Thursday, January 31, 2008
With every home they gut and rebuild, with every smile they share, with every muscle that strains to lift up a new roof or replace a front door, these eager and energetic volunteers reminded me about what is best in America: our idealism. Idealism: the passionate belief in seeing things not just as they are but also as they might one day be. Our American spirit may seem pretty battered and bruised in our all-too-cynical and fatigued 21st century, as we struggle in two wars and live in post-9/11 fear, as the economy stumbles and our leaders continually disappoint. But like a persistent old friend who refuses to be shut out of the conversation, American idealism is alive and well. We just have to look for it. We just have to be a part of it, maybe again, maybe for the first time.I can't help but contrast this sense of optimism against those leaders in our denomination who are more interested in talking about problems and creating theatrics than they are in actually doing something about them (myself included). Rev. Hudson's essay is truly thought provoking and inspiring.
UCC national office talking points on Jeremiah Wright, Trinity UCC and Barack Obama
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
To: UCC Conference Ministers, National Staff and PastorsHe forgot one: Whatever you do, don't mention anything about Jeremiah Wright's comments regarding Louis Farrakhan, Israel or divestment!
From: The Rev. J. Bennett Guess, UCC Director of Communications
Date: January 17, 2008 Re: Talking points: Trinity UCC and Jeremiah Wright
Many of our offices and churches have been deluged with emails recently about Trinity UCC in Chicago, because of Barack Obama’s membership there. Most of the emails – it appears – come from a single unknown source.
A non-partisan journalistic website
has debunked many of the allegations in these emails. Read more at:http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/282/and http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/280/
UCC General Minister and President John H. Thomas has addressed these in a news story that has appeared online since Jan. 11. Feel free to forward this link to persons who request information from you about the UCC: http://www.ucc.org/news/thomas-denounces-smear-1.html
Below are some talking points to assist you further:
DO come to the defense of the United Church of Christ and Trinity UCC.
DO NOT come to the defense of Obama specifically. That’s not your
- “I have first-hand experience of Trinity UCC, its leaders and its ministries, and I know it be a faithful, generous and justice-minded congregation that takes seriously its ministry within and among the African-American community on Chicago’s south side.”
- “The United Church of Christ includes many of the oldest congregations in this country. More than 10 percent were formed before 1776. It is socially, racially, economically and theologically diverse, and its membership includes 10 members of Congress — five Republicans and five Democrats, including
DO refute distortions or misconceptions about Trinity UCC.
- “Our concern is the attacks that have been made on Trinity UCC, which are blatantly unfair and untrue. They do not fairly characterize the Chicago congregation where Obama and thousands of others hold their UCC memberships.”
DO explain the predominate racial-ethnic heritage of Trinity UCC’s
- “Despite erroneous claims to the contrary, Trinity UCC’s membership includes several non-Black members — including the Rev. Jane Fisler Hoffman, Illinois Conference Minister, and her husband, who are white.”
- “Trinity UCC is a welcoming, hospitable church. If you’ve been there, you know this to be true.”
- “Trinity UCC’s ministry is inclusive and global. Trinity UCC is a generous contributor to funding new church starts throughout the country and beyond, and it is the largest single donor to our ‘Our Church’s Wider Mission,’ the shared mission fund of the UCC, which is 90 percent European-American.”
DO speak to racism as a present-day issue of justice that needs the
- “Many churches observe and honor the racial-ethnic heritage of its congregation and its members, including — for example — many UCC churches of German, Samoan, Puerto Rican or Hungarian heritage. Trinity UCC is no different in honoring its African heritage.”
DO NOT engage in proof-texting of Jeremiah Wright’s sermons.
- Rev. Wright, like other UCC ministers, regularly speaks about important issues of justice, and racism is surely one of them. To deny the reality of racism in our nation — both historically and in the present day — is to ignore one of the most pressing social justice issues our nation faces.”
DO, if appropriate, speak to your personal relationship with Jeremiah Wright.
- “I don’t think it’s appropriate nor fair to read a few sentence from another pastor’s sermons and then pass judgment, without knowing the context, the audience, the scripture, and the occasion and purpose for which these words were written and delivered.”
- “I wouldn’t appreciate someone criticizing sermons of mine which they’d never heard.”
- “I know Jeremiah Wright and I appreciate his prophetic preaching.”
- “Rev. Wright’s sermons are broadcast every Sunday on national cable television
and streamed on the internet for all to hear. He has long been regarded as one of the best preachers in Chicago and in the nation.”
- “I am proud to be a colleague in ministry with Rev. Jeremiah
Religion and Science are not mutually exclusive
UC News has an interesting article today promoting "Evolution Sunday". When I first read the article, I was encouraged that finally some rational discussion on the complimentary nature between evolution and religion was taking place. I firmly believe the two are compatible and are not mutually exclusive. For instance, I don't believe a day to God is necessarily the same as it is for us mortals living on a rock that fully rotates in 24 hours. Such thinking places man on earth, not God, as the center of the universe - much like those who believed the earth was flat. We can't define what the length of a day is to God and it's this fact that opens up the possibility that the evolutionary process is God's plan that is articulated in Genesis.Interestingly enough, the UCC has a new web site and campaign titled... "Not Mutually Exclusive" (Note: I'd like to pat myself on the back for the name but I'm quite sure I'm not the first person to make the observation that religion and science are not mutually exclusive).
The site features a "pastoral letter" on "Faith Engaging Science and Technology" which I personally find extremely interesting. My father was a noted bio-chemist and environmentalist (who worked for one of those big evil oil companies) and was extremely active in the church. Growing up in my house was literally one science experiment after another and through all of it my father was able to connect the marvels of science with faith for which I will always be grateful. While I work in the field of computer science, I still draw parallels between technology and religion and often find them reinforcing the other.
That said, there's something that makes me feel uncomfortable about the pastoral letter authored primarily by UCC President John Thomas. It's quite possible that my biased attitude about Thomas' horrible tenure as President of the UCC is keeping me from reading his letter with open eyes... and if so I'll be rightly corrected by the folks on the message board. Truthfully, I think my unease is rooted in the perception that the letter seems to speak more TO science than it is a conversation about (or with) science... and that's an important distinction for me. Frankly, I don't really care what our denominational leaders think about science... or economics... or politics... or mass media. I don't consider them informed enough to really shed light on those subjects and their opinions on those subjects are of no more value to me than my own.
And it's not just those opinions that come from our own leaders, I could care less what any religious leader has to say about science. Any scientific opinion from religious leaders without scientific training is going to be loaded with their own bias - and that goes for liberal, moderate or conservative religious leaders. To the UCC's credit, there are credible scientists who are being brought into the broader discussion... but this does little to assure me that this too isn't being shaped by bias and politics.
The other side of this is that I'm not really sure what challenge this initiative is trying to address. As I stated earlier, science and faith have always been woven together in my life so the answer may not be obvious to me. Is this being driven by political causes (with roots in science) like the evolution debate, global warming and abortion? Is this just another front to fight the big war of words with the Religious Right? Is this a campaign to bring scientists skeptical of religion into the church? Have I somehow missed the throngs of unchurched scientists looking for a religious home to validate and value their opinions?
And how far do we take this? Is this the foundation for deconstructing the Bible? Are we finally going to prove or disprove that Jesus raised people from the dead? Is the scientific community going to help us make sense of Jonah and the Whale?
I'm just not getting it.
Samuel Backs Out of Soulforce Campaign
A prominent United Church of Christ pastor has decided his conscience will not allow him to participate in an aggressive dialogue campaign led by Soulforce, a gay civil rights group.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth L. Samuel-- Senior Pastor of Victory for the World Church in Stone Mountain, Georgia-- was originally scheduled to be a clergy leader for Soulforce's national campaign this spring and summer. The campaign will target the 2008 United Methodist General Conference in Ft. Worth, Texas, and also a number of well known churches and pastors-- Rev. Joel Osteen, Bishop T.D. Jakes, Bishop Harry Jackson Jr., Bishop Eddie Long, Rev. Bill Hybels, and Rev. Rick Warren.
In a January 11 Soulforce press release, Samuel said, "Homophobia and heterosexism directly contradict the principles of equality and justice for all God's children, and I think that the younger generation of evangelicals are beginning more and more to see this contradiction."
But four days later, Samuel told the Southern Voice that he's decided not to participate because, "pastors have the right to believe as they wish." In good conscience, he couldn't "violate another pastor's space" who happens to disagree with his own position.
Samuel's decision to back away from the Soulforce campaign was influenced by his own church's experience of getting picketed by Rev. Fred Phelps' Westboro Baptist Church:
"I cannot in good faith do something similar," Samuel said. "The best way to combat bigotry is from the pulpit, to educate the members themselves. It’s rather intrusive for a pastor to come onto another pastor’s sacred space."Samuel will surely face criticism in the GLBT community. If homophobia is wrong, especially in the religious community that exerts moral influence over society, how can he stand idle on the sidelines? How can he allow other influential pastors and churches to continue spreading intolerant views? Would Samuel passively allow another pastor or church to espouse hatred toward blacks during the civil rights movement?
If Phelps had asked Samuel to sit down and talk, Samuel acknowledged he would have said no.
And while he supports Soulforce’s mission, Samuel said he believes "intruding" on another’s sacred space can be counter-productive. "I respect Soulforce for raising the issue. My prayer is the members take this message back to their pastors and tell them how their messages are impacting them," he said.
And yet, Samuel's decision is a tacit admission of two things:
First, Soulforce's methods to create "dialogue" are essentially bullying tactics. Their ways even resemble those of the loathsome Westboro Church. Notice that Samuel says he couldn't do something similar. Soulforce will deny this description of their methods, but Executive Director Jeff Lutes says his organization has already written "100 letters to these six [above mentioned] churches and several dozen to Bishop Eddie Long’s church," adding the group still plans to show up at Long's congregation on June 1. Samuel's choice to back away is a sign that he prefers the kind of dialogue that is more in line with the tradition of the United Church Christ-- where two parties willingly agree to gather around a common table, without undue coercion.
Second, religious people are legitimately entitled to believe that GLBT behavior is wrong and grieves the heart of God. No doubt, Samuel takes the other side of the issue, yet he believes a measure of tolerance is owed to those with whom he disagrees. At the least, disagreeing pastors and churches should not be intimated by those who show up to their sacred space uninvited, pushing an agenda. Again, Samuel's decision reflects in application the polity of the United Church of Christ-- which gives autonomy to individual congregation to decide their own beliefs.
The question of whether GLBT behavior is morally legitimate will continue indefinitely. In the meantime, Samuel's decision shows that dialogue about this sensitive issue is best when two parties meet willingly and without intimidation.
The politics of religion
Saturday, January 26, 2008
There are now rising calls for Barack Obama to repudiate Farrakhan and the Chicago church to which Obama has belonged since 1991, Trinity United Church of Christ, and its pastor, Jeremiah Wright. Wright has given an award to the Nation of Islam leader, saying Farrakhan "truly epitomized greatness."I don't think the fear is that Obama is an anti-semite, it's that he he is far too tolerant of those within his inner-circle who support an anti-semite like Farrakhan. Granted, there are 2 or 3 degrees of separation between Obama and Farrakhan and it may be unfair to lump them both into the same sentence but it does make you wonder if he is capable of discerning the intentions of those around him.
Wright reminds Obama's critics of the "identity politics" that replaced the civil-rights movement and plagued black America with uncritical drooling over Africa, equally mindless identification with the Third World at large and a vision that could even haplessly embrace the Nation of Islam for its refusal to "sell out."
Everybody should calm down.
Obama is going to walk through all of this, and one of the gifts he has to offer America is his independence from the lunatic fringe that is just as alive in black America as it is in every other part of our country. But it is only a fringe and has never been more. If Obama suffered from anti-Semitism or was smitten with other misshapen ideas of Farrakhan, both troubles would have been made obvious long before now because such terribly demented people cannot keep their mouths shut.
Although the issue was raised as it relates to Obama, there is also a concern about what Jeremiah Wright represents within our denomination. On one hand, he took a church with a handful of people and grew it to over 8,000 members - an accomplishment not matched by any other minister in our denomination. On the other hand, his praise of Farrakhan deserves scrutiny across our denomination even if that skates on the thin ice of local church independence.
In UCC President John Thomas' defense of Wright and Trinity UCC, he said:
Trinity UCC is rooted in and proud of its Afrocentric heritage. This is no different than the hundreds of UCC churches from the German Evangelical and Reformed stream that continue to own and celebrate their German heritage, insisting on annual sausage and sauerkraut dinners and singing Stille Nacht on Christmas Eve. Recognizing and celebrating our distinctive racial-ethnic heritages, cultures, languages and customs are what make us unique as a united and uniting denomination.Well... not quite.
When our German Evangelical and Reformed predecessors were faced with a negative identity crisis after World War II, their reaction was not to defend their German heritage, it was to bury it in the merger that ultimately formed the United Church of Christ.
Fifty-plus years later things have changed.
Today in the United Church of Christ our denomination leaders are far too supportive of people like Wright, Puerto Rican terrorist Alejandrina Torres and anti-semitic groups like Sabeel. Not so coincidently, the common link between each is "Liberation Theology" which has been used to justify hatred, bigotry and even violence in the Christian spirit of liberating oppressed people.
"Liberation Theology" as it is supported in the United Church of Christ is not Christian, it is not loving and it is not empowering. Like so many other things our church claims for Christianity, it's really about politics and power.
Unity by deeds
Sunday, January 20, 2008
WAYNESBORO, PA. — In the past, Unity Service Day was a way for variousWe need to see more action like this.
Christian denominations in the Waynesboro area to get together for a church
service. This year, the Waynesboro Area Fellowship of Churches (WAFOC)
decided to do something different.
“We’re doing a unity service project instead of a unity (worship) service,” said Lin Smalec, president of WAFOC and pastor of Salem United Church of Christ in Zullinger, Pa. Forty volunteers from a dozen churches in the Waynesboro area came out Saturday to volunteer their time at the New Hope Shelter on South Potomac Street in Waynesboro, Smalec said. Tasks included painting the shelter’s family room, organizing clothes, kitchenware and other items in the thrift shop, and making clothing racks.
The day began with breakfast at the Way Station in Waynesboro. It was a
way to introduce people to the Way Station and the shelter, Smalec said.
“This is how we’re expressing our unity this year,” said the Rev.
Heather Hughes of Rouzerville United Methodist Church.
UCC: PG-13 movies harmful to preschoolers
Thursday, January 17, 2008
A coalition of 19 pro-children groups have called on filmmakers today to stop promoting PG-13-rated movies to kids via giveaways and promotions.The 19 are all signatories to a letter drafted by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood to the Motion Picture Assn. of America. The CCFC had contacted the Federal Trade Commission this past summer when the film Transformers was allegedly being marketed to kids via TV spots, food promotions and licensed toys. Last week, the FTC acted on CCFC’s complaint by urging the MPAA to adopt guidelines for the marketing of PG-13 movies.According to a copy of the letter from "Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood," they are concerned about preschoolers seeing these movies:
Preschool children are less able to place violence in context. They tend to remember the most exciting and dramatic aspects of a film rather than whole stories. They have less impulse control. They are concrete thinkers who are likely to believe what they see. In addition, preschool children are more vulnerable to advertising than older children because they do not understand persuasive intent, the basis of advertising. Given the developmental differences between a preschooler and a 13-year-old, marketing PG-13 films to young children can be harmful in three ways:You have got to be kidding me. Preschoolers? If preschoolers are seeing these movies, chances are they are seeing them with their parents.
1) It undermines the integrity and effectiveness of an already flawed rating system; 2) it promotes family stress; and 3) it increases the likelihood that young children will be exposed to media material and messages that may not be suitable for them, such as messages that glorify violence.
The FTC’s recommendation was spurred by a complaint from the Campaign for a commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) that Transformers, which was rated PG-13 for “intense sequences of sci-fi action violence, brief sexual humor, and language,” was marketed extensively to preschool children. A review by CCFC found advertisements for Transformers on children’s television programming rated appropriate for kids as young as two; more than one hundred Transformers’ toys for children under six; and Transformer promotions by Kraft and Burger King clearly aimed at young children.The geniuses in the UCC's Office of Communication probably didn't realize that the Transformers movie was based on toys which were out decades before the movie came out. From the UCC's Office of Communication:
"It is distressing that the industry response to parental concerns about media content is almost always to place the full burden on parents," said Cheryl Lanza [sic] of Office of Communication of the United Church of Christ, Inc., a signatory to the letter. "These industry members essentially offer parents a Hobson's choice: either expose your children to content that you find unacceptable, or withdraw your children from popular culture. This serves no one. We all benefit with more mutual communication and understanding, not less."(Note: Whoever wrote this doesn't know how to spell their own managing director's name - it's Cheryl LEANZA, not LANZA)
Actually, what is distressing is that the UCC has hired someone like Cheryl Leanza to use her talents to critique the movies that parents are allowing their children to see.
How about encouraging parents to not take their tots to see a PG-13 movie? I have a 6 year-old and I know first hand... it's not that hard.
How would Jesus vote?
Jeremiah Wright, a Chicago-based church leader and spiritual advisor to Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, will examine political issues through a spiritual lens Friday during a five-hour workshop titled "How Would Jesus Vote?" at Simpson College.Wright apparently isn't ready to walk away from his 15 minutes of fame as Obama's minister. When he's not busy kissing up to Louis Farrakhan, his claim to fame outside of Chicago is being Obama's minister... and he's aparently going to milk it for all it's worth.
Wright, senior pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, also will deliver the annual George Washington Carver Lecture at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in Smith Chapel on Simpson's campus in Indianola.
The Baltimore Sun covered Wright's most recent sermon where he took a swipe at former President Bill Clinton from the pulpit:
On Sunday morning - amid intensified crossfire between Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Obama over the use of race in the Democratic presidential campaign - Wright was preaching from the Gospel of John, using his powerful style to link the story of the loaves and fishes to a contemporary political message.Ouch! I'm just wondering how much longer this sort of thing goes on before Obama punches the ejector button on Wright.
Man should not put limits on what God can do, but that's what people always do, he told the crowd. Just as God made five loaves and two fishes feed thousands, God has provided liberators for blacks in the past - from Nat Turner to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and now Barack Obama. But, Wright said, there were always reasons not to follow them.
Some argue that blacks should vote for Clinton "because her husband was good to us," he continued.
"That's not true," he thundered. "He did the same thing to us that he did to Monica Lewinsky."
Americans United files IRS complaint against church after Obama speech
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
From Americans United:
Americans United for Separation of Church and State today asked the Internal Revenue Service to investigate a Nevada church whose pastor called for the election of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama from the pulpit on Sunday.Ministers are allowed to make personal endorsements but making them from the pulpit is a no-no.
Obama spoke during services at the Pentecostal Temple Church of God in Christ in Las Vegas on Jan. 13 in what the Las Vegas Review-Journal described as a “surprise appearance.” Before the Illinois senator arrived, Pastor Leon Smith told the congregation, “The more he (Obama) speaks, the more he wins my confidence, and ... if the polls were open today, I would cast my vote for this senator.”
Smith added, “If you can’t support your own, you’re never going to get anywhere.... I want to see this man in office.”
Americans United said churches are tax-exempt and may not engage in partisan politics. The pastor clearly stated that Obama should be elected, and he did so from the pulpit during Sunday services,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “It’s impossible to see this as anything but an endorsement.”
Still, American United applies different standards to different churches.
Americans United for the Separation of Church and State ignored Obama's political "altar call" in October and decided to apply a different standard to his campaign speech at the UCC's General Synod in June. An IRS complaint was filed, however, against the United Church of Christ after his General Synod speech. In fact, as UCCtruths pointed out in June (and as thoroughly enumerated in the complaint to the IRS), the United Church of Christ violated each of the three provisions in the IRS guidelines on "Speaking as a Non-Candidate":
- The individual speaks only in a non-candidate capacity,
- Neither the individual nor any representative of the organization makes any mention of his or her candidacy or the election, and
- No campaign activity occurs in connection with the candidate’s attendance.
Jewish leaders correct misinformation in Obama smears
The Jewish leaders seemed to be responding to reports that the e-mail was now being spread deliberately among Jews. In the letter, they said that the “hateful e-mails use falsehood and innuendo to mischaracterize Senator Barack Obama’s religious beliefs and who he is as a person,” and that they were an “attempt to drive a wedge between our community and a presidential candidate based on despicable and false attacks and innuendo based on religion.”The letter is not related to UCC President John Thomas' recent defense of Trinity UCC and is not related to yesterday's Washington Post column by Richard Cohen which has set off a firestorm of reaction across the internet.
“Attempts of this sort to mislead and inflame voters should not be part of our political discourse and should be rebuffed by all who believe in our democracy,” the leaders said. “Jewish voters, like all voters, should support whichever candidate they believe would make the best president.”
The leaders said their organizations would not endorse or oppose any presidential candidate.The letter was signed by William Daroff, vice president of United Jewish Communities; Nathan J. Diament, director of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America; Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League; Richard S. Gordon, president of the American Jewish Congress; David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee; Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center; Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; Phyllis Snyder, president of the National Council of Jewish Women; and Hadar Susskind, Washington director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.
Obama responds to Farrakhan flap
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
I decry racism and anti-Semitism in every form and strongly condemn the anti-Semitic statements made by Minister Farrakhan. I assume that Trumpet Magazine made its own decision to honor Farrakhan based on his efforts to rehabilitate ex-offenders, but it is not a decision with which I agree.He should have said this last year, much in the same way he distanced himself from the UCC's anti-Israel positions:
Asked about the resolution on Friday, prior to the passage of the measure, Mr. Obama's campaign provided a statement. "Senator Obama has been a consistent and stalwart supporter of Israel, our strongest ally and only democracy in the Middle East, throughout his career in public service and his entire life," a spokeswoman for the campaign, Jennifer Psaki, said. "While he is a proud member of the UCC church and values its tradition of openness and diversity, he strongly disagrees with the portrayal of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict presented by individual members of the church."Does this clear it up? Post your comments below or head over to the UCCtruths message board.
Suppose a local UCC minister expressed support for David Duke, an angry racist known for making anti-Semtitic comments. What would the members of the local congregation be obligated to do?
Would they be obligated to speak out against their pastor?
Would they be obligated to remove and replace the pastor?
Would it be acceptable for them to continue to support this pastor with their donations to the local church? Most members of the UCC would feel that it would be time to go the mattresses and remove the pastor from the pulpit. Praising a man like David Duke, who is the mirror image of Minister Farrakhan, is not something that could be explained away with explanations of UCC's "covenanental congregationalism." Do these explanations work when a minister ordained in the UCC -- a denomination that putatively opposed to racism and homophobia -- expresses support for Minister Farrakhan, a man who has complained about "wicked Jews, the false Jews that are promoting lesbianism, homosexuality."
John Thomas, president and general minister of the UCC has defended the Trinity UCC in Chicago, stating it is the victim of a smear campaign. Well, now the shoe is on the other foot (and also in JT's mouth). Trinity's pastor has lauded a man who has made undeniably homophobic and anti-Semitic comments. Is this man worthy of John Thomas's defense?
Sometimes a candidate's religion does matter
It's not because I think Mormons are a nutty polygamous cult whose "still speaking" God informed Joseph Smith that the Garden of Eden is located in Missouri. No, I can accept that his faith is different than mine and still respect his leadership abilities. What I cannot accept is that during his early adult years, Romney was a member of a racist religion that prevented blacks from holding leadership positions. It's one thing to hold this faith as a child... but it's entirely different to be a well educated 30 year-old knowingly maintaining this racist faith. Short of evidence that he actively and openly oppossed this discrimination, I can't vote for him.
Some have argued on the UCCtruths message board that voter discernment based on a candidates religion is wrong and contrary to The Bill of Rights. While our government cannot establish a religion, voters certainly have the right to chose a candidate based on any value they choose and there is no reason that membership in a racist organization isn't a reasonable criteria to judge a candidate.
This confession, however, makes me a complete hypocrite.
When questions arose in the media nearly a year ago about Barack Obama and his membership at Trinity United Church of Christ (and his connection to Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.), I claimed:
There is another reality here that should concern UCC members. There is an attempt by some in the media to wrongly connect the views of UCC leaders and specific churches to Obama.and...
As a Presidential candidate, Obama certainly exposes himself to questions about his beliefs, but shouldn't he be judged by what he says and how he acts?If I can't apply that standard to my decision about Romney, I can't expect others to hold their decision about Obama to that standard.
This was crystalized in my mind this morning when I read Richard Cohen's column in the Washington Post. Cohen is by no means a conservative crank with an axe to grind, he's one of the more liberal columnists at the Post. From The Washington Post:
Barack Obama is a member of Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ. Its minister, and Obama's spiritual adviser, is the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. In 1982, the church launched Trumpet Newsmagazine; Wright's daughters serve as publisher and executive editor. Every year, the magazine makes awards in various categories. Last year, it gave the Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. Trumpeter Award to a man it said "truly epitomized greatness." That man is Louis Farrakhan.There's a ton of junk floating around the internet about Obama and his faith. This isn't junk. Contrary to United Church of Christ President John Thomas' recent defense of one of the largest financial contributors to our denomination, Trinity UCC deserves every bit of scrutiny it receives for its praise of Louis Farrakhan.
Maybe for Wright and some others, Farrakhan "epitomized greatness." For most Americans, though, Farrakhan epitomizes racism, particularly in the form of anti-Semitism. Over the years, he has compiled an awesome record of offensive statements, even denigrating the Holocaust by falsely attributing it to Jewish cooperation with Hitler -- "They helped him get the Third Reich on the road." His history is a rancid stew of lies.
It's important to state right off that nothing in Obama's record suggests he harbors anti-Semitic views or agrees with Wright when it comes to Farrakhan. Instead, as Obama's top campaign aide, David Axelrod, points out, Obama often has said that he and his minister sometimes disagree. Farrakhan, Axelrod told me, is one of those instances.
Fine. But where I differ with Axelrod and, I assume, Obama is that praise for an anti-Semitic demagogue is not a minor difference or an intrachurch issue. The Obama camp takes the view that its candidate, now that he has been told about the award, is under no obligation to speak out on the Farrakhan matter. It was not Obama's church that made the award but a magazine. This is a distinction without much of a difference. And given who the parishioner is, the obligation to speak out is all the greater. He could be the next American president. Where is his sense of outrage?
To give Obama the benefit of the doubt, we would have to assume that his allegience to Trinity United Church of Christ is a balance of priorities. Unfortunately for Obama, so are the decisions of voters.
Update: This video from Trinity United Church of Christ sums up the problem:
Churches getting caught in Obama's political machine
Monday, January 14, 2008
Obama’s campaign is unique among Democrats in that it has adopted faith as an organizing tool, a tactic mastered by the Bush-Cheney campaigns in 2000 and 2004.I like Obama (although I probably won't vote for him) and I like the fact that a fellow UCCer might be a contender for the White house... but this stuff really irks me. Since when is it OK for candidates to have "faith forums to discuss how religion informs voter decisions and campaign platforms"? Who is kidding who? This about campaigning in churches and using churches as political vehicles, plain and simple.
The effort officially kicked off in the summer after Obama delivered a major address on faith in Connecticut. “My faith teaches me that I can sit in church and pray all I want, but I won’t be fulfilling God’s will unless I go out and do the Lord’s work,” he said, linking his support for expanded health care, social justice, immigration and the environment to the foundations of his Christian faith.
In Iowa, the campaign held a series of faith forums to discuss how religion informs voter decisions and campaign platforms. They also reached out to the state’s 220 United Church of Christ parishes, the same faith that Obama practices. In Waterloo, Iowa, alone there are 32 small African American churches that the campaign tapped to find volunteers and supporters. Similar targeting and forums were conducted in New Hampshire and are ongoing in Nevada and some of the Feb. 5 primary states, said campaign officials.
Thomas ticked off by Obama "smear campaign"
Friday, January 11, 2008
Since Obama won the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3, a flurry of e-mail messages with identical language and sentiment began circulating across the internet, claiming that Trinity UCC was a "racist" congregation because of its long-stated church motto: "Unashamedly Black, Unapologetically Christian."Since January 3rd? Thomas and J. Bennett Guess should get out of their bubble on 700 Prospect. Most of this started last March when Trinty UCC minister Jeremiah Wright appeared on Fox News to explain his flavor of Liberation Theology.
This has been going on for awhile now. The only thing that's new is that Thomas just found out about it.
Tuesday, January 08, 2008
First, Pastor Dan is absalutely correct that "keeping the community together is spiritual work". However, his logic is completely flawed by defining community by the bureaucractic structure of denomination. "The Church" is not "the denomination".
Pastor Dan uses a very narrow, very denomination-centric interpretation of scripture that I see more broadly. If we were to follow his interpretation of scripture, we would have to disown our own Reformed roots and all become Catholics. "The Church" is broader than our singular denomination.
Pastor Dan goes further:
Most important, however, is that this is not a matter of "denomination first." Whatever the faults of John Thomas or the national leadership of the denomination - and I'm sure there are many - the fact is that each congregation has entered into covenant with the wider church. That is what holds our denomination together, and you're damn right I have nothing but scorn for the people who would undermine it. I'd have the same contempt for someone who taught his congregation that the marital covenant meant nothing.Right! But...
Covenant is a two way street. All of the discussion I have seen from the UCC national office in reaction to churches leaving the denomination has centered around the obligations of the local church to remain in covenant and very little about the obligations of the national office to remain in covenant. Each party has a responsibity to remain in covenant and each has an obligation to respect the other if they are to remain in covenant - that includes the national office, General Synod, the conferences, the associations and the local churches.
The example is extreme, but if a spouse feels abused in their "marital covenant," is it our expectation that they remain in covenant simply for the sake of covenant? Of course not - so why would we place that expectation on local churches that feel used or neglected by their conferences or national office?
That said, local churches also have an obligation to be active rather than passive if they have concerns about the wider church body. More than a few of the churches that have left the denomination have been distant for some time and have gotten to the point where they simply won't engage their association, conference or national office... and that is their fault. Again, covenant is a two way street.
Brotherhood Mutual story hits Wall Street Journal
Ms. Thomas didn't have any examples of violence attributable to a church's support for gay clergy or same-sex marriage. She added, however, that disputes over gay marriage and clergy have led to splits in other churches and congregations, resulting in costly litigation.I spoke out against Brotherhood Mutual back in September when this story broke and sent an email to the President of the insurance company. Some people may want to twist this story into a pro-gay/anti-gay thing, but this has more depth than that - this is about arbitrary discrimination.
Ms. Thomas said she wasn't aware of other churches Brotherhood Mutual turned down because of positions on gay clergy or marriage, but the insurer has rejected churches because of other controversial positions. "Advocating violence, militia groups, we have turned down for that. Picketing at military funerals, making statements against religious leaders of other faiths...are some of the reasons," she said.
As I stated back in September, the logic that a stated position by a separate, national body would automatically disqualify a local church from insurance coverage because the stand is controversial is absurd. It's also absurd that Mitzi L. Thomas (Assistant Vice President–Corporate Communications for Brotherhood Mutual) would put the gay marriage issue on par with "advocating violence, militia groups" especially when there doesn't seem to be any connection at all to increased risk and she doesn't provide examples of risk. I'd like to think Thomas might be read the article this morning and realize just how dumb she sounds.
First Congregational Church of Marshfield delays decision to leave UCC
Monday, January 07, 2008
MARSHFIELD - Parishioners of First Congregational Church of Marshfield haveIn my last post on this, I mentioned that "a drive-by sermon from a Conference Minister seems pretty trivial". I do, however, disagree with Pastor Dan that the minister is somehow to blame:
postponed a decision on whether to withdraw from the United Church of Christ
because of differences over such issues as gay marriage and global warming.
‘‘There was quick recognition that we were not ready to vote,’’ the Rev. Jim Howard, pastor, said after a two-hour meeting on Sunday attended by about 80 parishioners.
Members of the Green Harbor church began talking about breaking ties with the national church after a Nov. 4 sermon by a visiting clergyman that included strong words on hot-button political issues. The Rev. Jim Antal, president of the UCC’s Massachusetts Conference, was speaking during the church’s 375th anniversary celebration.
‘‘The main reason why that frustrated people so much was because (the Rev. Antal) was there to speak about the 375-year anniversary of our church,’’ parishioner Dave Kaiser said. ‘‘Instead, he chose to use our pulpit to speak about the positions of the UCC. We want the focus from our pulpit to be about spiritual issues.’’
Where the hell is Rev. Howard in all this? He sounds likes he's trying to bePastor Dan presumes that Rev. Howard's first responibilty is to the denomination rather than the spirtual well being of the church. The denomination (not just ours, but any denominaition) should never be the first priority - our first priority is fellowship in Christ. This sort of 'denomination first' junk leads to the 'herd mentality' where everyone plays follow the leader... which can sometimes lead to bad decisions where critical thinking gets thrown out the window in favor of "the denomination". The perfect example of this was when our denominational leaders were hell bent on passing a divestment from Israel resolution over the objections of the committee charged with studying the issue and the guy in charge of the denomination's investments. The delegates to General Synod (with rings firmly in their noses) voted in favor of the bad resolution because it was the official position of our leadership. Rev. Howard's priority should be on the spirtual well-being of the church, not cheerleading for the denomination.
a neutral arbiter, but there's not much middle ground in these things. If he's
fulfilling his duty to the denomination, he'd tell the congregation that he'd
walk if they left. He'd certainly tell them that they were being WATB's who
needed to get off the spiritual milk and onto some theological solid food. He'd
certainly not pose for a picture for the paper or give them enough patient
quotes to file a story. What gives?
Another historic UCC church considers leaving
Saturday, January 05, 2008
MARSHFIELD - A speech by a visiting clergyman has prompted a bid by members of the First Congregational Church of Marshfield to formally break ties with the national United Church of Christ.I think it's interesting that a Conference Minister's sermon is the tipping point for this congregation... and probably an indication that Antal either didn't know their sensitivity to political messages from the pulpit or he didn't care. I couldn't find a copy of Antal's sermon on the internet so it wouldn't be fair to comment on it, but I have heard other sermons that attempt to link Biblical principles to stewardship of our environment. I guess it comes down to interpreting motivation - whether the issue is abortion or global warming, there's a difference between a sermon motivated by politics and one motivated by the spirit. Still, of all the junk that comes out of the UCC national and conference offices, a drive-by sermon from a Conference Minister seems pretty trivial to me.
The minister of the 375-year-old Green Harbor church said some members of the congregation found a church official’s Nov. 4 sermon on global warming and other hot-button issues more political than spiritual, prompting a proposal to disaffiliate from the denomination.
Church members will meet Sunday at 11 a.m. to discuss and possibly vote on whether to sever ties with the United Church of Christ, the Rev. Jim Howard said.
The Rev. Howard said some of the 200 members of his congregation have taken issue with some the United Church of Christ’s viewpoints during his nearly three years in Marshfield.
But he said Sunday’s meeting is prompted by a Nov. 4 sermon by the president of the denomination’s Massachusetts Conference, the Rev. Jim Antal, at the church’s 375th anniversary celebration.
Among other topics, the Rev. Howard said, the Rev. Antal spoke of ‘‘stewardship of the Earth and his passion and concern for dealing with global warming.’’
‘‘A number of people in the congregation felt that that was inappropriate for our anniversary Sunday,’’ the Rev. Howard said. ‘‘That it was a political topic where there should’ve been a spiritual focus.’’
The Rev. Antal could not be reached Friday for comment.
Stirring It Up Some More
Friday, January 04, 2008
With the "Stirring It Up" post revealing the internal left-leaning motivations of Rev. Barry Lynn and his AU organization, interested readers will want to see the external evidence of how the AU ignores religious liberals who act like the conservatives they often rail against.
In particular, here's how the AU looked away when the liberal denomination that ordained Rev. Lynn-- the United Church of Christ-- gladly took $100,000 from the state of Connecticut to put on its General Synod in that state. The following article is an excerpt from a June 21 post at LivingtheBiblios:
It's significant to note that the State of Connecticut gave the (United Church of Christ) $100K only and after the UCC promised to take its General Synod to another state.
When the UCC initially booked its 2007 General Synod at the newly constructed Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford, the State didn't give the denomination any financial incentives. But that changed when the UCC determined that the union rights of Convention workers were being thwarted.
For this reason, in a Hartford Courant story posted at UCCtruths, UCC Associate General Minister Edith Guffey said:
We're not threatening to move; we will move if this issue is not resolved.Consequently, UCC President John Thomas said in an email to UCC Conference Ministers:
The only other option within the city capable of accommodating General Synod, the Hartford Civic Center, initially proved too expensive. As directed by the Executive Council, UCC Associate General Minister Edith Guffey began exploring other cities as possible venues for the General Synod.That's when Connecticut governor M. Jodi Rell intervened. Not wanting to lose the largest ever convention in Hartford--and the economic benefit of 8,000+ visitors that could bring in up to $7 million--Rell pulled some political strings. The Connecticut Economic Development Authority (REDA) awarded a $100,000 grant to the Greater Hartford Convention and Visitors Bureau, who in turn applied it to the UCC's use of the Civic Center.
Responding to the grant news, Guffey said in a June 6, 2006 United Church News press release:
This type of incentive program is a common occurrence, a way of doing business. We appreciate the collaboration between the governor, CEDA, and the Hartford Visitors Bureau, and their efforts to keep the UCC meeting in Hartford.Guffey also told the Hartford Courant:
...the governor wants very much to make this work, and that they will be taking care of the $100,000 fee for the Civic Center...It's a very generous assistance, and we're very appreciative of it.Here's the bottom line that Rev. Lynn and the AU should note well:
It was due to the United Church of Christ's religious conviction-- that it would not hold its Synod in a facility involved in a labor dispute-- and the UCC's financial inability to move its event across town to the more expensive Civic Center-- and the UCC's promise to move its religious event out of state-- that the State of Connecticut and its governor intervened and worked out its $100,000 grant.
And after all this, Rev. Lynn still isn't complaining.Usually, "liberal" means someone with a progressive outlook toward politics and social issues. But it can also refer to someone who is generous.
And in this case, Rev. Lynn's silence about Connecticut giving his liberal UCC $100,000 for its General Synod is ... shall we say ... generous.
Obama takes Iowa
Thursday, January 03, 2008
DES MOINES, Iowa -- Just hours before Thursday night’s caucuses, White House hopeful Barack Obama did interviews on five networks and plenty of local television stations this morning, then hoarsely greeted diners at a downtown Des Moines food court.
And he faced a surprise question from one woman who asked him if he was an atheist.
“I’m a member of the Trinity United Church of Christ. I’ve been a member for 15 years,” Obama replied, adding, “Don’t read e-mails.”
E-mails have circulated in recent weeks saying Obama is a Muslim or an atheist or took his oath of office on a Quran instead of a Bible, none of which is true.
“I hated having to ask him that,” the woman, Zanetta Moore-El, said. “But I heard he was like an atheist. I don’t want a president who’s an atheist. I’m a firm believer in God. I just really wanted to make sure because I really wanted to vote for him and he has some good topics and everything.”
Stirring it up
Well... here's a little fuel for the fire.
Back in June, 2006 when the Hartford Courant announced that the state of Connecticut gave the United Church of Christ a tax-payer supported subsidy of $100,000 to offset the costs of the Civic Center to host the 2007 General Synod, I thought this might be an issue that Americans United and it's executive Director, Rev. Barry Lynn, would explore. In June, 2007, I recapped the issue and contrasted it to other state grants for religious conventions that prompted Americans United to complain.
I emailed a handful of staff at Americans United directly to see if a complaint had been filed and whether or not they were investigating the issue. Rather than respond to my email, AU's Director of Communications, Joe Conn, unwittingly clicked the 'reply all' button (without removing my email address) to alert other AU staff that "Until we hear from Barry and Richard, I suggest we avoid communicating with this right-wing UCC guy. If he calls, put him in voice mail."
Keep in mind, I've never said much about my politics on this blog beyond claiming to be a Libertarian... which you would think would be a welcome thing to Americans United. I openly support the principles of the Separation of Church and State but, unlike Americans United, I believe the first amendment should be protected regardless of the politics.
Conn's email wasn't the final word on this. Yet again, another AU genius, Renee Collins, clicked the 'reply all' button (again without removing my email address) to declare to the rest of the AU team that "There aren’t many right-wingers in the UCC, but due to their small numbers they try to make up for it in sheer nastiness. Been there, burned the t-shirt."
This is the mindset at Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. Conflicts of church and state aren't viewed through an independent lens to determine if there is a legitimate infringement on the wall of separation - they are viewed in political terms. While Americans United repeatedly claims to be a nonpartisan organization (presumably a criteria of their own tax-exempt status), their actions (and emails) say otherwise. In fact, I couldn't find a single complaint to the IRS in 2007 on the Americans United web site that didn't target conservative or "right wing" organizations.
After I fired an email back to them, I ended up having a great conversation with Conn and eventually met briefly with Rev. Barry Lynn and both stated that Americans United was investigating the United Church of Christ deal with the State of Connecticut. At the same time, Americans United was publicly complaining about a $150,000 grant that a Baptist group received from the State of Maryland to hold their convention in Baltimore. In contrast, no announcement was ever made about the Connecticut deal.
If Americans United wants to target groups based on their politics rather than the non-partisan principle of separation, then they should drop the facade of being a non-partisan group.