Rev. Pat Bumgardner Interview: State of Belief Radio March 16, 2013


[REV. DR. C. WELTON GADDY, HOST]: From Interfaith
Alliance, this is State of Belief Radio. I’m your host, Rev. Welton Gaddy.
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 [email protected],
or you can go to the website 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.


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