Fair Witness denies misleading statements, still encouraged by resolution
Saturday, June 30, 2007
Fair Witness Reaffirms Its Statement Regarding UCC General Synod’s Resolution
Christians for Fair Witness on the Middle East stands by its June 27 press release regarding the United Church of Christ’s (“UCC”) General Synod’s resolution “In Support of a Renewed and Balanced Study and Response to the Conflict Between Palestine and Israel.”
According to Rev. John H. Thomas, the UCC’s general minister and president, Fair Witness issued “misleading statements” about the resolution.
“We did no such thing,” says Sr. Ruth Lautt, National Director of Fair Witness, “and we stand by our public statement, which referred solely to the ‘be it resolved’ and ‘whereas’ clauses of the resolution.”
“In his statement, which appears on the UCC website, Rev. Thomas asserts that the ‘be it resolved’ clauses are the only binding parts of the resolution and thus suggests that by invoking the ‘whereas’ section, Fair Witness is somehow misleading the public,” says Dexter Van Zile, UCC layperson and member of Fair Witness’s Executive Committee.
However, a cursory perusal of the minutes from previous UCC General Synods (available online on the UCC website) demonstrates that the “whereas” clauses are entered into the General Synod’s official Synod minutes and included in the denomination’s historical record. Moreover, the whereas section of the resolution is part of the “text of the motion.” (Standing Rules for the 26th General Synod, April 24, 2006: 12(C) (4)(d))
Fair Witness stated in the June 27th press release that the resolution was “an acknowledgment that the General Synod’s previous Divestment and Tear Down the Wall resolutions were not balanced.” This was clearly reflected in the second “whereas” clause of the resolution which states that the Divestment and Tear Down the Wall resolutions “focus[ed] on the actions of Israel” and that the church has “yet to fully address other forces contributing to the ongoing violence, oppression and suffering in the region.”
The fourth “whereas” clause refers to intra-Palestinian violence and the sixth “whereas” clause expressly acknowledges that the UCC “may have overlooked many aspects” of the Arab-Israeli conflict. This was also reflected in Fair Witness’s June 27th press release.
Fair Witness referred to and commended the establishment of a Task Force “to engage in ongoing and balanced study” of the conflict and to assist the church in acquiring “a deeper understanding of the situation.” This comes directly from the third “be it resolved” clause.
“Rev. Thomas would have us believe that the resolution does not mean what it says,” said UCC Minister and Fair Witness Executive Committee member Rev. Suzanne Wagner. “His accusation of ‘sloppy journalism’ and ‘ideologically driven misrepresentations’ are incorrect and unfair as applied to Fair Witness.”
After reading the statement on the UCC website, Sr. Lautt now encourages the denomination’s leaders to widen its information base about the conflict. “We are very pleased to note Rev. Thomas’s affirmation that UCC policy includes support for ‘peace and security’ for both Israelis and Palestinians and condemnation of violence on both sides,” she said. “We would suggest however, that the UCC’s position be informed not only by mission relationships with Palestinian Christians, as Rev. Cally Rogers-Witte stated, but by relationships with all God’s people in the Middle East. This will help bring about the balance that this resolution calls for.”
UCC interfaith relationship with Jewish community destroyed
Friday, June 29, 2007
"Thomas' screed is a stain on a church with a rich moral tradition."
-A. James Rudin, senior interreligious adviser of the American Jewish Committee and author of "The Baptizing of America: The Religious Right's Plans for the Rest of Us."
"At least you are honest. You used to rail about the pressure from the “pro-Israel lobby.” You’ve dropped the code language. It’s Jews you’re talking about, as you admit in your current letter. Your irritation is puzzling, though. You have done a near perfect job keeping those pesky Jews from your offices, and from your convention floor when resolutions about the fate of Israelis came up. If we didn’t know better, we would think you simply don’t like outside interference and pressure. But you have no problem with the pressure from organizations like Sabeel and Al-Awda, both of whom reject the legitimacy of a Jewish state, and both of whom have either partnered with the UCC, or have been listed as a resource. And you don’t mind twisting a few arms yourself, do you? Remember the infamous “midnight meeting” at your General Synod in 2005, when you didn’t like the committee recommendation to the floor, so you substituted your own language, without anyone realizing it and had delegates adopt a resolution different from what they thought they were approving?"
-Letter to John Thomas from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, July, 2006
"While it is heartening that the United Church of Christ has come out strongly against those who advocate for Israel's destruction, it is troubling that church leaders continue to embrace the Sabeel Center while ignoring statements from its leader questioning Israel's right to exist. You can't have it both ways."
-Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor, Anti-Defamation League, Director of Interfaith Affairs, January 2006
Eight Jewish groups rebuked the United Church of Christ for what they said was an imbalanced statement on Israel. Joining the JCPA in the letter were the Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist movements; the American Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League and B'nai B'rith International.
-JTA, June, 2007
"UCC President John Thomas' recent comments concern us on a number of levels. Some time ago, we reached out to John Thomas and the leadership of the UCC to engage in dialog. We have always believed that it is important for Christians and Jews of good will to keep the lines of communication open even if we may not agree on specific issues. In regards to the crisis in the Middle-East, we simply wanted to encourage the leadership of the UCC to proceed with caution and balance as it addressed this very complicated issue. Each time we reached out to the leadership of the UCC, it went without acknowledgment. In light of the UCC's General Synod and considering John Thomas' lack of response to our reasonable request to discuss these issues, we are extremely concerned. The hostility to the State of Israel and to Jewish people appears to be firmly entrenched in the leadership of the UCC. We know this hostility is not shared by the membership of the UCC and we still seek ways of reaching out to the UCC community."
-The Simon Wiesenthal Center, March, 2006
"I will tell you this in all candor and with a certain measure of anguish - because of I have so many friends, not only at Wayzata Community Church, but in the UCC and in the Presbyterian and Episcopal movements in much of the liberal Protestant world - I'm embarrassed... I'm embarrassed at positions that some of the liberal Protestant churches have taken advocating divestment from Israel. Those are not balanced positions even if they try to condemn both sides. It's like passing a law that says "in an effort to reduce urban homicide, we insist that no federal funds be spent on sending weapons to either the police or the criminals". I'm sorry, that is not a balanced statement. I'm afraid that the UCC at it's recent Atlanta convention was seduced by a very slick propaganda campaign into abandoning Christian principles and taking one side of a very complex situation."
-Rabbi Harold Kushner, author of the best selling 'Why Bad Things Happen To Good People' September, 2005
"Criticizing Israel is not anti-Semitic, and saying so is vile. But singling out Israel for opprobrium and international sanction out of all proportion to any other party in the Middle East is anti-Semitic, and not saying so is dishonest."
-Thomas L. Friedman, NY Times columnist
"By treating Israel within a different moral yardstick that the rest of the world, these moves are functionally antisemitic, undercut the forces of peace and moderation, and embolden the forces of terrorism. Finally, these resolutions make a mockery of a previous commitment by the UCC to combat antisemitism. The concerns, hopes and aspirations of world Jewry have been swept aside and relations with the Jewish community have been severely damaged"
-The Simon Wiesenthal Center, July 2005
I cannot overstate the negative consequences of these resolutions within the Jewish community, and the need for repair and healing.
-Neil B. Goldstein Executive Director American Jewish Congress, July 2005
Jewish groups were sucker punched last week when the United Church of Christ (UCC) abandoned a carefully crafted compromise and instead voted to support “divestment” from Israel. "Some outraged Jewish leaders publicly suggested anti-Semitism as a motive. Others were uncomfortable with the label, but a growing number of Jewish officials don’t see any other explanation for a divestment push that defies logic and turns fairness on its ear."
-Jewish Journal, July 2005
It is disappointing and disturbing that while assuring us of the importance of interfaith dialogue, the UCC leadership has taken actions that ignore the primary concerns of the Jewish community, especially at a time when the Israelis are taking painful steps toward peace, including disengagement from Gaza.
-The Anti-Defamation League, July 2005
Thomas upset with portrayal of Middle-East resolution
Expressing outrage at how some outside groups are distorting a recent action on the Middle East by the United Church of Christ General Synod, the Rev. John H. Thomas is calling on the Institute on Religion and Democracy and other groups to correct misleading statements about a proposal considered by the church's national gathering earlier this week.Thomas and UC News's emphasis on the Institute on Religion and Democracy part in this is intended to make this a political rather than an interfaith issue. The Institute on Religion and Democracy had nothing to do with the proposed resolution which was submitted by a coalition of delegates that included lay people, clergy and a board member of the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries.
The misleading statements, he said, have led some within and beyond the UCC to get the false impression that the General Synod has somehow changed its policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "This is not accurate," said Thomas, the UCC's general minister and president.
"Press releases from the Institute on Religion and Democracy, Christians for Fair Witness on the Middle East, the Anti-Defamation League and others reveal an ignorance of General Synod parliamentary process as well as a distorted understanding the long history of engagement by our church related to the conflict in the Middle East," Thomas told United Church News. "General Synod policy related to Israel and Palestine remains today what it was before our Synod convened."
Despite Thomas's interpretation of the resolution, the reality is that it was a departure from the divestment and 'tear down the wall' resolution from the last General Synod. Thomas continues:
"While the proponents of the resolution clearly believe that current UCC understandings of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are too one-sided and need to be broadened," Thomas acknowledged, "the Executive Council, which made the recommendation to the plenary of the Synod, read the 'be it resolved' statements, which are the only binding parts of any Synod resolution, and deemed them to be consistent with existing General Synod policy."The Executive Council probably screwed up. The new resolution was not consistent with existing General Synod policy as a study group was never been established to evaluate the conflict in detail. This new resolution establishes that study group and probably should have been set up all along.
You'll recall that at the last General Synod in Atlanta, a number of resolutions concerning divestment were submitted to the General Synod. The committee that was charged with studying these issues consolidated the divestment and investment resolutions and, after days of deliberations and study, proposed a single resolution that intentionally omitted any reference to divestment. That's when things got ugly.
The night before the vote on the new resolution, UCC President John Thomas (with Bennie Whiten, Jr., Peter Makari and Lydia Veliko) helped create a substitute resolution that inserted divestment language back into the resolution without consulting the committee that spent days studying the issue and without the advice of the Pensions Board of the UCC (who would be responsible for implementing any sort of divestment). The substitute resolution was presented to the plenary of the General Synod 30 minutes before the beginning of the session. With less than an hour of discussion, the General Synod approved the resolutions. The committee that was charged with studying the issue was outraged when the substitute resolution was presented.
The consequences of the national office (and particularly John Thomas) actions at General Synod 25 was enormous. As Mike Downs from UCC Pensions Board said in his letter to John Thomas, questions exist "with the precedent setting implications of voted actions, integrity of process and trust. What will the process be next week, next month or next Synod when an important matter with similar complexities must be considered for action?" Effectively, the deliberations of the committees at General Synod do not matter - if the national office doesn't agree with their findings, they will simply change the resolution. This is a violation of the spirit of General Synod and it's violation of the national office role in respecting the other covenanted bodies of the UCC. If the national office can exert this kind of influence arbitrarily, does General Synod really matter?
More history and reaction from the Jewish community on this will posted this afternoon.
The Christian compromise on faith and politics
The whole enterprise -- there are examples on the right and left -- of asking "What Would Jesus Do?" on the earned-income tax credit or missile defense is presumptuous. Jesus, were he around again in the flesh, would probably be doing sensible things such as healing the sick, embracing outcasts and preaching sacrificial love. After all, he showed little interest in issuing a "Contract With the Roman Empire." But his followers eventually found that "love your neighbor" had political consequences, leading them to challenge slavery, infanticide and the mistreatment of women and children.
This has been the Christian compromise on faith and politics. The essential humanism of Christianity requires an active, political concern about human dignity and the rights of the poor and weak. But faith says little about the means to achieve those ideals. The justice of welfare reform or tax cuts or moving toward socialized medicine is measured by the outcome of these changes. And those debates cannot be short-circuited by the claim "Thus sayeth the Lord," spoken by the Christian Coalition or the United Church of Christ.
UCC: No changes on Middle-East policy
Thursday, June 28, 2007
US church says it has not 'backtracked' on Middle East
New York (ENI). The United Church of Christ in the United States has rejected claims that it has changed its policy on the Middle East after accepting a resolution that its executive council consider "ongoing balanced study, commentary and critique" about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Progress towards unity made at General Synod
The General Synod in Hartford, which drew more than 11,000 of the denomination's 1.2 million members, was an opportunity for the UCC to repair some of that damage and, judging by the reaction of one of the UCC's most vocal conservative ministers, it was somewhat successful.The real test will come as the hangover from General Synod passes and everyone settles back into their routines.
The Rev. Bob Thompson, president of Faithful and Welcoming Churches of the United Church of Christ, an organization whose stated goal is keeping estranged churches from bailing out of the UCC, said in an interview Monday that he was "pleasantly surprised" by how included he and others were at this year's Synod.
AJC welcomes UCC policy shift on Israel
AJC Welcomes UCC Policy Shift on Israel
June 27, 2007 – New York – The American Jewish Committee welcomes the positive shift in the United Church of Christ approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The UCC biannual synod adopted a resolution that endorses a two-state solution and recognizes that in the past the church may have “overlooked” aspects of a complex situation in the Middle East.
“The UCC has taken an encouraging step forward from its resolutions of two years ago that singularly placed blame on Israel,” said Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, AJC’s U.S. Director of Interreligious Affairs, who recently met with the UCC leadership.
“It is unfortunate that it took the costly loss of lives due to the fighting between Hamas and Fatah to spur a broadening of perspective in the UCC, but often out of tragedy hope is born,” said Greenebaum. “We are pleased that the UCC has acknowledged that its members ‘must develop a broader understanding’ of the conflict and ways to resolve it.”
General Synod - Day 5
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
The discussion during today's plenary session reached a new low when a large number of delegates began hissing at a New Hampshire delegate who spoke in favor of an amendment that would remove inflammatory language from the immigration resolution.
Andrew Sullivan on Obama's speech
From Andrew Sullivan: Yes, Obama is aggressively staking his candidacy in part on an explicitly religious appeal. In this, he is Bush's natural successor, and threatens to make secular politics even more elusive in a fundamentalist age. He also threatens, if he pulls it off, to be a transformational candidate, turning American politics into a battleground primarily between those who believe the Gospels mandate an expansive welfare state and those who believe they mandate government's moral regulation of human birth, death and sex. For my part, I believe Jesus had no politics, let alone the big government politics of our time. And the attempt of both right and left to coopt his truth corrupts faith and politics simultaneously.
Anti-Defamation League welcomes new UCC resolution
From the ADL: The United Church of Christ's acknowledgment that it has advocated an unbalanced and one-sided policy against the state of Israel is "a welcome development," according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which noted that past policy declarations "were based on unfair and biased assumptions."
UCCtruths got a nice write up in Balaam's Courier, the General Synod commentary rag. Since editor Rev. Ted Braun flat out lied about our email exchange on what role CDR's (Committees for the Defense of the Revolution) play in Cuba, I feel the need to respond. Details posted here.
Rep. Barney Frank continues the "faith got hijacked" theme of GS
From UC News: Frank said some cultural forces have attempted to "kidnap Christianity" in order to tell others how and when to pray, how to express intimacy, what women should do with their bodies during difficult circumstances, what to read, and what scientists should teach.
More Obama Fallout
Monday, June 25, 2007
I don't believe in conspiracies but I also don't believe in coincidences... which is why I'm having difficulty believing that the shutdown of the web cast for Obama's campaign speech was due to a "technical difficulty of unknown origin". I can believe the system was overwhelmed due to interest in the speech - but that would have been an easily identified origin. I suspect the shutdown was intentional. For the last week, scrutiny over Obama's speech was picking up steam culminating with an article in the American Spectator by Jeffrey Lord. While the video of the speech appeared on the UCC web site later in the day, I do wonder if the American Spectator article and scrutiny of Obama's speech factored into the broadcast blackout.
As I posted yesterday, I also believe that the UCC knowingly violated IRS regulations by the manner in which it handled Obama's address. Jeffrey Lord took notice as well. From the American Spectator today:
SO A WEBCAST SYSTEM THAT had no problems relaying liberal commentator Bill Moyer's address to the General Synod earlier in the day mysteriously went dark when the time arrived for Obama, easily the most advertised speaker on the program, to speak. Yet speak he did anyway, pitching for his candidacy in bold defiance of Lynn's -- and more importantly the IRS's -- views on the subject. Obama made no attempt to hide his presence at a UCC-sponsored event as anything less than a bid for votes.We'll be discussing this and all the General Synod festivities in the UCCtruths.com message board.
The speech was salted with repeated references to Obama's candidacy, such as his discoveries "since I announced I was running for president." He used the UCC-provided podium to electioneer for his personal liberal favorites such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and the minimum wage. He specifically promised, "I have made a solemn pledge that I will sign a universal health care bill into law by the end of my first term as president...." His opportunity to say every last word of this, of course, an opportunity denied not only his competitors for the Democratic presidential nomination but, under the law, the Republicans as well, was sponsored directly and quite unrepentantly by the United Church of Christ.
"I think the shutdown [of the webcast] was intentional, " said James Hutchins, a UCC dissenter who runs the UCC Truths website, adding that he thought the Spectator article "may have played a significant part in this." Hutchins added that "the UCC crossed the church/state line by a long shot," specifically pointing to photographs on his own website of an Obama-for-president campaign table set up at the entrance to the Civic Center. Forgive me for voicing a personal but definitely unproved suspicion that there was also concern that a video version of this story would also instantly show up on QubeTV -- a fledgling conservative site for which I am responsible and that has been billed in much national media coverage as a "conservative alternative to You Tube." Hutchins also pointed to the fact that the UCC has now announced that it will "archive" the Obama video made in-house. The effect of this would be to bypass instant and always wandering press attention while making the Obama video available to the general public at the tap of a keyboard. Thus effectively making yet one last contribution to the Obama campaign.
Hutchins was not the only observer to realize the significance of what was happening between Obama and the UCC. Covering the event for the ABC New Haven affiliate WTNH television, reporter Mark Davis said, "[T]he General Synod is not just a religious gathering, and the address Saturday afternoon by Obama, a 22-year member of the UCC, certainly proved that....At times it certainly had the feel of a political convention." Davis also made the remarkable observation that "the thousands of people in attendance appear to be true believers in Jesus and Barack Obama."
Obama distances himself from 2005 anti-Israel resolutions
(Ed. note: "individual members"... like the President of our denomination?)
Microfinance: loaning money to the poor
Maria Otero touched the hearts of Synod delegates in her speech Saturday afternoon at General Synod 26 as she spoke of the power of microfinance: loaning money to the poor so they can finance their small businesses.We need to see more of this. According to Otero, loans average about $600 and 97 percent of those loans have been repaid.
"This is social justice at its core," said the CEO of ACCION International, a nonprofit network in 24 countries that makes small loans to the poor. "The UCC is a church that is guided by a social justice ethic that is rooted in moral clarity. It believes that the gospel is preached even more by doing than by proclaiming."
Connecticut volunteers blog about Obama campaign at General Synod
From Connecticut for Obama '08 blog (no longer up):
The weather was perfect and the day was awesome for approximately 40 volunteers who staffed tables in three-hour shifts from 8AM to 6PM in front of Hartford's Civic Center and in Bushnell Park. The event was United Church of Christ's 50th anniversary celebration, Synod in the City. On Saturday, June 23rd, Senator Barack Obama gave an electrifying speech stating, "Somehow, somewhere along the way, faith stopped being used to bring us together and faith started being used to drive us apart," as quoted b the Associated Press. Click here for full article.
As volunteers staffing tables, our goal was to gather as many new supporters as possible. Many volunteers stayed long after their shifts, gathering signatures and talking to folks about why they support Barack Obama. Anticipation of when Senator Obama was going to arrive kept the momentum building. At the end of the Senator's speech, those of us who were staffing tables at that time we ushered into the Civic Center where we had an opportunity to meet him in person and take a photo. It was an electrifying moment, confirming and refreshing our commitment to do whatever we can to help Senator Obama become the next President of the United States.
General Synod - Day 4
According to Americans United for the Separation of Church and State Executive Director (and UCC ordained minister) Barry Lynn, the date you invite a candidate to speak decides whether or not the speech is a campaign speech that violates IRS codes:
In introducing the senator, UCC President John Thomas noted that the invitation was issued “more than a year ago” and that Obama was asked to speak on the “relationship between piety and politics.” Obama was also invited due to the simple fact that he may be the most high-profile member of the UCC denomination in American public life right now.Lynn is clearly making up IRS provisions that do not exist. The IRS guidelines make no reference whatsoever to the timeline when a speaker is invited. Here is my response:
Truly unbelievable Barry.
From the IRS perspective, a political speaker at a religious event has one of two distinct roles: Either they are 1) speaking as a candidate for office or 2) speaking as a non-candidate.
Contrary to your claims, IRS code does not make a provision for speakers invited before they are candidates. Very simple.
If Obama was speaking as a non-candidate (since he was invited over a year ago before he declared) then his reference to campaign pledges if elected to office clearly violates IRS standard for separation.
According to the IRS, the church or religious organization must ensure that:
This evidence is clear and plain.
- the individual speaks only in a non-candidate capacity, (Obama spoke as a candidate complete with campaign pledges)
- neither the individual nor any representative of the church makes any mention of his or her candidacy or the election, and (Obama clearly did in his speech)
- no campaign activity occurs in connection with the candidate’s attendance. In addition, the church or religious organization should clearly indicate the capacity in which the candidate is appearing and should not mention the individual’s political candidacy or the upcoming election in the communications announcing the candidate’s attendance at the event. (The tables were set up outside with the full knowledge of UCC staff and Obama (see pictures on UCCtruths.com). In addition, the UCC referenced his candidacy in news stories before General Synod).
If he was speaking as a candidate, IRS standards call for equal access by the other candidates for the same office… which didn’t appear to happen. In either case, his speeches before the Iowa Conference and the General Synod were a violation of IRS standards.
From the UCC perspective, there should be no confusion as they publicly advocate for the same rules on separation as AU. Furthermore, UCC leaders and conference ministers understood Obama’s status as a declared candidate for some time and, by virtue of their reporting on the Iowa speech a week earlier, also understood that Obama’s address would be a campaign speech. The UCC clearly and knowingly violated AU’s standard for separation.
On top of all of this, there is clear documentation and photographs that Obama organizers were recruiting supporters just outside of the Civic Center since 8am that morning.
UCC leaders were aware of attempts to recruit supporters. They were also aware of the contents of Obama’s speech since they reported on the same exact speech a week earlier.
Your logic (that the date you invite a candidate to speak dictates whether it’s a campaign speech) is not referenced in case law or IRS code.
There is certainly more to this story than you are reporting and I hope you’ll reconsider your decision.
General Synod - Day 4
Because the resolution was submitted on June 1, after the official deadline, and because the action items were judged to be consistent with policies established by earlier Synods, the resolution was accepted and referred without the necessity of further debate.
The Rev. John H. Thomas, general minister and president, said long-standing and common parliamentary practice dictates that only "be it resolved" paragraphs be considered part of Synod actions. Several of the "whereas" clauses were controversial, he said, but would not have been debatable if the resolution had been sent to the Synod floor.
General Synod - Day 3
Sunday, June 24, 2007
What are you doing here, Elijah? What are you doing here, United Church of Christ? On the run for no good reason, or for very good reason? What are you doing here? Our therapeutic age yearns for a divine arm around the collective shoulder, telling us we've been wonderful, that the world is harsh, that we've earned our rest in the cave. But God's response is tough love that seems to offer more toughness than love. "Go back, back to the dangerous places, the places where Jezebel reigns. Go back, back to find Elisha who will replace you. Go back."Fallout from Obama speech
The biggest story coming out of this General Synod so far is presidential candidate Barack Obama's address before the UCC's General Synod.
Obama did what all politicians do when they are running for office- he campaigned. No sin there. As speeches go, it was a good one, even if it was the same exact speech he gave the week before in Iowa. The problem is the hypocrisy by those who advocate for separation of church and state within and outside of our denomination. Either this belief is absolute or it's a political tool reserved primarily for limiting the political speech of opponents.
From the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State perspective, a political speaker at a religious event has one of two distinct roles: Either they are 1) speaking as a candidate for office or 2) speaking as a non-candidate. If Obama was speaking as a non-candidate (since he was supposedly invited over a year ago before he declared) then his reference to campaign pledges if elected to office clearly violates AU's standard for separation. If he was speaking as a candidate, AU's standards call for equal access by the other candidates for the same office... which didn't appear to happen. In either case, his speeches before the Iowa Conference and the General Synod were a violation of separation by AU's own standards.
From the UCC perspective, there should be no confusion as they publicly advocate for the same rules on separation as AU. Furthermore, UCC leaders and conference ministers understood Obama's status as a declared candidate for some time and, by virtue of their reporting on the Iowa speech a week earlier, also understood that Obama's address would be a campaign speech. The UCC clearly and knowingly violated AU's standard for separation.
Obama Mixes Church and State
Saturday, June 23, 2007
USAToday: "Obama to UCC: Faith has been 'hijacked'"
WTNH: "At times it certainly had the feel of a political convention"
Obama speech video (63mb, WMV)
| || |
- Obama campaign tables set up just outside of Civic Center
- Speech similar to Iowa Conference campaign speech (mp3)
- Makes campaign pledge in speech before General Synod: Universal health care coverage by end of first term
From UC News: "Let's call that Jesus back to duty, and drive the money changers from the temple of democracy"
General Synod kicks off
Friday, June 22, 2007
UC News: "Just as they were beginning to celebrate the UCC's diamond jubilee, delegates and visitors to the 26th General Synod heard a call for an end to the war in Iraq and for the end to what was termed "the arrogant unilateralism of preemptive war."
Still Speaking Debt forgiven?
Executive Council Report (PDF): "The Executive Council humbly request forgiveness of loans to The StillSpeaking Initiative by Covenanted Ministries and Conferences and directs the officers of the Church to communicate this request to the settings appropriate."
Flashback: November, 2005: ""Repayment," while yet to be specified, basically amounts to a future plan to alter allocation amounts from Our Church's Wider Mission, the UCC's common purse for mission and ministry. At the outset of the Stillspeaking Initiative, loans were to be repaid out of increased contributions to OCWM, which church leaders are hoping will be generated by the UCC's enhanced identity and evangelism effort."
Mid-East Resolution fast tracked to implementation
Controversy avoided - Committee of Reference moved resolution directly to implementation. IN SUPPORT OF A RENEWED AND BALANCED STUDY AND RESPONSE TO THE CONFLICT BETWEEN PALESTINE AND ISRAEL: "Be it further resolved that the 26th General Synod directs the Executive Council to establish a Task Force to engage in ongoing and balanced study of the causes, history and context of the conflict, including appropriate responses to the situation that may or may not lead to further support of economic leverage and removal of the security barrier.
From UC News:
Joshua DuBois, the Obama campaign's director of religious affairs, said the senator's Synod speech on Saturday will be his first major address on faith and politics as a presidential candidate.This "first major address", of course, must not include the speeches he gave to a national ministers conference and the UCC Iowa Conference earlier in the month. In any event, the spotlight will be on Hartford this weekend.
The address, DuBois said, will combine personal details about Obama's religious experiences with prescriptions for how religious Americans might put their faith into action.
It will also focus on "the growing movement of people of faith" from a variety of traditions, "coming together around our connections as a people and using those connections to address our common challenges," DuBois said.
More on "Sharing a Church With Barack"
Thursday, June 21, 2007
The saving grace of the UCC church, sometimes an understandably hard one for outsiders to discern, is that one of its central beliefs is the supremacy of the local church. This is another way of saying that while all sorts of statements and issues are trumpeted by the national church, local churches, unlike, say, those in the Catholic Church, are at the top of the pyramid, not the bottom. My local church is not in the politics business. With both liberals and conservatives sliding into the pews every Sunday we stick, for the most part, to the concerns of our community. Is Mrs. Jones in the hospital? Is the UCC Home (a project for senior citizens) in good financial shape? Do we have the funds to send young Joe or Sally Smith to church youth camp? Are we reaching out to those troubled by alcohol or depression? Yes, thanks to the national church's insistence on injecting the highly political issue of same-sex marriage into the mix in a top-down fashion, we have spent a considerable amount of time having a vigorous yet constructive conversation on the subject, leaving it basically where we found the issue -- unresolved. But if you are coming to listen to fiery diatribes spewing hatred against George Bush, well, bless you, but you're not going to find them delivered here. Our church is focused on what unites us as children of God, not what divides us in the secular realm of American politics.
Barry Lynn's Silence
Rev. Lynn says he expressed concern to UCC officials. If so, it was done privately. Nearly a year has past since the grant was announced. Why hasn't Lynn said anything publicly? Why not put public pressure on the State of Connecticut and the UCC? The fact he'd oppose his own denomination would have given him the perception of increased integrity in the public's eye.Weis does a excellent job of summing up the issue and Lynn's hypocritical silence.
Lynn says he opposes rebates and other "indirect" aid. Again, if so, why hasn't he publicly scolded his own liberal denomination for grabbing state cash? Is Lynn's chiding only saved for religious organizations of more conservative persuasion? Lynn's tepid protest now on his blog--which comes only because his silence was given note--is hardly indicative of the bold person of strong conviction that we often see on television.
Feeling the love
Fortunately for conservatives within the UCC, as with the conservative movement generally, technology has come to the rescue of this standoff. The once complete domination by liberals is at long last crumbling in quite visible fashion. After all, if the Soviet Union could come to an end, why not liberal control of the UCC? The UCC's liberal assumptions are now openly questioned at popular websites run by dissenters such as UCC Truths. Importantly, in addition to its own original content, in the spirit of diversity that is distinctly not welcomed by the national church, the site lists links both to the official UCC sites as well as to the sites of the blossoming roster of visible UCC dissenters such as the Biblical Witness Fellowship. This last group's flashing message "Renewing the United Church of Christ" is driving the national church leadership just this side of crazy.The only distinction I would make is that I don't think this site is conservative... or political for that matter. However, I learned a long time ago that I can't define the site since everyone will draw their own conclusion anyways. Certainly conservatives within the church that have felt disenfranchised by the denomination have found a home here but there is nothing overtly political on the site. I don't promote political candidates and I don't advocate for issues outside those relevant to the denomination. However, that doesn't stop denominational cheerleaders (and half-witted Conference Ministers incapable of thinking independently) from labeling all dissent as conservative muckraking. Thankfully, liberal and moderate members of our church have also joined the UCCtruths message board and have found a comfortable place to share their opinions and fellowship as well.
Barry Lynn and the Hypocrisy of Separation
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Lynn and Americans United issue dozens of statements each year regarding church and state conflicts and, at times, go as far as go as far as challenging the issues in court. Last May, Lynn chastised a $150,000 appropriation the Maryland General Assembly granted for the National Baptist Congress of Christian Education (NBCCE) conference held in Baltimore. Lynn claimed the grant was “totally inappropriate and clearly unconstitutional.” He further stated that “religious groups should pass the collection plate to their own members, not the taxpayers.”
However, while Lynn was criticizing Maryland’s grant, his own denomination, the United Church of Christ (UCC), was busy securing a grant from the state of Connecticut for its convention (called a General Synod) which is being held later this month in Hartford. Lynn has been noticeably silent about the Connecticut grant even though it is clearly a greater offense to the Establishment Clause of the federal constitution than the Maryland grant.
The differences between the Maryland and Connecticut grants are dramatic. After a careful legal review, the Maryland Department of Budget & Management clearly distinguished secular events the grant could support from non-secular events the grant could not support. The non-secular events supported by the grant included additional transportation resources to help ease the strain that 50,000 convention attendees would put on public transportation services. Explicitly, access to the subsidized transportation services was not “restricted to members of a particular sect.”
In contrast to the Maryland grant, the Connecticut grant is being used exclusively to pay a $100,000 fee to the Hartford Civic Center for facilities to host the United Church of Christ General Synod which is clearly a secular event with worship services where the primary audience is UCC delegates and members.
Some have argued that the Connecticut grant serves the non-secular purpose of promoting economic development that the approximately 8,000 attendees to the UCC General Synod will bring to Hartford. Constitutionally speaking, the distinction is not dependent on the residual economic benefit that the aid could bring but on the religious effect of the aid.
The Maryland Department of Budget & Management defined the religious effect of their grant on similar court cases involving papal visits to Philadelphia and Washington D.C. In Gilfillan v. City of Philadelphia, the Third Circuit determined that aid for the building of a platform in a public park for a liturgical service rendered the religious effect of the aid “both plain and primary.” In contrast, O’Hair v. Andrus, the District of Columbia Circuit determined that the “provision of police, sanitation and related public services is a legitimate function of government and not an ‘establishment’ of religion.”
The distinction between the Connecticut grant and the Maryland grant couldn’t be clearer. In the Maryland case, the grant was used to help ease the burden on public transportation. In the Connecticut case, the grant is being used to defray the cost of the facilities to host a clearly secular event for the United Church of Christ.
When they were initially contacted last June about the Connecticut grant in light of Lynn’s public condemnation of the Maryland grant, Americans United promised that a complete investigation would be made. At a public church and state discussion forum in Columbus, Ohio last October, Lynn was asked specifically about the Americans United investigation. Lynn expressed concern about the grant but noted that further investigation was still needed.
Now, within a week of the UCC General Synod in Hartford and nearly a year after Americans United began their investigation, Lynn has yet to publicly disclose the results of his investigation into the grant that will benefit his own denomination.
Lynn is in a unique position on this issue. Part of his attraction as a public figure is his status as an ordained minister which he uses to legitimize his concern about the separation between church and state. However, if Lynn is incapable of addressing clear concerns that involve his own denomination, what credibility does he or American United have?
Every major Jewish group "rebukes" UCC
Sunday, June 17, 2007
From the Jewish Council for Public Affairs:
Eight Jewish groups rebuked the United Church of Christ for what they said was an imbalanced statement on Israel.
The letter crafted last week by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the umbrella body for policy groups, targeted a UCC statement marking 40 years of Israel's occupation of disputed lands.
While noting that the UCC statement committed itself to Israel's security, the Jewish letter said the church document failed to mention Israeli peace overtures, Palestinian rejection of the overtures and "brutal Palestinian campaigns of terror aimed at innocent Israeli children and families."
The UCC response to the Jewish letter said it was the church's position that Israel's actions are the "context for and, in many cases, a cause of" violence on both sides.
Joining the JCPA in the letter were the Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist movements; the American Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League and B'nai B'rith International.
Obama campaigns at Iowa Conference Annual Meeting
Saturday, June 16, 2007
Obama: "It's important that we don't stereotype evangelicals in the same way that often times those of us in mainline denominations are often stereotyped"
John Thomas: We are a parade
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
This is quite remarkable. From the Carroll County Times in Maryland:
According to the Rev. John Thomas, president of the UCC, the denomination needs to start seeing itself less as a big tent and more as a parade heading in a certain direction and marching to a certain drumbeat.What a terrible analogy for a denomination like ours where our polity explicitly states that local churches are autonomous yet in covenant with each other. To any church historian, independence, dissent and disagreement have always been hallmarks of our denomination.
Some of the tolerance toward dissenting groups needs to end, he said, especially if those groups are not loving and bent on pulling people out of the denomination.
Is there any difference between John Thomas comments and saying "either you are with us or against us"?
This is exactly what many in our denomination have feared for a long time: John Thomas does not REALLY subscribe to our Congregational polity, he wants the UCC to be a hierarchal church where a handful of people make the decisions and lead the parade. His comments also can not bode well for his attempt to restructure the national office by consolidating power and control - which has already been rejected. After these comments, what person in their right mind would support restructuring?
Six days to remember -- accurately
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
Six days to remember -- accurately
A two-page "message" from the United Church of Christ repeatedly deplores Israel's occupation; it mentions some form of the word "occupy" 15 times, but doesn't mention even once the decades of Arab terrorism that have sent so many Israelis to early graves.
Considering how often the "occupation" is identified as the chief impediment to Arab-Israeli peace, you might expect 40th-anniversary discussions of the war to grapple with the fact that there was no occupation in 1967, when the Arabs were massing for war on Israel's borders. But that would mean acknowledging that Arab hatred and violence caused the occupation -- not, as current fashion has it, the other way around.
UCC fueling Anti-Semitism
This is going to be a bitter pill for some to swallow but it's time to understand that some UCC leaders (and your OCWM monies) are fueling anti-Semitism.
Yes, our denomination... the one that professes God's love for everyone unconditionally... was an endorser to this weekend's small rally in Washington D.C. titled "The World Says No to Israeli Occupation!". Here are some pictures from the rally:
The UCC didn't just endorse the event... the UCC's Rev. Diane Ford Jones is on the rally's steering committee and was a speaker. According to UCC.org last month, "The Rev. Diane Ford Jones serves in the national setting of the United Church of Christ as minister of communication and mission education for the Justice and Witness Ministries in Cleveland."
I imagine some of you will say that you cannot connect the extremists and the clearly anti-Semitic with the UCC based only on our endorsement of the event, our having representation on the steering committee for the event and by having a representative speak at the event. But consider this: If the KKK showed up to support the rally, would we be silent about it?
Bienvenidos de nuevo Puerto Rico?
New UCC web site launched
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
The United Church of Christ's new web site was launched the other day... and it's a mess. Check it out. Here are some of my quick thoughts:
- The "Answer Guy", while visually appealing, has got to be the most ridiculous and intellectually insulting features I've seen on a web site in awhile. Who likes being talked to like a three year old? It reminds me of that annoying Microsoft Office animated paper clip "Clippy" that assumed everyone was too stupid to understand what a Word document was.
- Navigation around the site is not as intuitive as it was with the old site. This could be just a matter of familiarity though. Regular visitors to the site will probably need some time to get used to it.
- The design really gives a new user a quick context to what the UCC is about and this should be attractive to people new to the web site and the UCC
- The new web site is much more visually appealing than the old site
- The "Find a Church" feature has much more prominence now, as it should
- The home page is less cluttered but, as a consequence, also has less content
Here's what the Blog World has to say about the new design...
I say this with deep love and affection for my UCC brothers and sisters: the new UCC website is a travesty.From the Rev. Scott Wells on his blog, Boy in the Bands:
I don’t have time to dissect it now, but Hans the Answer Guy is my new favorite comedy character. When he makes finger guns and says, “Yeah, we heard you,” I fall off my chair every time.
How did this happen?
The new UCC.org is just very, very wrong. Perhaps in time I can spell out the hundreds of reasons why. Or perhaps several people will get fired at General Synod and the whole thing will get nuked. Whatever.Just in case anyone is wondering, yes... the shirts in Cleveland do button up.. so I don't have an explanation for Hans' wardrobe... Midlife crisis? I dunno.
“Hi! I’m Hans, the UCC Answer Guy!”
No grown man, even in Flash, should be so excited to say “main menu bar.” Good Lord: the links are “whimsical.”
Oh, and PeaceBang can we get a review of his wardrobe? Do shirts not button up in Cleveland?
After about thirty seconds of that, I went to the kitchen to get a drink.
“Hi! I’m Jim Beam and I’m going to help you get through the rest of the tour.”
Finally, from peregrinato:
Simply put, I don’t like the new website for the United Church of Christ–at least at first glance. [edit: second and third glances aren’t helping any.]So far, it looks like the site design isn't finding many believers.
I really don’t care for the menu bar with its so self-consciously hip titles: The 411, Church Stuff (…can we be any more dismissive about who we are?), Big Things, etc.
I want the Church, not H&M. I can understand the need to step back from church jargon, but this is just trying too hard.
I can’t speak to its technological strengths or weaknesses. Someone like Scott (Boy in the Bands) is much better suited to handle that. I will say that at the moment, it takes too long for the sub-menu boxes to appear from the drop-down menu.
The old UCC website was fairly cluttered, but I could find the information I needed fairly quickly. We’ll see how I feel about this one.
Anti-Defamation League slams UCC
"As people of God, how can you justify ignoring that Israelis, young and old, women and children, have suffered from decades of suicide bombings -- suicide bombings on public transportation as they commute to school and work, in the middle of their cities -- at shopping malls and restaurants?" Mr. Foxman asked. "How can you discount the events that led to the Six-Day War and the unsuccessful attempts by the State of Israel to negotiate a peace treaty after the war that would have meant the return of Gaza and the much of the West Bank decades ago?"There's only one problem... after numerous Google searches, newswire queries and phone calls to insiders, there's no trace of a statement from the UCC to reference. It would be amusing if it were lost in the UCC's new web site, but the Disciples of Christ web site doesn't have a trace of it either.
Mr. Foxman added that, "At a time when Israeli citizens are targeted by rockets and the elected Palestinian leadership supports the eradication of the State of Israel and the use of terrorism to this end, it is particularly unfortunate that a religious organization which says it is committed to a resolution to this conflict has abandoned the course of objective, credible advocacy for the protection of all parties, which is so essential to a constructive and lasting path to peace."
UPDATE: UCC/DoC STATEMENT LOCATED ON GLOBAL MINISTRIES WEB SITE, STATEMENT WAS AUTHORED BY PETER MAKARI
The UCC / DoC statement is posted at Global Ministries. The document was authored by Peter Makari.
Makari and UCC President John Thomas have been responsible for the UCC's deteriorating relationship with Jewish groups like the ADL, the American Jewish Congress and the Simon Wiesenthal Center by imbalanced statements like this one. It's probably safe to assume that most UCC members support a balanced approach that recognizes the needs of those on all sides of the conflict if peace (and a two state solution) is going to be achieved.
UPDATE: STATEMENT NOW POSTED ON UCC.ORG
Buy this book!
Sheldon Culver and John Dorhauer's book, "Steeplejacking: How the Christian Right is Hijacking Mainstream Religion," proves two things: anyone can publish a book and some leaders in the UCC are literally debilitated by the depth of their cynicism.
The premise of the book is that there is a conspiracy by the Christian Right to takeover "Mainline" churches. The book doesn't contain any surprises... we've been entertained for months now by Missouri Mid-South Associate Conference Minister John Dorhauer's semi-regular postings on Talk2Action.org about a vast right wing conspiracy to bring down "Mainline" churches.
The book is essentially broken into two parts: the first part makes the case that there are religious groups attempting to influence politics (and political groups trying to influence churches) and the second part attempts cite examples of the conspiracy and how churches can prevent being "steeplejacked".
The first part of Steeplejacking (chapters 1-3) does an excellent job of documenting how intertwined politics and religion have become by focusing on the "religious right" and, specifically, The Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD). While this section of the book is well referenced, it repeatedly makes the claim that the IRD is "well funded" by citing 20 years (1985-2005) of contributions from conservative activists totaling a whopping "$4.765 million". By Culver and Dorhauer's own numbers, this "well funded" machine averaged $235,000 in fund raising per year which is smaller than the annual budgets for many mid-sized UCC churches. This is hardly the foundation of a "well funded" conspiracy.
The book also defines the issues that divide churches (such as gay marriage and abortion) as "wedge issues" implying that it's not really the issues themselves that dissenters care most about, rather it's the power, control and wealth of a church that they are really after. During the last General Synod, UCC President John Thomas used the same language to describe dissent over the proposed Israel Divestment resolution. Instead of actually engaging in any discussion about the issue and meeting with Jewish leaders to discuss the implications of divestment, Thomas isolated himself and dismissed the concerns as "wedge issues". Culver and Dorhauer seem to do the same thing. Instead of acknowledging that local churches and members have real concerns about these "hot button" issues, they are dismissed as "wedge issues".
The second part of the book (chapters 4-7) tries to cite examples of church stealing, addresses the roles of the pastor and laity and concludes with "strategies against steeplejacking". The amazing thing about this part of the book is how closely it resembles Dorhauer's rants on Talk2Action... with even less evidence. While the first three chapters contain hundreds of citations, the second half only has two. There is no attempt to provide supporting documentation to back up the claims of a conspiracy and, while the book has selected phrases from a few letters and speeches, there's no specific citation. It's even more difficult to decipher if these examples are directly related to the IRD. While the book identifies churches in crisis, it hardly demonstrates a conspiracy.
The book is also full of ironies. One of the strategies suggested in the book to fight back against steeplejacking is to not let dissenters hide their identity and to "speak the names of those causing dissent, and confront them if necessary". Ironically, of the few examples of UCC church stealing mentioned in the book, only the first names of people are used to validate the conspiracy. It's in these few examples that Culver and Dorhauer's credibility and argument really break down. They've clearly gone through the time to write this book and they use hundreds of citations to support their claims that external, highly political and theologically motivated groups have developed relationships with groups inside mainline churches only to have the primary premise of the book (examples of church stealing by these outside groups for power and profit) completely fall apart with sketchy examples of a few churches in crisis and no citations, references or supporting documentation. UCCtruths.com challenged Dorhauer long ago to provide evidence of a conspiracy while other clergy sympathetic to Dorhauer's concerns emailed him directly asking for supporting information to no avail. Other people signed on to the message board where he publishes his conspiracy to ask for answers only to be kicked off the site or called names.
Ultimately, what are Culver and Dorhauer trying to accomplish? Culver and Dorhauer have intentionally instilled a culture of fear within the denomination with no foundation of truth. Dorhauer proudly claims ministers are now calling him suspicious of visitors to their churches. He boasts that one of the churches that attended his workshop mistakenly accused a woman of being part of this conspiracy. This is good for our denomination?
I don't doubt that Culver and Dorhauer really believe their own conspiracy theory, but the argument they are putting forward doesn't stand up. This book does, however, serve as an example of the cynicism that exists among some UCC leaders.
It's also why every member of the UCC should buy this book, read it and ask questions.
UCC executives such as John Thomas and Conference Ministers parrot the conspiracy theory only to get that stunned look in their eyes when you ask them for specific examples. When Connecticut Conference Minister Rev. Davida Foy Crabtree's home church, Northfield Congregational Church, left the UCC in 2004, she blamed it on the influence of pastors ordained outside the UCC. A year later, she blamed turmoil in local churches on "misinformation spread over the internet". Culver and Dorhauer's book needlessly adds to this denominational paranoia.
Obama delivers address to National Ministers Conference
Tuesday, June 05, 2007
That journey started a long time ago in Hawaii, but it got interesting when I moved to Chicago. I moved there when I was just a year out of college, and a group of churches offered me a job as a community organizer so I could help rebuild neighborhoods that had been devastated by the closing of steel plants.
They didn’t pay me much, but they gave me enough to live on plus something extra to buy an old, beat-up car, and so I took the job and drove out to Chicago, where I didn’t know a soul. And during the time I was there, we worked to set up job training programs for the unemployed and after school programs for kids.
It was also there – at Trinity United Church of Christ on the South Side of Chicago – that I met Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., who took me on another journey and introduced me to a man named Jesus Christ. It was the best education I ever had. At Trinity and working in the South Side, I learned that when church folks come together, they can achieve extraordinary things.
After three years, I went back across this country to law school. I left there with a degree and a lifetime of debt, but I turned down the corporate job offers so I could come back to Chicago and organize a voter registration drive. I also started a civil rights practice, and began to teach constitutional law.
After a few years, people started coming up to me and telling me I should run for state Senate. So I did what every man does when he’s faced with a big decision – I prayed on it, and I asked my wife. And after consulting those two higher powers, I decided to get in the race.
Everywhere I’d go, I’d get two questions. First, they’d ask, “Where’d you get that funny name, Barack Obama?” Because people just couldn’t pronounce it. They’d call me “ Alabama,” or they’d call me “Yo Mama.” And I’d tell them that my father was from Kenya, and that’s where I got my name. And my mother was from Kansas, and that’s where I got my accent from.