Guest Commentary which appeared in the Naples Daily News

Regarding The 1st PFLAG Interfaith Convocation

Published on March 8, 2008

Interfaith Convocation Will
Celebrate Faith, Diversity

Thinking about the words "My house shall be called a house of prayers for all people" (Isaiah) inspired me to envision an interfaith program to bring unity to our community.

My concept was reinforced when I read Dear Abby on Feb. 24: "Religion is supposed to be a positive source. Those who use religion as an excuse to shun others are bigots." Her words reminded me how often I have seen, not only on the pages of this paper but in other venues as well, public displays of prejudice and rejection of homosexuals that are rooted in religious ideology and frequently reinforced by organized religions. This isolates gays and lesbians and excludes them from the very places where most people feel the most safety and support, their immediate families and their churches or synagogues, causing hurt, rejection and a sense of shame.

I submit that this behavior is reprehensible, as is using the Bible as a weapon to foster intolerance and not to promote its many valuable lessons of loving your neighbor as yourself.

As a parent I share the universal hope and prayer that my children should be healthy, be happy and live good and fulfilling lives.

The image of God as a parent figure is common throughout Scripture: "God created humankind in his image, in the image of God did he create it, male and female he created them" (Genesis).

My beliefs, my faith, have lead me to recognize that the divine hope for God's creations for all God's children is that they live good and fulfilling lives. It is because of the universality of the Bible's reference to all of us as God's children  yes, even God's gay and lesbian children  all of whom were created in God's image, that I must object to the way some people are using the God who created us all as an object to separate a group of people from both their families and their faiths.

My faith helps me better understand myself and the world in which I live. My spiritual well-being influences how I interpret and respond to the experiences in my life; it influences my inner sense of self, strength and safety. When I see spiritual wounds inflicted on others, it pains me to see those so hurt, so humiliated, so ostracized that they are disconnected from their families and a sense of belonging. These actions lead to feelings of loneliness, abandonment and suffering. Was this ever God's plan, God's intent for his children?

I agree with Abby's thought that religions should be positive sources, teaching and preaching such values as compassion, gratitude, forgiveness, generosity and authenticity.

The ancient biblical book of Psalms is filled with solace and joy, comfort and provocation. Its words have formed the basis of many of our most famous prayers; its ability to articulate emotions at critical life moments is a source of healing and consolation that should not be denied to anyone. In Psalms we read, "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity." It is a reminder that the unity we share as believers is ordained to include everyone. It is meant to be a complete unity, with all people in harmony.

It is with this in mind that under the sponsorship of PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) I have invited a group of religious leaders in our community to create an opportunity for all of us to share in this harmony.

So far we have seven members of the clergy participating, three choirs and the mayor bringing greetings from the city.

Together we are fashioning an interfaith convocation for people of all faiths to foster a sense of acceptance and belonging. The interfaith convocation will be an opportunity for all people of faith to pray together without discrimination, disenfranchisement or stigma. This will be an occasion for the collective "we," through shared traditions and rituals, to provide the critical elements of public acknowledgment and social sanctions that are strengthened by communal worship. Through music and prayer engaging our hearts and minds and spirits, our community will experience how good and appropriate it is to join together not just by including, but also by celebrating with the gay and lesbian members of our families.

This communal experience will deepen our human understanding in reaching across the boundaries that separate us, to recognize that we are all God's children and to unite us in our effort to celebrate the joy of community, the gift of diversity and the vision of harmony.

Fifth Annual Interfaith Convocation
"Bringing Unity to Community"

Sunday, May 6, 2012, 3:00 P.M.
at
Temple Shalom















Click Here To Listen To The "Sound Off With Sasha"
Radio Interview about the PFLAG Naples Convocation
(Recorded May 8, 2009)

1 Hour Program on WGCU-FM 90.1 Public Radio
Note:  PFLAG Interfaith Convocation portion begins at half-way point in the program

"Sound Off Sasha"

(Note:  Requires Prior Download of Windows Media Player or RealPlayer software to listen)


Click Here To Listen To The May 15, 2008

4 Minute Audio News Story on WGCU-FM 90.1 Public Radio

About The 1st PFLAG Interfaith Convocation

(Note:  Requires Prior Download of Windows Media Player or RealPlayer software to listen)


The PFLAG Interfaith Convocation is bringing unity to our community. A Committee of Clergy and lay people from Churches and Synagogues throughout Naples have created a unique service to engage our hearts, minds and spirits through music and prayer. Harmony and unity in song will be heard as a myriad of choirs will blend their voices in melodies inspired by the psalmists words, "Behold how good and how pleasant it is when brethern dwell in Unity." On May 15th, everyone may join in celebrating this harmony along with choirs and clergy from a myriad of religious institutions. Welcoming people of all faiths to join in this extraordinary endeavor PFLAG is sponsoring the Interfaith Convocation.

PFLAG (Parents, Friends & Families of Lesbians & Gays) is a parent-based organization that was started by heterosexual parents wanting to understand and help their gay children. PFLAG's role is to serve as a support group providing a non-judgmental outlet for feelings, questions and understanding as well as making available resources and educational opportunities.

The Interfaith Convocation will be an exceptional opportunity to foster a sense of acceptance and belonging for all people of faith to pray together without discrimination, disenfranchisement, or stigma. The Convocation will be the chance for all of us, together, to share our traditions and rituals and to provide the critical elements of public acknowledgement and social sanctions that are strengthened by communal worship. The Convocation is a tangible demonstration of our community to prove how good and right our unity is not just by including, but also by celebrating the gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgendered members of our families. While each of us has our own individual identity, we recognize that there is a much deeper interconnection binding us to one another. None of us are alone, and we each must rely on each other to be able to use our individual blessings and talents to make the world a better place. This communal experience will deepen our human understanding to unite us in reaching across the boundaries that separate us, and to unite us in our effort to celebrate the joy of community, the gift of diversity, and the vision of harmony.

Participating with your family and friends in this endeavor you will make a difference. Open to the public the PFLAG Interfaith Convocation is on Sunday, May 6, 2012, at 3:00 PM at the Temple Shalom, 4630 Pine Ridge Road, Naples, FL  34119. A reception will follow the Convocation.



Guest Commentary which appeared in the Naples Daily News

Regarding The Second Annual PFLAG Interfaith Convocation

Published on May 8, 2009

Does God Hate?


“Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself ...” — Leviticus.

A recent sermon eloquently reflected: “Prejudice is a disease of the eye and a cancer of the soul.” Those words reminded me that the God I believe in is supposed to be about love and not hate. As a person of faith, I am disappointed when some people try to use God and a handful of isolated words from the Bible as a weapon to separate gay and lesbian children from their faith and even from their families.

I believe children, all children, including gay and lesbian children, need to feel safe when they are growing up, knowing they are surrounded by family members who love and cherish them. It requires a strong foundation for children to grow and achieve their full potential. Children of strong minds, high ideals and integrity grow out of the continuity, guidance, structure and reliability they receive within their families; they wither with condemnation or rejection. As parents we must love our children and instill in them the knowledge that we are all part of something greater than ourselves. We as a community of families must strive to provide this for every child. In an ever changing, highly mobile society, we are unfortunately seeing greater instability, less personal interaction, and heightened loneliness and isolation. We must do more to nurture our children and strengthen the family and encourage faith and belonging.

I am saddened that in Naples I have been too often confronted with people who use religion to divide and stigmatize people. I became active in PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) to make an effort to unite and educate people that faith and homosexuality are not incompatible.

In our roles as educators and advocates, PFLAG and the Coalition for Progressive Religious Voices recently sponsored a showing of the award-winning documentary “For the Bible Tells Me So.” This film utilizes the experience of five normal religious American families to show their faith and beliefs, encourage and require their love for their homosexual children. Highlighted in the film were former House majority leader Richard Gephardt and his wife Jane.

At a recent Naples PFLAG meeting, Jane and Dick Gephardt talked about their experiences in making the film and its impact on their lives and his bid for the presidency. While reiterating that God and religion are all about love, he quoted Archbishop Desmond Tutu: “It is incomprehensible that God would hate anyone for being black, a woman, or homosexual.”

Gephardt stressed that we must challenge anyone who perpetuates the myth that being gay is a choice. No one would choose such a difficult path. Homosexuality is an inherent and immutable identity, not a choice.

Based on Psalms: Behold how good and how pleasant it is when people dwell together in unity, PFLAG has created an Interfaith convocation remembering that unity requires us as believers to include everyone. PFLAG is celebrating this unity with a significant faith-based opportunity to experience harmony with the blending of music and prayer. A committee of clergy and lay people from many faiths have come together to demonstrate that people of all faiths can pray together and bestow the public acknowledgment and social sanctions that are reinforced by communal worship.

Through music, prayer and personal recollections, the service will engage our hearts, our minds and spirits, deepening our human understanding, uniting us and hopefully helping to break down the boundaries that separate people.

We look forward to celebrating the joy of community, the gift of diversity and the vision of harmony together. I urge you and your family to make every effort to join us for this special and meaningful convocation.

A reception will follow.
Naples Chapter
Welcoming Houses of Worship

Beth Tikvah * Celebration Metropolitan Community Church * Cornerstone United Methodist
Emmanuel Lutheran Church * First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Fort Myers Congregational United Church of Christ * Jewish Congregation of Marco Island
Naples Jewish Congregation * Naples United Church of Christ * Samudrabadra Buddhist Center
St. John the Apostle MCC * St. Monica's Episcopal Church * Temple Shalom * The Baha'I Faith
Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Greater Naples * Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fort Myers
Unity of Naples Church * Vanderbilt Presbyterian Church