal of trust and confidence in the men and women who hold or are running for public office. Forty-four percent claim to hold “not very much” trust and confidence in these men and women. Data from the same poll taken yearly since 1974, shows a continuing downward trend in trust of politicians. It does not look like the trend will be moving upward anytime soon. Just this past Friday, two-time presidential candidate John Edwards was charged with conspiracy and campaign finance violations in spending over $925,000 to cover-up the fact that he fathered a child with mistress, Rielle Hunter. Meanwhile, besides these moral mishaps, many Americans are disappointed in their leaders. President George W. Bush’s approval ratings dwindled as many considered the US entry into Iraq unsuccessful, angry over the large number of young American soldiers who lost their lives. His successor Barack Obama campaigned with the slogan “Change We Can Believe In.” While he has recently been praised for the death of Osama bin Laden, a still poor economy and high unemployment rate have led many to feel that President Obama has not made good on his promise to bring about a much needed change.
            Every American has a right to be angry when a politician lies to and embarrasses his or her constituency. However, Americans do not have a right to simply dismiss all politicians as “corrupt no good bastards.” Having interned in the district offices of US Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY-14th district), I can sincerely say that working for a politician is extremely rewarding. It is amazing how many people each and every day are helped by the office of their senator or congressman. When working as an intern, I learned to appreciate the great amount of work the staff of politicians must devote to their jobs. No letter, phone call, e-mail, opinion goes undocumented or unanswered. Many of these inquiries are answered positively with family members able to obtain a visa for their loved one, veterans and their families given the benefits they deserved but had previously not been receiving, hospitals and charitable organizations receiving Congressional support that enabled them to obtain grants that will help save lives. Of course, there are always some cases that are not successful but the office always tries. The most wonderful part about this is that receiving a response is not dependent on one having money, political connections, or belonging to the same political party. I have seen hand-written letters with poor grammar receive the same care and attention as professionally typed letters composed by doctors or lawyers. Even if constituents became angry and irate with us, as interns we were taught to be patient, empathize with their concerns, and help them as best we could. At Congresswoman Maloney’s Office, letters from constituents from other districts were never ignored but rather given a friendly response with the name and address of the appropriate representative. During the foreclosure crisis, I had the opportunity to assist with a foreclosure clinic organized by Senator Menendez’s Newark office in which New Jersey residents, suffering through a time of confusion, fear, and uncertainty were listened to and given access to resources that could assist them in keeping their homes. Of course, my time as an intern lasted only one summer and I only interned for two politicians. Certainly, there are many more positive things that can be said about the offices of these men and women, both Democrat and Republican.
             As Americans, we are truly blessed to have access to our representatives. Sadly, most Americans never take advantage of this access. Something like 90% of Americans have never contacted a senator or congressman either to express an opinion or ask for assistance. A poll by the Center of Congress at Indiana University reports that only 28% of American feel that contacting Congress is very important. Perhaps, if this number were higher, Americans would have a more optimistic view of the government. After all, those who have had contact with their representatives are more likely to have a favorable view of Congress than those who have not. Perhaps, it is because these people can see that in spite of the broken campaign promises, moral lapses, and social blunders we read about in the media, politicians also devote a great amount of time to public service and help a great many people in stories that do not reach the news.
            In conclusion, we certainly should not stop holding our representatives at all levels to a higher standard. Lying to one’s constituents is unacceptable. Politicians should be held accountable for their actions, both positive and negative. Nevertheless, we should not be quick to assume that politicians lack compassion. We must remember that they and their staff work tremendously hard to help everyday American citizens. Of course, we may not always be satisfied with their performance or with some of their personal lives. Nevertheless, we must be quick to remember that no one walking this Earth, no matter how high their position, is without sin.  The only leader completely without fault, whom we can trust and follow one hundred percent of the time, and who will never let is down, is God.

Graduation and the Need to Trust in God

“So how does it feel to be a college grad?” 
It feels……….. Really…….. Depressing. 

I knew I would cry at my Fordham commencement. Yet, I was not prepared for the depression that would follow May 21, 2011. All that hard work and now…. its over. The thesis I fretted about all semester is written and defended. My undergraduate dream came true- I was accepted to the Master of Theological Studies Program at Harvard Divinity School as a Dean’s Fellow. The GPA that I constantly scrutinized over throughout my entire four years is not getting any worse or better- what is done is done. All the clubs and organizations I devoted my time to will be continuing without me. The friends that I laughed and cried with are no longer just a minute away. For the first time in four years, I have no papers to write or assignments to hand in. And yet, I feel so…. Empty. 

So what did I do? I turned to what has always comforted in me in times of stress and sadness. Writing.

Inspired by a biblical passage that has gotten me through many bumps in this journey I call life, I composed the following graduation reflection and would like to share it with you all. 

“And a great storm of wind arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But Jesus was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and his disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?’ And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!’ And the wind ceased, and there was great calm. He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?’- Mark 4:37-40
            Why are you afraid? Oh come on, there are thousands of reasons to be afraid right now! Correct? I am part of the graduating class of 2011. We are leaving the safe, comfortable world of a college undergraduate to venture into a vicious world of bleak job markets, burdensome student loans, and ever-so-high rent prices. We are a class that remembers sitting in their junior high auditoriums when two planes crashed into the World Trade Center, many of our friends and loves ones inside or nearby. At the age of twelve, we were forced to come to the realization that the country we felt so safe in was not immune to the horrors of terrorism that plague our world today. We benefited from the rise of social media and technological advancement that has enhanced our ability to do research, communicate with family and friends, and keep up with the news, but has also given us another avenue to bully, humiliate, and harass our peers to the point that they no longer want to live. It is not an easy time to grow up. Can Jesus really be asking us such a question today? Come on, Jesus- look around! 

            I have a bad case of the post-graduation blues. It scares me that my friends and I do not know exactly where we will be from now on. They are no longer a short walk away from my dorm room. I cannot just meet them for dinner after a long day of classes or host a party in my dorm room on the weekend. Everyone is scattered.
            Whether we chose graduate school, volunteer work, or job searching, no decision is safe. While some say job prospects are looking up for our class, a recent study by the Economic Policy Institute says graduates will enter the worst job market since the Great Depression. This will only make it harder for graduates to pay off the enormous amount of debt they owe due to the increasing cost of college tuition, not to mention room-and-board and books. Some call graduate study a reckless decision. I am fortunate to have a spot waiting for me at my top choice Master’s program but I worry whether or not I will succeed there. “You will be in school forever,” is the most common phrase I hear. Of course, that is if I get into a PhD program, where hundreds of applicants will compete for a handful of spots. Meanwhile, did I mention that Time magazine just gave my field of study the honor of being number three on the list of the top ten least lucrative majors? Yes, I am one of the disciples on the boat. I am afraid.

            But wait a minute. Jesus has a point in asking us this question. Why are you afraid? True, we do not live in an ideal world. Things do not always work out as we plan or as we desire. However, that does not mean that God does not always provide for us in the end. Looking back, I realize that throughout my life, I have acted like one of the disciples on the boat. And each time, Jesus has slapped me in the face and said, “Where is your faith?” As a sick thirteen year old who thought she had no future, Jesus protected me even when others spoke cruel words or when I just did not feel like living anymore. When I transferred to Rose Hill from Lincoln Center as a sophomore, I cried and cried, thinking I had made a mistake. Why did I leave my friends and the life to which I had become accustomed? God, help me! Then in my New Testament class, I came across the Bible passage cited above. Jesus was speaking to me. “Get with it, girl! Where is your faith?” I decided to put my trust in Jesus that day and sure enough, he led me to friends who cured my loneliness, meaningful activities that filled my time, and professors who mentored and inspired me.

            So yes, Jesus is asking us all “Why are you afraid?” Yes, the going may get tough sometimes. Our futures may hold many job interviews, many graduate school applications, difficult rent payments, and moments of loneliness and confusion. Yet, if we doubt ourselves and give up hope, Jesus will slap us in the face with this question, “Have you no faith?” Even when the winds blow heavy and the sea gets rough, Jesus will not just forget about us and throw us overboard. God does not always answer or prayers or our pleas for help immediately, or in the way we want or expect. Sometimes it feels like God is sleeping and ignoring us. But God always listens and always responds. When I asked for the kids in the marching band to accept me, it never happened, but God led me to the cross-country team and life-long passion for running. When I asked to be a division one collegiate athlete, obstacles came in my way but God led me to theology, a subject for which I have so much passion and to which I have decided to dedicate my future. As we face a world of uncertainty, let us not forget that it is also a world of hope and new beginnings. And let us try to have the faith Jesus is talking about, let us not be afraid.