Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Under the Magnifying Glass: Domestic Spying, Churches and Gay Employees, Faith-Based Programs

Interesting echoes of points I’ve made in previous postings, in a number of online articles I’ve read in the last few days. Today’s AlterNet carries an article by Matthew Rothschild of The Progressive entitled “Bush's Secret Army of Snoops and Snitches” (

As I did in my posting yesterday entitled “And Another Thing” (, Rothschild maintains that “[t]he full scale of Bush's assault on our civil liberties may not be known until years after he's left office. At the moment, all we can do is get glimpses here or there of what's going on” (my emphasis).

Rothschild notes that Bruce Finley of the Denver Post recently reported on a federally sponsored program employing private citizens as “terrorism liaison officers.” Said officers report on any “suspicious activity” they see among unsuspecting fellow citizens. Said reports then end up in secret government databases.

As Rothschild observes (and as I noted yesterday), “What constitutes ‘suspicious activity,’ of course, is in the eye of the beholder. But a draft Justice Department memo on the subject says that such things as ‘taking photos of no apparent aesthetic value’ or ‘making notes’ could constitute suspicious activity, Finley wrote.”

So that explains the creepy museum guide I encountered on my last museum visit, who followed me around looking over my shoulder as I carried around my journal making notes about some of the paintings I was studying?

States in which zealous terrorism liaison officers are now hard at work include Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Tennessee, Wisconsin, and Washington, D.C.

As Rothschild notes, citing Mark Silverstein of Colorado ACLU, this program is certain to cast doubt on the completely innocent activities of thousands and thousands of completely innocent people, all of whose names will end up in secret government databases. And as I asked in my posting yesterday—which notes the same probability—to what end is this information being gathered? How will it be used?

How is it already being used? Who may already have been a victim of such unsupervised spying in areas in which it is taking place? In states that permit at-will firing by employers, how would an employee ever know that his/her job had been terminated on the basis of a pack of lies gathered by terrorism liaison officers and then shared secretly with his/her employer?

The possibilities for abuse and injustice with this secret spying program are enormous. Secret reports gathered on innocent people, who never see the reports and cannot defend themselves against the slander contained in them; unscrupulous bosses who may wish to can employees who have made themselves personae non gratae by blowing the whistle about abuses in the workplace; bosses willing to receive and use secret information from illicit government programs to make their management of refractory employees easier: the mind boggles at the ways in which this program can be—and perhaps already is—abused to shut down free speech and curb whistle-blowing activities.

Rothschild also notes, as I did yesterday, that these spying programs operate in tandem with the private sector, and that Justice Department guidelines shield the private sector from uncomfortable disclosures about its illegal spying on American citizens.

Rotten to the core. This needs to stop. I will be extremely disappointed with Barack Obama, whom I have supported and to whose campaign I have repeatedly donated, if he does not reconsider his position on FISA.

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Another fascinating article I ran across yesterday at the British Medical News Today website is an article entitled “Research Reveals Clergy Find NHS Better Employer Than Church of England” (

This article reports on a recent study by researchers at Leeds Teaching Hospital NHS (National Health Services) Trust. The study finds that a significant proportion of Church of England clergy have left parish work to serve as hospital chaplains. The report further indicates that these hospital chaplains find that “NHS is a better employer of clergy than the Church of England - especially if you are gay” (my emphasis).

The Leeds study finds that large numbers of clergy who have a partner in ministry decide to work as hospital chaplains. Over 20% of male full-time hospital chaplains in England are ordained clergy in same-sex partnerships.

Of those surveyed, 25% of chaplains found that the Church of England had valued and respected them in parish ministry, whereas 75% reported that healthcare employers had treated them with respect and shown gratitude for their contributions.

The bottom line for these clergy in same-sex relationships is quite simple:
“The reason for the disparity in employment conditions is the church's exemption from employment law . . .” (my emphasis). This is a point I have made over and over again in postings on this blog—most recently, in my postings expressing reservations about government funded faith-based social service programs (see;

Quite simply, churches and church-sponsored institutions do routinely discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. They do so because they can do so. In many places, no law requires a church or church-based institution to refrain from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation in hiring and firing decisions or in how it treats an employee.

As I have noted a number of times in previous postings, the experiences that my partner and I have had working as theologians and administrators in church-affiliated institutions have been almost uniformly horrific, for this simple reason. Despite faint protests about the injustice of discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, the churches of the radical middle still all too frequently do what they can legally get away with, in their treatment of gay employees.

This will change only when shifting cultural consensus leads to legal changes that then force churches—which always bring up the rear in movements to accord greater justice to despised minorities—to move from the ugly ethic of because-I-can to because-I-must.

The British Medical News article quotes Rev. Richard Kirker, Chief Executive of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, as follows, re: the Leeds study:
His research provides convincing evidence that gay clergy, and especially those in stable relationships, are being driven away from parish ministry. In terms of paid staff the NHS employs as many Anglican clergy as the 10th largest diocese in England.'

The Church cannot go on ignoring the reality of a "diocese" where over 20% of male staff are not only gay, but actually in same-sex partnerships. On the eve of the Lambeth Conference it is time for the Church of England to affirm the gifts and calling of gay people and to stop living in denial.

Without the basic protection of health and safety legislation and employment rights, many are feeling very vulnerable at this time (my emphasis).
The churches must no longer be allowed to bask in the glow of self-righteous (and empty) proclamations about their commitment to justice for despised minorities, while they permit themselves the right to discriminate freely against gay and lesbian employees. There is nothing daringly countercultural in the least about the church’s commitment to homophobic discrimination.

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The preceding point is made very strongly in a 3 July op-ed piece of the Times (London) by George Walden entitled “Time to Come out of the Liberal Closet on Gay Clergy, Archbishop” ( Walden’s editorial is an appeal to Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams to bite the bullet and advocate total inclusion of gays in the Church of England, rather than continuing his liberal dance around this issue.

As I noted in my recent posting about the prophetic civil rights witness of Bayard Rustin (, effective leadership is moral leadership. It is leadership in which the leader exemplifies the moral principles she proclaims to those she leads.

Walden notes that Rowan Williams consistently pushes precisely that definition of leadership when he confronts political leaders. But in how he chooses to deal with his LGBT brothers and sisters, he abdicates moral leadership and undermines his claim to be an effective transformative leader:
Where is the conscience of a man who habitually denounces the Philistine politician for expediency and lack of moral leadership while himself pretending to be someone he is not, for political reasons?

“The more politics looks like a form of management rather than an engine of positive and morally desirable change,” he intoned a year ago, “the more energy it loses.” As Dr Williams seeks to resist change that he almost certainly believes in, his Church presents a pretty good spectacle of energy-leaching entropy itself.
Walden lambasts the silence of Rowan Williams on the subject of LGBT Christians—a silence that speaks volumes about his unwillingness to exemplify precisely the kind of courageous leadership he enjoins political leaders to demonstrate in other areas:
The oblique way that he addresses the subject suggests that he finds it as difficult as many others to see how the Church can continue to discriminate against practising homosexuals in an age in which scientific knowledge tells us that sexuality is rarely a question of choice. Sacred texts can be disputed, but all that matters is what the Bible would have said had it been known that homosexuality is largely genetic. How Christian can it be to deny men and women a sexuality that is, in Christian terms, God-given?

Why does the Archbishop not say out loud what we all suspect that he believes? His views on everything from Israel to Afghanistan via a third runway at Heathrow airport are as forthright as they are predictable. To listen to the Archbishop, the infamy of US imperialism is unparalleled in human history, yet on gays in the Church he marches, if not shoulder to shoulder, in perilous proximity to the American Right. Besides seeking to avoid schism he perhaps fears that an openly liberal stance could damage the CofE's image even among the modern-minded, and that the pews would be emptier than ever. However rational these fears, they are based on calculation, not conviction (my emphasis).
Again, this is a point I have made repeatedly in previous postings, as I reflect on the curious lacunae in many current church leaders’ statements about key social justice issues of our time—see, for instance, my 16 June comments on a roundtable discussion sponsored by United Methodist Bishop of Florida, Timothy Whitaker, which notes the deafening silence about the place of gay persons at the table in this church-sponsored discussion of key issues affecting the human community (

Equality is a moral imperative. I applaud Mr. Walden for reminding the Archbishop of Canterbury that the most compelling witness to the values of justice will ultimately be how the church behaves, not what it says. And yet, when it refuses even to address these issues—to create a safe place for honest discussion of them—how can it arrive at a position of justice? When churches are bleeding good clergy to other forms of ministry, because churches and church institutions cannot promise even basic forms of justice to clergy in same-sex relationships, can the churches convincingly preach justice to the world?

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And, finally, in the two postings cited above re: government faith-based social service programs, I raise questions about the lack of stringent guidelines to assure that funds provided to churches and church institutions engaged in social ministry are being used properly. I continue to push this concern. In that light, I recommend Stephanie Strom’s article “Funds Misappropriated at 2 Nonprofit Groups” in today’s NY Times (

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