The Family Research Council (FRC), one of the leading religious right groups, sent an e-mail alert to supporters today concerning the president's nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Writes FRC spokesperson Tony Perkins:
When the Senate "Gang of 14" made their judicial deal last week conservatives had little to celebrate beyond a guaranteed up-or-down vote on three outstanding judges. The disastrous "compromise" did not promise a fair up-or-down vote on ALL the judges though, just a select few. One nominee whom the "Gang" threw overboard is Brett Kavanaugh, President Bush's choice for to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
Perkins hopes supporters of the religious right will contact Congress and demand that Kavanaugh be placed on the court.
There are plenty of good reasons why senators should exercise their right to filibuster this nomination. People for the American gives three solid reasons why Kavanaugh should be opposed:
1. Strong Views or Strong Partisanship?
Kavanaugh has shown a stunning willingness to twist and shift legal theories and philosophies to best serve partisan interests. During the Clinton administration, Kavanaugh spent five years as part of Kenneth Starr’s Office of Independent Counsel, where one of his roles was to gain unprecedented access to the records of the President of the United States. In his role in the Bush administration, however, Kavanaugh seems to have radically changed his views on presidential privilege, and has worked diligently to ensure that the current President works with an unprecedented ability to keep presidential actions and records secret from Congress and the public. As summed up by The Washington Post, “within a few years, Kavanaugh’s work has gone from being described as ‘a serious blow to the presidency,’ as Clinton lawyer Lloyd Cutter put it, to promoting an ‘imperial presidency,’ as Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) put it.” 1
2. The Extremist Who Picked the Extremists
As Associate Counsel to the President from 2001-2003, Kavanaugh served as White House Counsel Alberto Gonzalez’s “main deputy on the subject” of judicial nominees.2 In particular, according to several accounts, Kavanaugh personally “coordinated” the Administration’s extremely controversial and unsuccessful nominations of right-wing extremist Priscilla Owen to the Fifth Circuit and Miguel Estrada to the D.C. Circuit.3 Kavanaugh’s active role in picking such divisive nominees raises serious concerns about his own judicial temperment.
3. Troubling Lack of Experience
A 1990 graduate of Yale Law School, Mr. Kavanaugh’s legal resume is thin at best. When asked in the Senate Judiciary Committee’s questionnaire to state the number of cases he has tried to verdict or judgement, he replied “[n]one, as I have not been a trial lawyer.”4 Of the 22 judges appointed to the D.C. Circuit since the Nixon administration, only one – his own mentor Keneth Starr – had less legal experience at the time of his appointment than Kavanaugh.
Click here to read their full report.
Kavanaugh is not qualified to sit on any federal court. He lacks the judicial experience for this position and his extremist views on the role of the Constitution – as evidenced in part by the role he played as Ken Starr’s sidekick during the impeachment proceedings against President Clinton (charges he was found innocent of by the senate) – shows a fundamental lack of respect for the law and due process. His nomination should either be withdrawn by the president or filibustered by the senate.
1 Dana Millbank, Whitewater Lawyer Turns Proponent of Presidential Power, Washington Post, Oct. 15, 2002; Jack Newfield, More Bad Judges, The Nation, Jan. 6, 2004.
2 Jeffrey Toobin, Advice and Dissent, The New Yorker, May 26, 2003.
4 Answers to Senate Judiciary Committee Question 17(c)(4).
American Christians are walking a difficult path in trying to bear witness to the biblical mandates we are required to follow related to issues of peace and justice. How we respond to events in Israel and Palestine illustrate this difficulty. Can Christians be advocates of peace and against the occupation of Palestinian communities without alienating Jewish communities?
This past week Christian leaders in the US met with Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas and the National Council of Churches USA released a letter to both Israeli and Palestinian leaders supporting peace efforts. NCC reports:
NCC General Secretary Bob Edgar, along with other Christian leaders, met May 26 with Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, who is in Washington to meet with government officials and religious leaders. Edgar told President Abbas of his deep sadness when he saw the so-called security walls between Israeli and Palestinian neighborhoods. "Walls separate, bridges heal," he told Abbas. Edgar also told Abbas that there is support for justice for the Palestinians from a broad spectrum of Christians in the U.S. Following an official delegation to the Middle East earlier this year, the NCC wrote to both Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and President Abbas to express alarm and worry for the people in the region and to ask for a meeting to discuss the longstanding concern for peace, security and justice in the Holy Land. Click here for more information.
The Presbyterian Church USA has adopted a strategy of economic divestment from companies profiting from the occupation. The United Church of Christ will consider a similar proposal this summer at General Synod.
Such strategies have come under fire from Jewish groups. That is one reason Christians and Jewish leaders have been meeting in the US over the last year – and have now jointly planned a trip to the Middle East. NCC reports:
A dialogue table begun a year ago between staff and representatives of several Christian denominations and mainstream Jewish organizations is showing signs of maturity, says the NCC executive who coordinates the Christian partners in the dialogue. At its most recent meeting May 13, the table members agreed on plans for a Jewish-Christian trip to the Middle East September 18-23, and reached a consensus on a set of principles about how the groups speak to one another and to the media. "The table, which sometimes experienced intense negotiations and often felt tenuous, has held," Dr. Shanta Premawardhana, NCC Associate General Secretary for Interfaith Relations, said Wednesday. "There was hardly a 'tea and sympathy' phase in this dialogue," he said, citing a phrase attributed to Rabbi Leon Klenicki. "The stakes for peace in the Middle East were too high." For more information, click here.
Continued dialogue is important. All people of faith have a stake in the events occurring in the Middle East. We must pray for peace – but we must also find ways to take actions that further the cause of peace. There may be times when such actions are unpopular but still wise.
Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, one of the largest UCC congregations in the nation, was profiled this week on PBS’ Religion and Ethics News Weekly:
LUCKY SEVERSON, guest anchor: In the eyes of some African Americans, the role of Christianity has not always been a positive one, especially in the context of slavery and the civil rights movement. And yet, before Africans became slaves in this country, many of them embraced the Christian tradition in their old country. Now, we see a trend that combines Christianity with the African-American identity. Kelly Hudson reports from Chicago.
KELLY HUDSON: Trinity United Church of Christ on Chicago's black South Side. More than 30 years ago, in response to the Black Power movement, Trinity decided to embrace its African heritage along with its Christianity. It called as its pastor Reverend Jeremiah Wright, a young black activist from Philadelphia.
Reverend JEREMIAH WRIGHT Jr. (Senior Pastor, Trinity United Church of Christ): They said, "Are we going to be a black church in a black community? Or are we going to continue to be a white church in blackface?" I said, "The greatest need is for kids who have not been taught their story. To go back to Deuteronomy 6, you must teach your children their story. Who's doing it?" Nobody was.
HUDSON: So Wright started to teach what became known as "Africentric Christianity." Under his leadership, Trinity has grown to 5,000 members, the largest congregation in the predominantly white United Church of Christ.
Africentric Christianity is partly about identifying an African presence in the Bible, but it goes much deeper than that. Africentric Christians are seeking to affirm their African heritage in the context of Christianity.
Click here to read the full story and to watch the video.
Trinity has a long and distinguished history of providing a prophetic voice to the community of Chicago and to the United Church of Christ as a whole. This is the home church of US Senator Barack Obama.
This story highlights the growing diversity in the United Church of Christ.
Last week a bi-partisan group of senators averted a showdown over the president’s judicial appointments with a compromise that allowed some of the nominees to move forward but retained the right of minority democrats to filibuster others.
Now the religious right is promising retribution for those republicans who voted for the agreement. Religion News Service reports:
WASHINGTON -- Richard Land, James Dobson and Paul Weyrich are angry -- angry at "activist" judges who they say are legislating from the bench, angry at Democrats who try to derail judicial nominations and angry at Republicans who are allowing the filibuster to survive.
But these leaders of the Christian right reserve a special anger for Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who helped broker a compromise on judicial nominees with seven Democrats and six other Republicans.
McCain can "forget about his presidential ambitions" in 2008, said Weyrich, co-founder of the now-defunct Moral Majority and president of the Washington-based Free Congress Foundation.
McCain, a longtime nemesis of religious conservatives, wasn't the only lawmaker threatened with retribution.
"Trust me," said Land, president of the Southern Baptists' Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. "Conservatives know who to blame, and they will have an opportunity to express their feelings in the primaries of 2008."
Where does Land, representing a religious denomination, get off involving his church in partisan primary campaigns?
There is nothing wrong with religious people becoming involved in partisan politics - we do it all the time - but it can not be done through our churches.
It is simply against the law if Land and the others are using non-profit church groups to influence partisan elections.
Any chance the Bush Administration will enforce the law? Hardly.
From the World Council of Churches:
"An ecumenical movement that doesn't involve conversations between people who disagree would not be an ecumenical movement," says Michael Kinnamon in the following interview given at the 9-16 May 2005 Conference on World Mission and Evangelism (CWME).
Dr Kinnamon, a minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), is professor of mission, peace and ecumenical studies at Eden Theological Seminary in suburban Saint Louis, USA. He has served on the staff of the WCC's Faith and Order commission as well as on many national and international church committees and task groups.
Click here to read the interview.
Dr. Kinnamon is one of my professors at Eden. He is widely respected for his work on ecumenical issues. His latest book, Vision of the Ecumenical Movement: And How It Has Been Impoverished By Its Friends, is a good read for those interested in the subject.
Can progressive mainline Christians, conservative evangelicals and Roman Catholics work together to strengthen the Church universal?
That is the question that will be considered next week in a bold experiment for the divided Body of Christ. Delegates representing most of the Christian denominations – both Protestant and Catholic – will gather in California to formally establish a new organization to be called Christian Churches Together in the USA. Their web site reports:
Christian Churches Together in the USA (CCT) will hold its organizing meeting June 1-3, 2005 at El Retiro, the Jesuit Retreat House in Los Altos, California. Over 35 representatives of Christian Churches and National Christian Organizations (25 Churches and Christian organizations is the threshold number for establishing CCT) have already indicated they will attend the meeting. At the meeting those Churches and Christian organizations who have decided to become founding participants will select a Steering Committee and adopt Articles of Incorporation, Bylaws and Dues Structure. Together, they will pray, worship and consider the future of CCT. Additionally, they will hear about plans for the September celebration launching CCT which marks the historical coming together of the major Christian Faith Families in the USA. Following the meeting founding members will be announced to the public. Planning for the June, Los Altos meeting is under the leadership of Father Ron Roberson, Chair, Rev. Roberta Hestenes, Rev. Carlos Malave, and Rev. Robert Welch.
A worship service and celebration to mark the formation of CCT has been set for September 18, 2005 at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC.
CCT will not be a replacement organization for the existing National Council of Churches USA (NCC helped to develop this new organization). The new group will have a broader membership base – and that diversity will mean that CCT will be unable to speak on the same broad range of issues that NCC speaks on. The value in CCT will be the role it can play in fostering dialogue between different Christian bodies.
A Southern Baptist pastor apologized for posting an anti-Muslim sign at his church in North Carolina, following criticism by leaders in the Muslim-American community.
Creighton Lovelace said he regretted posting a message that read, "The Koran needs to be flushed," according to a Wednesday (May 25) report by Baptist Press, the news service of the Southern Baptist Convention, which quoted a written statement made by Lovelace.
Lovelace, pastor of Danieltown Baptist Church in Forest City, N.C., said he was unaware that the Qur'an was so highly valued and "that devoted Muslims view it more highly than many in the U.S. view the Bible."
What is being taught at Southern Baptist seminaries? Sadly, bad theology.
It is no wonder that Lovelace pleads ignorance of Islam. It was just in 2002 that The Rev. Jerry Vines, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, told members of his denomination that:
"Some would have us believe that Islam is just as good as Christianity," said Vines. "Christianity was founded by the virgin-born son of God, Jesus Christ. Islam was founded by Muhammad, a demon-possessed pedophile who had 12 wives, the last one of which was a nine-year-old girl." In addition, Vines said, "Allah is not Jehovah either. Jehovah's not going to turn you into a terrorist that'll try to bomb people and take the lives of thousands and thousands of people."
Lovelace should be thanked for apologizing. But there is something rotten at the core of a church whose leaders make such statements.
Not all Christians believe in the Southern Baptist view of Islam. The United Church of Christ has adopted a statement calling for better relations between Christians and Muslims.
Related Link: Religious Humiliation of Muslim Detainees Widespread
Related Post: Fuller Seminary Works With Muslims
Related Post: NC Southern Baptist Pastor Resigns
Message from the National Council of Churches USA
The Eco-Justice Program of the National Council of Churches USA has launched a new Western Public Lands Initiative to address growing threats to our nation’s public lands and associated resources. Previously, the NCC has conducted ecumenical and interfaith programs addressing a range of environmental issues including air and water pollution, global warming, and energy conservation. Now the NCC will encourage its member denominations and partner organizations to make responsible stewardship and management of public lands an integral part of their efforts to protect and care for God’s creation. Through worship, education, and advocacy, the NCC initiative aims to begin answering the Biblical call to protect and redeem God’s lands. For more, click here.
Related Post: God's Mandate: Care for Creation
Each day we hear and learn more about the crisis unfolding in Iraq as a result of the America occupation. Life has not improved for the Iraqi people. In fact, it is measurably worse in many ways. The Roman Catholic organization Pax Christi USA has made resources available on their web site for those Christians concerned about the on-going crisis in Iraq. The resources include this moving Litany of Repentance. I commend it to you and your congregations for use in worship:
Let us acknowledge the history of our nation’s relationship with Iraq and pray for forgiveness. Our response is: Jesus, forgive us.
For the times we have failed to choose life over death...Jesus, forgive us.
For the times we have chosen ignorance over knowledge...Jesus, forgive us.
For the times we have not stood up to evil...Jesus, forgive us.
For our nation’s support of the regime of Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war...Jesus, forgive us.
For the chemical and conventional weapons our nation sold to Iraq in the 1980s...Jesus, forgive us.
For our nation’s willingness to partner with brutal dictatorships when it serves its own political agenda...Jesus, forgive us.
For the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who died during the First Gulf War...Jesus, forgive us.
For the environmental damage to air and water, the babies born with deformities, and soldiers and civilians suffering from strange illnesses due to our use of depleted uranium munitions in the First Gulf War...Jesus, forgive us.
For the bombing of Iraq’s civilian infrastructure during the First Gulf War...Jesus, forgive us.
For twelve years of crippling economic sanctions which left hundreds of thousands of innocent children dead because they had no medicines or food...Jesus, forgive us.
For our own addiction to oil and the policies which fuel the addiction...Jesus, forgive us.
For the seeds of grief and anger we planted in generations of young people who saw their brothers and sisters die because of the sanctions...Jesus, forgive us.
For the lies which our government perpetrated to make its case for war against Iraq, especially the suggestions that Iraq was responsible for 9-11...Jesus, forgive us.
For the ongoing rape of Iraq’s natural resources to serve the corporate greed of U.S. and transnational corporations...Jesus, forgive us.
For our government’s sanction and use of torture...Jesus, forgive us.
For military assaults against mosques...Jesus, forgive us.
For the racism that is inherent in our policies toward Iraq and throughout the Middle East...Jesus, forgive us.
For our nation’s military occupation of Iraq and manipulation of its internal politics...Jesus, forgive us.
For the mounting deaths of U.S. soldiers and Iraqi civilians...Jesus, forgive us.
For the times we have not stood up to evil...Jesus, forgive us.
For the times we have chosen ignorance over knowledge...Jesus, forgive us.
For the times we have failed to choose life over death...Jesus, forgive us.
A bi-partisan group in the US House of Representatives passed legislation this week to expand public funding for embryonic stem cell research. The president immediately threatened to veto the legislation. The religious right has declared that such research is in opposition to Christian values. But that pronouncement is not shared by all Christians. In fact, the United Church of Christ adopted a resolution in 2001 in favor of federal funding of embryonic stem cell research under the rational that “Jesus set an example, by his ministry of healing and caring for the sick and disabled, challenging us to follow his example by supporting the healing and caring ministry in our own day.”
Embryonic stem cell research has the potential to unlock cures for conditions like “diabetes, spinal cord paralysis, heart disease, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease, cancer, MS [multiple sclerosis], Lou Gehrig's disease and other fatal, debilitating diseases," says Rep. Jim Ramstad, a Minnesota Republican.
No one is talking about growing embryonic stem cells simply for research. The legislation adopted by the House – which is in line with the ethical guidelines adopted by the UCC – “allows federally funded research on stem cell lines that were derived ethically from donated embryos determined to be in excess," says Republican Delaware congressman Mike Castle.
Christians can confidently and morally support embryonic stem cell research. We are called to support a healing and caring ministry in our own day and this research can help meet that goal.
Click here for additional information on the issues involved from the testimony of The Rev. Ronald Cole-Turner, a UCC minister, before the National Bioethics Advisory Committee. Another good essay dealing with the issues, this one from Dr. Betty Hoskins, is available on the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice web site.
The fallout from the bi-partisan agreement to table a proposal from the religious right that would have ended the ability of Senators to filibuster is growing. The religious right is acting like a thermonuclear device went off under their plans to take over the judiciary. As Kevin Eckstrom of Religious News Service reports, religious progressive may have reason to celebrate the political defeat handed the religious right by both republicans and democrats:
Washington, May 24 - Six months after the November elections left them defeated and demoralized, progressive religious groups by most measures continue to be outpaced and drowned out by well-organized conservative groups.
Yet progressive leaders say the fight over judicial nominations has shown they are making measured progress in moderating the influence of conservative heavyweights with close ties to Republicans. Leaders of the "religious left" say they are slowly but steadily resurrecting a moribund movement. There is a coordination unseen since the heyday of the Vietnam era, they say, and plans are taking shape to match conservatives in media, mobility and -- most important -- money.
"Victory is not moving the nation to the left," said the Rev. Bob Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches and former Democratic congressman. "It's moving the nation back to the middle."
Click here to read the full story.
Those of us driven by our faith to speak out against war, poverty and the environmental crisis are doing a better job this year of getting our message out. But we need to work harder, organize more, raise more money, and find ways to be in community and worship with one another. Progressive Christians helped win a victory for democracy last night. We should celebrate that and then get back to work. We have a long walk ahead of us.
Convicted Watergate figure and prominent religious right spokesperson Chuck Colson is linking to my site today as part of an article critical of faculty, students, staff, and alumni at Calvin College for protesting against the president. Colson, who took part in the “Justice Sunday” event which explicitly claimed those who opposed the president’s judicial nominees where “against people of faith,” is upset that people associated with the conservative Calvin College campus for what he claims where attacks criticizing the president’s faith because of the war in Iraq and his economic policies. Colson, a man who has demonstrated contempt for the truth in his carrier, ignores the facts here as well. No one at Calvin questioned the president’s faith. They just said the president’s policies benefiting the wealthy and powerful at the expense of the least of these (not to mention waging unprovoked war) didn’t match their understanding of the Christian faith. The president has actually claimed that God wants him to be president. Those at Calvin should be applauded for defending Christianity from those on the religious right who want to highjack our faith for partisan political purposes.
This post has been updated
Many Christian Groups Stood up For Democracy And Against The Religious Right’s Partisan Political Agenda
A bi-partisan group of United States Senators tonight beat back the attempt by the religious right to take away the right of the minority party in the Senate to filibuster judicial nominees. Republicans called the attempt to take away the filibuster the “nuclear option.” The deal will allow some of the 10 nominees put forward by the president (nominees that democrats have opposed because of their extreme views on issues like civil rights) to be voted on shortly but will preserve the right of senators to filibuster others. The Senate has already confirmed 95% of the people nominated by the president to serve on the federal bench. Progressives should be concerned over the nominations that will move forward. But the deal is clearly a political set-back for the White House, Republican Majority Leader Bill Frist and the religious right (groups like Focus on the Family pleaded against the compromise over the last 24-hours). Who wins? Democracy itself. The voices of progressives and moderates have – at least for today – saved the right of minority voices to be heard in the United States Senate.
Update: The Religious Right is already going, well, nuclear over the deal. Focus on the Family just e-mailed out the following statement to supporters making political threats against the bi-partisan group of Senators who reached the deal:
Focus on the Family Action Chairman Dr. James C. Dobson blasted as a "complete betrayal" tonight a deal by Senate Republicans to forego guaranteeing all of President Bush's judicial nominees an up-or-down confirmation vote.
Under terms of the deal, Democrats will allow final confirmation votes for three filibustered appeals court nominees -- Priscilla Owen, Janice Rogers Brown and William Pryor. There is "no commitment to vote for or against" the filibuster against two other nominees to the appeals court, Henry Saad and William Myers….
"This Senate agreement represents a complete bailout and betrayal by a cabal of Republicans and a great victory for united Democrats," Dobson said. "Only three of President Bush's nominees will be given the courtesy of an up-or-down vote, and it's business as usual for all the rest. The rules that blocked conservative nominees remain in effect, and nothing of significance has changed….
"We are grateful to Majority Leader Frist for courageously fighting to defend the vital principle of basic fairness," Dobson added. "That principle has now gone down to defeat. We share the disappointment, outrage and sense of abandonment felt by millions of conservative Americans who helped put Republicans in power last November. I am certain that these voters will remember both Democrats and Republicans who betrayed their trust."
Dobson has spent a lot of time since November threatening those who disagree with his extremist agenda. Independent groups have called for the tax exempt status of Focus on the Family to be investigated for engaging in partisan politics. Focus on the Family has several legal entities.
The Republican leadership in the Senate will attempt this week to silence minority voices in the debate over the president’s ultra-conservative judicial nominations by ending the right of senators to filibuster. No political party has ever tried to silence the minority party in such a manner. The right of the US Senate to advise and consent on presidential nominations will be forever compromised.
The religious right has argued – with the support of Republican Majority Leader Bill Frist – that opposing the president’s judicial nominations is tantamount to being “against people of faith.” Groups like Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council have misused the Christian faith to promote a narrow and conservative partisan political agenda.
FaithfulAmerica.org – the advocacy arm of the National Council of Churches USA – has joined many pro-democracy groups in the United States in asking citizens to defend the Constitution and take a stand against religious extremism:
SEND A MESSAGE to your Senator saying the filibuster is NOT anti-faith and that preserving it is an important way for every voice to be heard. We must never allow social and religious fundamentalists of any faith to silence the voices of those holding different beliefs. Take action using the link below. Thanks!
The National Council of Churches USA is made up of: African Methodist Episcopal Church, The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Alliance of Baptists, American Baptist Churches in the USA, The Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, Diocese of the Armenian Church of America, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, Church of the Brethren, The Coptic Orthodox Church in North America, The Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Friends United Meeting, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Hungarian Reformed Church in America, International Council of Community Churches, Korean Presbyterian Church in America, Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, Mar Thoma Church, Moravian Church in America Northern Province and Southern Province, National Baptist Convention of America, National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc., National Missionary Baptist Convention of America, Orthodox Church in America, Patriarchal Parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church in the USA, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, Polish National Catholic Church of America, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc., Reformed Church in America, Serbian Orthodox Church in the U.S.A. and Canada, The Swedenborgian Church Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch, Ukrainian Orthodox Church of America, United Church of Christ, and The United Methodist Church.
Many of the denominations part of NCC have issued statements that speak to their own members critical of the efforts of the religious right. Pax Christi USA, the Roman Catholic organization, has also been critical of the move to end the filibuster.
Click here to read more about the judges the president wants to appoint.
By J. Bennett Guess
United Church News Director
In July, the United Church of Christ's General Synod will be asked to consider a measure that would affirm the possibility of multiple paths for "forming and preparing" ordained ministers.
The long-anticipated, widely-vetted "pronouncement" - a weighty statement that calls the church to its highest levels of conversation, action and implementation - makes a case that regional training and mentoring can be effective models, in some settings, for educating persons for ordination.
Like most mainline Protestant churches, the 1.3-million-member UCC has predominately adhered to a European model of educating its clergy: four years of college, followed by three years of seminary.
"The heart of this issue," says the Rev. Richard Sparrow, "is that, as we live into our goal of becoming a multiracial, multicultural, open-and-affirming, accessible-to-all church, the one-size, 4-plus-3 educational path does not adequately address the leadership needs of the UCC in all of its settings."
Sparrow, who leads the denomination's parish life and leadership ministry in Cleveland, says the pronouncement underscores the church's commitment to maintaining a highly educated clergy, but allows room for the possibility that there can be other effective ways to equip persons for ordained leadership.
"What it calls for is a deeper discernment of preparedness for ministry on behalf of our [Association-level] committees on ministry," Sparrow says. "It calls for a renewal and study of the [candidate's] in-care process as a time of formation and discernment. Committees on ministry are being called to a deeper understanding of their primary task, which is to concern themselves with the gifts, training, skills and abilities of those authorized for ministry."
Already, Sparrow points out, the UCC's Manual on Ministry outlines ordination criteria that includes the phrase "or its equivalent." However, he says, the church has had difficulty discerning, much less embracing, the word "equivalent."
"The grassroots of the church has been asking for this for 15-plus years," says Sparrow, who considers himself to be an advocate of the process, not the pronouncement itself.
The proposal does not call for a restructure of the church's three forms of authorized ministry: ordained, licensed and commissioned. More so, it opens up the possibility that licensed ministers - those who serve as pastoral leaders but often lack the formal "4-plus-3" education - could be ordained.
"We understand that for some individuals and some congregations that licensed ministry will continue to be sufficient," Sparrow says. "But for others, ordination will not be automatically barred based on formal education alone."
"We need leaders who understand and have a passion for the UCC," he says, "and that's not only a matter of 'knowing' but of 'loving' the church."
The Rev. John H. Thomas, UCC general minister and president, underscores the pronouncement's sweeping significance, saying, "While other resolutions have sparked interest because of their controversial nature, nothing the Synod does this summer will be more important than considering the ministry issues pronouncement. Nothing less than the capacity to provide leadership to many of our congregations in rural or transitional urban communities is at stake."
In November 2004, the UCC's Council for Theological Education, which includes the UCC's seminary presidents, among others, released a joint letter stating: "We agree that the traditional, seven-year, college/seminary path will and should continue to be the path for many persons. Indeed, we think it will and should be that for most persons seeking ordination."
However, the council recognized that other paths may be needed, even though deep consideration will need to be given to the specifics of these alternatives and their implementation.
"We also agree that other options must be developed to meet the needs of a changing church," the statement continued. "We believe that, in order to be truly effective, these options will need extensive further development, review and monitoring. In particular, we believe that the equivalency the church seeks should not be located in the preparation process but in the unique qualifications of the candidate for ordination."
Thomas agrees, saying, "Formal theological education in the seminaries of the church should, I believe, remain normative for the future of the UCC. But the diverse cultural and demographic contexts of many of our communities will require that exceptions be made."
Thomas says, if the pronouncement passes in July, then "the real work will just begin."
"The national setting, the seminaries, the Conferences and our church and ministry committees will need to begin developing the multiple paths to ordination called for," Thomas says, "and we will need to begin working on ways to help persons called to ministry discern not what will be the most convenient path to ordination for them, but what will be the most appropriate."
Thomas says the proposal will require money to support theological education in multiple settings.
"Access to theological education, in our seminaries or in yet-to-be-developed Conference-based programs is a justice issue for the church," Thomas says. "The question must not be how can a candidate pay for his or her education, but how can the church take both the financial and the educational responsibility for equipping persons for ministry."
The proposed pronouncement is available online at ucc.org/synod/resolutions/pronouncements25.htm
Faculty, staff, students and alumni protested the commencement address by George W. Bush this weekend at the evangelical Christian run Calvin College. People associated with Calvin, well known for being a fairly conservative campus, should represent the president’s political base. But over 700 people associated with the school signed an advertisement that ran Friday and Saturday in The Grand Rapids Press critical of the president’s policies in Iraq and on poverty at home. The text of the ad is as follows:
Dear President Bush:
We are students, alumni and friends of Calvin College who are deeply troubled that you will be the commencement speaker at Calvin on May 21st. In our view, the policies and actions of your administration, both domestically and internationally over the past four years, violate many deeply held principles of Calvin College.
Calvin is a rigorous intellectual institution, and a truly Christian one. Since its inception in 1876, Calvin has educated its students to use their minds and hearts to transform the world into a "beloved community" where no one is an outcast and all of God's children are cared for. Calvin teaches its students to work for peace and justice, and to be good stewards of God's creation.
By their deeds ye shall know them, says the Bible. Your deeds, Mr. President--neglecting the needy to coddle the rich, desecrating the environment, and misleading the country into war--do not exemplify the faith we live by.
Moreover, many of your supporters are using religion as a weapon to divide our nation and advance a narrow partisan agenda. We are deeply disappointed in your failure to renounce their inflammatory rhetoric.
We urge you not to use Calvin College as a platform to advance policies that violate the school's religious principles. Furthermore, we urge you to repudiate the false claims of supporters who say that those who oppose your policies are the enemies of religion.
The president used he speech to promote volunteerism. Unfortunately, his policies have resulted in the need for more volunteers to address the rising tide of poverty under his watch. His budget policies are opposed by many Christian leaders.
Many graduating seniors were reported to be wearing “God Is Not A Republican… or a Democrat” buttons on their gowns during the commencement address.
The retraction of a Newsweek story claiming that Americans had desecrated copies of the Koran is not the end of the story. There is widespread evidence that the United States has engaged in systematic torture and religious humiliation of Muslims. Human Rights Watch reports:
(New York, May 19, 2005)—U.S. interrogators have repeatedly sought to offend the religious beliefs of Muslim detainees as part of their interrogation strategy,
Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch said that the dispute over the retracted allegations in Newsweek that U.S. interrogators had desecrated a Koran at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, has overshadowed the fact that religious humiliation of detainees at Guantánamo and elsewhere has been widespread.
“In detention centers around the world, the United States has been humiliating Muslim prisoners by offending their religious beliefs,” said Reed Brody, special counsel for Human Rights Watch.
On December 2, 2002, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld authorized a list of techniques for interrogation of prisoners at Guantánamo, which included “removal of all comfort items (including religious items),” “forced grooming (shaving of facial hair, etc.),” and “removal of clothing.” Each of these practices is considered offensive to many Muslims. These techniques were later applied in Afghanistan and Iraq as well.
The purpose of these techniques, Human Rights Watch said, is to inflict humiliation on detainees, which is strictly prohibited by the Geneva Conventions.
Several former detainees have said that U.S. interrogators disrespected the Koran. Three Britons released from Guantánamo have alleged that the Koran was kicked and thrown in the toilet. A former Russian detainee, Aryat Vahitov, has reportedly made the same claim. A former Kuwaiti detainee, Nasser Nijer Naser al-Mutairi, has said that the throwing of a Koran on the floor led to a hunger strike at Guantánamo that ended only after a senior officer expressed regret over the camp's loudspeaker. Human Rights Watch also interviewed detainees who described a protest at a U.S. detention site at Kandahar airbase in Afghanistan in early 2002 that was set off by a guard’s alleged desecration of the Koran.
Click here for more.
The National Council of Churches USA has issued several statements calling for the protection of the human rights of prisoners in Guantánamo. The most recent statement issued this week reads:
NCC General Secretary Bob Edgar, in a letter to Newsweek editor Mark Whitaker, has urged a second look into allegations that the Qur'an has been desecrated on U.S. military installations. Newsweek retracted a report that Guantanamo Bay interrogators flushed a Qur'an down a toilet after the magazine's source proved unreliable. But Edgar said there are similar stories documented in the press, including the New York Times. In his May 19 letter to Newsweek, Edgar urged "the Secretary of Defense to immediately inquire into these allegations and appropriately and officially reprimand those who are responsible for the desecration of the Qur'an." He also urged President Bush to clearly echo the remarks of Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice "that the desecration of holy books is not in keeping with the values this country holds dear."
Click here to read the full text of the letter.
All people of faith should be concerned over the on-going pattern of human rights abuses fostered by the United States government. This is a moral and spiritual crisis. We should pray to God for forgiveness and work for justice.
When I served as the executive director of the Goose Hollow Family Shelter at Portland’s First United Methodist Church it was not uncommon for over half the families staying at the shelter to arrive with at least one family member employed full time. Most of those people were working minimum wage jobs with no benefits.
Churches are getting behind a much needed new effort in Congress to increase the minimum wage. The National Council of Churches reports:
Washington, D.C., May 20, 2005--Organizers of the "Let Justice Roll: Faith and Community Voices Against Poverty" campaign, including the National Council of Churches USA and the Center for Community Change, today announced its support of the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2005, which was introduced in the U.S. Senate and House on Wednesday, May 18 by Senator Edward Kennedy and Rep. George Miller, respectively. If it passes, the legislation, which calls for an increase in the federal minimum wage from $5.15/hour to $7.25/hour over two years, would be one step toward alleviating the increasing numbers of people who live in poverty in this country.
Faith and community groups are concerned about the increasing number of workers paid poverty wages in this nation. Since the last minimum wage increase was passed in 1997, the value has eroded by more than 15 percent. Consequently, to have the purchasing power it had in 1968, for example, the minimum wage would have to be $8.90/hour, $3.75 more than it is today.
You can learn more about homelessness by visiting the National Coalition for the Homeless. I served for several years on the board of directors of this group and encourage you to support their work with a donation. Visit the web site of the Let Justice Roll: Faith and Community Voices Against Poverty Campaign to learn more about how you can support this critical faith effort to overcome poverty.
Among the supporters of the effort to raise the minimum wage are:
African American Ministers Leadership Council (People for the American Way)
American Friends Service Committee
Arizona Ecumenical Council
California Church Impact
Center for American Progress
Center for Community Change
Dunk the Vote
Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon
Families United for Racial Economic Equality—FUREE
Interfaith Worker Justice
Kansas Ecumenical Ministries
Kentucky Council of Churches
Lehigh Valley Interfaith Mobilization
Let Justice Roll—Rochester
Lutheran Office of Governmental Ministry in New Jersey
Minnesota Council of Churches
Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation
National Council of Churches USA
New Mexico Conference of Churches
North Carolina Council of Churches
Ohio Council of Churches
Pennsylvania Council of Churches
Philadelphia Unemployment Project
Presbyterian Church (USA)
Progressive Christians Uniting
Progressive National Baptist Convention
Protestants for the Common Good
Social Concerns Network at Candler School of Theology
South Carolina People’s Agenda
Southern California Ecumenical Council
The Episcopal Church USA
The Interfaith Alliance
Union for Reform Judaism
Unitarian Universalist Association
United Church of Christ, Justice & Witness Ministries
Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy
Voices of the Electors (V.O.T.E.)
Washington Association of Churches
Wisconsin Council of Churches
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has also urged Congress to increase the minimum wage this year.
Andrea Cano, who works for the United Church of Christ and is based in Portland, Oregon, sent along this e-mail for distribution. For additional information contact the Central Pacific Conference of the UCC.
Portland, OR – God is Still Seeking Racial Justice is the theme of a timely multiracial, multicultural national consultation slated for Nov. 10-13, 2005, Ambridge Event Center, 300 NE Multnomah St, Portland, Oregon, as part of the retirement celebration of the 41 years of ministry of the Rev. Dr. Hector E. Lopez, Co-Conference Minister of the UCC Central Pacific Conference.
The planning team comprised of the leadership from the CPC Conference in partnership with the UCC Office of General Ministries, Local Church Ministries, Justice and Witness, Wider Church Ministries, and representatives from the Council for Hispanic Ministries, Pacific Island and Asian American Ministries, and United Black Christians, is extending a wide invitation and extravagant welcome to all people who see racial justice as a foundational element of the United Church of Christ to come and share with each other their mutual stories.
Explains Rev. Lopez, “As I pondered my upcoming retirement I wondered how best to celebrate the ending of my journey of ministry within the community of the UCC. The thought of a vast banquet with countless people roasting me was not too exciting. But then I thought that the fulminating reason for my coming to ministry was God’s incessant call to our generation for racial justice. The events and people of the 1950’ and 1960’s such as the Brown Act, Rosa Mae Parks, Dr. King Jr., Larry Itliong, Wounded Knee, and Cesar Chavez were the impelling reason for my heeding a call. So, I thought it would be appropriate to end as I began, with the focus on racial justice. The consultation can be a helpful resource to local churches, conferences, ecumenical partners, and our national church as we assess the state of our mutual ministry for racial justice and discern what God is calling us yet to do.”
Speakers confirmed to date are former UCC President Paul Sherry, Linda Jaramillo, and Larry Burnley. The event will feature the voices reflecting upon the past, present and future from every major community within the UCC family on an intergenerational basis – African American, Latino, Pacific Islander, Asian American, Native American, European American, and the international presence, through worship, plenaries, mixed groups to discern God’s call to the People of God, fellowship, cultural and artistic expressions, and visits to local exemplary racial and ethnic projects in the Portland Metropolitan area. It is anticipated that inspired common resolutions emerging from the discussions will contribute to a Convent of Unity and Commissioning at the close of the consultation.
Registration for the event is $75 which will include the closing banquet. Pre-registration and information about housing at union hotels, homestays, travel can be obtained by calling (503) 228 3178, by requesting via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, or visiting the website in early June: www.cpcucc.org.
On our trip back from Oregon and Washington we had to fly into Salt Lake City on Tuesday afternoon for a connecting flight to St. Louis. Unfortunately, our connection was cancelled due to mechanical problems and we ended up stranded for 36 hours in Utah (with twin 10-month olds). Note to Delta: You are in such big trouble with us.
So what are a UCC seminarian and his family to do when stranded in Salt Lake City? Tour Temple Square. This is the downtown city block where the Mormons have set-up their national shop. We visited the outside of their temple (non-Mormons aren’t allowed inside), walked through some truly beautiful gardens, toured their new convention center with its really breathtaking roof-top garden and view of the mountains, and ate some pretty good food. Everyone we met on the tour was incredibly gracious and friendly. Neither Liz nor I had ever visited the city before. Theologically I have some rather profound differences with the Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints (the official name of the denomination). We enjoyed our trip there regardless of any differences and hope that some time in the future we get to spend a little more time in Salt Lake City (maybe exploring the mountains). Since we often fly Delta there is a high degree of probability our wish will come true….
One of my recent purchases at the Eden Bookstore was John Shelby Spong’s The Sins of Scripture. Spong retired as the Episcopal bishop of Newark in 2000 and has taught at Harvard Divinity School and the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. He has previously written the best-selling Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism and several other books. Beliefnet.com published an interview this week with Spong discussing The Sins of Scripture. Make sure you read the interview. The book itself is well written and accessible to all types of people and Spong offers insightful biblical commentary. A great Sunday school class could be put together around this book. I may try and put together such a course myself.
This article on gay marriage from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's Religious Leadership Roundtable came across my e-mail today. The Rev. Dr. Jay Emerson Johnson, an Episcopal priest who works at the United Church of Christ-related Pacific School of Religion's Center for Lesbian & Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry, wrote the first section. What follows are statements from religious leaders from several different faith traditions addressing the religious / moral issues involved in the gay marriage debate. Good stuff. Enjoy.
WASHINGTON -- May 16 -- May 17 marks the first anniversary of Massachusetts offering equal marriage benefits to same-sex couples. For those of us who believe in those rights, and the more than 5,000 same-sex couples that have been married, it is a moment for reflection and celebration. Our joy, however, is mixed with a sense of loss, because 14 states have since passed measures banning legal recognition of same-sex relationships.
Religious opponents of equal marriage frequently use the Bible for justification of their stance. In March, the Southern Baptist Convention released the Nashville Declaration on Same-Sex Marriage, in which it based its opposition to equality on "the biblical teaching that God designed marriage as a lifetime union of one man and one woman." For biblical literalists, they don't know much about the Bible. Biblical families and American families share the word "family" in common, but not much more. But if we look beyond the radically different structure of Biblical marriage, modern families can still find timeless values in the scriptures to guide them.
First, it's important to recognize that the most common marriage pattern in the Bible is polygamy: not a union of one man and one woman, but a union of one man and as many women as he could afford to keep (see Solomon, and his 700 wives and 300 concubines). In the Christian scriptures, the two primary figures, Jesus and the Apostle Paul, are both unmarried and childless. Based on the model of Jesus and his disciples, the early church developed a radical model of family that broke with ancient kinship patterns in favor of a religious — and nonbiological — church family.
"Biblical family values" present just as many problems as "biblical families." Abraham's use of his slave, Hagar, to sire a child, and his subsequent banishment of her and the child to the wilderness (Genesis 21:14) would be considered unspeakably callous by today's standards. Yet according to the family values of his day, Abraham was acting completely within his rights. When Jacob steals his brother Esau's birthright, the Bible describes it not simply as an act of brotherly betrayal but as a necessary part of God's will for God's people (Genesis 27). Even more severe is Jephthah's sacrifice of his own daughter to fulfill the terms of a foolish vow (Judges 11:29-40) or Onan being put to death for refusing to impregnate his late brother's wife (Genesis 38:9). Parents who cover their children's eyes during Desperate Housewives, might be shocked to discover what lurid tales of betrayal, rape, incest, and adultery — all transpiring within traditional biblical families — lurk between the covers of their family Bible.
Not every biblical family relationship is as dysfunctional as these examples. But when biblical figures act virtuously, they often do so outside the bounds of "traditional family." The story of Ruth and Naomi is an account of same-sex devotion often read, ironically, during heterosexual marriage ceremonies (Ruth 1:16). David and Jonathan's relationship is presented with a tenderness lacking in most biblical marriages: David admits that his love for his friend "surpassed the love of women" (2 Samuel 1:26). In the Gospels, when Jesus is asked about his own family, he replies with an answer that was as radical for his day as it is now: "Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother" (Matthew 12:48-50).
The structures of biblical families are rooted in ancient cultural practices far removed from the sensibilities of Western society; the authors of the Bible would scarcely recognize the partnership of equals that marks a contemporary American marriage. But this doesn't mean we should abandon the Bible as a guide to family values. As the mutable institution of marriage evolves with shifting cultural norms, the Bible continually calls us back to what truly matters in human relationships. St. Paul wrote about these values, calling them the "fruit of the spirit": "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control" (Galatians 5:22). Surely these are biblical values every family would embrace. According to Paul, "love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude...It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things" (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). Even when knowledge and human institutions fail, these values, Paul says, remain constant: faith, hope and love. The greatest of these three, Paul concludes, is love (1 Corinthians 13:13).
Societal definitions of marriage and family will inevitably change over the course of history. It's clear that what is important in the Bible is not a family structure based on biology or even heterosexuality, but the quality of love exhibited in the relationships. And if same-sex couples exhibit such spiritual values, they deserve the legal protection and civil recognition of marriage. If we have any intention of preserving marriage or protecting families, we must base our support on values that are unchangeable: values such as faith, hope, and love. But the greatest among these — whether the couple is same-sex or heterosexual — is love.
The Rev. Jay Emerson Johnson, Ph.D., a member of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Religious Leadership Roundtable, is an Episcopal priest and the programming and development director for the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry at Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California(www.clgs.org).
Biblical Values for American Families...
More from Members and Friends of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's National Religious Leadership Roundtable
Marriage is not a right, but a privilege-granting machine that favors those who are lucky in love by making them even luckier in the business of daily life. Connecting rights to marriage is, in my view, an outmoded approach to the common good. We need to admit that many of our religious traditions have not strayed far from their roots when it comes to marriage as a commodity exchange. Religious leaders need to put a wholesale reexamination of marriage on the agenda, leaving aside the same-sex distraction in order to think anew about how we envision a just society.
—Mary Hunt, Ph.D., Co-director of Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual (WATER), Silver Spring, MD.
Let us remember that the marriage debate here in the United States is not new. It began when African American slaves were forbidden to marry so they "jumped over the broom" — an African American tradition — in front of their slave masters to consecrate their nuptials. And then a century later the debate concerned interracial marriages between African Americans and white Americans. This history teaches us that marriage is a matter of the heart. Who marries whom is neither the business of church nor the state but only that of the two parties involved.
—Reverend Irene Monroe, Activist, Religion Columnist, Harvard Ph.D. Candidate, Cambridge, MA
In the final analysis, a biblical ethic for marriage does not come from ancient cultural practices, which change and evolve through time, but from the biblical values for all relationships, which are by their nature, timeless. Such an ethic calls those who would marry to a life-long, committed relationship which loves, healthy, responsible, just and full of integrity. Any two adults, gay or straight, who choose to live in relationship according to these values, should be free to marry and receive the church's blessing. And all such couples, gay or straight, should be able to access all the rights, benefits and responsibilities civil society provides to support and sustain this most basic of family settings.
— Rev. Michael Schuenemeyer, Minister for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Ministries, United Church of Christ, Cleveland, OH
To rely only on biblical scriptures for defining marriage would not only require that we pick among contradictory passages but also that we declare the Holy Spirit has had nothing to say to humankind about marriage in the last 2000 years. That would truly be blasphemy and totally contrary to the Lutheran doctrine of the Living Word of God."
— Bob Gibeling, Lutherans Concerned Outreach Director, Atlanta Interfaith AIDS Network, Atlanta, GA
LGBT people often serve society by fulfilling certain spiritual roles and functions. In many ways, we propel society's forward movement and help it determine its limits. The issue of marriage today is a perfect example of this. Just by virtue of being who we are and wanting to be included in this institution, we are forcing society-at-large to re-evaluate the meaning of marriage. In forcing society to ask the question, "What is marriage for and what does it mean to be married?" LGBT people serve the greater good for everyone. For, even if painful and difficult, arriving at the truth is always good.
— Christian de la Huerta, Founder, Q-Spirit, author of Coming Out Spiritually, San Rafael, CA
I am reminded of Walter Wink's wisdom. He has said that the Bible does not have one sexual ethic, but does a have single love ethic. It is to this ethic of love rooted in justice that we are called to turn. There we discover that the gender of the couple is not an important criterion. Rather it is the love their union brings, embodies, and spreads that is the statement of its worth.
— Rebecca Voelkel, National Coordinator, United Church of Christ Coalition for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Concerns, Minneapolis, MN.
To deny same-gender loving couples the protections, accountability and acceptance of their sacred commitment to one another is to do gross injustice to the Gospel call of hospitality. Indeed, Reverend Johnson is correct when he asserts that the greatest of these is love. To those who would disagree, they might be wise to heed the words of Scripture in I John 4: 7: "Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God."
— Reverend Steven Baines, Gay and Lesbian Affirming Disciples, Washington D.C.
I was baptized in our Lutheran church by my uncle who was my pastor. Our family has been Lutheran for generations. I want to be married in the church of my childhood, in the church that I was raised to love and call my own. For me, marriage is not just about the protections and benefits that come with the legal contract of civil marriage, it is also about God's blessing on two people in a life-long cherished relationship. I long for the day all churches understand the importance of that sacred blessing.
— Jacob Reitan, Director of Youth and Young Adults, Soulforce, Lynchburg, VA
The religious right wing does not have a monopoly on what is moral, just and good. God and the Bible do not belong exclusively to them. The struggle for same-sex couples to have the same rights, privileges and responsibilities of marriage as every other American is a fight for justice. The Bible says we are all created in God's image — not only straight, not only male, not only white people. All of us. Whether or not a relationship is sacred and sanctified should be based on the nature of the relationship — not on the sexual orientation or gender identity of the partners. In the face of the religious right-wing bigotry, our families are living proof that the spiritual resources of religion are not the exclusive preserve of one statement of society. Encouraging and imposing bigotry by denying the full rights of marriage while simultaneously vilifying GLBT people has made the term "Axis of Evil" sadly applicable to our own country.
— Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, New York City, NY
As a Friends organization, we acknowledge the guidance of the Bible, and we also believe in God's continuing revelation, both of which have given us a sexual ethic of love and justice. How will sexual expression and the integrity of marriage be judged? 'By their fruits you shall know them" (Mt 7:20). Does this relationship create an environment of love and justice? Does it further the creation of loving and sustaining community? Loving relationships stand on the Friends testimony of equality. We are called to follow the leadings of the spirit: to love each other and act responsibly.
— Kay Whitlock, National Representative for LGBT Issues, American Friends Service Committee, Missoula, MT
Unfortunately Christianity and Biblical literalists don’t have a corner in the market of prejudice against gays, let alone the issue of gay marriage. There are Hindus and Muslims and Orthodox Jews, among others, who believe that being gay and religious is mutually exclusive. Is it so hard to see that at the core of all religions is a profound spirituality that takes many forms, and at the core of all human beings is a great hunger for spirituality and love that takes many forms? We are all made in God's image and God is love. Isn't it a beautiful thing to be able to honor love that has found another love, even if it involves two people of the same sex?
I say, love and let love.
— Dhumavati, Kashi Ashram, Sebastian, FL
Founded in 1973, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force was the first national lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights and advocacy organization and remains the movement's leading voice for freedom, justice, and equality. We work to build the grassroots political strength of our community by training state and local activists and leaders and organizing broad-based campaigns to defeat anti-LGBT referenda and advance pro-LGBT legislation. Our Policy Institute, the community's premiere think tank, provides research and policy analysis to support the struggle for complete equality. As part of a broader social justice movement, we work to create a world that respects and makes visible the diversity of human expression and identity where all people may fully participate in society. Headquartered in Washington, DC, we also have offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Cambridge, and Miami.
We made a quick and unscheduled trip out to Oregon and Washington this weekend. Portland’s First United Methodist Church – where I served for several years as director of community outreach – was where I worshiped on Sunday morning. The Rev. Dr. Arvin Luchs (my former boss) preached an excellent Pentecost sermon. FUMC member Paul Nickell (Oregon’s World Wide Pablo) is pictured here. It was a great joy to visit with so many FUMC friends. Mollie Copeland and Christine Paul (both of whom served as managers at FUMC’s Goose Hollow Family Shelter) were very kind in rearranging their schedules and joining the twins and I for coffee before services. The four of us have visited with my sisters, mother and step-father, and a host of friends over a crowded weekend. Powell’s bookstore, Produce Row Café and the new restaurant Gravy were among the many places that between Liz and I we visited. We’re counting the days until we start our move back to Oregon. It won’t be that long.
Grace and peace to you on this Feast of Pentecost 2005, in which we celebrate the many gifts of God’s Spirit!
As the apostle Paul has exhorted, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1). The gift of spirituality has been lavished upon humanity not only for our own inner contentment and individual fulfillment, but to enable us to proclaim our faith together through action in the world. Our spiritual worship requires us to present our bodies, that we may be of service to God and our neighbours.
“Who then is my neighbour?” In one parable of Jesus, the neighbour is a Samaritan, a member of an alien religious culture who had been regarded as an enemy (Luke 10:29-37). Our neighbours may be those we least expect, and the barriers we perceive between us and them may swiftly fall away before the fresh wind of the Spirit.
On the morning of Pentecost, as described in the Acts of the Apostles, the city of Jerusalem had become a gathering place for pilgrims representing many and varied peoples from across the face of the earth. When the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles, they began to proclaim the gospel despite the great diversity of those who heard them. “Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?’” (Acts 2:1-8). The miracle of Pentecost was an unprecedented revelation that all the tightly-drawn boundaries of culture, religion, race, gender and language are as nothing compared to the healing, reconciling will of Jesus Christ who “has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us” (Ephesians 2:14).
Now, as then, it seems only human to define oneself over against “the other” – those people who are not like me, not like us. If we find any of them in our vicinity, we designate them outsiders. Yet the arrangement seems less fair when we find ourselves in the minority, when we experience what it means to be “the other”. At some time, each of us has felt the de-humanizing sting of a look or a word or a joke or a law. At a given moment, each of us has known the outsider’s sense of embarrassment, disappointment, outrage and self-alienation.
The good news of Pentecost is that Jesus Christ calls us to a new realization of our common humanity. And the Holy Spirit makes possible our full participation in true community. Such a community of the people of God may become an instrument of the gospel, as did the apostles.
The World Council of Churches and ecumenical partners from a wide variety of traditions and movements are gathering at a Conference on World Mission and Evangelism this spring in Athens, Greece. In the light of Pentecost, the theme of the conference suggests the role that Christian communities may play in overcoming barriers between people, “‘Come Holy Spirit, Heal and Reconcile!’ Called in Christ to be healing and reconciling communities.”
Pentecost comes as a reminder that God intervenes in our world to overcome divisions, to heal, to reconcile us with God and one another. Where once language divided us, we are enabled to understand one another clearly, and to praise God in harmony. Where once the boundaries of our community marked the limits to our friendships and family ties, now a worldwide sense of community opens our hearts to all God’s creatures.
The Creator brought into being all that is. Christ has been revealed to us as “all in all”. The Holy Spirit blows, like the wind, where it will. God knows no limits.
Pentecost forces us to an expanding understanding of God, and we begin to see that there are no limits on the ways in which God interacts with the world. God’s mercy is more profound than we can imagine. God is more open than we have ever envisioned. God is more loving than we can conceive. We begin to understand, too, that the limits we experience in this world are limits that we have placed on one another, and on ourselves.
We do not have intelligence enough nor imagination enough nor sufficiently well-honed senses to appreciate all that God is, let alone all of God’s ways. And yet God calls us to present our bodies and dedicate our lives – to the quest for justice, to seek an end to violence, to confront hatred and oppression and discrimination and disease, to loving service in partnership with all people of good will. And God promises the presence of the Holy Spirit in this ministry of healing and reconciliation.
“God, in Your Grace, Transform the World” is the theme for the up-coming 9th Assembly of the World Council of Churches which will be held in Porto Alegre, Brazil, 14-23 February 2006. As the Holy Spirit transformed the apostles on the day of Pentecost for the sake of the whole inhabited world, so we envision the Spirit transforming us as individuals, as communities, as members of churches and citizens of the world. Indeed, we look forward to the transformation of all Creation – for the sake of our common redemption, for justice and peace, for love and service – so that together we may see the fulfillment of the prophecy of a new heaven and a new earth. During this season of Pentecost, we wish to invite delegates and visitors from around the world to join us in Porto Alegre as we explore the theme, “God, in Your Grace, Transform the World.” The theme of the 9th Assembly is also our prayer. Amen.
Dr Agnes Abuom, Nairobi, Kenya
Rt Rev. Jabez L. Bryce, Suva, Fiji
H.E. Chrysostomos, Metropolitan of the Senior See of Ephesus, Istanbul, Turkey
H.H. Ignatius Zakka I Iwas, Damascus, Syria
Rev. Dr Bernice Powell Jackson, Cleveland, USA
Dr Kang Moon Kyu, Seoul, Korea
Bishop Federico J. Pagura, Rosario, Argentina
Bishop Eberhardt Renz, Tübingen, Germany
The Catholic Campaign for Human Development is an important voice in the fight to end poverty in America.
Since 1970 when it was established by the U.S. Catholic bishops, CCHD has assisted people to rise out of poverty through empowerment programs that foster self-sufficiency. Through private donations and annual parish collections, CCHD has offered more than $260 million in support to nearly 4,000 self-help projects developed by grassroots groups of poor people in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Grants are awarded on the basis of need, not religious affiliation.
Many projects that I've supported and admired have received funding through CCHD.
The group offers an excellent website - Poverty USA - with a wealth of information about poverty and economic injustice in the United States. Check it out and find ways that you and your congregation might become more involved with this issue.
After weeks of wrangling, the Senate has moved no closer to resolving debate about the filibuster rule and judical nominations. In fact, the rhetoric has grown increasingly heated and divisive. Most alarming has been the abuse of religious claims by those seeking to eliminate the filibuster rule. This rhetoric has blurred the debate and distracted the public from the core issue: the troubling civil rights records of several of the nominees now before the Senate. Contact your senators and urge them to preserve the filibuster rule as an essential part of the Senate's constitutional advise and consent role.
By J. Bennett Guess
UCC United Church News Director
May 12, 2005
The United Church of Christ's General Synod, meeting July 1-5 in Atlanta, will consider two resolutions that call for the church to use its economic leverage to express disapproval of companies allegedly profiting from Israel's occupation of Palestinian territory.
A proposed resolution brought by a coalition of six congregations in Hawaii, Montana and Washington calls for "a study of divestment of church funds from companies that profit from the perpetuation of violence and injustice in Israel and Palestine."
A second proposal sponsored by the Penn West Conference asks for selective divestment from firms "involved with Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, the building of the 'security fence,' and the Israeli settlements within the Palestinian Territory."
If approved, the 1.3-million-member UCC would follow in the path of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) which last year voted to begin a study of divestment from such companies.
The Rev. Alan N. McLarty, Penn West Conference Minister, told the Los Angeles Times that the proposed resolution seeks to "affirm that God seeks shalom, peace, that will bring health and wholeness to all people in the Mideast."
Penn West's resolution affirms Israel's right to exist, condemns violence on both sides of the conflict and notes that the UCC has passed resolutions condemning anti-Semitism. The proposal also explicitly names Caterpillar Inc. as a candidate for divestment, arguing that it is profiting from the perpetual violence in the Middle East.
"[Caterpillar's] purpose-built machines have enabled, and are still enabling, the Israeli Defense Force to destroy increasingly more Palestinian homes and olive orchards," the measure reads. "One of these machines was instrumental in the deliberate crushing to death of the young American peace volunteer Rachel Corrie in Gaza on March 16, 2003."
The Presbyterians and United Methodists are also reportedly considering a "corporate social responsibility" campaign against Caterpillar.
The Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) also could consider economic leverage resolutions regarding Israel/Palestine at upcoming national assemblies.
The divestment effort is being met with widespread disapproval from Jewish organizations. Earlier this year, when the UCC/Disciples' Global Ministries published an online study document entitled "The Palestinians, Israel, and the Churches' Economic Leverage," the Anti-Defamation League responded with a letter on Feb. 8 complimenting the balance of the church's background piece but criticizing the idea of "divestment as formal church policy."
"While you go to great lengths to demonstrate the many ways economic 'leverage' might be employed to encourage the peace process, there is precious little else," the letter stated. "We question why there are no alternatives … ."
The UCC Pension Boards, located in New York, issued a statement on its website on April 22, saying it "shares the goals of a lasting peace between Palestinians and Israelis, strengthening the Palestinian economy and preserving interfaith relationships" and "believes there is room for a variety of strategies among the UCC's settings, as well as our ecumenical and interfaith partners, united in seeking a common goal."
The Pension Boards, however, says a "full range of possibilities" should be explored "before the church commits to any particular course of action."
"The Pension Boards understands that many of our members do not want to profit from certain corporate activity," the statement says. "… However, we view divestment - the intentional sale of stock - as a 'last resort' strategy, to be considered only after a corporate engagement or shareholder activism approach has failed."
A third proposed resolution on the Middle East, "Tear Down The Wall," sponsored by Wider Church Ministries, calls upon the Israeli government to cease construction and dismantle the massive security barrier that separates the Israeli and Palestinian territories and calls for reparations to those displaced by its construction.
The texts of proposed resolutions can be read online at:
Rockville, Maryland has become the epicenter of America’s culture wars. Parents in the area largely support a new sex education curriculum. National conservative religious / political groups oppose these local efforts to educate children about sexual issues. The fault lines are everywhere. The outside political groups are angry, for example, that teenagers would be taught to use condoms and that homosexuality would be presented in a positive light. The program has been suspended by a court order until the curriculum can be further studied. Gazette.net reports on the reaction from parents:
Peter J. Petesch is disappointed that his eighth-grader will not be able to take part in a discussion of sexual orientation at Tilden Middle School in Rockville.
Petesch also is disturbed that his daughter and her classmates now find themselves at the center of a debate that some parents said is imposing the will of religious conservatives and outsiders on their children's education.
"It's important for her -- and generally important for the children in our county -- to get a message of tolerance on the issue of gays and lesbians and then get the message on ways to save their life and health," said Petesch, an attorney from Rockville who once co-chaired a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention committee that looked at the business and labor response to AIDS. "I'm also disturbed that our county is becoming a beachhead for the religious far-right to try to dictate what our children will be taught."
All theological issues can be and are at some level controversial. Some of the most controversial issues deal with how we view sexuality from a theological standpoint. Is human sexuality a gift from God that should be explored and celebrated? Or is sexuality a problematic function of human nature that brings humans all too often into sinful relationships that dishonor God? This debate plays out in public institutions – such as schools and legislative bodies – and in churches. Many denominations have developed sexual education programs to help children and young adults examine human sexuality. How those programs are developed speaks volumes of the hermeneutical approaches used by churches to discern the meaning of scripture (or to examine their own traditions, etc.) to find meaning in sexual relations. Some churches demand a strict fidelity to what they consider literal interpretations of scripture (no sexual relations outside of marriage, etc.). The United Church of Christ and the Unitarian Universalist Association have jointly developed sex education resources for all age groups that present a more progressive theological viewpoint.
The Our Whole Lives curriculum is comprehensive. Programs for grades K-1 and 4-6 include eight sessions that each last one hour. 27 sessions – each lasting 1.5 hours - are included for the materials made available for grades 7-9. Students in grades 10-12 take part in 14 sessions that will last two hours each. Several sessions are also held to orientate parents. Those who teach the curriculum are required to participate in extensive training sessions for each age group they will teach. Teachers must be certified by the national offices of the UCC before materials for the classes are made available for use by local congregations. Classes are held for different age groups to provide information for participants who are at different developmental stages. The K-1 class, for example, focuses on helping students develop appropriate language skills for body parts and helps to foster a respect for diverse families early on. Sessions for grades 7-9 focus on more of the “specific developmental issues of early adolescents.” The resources developed for grades 10-12 is the most advanced in terms of content (which makes sense considering the age group involved) and because of the issues discussed has the potential for causing the most controversy in local churches using the program.
The curriculum developed for grades 10-12 is "designed to help adolescents":
• Affirm and respect themselves as sexual persons (including their bodies, sexual orientations, feelings, etc.) and respect the sexuality of others.
• Become more comfortable and skilled in discussing and negotiating sexuality issues with peers, romantic partners, and people of other generations.
• Explore, develop and articulate values, attitudes, and feelings about their own sexuality and the sexuality of others.
• Identify, and live according to, their values.
• Increase motivation and skills for developing a just sexual morality that rejects double standards, stereotypes, biases, exploitation, dishonesty, and abuse.
• Acquire the knowledge and skills needed for developing and maintaining romantic or sexual relationships that are consensual, mutually pleasurable, non-exploitative, safe, and based on respect, mutual expectations and caring.
• Acquire the knowledge and skills needed to avoid unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
• Express and enjoy sexuality in healthy and responsible ways at each stage of their development.
• Asses the impact of messages from family, culture, religion, media, and society on sexual thoughts, feelings, values, and behaviors.
These goals are not those shared by many sexual education classes offered in gym classes across America. What these goals represent is a very specific vision of what church is. “Responsible choice about sexual matters is at the heart of the Christian life,” write the authors of the Our Wholes Lives curriculum. “Therefore, the Christian community is obligated to provide information and opportunities for understanding the choices we face.” In terms used by Karen Tye in her book the Basics of Christian Education, the authors of this curriculum clearly see their goals for Christian education as nurture, critical thinking, belief formation, and faith development. It is hoped that students who finish the program leave with a good sense of who they are as sexual beings, can make decisions about sexual activity within a moral framework that they can articulate, and that they will make responsible decisions that protect both themselves and sexual partners from harm. All of these classes are offered within, as mentioned above, a progressive Christian framework. But what does that mean?
Classes are structured in fairly traditional ways. Each class begins with an opening ritual and ends with a closing ritual. The companion guide developed for the curriculum has suggested bible readings for these rituals, suggests the lightening of candles to help remind “participants of the presence of the Divine” during their sessions, and suggests that a table be made available for use as a worship center. These are rituals that remind us of the Christian tradition we are part of and would be familiar in many churches regardless of their theology. It is in the principles guiding the development of this UCC curriculum that offer us a sense that this program is different from many in use by churches today. Some excerpts:
As Christians, we look to the scriptures as the primary guide of knowing how God’s spirit moves in our midst. In matters of human sexuality, we do not limit our study of the scriptures to those passages where words such as sex, marriage, and divorce are found. The great biblical themes of creation, exodus, incarnation, resurrection, love, and justice can inform our discussions and decision making about human sexuality.
At the heart of the Torah, the Prophets, and the Gospels is the call to love God, neighbors, and ourselves, and to serve justice in human relationships and society. No valid interpretation can ignore, or contradict, this call to love and justice.
To say that the Bible is the primary source of inspiration and knowledge for Christians does not mean that it is the only one. Our understanding of human sexuality can be deepened and enriched when we avail ourselves of accurate and up-to-date information and research. We affirm the reality of the living Spirit that moves where it will and is as active in our days as in the days when scriptures were recorded.
These theological assumptions allow UCC congregations to offer classes for students that go far beyond what any school or most churches would offer. Can you imagine a Southern Baptist congregation teaching students that homosexuality is a healthy and positive lifestyle or a Mormon congregation teaching that masturbation is healthy self expression? You obviously would not see curriculum with similar hermeneutical approaches in many churches. Even with UCC congregations there is great theological diversity. It is hard to imagine some of our rural congregations – where sexual diversity is not always valued the same – would feel comfortable using Our Whole Lives to teach their children about sex. Determining whether or not this material would be appropriate for your congregation would have a great deal to do with determining the theology of your church. This curriculum would not work in every context and the UCC does not attempt to force it on any church.
The Unitarian Universalist Association uses this same curriculum. Actually, the curriculum itself is designed so that it could be used by many different religious traditions and even secular groups. The materials produced by the UCC and UUA do not include religious language. However, the companion guides to the series (available for each age group) offer the theological rational behind the courses and the suggestions on scripture readings, etc. The resources suggested for use in UUA churches obviously has a different theological take on which the program should be used. “Our Whole Lives is religious because it seeks to nurture religious community, spiritual depth, prophetic vision, and action for justice. It is religious because it helps participants clarify their own religious values and gain the skills and knowledge they need to live out those values. It is religious because it promotes the worth and dignity of every participant,” states their extensive web site explaining the program to UUA members. There is no overt Christian rational for offering the program to UUA churches.
Other denominations also offer curriculum for sex education that would use nurture, critical thinking, belief formation, and faith development as goals. The United Methodist Church, for example, offers a course called Good Sex. However, the theological assumptions made by the United Methodists are different. Homosexuality, for example, is considered “incompatible with Christianity” in official UMC doctrine. The United Methodist News service reports:
The United Methodist Church emphasizes the importance of sex education and chastity before marriage in official statements found in the denomination’s Social Principles.
"Although all persons are sexual beings whether or not they are married, sexual relations are only clearly affirmed in the marriage bond," the church declares in its "Human Sexuality" statement.
In the "Rights of Children," the church says: "All children have the right to quality education, including full sex education appropriate to their stage of development that utilizes the best educational techniques and insights. Christian parents and guardians and the church have the responsibility to ensure that children receive sex education consistent with Christian morality, including faithfulness in marriage and abstinence in singleness."
"The supervision and love of Christian parents and other caring adults, supported by the extended church family, are the primary source of sex education," the church says. "A comprehensive approach to sex education offers an additional basis for countering pornography.
"Children, youth, and adults need opportunities to discuss sexuality and learn from quality sex education materials in families, churches and schools. An alternative message to pornography, contained in carefully prepared, age-appropriate sex education materials that are both factual and explicit and portray caring, mutually consenting relationships between married adults, is needed. Materials should be measured by the intentions expressed and the goals served, not by the degree of explicitness of sexual imagery.
The materials used by the UCC and UUA, in contrast to the United Methodist Church, are very explicit and value sexual relations inside and outside of marriage. All three of these religious bodies, however, share a goal of keeping children from entering into sexual relations before they have attained a certain level of maturity. In any event, materials used by the United Methodist Church are more in line with traditional ways of understanding sexual relations in a Christian context. The argument can be effectively made, however, that the traditional ways of thinking on sexual health and morality do not take into account the reality that young people do have sex outside of marriage and are at increased risk for deadly disease. What the UCC and UUA have developed speaks more to the current reality faced by many young people and can be a very valuable resource. Recent studies have found that abstinence based sexual education fails to keep students from having sex – but does keep them away from using condoms which can protect them from disease.
Schools – like those in Rockville – should offer comprehensive sex education. But our churches – especially those that share a progressive theology – are going to have to be more proactive in offering programs like Our Whole Lives. If the religious right can keep sound educational programs out of schools we’ll need to bring those programs into our churches. Lives literally depend on it.
Click here to learn about The Responsible Education About Life Act: Helping Kids Make Educated Decisions About Sex - legislation that is now before Congress. Our public schools need help and this legislation would provide it.
The United Church of Christ has a strong and proud legacy of supporting the United Nations. General Synod has repeatedly affirmed that a productive relationship between the United Nations and the United States is essential for a successful U.S. foreign policy. Both the UCC Wider Church Ministries and UCC Justice and Witness Ministries hold non-governmental standing with the United Nations.
John Bolton, the nominee of the Bush Administration to serve as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has a long history of opposing the work of the United Nations. His willingness to put ideology ahead of American security has been well documented. Mr. Bolton has said that the day President Bush retracted the U.S. commitment to the International Criminal Court was the happiest day of his professional career.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has raised many concerns about entrusting the highly sensitive task of forging international agreements in a polarized and dangerous world to John Bolton. These concerns are too great to move this nomination out of committee to the full Senate floor.
To send a letter to your senators asking them to oppose this nomination, click here.
To view the resolution going to the UCC General Synod XXV urging that the UCC support the International Criminal Court, click here.
Related Site: UN Dispatch
East Waynesville Baptist Church has shown the world what their theology is all about: exclusion and division. Hopefully, that will change now that their pastor – who helped kick out church members who voted for John Kerry – has resigned in disgrace.
If East Waynesville Baptist Church is looking for a model of how to be a welcoming congregation they might consider looking just down the road at First Congregational United Church of Christ of Asheville, North Carolina. This UCC congregation adopted a statement in 2002 that East Waynesville Baptist Church might consider borrowing:
We believe all persons are created in the image of a loving God, who not only creates but also embodies, embraces and celebrates diversity. As disciples of Jesus, we are called to restore justice wherever God's creation is broken or divided.
We acknowledge that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered persons have long been excluded, rejected and dishonored by the Church. This practice, often implicitly condoned by silence, continues today. While persons of minority sexual orientations have historically been a part of faith communities, many, out of fear or rejection, have been unable to live openly the fullness of their lives. Others have left or never joined a church.
We also recognize that other marginalized people have been excluded. When any person's opportunity for spiritual growth and worship is limited by injustice, our own growth is restricted and our worship diminished. We celebrate that this congregation has been a welcoming community of faith and now wish to make our welcome explicit for all. Therefore:
We invite people of every race, nationality, age, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, marital status, ability, financial means, ethnic and spiritual background into the full life and ministry of this congregation.
As one expression of this invitation we declare First Congregational United Church of Christ, Asheville, NC to be an "Open and Affirming" congregation of the United Church of Christ. With God's help, we will challenge injustice based on sexual orientation. We promise to support and honor all loving and mutual relationships. With a spirit of thankfulness for all God's gifts we humbly and prayerfully enter into this covenant with one another.
Approved by congregational vote on January 27, 2002.
Christianity is a faith founded on God’s love for creation – all creation. We are called “do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God. (Micah 6:8)." Asheville, NC is fortunate to have several churches that reject exclusion and embrace diversity.
The pastor of East Waynesville Baptist Church, Chan Chandler, has resigned. Chandler was accused last week of terminating the membership of nine church members because they voted for John Kerry. 40 other members resigned in protest. The Asheville Citizens-Times reports that Chandler promised church members he would continue speaking out against abortion before announcing his resignation. His actions obviously deeply harmed his congregation. It would be appropriate for the IRS and North Carolina officials to investigate how church funds were managed during his tenure. It certainly appears he confused ministry with promoting the reelection of George W. Bush. If he used his position to advocate for Bush’s campaign the church should loose their non-profit status.
Related Post: East Waynesville Baptist Church Kicks Out Democrats
The Roman Catholic group Pax Christi USA – in interfaith partnership with others – is sponsoring an important forum on building peace. Many Stories, One Vision for a Nuclear-Free World will be held August 4-7, 2005 in remembrance of the 60th anniversary of the US atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The vision statement for the event reads:
Each one of us is a child of satyagraha, a tiny seedling of truth-force filled with the capacity to learn, transform and rejoice. We are called into the service of that abundant beauty present within our need for healing, reconciliation and peace. We are called to renew our witness to justice at the Test Site and all places to inspire and empower all relationships within our work, as we remember the genocide of our sisters and brothers in Nagasaki and Hiroshima 60 years ago. Our voice calls out, during this Year of Remembrance and Action, for the immediate ending of nuclear testing and the disarmament and abolition of all nuclear weapons. Our days of dialogue and witness together mark a rebirth, a regeneration of the peoples' movement in solidarity with the oneness of all living things.
2005 marks the 60th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the founding of the United Nations. Urged on by the Hibukasha - the survivors of "hell on earth" - the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have called for "A Year of Remembrance and Action for a Nuclear Weapons Free World."
We join with Abolition! Now and millions of people throughout the world to remember the victims of nuclear war and to call for an end to all war, injustice and nuclear proliferation.
Many great speakers are scheduled to appear. Check it out and attend if you can.
The decision by Pastor Chan Chandler’s East Waynesville Baptist Church, a congregation affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, to expel democrats who voted for John Kerry should be an easy act to condemn for church leaders. Southern Baptist leaders, however, seem to have a hard time finding much they disagree with in Chandler’s acts.
Waylan Owens, who serves as vice president of planning and communications at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC, is one of Chandler’s professors. He wrote an article about the controversy for Baptist Press in which he said in part:
You cannot call yourself a member of a church that stands against abortion and then actively support abortion through your politics.
What a novel idea! Your life should match your religious profession. As we used to say when I was growing up, “You gotta walk the talk!” Imagine that, Christians living out with integrity what they claim to believe.
What is strange is that the media would not be sympathetic to Chan. After all, they are constantly reporting the lack of integrity among God’s people who claim to believe one way and then live another. Aren’t we all tired of the Christians, especially pastors and church leaders, who are caught in adultery and embezzlement and tax fraud each year? Wouldn’t we all like men who claim to preach the Word also call us to live the Word?
Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, is perhaps the most prominent leader of his denomination. Mohler not only runs the seminary but also writes for several web sites and has his own radio show. When you want a Southern Baptist to respond to a pressing current issue this is the man the media turns to. What has he said about this debate?
Nothing that I can find. His home page does offer though what promises to be an interesting segment from a recent radio program.
(I haven’t taken the opportunity to listen to the story but I’m sure - knowing Mohler - that he thinks wrestling somehow leads to homosexuality and that liberal judges secretly engage in mud wrestling sessions after issuing court opinions that support same sex marriage.
But I digress.)
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, offered more wisdom on this issue when he told Baptist Press:
"I don't know the particulars of the situation, but I certainly acknowledge the right of each local autonomous congregation to decide the requirements for membership in their church," Land told BP. "However, I would also add that the right to determine membership does not always mean that it is exercised in a correct fashion. I believe it would never -- never -- be appropriate or acceptable for a local Baptist church to decide membership based upon how a person votes.
"I believe that preachers and pastors have a responsibility and an obligation to preach what the Bible says about moral, social public policy issues and to encourage people to vote, and when they vote, to vote their values, their beliefs and their convictions. But the decision about the candidate must remain part of the individual responsibility of the priesthood of all believers. A person's casting of a ballot should never be a cause for church discipline."
Republicans keep pushing legislation that would remove the prohibition on churches from endorsing partisan political candidates. So far the legislation, which has been opposed by nearly every religious denomination, hasn’t gotten too far. Most responsible religious leaders understand that churches should not become the outposts of secular political parties.
Sadly, the leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention aren’t quite sure how far their support of American democracy goes. Mohler, after all, was one of the speakers at the religious right-sponsored “Justice Sunday.” That event explicitly stated that those who opposed the Bush Administration and / or the religious right opposed Christianity itself. The events of the last several months – ever since the November 2004 elections – have been chilling as we clearly witness an effort by the religious right to force their theology on all Americans. The events last week in North Carolina are just the latest example.
The Christian Right's posture in the showdown over the "nuclear option" has been a stark lesson in how religious language and imagery are inappropriately seeping into government and politics. First, of course, religion is defined as a particular religion and then defined further as a particular brand of that religion so as to exclude all other views and versions as irreligious, immoral, or wrong. Moreover, in this worldview, Christianity and Country are inseparable. One of the "Justice Sunday" speakers, Dr. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, put it in terms as chilling to religious liberty and diversity as any I've ever heard. Like other fundamentalists, Mohler believes there is only one correct interpretation of the Bible-his-and he equated the inerrancy of his interpretation of the Bible with the inerrancy of the Constitution, based on his biblical beliefs. In bringing the Bible and the Constitution together, fundamentalists like Mohler are moving toward mainstreaming their biblically based interpretation of the Constitution. Judges would be held to the standard of biblical teachings, as interpreted by fundamentalists. I don't doubt the sincerity of Mohler and other fundamentalist ministers who share this view that the Bible is literally true and they alone know what it means, but they are on dangerous ground when they then suggest that they alone also know what the Constitution means-and that anyone who thinks differently is anti-Christian. Christians have strong differences of opinion on the meaning of scriptures and most of us don't want to see a particular brand of Christianity held up as the only real Christianity. We certainly don't want a particular brand of Christianity enacted as the law of the land.
These are dangerous times for America. Let us pray the leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention come to an understanding that can affirm both their faith and the nation’s principles of tolerance and pluralism (the same values many progressive Christians feel represent the best of our tradition as well).
An online conference exploring progressive faith started today. The Rockridge Institute is sponsoring the event:
The Rockridge Institute has partnered with a coalition of progressive religious organizations to host an online conference on the Rockridge Forums. This exciting event is bringing together progressives, Rockridge framing researchers, and religious leaders from across America to discuss the role of progressive religious values in public discourse.
When: Now through May 20th, 2005
Who's invited: Anyone with an interest in exploring progressive values and the progressive religious perspective
Where: The Rockridge Forums
How: If you're a member of the forums, you're all set! If not, sign up now!
The link address is: http://forum.rockridgeinstitute.org/?q=dialogue05
Check it out. The Rev. Brenda Peterson is one of those who alerted me to this event.
Related Link: Lakoff and Me
Beliefnet has just added this site to their section “Blog Heaven.” This is where they link to what Beliefnet considers the “best blogs about religion and spirituality.” You’ll find sites like Andrew Sullivan (political site), Father Jake Stops The World (Christian site), Velveteen Rabbi (Jewish site), Muslim Wakeup Blog (Muslim site), and Woodmoor Village (a Buddhist site). Click here to see them all.
Have you joined The One Campaign?
The mission of the One Campaign is to advocate for U.S. policies that will help transform the lives of our neighbors throughout the world struggling to overcome poverty and disease. The Campaign addresses issues of aid to impoverished countries, debt cancellation and fair trade.
One in five people globally lives in extreme poverty, on less than $1 a day. Each night one in seven goes to bed hungry. A billion people lack clean, safe drinking water. More than 38 million people are infected with HIV/AIDS. Every day more than 28,000 children under the age of five die needlessly from preventable and treatable poverty-related illnesses. Each one has a name, a face, and family and friends who love them.
Many caring people of faith give generously through Church World Service and other humanitarian organizations to help end the living nightmare of extreme poverty. Advocating for U.S. government action can multiply these efforts and help transform entire societies.
You can help spread the world about The One Campaign next Sunday during Pentecost.
The biblical account of Pentecost concludes with these powerful words:
All who believed were together and had all
things in common; they would sell their
possessions and goods and distribute the
proceeds to all, as any had need.
- Acts 2:44-45
Today, many people worldwide continue to live in need due to extreme poverty. Pentecost is a time to remember that as Christians we are called to respond to the needs of the poor. Starting May 15, Global Call to Action Against Poverty and the ONE Campaign are encouraging the wearing of “white bands” in solidarity with the world's poor, and campaign to eradicate poverty.
Click here to download the Pentecost "Day of Action" Against Poverty bulletin insert and make sure it is used in your congregation.
Want to learn more? Watch the video.
From the National Council of Churches USA
May 6, 2005, New York – A historic civil rights organization has joined the National Council of Churches USA in warning that efforts to eliminate the Senate filibuster may dismantle the system of checks and balances that once made civil rights legislation possible, and could now alter the fabric of American society.
Threats to change Senate rules so filibusters against judicial appointments could be ended by a 51 percent vote represent "a small skirmish," said Wade Henderson, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.
Henderson joined NCC General Secretary Bob Edgar in a forum in New York May 6 to respond to right-wing religious groups that want to end the filibuster. The forum was moderated by Professor Sonia Jarvis, Visiting Ackerman Professor of Equality and Justice in America at Baruch College, New York.
"This is a prelude to a bigger fight over Supreme Court appointments,” Henderson said. “With a 51 percent majority, Attila the Hun could be confirmed."
“Religion has been used as a justification for some of the best causes in U.S. history, but also to justify a lot of evil, like slavery and segregation,” he said. “It is especially important that progressive voices in the religious community be heard.”
The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR) was founded in 1950 by three giants of the civil rights movement: A. Philip Randolph, founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters; Roy Wilkins, Executive Secretary of the NAACP; and Arnold Aronson, a leader of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council. It is the nation's premier civil rights coalition, and has coordinated the national legislative campaign on behalf of every major civil rights law since 1957.
Henderson pointed out that this legislation could not have passed without a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans, such as former Congressman John Buchanan of Alabama, who sat quietly in the audience (left).
“Now you can’t have bipartisanship when one party is playing hard ball and the other is playing an entirely different game,” Henderson said.
Most people of faith in the U.S. are not right wing or left wing, Edgar said. “The U.S. is made up of the religious middle, decent people who do what their doctor tells them and what their president tells them,” he said.
“In the late 1970s, there was a civil marriage between the far right and the religious right,” Edgar said. “We want to see our elected officials have faith, but we have started to see the right cross the line. Where the line was crossed for me was the telecast (“Justice Sunday, April 24) when the right said that anyone who did not old their point of view was un-American and unfaithful. Those of us in the middle to left of the faith community aren’t going to take it anymore.”
If the filibuster is weakened, it could lead to a right-wing dominance “that can actually change the fabric of the society in whichwe live,” Edgar said.
Jarvis (right) acknowledged that the filibuster “was used for so many years against civil rights legislation. This shows you how upside down things have gotten. But there are very few processes available to the minority party that enables them to say, ‘let’s slow down that train.”
Contact: NCC News, Philip E. Jenks, (212) 870-2252, email@example.com
Did you vote for John Kerry in the November elections?
If so, you'd better hope East Waynesville Baptist Church in western North Carolina isn’t your home congregation. The pastor there just kicked out everyone who voted for the democratic candidate. WLOS TV reports:
East Waynesville Baptist asked nine members to leave. Now 40 more have left the church in protest. Former members say Pastor Chan Chandler gave them the ultimatum, saying if they didn't support George Bush, they should resign or repent. The minister declined an interview with News 13. But he did say "the actions were not politically motivated." There are questions about whether the bi-laws were followed when the members were thrown out.
Democratic Underground has more (including the video from the news report).
You have to wonder when the “Christian choice” for president became someone who launches unjustified wars, cuts health care benefits for the elderly to pay for tax cuts for the rich, and pushes policies that harm the environment – God’s own creation. That isn’t the God I know. God is not a Republican – or a Democrat.
The IRS should yank this church's 501 (c) 3 non-profit status as quick as possible. Pastors have no business acting as the enforcer for a political party.
Some churches really do have bouncers.
If you're in that area and looking for churches without bouncers you might consider visiting:
I've spent a good bit of time in this part of the South and it really is a beatiful community with some very good folks - including a number of my family.
(Thanks to Glen B. for alerting me to this issue.)
Related News Story: Church members say they were kicked out for being Democrats
Related News Story: Minister Ex-communicates members for not backing Bush
As noted on this site on Monday, ABC television (which refused last winter to air television commercials from the United Church of Christ) aired television commercials this week for Focus on the Family.
ABC spokesperson Susan Sewell told Religion News Service there was no inconsistently.
"The network doesn't take advertising from religious groups. It's a long-standing policy."
So what is Focus on the Family? Their web site reads:
"Our Mission: To cooperate with the Holy Spirit in disseminating the Gospel of Jesus Christ to as many people as possible, and, specifically, to accomplish that objective by helping to preserve traditional values and the institution of the family."
They sure seem to think they're running a religious group.
Focus on the Family has different corporate entities – some more political than others. Their founded and leader, James Dobson, uses his position with Focus on the Family to campaign for Republican Party candidates. He has urged his supporters to defeat democratic senators this November. Focus on the Family is the definition of the religious right.
The public owns the airways that ABC broadcasts on.
So by what authority does the network make the decision to choose which religious messages it will broadcast? Why does ABC get decide to air messages from the right-wing Focus on the Family and ban the inclusive messages contained in the UCC’s God Is Still Speaking commercials?
It looks like ABC is doing more than deciding to air one commercial over another. It looks like ABC has decided to endorse the message of ultra-conservative values pushed by Focus on the Family. The network doesn’t have that right. We own the airways and if ABC is going to air religious messages from one group they must run them from all groups.
Click here to send a message to the Federal Communications Commission telling them to investigate ABC for their actions in banning the UCC commercials.
For more on this issue visit:
Our court system is under attack.
First, House Republican Majority Leader Tom Delay threatened judges involved in the Terri Schiavo case.
Texas Senator John Cornyn then suggested courthouse violence (like the tragic shooting in Atlanta of a judge by a rapist) was simply the result of legitimate frustration with liberal judges.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist followed all this up by taking part in an event sponsored by the religious right called “Justice Sunday.” Speakers at the event said that opposing the president’s judicial nominees was tantamount to being “against people of faith.”
Now former Republican presidential candidate and Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson has told ABC that the threat posed by liberal federal judges is "probably more serious than a few bearded terrorists who fly into buildings."
MoveOn.org is trying to raise the cash to put a new commercial on television calling on the Republican leadership in Congress to repudiate the remarks by Robertson.
Some Republicans and leaders of the religious right have even attacked judges appointed by Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush for being too liberal. They actually believe that the conservative majority on the Supreme Court isn't conservative enough.
Does America really want a judiciary that reflects the values of DeLay, Cornyn, Frist and Roberston?
Help MoveOn.org get their spot on their air.
Click here to view the commercial and to make a contribution.
We, the undersigned, write this letter to express our deep disappointment and moral outrage at the passage of the $81 Billion supplemental budget for the continued war against and occupation of Iraq. We as people of faith stand firmly against this war. The best support for our troops would be to bring them back to their families. It is highly disingenuous on the part of the administration to attach the war appropriation bill to the funds for the Tsunami relief efforts and other humanitarian aid. We see this as a political ploy to secure votes and make Tsunami victims no more than political pawns. We write this letter in the light of the above to remind ourselves and others including our national leadership of the following:
First, our nation entered into the war on false pretense and fear and violated international law. Religious leaders from every faith tradition opposed the preemptive war on the people of Iraq because of half-truths, our administration's haste to make war, and the reckless abandonment of democratic processes. The facts remain clear and evidential. After over two years, there has been no discovery of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and there was no Iraqi connection to the terrorist attacks of September 11th.
Second, the continued presence of American troops in Iraq only heightens the risk to the newly formed and fragile government of Iraq. The rising insurgency in post-election Iraq is a symptom of the occupation. The over 1500 U.S. casualties and over 15,000 injured American soldiers combined with the innumerable Iraqi lives lost and destroyed continue to bring dishonor to the precious name of democracy.
Third, against this backdrop of violence and manipulation, the current federal budget, with its cuts in social programs and attempt to privatize Social Security while increasing tax breaks that reward the wealthiest citizens, represents a domestic war on the poor and middle class. This budget supports the dual violence of war, which is the use of resources to kill abroad while depleting social programs at home. We raise this concern for justice for the poor of the world as one great unifying theme in the religions of the world which call for those in power to care for the most vulnerable among us.
Therefore, out of our diverse faith traditions, in humble prayer, we issue these demands:
It is with our faith in a higher power and our traditions of religious dissent that we strongly urge our government to honor the voice of the faithful and bring our troops home now. Out of our faith commitments, we will continue to speak out about the immorality of the war and occupation of Iraq.
Want to add your name to the list? Click here.
Four Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) terminals are slated for sitting on the Columbia River near our home. They will be importing gas from unstable countries, and the U.S. will not be a buyer of first choice. LNG terminals are huge, dangerous, potential terrorist targets, ugly, and lower property values. One of the terminals is planned to be located about 1/2 mile from the end of Puget Island, on the Oregon shore. Our area, with 800 people on Puget Island and about the same in Cathlamet (1 1/2 miles from the site) is described by the development company as "desolate."
But here is the BIG ISSUE: The congessional house passed the National Energy Bill last week by 45 votes, including a provision that allows the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) the authority to site LNG terminals over state objections. This energy bill is slated to to be voted on in the Senate soon. Please contact your Senators, both Democrat and Republican, and ask that they remove this provision from the energy bill. This is a state's rights issue that cannot be ignored! For more information, click onto Columbia RiverVision.
Puget Island is a beautiful farming community on the Washington side of the Columbia River. Could you imagine the environmental damage one of these terminals could create if it exploded (something that has apparently happened in other countries before)? This project has to be stopped. Contact your Senators ASAP.
"OUR Focus on the Family" is The Rev. Dr. Patricia Ross' title for this Sunday (May 8th at 10:25 am) when at First Congregational United Church of Christ of Portland, Oregon we celebrate families in the UCC. Instead of the lectionary texts, Dr. Ross will preach on a number of biblical verses that describe families and family issues. These will include: Ruth, Abraham, Sarah and Haggai. The Widow Who Searches, Timothy's mother and grandmother, and others.
- reprinted from The Pilgrim
First Congregational UCC is my home church. If you’re in Portland and looking for a place to worship this Sunday (or can get away from your own church for one week) this looks like a great sermon. The UCC offers an alternative to the hurtful rhetoric of the religious right and Dr. Ross’ sermon promises to be an excellent testimony to the power of families in all their diversity. The church is located at 1126 SW Park Avenue (on the corner of SW Park and Madison).
From United Church News of the United Church of Christ
The communications director of the 1.3-million-member United Church of Christ is questioning a decision by ABC television to allow James Dobson's Focus on the Family to air two commercials during the network's season finale of "Supernanny" on May 2.
In an Associated Press story (May 2), Focus on the Family's president and CEO, Jim Daly, said the spots were an attempt by his organization to offer "faith-based" advice on parenting, despite the fact that ABC executives have twice denied recent similar requests by the UCC to purchase network time as part of its national advertising campaign.
"Focus on the Family is clearly a religious organization," the Rev. Robert Chase, director of the UCC's communication ministry, told United Church News. "Here's yet another illustration of how a particular narrow agenda makes up the rules as they go along, while another religious viewpoint cannot even purchase time on the people's airwaves to proclaim an all-inclusive message."
In December and March, the three major networks denied a purchasing request by the Cleveland-based UCC. NBC and CBS rejected the UCC's 30-second ads as "too controversial." ABC, however, sidestepped the fray by maintaining that it has a blanket policy against all religious advertising.
"Why are the network executives so willing to bow to this narrow agenda of the religious right?" Chase told United Church News. "Why is one religious viewpoint continually accommodated by the network elites?"
"Focus on the Family may be using a non-sectarian come-on, but what kind of assurances can ABC provide that Focus on the Family's follow-up literature is respectful of all faiths, respectful of non-traditional families, respectful of the one million kids that have same-sex couples as parents?"
This morning I delivered a sermon at St. John United Church of Christ in Manchester, MO on John 14:51-21. You can read the sermon by clicking here or download a RealAudio file of the sermon here (click with the RIGHT mouse button on the hyperlink and choose “Save Target As” and save to your desktop or other folder – once downloaded click on the file to listen). The RealAudio file is large (about a 2-3 minute download) and should only be downloaded if you have high speed access or a great deal of time on your hands.