Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Unicorn at the White House

By Patrick S. Cheng

When I came out of the closet in college in the late 1980s, I thought I was a unicorn.  That is, I believed that I was a mythical creature; surely I was the only gay Asian American person in the universe.  All of the gay spaces that I belonged to were white, and all of the Asian American spaces that I belonged to were straight.  There couldn’t possibly be others like me!

Never in my wildest imagination did I think that, some twenty-five years later, I would be attending a national conference of some 350 lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT or queer) Asian American activists and allies in Washington, D.C.

Nor would I have ever imagined that I would be invited to a White House briefing about issues of interest to the queer Asian American community.

The conference, Presence, Power, Progress, was organized by the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA), an umbrella organization of LGBT East Asian, Pacific Islander, South Asian, and Southeast Asian organizations in the United States.  This was only the second national NQAPIA conference, the first one being in Seattle in 2009.

On Thursday, July 19th, the day before the conference officially began, I attended an interfaith convening of LGBT Asian Americans who were interested in faith-based issues.  It was an amazing experience to sit around a table with queer Hindu, Muslim, and Christian Asian Americans and talk about how we could support those in our communities who were struggling with issues of race, sexuality, and spirituality.

Later that afternoon, I was privileged to attend a briefing at the White House by Obama administration officials about issues that were of interest to the LGBT Asian American community.  The three-hour briefing touched upon a number of important issues, including immigration, bullying, international human rights, and HIV/AIDS.  We even heard from Chris Lu, the President’s Cabinet Secretary and the highest-ranking Asian American in the administration.

The conference itself lasted three days – from Friday, July 20th, through Sunday, July 22nd – and offered numerous panels and workshops to the participants.  One highlight for me was speaking at a workshop for LGBT Asian American Christians who were wrestling with heterosexism and homophobia in their churches.  The workshop was led by Jess Delegencia, the Asian Pacific Islander Roundtable Coordinator at the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry in Berkeley, California.

We also had a lot of fun.  There was a queer Asian American performing arts festival on Friday night, and there was also a festive banquet on Saturday night emceed by Tamlyn Tomita of The Karate Kid II fame (and who played Mike Chang’s mom on Glee).  On Sunday morning, I attended Eucharist at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on K Street with Weiben Wang, a friend of mine from New York City.

Perhaps the most exciting part of the conference for me, however, was the fact that my mom, Deanna Cheng, also attended the conference and visited the White House.  My mom had been invited by the conference organizers to participate in a gathering of Asian American parents of LGBT children and to film a public service announcement for the Asian Pride Project.  Thinking back to when I first came out to my mom, I can only attribute how far we’ve come to God’s amazing grace.

It was an incredible blessing to attend the NQAPIA conference and to visit the White House as an openly gay Asian American man.  I am grateful to the co-directors of NQAPIA, Ben de Guzman and Glenn Magpantay, for making the conference happen.  Most of all, however, I am grateful for my fellow LGBT Asian American activists around the country for ensuring that no queer Asian American person ever has to feel like a mythical creature for being honest about who they are – racially, sexually, or spiritually.

Patrick S. Cheng is the Associate Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  For more information about him, see his website at

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Jewish-Christian Dialogue

By Kwok Pui Lan

Some 200 people gathered from July 1-4 in Manchester, United Kingdom, for a conference organized by the International Council of Christians and Jews. The theme of the conference was “New Neighbors, New Opportunities: The Challenges of Multiculturalism and Social Responsibility.”

Dr. Kwok Pui Lan and Baroness Rabbi Julia Neuberger
The conference was co-sponsored by the Council of Christians and Jews in the United Kingdom. William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury, was one of the founders of the British Council, together with Chief Rabbi, Dr. H. J. Hertz. The Council first started in 1942 during the dark days of the Nazi era. It was born of the cooperation between Christians and Jews in caring for the victims of Nazi persecution who had found refuge in Britain.

Today there are about 270,000 Jews living in Britain, and the majority of them live in London. Manchester is a city with a very vibrant Jewish community, with 48 Jewish congregations and more than 400 different Jewish communal organizations.

I was invited to deliver a plenary address on “Jewish-Christian Dialogue in the Non-Western World.” The respondent to my address was Baroness Rabbi Julia Neuberger of the West London Synagogue. She is a member of the House of the Lords and laughed when I told her that I have never met a rabbi who is also a baroness!

In additional to the plenaries, there were workshops on the themes multiculturalism past and present; Israel, Islam, and interfaith relations; social responsibility; international interfaith developments; and the dialogic interface.

The majority of the participants came from Europe, but there were also people from Australia, Canada, Israel, the United States, the Philippines, and Uruguay. The International Council of Christians and Jews has chapters in 38 countries worldwide. In North America, there is the Council of Centers onJewish-Christian Relations, which is an association of centers and institutes in the United States and Canada devoted to enhancing mutual understanding between Jews and Christians. It publishes an electronic journal Studies in Christian-Jewish Relations.

This was the first time that I participated in Jewish-Christian dialogue in Europe, although I have worked with Jewish colleagues at the American Academy of Religion and other feminist organizations. I learned much about the diversity of the Jewish communities in various countries. The Jews first came to Manchester in 1780 to look for economic opportunities, since Manchester was a center of the industrial revolution. Other had arrived to escape the Nazi persecution.

I sat next to a Jewish leader from Munich at a dinner, who told me that there are about 100,000 Jews in Germany, who have come mostly from Russia after the German Jews were wiped out. I did not know that there are as many as 55,000 Jews in Uruguay, and only about 1,000 in Finland.

Although the focus of the Council is on Jewish and Christian dialogue, many felt that it is important to expand the dialogue to include Muslims, given the changing demographic in many European countries. Several years ago, the International Abrahamic Forum was formed to foster such conversations. Although Muslims are a tiny minority at the conference, it is hoped that their participation will increase in the future.

Given the European composition of the conference, the shadow of the Holocaust loomed very large. Yet Clive Lawton, co-founder of Limmud, which promotes Jewish learning in many parts of the world, said that we should not just look back to the past, but also look toward the future to see what the Jews can contribute to the 21st century.

One of the most sensitive issues, as expected, concerned the State of Israel and the plights of the Palestinians. I attended a workshop on “Karios Palestine,” a document issued by Palestinian Christians concerning the military occupation of their land. I was struck by the openness of the conversation and learned from seasoned participants who have worked for justice and peace in the Middle East for a long time.

A highlight of the conference was a gala dinner at the Knight’s Lounge at the famed Manchester United Football Club to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Council of Christians and Jews in the United Kingdom. One could also take a tour of the Club by paying 10 pounds. As a football fan, I regretted that I had to leave early and miss the fun of visiting the Football Club, yet I still enjoyed the conference very much.

Kwok Pui Lan is the William F. Cole Professor of Christian Theology and Spirituality at the Episcopal Divinity School and her most recent book is Globalization, Gender, and Peacebuilding: The Future of Interfaith Dialogue

Monday, July 9, 2012

Dip or Plunge? The General Convention Waters for the First Time Swimmer

By Susan B. Taylor      

Some people like to slowly acclimate to water. They first dip in their toes, then gathering courage they slowly inch in deeper while quickly calculating if retreat is possible before the next wave breaks. Others, such as myself, prefer to plunge-in. That’s how I approached the water off Cape Cod a few days before I arrived in Indianapolis under a blazing hot sun. And it’s how I decided to approach my first General Convention.

I wasn’t really nervous. After all, there are plenty of lifeguards on duty! And I had done my homework. Episcopal Divinity School had prepared me with a week-long intensive course taught by the Rev. Canon Edward W. Rodman with daily guest speakers included the Right Reverend Barbara C. Harris, Dio. MA; Dr. Bonnie Anderson, President, House of Deputies; The Honorable Byron Rushing, Senior Deputy, Dio. MA; Mrs. Susan Pettingill Wood, House of Bishops' Secretariat; Dr. Fredrica Harris Thompsett; The Rev. Canon Mally Lloyd and members of the Massachusetts Deputation.

And EDS hasn’t been the only shelter at General Convention. (Remember that blazing hot sun?) My own Diocese of Vermont has been an oasis here too.

Truly, the effort of scrutinizing resolutions and other resources prior to plunging into the turbulent waters was handsomely rewarded. Buoyed along with my color-coded, schedule-containing, bright orange journal I haven’t drifted out too far.

I’m navigating the channels between throngs of people to find my way into committee hearings.

I even surprised myself by speaking on A010 which calls for identifying “information to be included in the changes to the Parochial Report form based upon current changes and new realities in TEC” and to authorize and implement such changes. Resolutions can be tracked at which is a lot easier than paddling to the display board at the far end of the corridor.

I’m swimming laps between the House of Bishops and House of Deputies; between hearings, committees, sessions, and gatherings. I’m learning the language of parliamentary procedure. I’m decoding report numbers, committee numbers, resolution numbers, message numbers, consent calendars, daily calendars, and supplemental calendars. I’m surfing the resolution ride: discharge, refer back, adopt, amend, reconsider, call the question, divide the question, divide the resolution, etc.

I’m gaining appreciation for the deep engagement of all who are working so diligently to find creative ways to look critically and pastorally at how we as Episcopalians do church. And I’m filling with hope and love as I participate in this drama unfolding as we struggle to renew and rebuild our faith community.

There’s little time for food, especially when I heed my mother’s warning “not to swim for at least a half-hour after eating.” My main meal is the spiritual nourishment I receive at the daily Holy Eucharist. The water here is deeper than I’ve ever swam in before. We must be feeding more than 1000. And the temperature here is hotter than I’ve ever been in, reaching 115ยบ the other day.

The temperature in debate on the other hand moves up and down between fiercely passionate on hot-button issues like Open-Table, Confirmation, and Same-Gender Blessings to tepid when the amendments to the amendments begin. But I’ve not touched icy waters, yet. Sometimes, unpredictable weather conditions turn calm seas into turbulent waters over a topic such as—the Bible!

When there is a brief free moment, I don’t go sun-bathing! I swim laps around the exhibit hall, float in the Ecclesiastical Art Exhibition, or tread water in the passage-way hawking postcards, crying out “Fredrica for Executive Council!”

Drying off a bit to share a meal with friends and colleagues ensures the energy boost to dive back in! Beribboned name tags adorning the necks of all GC swimmers serve as navigational aids.

The General Convention waters are deep and brimming with life but beware of submerged obstacles, unknown hazards, and a bit of flotsam - jetsam. My lifeline is prayer and worship, helpful people, the droid phone, lots of planning and my orange journal. Do the Episcopal Church’s General Convention waters look inviting to you? Come on in. The water is fine!

Susan Taylor is a postulant in the diocese of Vermont in her third year of her MDiv program at Episcopal Divinity School. An artist and hiker, Taylor is married with two children and lives in Western Massachusetts when not on campus. You can find her blog at

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Young Adults...where do we belong? #gc77

By Meg Johnson

As I have mentioned before, I struggled with figuring out what my role here at General Convention is. I have figured that out. However, I am beginning to wonder where young adults really fit it at GC. It seems to me that we all get lumped together when, in reality, we play very different roles and have vastly different obligations.

There is the Official Youth Presence that has seat and voice in the HOD, but no vote. There are 18 of them, ages 16-19 and there presence at the GC thus far as been powerful. I have heard many of them speak up for their passions and fighting for the future vision of the Church.

There is also our group, which is the Young Adult Initiative with Episcopal Peace Fellowship. We strive to advocate for peace and justice issues that we feel strongly about. We work towards testifying to any resolution that inspires us to give it a voice. We vehemently follow and track resolutions. We share our work and our reflections through every moment of GC through social media.

There is also the Young Adult Festival that is focused more on ministry during the GC and simply observing and learning more about GC in general.

With all these different groups that include Youth or Young Adult in the their names, I can see how it could become confusing and convoluted to keep track of work of the young adults at GC. However, an effort could be made by all at GC to know all the different groups and what each of their roles are here at GC.

This is an exciting GC because of all the discussion centered on including more young adults or ensuring that they are better represented. This is a step forward. But I cannot stop thinking that if everyone’s, and I mean everyone’s, mindsets about young adults doesn’t change, than we’ll all be in big trouble. Older generations need to view us as equals and realize the fact that though we may not have the experience, we tend to be folks that have a whole lot of vision and a lot of passion to see that vision brought forth to life. I find that quite exciting—especially in our time of desperate need for renewed visions.

Young adults themselves also need to change their mindset about themselves. We need to accept that we may not be treated as equals, but that we will not give up efforts to assert ourselves in a way that persuades others to see us equals. We also need to believe in ourselves. It is easy to say to ourselves that we don’t have experience and that our opinions don’t matter. Or we use our age as an excuse to not be involved or not speak up.

If we ourselves do not begin to see ourselves as equals and assert ourselves as equals, than no one else will begin to treat us like equals. It is true that we all have work to do if we want to be taken seriously, but it begins with the young adults. I know it is easy to give up. It is hard to keep going when you finally are courageous enough to speak up and then you feel like no one is listening or taking you seriously. This is the easy way out though. We must continue to raise up and make ourselves known because one of these days they are going to notice us and one of these days, they are going to realize what they’ve been missing out on for so long—our joy, energy, enthusiasm, and most importantly, our valid voice of vision and hope.

This blog post was reprinted with permission from the author and from the Episcopal Peace Fellowship Young Adult Initiative at General Convention 2012 blog.

Meg Johnson is a 2012 graduate of St. Catherine University in education and french. She is originally from Green Bay, Wisconsin and currently lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Beginning this fall she will work as an english teacher in Rennes, France. She is part of the Young Adult Initiative with Episcopal Peace Fellowship at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church.