Into the Lion’s Den

istock_000002921745xsmall.jpgIt’s a mistake to let religion guide politics. Faith is personal and should stay that way. Yet, religion continues to encroach into public forums and frame important issues. And, even though I am a born again Christian, I have enough sense to know that America needs to keep a strict separation of church and state.

There are no winners when the American political system is drug into the religious arena.

Who would have thought, just a few years ago, that in 2008 the first joint appearance by the two major candidates for president would be in the sanctuary of a evangelical church? The presidency kneeling before the church altar. Journalists and other respected polticial figures were absent. Conducting this presidential inquisition was “neutral” Christian evangelist Rick Warren of Orange County’s Saddleback Church. Neutral and evangelist the latest oxymoron. The Founding Fathers must have been twirling in their graves.

Barack was in the lion’s den and on camera before Republican John McCain was even in the building. What did Barack gain by appearing in this forum, answering questions based on religious values? For McCain, the answer was simple. He has turned from maverick to right-wing cheerleader quicker than the time it takes to say “Presidency.” But what about Barack? Perhaps he wanted to prove that he’s a nice, non-confrontational young man. Or, that he’s not one of those wild-eyed black men who is actually a closet Muslim. Actually, he came across as a thoughtful, bland centrist who could appear Presidential while being red meat for a mega-den full of lions.

I’ll leave it for others to prove that the good Saddleback reverend supplied a level playing field. But, surely, Barack knew he wasn’t in Kansas anymore. Evangelicals applauded loudly McCain’s quick sound-bite responses. Barack received less enthusiastic applause since his answers were “more nuanced.” (Political speak for not making points.) For instance, when Barack said it was “above my pay grade” to define when a baby gets human rights, I think he meant that he didn’t want to play God. McCain’s bulls-eye right-wing retort was, “At the moment of conception.” The evangelicals ate it up.

saddleback.gifBarack was not nuanced when asked to define marriage, clearly voicing, “It’s a union between a man and a woman. For me as a Christian, it is a sacred union…” finishing with an applause producing, “God’s in the mix.” And, what does he believe about separate but equal civil unions? (Godless?) “I can afford those civil rights to others even if I don’t have…that view.” Fortunately, Barack has spoken out strongly against the hateful and discriminatory ballot Proposition 8, which would take away equal marriage rights from same-sex couples. McCain supports passage. (And, I am glad to know that the first order of business of the Northeast Democratic Club when they opened their new 2008 headquarters on North Figueroa in Highland Park, was to vote to defeat Proposition 8 )

Last week, I went into a lion’s den of sorts when my new spouse, Carl Johnson, and I went to Virginia – State that is – City of Virginia Beach, to be exact – where his relatives were planning a family dinner in honor of our recent same-sex marriage. As you may know, Virginia Beach is home to Pat Robertson and his Christian Broadcasting Network. The Beach, as it is known locally, is a short 20-minute ride from Norfolk Airport where arriving passengers are greeted by a giant pastor-poster of a grinning Robertson welcoming weary travelers in the name of Jesus. Hmmm, I thought, “Why doesn’t that feel comforting?”

nedc_hq_37.jpgCarl’s family was totally warm and accepting. His conservative younger brother hosted the congratulatory dinner, officially welcoming me into the family. (Even though we’ve been together for 41 years, this verbal inclusiveness felt amazing.) However, even more amazing was the reception Carl and I received from the congregation at Virginia Beach Christian Church during their Sunday morning service. Carl’s niece, Brenda, a long-time respected member of the Church, stood-up during “Greetings and Announcements” and said, “I want to introduce my two uncles Carl Johnson and Carl Matthes from California who just got married. They’ve been together for over 41 years.” We stood up and waved to everyone. The minister continued by expressing his own congratulations and then wanted to know our secret for a long relationship as he is newly-married! After the service, many came up to us expressing thanks for our coming and wishes for a fulfilling marriage. Well, I guess Pat Robertson was right!

I watched the Saddleback broadcast with Carl’s 86 year-old brother-in-law, Ralph. Ralph is a lifelong Democrat, a supporter of Hillary Clinton, and is Tennessee born and Virginia raised. He is involved and knowledgeable and we were both attentive during the evangelical job interview. At the end, I asked him what he thought of the two candidates. Replied Ralph, “Well, I guess I’ll flip a coin.” As an Obama supporter, it’s not the answer I wanted to hear.

I was disappointed with the televised event. Where was the hallmark Obama eloquence? Where was even one sound-bite zinger? Passion? Anger? If he was playing it cool, proving that the electorate doesn’t need to be afraid of a black man, then he certainly accomplished that. Final score? Likeability: 100% Electability: 50%

Just for the GLBT record, I visited MyBarackObama.com where I found Barack’s comprehensive statement about community issues:

“As your President, I will use the bully pulpit to urge states to treat same-sex couples with full equality in their family and adoption laws. I personally believe that civil unions represent the best way to secure that equal treatment. But I also believe that the federal government should not stand in the way of states that want to decide on their own how best to pursue equality for gay and lesbian couples – whether that means a domestic partnership, a civil union, or a civil marriage. Unlike Senator Clinton, I support the complete repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) – a position I have held since before arriving in the U.S. Senate. While some say we should repeal only part of the law, I believe we should get rid of that statute altogether. Federal law should not discriminate in any way against gay and lesbian couples, which is precisely what DOMA does. I have also called for us to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and I have worked to improve the Uniting American Families Act so we can afford same-sex couples the same rights and obligations as married couples in our immigration system.”

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Carl Johnson and Carl Matthes

As a northeast progressive leader said to me, “There’s a lot work to be done.” (pictured here, newlyweds Carl Johnson and Carl Matthes)

by Carl Matthes

Carl Matthes is a native of Los Angeles and has lived in Eagle Rock for over 40 years. He is a former president and a current Board member of Uptown Gay and Lesbian Alliance. He is a former columnist and a current advisor to the Lesbian News, the oldest lesbian publication in America. He was editor of the GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) newsletter and a former GLAAD National Board member. He has also been a Board member of AIDS Healthcare Foundation.

Photo at top shows Sharon Kyle, Carl Johnson, and Carl Matthes at the Northeast Democratic Community Headquarters opening this past Wednesday evening.

Other articles by Carl Matthes

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