Refusing to be part of a dying church
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
After six weeks of studying, reading and learning together, the group has learned some significant things and we want to share some of them with you.
We decided early on in reading the book that we do indeed Refuse To Lead A Dying Church! The Oasis on West Elm United Church of Christ has a bright, mission filled future ahead of it, IF, we chose to live out this unique calling.
So, what did we agree to?
- We refuse to lead a dying church.
- We agreed to draw a line in the sand and refuse.
- We refuse to simply go thru the motions and play church.
- We refuse to help our church gracefully into the grave.
- We refuse to channel our best ministry energy into community or justice endeavors that are detached from our congregation's life and ministry.
- We refuse, ever again, to lead a dying church.
There are six critical choices:
- Choosing Life over Death
- Choosing Community over Isolation
- Choosing Fun over Drudgery
- Choosing Bold over Mild
- Choosing Frontier over Fortress
- Choosing Now Rather than Later
Over the next six weeks, I will be sharing some of the significant learnings and how they impact the future of our church and the direction we choose to go in the future. Check back for updates and feel free to make comments and ask questions.
Together, may we REFUSE TO LEAD A DYING CHURCH!
Overlooking political connections
Monday, October 29, 2007
In any case, the momentum is enough that we don't have to plan to poach churches from any other denomination, and of course there's a difference between picking up basically like-minded congregations on the basis of shared vision for ministry and using wedge issues to subvert a congregation from within with the larger aim of splitting the denomination for secular political gains. That's the essence of John Dorhauer's charge in Steeplejacking, which our friend at UCCTruths conveniently overlooks.I thought I settled this a couple of weeks ago when I said:
I think I've been pretty clear on this all along... this whole issue is being motivated by politics, not "church stealing". To date, Dorhauer, Culver and Clarkson have yet to name a single UCC church that has been stolen by the Institute on Religion and Democracy. This is about politics: Dorhauer/Culver/Clarkson's liberal politics vs. the IRD's conservative politics... and Dorhauer's use of a phony conspiracy of church stealing to attack political opponents.I fully accept Pastor Dan's conclusion about MCC churches... but why couldn't the same be said about Evangelical denominations "picking up basically like-minded [UCC] congregations on the basis of shared vision for ministry"?
I'm not trying to defend the IRD here... but the truth is that the IRD isn't forming a denomination and Dorhauer has yet to identify a single church stolen by the IRD. Conservative churches that leave the UCC are joining groups like the Evangelical Association... and it's just a wild guess, but I bet it's because of a "shared vision for ministry".
I don't like to see churches leave the UCC any more than Dorhauer does, but lets call it what it is and stop the grassy knoll conspiracy theory of why churches are leaving... and start dealing with reality.
On that note...
I see that some nut by the name of Rusty Pipes is claiming here, here and here that UCCtruths is a "front group for the IRD". As usual with the small band of Talk2Action folks, there's nothing to support the claim that's plainly false. I have never been a part of the Institute on Religion and Democracy in any way, shape or form.
Props to Talk2Action owner Freddy Clarkson for clarifying it... sort of... by commenting that "UCC Truths is not to my knowledge, an IRD front group. It might be fair however, to call it an IRD cheerleader."
Cheerleader? I guess it's better than "front group".
Baseball, the Bible and the Colorado Rockies
Sunday, October 28, 2007
Beyond the fact that some people want to root for a team without having to root for its savior, making religion an organizational conviction raises plenty of questions. The Rockies don't exclude non-Christians — pitcher Jason Hirsh is Jewish — but if "Christian values" seep too deeply into the team's thinking, isn't discrimination, even of the subconscious kind, a danger?
Few of the Rockies wanted to discuss the issue in the midst of the most important games of their lives, but George McHendry, the pastor at United Church of Christ in northern Denver who attended some 50 Rockies games this year, thinks the team is increasingly sensitive to its reputation. In 2005 and 2006, the Rockies had a "Christian Family Day" at Coors Field. This season the Rockies renamed the promotion "Faith Day," though there weren't many rabbis or imams at the park. "To do that to appease other religions is hypocritical to say the least," says McHendry, who helped organize the event. "It was truly a Christian day."
Hamas Cheerleader Mahdi Bray speaks at Old South Church
Saturday, October 27, 2007
This just in from inside the Sabeel event. Muslim American Society official Mahdi Bray spoke from the PULPIT of Old South tonight. Here's a picture:
Do I need to remind you that this is the same guy who was caught on tape behind Abdurahman Alamoudi (now doing 25 years on terror charges) cheering for Hamas and Hizballah? Here's that video again:
Largest Reform temple in New England responds to Old South Church
Friday, October 26, 2007
Reverend Nancy Taylor Old South Church 645 Boylston Street Boston, MA 02116
Dear Reverend Taylor,
Although we are on a first-name basis with one another and often work together on issues of justice, conscience and peace within our community, I've chosen to address you formally on this occasion as a symbol of the increased distance between us that is a result of your decision to host the upcoming Conference of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center at Old South Church.
As you have defended your decision from the pulpit of Old South and in the pages of the Jewish Advocate, you've spoken of Old South's longstanding history of promoting "civic debate." If it is truly your intention to promote civic debate and to do so in a manner that is open, honest and fair, then you have to be true to the expressed purpose of Old South's publicized series, "Getting Religion Right: Beyond Stereotypes and Statistics;" it is also incumbent upon you to offer thoughtful analysis of both sides of a complex issue rather than to defend a conference that promotes polemical attacks representing only one side of the story.
You have written admiringly of Archibishop Desmond Tutu and you have spoken of the UCC's partnership relationship with Sabeel. Although I share your admiration for Archbishop Tutu's courageous stand against the Apartheid regime in South Africa, I am also appalled by some of the stereotypes and prejudices that some of his words reveal. These statements are included in an address that he gave at a Conference co-sponsored by Sabeel and the Episcopal Archdiocese in Boston in April 2002:
"But you know as well as I do that somehow the Israeli government is placed on a pedestal, and to criticize it is immediately dubbed anti-Semitic as if the Palestinians were not Semitic. . .
People are scared in this country [USA] to say wrong is wrong because the Jewish lobby is powerful, very powerful. Well, so what? This is God's world. For goodness sake, this is God's world. We live in a moral universe. The Apartheid government was very powerful, but today it no longer exists. Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Pinochet, Milosovik, and Idi Amin were all powerful, but in the end, they bit the dust."(emphasis added)
Surely the appropriation of a noxious Judeophobic stereotype, the canard that Jews exercise mysterious and malevolent control of world affairs and governments (in this case, the suggestion that Jews can control the government of the United States), ought to be beneath the dignity of a Nobel Laureate. Having to continue to defend ourselves against such spurious charges and allusions is painful indeed. The implied conflation of the "Jewish lobby" in the U.S. with Apartheid South Africa and a catalogue of the worst villains of the last century from Hitler to Idi Amin is hardly an example of civic discourse. It is deliberately intended to provoke, to stigmatize and to demonize. It cannot inspire faith in your expressed intention to move beyond stereotypes. (By the way, the quote from Archbishop Tutu is published by Sabeel on its website.) I do not believe that Desmond Tutu is a Jew-hater, but it is clear that he is not free of subconscious prejudice.
How interesting it would have been had you invited Boston University Professor and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel to speak opposite Desmond Tutu. Such a meeting between two distinguished international figures (each of whom seek to teach universal moral lessons by sharing the stories of their own personal and particular experience of suffering and oppression) might well have offered the opportunity for civic debate "both perilous and holy." Instead, you have chosen to host a conference in which only one voice will be heard.
And how should we Jews understand and characterize that voice? In your guest column in last week's Jewish Advocate, you identify Sabeel as "a Christian Palestinian organization advocating on behalf of the human rights of Palestinians, both Christian and Jewish." Sabeel may imagine itself as an advocate of Jews (I'll assume that the identification of "Jewish Palestinians" is just a slip), but no mainstream Jewish organization either here or in Israel would accept that description.
When we spoke on the telephone last week, you asked whether the characterizations of the writings of Naim Ateek, the Founder and Director of Sabeel that I cited, were found on Sabeel's website or had been offered by a third party. I can report to you that the following citations appear on Sabeel's website:
From his Easter sermon, April 2001:
"Here in Palestine Jesus is again walking the via dolorosa. . . In this season of Lent, it seems to many of us that Jesus is on the cross again with thousands of crucified Palestinians around him. It only takes people of insight to see the hundreds of thousands of crosses throughout the land, Palestinian men, women, and children being crucified. Palestine has become one huge golgotha. The Israeli government crucifixion system is operating daily. Palestine has become the place of the skull."
Here and elsewhere, Naim Ateek has used both explicit and implicit images that echo the New Testament polemic against the Jews, one that we've been forced to defend against for two millennia:
[Excerpted from Sabeel's publication, Cornerstone Issue 24, Spring 2002]
"I believe that any person who is unjustly condemned can be represented by Jesus who was unjustly condemned before the religious and political leaders of his day. By extension, this also applies to nations and whole peoples that are oppressed and condemned to death. Palestinians have been condemned as a nation by Israel, and sentenced to destruction. The accusations of people in power are strikingly similar throughout history to the charges leveled against Jesus in this city -- terrorist, evildoer, a rebel and and [sic] a subversive person. Palestinians are being crucified today for refusing to succumb to Israel's demand for greater concession on land. I realize how terrible and detrimental the suicide bombings have been, and we condemn them. But we know that they are not the cause of the conflict; they are instead the product of an evil and brutal occupation.
Palestinians are killed today because they refuse to agree to live under Israeli domination, under an Israeli system of apartheid that is worse than the apartheid practiced by South Africa."(emphasis added)
In November 2002, he preached a sermon in the chapel at Notre Dame entitled, "The Zionist Ideology of Domination Versus the Reign of God." Are these the ideas that you believe will promote civic discourse? How should my colleagues and I, my congregation and my community, respond to the rhetorical imagery of Sabeel's founder that revives the ancient New Testament charge of deicide against the Jews and clothes it in contemporary politics? How should we respond to the Christian Supersessionism that is consistently reflected in Naim Ateek's oratory?
An even more important question is how you imagine that a conference that addresses a complex conflict and reduces it to a battle between the forces of good (the Palestinians) and the forces of evil (the Israelis) could possibly contribute to civic debate. How do you expect me, my Temple Israel clergy partners and my community to respond?
I want to make it clear that there are many in the Jewish community (both here and in Israel) who are not inured to the suffering of the Palestinian people. The quest for peace and reconciliation in that troubled part of the world is the challenge and the responsibility of Muslims, Christians and Jews. I would assert that voices (whether Jewish, Christian or Muslim) that address only the perceived sins, failings and offenses of the "other" will never move us in the direction of peace.
A story: a great Hasidic rebbe was surrounded by his disciples, each of whom professed their love for the master. He turned to them and said: "Do you know what causes me pain?" The disciples were taken aback by the question for none knew the answer. The master then addressed them, "Do not imagine that you can love me without an understanding of what causes me pain." If Temple Israel of Boston, my clergy colleagues and I are included within the group of Jews whom you describe as "friends," then I would apply a similar litmus test. You can only claim friendship if you understand what causes us pain.
I share this letter with my congregation and hope that you will share it with your Council, for when you spoke at Old South, using as your text, Paul's letter to Philemon on September 9, 2007, you said,
"Part of what is so intriguing about Paul's letter is that this is no private correspondence between himself and the slave owner. He addresses his letter to the gathered church of which the slave owner is a member. This question of relationship and reconciliation, of inequality and the hope for equality, of past hurts and future behaviors, is no private matter. These are public affairs. Members and friends of Old South in Boston, just as Paul found himself standing between two friends - both of whom felt aggrieved, both of whom were sure they were in the right - so too, do we."
I am hopeful that we will speak with one another soon. When we do so, I hope that we will be able to renegotiate the terms of our relationship. At the moment, I do not see you "standing between two friends." Rather, I think that you have taken the position of those that you identify as your partners (Sabeel and Archbishop Tutu) at the expense of the Jewish community. In the words of Isaiah that we share as sacred, "Come let us reason together..." and let us pray that our reasoning will be for the sake of Heaven.
Until then, my wishes to you and the community of Old South for health and well-being,
Rabbi Ronne Friedman
Protest against Old South Church under way
We'll be updating the site with news and pictures from the protest at the United Church of Christ Old South Church as it comes in.
Allegation: UCC "targeting" gay churches
The allegation stems from an article on Queerty, one of the leading gay blogs on the internet, critical of Sen. Barack Obama's choice of adding UCC minister Rev. Andy Sidden to his "Embrace The Change" gospel tour. From Queerty:
Hoping to strike a balance between black and gay voters, presidential candidate Barack Obama enlisted Andy Sidden for his controversial Embrace The Change gospel tour. It would seem, however, that Sidden’s not entirely uncontroversial.According to Queerty, "MCC-Columbia closed their doors soon after and become Garden of Grace United Church of Christ."
The North Carolina-born Reverend (pictured, looking creepy) once worked with the massive gay-founded Metropolitan Community Church. In July of 2002, while working as a pastor at South Carolina’s MCC-Columbia, Sidden campaigned to join the ranks of MCC’s elders. He didn’t get his wish. Less than one year later, the United Church of Christ - an equally inclusive church - asked Sidden to lead their pack. Sidden agreed.
In doing so, however, Sidden may have inadvertently destroyed MCC - Columbia.
The Queerty article references an opinion piece on Q-Notes written by MCC Elder Rev. Gill Storey. From Q-Notes:
I also very much regret the way our denomination learned of our Columbia congregation’s possible desire to disaffiliate. We received no direct word from the pastor or board of directors, but rather read of their plans in the press. A more direct and communicative approach might have offered more possibilities, or at least offered appropriate closure as a parish and its parent denomination parted company. That all parties were denied such closure is something that I regard as unfortunate.In the comment section of the Queerty article, the allegation is made that the UCC is "targeting" MCC churches:
My final concern and regret over the situation is that the United Church of Christ did not contact the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches regarding our church in Columbia. Had the UCC used us as an information resource in this process, we could have shared information that the UCC might have found useful.
As recently as July of 2002, Andy Sidden stood for election to MCC’s Board of Elders, our denomination’s spiritual leadership body. Mr. Sidden failed to achieve the required votes in both the Lay and Clergy houses to be elected and soon thereafter became the pastor of his present church. So it has only been three years since Mr. Sidden went from wanting to help lead the denomination to possibly leading a parish out of the denomination.
There has been a clear strategy by the UCC to pull MCC churches into their fold. The UCC has been dealing with their own loss of churches (the greatest of any Protestant church last year) and have been trying offset those losses by targeting MCC churches. This doesn’t mean that the former MCC churches didn’t come to this conclusion on their own, as Frank clearly states, rather they are probably unaware that they were targeted by the UCC.Nothing publicly from the UCC would lead anyone to believe that the UCC is targeting MCC churches. It's still an ironic accusation in light of Missouri Mid-South Associate Conference Minister John Dorhauer's repeated accusation of "steeplejacking" of UCC churches by conservative denominations. In December, 2006, when the Cathedral of Hope left the MCC for the UCC, I noted that I didn't think there was a conspiracy to target them although there are a number of similarities in how they left and why some churches leave the UCC:
When the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas decided to leave their denomination (the Metropolitan Community Churches) for the UCC, did we consider that a conspiracy? Some peripheral facts might lead you to think as much - after all, they began conversation with the UCC at least 18 months before joining, they were headed by a UCC minister and they were embroiled in their own internal, divisive politics. In the end, we respect Cathedral of Hope's decision because we respect a local church's ability to discern for itself what is best for it's members. It wasn't a conspiracy. Whether we like it or not, our polity gives local churches this freedom to make these decisions.
Obama Faces Concert Critique from Gay Rights Groups
United Church of Christ member and Presidential candidate Barack Obama is facing criticism from segments of the gay rights community as his South Carolina campaign begins a weekend series of Gospel concerts in order to reach religious voters in the state.
The "EMBRACE THE CHANGE! Gospel Tour" takes place in three cities and features two popular artists who've spoken out against homosexuality-- Mary Mary and Donnie McClurkin-- a former homosexual who now renounces the lifestyle.
Gay rights groups, like Truth Wins Out, are upset the Obama campaign has not removed McClurkin from its list of performers. In response, an openly gay minister was added to the tour to give an invocation. And Obama himself issued the following:
I have clearly stated my belief that gays and lesbians are our brothers and sisters and should be provided the respect, dignity, and rights of all other citizens... I strongly believe that African Americans and the LGBT community must stand together in the fight for equal rights. And so I strongly disagree with Reverend McClurkin's views and will continue to fight for these rights as President of the United States to ensure that America is a country that spreads tolerance instead of division.Still, that statement hasn't completely satisfied Joe Solmonese, President of Human Rights Watch, who made the following statement on Thursday:
I spoke with Sen. Barack Obama today and expressed to him our community's disappointment for his decision to continue to remain associated with Rev. McClurkin, an anti-gay preacher who states the need to 'break the curse of homosexuality.' There is no gospel in Donnie McClurkin's message for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and their allies. That's a message that certainly doesn't belong on any Presidential candidate's stage.But as a matter of policy, Obama supports every issue of concern to gay rights groups, short of same-sex marriage-- even while a Winthrop/ETV poll of African Americans in South Carolina shows that 74% view "sex between two adults of the same sex" as "unacceptable," with 62% calling it "strongly unacceptable." Certainly if elected, Obama will be a friend to gay civil rights groups.
So why are these same groups insistent that McClurkin be removed?
If one went so far as to look at this situation through the theological lens of the United Church of Christ, isn't Obama's campaign simply trying to bring people from all sides together, so that "all may be one"?
Donnie McClurkin and Mary Mary are demonstrating "tolerance" by associating their name with a candidate who supports the political agenda of gay rights groups.
The openly gay minister praying the invocation is showing "tolerance" by sharing the same stage with performers who believe homosexuality grieves the heart of God.
Where then is the "tolerance" of groups like Human Rights Watch and Truth Wins Out? If someone personally believes homosexual practices are wrong, yet wants to work with a politician who supports gay rights, why should that person be denied the ability to participate?
It goes to show: Exclusion is not just the exclusive work of political and religious conservatives.
Major protest planned tomorrow at Old South Church
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Scores of local organizations are planning to rally outside the Old South Church in Boston this Friday in response to a weekend conference sponsored by Sabeel, the controversial Christian Palestinian human rights group.
The conference, “The Apartheid Paradigm in Palestine-Israel: Issues of Justice and Equality,” will feature Sabeel leaders and the Reverend Desmond Tutu, who, along with Sabeel, has been criticized for his portrayal of theIsraeli-Palestinian conflict. More than 50 organizations plan to join in Friday’s demonstration.
“We respect the right of the Old South Church to have the conference because we believe in freedom of speech, but we absolutely denounce the message,” said Nancy K. Kaufman, executive director of the Jewish CommunityRelations Council of Greater Boston. “The public needs to understand that [Sabeel] is anti-Israel and against Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.”
Hate at the altar
For the past three decades, Sabeel has billed itself as the voice of the
beleaguered community of Palestinian Christians in the West Bank, the Gaza
Strip, and Israel. Over the years, Sabeel has been successful in convincing
well-meaning, but largely ignorant Christians in the United States and Europe
that the Palestinian people are innocent sufferers and the Israeli government
their brutal oppressors.
The centerpiece of this effort can be seen in the hostile rhetoric of
Ateek. For example, his 2000 Christmas message portrayed Israeli officials as
Herod, who, according to the Christian gospel, murdered all the infants of
Bethlehem in an attempt to kill the infant Jesus. In his 2001 Easter message,
Ateek wrote, "The Israeli government crucifixion system is operating daily" and
that "Palestine has become the place of the skull." And in February 2001, Ateek
compared the Israeli occupation to the stone blocking Christ's tomb.
With these three images, Ateek has figuratively blamed Israel for the
attempted murder of the infant Jesus, the crucifixion of Jesus the prophet, and
for blocking the resurrection of Christ the Savior.
In the context of Christian-Jewish relations, language like this -
which has preceded and justified the killing of Jews for nearly two millennia -
is the equivalent of a noose hanging from a tree in the Old South. Its use
during a time of violence can only serve to justify continued violence against
Israeli civilians. Sadly, Ateek's defenders have said that he is merely using
the "language of the cross" to describe Palestinian suffering, but in fact, he
is describing Israeli behavior.
UC News: OCWM giving increasing
With three months remaining in the year, financial reports are showing promising signs for Our Church's Wider Mission, the UCC's common purse for shared ministries at the national and international settings of the church.
At the end of September, OCWM National Basic Support stood at $4,756,553 or an increase of $491,740 over last year's total at the same point.
Twenty-four of the UCC's 38 Conferences have remitted more money to date this year over last year. Thirteen are reporting less financial support. One Conference is reporting an equal amount.
Since June's report, the positive financial comparison has grown from a $316,705 net increase to $491,740, another promising sign.
The Rev. William Green of the UCC's Stewarship [sic] Ministry says that, typically, the end of September has represented "the half way point" for the year, since many churches and Conferences hold remittances until later in the year. Entering the year's final quarter in a more-favorable position is an encouraing [sic] sign, he says, and something the national setting has not experienced in recent years.
Historic UCC Church Takes Bold Step for Brighter Future
A historic church in Hawaii that is part of the United Church of Christ has begun a bold new building project in an effort to better reach its community.
Kawaiaha'o Church, Honolulu's first church, is tearing down two older facilities and replacing them with a state-of-the-art $14.5 million multipurpose center, which will sit next to its 165 year old landmark sanctuary.
"We want to look to the future," Kahu Curt Kekuna, senior minister at Kawaiaha'o told the Honolulu Advertiser. "Buildings are buildings. But what they provide, what they do, that's what matters."
Church members are hoping the new facility will help draw in new members and reach the next generation of people for Christ. At its peak in the 1960's, attendance at Kawaiaha'o was over 2,000. Today, about 500 people attend.
The historic sanctuary of Kawaiaha'o--often called "Westminster Abbey of Hawaii"-- was completed in 1842 and features New England style architecture. It is on the national and state registers of historic places.
While the story line of mainline churches has been one of decline, it's inspiring to see one church take courageous steps to build a brighter future.
Boston Globe: Criticism gone too far
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
IN CIVILIZED circles it is considered boorish to speak of Jews as Christ-killers, or to use language evoking the venomous old teaching that Jews are forever cursed for the death of Jesus. Those circles apparently don't include the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, an anti-Israel "peace" organization based in Jerusalem, or its founder, the Anglican cleric Naim Ateek.
Sabeel and Ateek are highly regarded on the hard-line Christian left, and regularly organize American conferences at which Israel is extravagantly denounced by numerous critics. So far this year, such conferences have been held in Cleveland, Berkeley, Calif., and Birmingham, Ala.; another begins Friday at Boston's Old South Church.
Just as critics of the United States are not necessarily anti-American bigots, critics of Israel are not necessarily biased against Jews. But Sabeel and Ateek's denunciations of Israel have included imagery explicitly linking the modern Jewish state to the terrible charge of deicide that for centuries fueled so much anti-Jewish hatred and bloodshed.
That those about whom we write, and whom we identify as co-conspirators, discredit our work is not to be considered as evidence of anything other than support of the theory. In fact, when the IRD, the BWF, and UCCTruths all choose the same response, it only confirms, it only offers more credible evidence, to support the theory we are postulating.Now... I've been known to regularly butcher the English language on UCCtruths but Dorhauer's posts are torture to read. If you've read Dorhauer's book though, you probably know by now that he's not having a bad coffee day - this is how he normally writes and thinks.
Regardless, you have to read his whole post instead of taking my word for it. I guess since BWF and the IRD agree with me that Dorhauer is off his rocker, UCCtruths must be a "co-conspirator". This is the quality of his evidence of a church stealing conspiracy in the UCC.
Demonstrators Return to UCC Simi Valley
Monday, October 22, 2007
Once again, an anti-illegal immigration group stood in front of the United Church of Christ of Simi Valley and called on the church to quit providing sanctuary for an undocumented Mexican.
The second protest took place October 14, reports the Simi Valley Acorn, while the church was conducting its Sunday morning worship service. UCC Simi Valley is part of the New Sanctuary Movement, which provides shelter for illegals and seeks change to government immigration policies.
While the first demonstration on September 16, by a group called "Save Our State," caused quite a scuffle with about 125 protesters and counter-protesters-- and led the city of Simi Valley to bill the church for over $39,000 in overtime police expenses because, in their view, the church provoked protest by publicly announcing its decision to house an illegal-- Sunday's three hour event brought out only 35.
"We anticipated a larger crowd based on website chatter," Simi Valley police captain John McGinty said. "It was generally a very well-behaved crowd."
Apparently though, the protesters are not very well-behaved with their words. After the second protest, the church declared in an official statement:
Those who disagree with us have every right to do so. However, the actions of those who gather outside our church on Sunday mornings are instructive: They choose intimidation over conversation and belligerence over peace. They have also begun to use hate speech towards our members. Clearly, they do not represent the good citizens of Simi Valley, who continue to respect our communities values.Rev. June Goudey of UCC Simi Valley told the Acorn:
"The situation with the protesters who shout anti-gay slurs at our members and interrupt our worship service remains a concern for us, but we are not intimidated by their tactics," Goudey said.The larger issue in this story is boundary lines-- getting crossed and getting changed.
"The real issue is immigration reform and how we can all work together to address the many iniquities in our current system," she said.
A church draws a firm "line" around their property, daringly crosses a legal boundary by housing an illegal alien, and advocates proper "boundaries" of justice-- all in the hope of changing "lines" about U.S. immigration. In response, a protest group calls on the church to uphold the "line" of immigration laws. They do so by standing near church property-- invading the "comfort zone" of church goers. They disturb the "line" of peace to the point that police presence is necessary. And then, they cross the boundary line of common decency by disrupting Sunday worship services and hurling insults.
Changing boundaries and crossing boundary lines? That's the messy result of protesting.
Dexter explains it all
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Our good friend and occasional editorial contributor to UCCtruths, Dexter Van Zile, gives a good, in-depth explanation about the conflict between Jews and the United Church of Christ with particular attention to the upcoming Sabeel Conference at Old South Church in Boston next week.
A big hat tip to our friend Solomonia who videotaped Dexter and posted on this story today.
P.S. As much as I agree with Dexter, I can't wait to hear his excuses when the Cleveland Indians trounce the Red Sox out of the playoffs.
The David Project: "Hate-Fest at Boston Old South Church"
The Path to Peace in the Middle East Cannot be Built on Hatred.Footnote: Rev. Nancy Taylor is believed to be a leading candidate to be the next President of the United Church of Christ.
An Open Letter to Old South Church,
The Reverend Dr. Nancy S. Taylor, Boston
Dear Reverend Taylor,
As Christians and Jews committed to peace in the Middle East, we are disappointed and dismayed that Old South Church will be hosting The Sabeel Conference at the end of October. Rather than presenting constructive measures to achieve a lasting peace in the Middle East, this conference – and its speakers – clearly intend to demonize Israel, and, to a certain extent, Jews as well. Sabeel’s director, Naim Ateek, employs anti-Semitic imagery to describe Israel. Listen to his words, Reverend Taylor:
"…hundreds of thousands of crosses throughout the land, Palestinian men, women, and children being crucified… The Israeli government crucifixion system is operating daily." – Bishop Naim Ateek, April, 2001
Are these the words, "crucifixion system", Reverend Taylor, that you wish to hear from the pulpit of Old South Church?
Moreover, the eradication of the 2000 year old Christian community within Palestinian controlled territory as a result of a theocratic, Islamist government goes unmentioned by the conference organizers. Just last week, a prominent Christian Arab leader, Rami Ayyad, a true man of peace, was kidnapped and brutally murdered in the territory ruled by Hamas. Where is the outcry from Sabeel?
The very theme of the event – "The Apartheid Paradigm in Palestine-Israel: Issues of Justice and Equality" - prejudges Israel as the equivalent of the despicable South African apartheid regime. All the speakers selected for this event have a long history of one-sided, anti-Israel rhetoric. There is no diversity of opinion at this conference and no dissenting voices will be heard from the rostrum.
Unlike its neighbors, who routinely persecute Jews, Christians, and other minorities, Israel could not be further from an "Apartheid State." Israel extends full citizenship and full political participation to all, including Christians and Muslims.
To be sure, there are problems within Israel, as there are in any democracy, but by misrepresenting Israel’s legitimate right of self-defense in the face of relentless terror attacks, Sabeel and its supporters fuel the fires of hate, not reconciliation.
Reverend Taylor, people of all faiths must seek a just and lasting resolution to the current conflict in the region.
By welcoming a conference based on inaccuracy and bias into its sanctuary, Old South Church has lent tacit support to those working to prolong the conflict.
The long and distinguished record of Old South Church as a champion of social justice will be put in jeopardy if it opens its doors to hate speech.
We respectfully ask, Reverend Taylor, that you reconsider hosting the Sabeel conference.
Rabbi William Hamilton - Temple Kehillath Israel, Brookline
Rabbi Daniel Judson - Temple Beth David, Canton
Rabbi Mendel Gurkow - Shaloh House Chabad, Stoughton
Rabbi Alan Turetz - Temple Emeth, Chestnut Hill
Rabbi Dr. Gershon C. Gewirtz - Young Israel of Brookline
Rabbi Dan Rodkin - Shaloh House, Boston
Rabbi Daniel H. Liben - Temple Israel of Natick
Rabbi David Klatzker - Temple Ner Tamid, Peabody
Rabbi Baruch Halevi - Shirat Hayam, Swampscott
Rabbi Jonathan Hausman - Congregation Ahavath Torah, Stoughton
Rabbi Alfred Benjamin - Temple Shalom, Milton
Rabbi Gilbert Rosenthal - Executive Director, National Council of Synagogues
Rabbi Jonina Pritzker - Conservative Movement
Rabbi Joel Pitkowsky - Congregation Beth Israel, Worcester
Rabbi Allen Alpert - Congregation Agudat Achim, Leominster
Grand Rabbi Y.A. Korff - Boston
Rabbi Moshe Y. Bleich - Wellesley-Weston Chabad
Rabbi Geoffrey J. Haber - Congregation Mishkan Tefila, Chestnut Hill
Christian Friends of Israel
Professor David S. Wyman - The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies and author of ‘The Abandonment of the Jews’
Dennis Hale - Director, Episcopal Jewish Alliance
Denette Abers - Bridges for Peace
Joanne Magnusson - Director, Interfaith Programs, Bridges for Peace, Ret.
The Rev. Robert A. Everett, Ph.D - Ridgeview Congregational Church, White Plains, New York
The Rev. Fumio Taku - Calvary Assembly of God, Hudson, NH
The Rev. William P. Adams - New England Coordinator, Bridges for Peace and Christian Renewal Church, Beverly
Pastor Gerald E. Bell - Strong Tower Church, Roxbury
David Blewett - Director, National Christian Leadership Conference for Israel
Pastor Pat Dutton - Sharon
The Rev. F. Bradford Townley, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Bridgewater, MA
This open letter is being circulated among people of good faith who long for peace in The Middle East. If you wish to add your name to the list of distinguished signers, please email email@example.com or call (617) 428-0012.
The idolatry of politics
Yesterday during a garrulous knocking around of strawmen, UCC Truths experienced a sudden moment of clarity -- and agreement with Talk to Action on the substance of the matter of the Institute on Religion and Democracy and its satellite groups: that the attacks on the mainline churches have always been primarily about politics.And then...
Thank you, UCC Truths for acknowledging what we have been saying all along: The IRD and those who have fallen under its sway are attacking the churches because "of politics." We are glad that UCC Truths has come around to our point of view, even if they took the long way, kicking and screaming to get there.Huh? Freddy, you have to read the web site. Back in April I said...
While Dorhauer successfully provides evidence that the IRD does indeed want to organize conservatives in mainline churches, he still does not provide any evidence of a church stealing conspiracy in UCC churches.I think I've been pretty clear on this all along... this whole issue is being motivated by politics, not "church stealing". To date, Dorhauer, Culver and Clarkson have yet to name a single UCC church that has been stolen by the Institute on Religion and Democracy. This is about politics: Dorhauer/Culver/Clarkson's liberal politics vs. the IRD's conservative politics... and Dorhauer's use of a phony conspiracy of church stealing to attack political opponents.
Dorhauer's politically motivated campaign against the IRD is harmful to the denomination because:
- Dorhauer proudly claims ministers are calling him suspicious of visitors to their churches.
- Dorhauer boasts that one of the churches that attended his workshop mistakenly accused a woman of being part of this conspiracy.
- Dorhauer concedes that "all I have is circumstantial evidence, around which I have built a theory"
"The tendency to equate our political with our Christian convictions causes politics to generate idolatry." Reinhold Niebuhr, Christianity and Crisis, July 21, 1952
Obama speech before United Church of Christ General Synod used in campaign
Presidential candidate and United Church of Christ member Barack Obama is using a video of his speech before the UCC's General Synod in June on his campaign web site. Obama's campaign speech before the United Church of Christ's General Synod prompted an IRS complaint in August.
On Obama's campaign site, visitors are encouraged to "Tell Your Friends, Family and Congregation Members about Faith – Action – Change, People of Faith for Barack Obama." As we noted yesterday, Obama's is aggressively campaigning in churches around the country to generate support. The campaign site also enables supporters to upload the email addresses of other church members to encourage their support for Obama.
Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (headed by Barry Lynn, an ordained United Church of Christ minister) has repeatedly given Obama a free pass to campaign at events like the UCC's General Synod and the UCC's Iowa Conference annual meeting.
Definition of a conspiracy
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
- a secret agreement between two or more people to perform an unlawful act
- a plot to carry out some harmful or illegal act (especially a political plot)
- a group of conspirators banded together to achieve some harmful or illegal purpose
For now, though, let me restate the case clearly and succinctly: this is a conspiracy. An alliance has been formed between the IRD and renewal groups deployed in all of the major Protestant denominations. Their goal is to diminish, demoralize, and demean them.It's also funny how Rev. Dorhauer (and co-conspiracy theorist Sheldon Culver) keeps lowering the bar on the goal of the conspiracy. The goal of the conspiracy used to be:
As Culver explained, litigation is a preferred weapon for the more hierarchical denominations. She said that more and more often the goal is not to win a theological argument but to punish overly liberal churches by seizing their property through the courts or draining their resources in litigation.Apparently, Dorhauer and Culver have given up on the idea that the some mysterious shadow group is stealing churches for their property and wealth. Now the point of the bogus conspiracy is to "diminish, demoralize, and demean" liberal churches.
Independent churches like the UCC are harder to sue, so they are often targeted one-by-one. Specially trained activists show up and launch campaigns to convince parishioners to vote themselves out of the UCC.
Now Dorhauer claims to have evidence that the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) is (gasp) organizing conservative, grass roots participation to challenge liberal denominations on matters of politics.
Stunning. Truly ground-breaking.
The irony is this is exactly what Talk2Action.org (the nutty right-wing conspiracy web site that Dorhauer blogs on) does everyday... only they choose to organize and go after the religious right. The same thing is going on with thousands of groups all over the political spectrum.
If this were really about "Steeplejacking," there are plenty of UCC churches that are closing and looking for new occupants... some even in Dorhauer's backyard. This isn't about "steeplejacking," it's about politics.
Obama makes "campaign altar call", Silence from Americans United
The invitation appeared one Sunday in Joanna Chase's church bulletin: Come to a "faith forum" and join a conversation about the intersection of religion and politics.And the word from Americans United for the Separation of Church and State is...
Living in New Hampshire, Chase is accustomed to pitches from presidential hopefuls, especially those focusing on values-voting Republicans. But this one came from the team of a Democrat, Sen. Barack Obama.
The candidate himself wasn't on the bill. But about 50 people showed up to talk about the war, poverty and trying to seize back the moral mantle some in the GOP claim. The night also featured an Obama video and a campaign altar call _ an invitation to become a "congregation contact" and rally support for the candidate.
Ah yes, nothing again... on Obama. But Americans United (and United Church of Christ ordained) Rev. Barry Lynn did single out the "Religious Right" at the beginning of the month:
“No one,” he continued, “disputes that pastors may speak out on social, political and moral issues. What federal tax law does not allow is electioneering for candidates by churches and other tax-exempt organizations.”Lynn is right about his admonishment to "Religious Right" leaders, but the irony of his silence during Barack Obama's appearance before the UCC's General Synod this past July and now with Obama's "alter call" demonstrates, again, that Rev. Barry Lynn is just another partisan using religion for partisan political benefit.
AU’s Lynn said James Dobson, Tony Perkins and other Religious Right leaders must be worried that evangelical clergy are continuing to reject their plan to politicize churches.
Another UCC church closes
Saturday, October 13, 2007
It is the end of an era for a church in our area. The last service at Saint Paul's United Church of Christ in Summit Hill is Sunday. A minister who served at the church years ago has come back to say good-bye.
Pastor Wilber Albright walked through his church in Summit Hill for one of the last times Friday. Four hundred people used to belong to the congregation of the church in Carbon County. That number has dwindled to 40.
"I can remember walking in here every Sunday morning and if the church wasn't full there was something wrong," said Pastor Albright.
Like other churches, Saint Paul's just doesn't have enough members to keep the 142-year-old house of worship open.
"You're going to try to make it a service of celebration and joy but back here," Pastor Albright said, pointing to back of his head, "it's going to be like burying a family member."
UCC.org web site traffic bottoms out
Friday, October 12, 2007
UCCtruths is four years old!
No media coverage for "Martyr" Thomas
Thursday, October 11, 2007
UPDATE 10/11: One news outlet did cover the arrest...
Stories on the Medill site are "reported, written and produced by
Northwestern University graduate journalism students".
"Martyr" Thomas arrested
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Thomas reminded the crowd of martyred theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who said, "The church has been a silent partner in evil deeds." To which Thomas added, "We are breaking that silence today."Last week, I predicted this exact scenario:
"This is a difficult time for people of faith who are opposed to the war," said Thomas, who named "an apparant lack of will to change course" as an immobilizing frustration for both the American and Iraqi people. The UCC's summer anti-war petition drive, he said, was about "claiming hope and action again."
Thomas wants to be arrested. It's his self fulfilling, although meaningless, martyrdom of arrest that he'll wear like a Boy Scout merit badge. After it's over, he'll convince himself that he's paid a significant price in the name of peace. He'll delude himself that it's "the cost of discipleship" while missing the obvious: Out of a denomination of 1.2 million members, he mustered up 40,000 of the flock to sign on to his pastoral message. There's a message in there, but it's not about peace.I was wrong about one thing... apparently they tried to present 60,000 signatures.
Thomas' comparison to Bonhoeffer is absurd... and dangerous. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran pastor, theologian, participant in the German Resistance movement against Nazism, founding member of the Confessing Church and was involved in a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. He was arrested in March 1943, imprisoned, and eventually hanged just before the end of the World War II in Europe. What is anyone with a brain supposed to infer from the comparison? It's no wonder the White House wouldn't send a representative out to meet with him.
Nancy Taylor stumps for Sabeel
Rev. Nancy Taylor runs the Old South Church. We’ve heard that she’s not actually hosting or officially sponsoring the Sabeel/Tutu, but is renting them the space – in which they will say these hateful things. I’ll assume she didn’t know that Ateek preaches the “Jews are crucifying again” message when she signed the rental contract. We can also assume that if she had mistakenly rented the Old South Church to any other sort of bigot, or to a racist or a homophobe, she’d now rush to bar the door. Contract or no.In her September 9th sermon, Taylor responded to the criticism:
Dear Rev. Taylor, if the Boston chapter of the ADL can do the right thing, so can the Old South Church.
The columnist who wrote those things in The Jewish Advocate represents an extreme, angry hard right side of the Jewish community. While he is busy writing in his own style of colorful and incendiary language, I have, for months, been in quiet, respectful and meaningful communication with leaders in the Jewish community.Dexter Van Zile, writing for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), has an in depth analysis of Sabeel and Nancy Taylor's defense of Sabeel:
Last week I met with the executives of the Jewish Community Relations Council and the American Jewish Committee. Andy Tarsy of the Anti-defamation League had planned to be there … but he has been pre-occupied lately and could not make it.
These leaders are not happy with our decision to host Sabeel and the Archbishop. They express concern, disappointment and fear. Why? Because the Archbishop and Sabeel use the language of apartheid to describe the situation of Palestinians and because they promote a program of selective investment in Israel as a means of applying pressure. Our Jewish friends experience these as a threat to the security, and as an affront to the dignity, of the state of Israel.
Jewish concerns about Sabeel go much deeper than its efforts to smear Israel with the apartheid charge or its involvement in the campaign to convince protestant churches in the U.S. to target Israel for divestment (not “selective divestment” as Rev. Taylor asserts.)Taylor's sermon only tells part of the story. If she were to be completely honest with her congregation, she would let them know that:
These things are troubling to be sure, but the concerns are much deeper than what Rev. Taylor states. Ultimately, the concern is about Sabeel's tendency to use Christian theology and scripture to demonize Israel and deny the Jewish people the right to self-determination in a sovereign state.
- The Anti-Defamation League has spoken out strongly against Sabeel and the UCC's support for Sabeel: "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," said Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor, ADL Director of Interfaith Affairs. "You can't have it both ways."
- Criticism of the UCC by Jewish groups is not limited to the "angry hard right side of the Jewish community" - every major Jewish group representing the spectrum of political ideologies has been critical of statements against Israel by the United Church of Christ including Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist movements; the American Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League and B'nai B'rith International.
- The Simon Wiesenthal Center called the UCC's divestment resolution "functionally anti-Semitic"
A Kingdom Right Here On Earth
"I want all of you to pray that I can be an instrument of God... We're going to keep on praising together. I am confident that we can create a Kingdom right here on Earth."
Which candidate for President made this statement over the weekend?
Was it former Baptist preacher Mike Huckabee? Nope.
Could it have been the dedicated Mormon and Republican Mitt Romney? No.
How about social conservative and Catholic Sam Brownback? It's not him either.
Or, John McCain, a former Episcopalian and now Baptist? Wrong again.
It was none other than Barack Obama, Democratic hopeful and United Church of Christ (UCC) member.
Obama made the remark during a 15 minute speech at Pentecostal megachurch Redemption World Outreach Center, in Greenville, South Carolina, on Sunday, October 7.
Create a Kingdom right here on Earth.
Now if George Bush (or any front running Republican) made this statement, the media pundits would be in a foaming frenzy of outrage and condemnation:
Why, he wants to turn the United States into a theocracy!Instead, the media commentators are giving Obama a pass. Liberal policies will do that.
Still, it's interesting listening to Obama's religious rhetoric on the campaign trail and comparing it to the way faith is typically expressed within his denomination.
For instance, Obama told the multicultural audience at Redemption World Outreach about his work years ago in Chicago as a community organizer of churches:
I thought I was coming to save a ministry but in fact I was being saved, and I accepted Jesus Christ into my life.When do you hear anything like that at United Church of Christ meetings? Talk of redemption and salvation through Jesus? Frankly, it'd do the UCC a lot of good. But that's the language of conservatives and evangelicals, who'd appreciate this saying from Obama-- that is, if he wasn't a liberal:
These days, when people ask me, ‘What role does religion play in your work?’ – You’re running for president of the United States, the leader of the free world. What role does faith play? It plays every role.Every role?
Again, does anyone hear this kind of talk within the UCC? If a Republican said this, how many UCC people would be-- let's put it in political terms-- deeply concerned?
On the other hand, Obama paints a vision of unity where people from all sides join together to solve common problems:
As I travel around the country I feel hopeful and optimistic. There's God's spirit in each and everyone of us that's waiting to be released and to be let out... He wants us to join together and break the partisan divisions.That certainly is UCC language, a hope expressed in the logo, "That They May All Be One" (John 17:21).
With his religious campaign rhetoric, Obama is reestablishing something Democrats have ignored for years-- the relationship between faith and politics. Whether Obama's strategy of reaching a broad spectrum of Christians succeeds or not, op-ed columnist Michael Gerson of the Washington Post has some good advice for any politician who seeks to baptize their agenda in religious rhetoric:
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.Create a Kingdom right here on Earth. How?
That is why we have elections.
Labels: Barack Obama
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
That's the magic number.
To maintain a church building and employ a full-time pastor, a local church needs at least $85,000 a year in its budget.
This statistic was cited by Dr. David Greenhaw, President of Eden Seminary, who spoke to delegates at a workshop during the annual meeting of the Kansas-Oklahoma Conference, September 28-30, in Wichita.
In 24 out of 38 conferences in the United Church of Christ, more than 50% of their churches have budgets under $85,000. In this case, the Southern and New York Conferences have the greatest number of churches, followed by Missouri-Mid-South and Indiana-Kentucky.
Florida, Connecticut, Southwest, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, California-Nevada Southern, California-Nevada Northern, Penn Southeast, Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Penn Northeast, Penn Central are the only conferences where the majority of their churches have budgets over $85,000.
Whatever shape the UCC takes in the future, small churches will be a large contributor.
John Thomas seeks arrest at White House
Friday, October 05, 2007
After a failed attempt to collect 100,000 signatures in support of his pastoral letter against the war in Iraq, John Thomas is now planning to deliver around 40,000 signatures to the White House on Wednesday, Oct. 10 and "not to leave the gates of the White House until our message has been received or until we are arrested".
Personally, I couldn't care less what his message is. If Thomas feels called to protest the war, he should. I just question the effectiveness of the tactic.
How does the White House "receive" Thomas' message? Is it like a FedEx delivery where he'll drop off the letter and signatures? I'm really not clear on what "until our message has been received" really means. I suspect the vagueness is intentional.
The only thing that is clear is that Thomas is looking to get arrested for a publicity stunt. Bob Edgar tried the same stunt when he protested outside the Sudan Embassy in 2004. The funny thing was, the stunt backfired: not a single major news source covered Edgar's arrest.
Thomas wants to be arrested. It's his self fulfilling, although meaningless, martyrdom of arrest that he'll wear like a Boy Scout merit badge. After it's over, he'll convince himself that he's paid a significant price in the name of peace. He'll delude himself that it's "the cost of discipleship" while missing the obvious: Out of a denomination of 1.2 million members, he mustered up 40,000 of the flock to sign on to his pastoral message. There's a message in there, but it's not about peace.
According to a United Church of Christ press release, the idea that the petitions are "received" means that they want someone official to retrieve them from the front gates of the White House. "As of Friday, requests from the UCC that someone from the White House's public liaison office meet with Thomas and Jaramillo, and receive the petitions, have not been granted." It's just a guess, but they are probably asking themselves, "Who in the hell is John Thomas and he wants to drop off what?"
What's Right with the Mainline Church?
Thursday, October 04, 2007
For the last 40 years, the mainline church has suffered significant decline.
So says Dr. David Greenhaw, President of Eden Seminary, during a workshop at the UCC Kansas-Oklahoma conference meeting in Wichita, September 28-30.
But Greenhaw has hope for the mainline's future.
The key, he says, is to lift up three hallmarks that characterize mainline churches:
1) Faith that is bound to thought.
Mainline churches are unafraid to ask the most difficult questions about God and the world. There is freedom to explore such questions and answer them in ways without fear of reprisal. Scholarship and critical thinking are cherished values. Doubt is a pathway to faith and knowledge.
2) Faith that is bound to social responsibility.
Mainline churches have a social conscience. They take seriously Jesus' command to love our neighbor. Historically, it was people in mainline churches who fought against slavery, injustices to workers during the industrial revolution, and advocated equality during the civil rights movement. As Greenhaw related, "We give the needy a cup of cold water and then we go on to ask why there isn't enough water."
3) Faith that is bound to understanding the other.
Mainline churches are ecumenical. They seek out connections with people not like themselves. Dialogue is important-- between other Christians (National Council of Churches) and other faiths (Muslims, Hindus, etc.). "We don't view others as unworthy," says Greenhaw, "but different and without denigration."
These are three definite strengths of the mainline church.
I would suggest that in order for these characteristics to help turn around the mainline church, it's critical that they be protected by boundaries. As Episcopal leader Caroline Westerhoff explains in her seminal work "Good Fences," boundaries enable us to define who we are and in turn welcome people into something that is truly distinct.
In application, the mainline church must maintain its distinctive strengths by not allowing those strengths to become the very thing that weakens it:
1) Faith and critical thought should not end up creating a Gospel that has no historical continuity.
In a First Things article entitled, "An Unworkable Theology," Episcopal priest Phillip Turner observes that there's a vast difference between the confessed creeds of the mainline church and its actual working theology. In practice, Turner contends the mainline is adopting a Gospel that lacks continuity with the faith once delivered (Jude 3). Does our faith have non-negotiable core essentials, or is everything up for grabs? Freedom of thought that leads to a radical redefinition of the Gospel certainly proves that we're free, but is it faithful or responsible?
2) Faith and social responsibility should not end up being solely whatever gets said by the Democratic Party.
Here, evangelicals are equally guilty, for their political beliefs often mirror Republican policies. Evangelicals' major concern is life. Mainliners' passion is the poor and oppressed. Could it be that God cares about both? Somehow, the church needs to avoid looking like shells for our preferred political party.
3) Faith and understanding the other should not lead us to say, "We have no differences."
Sometimes, inter-faith dialogue has led some to say, "Christians and Muslims worship the same God." That's not entirely accurate. While both trace their history to the God of Abraham, Christians and Muslims do not share a common understanding of who God is-- which is very evident in discussing the nature of Jesus. Christian faith is different than other religions. That distinction should be unashamedly retained as we dialogue with others about how we can all live together peaceably. Pop artist Charlie Peacock puts it well: "We're a whole different. A whole lot the same."
The mainline church has endured a challenging past.
But hope springs eternal.
What's Wrong with the Mainline Church?
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
40 years of unrelenting decline.
40 years of unrelenting decline.
No, I'm not repeating myself. Rather, I'm repeating what Dr. David Greenhaw, President of Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis said twice about the mainline church during a workshop at the annual meeting of the UCC Kansas-Oklahoma Conference, held in Wichita, September 28-30.
Have you ever heard such honesty about the state of the mainline church?
While some might be able to ignore the situation, Greenhaw and other mainline education leaders cannot. Institutions are competing for a mainline pie that's getting smaller. They're staring directly at shrinking enrollments and budgets. If they don't do something different-- finding new ways to bring in students and balance budgets-- they won't last much longer. The crisis is now.
So what has contributed to the decline of the mainline church?
There are many factors, but Greenhaw believes the biggest is changing demographics.
According to Randall Balmer, professor of American religious history at Barnard College, the debate over Darwinism in the 1920's split the American church into two groups-- mainliners and evangelicals. "After the divorce," said Greenhaw, "the mainliners got the house and the kids." The mainline kept most the church buildings and the educational institutions. The evangelicals moved out. Meanwhile, a dramatic shift started in where people lived. In 1920, 67% of the US population lived in communities of 3,000 or less. 33% lived in places of 8,000 or more. But in 2000, 80% of us live in metropolitan communities, while only 20% live in rural places.
Greenhaw maintains that evangelicals moved to and settled into these rapidly growing population centers, while mainliners remained in the smaller areas-- places that got even smaller over the last 80 years.
Changing demographics is certainly one factor contributing to mainline decline.
But I would contend that there's a bigger factor-- one that that's not discussed enough:
More specifically, how people of faith read their Bible.
For Christians in 1925, wasn't the Scopes Monkey Trial actually a debate over how the Bible is authoritative? As Balmer observes, it ended up creating two distinct camps. Today, if you look at evangelicals and mainline Christians, you'll see more than just differences in style, you'll see real differences in how the Gospel is interpreted and proclaimed.
Differences that are influencing people's decisions on where they go to church.
NEXT TIME: What's Right about the Mainline Church?
One of the oldest churches in the UCC set to close
Tuesday, October 02, 2007
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. --A Springfield Congregational church founded in 1637 has voted to disband.The church is also listed as an "Open and Affirming" church according to UCC.org.
The 70-1 vote by members early this week came as the Old First Church faced a dwindling membership and increasing building expenses.
Now, members will seek to sell the building, located in downtown Springfield.
The church was once a stop on the Underground Railroad and hosted statesman Daniel Webster and abolitionist John Brown. The body of President John Quincy Adams lay in state there in 1848.
The 150-member church tried for months to come up with a survival strategy, but ultimately couldn't do it. The church shuts down Jan. 1.
Its pastor, Rev. J. Thomas Gough, said the decision to close comes with "gut-wrenching sorrow."
The vote to close prompted this editorial today from The Republican, the Western Massachusetts daily newspaper:
The annual cost of heat, utilities and building maintenance had reached $400,000, far beyond the means of the 150 congregation members. We hope and trust that the Greater Springfield community will find a way to rescue this historic building. It's the soul in the heart of the city.Hopefully, at some point, saving churches like Old First Church will have greater viability within the UCC than a Conference Minister chasing phony conspiracy theories of church stealing.
May Israel Defend Itself?
The PLO, Hamas, and Hezbollah have all vowed the destruction of Israel. If Israel has the right to exist and have sustained borders, what legitimate tools of self-defense are they entitled to use?
This was the question I asked Peter Makari during his workshop at the annual meeting of the Kansas-Oklahoma Conference, which met in Wichita, September 28-30. Makari is the lead Executive for the United Church of Christ's Global Ministries in the Middle East and Europe.
Makari's reply went something like this: The PLO signed a statement saying they recognize Israel's right to exist. Hamas has not, although there's a split within them. Some want peace. The radicals are on both sides. In Israel, there are Jews who don't want Palestinians to have their own country. Their voices are constantly in the press.
At that point I interjected: "But that's not the prevailing policy of Israel. That's certainly not the policy of Ehud Olmert's government. Meanwhile, you got Hamas and Hezbollah constantly launching rockets into Israel. Again, what legitimate tools are they entitled to use to defend themselves?"
Earlier in the conference, Makari described how Israel is heavily armed, possesses a nuclear bomb, and how the wall they built in the West Bank disrupts lives and violates internationally recognized borders.
An observation: Unlike bullets and bombs, the wall by itself doesn't kill anyone. And the wall has significantly curtailed suicide bombers inside Israel. The wall may not be the perfect solution, but it seems to be the least violent way Israel can protect itself.
Markari wouldn't answer my question.
Which kind of answers the question.
But I'm still going to keep asking.
Dorhauer concedes: UCCtruths is right
A frequent tactic in response to these presentations is the cry from the IRD, from UCCTRuths, from The Biblical Witness Fellowship that "They have no proof!" That is a semantic argument. What we have is evidence. What we do is present it, along with our theories about how to interpret the evidence...Yes, he's conceded in the past that he doesn't have any proof, but when he retreats into word games to defend his error, he is essentially admitting that he is wrong.
But we'll play his word game.
"What we have is evidence," is his claim now. Evidence? Evidence of the Institute of Religion and Democracy stealing UCC churches? Evidence of Biblical Witness Fellowship steeplejacking UCC churches?
It comes down to one simple question: Can John Dorhauer name a single UCC church that was stolen by the IRD?
It's a "yes" or "no" answer.
As 200 plus churches have left the UCC in recent years (as well as the entire Puerto Rico Conference), Dorhauer and other conference ministers are scrambling to play the blame game. With all these churches leaving, you would think Dorhauer could name just one church that the IRD has stolen. How many more churches have just closed up in recent years (one notable church in Dorhauer's own backyard)?
If you read Dorhauer's book or see his presentation and can't name a single UCC church that the IRD has stolen and still walk away believing the conspiracy, you are an idiot.
If, however, you walk away from Dorhauer's "theories" and objectively look at the big picture, what Dorhauer has really identified are churches in crisis... either theological or political.
Whether Dorhauer wants to believe it or not, local UCC churches are not monolithic in thinking. Most UCC churches did not participate in the "God is Still Speaking" campaign from the national office and only about 10% are certified as "Open and Affirming". 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. With this kind of mix of theology, ideology and politics, you are going to see tension in the local church. As a consequence, you are going to see churches that want to leave and some that will want to stay and affirm the denomination.
It's really not all that complicated... but it does make conference ministers like Dorhauer feel defensive since they really don't have any control over how local churches manage their own affairs. In response to this lack of control, Dorhauer creates FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) and then fills it with a "theory" that he concedes he doesn't have proof to support. In the end, the only people who are buying into his conspiracy are those who are foolishly predisposed to believing that local churches can't think on their own and couldn't possibly leave over issues of theology, ideology and politics.
Someone on the UCCtruths.com message board mentioned the "steeplejacked" churches from Dorhauer's last post about the Pastoral Referral Network as a possible example of the IRD conspiracy. Nowhere in Dorhauer's book, web site or presentation does he actually say that Mark Friz or David Runion-Bareford are IRD operatives trying to steal UCC churches for the IRD - he's very careful about this. Again, it comes down to one simple question: Can John Dorhauer name a single UCC church that was stolen by the IRD?