The Rev. Pat Bumgardner, senior pastor of the New York congregation of the Metropolitan Community Church, the world’s largest LGBT organization, on the Supreme Court’s taking on DOMA later this month, and why that should be important to all of us. Rev. Pat is also Executive Director of the Global Justice Institute, and we’ll get an update on the important work of that organization.
RUSH TRANSCRIPT: Pat Bumgardner[REV. DR. C. WELTON GADDY, HOST]: On March 27, the Supreme Court will begin hearing oral arguments in what is considered to be a historic case. The cost-cutting Congress is spending 3 million dollars to defend the so-called Defense of Marriage Act; the White House, religious leaders, governors, and many activist and non-activist Americans are working to abolish this discriminatory Clinton-era law.
Here to talk about this groundbreaking case is one of those religious leaders, the Rev. Pat Bumgardner, who is the longtime Senior Pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church of New York, part of the largest LGBT organization in the world. She is also the Executive Director of the Global Justice Institute. She’s not a stranger at all to State of Belief; she’s been here many times for our benefit.
Pat, welcome back to State of Belief Radio![REV. PAT BUMGARDER, GUEST]: Thank you so much. [WG]: What do you want the court to do at the end of the month, and why is that what you want? [PB]: Well, I think that the two cases coming before the court – one is more direct than the other. I think that the United States v.s. Windsor is more focused and direct, and could potentially have the outcome of striking down DOMA altogether, which would be my hope. But I think the second case, the Hollingsworth v.s. Perry – and I’m not an attorney, so all the attorneys out there should forgive me; I’m basing this on what I can understand by what I’m able to read – I think it’s much more complicated, and could have a less far-reaching outcome. For example, in that case they could simply decide that you can’t give a right to somebody in California and then take it away. And so then they’d give marriage back to people in California, but it might not really affect the broader scene except to add one more state on the positive side. [WG]: I’ve heard a lot of people say, Pat, that with progress for marriage equality at the state level, that it’s important to repeal DOMA at the federal level. Is that your thinking? [PB]: Yes. I think that – well, first of all, let’s back up and say, what kind of a democracy that purports to embrace a constitution based on the equality of all people can reasonably support a law – quote, “law” – that somehow takes that equality away from a select group of people who happen to be a minority group of people? I mean, I just think that, somehow, we have to get rid of that kind of law, and I think getting rid of that on the federal level is not only important fo LGBT people and our allies and supporters, but it’s really important for people who are on the margins of society across the board, and really aligns LGBT people with the broader movement for human equality. [WG]: I’m so glad to hear you say that, and I couldn’t agree with you more, that this is a democracy issue, not singularly a religious issue or even just a marriage issue. [PB]: Yes. The only sense in which this is a religious issue is that it is probably beyond me, beyond you, to conceive of people of religious conviction believing that God would somehow mandate that some of us should be treated as less full, less human, less equal than others. But that’s an internal religious debate, and this is a nation that does not adhere to a particular religious persuasion or point of view. And so in that sense, the question before us is one that a democracy needs to face, and face in terms of human equality. [WG]: Let’s put a face on it, if we can. You have performed a lot of same-gender marriages. Talk for a minute about the first time you did a same-gender marriage, and about the significance of the kind of blessing that these couples are looking for. [PB]: Right. Well, I’ve been doing same-gender marriages for, oh, about 32 years. And the first time I did one, I think even I was just taken aback by the meaning it held for people to be able to stand up in front of family, or love ones, or community that they valued and were connected to, and somehow publicly speak what, all their lives, they had been hiding, and what the nation at that point regarded as illegal, illicit, and that most churches regarded as perverted and sinful. So just the chance to be in a safe space where somebody pronounced a blessing over them was really, I think, liberating for people.
I also want to say that I think at that point in history it wasn’t enough. I mean, the pressures around people were so great and so many that a significant number of those marriages did not make it, and people would come back really devastated. But you know, they were up against a lot.[WG]: What kind of difference have you seen in this regard since the state of New York instituted marriage equality? [PB]: Well, since marriage equality was passed in New York State, I think people have breathed a sigh of relief, and no matter what the community around them is thinking or saying or doing or purporting to believe in, there is a certain kind of freedom that comes to you when you know that the force of the law, socially, is behind you, and that, for example, when your wife – my wife – goes to the hospital, as happened to us years ago, before marriage equality in New York State – when I know that I am no longer going to have to battle the guard at the door, the nurses’ station, and the doctors simply to be by the bedside of the person I’ve committed my life to; when there’s not going to be an argument about who gets to make decisions about what kind of surgery she has or doesn’t have; and when I know that – and this really happened to us – that people are not going to be able to walk away from her bedside and leave the changing of bandages, and the draining of tubes to me, who has no medical treatment, simply because in faith – quote, “in faith” – they think that we’re not worth it… I mean, there’s a tremendous relief that comes with that, and a sense not only of freedom, but, you know, you feel like you have a certain authority in this world to really claim what belongs to all people. [WG]: Well, what you’ve just said is not only moving, but it’s a reminder that people who oppose this kind of egalitarian society, when it comes to justice and marriage, have no idea what it would have to feel like for them to do that, and to experience what you just described. [PB]: Exactly. We never knew, going anyplace, what was going to happen to us. We could go for a walk at night holding hands, not knowing what was going to happen to us. I mean, that’s still true in many places – especially many places outside the United States – but the difference is, somebody’s supposed to step up to the plate and take that on on our behalf. And that was not the case before. [WG]: One of the things about you that I respect so much is the – people talk about multitasking; my gosh, you do multitasking all the time, all day every day! And part of that for you is not only pastoring, but organizing. And I’d like for you to talk about some of the organizing that’s been going on around the push to repeal DOMA, and what kind of alliances, expected or unexpected, have you experienced? [PB]: Well first, I just want to share with people that there is a broad coalition of both religious and other supportive groups who are organizing to be in Washington on the 26th and 27th of March, and that there will be an interfaith service and an interfaith Seder. The Seder will be at the headquarters of the Human Rights Campaign, and the service will be at 7:30 am at the Church of the Reformation, a Lutheran church that’s very near the Supreme Courthouse, just a few blocks away. But I think, you know, of greater interest, probably, to people like you and I is just the people outside of faith traditions who have come together in support of this. You know, there are many human rights advocates – I think, I personally was really moved by President Clinton, who has nothing to gain from this any longer, stepping up to the plate and having the courage to say, “I made a mistake. I was wrong. My understanding has evolved.” That’s kind of the same thing our president said, but in all fairness, he could gain a little bit of something from that. Mr. Clinton had nothing to gain. And I’m impressed, also, by the people in the Congress, particularly – and I don’t want this to become a party kind of thing – but particularly, I think, Republicans who face a lot of pressure to not stand up for equality, coming forth and signing an amicus brief and saying, “You know what, this is just plain wrong, and government is interfering in the personal lives of people in a way that has no meaning or purpose.” [WG]: You know, Pat, I wrestle with that, because I hear people say all the time, “Well, they’re only doing that because their party’s losing influence, and they know that this is good for the next election.” I don’t know how you feel about that. My sense is, well, I wish the motivation were better, if that’s right, but despite the motivation, I’m glad they’re taking the action! [PB]: I agree with you. People doing the right thing for the wrong reason – I’ll start there, and then we’ll move forward. [WG]: Good. Pat, two years ago we sat in this studio and talked about this brand-new initiative called the Global Justice Institute. You were here with an update last year; and now it’s convenient to check with you again on how things are going with this vital and exciting work. Tell us what’s happening. [PB]: Well, there’s lots happening. This past year has been really quite exciting for us, I think, on many fronts. One of our projects that’s emerging in Africa is a project called the Coalition of Affirming Africans, and it is a group of African clergy who are stepping forward to say, “Wait a minute, whatever we believe about LGBT people and the bible, certainly we don’t believe that people should be executed or spend their life in prison for who they are.” So that coalition, and its formation, is probably one of the most exciting and, I think, potentially one of the most life-changing things that’s happening – not only for people on the ground, primarily in East Africa: Uganda, Rwanda, and Kenya, but also encompassing South Africa: a bit of Zimbabwe and maybe a little bit north of that – but also, I think, for the world. You know, what has happened in our lifetimes is that we’ve been convinced that the – quote, “the Church” in Africa – hates gay people, and is leading the movement toward claiming our lives and destroying us, wiping us from the face of the earth. And that’s not really the case. In my opinion, that more reflects the voice of European and Western evangelists who are seeking input in Africa because they’ve lost their power base in the West.
That said, another, I think, really exciting thing for me is, this year, we’re forming a partnership with a group in Costa Rica to start a project that will deal with gay men, largely, who’ve, because of their lives, become involved with drugs and ended up on the street, doing the things that people do to survive on the street. And this project seeks to bring them in and make a long-term commitment to their health and well-being; help them not only get sober and clean, but learn a job skill and reintegrate them into society. So I’m really excited about that.
I’m also very, very excited about the work we’re doing in Eastern Europe. We were part of the first-ever LGBT faith retreat in Russia! And I just think that’s really exciting. The work that… The partnership we’ve formed in Romania with a group called ECPI, linking not only LGBT rights together, but linking that movement with the rights for women and women’s equality and reproductive rights for women.
So I think those three things are very, very exciting to me.[WG]: Absolutely. And I’d like to keep going on the international community because you’re so effective there, but as you were talking, I was thinking about people in the United States who are in these justice movements that reach out around the world, and the question comes to mind: in talking to these people, inspiring them to do this work, looking not only abroad but at what’s happening in the United States, what do you say to them about the potential of the justice system in the United States being supportive of social change? [PB]: Well, I think that’s a great question. And I think we have a great example that just happened less than a month ago when Mexico, the Supreme Court there, ruled in favor of marriage equality, it cited two cases from the United States. And they had nothing to do with LGBT people specifically: it was Brown vs. Board of Education and Loving vs. Virginia. And to my way of thinking, that court brought together in that one decision what we’ve been working for for years, essentially saying, you know, human rights are one across the board, and we need to look at the big picture here. And the rights of one group, really, are connected to the rights of another group; and when we make a decision for or against a group of people because of their minority status, that’s affecting people across the globe, and we need to see those links and articulate them. So I was just overjoyed with the Mexico decision. [WG]: Well, that’s such a great answer to that question, too, and an illustration that is as recent as our memories embrace. One other question along those lines, because I know that you face it, I face it – I’m curious as to what you say these days when you meet one of these people that say, “You all are so wrong about what the bible says about same-gender relationships, and now you’re trying to ruin our country with this anti-biblical material.” What do you say to them? [PB]: Well, I think of many things to say, but… [WG]: I’m sure you do! [PB]: …I refrain from many of those things. You know, generally speaking, I try to play offense, not defense, because I’ve come to believe with my whole heart that the bible doesn’t condemn anyone, across the board; that that’s not what that book’s about. It’s about people, over time, wrestling with the love of God for all the people of God, and what that means, and what that calls them to. And I say to people, you know, “If you’re open to it, I’d be happy to talk about those scriptures with you, and I’d be happy to share with you some of the stories in that very book that I think really support my position.” Not just debunk the myths around condemning gay people, but you know, tell the stories of people like Jonathan and David and what they were doing in the bushes. And what… You know, David mandated that all Israel commit to memory and record it in the Book of Justice, you know, those kind of stories. Or the story of Ruth and Naomi – I think we have to ask ourselves the question, why is that story, the scripture, used more than any other at weddings across the board in the United States, and is it because we have no better example of two women – of two people, rather – committing their lives to each other in love, against the social odds, you know, no matter what was against them. So I’m happy to talk to people, but I won’t defend myself anymore. [WG]: Good for you. It’s time for us to go, but you have to give us the contact for Global Justice Institute just so people will have it fresh on their minds. How do they get in touch with you? [PB]: To get in touch, there’s a lot of things you can do. You can write to me at RVPat@mccny.org, or you can go to the website www.mccchurches.org and then go to the Global Justice page. In just a few days we’re going to have a new Global Justice website, but I’ve missed it by a few days. There’s also – for people who would like to support particular projects around the world, so, for example, let’s say you’re interested in Eastern Europe, or you’re interested in Uganda – there’s a new giving link available at the Global Justice page, and you can actually direct your support. [WG]: The Rev. Pat Bumgardner is Senior Pastor at the Metropolitan Community Church of New York. She’s also the Executive Director of the Global Justice Institute, and a very, very busy person.
But it is always great to have you in a studio, and to sit across from you, and talk, and be able to see the passion as well as to hear it. I know we’ll keep working together toward achieving a prophetic act of radical justice from the Supreme Court in the very near future and beyond. And Pat, I have to say that one of the things that I admire in you is that you’re not going to go on the defensive, you’re going to be who you are; and even when you’re tired from doing good works, you’re still feisty! And I like that.[PB]: Thank you.
State of Belief is based on the proposition that religion has a positive and healing role to play in the life of the nation. The show explains and explores that role by illustrating the vast diversity of beliefs in America – the most religiously diverse country in the world – while exposing and critiquing both the political manipulation of religion for partisan purposes and the religious manipulation of government for sectarian purposes.
Each week, the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy offers listeners critical analysis of the news of religion and politics, and seeks to provide listeners with an understanding and appreciation of religious liberty. Rev. Gaddy tackles politics with the firm belief that the best way to secure freedom for religion in America is to secure freedom from religion. State of Belief illustrates how the Religious Right is wrong – wrong for America and bad for religion.
Through interviews with celebrities and newsmakers and field reports from around the country, State of Belief explores the intersection of religion with politics, culture, media, and activism, and promotes diverse religious voices in a religiously pluralistic world.
Author of more than 20 books, including First Freedom First: A Citizen’s Guide to Protecting Religious Liberty and the Separation of Church and State, the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy leads the national non-partisan grassroots and educational organization Interfaith Alliance and serves as Pastor for Preaching and Worship at Northminster (Baptist) Church in Monroe, Louisiana.
In addition to being a prolific writer, Dr. Gaddy hosts the weekly State of Belief radio program, where he explores the role of religion in the life of the nation by illustrating the vast diversity of beliefs in America, while exposing and critiquing both the political manipulation of religion for partisan purposes and the religious manipulation of government for sectarian purposes.
Dr. Gaddy provides regular commentary to the national media on issues relating to religion and politics. He has appeared on MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show and Hardball, NBC’s Nightly News and Dateline, PBS’s Religion and Ethics Newsweekly and The Newshour with Jim Lehrer, C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, ABC’s World News, and CNN’s American Morning. Former host of Morally Speaking on NBC affiliate KTVE in Monroe, Louisiana, Dr. Gaddy is a regular contributor to mainstream and religious news outlets.
While ministering to churches with a message of inclusion, Dr. Gaddy emerged as a leader among progressive and moderate Baptists. Among his many leadership roles, he is a past president of the Alliance of Baptists and has been a 20-year member of the Commission of Christian Ethics of the Baptist World Alliance. His past leadership roles include serving as a member of the General Council of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, President of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Chair of the Pastoral Leadership Commission of the Baptist World Alliance and member of the World Economic Forum’s Council of 100. Rev. Gaddy currently serves on the White House task force on the reform of the Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
Prior to the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), Dr. Gaddy served in many SBC leadership roles including as a member of the convention’s Executive Committee from 1980-84 and Director of Christian Citizenship Development of the Christian Life Commission from 1973-77.
Dr. Gaddy received his undergraduate degree from Union University in Jackson, Tennessee and his doctoral degree and divinity training from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.