Monday, January 17, 2022

MLK Day 2022 - Seeking Change

My thoughts on this "Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Weekend" begins here: 

“My Dear Fellow Clergymen: While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities ‘unwise and untimely.’ Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are [people] of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.”


So began Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s response to criticism from fellow clergy as he sat in jail on April 16, 1963 for stirring up “good trouble” (as John Lewis often exhorted us to do). His 'Letter from a Birmingham Jail' reflects a different time, as well as a time of courage sorely absent today. (Read the Letter here:


I marvel at Dr. King’s ability to engage others with forbearance, even after multiple arrests (he would be arrested 29 times in his lifetime, including trumped-up charges on infractions such as driving 30 mph in a 25 mph zone); after a nearly successful assassination attempt in 1958; and numerous death threats against him and his family. I truly marvel.


Given my own resources, I cannot fathom how he could see and experience so much hatred, violence and widespread mistreatment of people of color and their allies - and still manage his responses with such grace and clarity and fire, now and then.


I am left with only a truth that he believed so much in God’s call to him – that he just kept doing what he did and refused to shrink; rather he grew in his God – and as a result so did we and our nation.


As we celebrate his birthday, even as we hear the echoes of lies from racist rallies during his time and ours, I, too, believe we are people of good will, mostly. I believe that we have the power to address our times as Dr. King and others did theirs. There is no promise that we will be celebrated, admired, or that others will even know our names. There is no guarantee of safety or earthly longevity when we come to believe and live accordingly. Just a call to action and forbearance in a way that does not cause us to shrink or cower, but to grow in courage and strength, while refusing to be silenced; speaking in a voice that is clear and can be heard because it is filled with courage and love.


There is a language like that. It is the language of the heart, the language of peace and justice, equality and fairness that reflects beliefs from deep in our souls. It “compels” us, as Dr. King says: “…to carry the gospel of freedom beyond our own home”. It transforms us into who it is we are meant to be. I

I believe we are meant to trust in God or a Power greater than ourselves by whatever name that may be known, if we are to practice such principles in all our affairs and our time on this planet - bringing the gospel of many traditions and their light to all. To believe in such a way is to know hope and trust that as Dr. King says in the closing of his letter, ”Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and [our shared humanity] will shine over our great nations will all their scintillating beauty.” May it be so. May we and those we call to lead us have the courage to make it so. 

Post-script Commentary: 

On January 15th, the weekend honoring Dr. King’s birthday, former President Donald J. Trump held his first rally of 2022. On the weekend in which we honor the work of Dr. King and all who have followed him, the former president did not mention Dr. King in his comments in this state, which was the last state in the union to formally install the holiday. It is also one of the states in which extremists embrace the passage of laws implementing voting-rights restrictions and suppression; where many continue to embrace the “big lie”, reiterated again by the former president at the event. Holding a rally on such a day in such a place by such a person draws obvious connections to those who continue to embrace not only “big lies” but a a rallying-cry that another president of color should never again be elected. Many believe it was this prejudice and racism that was the driving force behind the national movement that elected Donald J. Trump as a response to former president Barak Obama. None of this and more would be lost on those gathered and watching who want to “bring America back” and place others in jail again, if that is what it takes.


Thursday, July 14, 2016

Muffling the Queer Voice

This General Assembly stepped away from  one of those momentous opportunities. While the amended Overture 11-05 is being spun as a move forward, in the end it was a tepid "safe" response to to the original call for a strong acknowledgment of harms done to the queer community. What we discovered at this assembly is the growing conservatism and increased caution of progressive organizations. Organizations that will more readily side with the unity of the church and outside issues of public legislation than anything that might actually put the denomination boldly into the position of leadership. A leadership we have fought to attain in making a difference in the lives of queer people that show us as Christians in ways we abdicated long ago.

From the beginning of GA, there was every indication of what we should expect in terms of the leadership when outgoing moderator, Heath Rada lifted up Paul Determan of the Fellowship Community (formerly the Fellowship of Presbyterians) and Brian Ellison of Covenant Network as leaders who exemplified the ways within which that we could work together, especially surrounding controversial (read "queer") issues. It was a stunning rebuke to any of the organizations, That All May Freely Serve, included, which might be to left of Covenant Network on positions or legislative initiatives. It was as stunning a rebuke, I think, as well of The Lay Committee (The Layman), who is to the right of The Fellowship. And it was no surprise.

It was no surprise to hear conservative, cautious and insular references coming from Moderator Rada, who was intentionally distant from lifting up any of the changes for queer folk in the Presbyterian Church (USA) during his two years as moderator. So odd and frustrating, especially since his was the first moderatorial term during which the PCUSA stepped into the world with changes in place that identified us as one of the most welcoming and inclusive denominations on the face of the planet. One would think that such a witness and welcoming would be Good News to many, especially to our queer family. Yet, even some of our queer leadership found this a difficult voice to balance with being Presbyterian. So, quietly we went into the night after forty years of struggle. Add that, I guess, to the list of harms for the next round.

Sadly, what seems to have been totally lost is that which was always difficult to raise: the plight of queer folk outside of the church who are affected by the church's behavior and decisions. If there was ever a time to move more boldly into humble and honest solidarity it was at this assembly, just days after the heinous attack in Orlando. Instead, it was as if the world outside our church did not exist for those leading the opposition against 11-05. Just as disappointing was the way that the major opposition used its influence to persuade commissioners that theirs was the path of caution and careful language that would not alienate those who were once (and many, still are) our oppressors. If there is a "Beltway" in the PCUSA, we saw it in full display in these hearings and the final outcome on 11-05.

From the start, the arguments against 11-05 were weak and timid. It was not a debate of content, although we tried to make it so. Instead, it became a demonstration of who had more power and networking capabilities to persuade commissioners, to the point where even in the committee hearings, commissioners took the mic and said that the substitute motion of Covenant Network was the right way to go. I think more than a few folks were taken aback that CovNet had penetrated the committee to such an extent, despite all the other strategies they employed to table or dilute the overture, just in case it made it to the floor at the plenary session. Collegiality, mutuality and trust were set aside until after the vote, when those who succeeded attempted to shake hands, as though there was truly any sentiment beyond the requirement of doing so as might be considered good sportsmanship in another venue. This was never a contest.

The queer voice was shut down at GA222, with overtures that started out strong and eded up with language that regretted how we might have felt harmed (our fault, you see); or other actions that were so far off the radar that passage raised no eyebrows, at all (such as reparative therapy), but could be lifted up as a critical move forward by organizations fighting for their place in the future church.

Yes, the queer voice that expresses the real world beyond the strategies and agenda of the institution of the church was overwhelmed with an aggressive  oppositional campaign by Covenant Network and the relative silence of More Light Presbyterians and others with regards to 11-05. Our role in ministry and history at a time of national grieving was woefully inadequate; perhaps even shameful. Words and laments will continue to be spoken about violence and the sadness and the need for change by all these organizations and a continuing request for funds to keep up the fight. However, at least at this GA, when the time came where voices and actions could really make a difference - well, in the end - as we have heard so often before, "It just wasn't time."

And, as we've said before, "Bull sh*t."

The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author Ray Bagnuolo and do not reflect any other individuals or affiliations, unless they so choose to endorse these comments.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Not about you...

It's not about you, really, with all due respect. 

This was about the people who sacrificed and made your journeys possible out of a time of harsh and extended mistreatment in the history of the church. 

This is about the people who were charged, denied employment, had their families, lives and careers disrupted, abruptly halted, terminated. 

This is not about the committee either. 

This was about those outside the church, the youth, the coming-out, the questioning who longed for a welcome in the church but could only find a public witness that filled the air with contempt, argument, hatred and the use of the bible in ways that no Christian should ever consider doing. 

The admission of harms and apology was always about an institution, never about targeting individuals or individual groups. About an institution that turned people away - caving, reverting to the lowest of common denominators. 

It's happened again. 

No family, this was not about compromise, either - or finding an easier softer way. It was about being prophetic in a world that knows other prophets, about an acknowledgment of the harms that our beliefs caused as we used them in argument and witness to debate others. 

This was and is about the people who were the victims of the self-loathing gunman in Orlando as well as self-loathing in other places that has been taught by what the church has said or not. 

This was not yours to negotiate, frankly, but to affirm. Had you been better informed, had more time been taken to make sure you knew that there is no equal balance or fairness or justice in assigning regret and sorrow to oppressor equally as to the oppressed - when you may, in fact be neither - perhaps then your heart and studies would have reminded the deliberative body that this was not about what you all believe the church could live with but what God has called us to do in this broken world we all wish to serve, while honoring those who served before you, bringing meaning to their sacrifice. 

This was never about you. Not this time, except for the willingness to take a risk.

We should have done better in helping you to know.

Friday, November 13, 2015


I heard the news as I drove down Santa Monica Freeway toward Los Angeles Airport. I'm grateful I haven't seen any images yet, as I wait to board my flight back up to San Francisco. Like many others, all I could think of was the sorrow that is ahead for families, France, and the nations around the world - except those few who exalt in such acts of cowardice and hatred. Honestly, I just want the murderers  gone. I want them and their wickedness wiped off the face of the earth. And, at the same time - maybe a second or two later, I knew that was not the answer. So, I pray and remember that broken hearts can still love. That those who have been lost and injured are loved - by those left behind and by those who will embrace them on the other side. There is not enough comfort in that, but I believe it's true in an exceptional way, especially for those who were senselessly murdered today.

Friday, September 18, 2015

This Love is Meant to be Spoken

This Love is Made to be Spoken
On Mitzvahs and Trusting

While a mitzvah usually refers to a kind or charitable act, it actually means “commandment.” The mitzvot (pl.) are commandments given by God to the Hebrews for them to obey in everyday life. It says a great deal about those commandments that today’s colloquial understanding of the word refers to being kind and helpful to others in often unexpected ways.

Sh’ma Yis’ra’eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad.
Barukh sheim k’vod malkhuto l’olam va’ed.
V’ahav’ta eit Adonai Elohekha b’khol l’v’kha uv’khol naf’sh’kha uv’khol m’odekha
V’hayu had’varim ha’eileh asher anokhi m’tzav’kha hayom al l’vavekha..

Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.
Blessed be the Name of His glorious kingdom for ever and ever.
And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be in your heart.
(Please excuse the gender specific and dominion language, kept for context.)

This excerpt of the Sh’ma comes from the First (Old) Testament, Deuteronomy 6:4-9. It is the opening of a central prayer of Judaism and often the first prayer a Jewish child will learn. Most likely, it is one of the first prayers learned by Jesus. And, it foreshadows the answer to the question that Jesus was asked later about which of the commandments were most important. His reply, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”’ Matt 22:37-39

This is a mitzvah that is as simple as it is devastating when ignored or diluted. Ignorance and devastation that are two sides of the same coin that is minted without love. It is the coin that Jesus likely referred to when he asked them whose likeness appeared on the money that was used to pay for the poll-tax. When those testing him answered, “Caesar’s,” Jesus replied: “Then render to Caesar the things at are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s” Matt 22:19-21.

Ignorance and destruction to Caesar; Love to God. Classic Jesus!
Shama Yis’ra’eil…

It is why we come back time and again in the face of those who cause us harm because of their ignorance and fear. It is why we “turn the other cheek” away from the sting of being vilified or rejected and respond with love. It is why we cannot judge others, because to do so would break down the prayer, the love, the mitzvot, and any hope to the end of aggression, violence and marginalization for the many of us who have to fight for the very air we breathe.

It is why any interpretation of the Bible that forgets this love is wrong. It is why any practice based on the Bible that sees "unwelcoming of the other" as faithfulness is advancing ignorance and devastation and is a twisted, dangerous and violent disease. A disease that plagues our full welcoming of one another; a deep soul-sickness that can only be overcome by love.

Without the unconditional practice of the simple mitzvah to love, we accept less than God has made us to be; we relinquish and relegate our hope to a the myth that “time will tell…” It is not time that tells but our hearts and the actions they produce. 

Simple. So, why are we so quiet? What is it that bows to the ignorance and says, "It is ok not to agree with the full inclusion of all our sisters an brothers,” when in practice that translates to: “It is ok for you to embrace a brand of love that harms others.”

Mitzvot and love are easier to talk about than to open their imbedded powers in service. While secular communities embrace and practice such teachings in some instances, the responsibility for this ministry lies primarily is in our communities of faith. And, if you listen for the denominational or institutional religious voice that speaks the loudest in letting all our sisters and brothers know they are fully welcome in a church, temple or mosque - there is not much to hear. 

And, ironically, the voice that is most heard is from the religion that still holds to dogma which refuses to ordain women or folks who are LGBTQ, still refusing Communion to divorced couples, and more. Still, there is such thirst for healing that even the smallest of rhetorical changes are greeted with exuberant attention. This is not surprising considering how much we need to heal and welcome each other just as we have always been, sisters and brothers in this mystery of creation rooted in love.

So, I do. I hold leadership and each one of us in faith communities accountable for what has happened as well as how we will change things from today forward. I do. I believe that until faith communities like the PC(USA) and others speak loudly with love with exuberance about the welcoming that is growing in our denominations; until we speak with love that is not diminished or understated for fear of rejection - until then folks are right to confuse to whom we render what - and whether or not we really have changed, at all.

During the early years of the AIDS crisis, there were actually two diseases plaguing us, each one deadly and both compounding the ignorance that caused our devastating loss of sisters and brothers: AIDS and AfrAIDS (the fear of getting AIDS). We were all afraid in those years, understandably so. And we looked for the voice then, woefully absent in ways that could have made a great difference. Think of the Office of the President of the United States of America from 1980 - 1988 and a president who never once said the word "AIDS" from his bully pulpit and what his voice might have done. “Silence = Death” was an accusation, a cry, and a lament. 

Think of a candidate for President of the United States who nods in agreement when someone says, "We have a problem and the problem is Muslims." 

Think of candidates who see the Supreme Court as "rogue" because of their decision on marriage equality.

It is all part of the same brewing ignorance and devastation...

This absence of our voice of Love, now as before, brings back the horror of the onslaught of AIDS and the growing acceptance of extreme positions as equally valid. 

Let's ask ourselves and the institutions, faith and other communities of which we are apart the question: "What is it about God’s love for us and one another that holds us so captive to silence? What are we afraid of? What holds us back?"

Nothing as important as what we are called to do, I say...

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Kim Davis is wrong...

Kim Davis is wrong.

She's wrong in her belief that the Bible denies same gender loving couples the same loving relationships that others enjoy.

She is wrong that loving a person of the same gender in all the fullness of intimacy is a sin.

She has a right to be wrong, but it is important to state, for me, anyway, that choosing for or against marriage for all is not an equally weighted choice. It is not.

To deny others anything because of the inappropriate use of the sacred texts based on a reading that implies God's creation is flawed - is wrong; to engage in practices that extend violence towards others through any form of exclusion and imply such practices are just -- is wrong; and to use your office to  hold others hostage to your beliefs by refusing to perform your public duties is not heroic - it's wrong.

And, rallying around folks who would choose second class citizenship for non-gender conforming citizens is dangerous and makes you complicit in the continued violence such actions will produce as long as they are allowed.

What Kim Davis did is not being faithful, as I see it, it is using one's faith in an abusive way to hurt others. That is the aberration, the "sin" if you wish.

Quit your job, Ms. Davis, write a book, let someone else sign the licenses but don't use your position to spread your brand of hatred and bias. That's wrong.

And those who use you to further their goals and selfish concerns at the expense of others are guilty of greater wrongs, willing to incite violence and hatred for personal gain. Run from them as fast as you can...