The Rev. Chuck Currie will join Pacific University in Fall 2014 as director of the Center for Peace & Spirituality and university chaplain.
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The Rev. Chuck Currie will join Pacific University in Fall 2014 as director of the Center for Peace & Spirituality and university chaplain.
Portland's Parkrose Community United Church of Christ celebrated 100 years of ministry yesterday. I was sorry to miss the celebration service for this faithful, progressive Christian community that I had the honor of serving for three years but I did send the following message to be shared during the worship service:
"Back in 2006 – when I first arrived for what was originally planned as a short stint as your interim minister – the future of Parkrose Community United Church of Christ was uncertain. The people of this church, not unlike the brave crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise, wouldn’t accept defeat, however. Instead you made difficult and bold decisions that have brought you into a new home, in partnership with another congregation, and in ministry with our city’s homeless community. Building up the Kingdom of God became more important to you than maintaining just one building. You answered God’s call to be open and affirming to all. For some of you, this work will be your legacy. And because of that this church will remain foundational for youth in this community for years to come. As a former pastor of Parkrose Community United Church of Christ, I continue to hold you in prayer (and to miss you) as I watch from a distance as this special community of faith continues to grow and respond to the still speaking God."
It would not surprise me if one day Parkrose Community United Church of Christ celebrated two hundred years of faithful ministry. The church is filled with wonderful lay leaders and the gifts of ministry brought forward by The Rev. Don Frueh.
This morning the people of University Park Church and Sunnyside Church had a special joint worship service before members and friends took part in the Portland Pride Parade.
You can watch the video of my sermon homily on Matthew 25:31-46 here. The text is below the fold.
It has been nearly a year since my appointment to serve Sunnyside Church and University Park Church was made. This week I updated the congregations on our progress. You can support the work of progressive Christianity in Portland with a gift to support our ministries.
Dear Members and Friends of Sunnyside Church and University Park Church,
We’re just a month shy of the one-year anniversary of the appointment that brought a United Church of Christ minister to serve Sunnyside Church and University Park Church, two Reconciling Congregations in the United Methodist Church.
At the Annual Conference of the Oregon-Idaho Conference of the United Methodist Church – held this June in Boise – our two congregations will be presented for a special award for the ways we have lived out this new partnership.
Together we’ve held joint services for Christmas Eve, Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunday, Ash Wednesday, and Easter. These services have drawn together far more people into our churches than either church could have ever done alone. Media attention has followed. At the same time, along with the people of Ainsworth United Church of Christ, we’ve held successful and well-attended adult education programs this past fall and spring using the books Remedial Christianity and #OccupyTheBible. We’ve used social media this past year aggressively to get out our message. We'll worship together again soon at University Park Church on June 16th at 9:30am, and then those who are able and interested will gather downtown with the Community of Welcoming Congregations to march in the annual Pride Parade. There will be no service that morning at Sunnyside. More information will follow.
Now we are launching a new “partnership planning process” to more intentionally discover ways our two congregations can be in mission together for the benefit of the community as we preach a progressive Christian message of hope. We're also kicking off a Thursday morning Bible study for all interested members and friends for the summer months.
During this past year we’ve also gathered for special social occasions – a summer BBQ and Christmas drop-in – not to mention potlucks at both churches. Pastoral care has been offered. Memorials have been held. We’ve had a baptism and welcomed new members at Sunnyside. University Park Church has done food drives for those suffering hunger and Sunnyside Church has teamed up with Bread for the World to ask Congress and the President to do more to fight hunger.Members of both congregations became active this year in the effort to reduce gun violence and to promote marriage equality.
In the midst of all this, we’ve wrestled with a challenge about how best to assist people experiencing homelessness around University Park Church (and fought off fines imposed by the city for allowing people to sleep on our campus). At Sunnyside Church, we dealt with staffing and building issues. The leadership of the congregation made the difficult decision not to renew to building user agreement for the Sunnyside Swap Shop, a much loved program, and the future of The Roost, the after-school program housed at Sunnyside, is in question after Camp Fire decided they could no longer be the sponsor (they’ll still be operating the hugely successful summer program at Sunnyside). All of this impacts us in many ways, including financially. We still have a lot of work to do.
This note just touches on the many ways our two congregations have been in partnership and mission. As we prepare to move into a second year of ministry together there will be hard choices to confront about what it means to be church in our time. Hard doesn’t need to equate with bad, however. We need to be thinking in terms of what legacy we what these two churches to leave – what legacy we want to leave – for the next generation…and about resurrection, about how we bring new life to our work of proclaiming the Gospel.
Sunnyside Church and University Park Church are blessed with tremendous lay leaders who care deeply for the church and for the common good of our community. Few churches are as fortunate. All of you are in my prayers. I invite your prayers as well as we move into a second year of ministry together.
Rev. Chuck Currie
University Park Church worships each Sunday at 9:30 am and Sunnyside Church worships at 11am. All are welcome.
There’s no question about it: I love Portland. It’s been true since moving here as a boy. My life, in fact, has been dedicated to making our community a better place. Portland’s rejection this week of fluoridation is far from cause for divorce but it does feed into the lover’s quarrel that is part of my relationship with this special place.
The fact is that fluoridation would have helped protect kids by increasing dental health. The Clean Water Campaign, fueled by Tea Party money and some odd doctors (like the one who asserts HIV doesn’t cause AIDS), scared the city into believing that fluoride causes cancer and was bad for the environment. In my 26 years of advocacy and ministry in Portland, I’ve rarely – if ever – seen a campaign distort and lie as often.
The fear based campaign waged by Clean Water Portland was upsetting enough but the often heard statement by those who identify as progressives that putting fluoride in the water violated their personal choice to take fluoride was perhaps more upsetting. Portland has never been about “me!” but about “us!” Not so this week. The common good lost out to a growing libertarianism that in this case put the needs of children last when they should have gone first. That children should come first is a beadrock principle of my faith.
Still, this is hardly the first time I’ve been disappointed in the city I love. We don’t do enough to fight poverty – and North Portland and East Portland are too often ignored, like these parts of our city just don’t count. Inequity flourishes here and if you are a person of color your chances to succeed diminish greatly. We launch plans to end homelessness every few years only to watch homelessness grow.
We say “Keep Portland Weird” because this is a unique community that has produced a special culture a little bit different than much of America and we can laugh at ourselves when watching Portlandia because there are times we’re absurd in funny, yet harmless, ways.
But at the pot-fueled Clean Water Portland victory party, where reporters say the air was thick with marijuana from smoking activists protesting adding fluoride to the water supply because fluoride was harmful (the irony is worth noting), the city crossed a line from absurd to sad.
Say what you will about Clean Water Portland: Them folks got some pungent medical herb. #fluoride— Aaron Mesh (@AaronMesh) May 22, 2013
In the end, we still have a dental crisis. Portland children will still suffer. Nothing changed this week – our dental crisis didn’t get worse but it could have gotten better but fears and lies and, yes, personal self-interest won over the common good.
Still, Portland is better than this. When confronted with difficult questions over taxes, schools, health care, LGBTQ equality and the environment we normally make the moral choice, even if it costs us more in taxes and upsets family, friends and neighbors. We normally put the common good first when given the opportunity.
I don’t fault the 60% of Portlanders who voted against fluoride. Most people don’t pay close attention to these elections and if I heard the city wanted to add chemicals to the water that caused cancer the natural reaction, it seems, would be to vote no. Those behind Clean Water Portland, however, - the activists and their financial supporterss, including the Tea Party and their allies – knew better and did great damage to Portland by waging a divisive campaign that hurt Portland’s children. Don’t be surprised to see this coalition reform to try and to reshape Portland in their conservative / libertarian image that is fueled by a distrust for government, other institutions (including institutions of higher learning) and, of course, science.
That coalition in no ways represents 60% of Portland. One lost election doesn’t mean progressive Portland is lost. What it does show is that our work to improve Portland just got more difficult. Outside Tea Party groups are willing to foot the bill to take on what our city has generally held most dear.
Fluoride supporters were wrong not to engage the public in an open and transparent process from the start on this issue, instead of trying to move this through the Portland City Council quickly (a move I endorsed). The backlash is similar to when the Multnomah County passed an ordinance to allow gay marriage without a public process (a move I also endorsed), only to see voters outlaw gay marriage statewide in response. Government works best when it is transparent. We ought to learn this lesson. Back room politics don’t work in Portland.
Progressives also need to find a way to fight lies in ways that don’t just win campaigns but also strengthen the community. As a minister, you might think this would be a skill I would have. But plenty of times I reacted to the lies told in this campaign with more anger than light and that is just as damaging. Lies shouldn’t be tolerated. They should be called out. But we can all find better ways to engage in the public square.
For me, I love this city too much to give up on it. I want my kids and the children in my churches to have access to the best public schools and to public health programs that help them thrive. After all these years, after all these battles, my deep belief is that 90%+ of Portlanders want the same even if we cannot always agree on the ways to get there. Good people can come to different conclusions on difficult issues. Until Portland becomes the city it ought to be, I’ll continue my lover’s quarrel and will happily work with people of integrity – people who value truth – even when they disagree with my views. After all, I’ve been proven wrong before and changed my views when confronted with good arguments based on reason and fact. Democracy works that way when it is truthful and fair.
Rev. Chuck Currie
Portland faith leaders are standing up for 26-151 and Healthy Kids Healthy Portland because "one of our core principles is that the blessings of our community should be felt by all, not just a few." Fluoridation of our water will help our kids and entire city. The numbers have gotten slightly better but we still face a true crisis. Read the arguments in support of 26-151 at
As a minister and father of eight year old twin daughters, health and dental care is a top concern. Making sure that low-income children have every advantage should be a top priority of our city and right now that just isn't the case. Portland, one of only two major cities in the nation without fluoride in the water, is a community where "21% of children suffer from untreated dental decay – that’s forty percent more than fluoridated Seattle Metro." We can change all that by voting yes on 26-151 this May.
The CDC calls fluoridation one of the top public health achievements of the last century, and for Portland this is an issue of equity - which is why not only the medical community backs fluoridation but so does the Coalition of Communities of Color.
I've heard the arguments against fluoridation: It's a conspiracy backed by big money, it will kill dogs and plants, fluoride is bad for kids, kids can get free dental care instead at public health centers and schools, etc. You listen to these arguments and cannot help be reminded of those who deny the science that clearly shows a link between human activity and climate change. The organizers of the campaign to stop fluoride are denying the reality of the scientific consensus that exists on this issue - that fluoride is safe - and arguing that their personal right not to use fluoride trumps the needs of children in our community suffering from a public health crisis. And where is this free, universal dental care I keep hearing about?
Good people can come to different conclusions on difficult issues but Portland has been ill served by the official campaign against fluoride which has used outright lies and fear to fuel their campaign.
This morning the people of Sunnyside Church and University Park Church celebrated Easter in Portland together in Sunnyside's historic sanctuary. It was a beatiful morning with wonderful music performed by members of both congregations and much lay member participation. Below is the text of my sermon.
The Kingdom Ressurrected
We come to this place this morning – gathered as two church communities, as family and friends – to celebrate the Resurrection. Even in times when humanity has walked away from God the reality is that God has never abandoned God’s creation, with which at the beginning God declared to be “well-pleased.” The moment of the Resurrection of Jesus stands in history as the most profound example of God saying to the powers and the principalities of the day that not even death can silence God’s call for us to be a people of reconciliation, compassion and mercy.
Even today we experience the Risen Jesus in worship, in prayer, and sometimes even in personal moments of revelation. Jesus is still calling to us, like he did to those frightened first disciples, to spread the good news that the Kingdom of God is already here and that hope born out of our experiences with God demands that we seek a create a world where justice, kindness and humbleness overcomes evil and turns the darkness around us into the brightness of noon.
This is a time of rebirth and redemption.
Theologians and lay people debate to this day whether or not Jesus was physically raised or whether the disciples (and later Paul) interacted with the spirit of Christ. Like Marcus Borg and others, I think that debate asks the wrong questions. It doesn’t matter. What matters is in ways that may very well surpass human understanding Jesus revealed himself after the cross with the ones he taught and loved, and that his spirit still moves many today in wondrous ways.
Walter Wink once wrote:
Killing Jesus was like trying to destroy a dandelion seed-head by blowing on it. It was like shattering a sun into a million fragments of light.
It is the power of that light that calls us today to be a Resurrection people, a people who in community and enveloped in the spirit of love reach out to build up the Kingdom of God so that all people might have new life.
Let’s remember that Jesus came to shake up the world. The Gospel of Luke chronicles the beginning of his ministry:
16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
Jesus was a teacher, the Son of God sent to help bring the world back into right relationship with our Creator. He wanted us to learn from him, to follow him, to see the world in new ways. But why did his death have to be part of the lesson? One possible answer comes from Barbara Brown Taylor, the Episcopal priest, scholar and author. She writes in this excerpt from her book Home By Another Way:
Jesus probably died right side up, since all four gospel writers agree that there was a sign above his head. That being the case, he probably died of suffocation, as his arms gave out and his lungs collapsed under the weight of his sinking body. Blood loss is another possibility. Heartbreak is a third. Whatever finally killed him, it came as a friend and not as an enemy. Death is not painful. It is the dying the hurts.
Another thing that was finished was the project he had begun, way back when he first saw what kind of explosion it would take to break through the rock around the human heart. Teaching would not do it. Neither would prayer nor the laying on of hands. If he was going to get through, he had to use something stronger than all of those, and he had to stake his own life on its success. Otherwise why should anyone believe him?
That project that Jesus came to start was the building up of the Kingdom of God, what The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would call the Beloved Community. Taylor continues:
Self-annihilating love was the dynamite he chose. “No one has greater love than this,” he said on the last night of his life, “to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Having explained it to his friends, he then left the room to go do it. Less than twenty-four hours later it was over.
Jesus did not go to the cross as part of some vengeful God’s need for a sacrifice. He went to the cross because the Roman authorities saw the Kingdom of God as a threat to the Empire of Rome. Crucifixion was a crime reserved for enemies of the state. Jesus went knowing what his fate would be but believing there are ideas and principles worth dying for.
We read in Matthew 22:36-40 as Jesus is asked by a Roman sympathizer:
36‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ 37He said to him, ‘ “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” 38This is the greatest and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” 40On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’
Jesus kept company with women, with lepers, with the poor, with tax collectors and with children, and said to them that the Kingdom belonged not to the rich and the powerful but to the lowly and the outcasts. His way threatened to turn the Empire upside down and the religious authorities who conspired with Rome to keep their positions and their comforts were quick to try and hand Jesus over to the cross. This is where, tragically, the myth built up that Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus. But all religions, including our own Christian faith, have had leaders who have abandoned God for the favor of emperors. In reality, we need to remember that not only was Jesus was Jewish but that so were his supporters.
The Greatest Commandment challenges us still - and the reality of the Resurrection, in whatever way we might understand it, forces us to wrestle with the idea that there are no real endings…even in life (Jesus did not die when he died, and neither do we). But there are many possibilities for new beginnings.
What we need is a Resurrection attitude in which we can envision the world in the new ways that Jesus envisioned when he proclaimed the Kingdom. And we need to be willing, as Jesus was, to carry our crosses in the pursuit of this better life. Eternal life may great us when we die but Jesus taught that the Kingdom was in the here and now and that it was an ideal worth dying for.
As a people of the Resurrection, we need to work toward new life that protects our environment that we have been given stewardship over so that God’s children in generations to come inherit the sustainable earth we have been gifted.
As a people of the Resurrection, we need to work towards an end to gun violence – and violence of every kind – and follow instead the path of Jesus, who practiced non-violence. This work of ending violence must extend from our neighborhoods to every corner of the earth.
As a people of the Resurrection, we need to be concerned, like Jesus was, with children and the elderly, with those living in poverty, and all those on the margins. This calls us to join the struggle for equality for all people in ways both big and large, to be concerned about freedom for people everywhere, to be concerned about education for boys and girls, to demand safe streets to walk on along, and for paths that people can walk that lead from hopelessness to hope.
Some will say that such hope for the world is too idealistic or the work to hard. But I have experienced the Resurrection. I know there is hope where darkness exists because I have experienced the Risen Christ in my heart, through our Scriptures, and in moments of worship such as this.
And I’ve seen moments of Resurrection in our world. It happened when Nelson Mandela walked out of prison to become a president. It happened when people – just like us – tore down the Berlin Wall as the armies of the world’s superpowers stood down. Those were moments of Resurrection, life pulled back from death, and in each of those moments – just like each time a volunteer feeds a hungry child – the Kingdom is born anew and the life of Jesus reaffirmed.
No, Jesus did not die on the cross. His life endures. We are the inheritors of his mission. Let us proclaim today:
18‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon us, because (God) has anointed (us) to bring good news to the poor. (God) has sent (us) to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
The people of Sunnyside Church and University Park Church invite you to “Easter In Portland” – a special joint worship service of the two congregations, which will be held in Sunnyside Church’s historic Portland sanctuary (3520 SE Yamhill Street) on Sunday, March 31st at 10:30am. An Easter Egg Hunt for children will precede the service at 10am. All are welcome.
Sunnyside Church and University Park Church are progressive and Reconciling Congregations in the United Methodist Church. Preaching that morning will be The Rev. Chuck Currie, a minister in the United Church of Christ, who serves as the minister of both congregations in an ecumenical partnership. Rev. Currie is a contributor to The Huffington Post whose ministry has focused on opportunity and hope for those living in poverty, and for the civil rights of all.
University Park Church, located at 4775 N. Lombard, worships Sunday morning at 9:30 am. The congregation is known as a place of radical hospitality and has been a beacon of justice for the LGBTQ community.
Sunnyside Church, where worship is held each Sunday at 11 am (except Easter – when the service will begin at 10:30am ) is the home of the Common Cup Family Shelter, and has long been involved in the fight to end homelessness. The congregation also hosts a community meal program, an affordable day care program, a neighborhood “swap shop,” and Camp Fire programs.
Yesterday supporters of President Obama's gun violence prevention measures - including people of faith - rallied across America to demand that Congress vote on the proposals. I spoke at the Portland press event. Over 70% of NRA members support President Obama's call for universal background checks. This isn't a fight between the White House and gun owners but a fight between Americans and a radicalized NRA leadership that has lost touch with their membership. A few of those out-of-the mainstream voices tried to shout down speakers yesterday - one of them yelling a racial slur - but the vast majority of Americans reject such views and believe that in a democracy it isn't the loudest voice but the strongest ideal that should win the day.
Statment in Support Of Universial Background Checks Delivered
by Rev. Chuck Currie at Portland's Pioneer Courthouse Square.
Feb 22, 2013
Last month I joined President Obama and Vice-President Biden at the National Prayer Service in Washington, DC as part of the Inaugural celebration. There we prayed for an end to violence in America. Certain issues sometimes divide people of faith but there is strong agreement from the National Council of Churches, representing Protestant and Orthodox Christians, and the U.S. Conference of Roman Catholic Bishops - along with the larger interfaith community – that we must support common sense proposals to reduce gun violence in America. Our schools, houses of worship and movie theaters are places we should expect to be safe. In these places we worship, we learn and we are entertained. But in recent years all these places -- along with shopping malls and restaurants and public parks -- have in moments of terror become killing fields as people with often great mental instability who have access to weapons meant for battlefields open fire on innocent crowds causing mass deaths. President Obama has proposed several important measures, including universal background checks for those purchasing guns, which would make America safer. People of faith support efforts to reduce gun violence. NRA members, many of who are people of faith, support universal background checks. I call on all members of Oregon’s Congressional delegation – both Democrats and Republicans – to put the common good of our nation and the safety of our children before the out-of the-mainstream demands of a radicalized NRA leadership that is out-of-touch with their membership.
Organizing For Action call on Congress to support plan to close background check loopholes. twitter.com/MikeTurnerKXL/…— Mike Turner (@MikeTurnerKXL) February 22, 2013
My latest on Blue Oregon:
The shooting of a patient at Portland Adventist Hospital by members of the Portland Police Bureau, a shooting that cost the patient his life, deserves a careful review. Portland police may have been 100% justified in their actions but Portlanders have every reason to be suspicious of a bureau in constant chaos.
The people of University Park Church and Sunnyside Church invite you to celebrate The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunday on January 20th at University Park United Methodist Church (worship begins at 9:30 am). Our special guest that morning will be new Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek. A reception in Speaker Kotek’s honor will be held following the service where she will make brief remarks about her agenda in the Legislature and will answer questions.
View this event on Facebook.
Sunnyside Church and University Park Church are progressive and Reconciling Congregations in the United Methodist Church. Preaching that morning will be The Rev. Chuck Currie, a minister in the United Church of Christ, who serves as the minister of both congregations in an ecumenical partnership. Rev. Currie is a contributor to The Huffington Post whose ministry has focused on opportunity and hope for those living in poverty, and for the civil rights of all.
University Park Church, located at 4775 N. Lombard, worships Sunday morning at 9:30 am. The congregation is known as a place of radical hospitality and has been a beacon of justice for the LGBTQ community.
Sunnyside Church, where worship is held each Sunday at 11 am (3520 SE Yamhill Street), is the home of the Common Cup Family Shelter, and has long been involved in the fight to end homelessness. The congregation also hosts a community meal program, a neighborhood “swap shop,” and Camp Fire programs.
The regular worship service at Sunnyside Church will not be held on January 20th so that members can worship at University Park Church.
Speaker Kotek “will be the first openly lesbian lawmaker to lead a state legislative chamber in the U.S.,” notes The Huffington Post. “We consider this a great victory for the civil rights of all Oregonians,” says Rev. Currie. “As we celebrate the work of Dr. King and reflect on his unfinished agenda for equality of all, regardless of race or creed, along with his work to fight poverty and end war, it is right and proper to honor Speaker Kotek’s accomplishment.”
Rev. Currie is scheduled to deliver the invocation at Speaker Kotek’s swearing-in ceremony at the Oregon State Capitol on Monday, January 14th. University Park Church is located is Speaker Kotek’s N. Portland district. “All of us, regardless of party or politics, can join in giving thanks that the walls of discrimination continue to tumble down even as we recognize work remains before us,” Rev. Currie said. “In a sign of the times, our members are most proud that the Speaker comes from N. Portland before anything else. That is the way it should be. Speaker Kotek is being judged by the content of her character.”
This Sunday - Epiphany Sunday - marks the end of the Christmas season. At University Park Church and Sunnyside Church we've been blessed the last two Sundays to have wonderful guest preachers fill-in while I've been on vacation. The Rev. Eugene Ross, former conference minister for the Central Pacific Conference of the United Church of Christ, preached December 30th. "Christmas - For Children?" is the topic of The Rev. Dr. Patrica Ross' sermon set for this morning at both churches. Dr. Ross is Pastor Emerita of First Congregational United Church of Christ of Portland. Both University Park Church and Sunnyside Church are Reconciling Congregations in the United Methodist Church with an ecumenical spirit.
I return to work tomorrow.
Our joint University Park Church - Sunnyside Church "Christmas Eve In Portland" service was a wonderful evening that filled Sunnyside's historic sanctuary. It was a special joy to see so many young people and families respond to a progressive Christian message.
You can see photos photos from our "Christmas Eve in Portland" service here:
My homily from the service is also available:Join us each Sunday for worship: 9:30 AM At University Park Church (4775 N. Lombard) & 11AM At Sunnyside Church (3520 SE Yamhill).
This morning my sermon - delivered at both University Park Church and Sunnyside Church - reflected on the violent events this week in Oregon and Connecticut. You can download a podcast of the sermon here:
(some browsers - like Firefox or Google Chrome - will allow you to simply click on the link and listen...otherwise 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).
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Note: In the prepared notes for this sermon, as in the audio, I talked about the 911 call made by a student at Virginia Tech after the shootings there in 2007 but in the delivery of the sermon I inadvertently said you could listen to the call when I actually meant you could read the transcript from The Washington Post's account. I wanted to clarify this.
The text of the sermon as prepared for delivery is below:
As the minister of Portland’s Sunnyside and University Park Churches, I urge the people of Oregon to pray this afternoon for all those involved in the shooting which took place earlier today at Clackamas Town Center. We mourn the dead, pray for healing for those injured, and lift up the service and sacrifice of the first responders.
This is a holy time. Millions across the globe are celebrating Hanukkah and Advent. We remember that we are called to be compassionate people who respond to those in need.
It is not too early to ask why a gunman – possibly with an assault rifle - was able to commit this terrible crime. Once again, I join the National Council of Churches and other people of faith in calling on our leaders in Washington, D.C. and locally to do more to reduce gun violence. Lord, have mercy.
Update: December 12, 2012
We continue to hold the victims and first responders of the Clackamas Town Center shooting in our prayers this morning. There is now confirmation that the shooter used an AR-15 assault rifle, one of the same weapons used in the Colorado mass shooting this past summer, which had previously been outlawed by the Assault Weapons Ban, which was allowed to expire under President Bush. I continue to join with the National Council of Churches and other people of faith in calling for the Assault Weapons Ban to be re-instated and for other sensible gun control measures to be put in place. Our malls, schools, churches and playgrounds should be safe and free from violence. You don't need an AR-15 for duck hunting in Oregon. During this season of Advent, I hope all Oregonians continue to pray for those involved in this horror and I call on people of faith to reach out to the president and Congress to demand action.
#clackamasshooting Sheriff Craig Roberts says shooter was Jacob T. Roberts, 22, fired a stolen AR-15 rifle 'We do not understand the motive.— Maxine Bernstein (@maxoregonian) December 12, 2012
Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" Jesus answered, "Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?" Pilate replied, "I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?" Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here." Pilate asked him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice."
In our on-going Sunday night adult education group we’ve come to know that the Book of John was written nearly two hundred years after the death of Jesus and far from recording historical accounts of his life it reflects theological understandings of his ministry and existence.
Sadly, as the latest of the Gospels, it also reflects the reality that by this point in history the early Christian community is becoming separate from the Jewish community that Jesus was apart of. With this separation comes persecution of early Christians and the narratives of Jesus death change in ways that blame the Jews more directly as a people for the death of Jesus, when the Romans where truly responsible.
Knowing all this we can sit back from our vantage point and see how it was that Pilate must have been confused about Jesus.
This lowly son of a carpenter was actually wildly popular with the Jewish people and word had reached Pilate that some referred to Jesus as King.
King? No, must have thought Pilate, not this man in rags who travels from town to town preaching about love and acceptance, whose message of radical hospitality upset the old guard of the established religious order who had come to serve as collaborators with Pilate and his Roman occupiers. Jesus welcomed foreigners and unclean people; he kept company with women and tax collectors. This was no king. Kings are like Pilate and Caesar, clothed in the best fabrics and men to be feared because of their authority and ability to exercise that authority with the armies at their sides. Jesus preached non-violence. How could this Jewish peasant be a king?
When Jesus preached about the Kingdom of God his words were a direct challenge to Roman authority. The Roman Empire was based on the accumulation of wealth and power to serve the needs and interests of the emperor. A peace of sorts was maintained throughout the empire – it was said a citizen of the empire could walk from one end to the other without fear of be accosted – but it was a peace maintained by fear. Those on the margins that demanded more for their communities – more food, more freedom to worship, more freedom to practice their own culture – were brutally suppressed. Jesus reached back to the words of the Hebrew Prophets and reminded the Jewish people that such a world was not what God had intended. No, God wanted a world where everyone shared in the bounty provided, and where the least of these in society came first. In the Kingdom of God, Pilate – who wielded his authority for the benefit of the empire and not the common good – had no place.
The church too quickly forgot the lessons of Jesus. When Constantine converted and declared that Christianity would be the state religion of the Roman Empire the Christian faith became perverted. At that moment, the church became an agent of the state and church officials collaborators once again. The movement that Jesus envisioned was nearly extinguished.
But the embers of the fire continued to burn in the hearts of some. Some men and women who heard the story of Jesus and who were fortunate enough to read his message for themselves kept alive the idea of the Kingdom of God in the midst of the Roman Empire, and the empires that followed. Over the centuries Christians have, following in the footsteps of Jesus, worked to heal the sick and to care for the poor. Some Christians have become great voices for freedom of oppressed peoples. Others have lead or taken part in non-violent revolutions for social change.
We spend too much time in the Christian church debating what happens to us after we die and not enough time talking about how to improve the world we live in. Jesus was never obsessed with death and salvation the way he was obsessed with building up the Kingdom in the here and now.
Here’s a question to consider: Do we want to build up our membership? If the answer is yes, the question becomes why and how. Numbers for the sake of numbers does nothing to advance the goal of building up the Kingdom. Larger numbers might create a better sense of community or create a social club but that cannot be out goal. We need to aim for something larger. We need to be evangelists for the Kingdom and work to increase our membership by drawing in people who recognize that we actually stand for something.
We pride ourselves on being places where all points of view are accepted. But I also agree with Martin Luther King, Jr. who once preached at Riverside Church that: “…I agree with Dante, that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in a period of moral crisis maintain their neutrality. There comes a time when silence becomes betrayal.”
There are too many great moral issues being debated in our community today – in our state and the world – that require the attention of the church. These issues – whether it be the coming debate over marriage equality or more life threatening issues concerning global climate change – that demand that we not be silent but take stands, not just as individuals but as a church community.
What would Pilate think of us? This is a serious question. If we dropped Sunnyside Church and University Park Church through a time warp and into Pilate’s time would we been seen as a community that was at all threatening? Or could we easily be ignored? Are we speaking out as a church on the important issues of our time as churches or are we sitting in silence – perhaps acting as individuals, perhaps hoping someone else will do the work we are all called to do?
Jesus knew who he was. He didn’t need a title or throne or crown to tell him that he was God’s son called to proclaim the Kingdom. We need to struggle a bit with who we are, I think. It’s time.
We need to be marching alongside workers at Wal-Mart calling for livable wages.
We need to be demanding of our President and our Congress a carbon tax and other measures to dramatically shift the way we all live to save God’s creation.
We need to be demanding of our local community permanent funding sources to create affordable housing and standing with those facing foreclosure.
And Sunnyside Church and University Park Church should be the first churches to Oregon to publically endorse a ballot measure calling for marriage equality in 2014.
If we do these things and more, we can stop being the church of Constantine and start being the movement of Jesus. We’ll be controversial. New people will come to worship with us and others will mock us. But at least we will know who we are and can say that we are faithfully responding to the teachings of Jesus in our time and place.
This Christmas Eve in Portland join the people of Sunnyside Church and University Park Church for a special joint 6:30 pm candlelight service in Sunnyside Church’s historic Southeast Portland sanctuary located at 3520 SE Yamhill Street. The public is welcome at this family friendly service (children are encouraged to stay during the service but nursery care will be available).
View Christmas Eve in Portland On Facebook.
Sunnyside Church and University Park Church are progressive and Reconciling Congregations in the United Methodist Church. Preaching Christmas Eve will be The Rev. Chuck Currie, a minister in the United Church of Christ, who serves as the minister of both congregations in an ecumenical partnership. Rev. Currie is a contributor to The Huffington Post whose ministry has focused on opportunity and hope for those living in poverty, and for the civil rights of all.
I will offer prayers for Mayor-elect Charlie Hales, Commissioner-elect Steve Novick and newly re-elected Commissioner Amanda Fritz at my churches this Sunday.
Our prayers will also be extended for all in Portland -- particularly those who have engaged in the democratic process this year. Such work makes our community stronger. I look forward to working with the new City Council on issues such as growing poverty and crucial community needs in both North and east Portland. This is a time for all Portlanders to come together for the common good.
I know from Hales' previous public service that he will make Portland proud.
Public education has long been a concern of the faith community - including the National Council of Churches, and both the United Church of Christ and the United Methodist Church (the two denominations I serve). If passed, Measure 26-144 will improve safety and accessibility across Portland and upgrade middle school science class rooms. The measure has my full support.
The National Council of Churches stated in a Pastoral Letter on education in 2010 that:
As we strive to move our imperfect world closer to the realm of God, we recognize that we are all responsible for making sure that public schools, as primary civic institutions, embody our love for one another. We are called to create institutions that serve families and children with hospitality. We are called to work as citizens for the resources that will support a climate of trust and community within each public school.
Right now too many of our schools are in disrepair. My daughters attend a public school built nearly 100 years ago that - like many neighborhood schools - is in need of seismic upgrades.
Measure 26-144 moves us closer to being a community that shows true hospitality for our children and provides new opportunities for learning that will make our entire community stronger.
I feel so strongly about this issue that just today I made a donation to the campaign to help pay for a get-out-the-vote effort in the final days of this fall campaign. You can donate here to show your support.
The Common Cup Shelter at Sunnyside Church, one of my two congregations, operates from November 1st to March 31st each year, serving homeless families for periods up to 30 days. The Shelter relies on volunteers and donations for all of its needs. Contact Laurie Abeling (503-807-9466) or visit http://www.commoncupshelter.org/ for more information.
You can support the Shelter in a variety of ways:
The U.S. Department of Justice recently found that the Portland Police Bureau has engaged in a pattern of abuse that has denied people their basic civil rights and resulted in the deaths of several Portlanders, mostly those suffering from mental illness. Willamette Week notes this morning that the DOJ has not called for an independent monitor to oversee reforms in Portland but instead will “create a body to ensure increased community oversight of reforms.” That's an effort doomed to failure.
Local communities always oppose advances in civil rights when pressed. That's the sad reality of our history. We would never have had civil rights in our nation without the intervention of federal authorities and monitors. Mayor Sam Adams and Portland Police Chief Mike Reese have already said they don't agree with the DOJ's findings. So what is there to reform? And how will this body make head-way if Portland authorities are busy protecting turf instead of protecting rights?
Most disappointing in the article today in Willamette Week were the comments by the two candidates hoping to replace Sam Adams as mayor in January when his scandal plagued term ends. Both said they oppose independent oversight. So does the police union, naturally. This is all a recipe for more failure, more inaction, and more deaths of innocent Portlanders.
Summer is wedding season and while I'm not overwhelmed with wedding requests I've had a few and there is one that I'm really looking forward to in September. Weddings are, of course, special events. At their best, weddings bring not just two people together but families and even communities in a union bonded together in love. There is a simple joy in all that - even if the reality is that marriage itself is complex and sometimes difficult, just ask anyone who has been married longer than an hour. As we reflect on our reading from Scripture this morning, I want to discuss marriage a bit with you as we understand it in Christian terms, what marriage means as a legal institution, and to share with you some decisions that I have made about my role as a minister as it relates to marriage that have been helped along by my doctoral studies on this issue.
Let me begin by noting the reality that within the United States it is illegal for a minister or any other officiant to marry a gay or lesbian couple, much as it was illegal a generation ago to marry interracial couples. Oregonians voted to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman in 2004 - it is part of our state Constitution - thus banning marriage equality. This state Constitutional amendment plus the federal Defense of Marriage Act will both have to be overturned for gays and lesbians to receive true marriage equality. Federal law does not recognize gay marriages that are legal in states such as New York.
As a minister, I am asked to be an agent of the state when it comes to marriage. One way for a marriage to become legal is for an ordained minister to sign a marriage certificate. The United Church of Christ and the Episcopal Church USA are the only two mainline Christian denominations to support marriage equality, and that allow their clergy to perform such ceremonies. However, my religious freedom to provide pastoral care to gay and lesbian couples is curtailed by the government which says that I cannot legally marry same-gender couples - thus denying these parishioners the same care I can provide to straight couples. It does not seem the proper function of the government to tell me as a minister whom I can and cannot provide pastoral care to. That should be a decision of the church. The United Methodist Church, of course, forbids not just gay marriages but commitment ceremonies that the General Assembly of the church has deemed incompatible with Christianity. I look forward with great anticipation to the day this deeply flawed policy of this faithful denomination is overturned.
The United Church of Christ has developed an inclusive wedding liturgy, in which we pray for couples being married that:
...we come together in the presence of God to witness the marriage of the couple￼, to surround them with our prayers, and to share in their joy. The scriptures teach us that the bond and covenant of marriage is a gift of God, a holy mystery in which two become one flesh, an image of the union of Christ and the church. As the couple give themselves to each other, we remember that at Cana in Galilee our Savior Jesus Christ made the wedding feast a sign of God's reign of love. (So we pray that we) enter into (the wedding) celebration confident that through the Holy Spirit, Christ is present with us... We pray that (the) couple may fulfill God's purpose for the whole of their lives.
It is this idea of covenant that is so central, so important to marriage and there is no Biblical reason the marriage covenant should not be available to gay or lesbian couples.
Last fall, as I was taking a course in Biblical theology at Chicago Theological Seminary for my doctoral degree program, I wrote a piece for The Huffington Post about Chick-fil-A and their opposition to marriage equality. I note this mostly to brag that I wrote about this issue nearly a year before most anyone else was talking about it. ☺
I said then and I'll say now that I love Chick-fil-A. Their plain old chicken sandwich and a sweet tea can send me to heaven. I've always known they were owned by a Christian family and, frankly, I like that they close on Sundays. I'm old enough to remember when more stores did (of course, that often was enforced by law) and I think a (voluntary) day off from shopping and commercialism isn't a bad thing. But I was sad to hear then that the company had donated food to an anti-gay marriage group. Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy said the contribution was made because the company believes in a "Biblical definition of marriage." Mr. Cathy has since become even more vocal in his opposition to marriage equality.
What I suggested in my piece in The Huffington Post was that Mr. Cathy ought to read Unprotected Texts: The Bible's Surprising Contradictions About Sex and Desire, a book from Boston University's Jennifer Wright Knust. This American Baptist pastor and scholar notes that: "When it comes to marriage, biblical laws are almost entirely contradictory." In short, the one "Biblical definition of marriage" that Chick-fil-A wants to promote doesn't exist.
I'm guessing Mr. Cathy never took my advice.
As I've preached, how we read the Bible matters. It is not to be taken literally. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, argued that Christian faith required one to bring Scripture, reason, experience and tradition to the table when trying to discern the will of God. Chick-fil-A is offering fast-food theology to a world that needs more than a bumper sticker understanding of the divine.
In a post for The Washington Post's "On Faith" blog, Knust wrote:
If we do take the time to read the Bible, we are likely to discover that the biblical writers do not agree with us, whatever version of sexual morality we are seeking to promote. Written more than 2,000 years ago at a significant historical and cultural distance, the Bible gathers together a diverse collection of ancient books, edited over time, not a coherent, divinely inspired set of instructions that can easily be applied. Tracing even a few, limited topics from one biblical book to another can make the point: If one book forbids marriage between foreigners and Israelites, the next depicts such marriages as a source of blessing, not only to Israel but to all of humankind. If one insists that women are saved by childbearing, the next recommends that women avoid childbearing altogether in order to devote themselves more fully to God. If one suggests that sex with a relative, the wife of another man, or with a male lover will certainly lead to the nation's downfall, the next depicts heroic kings engaging in precisely these forms of sex. And these are just a few examples.
Knust offers the same argument in her book. Knust writes: "The Bible is complicated enough, ancient enough, and flexible enough to support an almost endless set of interpretive agendas."
That may be true, in part. Taken as a whole, the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament offer (for me) a vision of covenant. My sense is that covenant includes within our relationships between one another and with God that we should - in Paul's words - be subject to one another out of love. That doesn't mean we have an anything goes faith without rules or boundaries. In fact, the opposite is true. You cannot, for example, abandon your family and remain in covenant with God or your relatives. Justice and compassion are central to Christianity. Yet, not all teachings from scripture should be practiced today (if they were, we'd still own slaves, as sanctioned in some parts of the Bible).
We must use an interpretative process to discern God's will for us - and do not think for a moment this isn't just what the different authors of the Bible did during the many centuries it was transformed from oral tradition to the written word. Using Wesley's criteria for discernment, it is important that we open ourselves to the power of the Holy Spirit - God's own breathe - to help guide us and for us to undertake this enterprise with humility.
A generation ago, as I have mentioned, interracial marriage was outlawed. This was justified by the use of Scripture. Genesis 28:1 reads: "Then Isaac called Jacob and blessed him, and charged him, 'You shall not marry one of the Canaanite women." In the past, this piece of Scripture was interpreted by some Christians to mean that Hebrews and Canaanites were of different races and therefore no races should inter-marry.
We may think this silly today but when Barack Obama was born his father - a black man - and his mother - a white woman - were barred from being legally married in many states and the justification was often Biblical. We have discerned over time, led by the power of the Holy Spirit, to understand not only our own error in interpretation but also the reality that some of what is written in Scripture has no moral authority over us today. Or should I quote from 1 Tim 2:11-12? "Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent."
You see, I'm willing to make the faith claim right here and now that God has no problems with interracial marriages, wants women to speak boldly with the voice of Sophia (the embodiment of God's wisdom), and that those who use Scripture to justify discrimination against gays and lesbians are making the same mistake in interpretation that we have made as a people over and over again.
So will I marry gay and lesbian couples?
Right now I'm a United Church of Christ minister serving two Reconciling Congregations in the United Methodist Church. The United Church of Christ affirms marriage equality. The United Methodist Church says homosexuality is incompatible with Christianity. And both Sunnyside Church and University Park Church have pledged to welcome all, and are faithfully engaging the larger United Methodist Church to change the rules and truly become a church with open hearts and open doors and open minds.
So yes, I will marry any gay and lesbian couple that I believe is ready to make that commitment, using the same criteria to make that call that I would for any heterosexual couple. To respect the rules of the United Methodist Church, I will conduct those services at Ainsworth United Church of Christ, my home congregation.
Is there a risk is making this announcement?
I remember the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. who told his church:
No member of Ebenezer Baptist Church called me to the ministry. You called me to Ebenezer, and you may turn me out of here, but you can't turn me out of the ministry, because I got my guidelines and my anointment from God Almighty. And anything I want to say, I'm going to say it from this pulpit. It may hurt somebody, I don't know about that; somebody may not agree with it. But when God speaks, who can but prophesy? The word of God is upon me like fire shut up in my bones, and when God's word gets upon me, I've got to say it, I've got to tell it all over everywhere. And God has called me to deliver those that are in captivity.
So if you're gay or you're lesbian or bi-sexual or transgendered or questioning, I want to make it clear today: I am your pastor too. I am your pastor if you're straight, if you're a Democrat or a Republican, if you're black, white, Latino. And no rulebook or law will prevent me from providing you with the pastoral care I am called to provide.
What I will no longer do after September is sign wedding licenses. Until the day comes when marriage equality is the law of the land I will no longer act as an agent of the state in an institution that is discriminatory. In this, I join a small but growing number of clergy. I will offer you the religious rites of the church but will invite you to have your marriage license signed by a judge or other official of the state.
When the General Synod of the United Church of Christ endorsed marriage equality in 2005, they noted:
The message of the Gospel is the lens through which the whole of scripture is to be interpreted. Love and compassion, justice and peace are at the very core of the life and ministry of Jesus. It is a message that always bends toward inclusion. The biblical story recounts the ways in which inclusion and welcome to God's community is ever expanding - from the story of Abraham and Sarah, to the inclusive ministry of Jesus, to the baptism of Cornelius, to the missionary journeys of Paul throughout the Greco- Roman world. The liberating work of the Spirit as witnessed in the activities of Jesus' ministry has been to address the situations and structures of exclusion, injustice and oppression that diminish God's people and keep them from realizing the full gift of human personhood in the context of human communion.
I find truth in this statement and have love for the United Methodist Church, United Church of Christ and the church universal - not as institutions, but as part of the body of Christ. We are all one in Christ. It is in that spirit of love, that I come forth today to share with you God's call to us to love all people in ways that honor and continue the ministry of Jesus. It is a ministry, as we heard this morning in our text from John, that is joyful and where the Disciples - and by extension us - are commanded once again simply to love as Jesus has loved us - without condition or judgment, and centered on God's desire for us to be free from oppression or captivity, in covenant with one another and with God. Amen.
The decision by Providence Health to stop distributing a guide on low-income health care services jointly published by Street Roots and the Multnomah County Department of Health because the 104-page guide lists Planned Parenthood as one of the services available is deeply disappointing and should cause public agencies to review any contracts with Providence Health and for Oregonians to consider whether or not they want to continue supporting Providence with contributions - or even to seek medical care at Providence facilities.
Providence Health's decision to deny much needed health care information about available resources to vulnerable populations in our community, along with health care workers, does nothing to advance the common good. Providence Health is operated by the the Sisters of Providence, a Roman Catholic organization, and I certainly respect their opposition to abortion services which is deeply rooted in their faith and is not political. But Providence Health's decision to stop distributing this guide, which includes information on family planning, will only increase unwanted pregnancies and thus increase the number of abortions. It will hurt many others who are seeking emergency shelter, housing, alcohol and drug treatment and mental health treatment.
The radicalization of the Roman Catholic Church's position on this issue, along with the lines they have crossed over it into the partisan political arena at the national level, is deeply concerning. If they are unable to provide medical care to Multnomah County residents in a way that is respectful of the church's values and the medical needs of women and low-income residents there are other hospitals than can. It is time to review the place of Providence Health in the Portland community.
It is worth noting that many in the faith community support letting women make their own health care decisions. The United Church of Christ and the the United Methodist Church are among many Christian denominations, along with interfaith communities, that make up the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.
As the Portland City Council debates whether or not to put floride in our city's water, I've written a personal letter in support of the plan. Portland remains one of the few cities not to include fluoride in the water and thus our children suffer with some of the hightest rates of tooth decay in the nation.
Dear Commissioner Leonard and members of the Portland City Council:
I want to express my personal support for the proposed fluoridation plan. As a minister and father of eight year old twin daughters, health and dental care is a top concern. Making sure that low-income children have every advantage should be a top priority of our city and right now that just isn't the case. As you know, we have terrible rates of dental problems that result in ER visits and long-term issues for children. We see these problems at rates other cities don't. Fluoridation is a simple step that will help fix a big problem.
On my Facebook page, some people have raised questions about how people who might have medical issues with fluoride - such as allergies or thyroid problems that are impacted apparently by fluoride - might be impacted. I know that the fluoride levels will be at the HHS recommended levels but I would ask that you address these other issues in your discussions so that people feel Portland's plan is safe moving forward.
Again, thank you for your leadership on this issue. Commissioner Leonard deserves special thanks. Fluoridation will be an important part of his legacy and the result will be lower rates of dental problems for Portland's children. That's a legacy to be proud of.
Rev. Chuck Currie
As the people of Sunnyside Church and University Park Church gathered for a joint BBQ and celebration of our shared ministries together we learned of the mass shooting at the Sikh Temple in Wisconsin. We offered prayers for those killed and wounded. This terrible event reminds us once again that Christians are called to preach a message of love and compassion to a world torn apart by too much violence. Further, it reinforces to need for Christian communities to develop interfaith partnerships and friendships to promote understanding. We are also reminded, without question, that one of the responsibilities of the church universal is to work toward an end of gun violence. No one in a house of worship should be cut down by bullets fired in hate. As we know now, the suspect was a white supremacist. Were his actions motivated by those who preach intolerance towards minority religions? It would not come as a surprise as too many politicians and religious leaders have used faith in recent years as a tool to divide Americans. Our faith should never be so misused and it is certainly the responsibility of Christians across this great nation not only to condemn this act of hate but to work toward reconciliation. This terrible event, just like the mass shooting in Colorado two weeks ago, never should have happened. It is time for all people of faith to join together in opposition to the gun lobby and others who support the legality of weapons of mass killing in our neighborhoods and streets. Enough is enough. Click here to tell President Obama, Governor Romney and Congress that we are better than this.
In the language of the church, I want to work toward the Beloved Community -- a place where homelessness and poverty are no more. To move us forward, I'd settle for a housing levy that provides a stable source of funding to build affordable housing in Portland. We cannot end homelessness without housing. That's a lesson that was obvious 25 years ago, and it's a crime that we're dealing with the same issues a quarter of a century later.
From my op-ed today in The Oregonian. Click here to read the full piece.
I deeply appreciate your efforts to draw attention to the issue of homelessness in our community.
We do not know each other and to my knowledge have not had the opportunity to meet. You might not be aware that I have a long history of working to push our community in the direction of ending homelessness.
You are not the first person to engage in a hunger strike over this issue in Oregon. Such strikes have never caused long-term change.
I agree with all of the points you are advocating but perhaps your most ambious goal - to get the city to place a housing levy on the ballot this fall - would be doomed to failure. Sadly, neither our politicans, homeless advocates or the faith community have done enough to build support for such a levy. I want one. I wanted one years ago. But to put a levy on the ballot now would only set our cause back because the public is not ready to embrace it. It would be defeated in a fall election. We need to better educate the community about the rewards such a levy could bring.
The civil rights issues you have lifted up are serious ones and I agree that no one should be arrested for sleeping outside when we do not provide enough shelter. That is why we are currently allowing people to sleep at one of my two congregations. But sadly, our City Council is not ready to address the civil rights issues you raise. We will need the courts and other vehicles to move them forward.
I hope very much that you will end your hunger strike. Not because your cause isn't a just one - it is - but because you've done your part for now and voices like yours will be needed tomorrow and in the years to come.
Until now I have remained silent over your fast because you have not asked for my support and no one has requested that I comment. As a minister, however, I feel I must speak up now and encourage you to end your fast and address your health issues before permanent damage is done to your body.
My prayers are with you this day.
Rev. Chuck Currie
This morning I had my first services at both University Park Church and Sunnyside Church. The sermon, "Why Church?" had a simple message: "My belief is that the Christian faith should be a movement that preaches a social gospel that helps build up the Kingdom. Church shouldn’t just be a Sunday experience but a lifestyle that sends us forth out into the world with the hope that we can make it better, following the example that Jesus himself left for us." As a United Church of Christ minister serving two Reconciling Congregations in the United Methodist Church, I am convinced we can bring an ecumenical spirit to the mission of the church by preaching a message that is progressive and faithful. The times call for a boldness of witness that pushes the envelope and engages the community around the radical notion that love is more powerful than hate and that the pursuit of justice is more responsible than contentment with the status quo. It is my good fortunate to find myself in two congregations and two denominations that share that sentiment.
On Sunday, July 1st, I'll begin a unique and exciting journey as a United Church of Christ minister serving two United Methodist Church congregations - SE Portland's Sunnyside Church and N. Portland's University Park Church.
I hope you'll join me at one of the two churches for worship that morning.
This is an exciting partnership that will help promote progressive Christianity. Like many mainline congregations, both these churches face challenges. They also both have as a tremendous asset congregations of Gospel-centered people committed to their churches and the goal of building up the Beloved Community.
University Park Church worships at 9:30 am and is located at 4775 N. Lombard Street (not far from the University of Portland). Sunnyside Church worships at 11 am and is located at 3520 SE Yamhill (across the street from Sunnyside Park and School and not far from Hawthorne Blvd.).
It would be a pleasure to see you July 1st or any other Sunday.
Members of the Central Pacific Conference of the United Church of Christ joined a large contingent of Christian churches and other faith traditions part of the Coalition of Welcoming Congregations (CWC) today at the Portland Pride Parade. I was glad to be there as a minister in the UCC, along with many colleagues, and to know that the two new congregations I will begin to pastor on July 1st - Sunnyside Church and University Park Church - are both members of CWC and share in the belief that God's love and justice is for all. There is still much work to do to break down walls of inequality faced by gays and lesbians across the United States and the globe. Not only are gays and lesbians denied the right to marry - much as interracial marriages were prohibited a generation ago - but hate crimes continue to occur and discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment and housing are still legal in many communities. Such discrimination is contrary to the will of God and churches have a moral obligation to fight for equality whenever possible. Tragically, the Christian faith is often used to justify hatred and discrimination against the gay and lesbian community. That's theological malpractice that comes from a flawed understanding of Scripture. We still have a long way to go before the Beloved Community is real and available for all.
An exciting challenge opened up this month that was unexpected. I've been called to serve as minister to both SE Portland's Sunnyside Church and N. Portland's University Park Church, two progressive Reconciling Congregations in the United Methodist Church.
This appointment will be affirmed by an ecumenical covenantal agreement between the Central Pacific Conference of the United Church of Christ and the Oregon-Idaho Conference of the United Methodist Church. This is an exciting partnership that will help promote progressive Christianity. Like many mainline congregations, both these churches face challenges. They also both have as a tremendous asset congregations of Gospel-centered people committed to their churches and the goal of building up the Beloved Community.
My appointment becomes effective July 1, 2012. Sunnyside Church has a long history of working on issues of homelessness and poverty and University Park Church is well known for their efforts to preach a message of radical hospitality. As a minister in the United Church of Christ, I look forward to this new ecumenical work as a minister with dual standing in the United Methodist Church for the duration of this appointment. It's familiar terrain. I worked as the director of community outreach at Portland's First United Methodist Church before earning my master of divinity degree in St. Louis. In addition to serving these two congregations, I will continue work toward a doctor of ministry degree at UCC-related Chicago Theological Seminary and will remain active with the life of the United Church of Christ as a member of Ainsworth United Church of Christ.
We had a wild primary contest for mayor in Portland this year that ended last night with state Rep. Jefferson Smith - far behind in money and opposed by powerful special interests - making a strong showing and the run-off in November. He'll face former Portland City Commissioner Charlie Hales, a person I like, who held office in the 90s. Few gave Smith's campaign any chance of success and to make the run-off his campaign had to secure support from a coalition of Portlanders that in the end overwhelmed the $1 million + war chest of Eileen Brady, who had strong support from downtown business interests but came in third after leading in the polls most of the last year.
What makes Smith's campaign special - and I was glad to play a small role in it - was that he brought together a coalition that covered everyone from the police union to the Occupy Portland protesters. He argued that as Portlanders we have common problems that will require diverse people - from both sides of the river in our divided city - to seek common ground. Smith actually offered public policy proposals and demanded a positive campaign. He made the campaign about Portland's future and not just himself. Most importantly, from my perspective, he argued that for Portland to be great no neighborhood or group of people can be left behind. His campaign staff and supporters modeled real diversity. In the end, Smith ran a campaign based on values. People responded.
My hope is that Eileen Brady finds ways to remain involved in our city's public debates. Like many, I've been particularly impressed with her work on health care in Oregon. Her focus on creating jobs in the campaign was spot on. But history has shown that Portlanders don't like to feel they are being bought. After watching her this year, however, I see her as someone who could make a valuable contribution to public life for many years with her passion for the city and our environment. I wouldn't rule her out as a future candidate.
Hales took the top spot last night. He was the safe choice for many. Like I said, I like Hales. I worked with him when he served on the City Council. Portland is a better city because of his tenure on the council. But Portland is a different city from when he was first elected in 1992. He's smart as a whip but I don't see him understanding the changes and challenges faced by Portland with the same insight that Smith brings to this race. His continued support for the failed Columbia River Crossing - a bridge that hasn't been built and might never be built but has already cost taxpayers tens of millions in consultant fees - is example #1 of this. Portland needs better vision.
As we move toward November I fully expect both Jefferson Smith and Charlie Hales to run positive campaigns. That's what Portland needs. We are a unique city in that we tend to produce good candidates who actually care about public service.
There were dense clouds covering between Mt. Hood and Portland this evening that delayed the arrival of the much anticipated "Supermoon." These photos were taken with our simple family camera. It was a beautiful sight.
Psalm 8 1-4 NRSV
To the leader: according to The Gittith. A Psalm of David.
1 O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
2 Out of the mouths of babes and infants
you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
to silence the enemy and the avenger.
3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
4 what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals* that you care for them?
I simply do not believe that at this point in time the distinctiveness of our different churches is more important than the values and common understandings of Scripture that unite us.
The recent decision by the Portland Police Association (PPA), the police union, to endorse Jefferson Smith has caught some by surprise. After all, Smith has been on record supporting the goals of the Occupy Wall Street movement and was the only candidate for mayor critical of the effort to remove protestors from downtown Portland last fall. Some, myself included (and a Smith supporter), have been openly critical of the PPA for their efforts to fight reform of the Portland Police Bureau and to protect officers clearly guilty of wrong doing. What makes for this election year marriage?
As a critic of Mars Hills Church and their teachings on homosexuality and women, I've been open about my concerns about the decision of this Seattle based mega church to open a Portland location. I wrote an Open Letter to church leaders in August 2011 expressing my concerns but also welcoming them to Portland and encouraging dialogue. While they never responded to me directly I was gratified that they did meet with leaders of the Q Center, representatives of Portland's LBGTQ community.
Today's news that vandals - calling themselves "Angry Queers" - broke windows in the church is deeply upsetting. There is no excuse for this act of violence and it must be condemned. I call on the Portland Police to treat this as a hate crime against all people of faith, regardless of religious tradition or belief.
Portland is a better city than this. If Mars Hills Church represents the worst of Christianity, and I believe it sadly does, those responsible for this attack represent the worst of Portland.
My prayer tonight is that we learn to all practice tolerance and work towards a better society where the LGBTQ community is fully welcomed, as I believe God calls us to do, without the use of violence.
Today some Roman Catholics bishops and others will be holding Stand Up for Religious Freedom rallies to oppose President Obama's efforts to expand health care coverage, including contraception, to women.
Portland, Ore. rally organizer Jason Schmidt, echoing Rush Limbaugh, called women who support contraception "sluts" on his Twitter account yesterday. Are these the type of people the U.S. Conference of Roman Catholic Bishops now associate with? We should be able to disagree without calling women names or accusing the President falsely of attacking religious liberty.
In fact, religious leaders - including Roman Catholics, Mainline Christians and Evangelical Christians - have offered support for President Obama's efforts.
As a minister in the United Church of Christ, I strongly support the efforts of the White House to protect women from unwanted pregancies, cancer and STDs that contraception can help prevent. And I condemn religious leaders who associate with those who refer to women as "sluts" because of a disagreement over public policy.
I'm looking forward to particpating this year in the Portland CROP Hunger Walk benefiting the important programs of Church World Service and Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon - and I hope you'll join me.
The 2012 Portland CROP Hunger Walk will start and finish on SW Park Ave. and SW Market St., in front of Portland State University. The course is 2.7 miles and will take walkers along the picturesque waterfront and park blocks. Please use public transportation or car pool to site as there is very limited parking. This is an interfaith event and all are welcome.
Seventy-five percent of the funds raised will go to Church World Service's international relief and development programs. Fifteen percent will go to Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon's Northeast Emergency Food Program at Luther Memorial and ten percent to Oregon Food Bank-West.
Church World Service works with partners to eradicate hunger and poverty and to promote peace and justice around the world. For example, American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, Islamic Society of North America (social policy partner), and Unitarian Universalist Service Committee. Together we reach out to neighbors in need near and far--not with a hand out, but a hand up. So, if you’re looking to help build a better world—a world where there’s enough for all—you’ve come to the right place!
Around the world, Church World Service supports sustainable grassroots development, disaster relief, and refugee assistance, and we educate and advocate on hunger-related issues. In the U.S., we help communities respond to disasters, resettle refugees, promote fair national and international policies, and provide educational resources.
Contact Ron MacKenzie, Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. Please "like" the Portland CROP Hunger Walk Facebook Fan Page to keep posted regarding important dates leading up to the event and to network with participants.
For additional information visit the Portland CROP Hunger Walk homepage where you can sign-up to participate or donate directly.
Two homeless Portlanders were shot on Ash Wednesday. What can we do? In case I get hit by a truck you can help me by asking Earl Blumenauer, Suzanne Bonamici, Peter DeFazio, Greg Walden, and Kurt Schrader to co-sponsor H.R. 3528 - The Hate Crimes Against the Homeless Statistics Act of 2011 - and to ask Jeff Merkley to once again introduce similar legislation in the Senate (Ron Wyden should join him).
The legislation would direct the U.S. Department of Justice to track hate crimes against those who are homeless. With such information we can better learn about why such crimes occur and how to prevent them. This is a public safety matter that involves some of our most vulnerable members of society.
How could Oregon's Congressional delegation not act?
All members of the House and Senate can be contacted via their websites or at (202) 224-3121.
The White House Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships decamped Washington, DC for Portland, Ore. this week where staff members from the office met with local faith and non-profit leaders to talk about ways the Obama Administration stands ready to partner with local leaders:
The White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships works to build bridges between the federal government and nonprofit organizations, both secular and faith-based, to better serve Americans in need. The Office advances this work through 11 Agency Centers across government and a Strategic Advisor at the Corporation for National and Community Service.
So what exactly does the office do?
In addition to its daily work, President Obama has asked the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships to focus on four special priorities. These priorities are:
Unlike the office as operated under the previous administration, the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships does not hand out grants. President Obama has also insisted that all people of faith - and secular neighborhood bodies -be welcomed at the table. So you'll see progressive Christians working alongside conservative evangelicals, Muslims, Jews, atheists, and a wide-cross section of Americans committed to the common good.
The White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, along with the White House Office Of Public Engagement, works to make sure that diverse voices are heard as policy decisions are debated at the highest levels of government.
President Obama has done a commendable job of creating a faith-based program that removes politics from funding decisions and is inclusive of all faith traditions - along with secular neighborhood groups. We can also be proud that this president has worked to protect religious liberty (despite what political partisans might argue) while tackling difficult issues.
Having the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships in Portland this week was of special importance to me, as it gave me to chance to see friends Joshua DuBois and Michael Wear. Josh is special assistant to the president and executive director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships and Mike is one of his top aides. I deeply admire their work and committment to our nation.
You can follow the work of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships here.
February 22, 2012
I urge all Oregonians to pray today for the two men experiencing homelessness who were shot early this morning under Portland, Oregon's Morrison Bridge in what police are calling a random attack. Violence against those who are homeless is a national epidemic, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH). Having served on the NCH board and worked on issues of homelessness and poverty for twenty-five years, I can tell you there are many levels of complexity to the homelessness crisis. But this is a spiritual crisis as much as a political or economic crisis. When we allow people living on our streets to become invisible we begin the process of dehumanization and thus we see the increase in hate crimes against the most vulnerable in our society - those Jesus would have called the "least of these." Ash Wednesday begins the Lenten season of reflection and prayer. Let our prayers this Lent be with those children, women and men living on our streets in the most prosperous nation on earth. The attacks today were nothing short of a terrorist attack. The crisis of homelessness is nothing short of sin.
Taken this morning at Portland's First Congregational United Church of Christ.
APM's Marketplace interviewed me for a story aired this evening on the Occupy Wall Street Movement in which they broadcast brief portions of a sermon I delivered at Ainsworth United Church of Christ about the movement and Christanity. For the "other side" of the story they quoted the director of the Institute on Religion on Democracy (IRD) who said: "It’s usually problematic to try to identify Jesus Christ with any particular political or economic agenda." That's ironic since IRD is a conservative political organization and not a religious group that advocates for right-wing economic policies that hurt those Jesus would have called the "least of these."