Bye Bye Bob
Thursday, September 27, 2007
Edgar's life as a Congressman-turned-minister has been steeped in partisan politics... and at times to the detriment of the National Council of Churches.
In 2005, the United Methodist Church (Edgar's own church and the largest member of the National Council of Churches) sent a "letter of concern" to the NCC over the departure of the Antiochian Orthodox Church and to “take immediate steps to understand” why the Orthodox church left the NCC. In the same letter, the United Methodist Church also expressed it's "disdain" over a politically loaded fundraising letter that Edgar sent out earlier in the year.
Edgar's initial reaction to the criticism he received from the letter was to suggest a conspiracy of "those who try to dilute our witness and mislead our friends by suggesting that the National Council of Churches is a partisan, left-leaning organization." However, the tune changed after the UMC letter. Thomas Hoyt, then President of the National Council of Churches, said that Edgar now “has acknowledged that the letter was sent from the development office without proper review."
Edgar is gone and his legacy is a weaker, financially strapped National Council of Churches.
UCC church vandalized
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Pottstown -- Vandals defaced one of Pottstown's most historic churches. Monday morning, parishioners arrived at Zion's United Church of Christ on the corner of Hanover and Chestnut Streets to find black graffiti all around the chapel.
Pastor Peter Nichols said, "We're greatly saddened because churches exist as a social resource and a source of strength and support for a community. It disturbs us."
Scrawled on the chapel, several '666s,' pentagrams and cryptic messages that read, "God is Dead" and "No God, no masters." Also on one of the doors, a 7-foot-tall sinister face was drawn on it with the words, "Hail Satan." The main sanctuary was established in 1796. If there's a small comfort, it's that the graffiti didn't touch the historic building.
No word yet from Brotherhood Mutual if this type of property damage will prompt the insurer to reconsider coverage for churches at risk of being vandalized by angry atheists.
Cost of police protection at protest put on hold
Simi Valley will not charge a sanctuary church for police services for any
protests in the immediate future, but city officials did not rescind the $40,000
bill it sent the church last week.
City officials met Monday afternoon with representatives of the United
Church of Christ, which is sheltering an illegal immigrant. After the two-hour
session, the city agreed to place "on hold" the $39,307 bill, pending further
Both sides agreed to maintain open dialogue and said the situation
results from the lack of a firm, consistent federal immigration policy and the
need for reform at a national level.
UCC church to be billed for illegal immigration protest against it
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
By the end of the week, a Simi Valley church will be billed almost $40,000 for police presence during a weekend protest against the church's sheltering of an illegal immigrant.The United Church of Christ in Simi Valley decided in July to become a "sanctuary congregation" to shelter illegal immigrants. While law enforcement is not prevented from arresting someone staying on church property, it is generally assumed by supporters that arrests will not be made.
The city of Simi Valley is sending a $39,306 invoice to the United Church of Christ for costs incurred for police services at the protest.
The Sunday protest brought out about 125 anti-illegal immigration activists and counterprotesters. Simi officials said that by publicly announcing the decision to shelter an illegal immigrant, the church essentially provoked the protesters to come and create a possible disturbance — one that police had to monitor.
Mayor Paul Miller told the council Monday night that he's ready to send out the bill right away. He called church members irresponsible for "harboring an illegal immigrant."
As I mentioned back in July, the Simi Valley church joined four other churches in sheltering illegal immigrants as part of the "New Sanctuary Movement". According to the organization's web site, the movement is "a coalition of interfaith religious leaders and participating congregations, called by our faith to respond actively and publicly to the suffering of our immigrant brothers and sisters residing in the United States."
There is a catch to all this self-righteousness: The shelter isn't be available to just any illegal immigrant in need, only those "on the verge of deportation, have a strong work history and have children who are U.S. citizens". In other words, only those illegal immigrants who would make a good headline will be afforded shelter.
Call me cynical, but the "suffering of our immigrant brothers and sisters" has been going on long before it attracted headlines and all of a sudden they are "called by our faith to respond actively and publicly".
Is this really about faith or is it about politics?
Clergy Assisted Suicide
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
I'm probably not the only one a little weirded out by the idea of clergy taking such an active role in the death of another person. In theory, doctors are voluntarily bound to the ethical principles embodied in the Hippocratic Oath to not assist in a suicide but clergy have no such constraint outside of their own religious convictions.
The moral and political conflicts are obvious. Having watched three terminally ill family members die naturally before I was 30 years old, I've experienced the anguish that families face as loved ones suffer before death. At one point in my life I callously dismissed advocates for assisted suicide as cowards for finding ways of ducking life's last journey while admiring family members who courageously died naturally and with dignity. As time passes though, I really wonder what honor and dignity there is in suffering. I've often wondered why medicine hasn't evolved to the point to where doctors can administer drugs that would keep patients unconscious while death happens naturally. There is probably some medical reason it can't done for certain types of patients and I understand that pain management is still evolving.
Still, I couldn't imagine enlisting the services of clergy through this process. I can't think of another profession more poorly equipped to manage this "End of Life Consultation" except perhaps a Real Estate agent. It's really a reflection of arrogant clergy who hold themselves in such high regard that they are now experts on everything from politics, insurance, physics, geology to economics, biology and diplomacy. I certainly have no desire to spend my last days with someone giving me and my family tips they picked up at a seminar on expediting my departure. I'd just as much prefer the consultation of a formally educated hospice nurse while my minister tends to my family's spiritual needs - which is ultimately what they are trained to do.
New questions raised about anti-Israel book published by Pilgrim Press
Monday, September 17, 2007
More ominously, under Rev. Dr. Burge’s scriptural analysis, Jews who reject Christ have forfeited their land and risk their lives by attempting to live in it. For example, on page 176, Rev. Dr. Burge interprets John 15:6 as follows: “The people of Israel cannot claim to be planted by vines in the land; they cannot be rooted in the vineyard unless first they are grafted into Jesus. Branches that attempt living in the land, the vineyard, which refuse to be attached to Jesus will be cast out and burned.”Van Zile doesn't stop there:
“Rev. Dr. Burge equates Israel with apartheid South Africa when in fact there is no rational comparison. Arabs in Israel vote, form political parties, sit in the Supreme Court, serve in the Knesset, serve in the diplomatic corps, own companies, earn advanced degrees and enjoy more freedoms and a higher standard of living than Arabs living in neighboring Arab states,” Van Zile says. “Like any heterogeneous society, there are problems, and in Israel they are compounded by competing national allegiances among the country’s Arab population. Arab members of the Knesset have expressed vocal support for groups that perpetrate attacks against Israeli civilians. The book makes no mention of this.”Under President John Thomas, the leadership of the United Church of Christ has done just about everything possible to trash any level of interfaith relations with the Jewish community. At one point, concerns raised by the Jewish community were dismissed as coming from Conservative Jews. However, earlier this year, eight of the largest Jewish groups in the country representing the Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist movements issued a stunning rebuke of the UCC in regards to statements issued by the UCC on Israel. Liberal Jewish leaders such as A. James Rudin called "[UCC President John] Thomas' screed is a stain on a church with a rich moral tradition." Our denomination has also benn heavily criticized by Rabbi Harold Kushner, author of the best selling Why Bad Things Happen To Good People. We have a horrible record of objectivity on Israel and it is exacerbated by the UCC's publishing of a book that demonstrates a plain contempt for Jews in Israel.
Insurance company rejects UCC church
Friday, September 14, 2007
To an extent, I can understand why an insurance company would want to limit it's exposure to companies or organizations that have a history of claims against it - but this doesn't appear to be the reason for the rejection of West Adrian UCC. The logic that a stated position by a separate, national body would automatically disqualify a local church from insurance coverage because the stand is controversial is absurd. In my opinion, this eclipses the debate over gay marriage and, regardless of your stance on it, this is a really, really stupid policy.
Here's the email I just sent to Brotherhood Mutual President and Treasurer, Mark A. Robison:
I am emailing you to express my alarm that Brotherhood Mutual denied a local United Church of Christ church, West Adrian UCC, a quote for a policy because of risk of property damage and litigation due to the UCC's support of gay marriage.
As a frequent critic of the UCC (and specifically of the UCC's own Insurance Board under previous management) I am puzzled by the logic applied by Brotherhood Mutual's regional underwriter, Marci J. Fretz, when she stated that "controversial stances such as those indicated in your [West Adrian UCC's] application responses have resulted in property damage and the potential for increased litigation among churches that have chosen to publicly endorse these positions". Under this logic, every UCC, although autonomous to the national body, would be denied the opportunity to receive a quote for coverage from Brotherhood Mutual without any consideration for real risk and exposure.
I can sincerely appreciate the need for Brotherhood Mutual to limit it's exposure and liability where a reasonable and logical risk exists. However, the logic that a stated position by a separate, national body would automatically disqualify a local church from insurance coverage because the stand is controversial is absurd. Would the same standard apply to historically black churches that are frequent victims of property damage due to prejudice and hate crimes?
The decision by Brotherhood Mutual appears, from Ms. Fretz's letter, to be arbitrary and not dependent on an actual risk profile for UCC churches. I hope as President of Brotherhood Mutual, you will examine the process and logic that led to your company's decision to not provide a quote for West Adrian UCC.
A copy of Ms. Fretz's letter is located here: http://www.ucc.org/news/pdf/brotherhood-ltr-2.pdf
Pastor Dan comments on IRS complaint
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Just after Obama's speech, I read a thread over at the AU site where Barry Lynn opined that the appearance was kosher, though Lynn did express some reservations.As I've said before, as much as I disagree with Pastor Dan, he sticks to the issues and doesn't appear to be driven by the spin. The same can't be said of the half wits that post comments on his blog... such as...
I didn't write it up at the time, but I did think Lynn was correct. There was no foul, but anyone who thought that having a single presidential candidate come to speak at a denominational convention wasn't going to draw some fire had to be smoking the wacky tobacky. There are plenty of people out there who'd like to take a slice out of the ass of Obama, Lynn, or the UCC. This was perfectly predictable.
I've always wondered what is the real purpose of that UCC Truths website. The author continually states that his aim is to reform the denomination and fight an out-of-control church leadership (that is democratically elected), yet he seemingly rejoices in news of congregations leaving or closing. He claims that he is neither a member of the Biblical Witness Fellowship or Faithful and Welcoming yet he repeatedly carries water for them and takes every opportunity to criticize the actions of their counterpart, the UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns (particularly over the notable Equal Marriage Resolution at 2005 Synod).Of course, criticism like this is never linked to anything on this site to support the claims. I think the only time I ever commented on the UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns (March 9, 2006), I was being very complimentary of then Program Coordinator Ann Day stating that "Day deserves a great deal of credit for stepping up beyond the rhetoric and focusing on denomination unity." But because I disagree with the UCC, I must be part of some evil cabal with the IRD and BWF although I have had nothing to do with either of them. If that's the best they can muster up to avoid talking about the issues being raised here, I must be doing something right.
Fred Thompson and the United Church of Christ
Monday, September 10, 2007
This past week a minor scrum broke out concerning the religious bona fides of newly announced presidential candidate, Fred Thompson. Some of the questions raised included: Is he still a member in good standing of the Church of Christ where he was baptized more than a half century ago? What does his wife’s membership in the liberal, mainline United Church of Christ denomination (which is, I might add, Sen. Barack Obama’s spiritual home) suggest about the Thompson clan's commitment to the Conservative Christian worldview? And what’s he been doing attending (sporadically) that Presbyterian church in Virginia?These questions seem a bit manufactured. A quick google search of news items over the past 30 days didn't reveal any question about Thompson's wife being a member of the UCC. There is a fair amount of confusion in the blogosphere over the differences between the "Church of Christ" and the "United Church of Christ," but nothing about Thompson's wife and the United Church of Christ. There's also a leap being made that by virtue of her membership in the UCC (which I can't verify anywhere - only that they were married in a UCC church) that she is also liberal.
Back in January, I cautioned against anyone drawing conclusions about Barack Obama based on the beliefs of his controversial minister, Rev. Jeremiah Wright. "To draw any conclusions about Obama based on his membership at Trinity UCC would be a huge mistake." The same could be said about Thompson's wife since, according to a Hartford Institute for Religion Research study, roughly one quarter of the UCC's members consider themselves liberal, one quarter consider themselves conservative and about half consider themselves moderate.
So... what is Berlinerblau's point? It seems like he is trying to manufacture a political / religious issue where, as far as I can tell, none exists.
American Spectator Magazine investigates IRS complaint against the United Church of Christ
Friday, September 07, 2007
Specifically the complaint references guidelines that an individual addressing the church does so "only in a non-candidate capacity," that the individual makes no "mention of his or her candidacy or the election," and that "no campaign activity occurs in connection with the candidate's attendance." The complaint also cites a guideline that prohibits a church from mentioning an individual's political candidacy or the upcoming election in "the communications announcing the candidate's attendance at the event." Both a video and a transcript of Obama's speech are available on the UCC website and apparently will be present throughout the election.The American Spectator article goes on to point out the hypocrisy of Barry Lynn and American's United for the Separation of Church and State:
The complaint is replete with citations and links directly to both the IRS guidelines themselves as well as the transcript of Obama's speech as presented on the UCC website. Also linked are communications from the UCC in the run-up to the event that focus on Obama's role not as a Senator but in his capacity as a presidential candidate.
Included with the complaint are photographs of tables set up by campaign volunteers for Obama at the entrance to the Civic Center. The tables are decorated with Obama campaign signs and literature. To further back up the charge of an IRS violation, the complaint links to stories covering the General Synod that were aired by New Haven's news channel WTNH-TV and written in Christian Century magazine. The news stories described Obama's UCC-sponsored appearance as a "political convention" and "political rally."
IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING OBAMA'S appearance, Lynn was quick to issue a pass for his own church, saying neither Obama nor the UCC had "run afoul of federal tax law." Obviously, the filing of an official complaint signals there is a different opinion about the issue, and unfortunately for UCC members it is their offering dollars that must now be used to fight the complaint. To make matters more interesting, Lynn has issued a public defense of the liberal Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson, who drew attention when he publicly endorsed Obama. Robinson, Lynn stressed of the Bishop who ignited controversy by becoming the first openly gay bishop in that denomination's history, was doing so as an individual. He approvingly quotes Robinson as saying: "I will not be speaking about the campaign from the pulpit or at any church function. That is completely inappropriate."Interestingly, the violations really aren't limited to just Obama's speech - the UCC's web site continues to promote and distribute the DVD of Sen. Barak Obama's speech and still promotes his Presidential candidacy in news archives.
But allow Obama to speak "at any church function" and "from the pulpit" is precisely what UCC President John Thomas did. By refusing either to cancel Obama's appearance as a candidate at the General Synod ("any church function") or to insist that Obama refrain from discussing his campaign, Thomas did what Lynn praises Robinson for not doing. As the complaint against the UCC also specifically says, the UCC-owned website, clearly an Internet pulpit that is every bit as much church property as a physical pulpit, deliberately headlined a story from the Religion News Service trumpeting Obama's speech to the UCC as Obama's "first major address on faith and politics as presidential candidate." There too, Lynn praised Robinson for not doing exactly this kind of thing.
Barry Lynn's denial of any IRS violation is also loaded with hypocrisy. Instead of addressing the actual IRS guidelines and the specific actions that constitute a violation, Lynn made up new rules that aren't mentioned in any IRS guidelines. According to Lynn, "the UCC invitation had been made well before the senator declared his candidacy". Contrary to Lynn's statement, the IRS guidelines say nothing about the time line of an invitation for a candidate to speak... but they specifically outline that a tax exempt religious organization is responsible to make sure that:
- The individual speaks only in a non-candidate capacity,
- Neither the individual nor any representative of the organization makes any mention of his or her candidacy or the election, and
- No campaign activity occurs in connection with the candidate’s attendance.
Lynn doesn't make any reference to the UCC's promotion of Obama's candidacy before during and after the speech or the 8 campaign tables and 40 campaign volunteers stationed at the entrance of the Civic Center. I'm sure he's "disappointed" at that as well... just not enough to honor his own principles on the separation of church and state when it comes to his own church.
Growing church closing it's doors
Thursday, September 06, 2007
Attendance at Phillips Congregational Church has been going up, but the church will soon be closing down. The historic 1855 building is up for sale.
The Mount Auburn Street congregation, part of the United Church of Christ, has been in serious talks for close to a year. Financial difficulties at Phillips are forcing its members to consider consolidation with Payson Park Congregational Church in Belmont.
Both congregations plan to vote Sept. 30 on whether to merge. Faithful Phillips churchgoers could be attending their last day on Oct. 7.
“It’s an odd situation,” said the Rev. Robert Asinger. “[The church] just about tripled in size over last seven years. But the bottom line is we have to do something because of finances.”
The church faced a major deficit and low attendance in 2000, said Asinger. Pledges from their congregation were low, and yearly upkeep and repairs of the church had been eating away at its endowment.
The church managed to cut its deficit from $250,000 to $50,000 over the past seven years by renting out space to various community programs. Attendance numbers had even grown 100 members over the past five years, and students at church school had been increasing. But that wasn’t enough.
UCC Minister: "Sanctuary Movement" like the Underground Railroad
Tuesday, September 04, 2007
The New Sanctuary Movement
As mentioned this past Sunday in the sermon, there is a movement among churches to create and sustain opportunities of compassion and outreach to illegal immigrants, those seeking asylum, and others involved in immigration red tape. This movement, endorsed by the United Church of Christ at our UCC General Synod in June. At the meeting, we approved "A CALL FOR A MORE HUMANE U.S. IMMIGRATION POLICY; END TO MIGRANT DEATHS; AND SUPPORT FOR IMMIGRANT COMMUNITIES." The Synod also urged pastors and congregations to "form grass roots organizations working in conjunction with established groups such as Border Links, Presbyterian Border Ministry, Samaritan Patrols...The New Sanctuary Movement..."
In many ways, our outreach to immigrants is similar to the outreach offered a century and a half ago with the Underground Railroad. To aid and help a runaway slave was a criminal offense and many felt unAmerican, since slavery became an integral part of the American identity. And yet, there were those who felt compassion on the runaway slaves and offered to help them as best they could. Our congregational history is rich in offering help to this historic crisis.
Dorhauer the victim
In spite of the accusation that my traveling has caused one of the St. Louis area churches to close, this past Saturday was the first for me of a series of overnight trips. In the coming months, I will travel to an array of cities - responding to requests from a broad constituency wanting to hear more about Steeplejacking (not just the book, but the phenomenon).In light of his last post, he is obviously talking about UCCtruths. So, again, I will repost what was actually said and readers to both sites can determine who is really being honest. Here is what I posted that ticked off Dorhauer:
What makes this all the more interesting is that while UCC Missouri Mid-South Associate Conference Minister John Dorhauer is running around the country trumping up a bogus conspiracy theory about UCC churches being stolen by other denominations, churches like Holy Ghost United Church of Christ are closing their doors. This doesn't mean the Conference isn't conscious about the loss of aging churches, but the emphasis publicly has clearly focused on Dorhauer's conspiracy theory.As I stated last week, this is about priorities and Dorhauer's priority (at least publicly) is his conspiracy theory of church stealing by right-wing bogeymen. This is much different than claiming, as Dorhauer has, that "my traveling has caused one of the St. Louis area churches to close".
Dorhauer has gone from being the accuser to being the victim. No doubt he will point to UCCtruths as the source of his victimization. But really, all of this is a distraction from the real issues that challenge our denomination and from the doubts raised about his book.