Sacred Place as Public Place
Friday, November 30, 2007
Characteristic of the mainline church tradition, the United Church of Christ (UCC) is a denomination committed to freedom of thought, social justice, and understanding others. So when you enter the doors of a local UCC church, it's possible to hear advocacy on a whole host of social issues, from many viewpoints-- at a worship service, a Sunday School class, or a community event.
The free exchange and consideration of ideas is essential in order for an individual or group to decide beliefs and direct actions. To this end, United Church of Christ congregations often act as a public square. Their rooms, tables, and chairs provide the literal space for issues to get hashed out. But in contrast to secular community buildings, the space of a church is unique. In subtle and not so subtle ways, religious spaces are infused with the presence of the divine.
Which leads to a question: What degree of accountability should a local church incur when it hosts an outside group that espouses controversial, dare I say, unbiblical views?
Consider this example. On Thursday, November 29, Congregational United Church of Christ in Iowa City, Iowa hosted a noon luncheon of the Iowa City Foreign Relations Council, a non-profit association affiliated with the University of Iowa's International Programs. Ms. Sue Simon, of the George Soros funded Open Society Institute, spoke on, "The Global Movement for Sex Worker Health and Rights: Only Rights Can Stop the Wrongs."
Inside a UCC church, Simon argued that society should legalize prostitution. Daily Iowan reporter Shawn Gude writes:
Iowa City native and City High graduate Sue Simon argued for increased rights and an end to negative stereotyping for sex workers around the world Thursday afternoon at the Congregational United Church of Christ in an Iowa City Foreign Relations Council-sponsored event.It's protocol to report the facts of an event, but it's interesting we read about the "11 tablecloth- covered tables." Could it be the reporter found it a tad odd that, of all places, it was in a "sacred place" he heard an uncontested argument for legalized prostitution?
Making the distinction between sex workers and human sex trafficking - two things too commonly equated with each other, Simon said - she argued that many individuals she has come in contact with through her international work have been in the profession willingly, whether it's for personal, economic, or social reasons.
"Many believe there is no good reason to get into or remain in sex work," Simon said. "The reality is that for a lot of people, sex work is their best or only opportunity to earn enough money to support their families."
...Asserting the validity of the sex-worker profession, Simon decried the treatment such workers receive and "right-wing conservatives and prohibitionists … who believe they can and should end sex work because of their religions or moral beliefs."
...She also advocated for the complete decriminalization of the sex-worker profession throughout the world. And instead of state discrimination against prostitutes, governments should advocate for the ethical treatment of sex workers, she asserted.
"No one should lose their human rights because of the work they do," she told the crowd of approximately 60, who sat around 11 tablecloth-covered tables.
When a church hosts an outside group, it's easy for the church to say, "The views expressed do not necessarily represent the opinions of ... blah, blah, blah."
Frankly, that's a cop out excuse.
Church leaders should be savvy enough to know that whenever they lend out their sacred space as an "impartial" public square, it can easily become an advocacy forum-- one that carries with it the church's implicit endorsement.
Lending sacred space for this kind of radical advocacy is tragically unfaithful.
Toles cartoon says it all
Obama and the United Church of Christ
Thursday, November 29, 2007
A CBS News poll in August showed that a huge number of voters said they did not know Obama's faith, but among those who said they did, 7 percent thought he was a Muslim, while only 6 percent thought he was a Protestant Christian .Back in February when UCCtruths.com broke the story that there were negotiations to have Obama speak at the General Synod, part of the political strategy for Obama in giving the speech was to give him a platform to make it clear that he was a Protestant Christian. Even then, Obama was quoted by the Associated Press as saying "I think the majority of voters know that I'm a member of the United Church of Christ, and that I take my faith seriously."
According to the poll cited in the Washington Post article, voters don't know his faith. From the CBS poll:
Sometimes, voters misperceive a candidate’s religion. In August, CBS News asked registered voters what they thought Barack Obama’s religion was. Most of them - 84 percent - said they didn’t know. But the largest number of those who thought they did know - nearly half of those who guessed any religion at all - thought Obama was a Muslim.Clearly the publicity Obama received from his speech at General Synod did little to help him clarify what his faith is. Although I still believe Obama's speech before the General Synod violated IRS rules prohibiting political campaign intervention, I don't think any other Presidential candidate has done more to fuse faith and politics than he has... and, at this point, I don't know what more he could do to clarify his faith.
Tents of Inaction
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
To respond to this tremendous tragedy, the United Church of Christ asks you to consider joining an innovative new project called Tents of Hope. Through this project, your community, congregation or youth group will create an active learning experience using simulation refugee tents to raise awareness of the conflict in Sudan through education, advocacy and fundraising for humanitarian assistance.If you've been living in a cave for the last 5 years, this might raise your awareness. For everyone else, it is a relatively meaningless event that will do nothing to resolve the crisis but it will allow middle-class Protestants to pretend they are doing something.
Adding insult to this meaningless event, the Action Alert offers this convoluted description of the crisis:
In seeking to defeat the rebel movements, the Government of Sudan increased arms and support to local militias, which have come to be known as the Janjaweed, composed mostly of Arabized African Muslims. The Janjaweed have wiped out entire villages, destroyed food and water supplies, and systematically murdered, tortured, and raped thousands of innocent people. These attacks occur with the direct support of the government's armed forces.The "so called ? Interesting, there isn't a single reference to the "so called" genocide in the action alert.
However, the conflict has always been more complex than how it is portrayed in the media, which has perpetuated the oversimplified perception that Arab militias (the so called Janjaweed) are slaying African farmers. The situation in Sudan becomes more desperate and chaotic with the proliferation of armed groups with regularly shifting allegiances. Some Janjaweed, reportedly unhappy that they have not been paid by Sudanese government militias, are now fighting their one-time allies; in some cases they are also reportedly now protecting villages they once destroyed.
My biggest problem with the good intention of trying to do something about the crisis in Sudan is that we really aren't doing anything. The single most significant thing the we could do right now is to insist that a large, heavily armed international peace keeping force secure the Darfur region and supply aid until the conflict is settled. Our denominational leaders won't do that, however, because the idea flies in the face of what it means to be a "Just Peace church". So, we'll build tents and "just watch the genocide" instead.
Flashback: Read Dexter Van Zile's "UCC’s Prophetic Voice Silent on Sudan" from three years ago on UCCtruths.com
"Who Do You Say That I Am" book discussion to begin December 1, 2007
Thursday, November 15, 2007
The first topic of discussion will be the chapter authored by UCC President, John Thomas, titled "Recognition and the Presence of Christ at the Table".
Dorhauer bitten by scare tactics
In an exchange on his own blog regarding churches that recruit ministers outside of the denomination, UCC Missouri Mid-South Associate Conference Minister John Dorhauer claimed that "a pastor not authorized by their denomination will lose the liability portion of their property insurance".
Here is John Dorhauer's full quote in context:
Insurance companies are telling us that any church that calls a pastor not authorized by their denomination will lose the liability portion of their property insurance. Given the payouts insurance companies have made in recent years, ministers are seen more and more as a risk, and Insurance agents are looking for some pretty standard pieces before they are willing to insure against liability. One of those is the endorsement of the [denomination]. One of the results of this is that the Pastoral Referral Network is, without thinking about it, raising the liability risk of individuals who, if they call a pastor not credentialled by their church, become themselves personally responsible for any negligence that could be proved against their pastor.On the surface, this doesn't make any sense. How do the credentials of a minister reflect on their level of risk? Of course, it doesn't - just ask the Roman Catholic Church. This is just common sense... but I wanted to be certain so I asked the clergy on the UCCtruths message board to contact their insurance agents and I placed some calls myself. I couldn't find a single insurance company (including the UCC Insurance Board (UCCIB) and Church Mutual) that use credentials in any way as a determining factor for liability insurance. One insurance agent I spoke with personally at Church Mutual laughed at the idea.
Is this just another scare tactic?
The first lesson for local UCC churches is pretty simple: If you undertake a search and call process outside of the denomination's process, you certainly have additional work as it relates to due diligence... but you probably will not have a problem with liability insurance - simply ask your insurance agent.
The second lesson for local UCC churches: Be suspicious of the scare tactics from your Conference or Association. If John Dorhauer is any example, do your own research before accepting outrageous claims about insurance coverage.
As far as John Dorhauer goes, I think the debate is over.
Update: If you read the comments to this post, you'll see that I'm rightfully reminded that I'm presuming that there is intent by the conferences and associations to use scare tactics. That was too broad a statement and unfair and I need to isolate my concern to John Dorhauer. The point remains, if you have concerns about the accuracy of information you are receiving about insurance, ask your agent.
Naples UCC minister confused about public prayer
Monday, November 12, 2007
On June 6, the Rev. Ronald Patterson stood in front of the Naples City Council and prayed.I've always looked at debates about prayer as pretty idiotic. If someone wants to pray in public, they should. If they don't want to pray, they shouldn't. Nobody should feel compelled to pray in public - it kind of defeats the whole purpose of prayer. But these days, the debates about public prayer really aren't about prayer, increasingly it's about politics and agendas.
“Loving creator, bless we pray for this gathering in this city,” said Patterson, the senior minister at Naples United Church of Christ. “Give us all the strength to live with compassion and integrity. Hear us holy one. Amen.”
Six months later, council members received a letter from Patterson in which he wrote that “public meetings do not exist as an occasion for prayer.”
Acting as the chairman of the Coalition of Progressive Religious Voices, Patterson wrote to council expressing concern that “public prayer offered according to the beliefs of a particular religious congregation invites controversy and is divisive.”
Update: Someone on the message board suggested that there is a difference between "ecumenical prayers" and prayers that reflect a single belief. What distinction is there between an ecumenical prayer and "one that focuses on one religion" to a Jew, Muslim or atheist? It's an idiotic distinction that I think the author of the article understood, but wasn't buying into. And as far as I have seen, Americans United doesn't make that distinction either. I think this is a simple matter where a politically motivated minister got tripped up in his own politics.
Historic Kansas Church Leaves UCC
Beecher Bible & Rifle Church, a historic Congregational church in rural Kansas, has voted to withdraw from the United Church of Christ.
The decision to leave centered on the General Synod's controversial marriage declaration and was made back in January according to John Sumner, a member of the church. The church's withdraw became official to the denomination when a notice was announced at the October annual meeting of the North Central Association of the Kansas-Oklahoma Conference.
Behind the church's unusual name is the courageous story of faith-based abolitionists from New England who helped Kansas enter the Union as a free state in 1861.
When Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, the citizens of Kansas were given the right to vote on whether it would join the Union as either a free or slave state. A tense era known as "Bleeding Kansas" ensued. Rushing into Kansas came pro-slavery advocates from the South and free-soilers from the North.
During this time, a group of 60 abolitionists from New Haven, Connecticut determined to uproot themselves and move to Kansas. Rev. Henry Ward Beecher--a famous abolitionist preacher from Brooklyn--pledged 25 Sharps rifles to the group, and a member of Beecher's church donated 25 Bibles, so the settlers could defend themselves and their beliefs.
When the group traveled to Kansas, the rifles were packed in boxes marked, "Books" and "Bibles." The clever trick hid the rifles from hostile slave advocates, along with state and federal authorities who had banned the bringing of weapons into the region. With the help of Beecher Bibles, the group successfully settled into Northwest Kansas near Wamego. In 1857, they started a Congregational church and completed a limestone building in 1862, which stands to this day.
Beecher Bible & Rifle Church is one of the oldest churches in Kansas that continues to hold Sunday morning worship services. Aging membership and a rural location has lowered its weekly attendance to about 10-20. But each year on the last Sunday in August, an anniversary celebration brings out between 75-100.
This church's withdraw is a sad loss and severs one of the United Church of Christ's historic links.
Global Ministries activist denied entry into Israel - again
Sunday, November 11, 2007
Every time I re-enter Israel/Palestine I am nervous about re-entry and hope for a new three month visa. I have had problems twice before- a one week visa once and a denial of entry this past summer on the way back from a World Council of Churches (WCC) meeting in ‘Amman.SABEEL, of course, is outraged. From SABEEL:
Last Saturday morning I flew into Ben Gurion airport after attending a Sabeel conference in Boston and visiting my family in Indianapolis. As I walked up to the passport control counter the woman in the booth sneered at me and asked “what are you doing back here?” after seeing that I had been in Israel recently. She asked why I didn’t have a different visa- why was I trying to sneak past them? She did an additional computer check and exclaimed, “you sneaky girl! You were denied entry in Jordan- you sneaky little girl!” I felt my stomach drop like I was on a rollercoaster, I knew what was coming, but I stayed calm as I was led from one interrogation to another, as my passport was taken from me, and as I was informed that I would not be allowed to enter the country. I explained that I was here representing my church in the US on business, but they told me that I would need a visa from the Ministry of the Interior.
“In our understanding of U.S. State Department policy, Krista as an American should be privileged to a “reciprocity” policy — the U.S . grants certain visas dependent on what the other country does. The current U.S. policy towards Israelis seeking religious visas — yeshiva students, rabbis, synagogue volunteers, is that they get an unquestioned multiple entry five-year visa. Obviously, Krista did not receive this reciprocity.”Reciprocity? As is with most things concerning SABEEL, their statement is a half truth. For religious workers in Israel seeking a visa to the U.S., they must work in a professional capacity in a religious vocation. According to the U.S. Embassy in Israel, this specifically means:
A job qualifying as a “religious vocation” includes ministers of religion who are authorized by a recognized denomination to conduct religious worship and perform other duties usually performed by members of the clergy.Krista Johnson is not clergy, she is an activist and doesn't (and shouldn't) qualify for reciprocity.
Nancy Taylor responds to Rabbi Ronne Friedman
Friday, November 09, 2007
Here is Taylor's letter:
Thank you for your letter of October 23 expressing your concern about the Friends of Sabeel Conference that is being held at Old South. I hear and receive your genuine anguish with respect to our willingness to rent our building for this conference. I am distressed that this decision is cause for tension and distance between us.
On behalf of the United Church of Christ, Old South Church in Boston and on my own behalf I want to assure you that we stand firmly in support of Israel. We grieve for Israel's profound experience of insecurity and fear as it is surrrounded by a horrific combination of hostile nations, corrupt leadership and terrorism. At the same time we stand in solidarity with Palestinian Christians who also suffer fear and deprivation as an oppressed minority. We acknowledge that both parties - Palestinians and Israelis - possess narratives that are fraught with suffering, insecurity, injustice and anguish. Standing with Israel and standing with Palestinian Christians are not mutually exclusive commitments. The narriatives of these two peoples remain in uneasy proximity and neither can or should be eclipsed in favor of the other.
The United Church of Christ and Old South are deeply committed to interfaith relationships, including with the Jewish community. The UCC's General Synod has addressed this special relationship, most notably in the last 20 years:
I am no apologist for Sabeel. Nevertheless Sabeel represents an important Palestinian voice. Unlike some other Palestinian groups Sabeel 1) supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, 2) condemns suicide bombing as morally and theologically wrong, and 3) supports the search for peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through non-violent means.
- Affirmation of the UCC's relationship with the Jewish community, including a rejection of supercessionist theology (GS 16 ). Following this resolution, a significant dialogue project emerged on the central theological issues, among them supercessionism. The dialogue resulted in a major publication.
- Condemnation of anti-Semitism in all its forms (Executive Council 1983), and the confession of the sin of anti-Semitism and its renunciation (GS 23 [2001 ]);
The Sabeel conference is not an unbiased event. These are a desperate, minority people intent on sharing their views, exchanging information and seeking to gain the public's ear as they give voice to a very old complaint.
It is precisely because the Sabeel conference is a one-sided affair that I was intent on putting together a series of conversations and forums that would provide a broader perspective and a range of voices: Jewish, Christian and Muslim. To this end I entered into extended conversation with Jewish leaders in this city, inviting them to name a speaker who could provide a counterweight to Desmond Tutu. In your letter to me you recommended Elie Wiesel as a worthy counter-voice to that of Tutu. I agree. In fact I suggested Elie Wiesel as a possibility to these leaders. I do not know if they pursued that possibility. In any case, I left it in their hands to name a speaker who would fairly represent whatever views or perspectives they wanted to see and hear on the record as a part of Old South's series. Their chosen speaker, Dennis Ross, cancelled at the last minute and no replacement was named although I would have welcomed it. Despite this and another cancellation, Old South has persevered in our commitment to offering voices and perspectives that represent a range of views.
I look forward to our meeting next week and to the possibility of working our way through these difficult and complicated discussions.
With deep respect,
The Rev. Nancy S. Taylor
In response to UCC, FCC to hold "unusual" public hearing on WWOR license renewal
In an unusual move, the Federal Communications Commission is holding a public forum on whether WWOR-TV should be able to retain its TV-station license.
In a notice late Friday, with all of the commissioners across the country in Seattle for another public hearing on media ownership, the FCC's Media Bureau said it would let the public weigh in and added that it had not yet decided whether the station, owned by News Corp., had "failed to provide a program service and adequately meet the needs of its northern New Jersey viewers."
That was the allegation made by the United Church of Christ and the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, which also challenged the continuing waiver News Corp. received to operate TV stations and newspapers in the same market. News Corp. eventually got an extension of its two-year waiver, which was required when it bought the Chris-Craft stations, including WWOR-TV.
The FCC forum is scheduled for the evening of Nov. 28 at the Paul Robeson Campus Center on Dr. Martin Luther King Blvd. in Newark, N.J.
What difference will consolidation make?
Thursday, November 08, 2007
I don't know if consolidating the national office's powers will ever happen but for all practical reasons, it doesn't really matter. The dysfunction inherent in the existing structure (the herd mentality) will not be corrected by consolidation - it will just make fewer people less accountable in a structure that doesn't have accountability now. Regardless, Local Church Ministries and Justice and Witness Ministries will do whatever they can to protect their fiefdoms and nothing will really change.
Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but I thought this was an interesting statement in the article:
The General Minister and President's office would be given expanded oversight over the whole of the national setting, but would still work collegially with the elected heads of each ministry body. An appointed Chief Operating Officer, reporting to the General Minister and President, would manage day-to-day operations.There are two ways of looking at this statement:
(The Rev. John H. Thomas, the UCC's current general minister and president, is not eligible for re-election in 2009, meaning any new structure would not affect his time in office.)
- Although he is advocating for the consolidation of power, he is disinterested since he won't benefit from it himself
- Regardless of what you think of John Thomas' disastrous leadership, don't base your opinion of consolidation on him - he won't be in charge when it kicks in
John Dorhauer recycles conspiracy "evidence"
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
The staple of his "evidence" is a 7 year old strategic planning document from the Institute on Religion and Democracy which makes it clear that they want to align and organize with fellow conservatives in mainline denominations. He has recycled the same document here, here, here, here, here and in his latest post today on Talk2Action.
The crux of his latest tantrum is that the IRD is training activists in the local church to develop wedge issues within the denomination to create schism. He starts by citing the IRD strategic planning document:
Beginning in 2001, we will emphasize training conservatives and moderates for the debates on marriage and human sexuality.And then concludes:
Remember how in 2001, the calm before the storm, our churches had never heard of `Marriage Equality?"
Do you think that just because the same people who fund the ultra conservative wing of the Republican Party also fund the IRD it is only a coincidence that they developed the same divisive wedge issue to mobilize their bases at the exact same time?The IRD created the Marriage Equality wedge issue? In the United Church of Christ, it was UCC leaders who made Marriage Equality an issue for the General Synod to vote on, not the IRD. Lets be clear here - this isn't a debate about the issue itself, rather this is a debate about the origin of this "wedge issue". Dorhauer is being willfully ignorant by suggesting it was the IRD and not denomination leaders who raised the issue of Marriage Equality in the UCC. His suggestion of it is a distraction from his real issue: local churches in the UCC can do what they want, when they want, without interference from the conference or national office.
Dorhauer's problem is one of control: He can claim all the "judicatory" authority he wants, but his role as an Associate Conference Minister in the UCC is little more than a title on a business card. He cannot control a single thing in the life of the local church in Missouri or anywhere (with the notable exception of determining whether ministers are fit or unfit for ministry). So... when local churches voice objections to issues being raised in the denomination, like Marriage Equality, he is powerless to do anything about it - except to marginalize local churches by claiming their concerns are merely wedge issues generated by outside groups. It also suggests that local churches are too stupid to discern the issue of Marriage Equality on their own if they disagree with Dorhauer and other UCC leaders. If you don't tow the party line, you must, of course, be under the control of a trained activist from the IRD.
Since the 2005 General Synod when the Marriage Equality issue was voted on, over 200 churches have left the UCC and Dorahuer cannot name a single church that was "steeplejacked" by the IRD. Neither Dorhauer nor a 7 year old document can dispute that.
One interfaith group disolves, another starts
Monday, November 05, 2007
It has brought leaders of churches, synagogues and mosques together to distribute gun locks, speak out against Ku Klux Klan gatherings and decry anti-Muslim sentiments after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.On the upside, an interfaith group in Wisconsin is forming. From the LaCrosse Tribune:
Now Kentuckiana Interfaith Community, a decades-old coalition of Christians, Jews, Muslims and Bahais, is shutting down operations -- a victim of shriveling funding and dwindling participation.
Imagine if people knew La Crosse not only as the place where rivers flow, said the Rev. Curtis Miller on Sunday, but where justice flows.I tend to be skeptical of interfaith groups at the local level. I know it sounds simplistic, but I get the sense that these groups suck up more energy from the participants than the results they produce (or don't produce). On the other hand, I believe that regional and national interfaith groups are better positioned to leverage financial and human resources to be much more effective.
Miller was speaking at the Cathedral of St. Joseph the Workman during a covenant celebration that publicly kicked off the work of AMOS Inc., a coalition of faith communities working for justice.
The eight congregations that now initially form AMOS are Christ Episcopal Church, English Lutheran Church, the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, Hope United Church, Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, St. Joseph the Workman Cathedral, Congregation Sons of Abraham and the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of La Crosse.
Miller, a United Church of Christ minister, is president of AMOS, which stands for “Advocating, Mobilizing, and Organizing for Solidarity.”
Other congregations will likely join the organization.
“When we don’t work together, we’re not as efficient and effective as we could be,” said Bishop Keith Whitmore, head of the Episcopal Diocese of Eau Claire.